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12.6 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this vital debate. She clearly outlined why safer neighbourhood teams work, so I will not delay the Chamber by repeating that. I will just add that I fully endorse it. In my borough of Hackney, it was transformational in building relationships in the community. The community relations with the police were a byword for bad relations around the time that I was elected to the London Assembly. It was only with the installation of ingrained neighbourhood policing that we began to see a change. People felt that they were working with the police, rather than feeling that they and the police were on opposite sides.

It is important to remember that the police police us by consent and, for that to work properly, they need to know their community in a granular way and people need to know their police officers. As others have, I could highlight many local examples of times when people have passed on intelligence to the police, but I will give just one example. When I was out knocking on doors for one of my regular weekend surgeries, in two households in a row I spoke to parents who did not want to speak to the police or for me to report something, because they were afraid that an officer in uniform appearing on their doorstep could mean their teenage child being targeted by gangs. If they want to report something as simple as drug dealing going on in their area—simple in that it is easy to identify and relatively easy to police—I can act as a third-party reporting mechanism, but so can neighbourhood police teams, many of whom go around out of hours, not in uniform, to talk to people or find safe places for people to talk to them.

Along with other London colleagues, I recently met with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and we raised some of our concerns about this topic. He understandably raised competing challenges and his challenge with the budget, as my hon. Friend highlighted in detail, and he reminded us that much of modern policing is not visible. Of course, dealing with historic child exploitation or cybercrime is important to our constituents, but it is important that we see police on the street and that they build relations with their community.

The hidden policing—the stuff that is not seen—should not take away from the vital community policing that we know works. The improvements in Hackney underline the importance of that regular, steady relationship. Every year there is a commendation ceremony from the borough commander, where we hear stories of the deep community engagement that others have highlighted.

We should be clear that, in political terms, this is an ideological battleground. The Government want to shrink the state and they hide that under the veil of austerity. We all want to see taxpayers’ money spent wisely, because every pound saved is a pound to spend on something else or to provide benefits to our constituents, but there is a point at which shrinking the state so far, under the guise of austerity, goes too far. I believe it has gone too far in the realms of neighbourhood policing. This is in area where the public want the state to be present.

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Mark Field: The hon. Lady and I agree on many things, and we have worked together as neighbouring MPs on broadband and the like, but it really is nonsense to suggest that the Government are trying to shrink the state to any great extent. We are still living miles beyond our means—we are borrowing at the rate of £75 billion to £80 billion a year—and the notion that the Government have taken a slash-and-burn approach is quite wrong. I accept that, with some of the austerity agenda, there has had to be some reduction in public spending, particularly in the area we are discussing, but the notion that this is a state-shrinking Government is very far from the truth.

Meg Hillier: I think my constituents would beg to differ: this is an area where they do want to see the state visible and active on the streets.

Over the past five years in Hackney, crime has continued to drop. However, Hackney has lost 173, or more than a fifth, of its police officers—in October 2010, it had 770, but there are now 597. It has also seen a dramatic cut in PCSOs, from 100 to 37. There were recently plans to axe all our PCSOs, but thankfully those have been dropped. I echo the really important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North that safer neighbourhood policing was a vital recruitment line for the police—the police in Hackney still do not look like Hackney, so that was really important. It is important that our overstretched officers are supported by good PCSOs.

Let me just highlight how our officers are overstretched. For more than a decade, Operation Bantam has provided an effective response to gang violence in Hackney, which is sadly still a scourge and a challenge for the police, the community and local authorities. There used to be a team of 40 dedicated officers; now there are six, and that is a real concern. I back Hackney Council’s campaign to bring 100 officers back to Hackney to make sure we deliver for the people of my constituency and my borough.

PCSOs were introduced under the last Labour Mayor of London, and I look forward to having a future Labour Mayor of London who recognises their importance. Previously, seven different uniformed officers and wardens patrolled my constituency. Many were funded by the Home Office or the Department for Communities and Local Government, while some were funded by the police or local authorities. There was a crazy mishmash—a multi-coloured rainbow—of different uniforms and different powers, and it made sense to bring those officers together. As a result, however, they were then at risk from these cuts and changes, because of the other pressures on the policing budget, and that is a regret.

There are two key benefits from safer neighbourhood policing. First, there are people on the streets, and having more PCSOs on the streets saves vital police officer time. Those three PCSOs in the ward also really got to know their area, and they often stayed longer than the police, unless they planned to become police officers themselves.

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) mentioned the National Audit Office report on policing, which the Public Accounts Committee has looked at. We visited and had evidence from forces around the country. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that many forces do not have good enough data to

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know the impact of the cuts coming down the line or the needs of policing locally. What is really crucial and really unforgivable, however, is that when the Home Office makes a cut and sends it down the line to the police, it does not have the data to know what the impact will be. I would like the Minister to address that directly.

The funding formula is one issue, and we do not need to dwell on what a mess it was; that is now fairly well acknowledged, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who speaks from the Front Bench, will touch on that. However, there is also cost shunting, which is a consistent concern on the Public Accounts Committee. We see police officers, as the providers of first and last resort, picking up the pieces for other services, but that is not recognised in the funding formula or in cross-Government working. It is really important—I challenge the Police Minister on this—that the police service should not be picking up the pieces because Departments have cut funding and do not recognise the impact on the police. I would like the Minister to tell the House how he will challenge that.

Mike Penning: If the hon. Lady had heard any of the speeches I have made in the House or outside it, she would know that that is exactly what I have been saying since I have been the Police Minister. All too often, the police are the first port of call, rather than the last port of call, for other services, which is fundamentally wrong.

Meg Hillier: Well, I hope the Minister actually has the power in Whitehall to bang heads together and to get this sorted. We will continue to see problems in London if its policing budget is squeezed because the police are having to pick up ambulance calls and to deal with mental health issues—for example, by tracking down mental health beds at weekends. There is a long litany of such issues. The Minister speaks the words, but if he could talk in more detail in his response about what he is actually going to do about this, that would be very helpful.

12.14 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): As with clothes and interior design, there are fashions in policing, and we are seeing a backlash against the current fashion. What is happening is not just about money, although money may be the principal cause, but about the fact that some in policing circles simply did not believe in the community policing model—the one sergeant, two PCs and three PCSOs model—as set out by Ken Livingstone when he was Mayor and by a number of Labour Home Secretaries, because it “de-policed” the police. However, it actually enhanced what the police could do, particularly in areas that are more financially challenged and that have more people who are excluded. We began to witness more people willing to talk to the police than ever before.

With those increasing police numbers came more police bases. There is a huge issue about the enormous waste of money that has resulted from closing local offices that were opened in order to place safer neighbourhood teams at the heart of their community. In my constituency, Mitcham and Morden, we have seen the closure of the Lavender Fields and Graveney

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team office in Wilson Avenue, which must have taken thousands of pounds to open to standards that the Metropolitan police accept.

Pollards Hill is a ward right on the outskirts of Mitcham and Morden, bordering Croydon and Lambeth. People there feel out on a limb and excluded from their local area, and the police office there showed a real investment in their community. People felt that the police were close to them and dealing with the problems they face. I am sad to say that some of those problems relate to gangs and stabbings. We do not have the same level of such problems as other hon. Members will in their constituencies, but the fact that that office is no longer there for people to turn to when issues arise is a real problem for that community. Again, there is the issue of the costs involved in opening these offices and then closing them, leaving memorials to a police system that worked a great deal better than it does currently. That is really sad.

There is an idea that we can point to crime figures and say, “Crime is down, so it’s okay.” However, if we consider confidence in policing, and we look at the figures for the fear of crime in my borough of Merton, we see that about two thirds of people now fear crime, when the figure was once the lowest in London. Mitcham has 41% of the crimes that take place in the borough, but 68% of people fear crime—the fact that people can no longer see their police officers has tripled the numbers.

When there was a stabbing in Pollards Hill, where would people go? They would go first to the police officer or the PCSO at the local high school. We can be pretty sure that within hours those officers would have had a very good idea of how the incident came about and who was involved. That would then allow the police response teams—Trident or whoever—to go into action and to deal with the issue.

When we have our police meetings, some in the police—I suppose this is out of frustration at their situation—tell residents, “You don’t have a crime problem here. Crime is not high. You live in one of the safest boroughs in London.” That really does not wash if someone has seen a young man stabbed outside their kitchen window. Although people can absolutely rationalise that that would never happen to them as a middle-aged woman, an older dad or a young child, they have seen it happening in their neighbourhood and they want it dealt with. Their fear is for themselves, their children and their neighbourhood. When they know that the police office that used to be open behind their homes is no longer there, there is a real and severe feeling that, given the level of policing in their area, the possibility of dealing with these issues becomes less.

When we combine that with local authority cuts in youth services, we get a maelstrom. In Pollards Hill, in Merton, we do not have a huge youth service. The Pollards Hill youth centre was due to close in April this year. Luckily, we brought people together to build an alliance to keep it open. However, I suspect that, in areas more challenged than mine, a combination of police cuts, youth service cuts and the inability of services to take young people away from crime will create a legacy that will be with us for a long time. That will not save any more money, and it will cause far more challenges for many more vulnerable people.

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12.19 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I want to focus on the possible merger of borough commands in Harrow, Brent and Barnet and to set out my fears for Harrow under such a plan. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) for their wide-ranging analyses, but I hope you will forgive me, Mr Evans, if I am ferociously parochial in setting out my fears about what the pilot merger might mean for my constituents.

I have no reason to dislike the people of Barnet or Brent, and a merger may seem sensible—for example to those who think that reducing the number of chiefs would mean more resources to be allocated to the front line. I fear, however, that it is the thin end of the wedge. Barnet and Brent are very different from Harrow in policing terms and have higher crime rates. Brent has many of the characteristics of an inner London borough, as well as responsibility for Wembley stadium and all the major events that take place there, and those things give rise to complexities in policing. Harrow is an outer London borough and already many of its police officers are allocated shifts in other places to help to deal with rising crime—sometimes in inner London, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting mentioned; they may also help with the policing of major events, as needed. I fear that if the merger happens a new tri-borough commander will be greatly tempted to shift the police on occasion into Barnet, and certainly into Brent, to help with their policing challenges.

It is difficult to see how the borough commander under the new tri-borough arrangement could continue to be based in Harrow rather than Brent or Barnet. I am relatively pessimistic about the prospect because, given the operational challenges in Brent in comparison with those of Harrow and Barnet, logic would base the new borough commander for the three boroughs in Brent. Clearly, there would also be a case for Barnet, given that many people arrested in Harrow are already transferred to its new and more modern policing complex in Colindale. The temptation would be for CID resources to be shifted to where the tri-borough police commander would be based. Operational challenges in Brent and the modern police station with its better cells complex in Colindale suggest, on the face of it, that a tri-borough commander would be unlikely to be based in Harrow.

Inevitably, resources shift over time to where the commander of a team is based. One of the first pressures will inevitably involve the shifting of CID resources to help to bring the teams together. One can see a logic to that, but I fear that the CID offices would be taken out of Harrow and that complex policing work to detect the perpetrators of crimes might not be immediately available in Harrow as it is at the moment.

Perhaps the biggest immediate concern, however, would be the loss of a visible experienced and accountable borough commander for Harrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North rightly focused on the requirements of neighbourhood policing at ward level, and issues such as the need for a dedicated sergeant, police constables and police community support officers at ward level; but there is also a need for a dedicated, experienced and highly trained police officer, who has the confidence of the chief constable, to run the police force in each borough. That officer needs to be someone

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of the calibre to engage with other stakeholders such as council officials, NHS workers and leading community representatives. I fear that if the borough loses a very experienced officer who can engage with Members of Parliament and senior councillors and direct resources quickly when alerted to problems, there will be a slowing down in the tackling of crime and antisocial behaviour. I pay tribute to recent borough commanders on my patch who, when I have gone to see them about particular crimes, have quickly grasped their significance and have diverted time to looking into them and responding more appropriately.

I worry that, in the long term, basing the borough commander for Harrow in Brent or Barnet will call into question the future of the police station in south Harrow, which serves the whole borough. It is not fit for purpose now and it needs investment; but I fear that with a borough commander based elsewhere that would not happen.

12.26 pm

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing the debate and I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the excellent points that they have made in the debate.

Just before Christmas a pig’s head was left on a pavement in Hounslow alongside anti-Muslim graffiti. Among the first people on the scene were PCSOs who work on that beat. They saw the graffiti and could speak to local people, report the incident, give reassurance and act as liaison. They could act as the first point of call, to reduce community tension at a time when, as we know, such tension is heightened in parts of London. Police driving past in a car would not have seen the graffiti and might not even have seen the head. That is just one example of the importance of PCSOs and neighbourhood policing in London, and of why they need to be protected.

In Hounslow there has been an increase in the number of full-time equivalent police officers, although I think that clarification is needed with respect to the total number of officers and PCSOs and full-time equivalents. The number has gone up by 16 to 556 since March 2010—a small increase. In the same time, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has said, the number of PCSOs in Hounslow dropped from 109 to 23 by November. There are now fewer than one per ward.

I have spent 25 years as a ward councillor, have been a deputy leader and cabinet member, and have served on my local ward panel, and I have seen the benefit of neighbourhood policing to my community and borough at grassroots and neighbourhood level. As has been outlined, safer neighbourhood teams are in regular touch with councillors, young people, headteachers, voluntary and community organisations and key people in all the main local public and community services. I am told that the police and PCSOs in Hounslow do not feel confident that neighbourhood policing has a future in London, despite the good words of the commissioner late last year. The drive towards car and computer-based policing means fewer links between the police and the community and less of the benefit that they bring in

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reducing tensions and improving community safety, and in counter-terrorism. PCSOs are the conduit between the police bureaucracy, the local authority and public services and local residents.

Londoners have built confidence in the police since the implementation of neighbourhood policing. None of us wants to go back to how it was before. I do not want policing to go back to the situation I experienced in my early years as a councillor, when it was impossible to get in touch with the police. There was no engagement on local issues and no consistent engagement; it was only as and when, as a reaction to an incident. There were no long-term links with community organisations and little understanding of local issues, local tensions and local people. I do not want to go back to that position, which is why I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North on securing this debate.

12.30 pm

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this important debate. It is an honour to be sat next to the next Mayor of London, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan).

We know now that there are no immediate cuts to police budgets. Last time we debated this subject, there were worries about potential cuts of £800,000 to £1 billion. We now know that those will not happen, but there are worries among people on my patch that the devil is in the detail. I have some questions for the Minister about possible attempts to reshape London’s police force by stealth.

Members have already said that the safer neighbourhood team model was a great achievement of the previous Labour Government, welcomed by communities at the time. We also heard about the 1-2-3 model, so I will not go into that again. As far as I understand it, the headline announcement of no immediate cuts was against a background of £600 million of savings—that euphemistic term—already made between 2010 and this year. We have heard how London as a whole has lost 3,170 dedicated neighbourhood PCSOs since 2010, which is a 70% cut. What is the shape of the police to come?

In Ealing, we have gone from a ward-based model to clusters. There are brilliant, dedicated people such as Graham Durn from Acton, James Lenton from the Ealing Common and Northfields ward, where there has been a merging of wards, and James Bister from the Acton cluster. However, there is a worry, and I want to echo some of what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) said. I actually have some good news about crime reduction in Ealing, where levels have been some of the best. Last time we debated this subject, we were worried we could lose PCSOs and police stations and that police office numbers could be cut. My worry, however, is that the borough model is in danger.

We have 32 boroughs in London, of which Ealing is the third most populated. We have 600-odd police officers in Ealing. I am worried about the dilution that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West warned of. There is a current programme to tackle the MOPAC 7 crimes, which include burglary, criminal damage, robbery, theft

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of and from motor vehicles, and theft from the person. Even under the new model, in which we have gone from safer neighbourhood teams to local policing, we can report a 27% reduction in those seven crimes in Ealing, with the most dramatic reductions being in robbery and burglary. I welcome that fact.

We all have to recognise that policing with and in local communities is about neighbourhood policing. Police officers in this country are not seen as Robocop. We have strong ties, and people know named officers. That is the difference between us and other nations, but I fear that that is endangered by the cuts by stealth, the reshaping, the shaving off of PCSO numbers and the threat of merging borough commands.

All the police I speak to say that they are in a position of not knowing what will happen next. They still do not know the future shape of the police force in London, and the amalgamation of borough commands is a worry. At the moment, all 32 boroughs have a chief superintendent, and that is why things have improved: there is a go-to person. The chief superintendent and the command team can liaise with all the authorities—for example, the chief executive of the council, the health services, the mental health services, the probation service, safeguarding, which covers adults and children, and third sector people. That could be lost.

We heard about the tri-borough nightmare in Harrow, where the borough command is possibly merging with Barnet, which is geographically quite far. I believe the idea of merging borough commands is still on the table. It has been discussed before by MOPAC, and I want some clarity on whether it is still an option. Will it go ahead? What benefits will it bring? What significant improvements will it make to local people in Ealing and Acton if you merge these forces in this way? [Interruption.] Does the Minister want to intervene?

Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): It is not me who will make any of these decisions. I think you were referring to the Minister when you said “you”.

Dr Huq: Okay; I apologise to the Minister.

Mike Penning: I apologise; that was inappropriate of me. If the hon. Lady says “you” in her speech, it refers not to me but the Chair. I cannot do anything anyhow, because that is for the commissioner.

Dr Huq: My apologies. I am a rookie MP, so the terminology is still new to me.

The 27% reduction in the MOPAC 7 crimes in Ealing is good news for the Minister, and I am sure he will welcome it. However, communities and boroughs need dedicated PCSOs. That is vital to our police service. Each of the 32 boroughs in London needs their own chief superintendent and command team. We as MPs need to work hand in glove with the police dedicated to our patches.

I will be brief—I only intended to make an intervention, but it has turned into a speech. The money may have been found down the back of the sofa so that it can be said there are no police cuts, but there are lingering

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doubts about what the shape of the police force will look like and that the worst could be yet to come, so I would like some clarification on the issue of the borough model.

Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): The last Back-Bench speech will be from Helen Hayes; I appreciate her waiting. It would be helpful if we could start the Front-Bench speeches at 12.40 pm.

12.37 pm

Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I will do my best to stick to the timescale you outlined.

My first experience of working with the police as an elected local representative was as a local councillor working with my safer neighbourhood team, set up by the former Labour Mayor of London. I found the dedicated team of six officers to be hugely impressive, forging strong connections and relationships across the community and working in a way that was responsive to local needs and issues but also proactive and preventive. They also delivered results. We saw estates that had suffered episodes of gang-related violence have no such problems for years, and antisocial behaviour and drug dealing properly dealt with. We saw the perpetrators of spates of burglaries quickly apprehended and really valuable work, such as the detailed mapping of a large area of woodland in the ward, so that it was easier to find lost children. Most importantly, we saw the police out and about in the ward day in, day out, getting to know residents, understanding and responding to their concerns and preventing crime as well as responding to it.

I would like to pay tribute briefly to the hard work of the police in my constituency, which often goes above and beyond the call of duty. I was contacted on 23 December by a vulnerable elderly resident who had been the victim of a particularly nasty robbery in his home. He was calling to ask that I wrote to thank the borough commander because, in his words, the officers who responded to his call for help had been not only effective but kind, organising a small party and whip-round to show their support. We should not for a moment forget such excellent work when we debate policing in London.

The cuts to policing in London have been extensively covered by my colleagues, so I will not dwell on them in detail. I will simply say that the cuts have been devastating, and that the change from safer neighbourhood policing to the local policing model has been the most damaging of all. That reorganisation strips away one of the vital tools the police had for building deep relationships with the communities they serve, and we are seeing the impacts on the ground.

On one of the estates in my constituency, residents, many of them elderly, are not currently receiving any post because the postal worker who delivers there has been threatened and mugged, and Royal Mail has decided it is not a safe environment in which its staff should deliver. That could easily be resolved if the safer neighbourhood team could put resources on the ground, as it could previously. On another estate, problems of antisocial behaviour are not being dealt with as quickly as they could be before. On another street, a spate of

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burglaries running on for months and months culminated in a horrible attack, where the contents of a petrol canister were thrown over a local resident.

Our police have been forced by the cuts to become reactive instead of proactive, visiting the victims of burglary or robbery after the crime has taken place and responding to call-outs. However, a proactive approach through neighbourhood policing is vital to addressing some of the most serious and pressing challenges that we face—gun and knife crime, child sexual exploitation, radicalisation and terrorism, forced marriage and honour-based violence and hate crimes. Investigating and preventing those crimes requires the police to have the depth of knowledge and relationships with the communities they serve that cannot be fabricated in the heat of a rapid response, once a crime has taken place. As one community activist in Brixton said during a MOPAC roadshow meeting, in eroding safer neighbourhood teams

“you have taken the heart out of policing”.

Neighbourhood policing is vital to maintaining confidence and trust in the police. When communities know their officers and officers know their patch, the police have a public face at local level. When that is taken away, the public are left to rely on headlines and high-profile cases and the individual experiences of people who have sadly already been the victims of crime to determine their level of confidence in the police.

Finally, neighbourhood policing should not be regarded as the softer side of policing, but as the vital relationship-building bridge between the police and the communities they serve and the key to resolving and preventing many of the serious crimes that can threaten the security and stability of our communities.

12.41 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on rightly bringing to the House—as one of the first debates we are having in the House this year—this debate on the importance of the safety and security of our citizens in London and, crucially, the role played by neighbourhood policing.

I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) and my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for bringing to this debate the experience of their constituents and the concerns that are increasingly being expressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North was right to remind us of the legacy of history. I will say two things about legacy. First, painful lessons have been learnt from what was a very different era of the policing of London—following Scarman, Macpherson and stop and search. Indeed, John Grieve said today, in a powerful intervention, “I got it wrong all those years ago and I feel ashamed of myself.” One senior police officer in London said to me, “Jack, we were like Robocops touring estates in cars, remote from the communities that we were responsible for policing and distrusted by them.”

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The second thing about the legacy of history is that although the police themselves learnt lessons, including excellent police officers such as Sir John Stevens, that came together with what we did in government to create the British model of neighbourhood policing that is celebrated worldwide. That included 17,000 extra police officers, 16,000 police community support officers and, here in London, ward-based safer neighbourhood teams.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting said, rooted as he is in his community and in the great city of London, this is about the notion of patiently building good community relationships of trust and confidence, whereby people then co-operate in detecting crime, but it is about more than that: it is about preventing crime and diverting people from crime. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North gave the excellent example of the boxing club in her constituency. It is about engagement between the police and young people, whereby the police come to be seen very differently by the young people they serve.

Sadly, a generation of progress that has been made in building trust and confidence is now being reversed. In the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, today we are seeing the filleting of neighbourhood teams here in London, as a consequence of the last five years, with the £600 million of cuts, and of what will happen in the next five years, when there will be remorseless reductions at the next stages. These are the biggest cuts to any police service in Europe.

The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. I therefore stress how important it is that the truth is told in this very important debate. First, it is not true that crime overall is falling. Crime is changing. There are disturbing signs, in the words of Sir Hugh Orde, the former chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers, of a “tipping point” being reached; and, as the statistics are now cleaned up, we see police recorded crime up 3%, violent crime up 24% in London and sexual crime up 29% in London. In addition, we are seeing a rapid growth in cybercrime. That will now be included in the crime statistics from this year onwards, showing a 40% increase in crime overall. I therefore hope the Government will stop saying, “We cut police, but we cut crime,” in circumstances where the truth will be told.

Secondly, it is not true that the comprehensive spending review protected police budgets. As has been said, the pressures remain tight and resources will reduce. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has been absolutely clear about how that presents big challenges to the police service. The threat relating to the reform of the funding formula still remains. There was an omnishambles and that had to be shelved, but again, as he has said, “It makes it difficult to plan ahead in circumstances where we do not quite know what our income streams will be in two to five and five to 10 years’ time.”

Thirdly, as has been exposed today, it is not true to say that there are more neighbourhood police officers here in London. Suffice to say, the powerful case that Opposition Members have made shows that such assertions about statistics are as reliable as dodgy Del Boy promises that “All will be right if you buy from me now.”

This is the worst possible time for the Government to continue putting those resource pressures on our police service. It is not just about the tipping point being reached in relation to conventional crime, as it is sometimes

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called, but about the challenges relating, first, to child sexual exploitation and abuse. Rightly, this country is rising to the challenge of rooting out that evil and protecting children, but that is hugely resource-intensive. Secondly, there is the rapid growth of cybercrime.

Thirdly and crucially, there is the uniquely awful generational threat of terrorism that we now have in our country. Key to combating terrorism is good neighbourhood policing. Peter Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism, said that neighbourhood policing was “the golden thread” from the locality to the global, where plots are hatched by terrorists. Mark Rowley, the current head of counter-terrorism said that, from their point of view, neighbourhood policing was absolutely crucial. Remember that we are seeing arrests for terrorism nationally at the rate of one a day, and here in London, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has said that the majority of leads in relation to those engaged in or plotting terrorism has come from neighbourhood policing—not from high-tech surveillance, although that plays its role, or international collaboration, although that is absolutely crucial. However, neighbourhood policing and the patient building of good community relationships are key to detecting those who are planning such outrageous wrongdoing.

In conclusion, as Opposition Members have said, it is welcome that within 48 hours of the comprehensive spending review the Government pulled back from the brink and did not make a proposed 22% cut on top of the 25% cut in the last Parliament. However, the facts speak for themselves: resources will reduce. Neighbourhood policing in London is being hollowed out. I say, with due respect to the Minister, that at a time like this, the Government need to think again, because it is true that the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens and the Government cannot say, “We backed the police,” unless they make the necessary resources available.

12.48 pm

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice (Mike Penning): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time in the new year, Mr Bone; I am sure we will have plenty more encounters.

It is good to see the shadow Policing Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), in his position, and I hope that, as things progress, he stays in the job, because he is passionate and cares an awful lot—he knows me well enough to know I mean that.

I was wondering if I was on one side of a hustings for the mayoral election at one stage of the debate. I fully understand why the debate was called; in many ways, it was called prior to the announcement on the funding—[Interruption.] If I am wrong, I apologise, but it felt that way. This issue has certainly been part of the mayoral election campaign, and I would probably have done the same thing had I been on the other side. However, I would not be saying what has been said today, because anybody who is listening to this debate from outside the Chamber or outside London would think that crime in this country is rocketing and that terrible situations are happening across our country, but they are not.

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Let me touch on some of the points that have been made. What was the cut in the number of police officers in London? It was 4%. That was the loss in the number of police officers, yet crime in London has fallen. Recorded crime has fallen by 11%—[Interruption.]The shadow Minister has said from a sedentary position and previously, during his speech, that things have changed. Absolutely: crime in this country is changing dramatically. Police officers and chiefs, and in London the Mayor, must make the operational decisions on where to put resources.

We asked the 43 police forces for which I am responsible around England and Wales to look at whether they could make 25% savings or more. Some, including London, said they could make 10% savings over this spending round. The Labour party and its spokesman said they could save 10%. No one listening to this debate would know that the Labour party had said that before the spending round, but it did. We looked carefully at how we could police in this difficult situation going forward—not only local policing and making people feel safe in their homes, but dealing with terrorism and so on.

That must be put on the record, because no one will have heard during the past hour and a half that the Labour party wanted to cut spending on the police in this country by 10%.

Meg Hillier: I think the Minister has misunderstood some comments from Opposition Members. We acknowledge that there are issues with funding. We are saying that one priority should be ingrained, neighbourhood community policing because, for all the reasons outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), that has a beneficial effect all round.

Mike Penning: I respect the hon. Lady a lot, not least in her role as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, but that is a policing decision. It is for the police to decide how they police the community, not for politicians in this Chamber.

Ms Buck rose

Mr Gareth Thomas rose—

Mike Penning: I will give way in a moment if I can. It is not for us to say what police stations should be open. Those days have gone. We said we would not make the 10% cut that the Labour party recommended. We said no cut. In fact, there is a £900 million funding increase for London over this spending round.

Ms Buck: I want to challenge the Minister on operational decisions. I have wanted this debate for some time. Resources are an issue and we can debate them, but fundamentally it is absolutely right for politicians to talk about the values and principles on which our city is policed. Many Opposition Members have expressed deep concern about the local policing model, even if that model has rested upon the same resources that we had in 2010. It is completely right and just for us to do so, and the Minister is totally wrong to say that we should not be discussing that.

Mike Penning: I did not say we should not discuss that; I said we should not be telling the police how to police operationally, because that is fundamentally wrong.

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Mr Gareth Thomas rose

Sadiq Khan rose—

Mike Penning: I will not give way again, because I am very short on time.

Sadiq Khan: I will make it easy.

Mike Penning: The right hon. Gentleman has already presented his election campaign so we can wait a little longer for another press release.

We need to make sure that the public have the truth and are not scared—[Interruption.] I will not give way again, so hon. Members need not even try. We must make sure that public are not scared by these sorts of debate and the sorts of press releases that are being out here. Let me give an example of fantastic policing work being done in Westminster—in particular, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Westminster North, who did not mention this in her speech. Under Operation Trident recently, there have been 150 arrests, 15 knives have been seized, and nine adults have been charged with drug-related offences and given custodial sentences.

Ms Buck: Will the Minister given way?

Mike Penning: I will not give way. We have had a debate of nearly one and half hours, and positive things that are happening in parts of the hon. Lady’s constituency—

Ms Buck: Part of the issue with Operation Trident, which does some excellent work—I referred to it specifically—is that we have a lot of difficulty finding out what it does. The whole point of this debate rests on the fact that our safer neighbourhood teams were conduits for local information and relationship-building. That in no way detracts from the quality of police work. We are addressing a different problem. Operation Trident’s success lies on the bedrock of ward-based safer neighbourhood teams.

Sadiq Khan: The Minister does not get it.

Mike Penning: I will have to write to right hon. and hon. Members, as I will not have time to deal with all the points now, because we are going over the debate that we have already had. However, Operation Trident has done fantastic work, with local information, in the hon. Lady’s constituency, so arrests and prosecutions have taken place. That is happening today.

I will have the honour and privilege in the next couple of weeks of going to Hendon for the passing-out parade, so more officers will be coming out of basic training. On PCSOs, the commissioner has already announced that there will be no reduction from the present levels. I think we would accept that that is right and proper.

Let me also touch on some of the points to do with representation. I think that is really important. Actually, this is one of the things that the commissioner has done that I think is really important, and the Mayor of London has supported it as well. The commissioner has said that recruits—people who want to join the police—have to live in their communities. There is an exemption, which is right and proper, for our armed forces. I was born and bred in Edmonton, but I went off and joined the Army at 16. When I left the Army, I would never

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have been allowed to join the Met police under the present rules unless there was an exemption for our armed forces. That exemption is right and proper.

However, I think we need to go further. I would say this as a Hertfordshire MP, but the Metropolitan police often recruit trained police officers from outside the Met area and bring them in. I do not think that that is great. I know there are some specialist roles that need to be done, particularly in relation to armed response and other areas, but actually officers should replicate the communities that they serve. I am determined that, throughout the ranks of the police forces in England and Wales, officers should replicate the communities that they serve and live in them. They do not now, and that is not something that has suddenly happened; it is something that we should have addressed years ago. How many chief constables are from a black and ethnic minority background? Very few are, so we must ensure that that happens.

The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee mentioned other duties that the police undertake. That is one of the things that I have been banging on about. I am sorry if she has not heard or has been sent to sleep by any of the speeches that I have made on that subject, but I know that the shadow Policing Minister has heard them. We now have an inter-ministerial group—it started under the coalition—so that we are stopping police officers doing something that they are fundamentally not trained to do, particularly in relation to mental health. I have been out on patrol with the police, like many colleagues here, and all too often when we say, “Where are we going?”, the reply is that we are going to see Mary or Johnny, and this is at 7 o’clock on a Friday night. “Why are we going to see Mary?” “Well, because social services phoned up and they haven’t seen her all week. She’s a very vulnerable lady, so we should go and see her.” No, we should not. It was because a phone call had come in earlier in the evening saying, “We haven’t seen her. Will you go and see her?” That is a social services responsibility. Of course we went, and of course the police would do that, but it is not the key role of the police.

Ruth Cadbury: The Minister might like to reflect on the fact that too often the police are the ones being called in because too many of these public services, such as social care and youth services, either are non-existent or have been cut back so far that there is no one to do that visit.

Mike Penning: I would challenge whether that is true. I hear this from police officers all the time: when they ask social services when they realised that Mary or Johnny had not been visited and they have not heard from them, the answer is that it was earlier in the week. This nearly always happens on a Friday evening. I am not saying that the police will not respond—of course they will—but we should not be continually asking the police to do something that they are fundamentally not trained to do. Social services need to step up to the plate.

We have changed the rules, particularly on holding juveniles in cells. We were told that that could not work, but what was happening was fundamentally wrong and illegal. A place of safety for someone with a mental illness or a learning difficulty is not a police cell. It is

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actually and fundamentally an important place that they should be taken to. I was in Holborn recently and we did exactly that. Traditionally, people would have been taken back to the cells—section 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 might have been used to detain them. We are changing that more and more as we bring in mental health professionals—paid for by the NHS in most cases—who may be embedded with the police in custody facilities, although actually more of them are triaging people out on the streets. That is the sort of thing that is required. We have to have other experts from other departments. We have to break down these silos to try to ensure—


Hon. Members ask from a sedentary position where that is happening. It is happening around the country now. We must not say that it is acceptable that the police are being used inappropriately, and they have been for many years—not just under this Administration, but prior to that.

It is fundamentally important to make this point. Yes, there is a debate—a discussion—but the British public are safer today than they have ever been from traditional crime, which continues to fall. We must ensure that we put all our resources into protecting them from the new types of crime, particularly terrorism. Of course neighbourhood policing is a very important part of that, but it is not about buildings or stations; it is about people delivering the help that the public need.

Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): I apologise to Karen Buck, but we do not have time to come back to her for a winding-up speech.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Safer Neighbourhood policing in London.

Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): The debate that was scheduled to take place at 1 pm has been withdrawn by the Member in charge. Therefore the sitting will be suspended until 1.30 pm.

1 pm

Sitting suspended.

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UK and Kazakhstan

[Geraint Davies in the Chair]

1.30 pm

Geraint Davies (in the Chair): Happy new year, everyone.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the relationship between the UK and Kazakhstan.

Happy new year, everyone. It is particularly good to see staff from the embassy of Kazakhstan here. I declare my personal interest as treasurer of the all-party parliamentary group on Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is massive. The whole of western Europe would fit into the state. It is the world’s largest landlocked country, and it stretches from the Caspian sea to China. Some 16 million people live across its vast lands. Kazakhstan is so vast that, if those people were evenly spread out, there would be only six in every square kilometre. In 1991, Kazakhstan was the last former Soviet republic to break from the Soviet Union. The former Communist party leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has effectively ruled the country since its independence—he is now 75 years old. He was first elected as the secretary of the Communist party of Kazakhstan in 1989, but he was re-elected after the break with the Soviet Union in 1991. Practically unopposed, President Nazarbayev has won—

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I declare my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Kazakhstan. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of Kazakhstan’s problems is that its wealth is very much in its oil and that it needs to import many products? One of the challenges that the political leadership will have is in governance and the country’s relationship with its neighbours.

Bob Stewart: I thank my good friend, despite her being in opposition, for that intervention. I entirely agree that that is one of the problems that Kazakhstan has to address.

The President is very popular with ordinary Kazakhs and is credited with presiding over successful political, economic and social changes through the 1990s and impressive economic growth since 2000. Corruption is undoubtedly a serious problem in the country, with perceptions of Kazakhstan in Transparency International’s annual index being almost as bad as the perceptions of Russia. However, I note that Kazakhstan is not listed as a country of concern in the 2014 Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual report on human rights, unlike its neighbours Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Clearly, President Nazarbayev retains a tight rein on power. In fairness, he argues that real democracy will come one day but that change must be gradual so as not to destroy the country’s stability. That makes pragmatic sense, considering the situation in many surrounding countries. Kazakhstan is doing its very best in a region where good governance is hardly endemic. After all, Kazakhstan is no different from countless other states across the world, most of which the United Kingdom considers to be both friendly and a trading partner.

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With that in mind, I support Kazakhstan’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2017, and I hope the Minister will do so, too. Kazakhstan has a great record on non-proliferation and disarmament, and it gave invaluable help to our Government during the withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan. Kazakhstan also hosted two rounds of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme, which was important. Kazakhstan has also mediated in talks on Syria and Ukraine. Finally, the country has initiated the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in central Asia—that treaty was signed on 8 September 2006 in Kazakhstan. In 2009, it was Kazakhstan that initiated the adoption of the UN resolution declaring 29 August as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. Kazakhstan has also closed down a nuclear test site, which was a legacy of the Soviet Union. That is an impressive record.

Oil is dominant in Kazakhstan’s economy. It provides a very large source of foreign investment, Government revenues and employment. Kazakhstan is the 17th largest oil-producing country in the world and has the 12th largest proven reserves of oil, too. Booming oil prices sustained Kazakhstan’s strong growth from 2000 to 2007, when the global financial crisis hit. GDP per capita, a measure of living standards, rose by 89% in real terms over those years. Growth slowed in 2008 and 2009, but picked up again in 2010. The World Bank notes that those rising income levels have led to rapidly falling levels of poverty, which is excellent news.

Our Prime Minister visited the Kashagan oil district on the Caspian sea in June 2013, taking with him representatives from 30 British businesses. The visit was billed as the beginning of a new strategic partnership with the United Kingdom. More recently, President Nazarbayev visited the UK last November to hold talks with the Prime Minister in No. 10 Downing Street. The President and Prime Minister discussed Russia and Ukraine. On Syria, they considered the vital importance of finding a political solution to the conflict and, concerning Daesh, the Prime Minister and President agreed that violent Islamist extremism poses one of the most significant threats to our generation and that there must be comprehensive efforts to defeat it. On Afghanistan, the two leaders agreed that rebuilding the economy would be a key guarantor of the country’s future stability. In short, Kazakhstan is clearly playing a full and responsible part on the world stage.

After the meeting, the Prime Minister announced that the two leaders had secured 40 deals worth £3 billion. The biggest deal was a memorandum of understanding with Kazakh state firm KazTransGas on the construction of a 1,500 km gas pipeline and four power plants in Kazakhstan. Will the Minister tell us about President Nazarbayev’s reforms and our partnership deals with Kazakhstan? What further plans are there to enhance our relationship with the Kazakhs?

I am told that there is a bit of a problem doing business in Kazakhstan. Consultant advisers such as McKinsey & Company suggests that it stems from factors such as the taxation system, lack of transparency, corruption and possibly the revision of original contracts, which is awful for businesses. Mindful that the UK is one of the top 10 investors in Kazakhstan, what are the Government doing to help fix such problems for our businesses?

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As a member of the Defence Committee, I am particularly interested in how we can foster and grow a bigger military relationship between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom. I gather that a certain amount of defence co-operation has taken place already, particularly on the UK’s withdrawal of troops from neighbouring Afghanistan. Just over two years ago, in November 2013, a military co-operation plan was signed between our Ministry of Defence and Kazakhstan’s. Matters decided included support for English language training, career courses in the UK and peacekeeping courses with the British military advisory training team based in the Czech Republic, as well as for programmes to professionalise the Kazakh armed forces and participate in KADEX, the Kazakhstan defence exhibition. Although I appreciate that the Minister is not part of the defence ministerial team, when he replies to this debate, can he update us on the status of our defence relationship with Kazakhstan?

In conclusion, I believe that the United Kingdom’s current and future relationship with Kazakhstan is of huge importance and will be beneficial to both. Kazakhstan might not be a democracy in the way that we experience democracy, but it is one in its own manner. We should help the country to evolve its own version of democracy even further, which will take time. Political, economic, social and military links between the UK and Kazakhstan will help each not only to understand the other better but to prosper.

Geraint Davies (in the Chair): I call Peter Grant. [Interruption.] Sorry; my notes are obviously wrong. I call Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.

1.42 pm

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Davies. I apologise for any confusion on our part. I wish everybody a happy new year and welcome members of the Kazakh embassy, and I thank the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for securing this debate.

Kazakhstan’s history, geography and economy make our relationship an important one. I understand that the Government’s position is to secure that relationship in order to become the country’s partner of choice and build on our strong position with regard to trade and investment. Given this Government’s woeful record on the balance of trade, I suppose that every bit helps in closing our current huge trade deficit. As the British Chambers of Commerce said last month, our poor trade performance will continue to be a drag on UK growth into the fourth quarter. I agree with this quote from the BCC:

“If we are to redress the balance and reverse our long-running trade deficit, more must be done to help support export growth, including improved access to funding for those looking to export.”

In the context of this debate, I agree that it makes strategic sense to work to become a key partner of Kazakhstan, particularly on trade. As the hon. Member for Beckenham mentioned, Kazakhstan is currently 126th out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, which is significant. It signals to those of us in the SNP that we need to be a friend to the people of Kazakhstan, not just to its Government.

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Kazakhstan restricts freedom of assembly, speech and religion, and torture remains a problem. In 2014, authorities closed newspapers and jailed or fined dozens of people after peaceful but unsanctioned protests, and fined or detained worshipers for practising religion outside state controls. Critics of the Government remain in detention after unfair trials. Recently adopted changes to the criminal code and a new law on trade unions contain articles that restrict fundamental freedoms and are incompatible with international standards. If we are to be a friend to the Kazakh people, as I believe we should be, we must make every effort to use our position of influence with President Nazarbayev to conduct serious reforms of his country’s democratic process and human rights legislation.

Press freedom is a case in point. Kazakhstan was placed 160th out of 180 countries in the 2015 world press freedom index, which noted that media pluralism is succumbing to increasing repression by the regime. Increased Government pressure on the press has shrunk the already limited space for freedom of expression. Media production and distribution are largely controlled by members of the Nazarbayev family or powerful businesses affiliated with the regime. Government propaganda dominates the informational space and systematically discredits independent voices. In fact, a London-based correspondent for the state TV channel, Bela Kudaibergenova, quit her job on 3 December, saying that she was “tired of lying”.

One particular human rights case that I want to raise is the detention of Vladimir Kozlov, a journalist and the leader of the unregistered political party Alga. It is a significant act that has rightly attracted attention from international human rights groups. He was sentenced on 8 October 2012 to seven and a half years in prison. The charges relate to Kozlov’s alleged role in violent clashes that took place in Zhanaozen following extended labour strikes. A month after Kozlov’s trial, a court suspended the activities of Kozlov’s party after the Almaty prosecutor’s office asked a court to designate Alga, the People’s Front movement and several opposition media outlets as extremist.

I am glad that the Prime Minister met the Kazakh President at Downing Street in November, and raised

“Kazakhstan’s progress on political and societal reform”

within a wider discussion of trade and international security. It would be most helpful if the Minister confirmed whether, during those talks, the Prime Minister raised the specific case of Vladimir Kozlov. What measures has the Foreign Office taken to ensure that promoting human rights in Kazakhstan stays at the top of our bilateral agenda?

The development of Kazakhstan’s economy presents a range of opportunities for organisations from the UK and Scotland, from the oil industry to our higher education sector. We must ensure that we use our favourable position to exert pressure on the President to address the serious human rights issues in his country at the same time. Consistency of approach on human rights is imperative.

1.47 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): For the sake of belt and braces, I repeat my interest as chair of the all-party group on Kazakhstan. I am

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beginning to wonder whether, whenever we discuss a country, we should start by being given a map showing that country in the centre. It would give us a bit more understanding of the geographical constraints and some of the problems and historical developments. In the case of Kazakhstan, that is particularly important now that we are establishing more exchange and relationship.

I think of a poignant quote from the chief executive officer of the Kazakh central bank, Berik Otemurat; I am happy to take pronunciation lessons after this debate. As someone whose name is permanently mispronounced, I am sure that it must be irritating for people to listen to us mispronouncing their names. He said of Kazakhstan’s current problems in the context of falling oil prices that the country has massive cash reserves, and it is a question of how to invest those; what is its relationship with hedge funds and all the new financial vehicles? He went on:

“I have always thought about ourselves”—


“as a newly-born giant kid standing on the shore of an ocean of opportunities for the country, being afraid to make our first steps without breaking a leg. Before you run you have to learn how to walk.”

What is imperative is reaching out both to the people and to the Government. As for our definition of democracy, we hope that this is not just the beginning, but that democracy will continue. The Government are the people, and the people should provide the Government. Therefore, it is not always helpful to draw those kinds of separations.

However, the best thing that we can do to help in terms of reaching out and allowing this process, which in many ways is one of learning to walk, is around governance, including governance of party political processes. We have fantastic organisations here, such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, where we work across parties. We must recognise that there is a real difficulty post-1989 for countries to establish political parties, including a process whereby loyal opposition parties that have different ways of thinking about how things should be done can be established.

At the same time, when there is an electoral result of 97% for one party we just know that something is wrong; not even someone’s own family would vote for them with a margin of 97%. That takes us to the processes of transition. One mistake that we sometimes make is that we think that just because someone has a ballot paper and because there are ballot boxes, that in itself means there is a democratic process; that may be one of my criticisms of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe when it carries out election monitoring. Kazakhstan has gone through the process, but to quote T.S. Eliot, “You had the experience but you may have missed the meaning”. For me, the meaning always is that the people actually change those in Government in a peaceful process. So, it is not the first election or even the second election that matters; what matters for me is always the first peaceful transition from those who have been in power to the Opposition, which replaces them. In that sense, when we look at that whole part of the world post-1989, we see that most of the countries are, in some way or another, struggling with that process.

We need to do what we can to help with that process. There is a reason why I think Governments and bureaucracies are so important. I always say we need

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bureaucracy and such things as a civil service and all the other institutions because they are the organisations that stop things from going seriously wrong when there is a crisis. Therefore, we need those fall-back positions.

There are two areas that I plead to the Minister about regarding our relationship with Kazakhstan. One is financial governance. There are some serious problems if a country has huge cash reserves, is beginning to look at greater involvement with hedge funds and has a big national sovereign fund. We also read about the emergence of the Bitcoin market. If the financial markets are ungoverned spaces, we just know that something will go wrong.

The second area is about the times when a country experiences very high inflation while also experiencing falling oil prices. Those periods will have some economic problems, which—again—we can provide some significant help with, by supporting those structures that I have mentioned. What will hold us together is membership of the big international organisations, whether it is the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund or the United Nations. Those structures have rules which we all must comply with. Therefore, it is as much in the interests of the people of Kazakhstan as it is in our interests that such rules-based processes and a shared understanding of those rules are entrenched, so that the rules are not something that countries must learn to evade or avoid, but instead help people to govern their own country and to deal with other people.

Building that capacity—whether it is with the OSCE or the WFD, or through bilateral support of our businesses—is something that we must do more of, particularly in those parts of the world that will become increasingly important to us all. It is in relation to one of those countries—Kazakhstan—that I am glad that parliamentary colleagues, both in the Commons and in the Lords, have decided that an all-party group should be formed. Therefore, I hope that, in the end, we will learn from each other, and if we cannot do so I hope that we will at least understand each other better.

1.54 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

I thank my very good friend, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), for bringing this matter to Westminster Hall for consideration. It will be no surprise to Members here that I will focus on some of the human rights issues and the persecution of Christians in Kazakhstan. I mean to do so in a very constructive way. I hope that Members will view my contribution in that way, but it is also very important that these things are said; they need to be said. We have a very strong economic working relationship with Kazakhstan and we want that to continue, but the issues of human rights and equalities, as well as the abuses that take place, also have to be addressed.

Kazakhstan is often overlooked, but it is the world’s largest landlocked country; as the hon. Member for Beckenham said in his introductory remarks, it is larger than western Europe. Therefore, I suppose that we should not be that surprised to learn that the astronaut Tim Peake was launched into space from that central Asian republic. It has been ruled by the same president—Nursultan Nazarbayev—since it gained independence

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from the Soviet Union in 1991. Nazarbayev’s regime is heavily criticised by human rights groups for restricting freedom of speech and for its apparent lack of democracy. At the most recent presidential elections, Mr Nazarbayev obtained 97% of the vote, which is a majority that some MPs can only dream of.

As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) said, there has been a start to democracy in Kazakhstan, but there is a long way for that democracy to move, and it must move alongside the securing of human rights and equalities. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) clearly outlined the human rights issues in her contribution, and I will do that too, as well as I can.

Kazakhstan is No. 42 on the Open Doors world watch list and suffers from both Islamic extremism and dictatorial paranoia. The population is 16.7 million, of which 2.5 million are Christian, although the majority of people in Kazakhstan are followers of Islam. The Christians amount to some 12% to 13% of the population. Not all Christians are affected by persecution in Kazakhstan, but those from non-traditional Protestant groups or who are converts from Islam face the most pressure from both families and communities, as well as from the regime, which is constantly working hard to extend its influence in the country.

More and more sanctions have been imposed on the Church, and Christians are frequently fined for their activities, while pastors are often arrested and imprisoned. In 2014, at least 71 people were fined for worshipping in unregistered underground churches. When people are denied their basic human rights and cannot enjoy freedom of religion or belief, it is little wonder that they are forced underground. Also, a law passed in 2011 limits church registration to groups of more than 50 people, forcing more than 500 churches to close and making church planting nearly impossible. It is surprising that there are 2.5 million Christians in Kazakhstan when we realise the very direct effect that those activities have had upon them. In 2013, Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev from Astana—such names never come out right in my Ulster Scots accent—spent eight months in prison and was given a four-year suspended sentence for allegedly serving a mind-altering substance to a parishioner, which turned out to be nothing more than herbal tea that was being used for communion.

Those are some of the things that have happened in Kazakhstan, Mr Davies, and you can understand why we as MPs have to ask these questions and make these contributions. Hopefully we do so in a constructive way through this debate, while also having these things recorded.

On human rights, Kazakhstan heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech and religion, and torture remains a serious problem. In 2014, the authorities closed newspapers, jailed or fined dozens of people after peaceful but unsanctioned protests, and fined or detained worshippers for practising religion outside state controls. Government critics including Vladimir Kozlov, the opposition leader who the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire referred to earlier, remain in detention after unfair trials.

Recently adopted changes to the Kazakh criminal code, as well as a new law on trade unions, contain articles restricting fundamental freedoms, which is incompatible with international standards, and I am

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sure the Minister will refer to that in his response to the debate. Also, despite widespread calls to decriminalise libel and to amend the overboard criminal offence of inciting social, national, clan, racial or religious discord, the Kazakh authorities increased the sanctions for these offences in the new criminal code. We have to ask why they have done that, and why they restrict the freedoms of religion, expression and belief of the Kazakh people.

Independent and opposition media continue to face harassment and interference in their work. For example, in May 2014 a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist was jailed for four days on hooliganism charges. He was not involved in any protest; he was just reporting for the radio after covering an anti-Eurasian Economic Union meeting.

These are some of the things that have happened in Kazakhstan. I have asked some questions about Kazakhstan before; they are in the background information that I have. The Minister who is here today was the person who responded to those questions. I asked questions in relation to fundamental labour rights and exploitation of child labour. I also asked questions about human rights, and freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. In fairness—I give credit where credit is due—the Minister responded that the previous Foreign Secretary had brought the issue of human rights before the Kazakhstan Foreign Minister. I am not saying that no one has done anything, but I do not see the response and the changes, and it is changes that I want to see, so I think that the issue needs to be brought to Kazakhstan’s attention again.

Despite the fact that the general public might overlook Kazakhstan, this central Asian republic is a hidden gem, with the potential to unleash a new wave of economic growth and co-operation between east and west. And it can do that, as the hon. Member for Beckenham said very well in his introduction. The ancient silk road that linked China in the east to us in the west ran through what is now Kazakhstan, and the potential for a new silk road has been talked about and can hopefully come to fruition. However, we must address the Kazakh regime’s shortcomings on human rights and democracy.

Britons can visit the country visa-free until the end of 2017. We are a nation that is in favour with the Kazakhs and I expect we will be top of the list for future co-operation, as the emerging powerhouse gains traction and begins to fulfil its true potential. Kazakhstan is underdeveloped, but it is sitting on an abundant wealth of natural resources and minerals and it is essential that we work with the country to move it towards a real democracy with which we can work. We can then truly begin to unleash the potential of a close relationship with what is sure to become the powerhouse of central Asia and a facilitator of even greater trade links with the far east’s emerging economies. The country is strategically placed, and we want to develop our relationship with it.

As we continue to advance our space industry and the stars become more and more within our reach, Kazakhstan, with its space capabilities, will become a central part of that. I am sure that Tim Peake will not be the last person to launch into orbit from such a place. The potential is there. Undoubtedly, Kazakhstan is one for the future.

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I have outlined the potential for a new silk road, the abundance of underdeveloped resources and the huge swathes of undeveloped land, but we cannot fulfil the potential until we have progress on the key issues of human rights and democracy. With the election results I referred to being dismissed by the OECD as “largely indiscernible” and human rights organisations across the board continuing to raise the poor track record of the regime, with some of them feeling that it is getting worse, it is essential to put the necessary pressure on the Kazakh regime and let it know that such infringements are simply intolerable in this day and age. We need to get a balance between economic co-operation, human rights, equalities and religious freedom. Despite what Mr Nazarbayev’s public relations offensive would have us think, Kazakhstan continues to stand as a pre-eminent post-Soviet dictatorship, in which, in addition to the disregard for democracy, political opposition and independent media are routinely stifled. Events such as the 2011 Zhanaozen massacre, in which a dozen unarmed protestors were killed, have gone largely unpunished and, despite free speech being guaranteed in the country’s constitution, the reality is very different—I have given examples of just that. The potential for Kazakhstan is amazing, but we can begin to work fully with it to fulfil that potential only when the regime becomes a democracy that respects all human rights.

Geraint Davies (in the Chair): We now turn to the Front-Bench speakers, beginning with Peter Grant for the SNP.

2.3 pm

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Davies. Bliadhna Mhath Ùr dhuibh uile an seo. Happy new year to all those present. I commend the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for securing the debate, and I apologise for the slight confusion about the speaking order. I do not think that either my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) or I have got over the shock of discovering at 8 o’clock last night that we would be on now, rather than at half-past 4, but we got here on time.

It is interesting that most of the speakers agree on what we are looking for. Kazakhstan is clearly a country of enormous strategic importance, but it is not our country; it is theirs, and we have to be careful about interfering too far in someone else’s country. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, it is a country that has not yet managed to shake off the chains of the dictatorship its people lived under in Soviet times. It is a country with massive mineral wealth, and that inevitably means that everyone wants to be its friend. The judgment call that the UK Government and other Governments have to make must be this: where do we balance out the desire to ensure development in a way that matches our interests with not ignoring the serious human rights issues that continue to emerge?

Other speakers have commented on some of the more serious cases, so I will not repeat the details, but it often seems that if a country’s press is not genuinely free, its human rights record will never be all that good. If no one is allowed to criticise, even if the criticism turns out to be unjustified, human rights abuses, corruption and the abuse of power will carry on, and even those who feel they should draw attention to

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and expose such criminal acts are scared to because they are worried about what the consequences might be for them.

It is noticeable that Kazakhstan as a whole is already starting to reap the economic benefits of the massive natural resources at its disposal. Economic growth is significantly higher than in many other countries. Its GDP per capita places it well above average and pushes it just about into the top quartile of the world’s countries—according to my good friends at the CIA, who I find are good sources of information on any country I want to check up on. By comparison, however, the lot of the typical Kazakhstan citizen is not all that great. It is 152nd in the world for life expectancy—almost into the third quartile—and 157th and 138th for health and education expenditure respectively. Those are figures we would expect to see from a country that did not have the resources to invest in its people. Compared with many parts of the UK, Kazakhstan has a relatively young population, with the majority of its citizens of working age—between 25 and 55—and a significant number of young people as well, so by investing in education and health it can start to improve life expectancy.

It may be that life expectancy has been reduced by the appalling environmental legacy of the former Soviet masters. There is no doubt that taking advantage of the oil and mineral wealth has left behind pollution on a catastrophic scale. Kazakhstan borders the Aral sea, which has been described by some as the world’s worst ever man-made environmental disaster. Because of a number of misguided policies of previous Soviet Governments, the sea is down to a fraction of its previous volume, which means that the pollution that flowed into it has now been left to blow around, affecting the health and lives of both the people and the livestock on which the agricultural economy of parts of the country greatly relies.

Some 59,000 children under the age of 14 are in employment in Kazakhstan. Why is that happening in what is a wealthy country?

Hon. Members have commented on the fact that there is, at first glance, a democratic society in Kazakhstan. People are allowed to vote in elections, but I do not think one needs to be too cynical to wonder whether elections are genuinely free and fair if between 95% and 97% of people vote for the same party. It is possible to get 95% of elected politicians from the same party without that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire and I can testify—but that is because of a flaw in an electoral system that is far from perfect. However, any election in which such a high proportion of the electorate is said to have voted in the same way makes one wonder whether they had a proper choice. The result is possibly partly explained by the enormous personal popularity of the President. If he is seen by his people as someone who has done a lot to manage the transition from what was effectively a colony of Russia to an independent nation and they are enormously grateful to him for that, we must respect that and their decision to vote for him.

Just a few weeks ago, Kazakhstan became the first and so far only country in central Asia to sign an enhanced partnership and co-operation agreement with the European Union. Interestingly, in the early stages of negotiation, the EU made it clear that progress towards such an agreement would depend on progress

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in Kazakhstan’s human rights record. If anything, that record has deteriorated over the time of the negotiations. The European Scrutiny Committee, on which you and I serve, Mr Davies, might want to return to that when the agreements on closer co-operation between the EU and Kazakhstan start coming through for UK Government Ministers to ratify or not—that is, if the EU is still relevant to the UK Government in a few years’ time. Will the Minister indicate what view the Government take on the agreement? Do they feel that Kazakhstan has made sufficient progress on human rights for us to sign up to that agreement, or should we be looking for more?

We have to recognise that progress has been made, but we also have to recognise that that progress has been far too slow. If anything, we have been regressing rather than progressing. I hope that we will get an assurance that, as well as looking for trade deals that would benefit our economy and provide export opportunities for the United Kingdom, we will set an example of what used to be termed an ethical foreign policy. I hope the Minister will assure us that we will not allow UK investment power or the desire for economic growth in the United Kingdom to come at the cost of the abuse of human rights and the exploitation of child workers in some major industries in Kazakhstan, or at the cost of our turning a blind ear or a deaf ear to the cries of religious minorities who are not allowed to practise their faith in peace, or of journalists and other media workers who are not allowed to express fair criticism and are effectively not allowed to disagree publicly with the party line. I am interested to hear what he has to say about that. I am also very interested to see what comes before the European Scrutiny Committee in the presumably not too distant future. It would be good to look into the area in more detail.

I understand the strategic concerns of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about Russia and China wooing Kazakhstan hard. If we have a country that would not match our definition of a full democracy, but which has a substantial Muslim population and a leader who is absolutely determined not to allow his country to become a breeding ground for Daesh and its preaching of hatred and death, there are clear reasons why we should want to speak to that country and be friends with it. We may at times have to be critical friends, and sometimes that criticism may need to be severe indeed.

2.12 pm

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I will be very brief, because I know that the Minister will want a lot of time to respond to all the concerns that have been expressed. I commend the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing the debate. The fluctuations in the oil markets have brought the topic into focus and shown the importance of this huge country to that economic question.

In brief, a couple of the points that the Minister should cover in his response are: how we can further work together on the counter-terrorism strategies that were briefly mentioned at the beginning of the debate; and how we can come together around the work on the anti-corruption strategies—I know he is working on them in other parts of the world as well—and governance. We have had a good level of debate on the human rights

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questions, particularly the treatment of journalists, child labour and freedom of religious expression, but I would appreciate it if the Minister gave quite a bit of detail on the governance questions. I look forward to his response. I am keeping it nice and brief, as I am sure that the hon. Member for Beckenham would like to come back at the end.

2.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I wish you and hon. Members a happy new year. It is a real pleasure to respond to this debate on our relationship with the important country of Kazakhstan. I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing the debate. I am pleased to see the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) in her place. She is co-chair of the all-party group on Kazakhstan with Lord Astor. That is formidable cross-party representation and a reflection not only of the interests of Parliament, but of the bond between the two countries.

I pay tribute to the Kazakh ambassador, His Excellency Erzhan Kazykhanov. His hair went a little bit greyer, as did all of ours, in preparing for the presidential visit to this country and the Prime Minister’s visit to Kazakhstan in 2013. Both visits were extremely successful and were examples of how our two countries are working together far more closely. I had the pleasure of visiting the country last September. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham articulated, this landlocked country is the size of Australia—it is situated between Russia and China; it is where the apple is said to have originated and where horses are claimed to have first been domesticated; and it lived under the tsarist shadow and then the Soviet shadow—and there is no doubt that it is taking significant steps in becoming a regional and global power. The recent visit by the President is testament to the growing bond between our two countries. During my visit, the presidential visit here and the Prime Minister’s visit in 2013, the hand of friendship has been clearly extended to Britain, and we should embrace it.

For people who have not been to the country and are not familiar with the region, the chances are that when they think of Kazakhstan, their thoughts might be out of date. It is a proud, rich and extremely large country that has escaped the shackles of its Soviet past and is modernising. It is confident and willing to do business with traditional trading partners in Moscow and newer partners such as China, south-east Asia, the west and Britain. Commercially and politically, the Kazakhstan of today is on the verge of becoming a significant player on the regional and international stage. It boasts, as we have heard, an impressive range of mineral wealth, from oil and gas to ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and a space launch facility, which a Briton has taken advantage of to get up into the International Space Station—I pay tribute to Tim Peake, who I had the pleasure of serving with in the Royal Green Jackets, and I hope that Members will wish him well.

The country has changed hugely, and when I visited the capital I saw that its skyline was akin to that of Dubai, with many of the skyscrapers designed by British

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architects. Kazakhstan has also decided to fast-forward its integration into the international rules-based system on which the world’s security and prosperity depend, reducing the role of the state in its economy through a substantial privatisation programme. Furthermore, the introduction of English contract law as part of the development of the Astana international financial centre makes the country one to watch—or, for someone in business, a country to consider visiting before being beaten to it by competitors in other countries.

Kazakhstan is about to become a member of the World Trade Organisation, and it aspires to membership of the G30 and the OECD in coming years. As has been mentioned, an enhanced partnership and co-operation agreement with the EU will shortly be concluded, enabling a broader and closer partnership.

Ms Gisela Stuart: I am grateful in particular for the Minister’s comments about the WTO. Are contract law and WTO membership both things that will require anti-corruption measures to be addressed very seriously? We have a mutual interest in Kazakhstan meeting those requirements, which will also enable our companies to deal with the country.

Mr Ellwood: I absolutely concur that a strength of our relationship with Kazakhstan will be, with our experience, to encourage the country to sign those agreements and to engage with the international rules that will allow and encourage further commercial activity and the bond between our two countries. Only when businesses are confident that there is that positive and transparent environment will we be able to enhance the commercial relationship that the hon. Lady is espousing.

I am grateful that the President was able to make his visit to the United Kingdom in November, which confirmed the UK as a partner of choice as he seeks to implement governance and rule of law reforms, in line with universal rights reforms as well. Another important element of our bilateral relationship, which I know is of particular interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, is the military relationship, which he raised in relation to various matters. He articulated the need for political structures and mentioned President Nazarbayev’s reforms, the challenges in doing business and our commercial and military relationships. I will address those one by one.

First, the success of any country relies on good governance and reform. While acknowledging the continuing challenges faced, we should recognise that Kazakhstan has made great efforts to improve its governance structures and engage accordingly as the best way to promote reform. In May, President Nazarbayev launched a far-reaching programme of reforms. These included changes to the legal system, the civil service, the economy, and public accountability. These will be implemented through his 100 concrete steps—essentially, milestones for each of the five reform areas that hon. Members have mentioned today.

I recognise, as other hon. Members did in their contributions, that although Kazakhstan has made real progress on its human rights record, there is further work to be done, in particular to avoid the risk that progress in one area might be offset by retrograde developments in others. We rightfully have high expectations for a country that is a leader in the region and seeks a greater international role.

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During the President’s visit in November, the Prime Minister discussed Kazakhstan’s progress on political and societal reform, including creating a more permissive environment for non-governmental organisations. The President outlined some of his thinking on the reform agenda and spoke of the creation of new structures designed to tackle corruption. For our part, we plan to invite Kazakh Government representatives to our anti-corruption summit in May. Our embassy in Astana is one of a small number that contribute to regular meetings of the Kazakh Investment Council, where transparency issues are discussed. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that, on taxation, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is working hard on a revised double taxation agreement with the Kazakhs. Those discussions will be completed shortly.

On the commercial relationship, let me answer hon. Members’ questions about where we stand on the various partnership deals since President Nazarbayev’s visit to the UK last year. A wide variety of commercial memorandums of understanding were signed during the President’s visit, ranging from joint exploration studies to the forming of a task force to facilitate new partnerships between Kazakh and UK companies in the oil and gas sector. The target is to form 10 to 15 new partnerships in the sector by 2017. We are working hard across Government to follow up swiftly. For example, in the gas sector, UK Trade & Investment is offering in-country assistance to the British company, Independent Power Corporation, to help to take forward its programme.

To provide the maximum support to British businesses, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has appointed Lord Astor as trade envoy for Kazakhstan, so he is not just co-chair. I pay tribute to Charles Hendry for the work he has done. He will now work with the country as it hosts EXPO 17 and will act as the commissioner for the United Kingdom. Both will play an active role in the UK’s thriving bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan, and they are both planning to visit the country next month.

We will continue to support British businesses wanting to trade with Kazakhstan across sectors, from energy to infrastructure. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston commented on the falling oil prices. That underlines the need to not rely on hydrocarbons, but to diversify. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham noted, the opportunities are many. For example, the two-way trade in the region is worth about £1 billion per annum. Over the next 10 years, expenditure on major new oil and gas developments in Kazakhstan is expected to exceed £60 billion. We want to be a part of this exciting investment. Indeed, the oil and gas programme is the highest grossing programme globally for UKTI, having already delivered £6.6 billion of business wins for the UK.

On military relations, the Ministry of Defence, through the defence attaché in Astana, has built an extensive network of contacts throughout the Kazakh armed forces. There have been reciprocal visits at the highest level of chiefs of defence staff, and a visit by the Kazakh Defence Minister in 2013. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham raised the issue of officer cadets from Kazakhstan being trained in the UK. Our MOD colleagues have been working hard on this. I am pleased to say that it is now making real progress and our embassy is currently following up with the Kazakhs.

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The current focal point of defence engagement with Kazakhstan is the Steppe Eagle exercise, now in its 13th year, with the aim of developing the Kazakh forces’ capabilities to deploy on peacekeeping missions, which my hon. Friend mentioned. In July 2016, it will take place in the UK for the first time, and we look forward to Kazakhstan taking part in its first UN peacekeeping role in the near future. Exercise Steppe Eagle is clear evidence of Kazakhstan’s growing international ambitions and of the positive contribution it can make on the international stage.

Jim Shannon: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Ellwood: I am conscious of the time; I want to give a minute or two to the motion’s proposer.

I want to come to the human rights matters, which are of interest to many Members. Human rights in Kazakhstan have not progressed at the speed and to the extent that we and others would have liked. When looking at human rights in Kazakhstan, we acknowledge that it is a relatively young country, only gaining full independence in 1989. However, progress has been made. For example, we have seen important progress on social and women’s rights, as well as on torture prevention. The development of a national preventive mechanism against torture is a significant step that is starting to have real effect. The rights of children have improved and progress against human trafficking has been made. Dialogue between the Government and NGOs critical of their activities is gradually improving.

Jim Shannon: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Ellwood: I am afraid I cannot give way; there is not enough time.

Challenges remain, and, as I said earlier, there is a risk of advancements being made one way affecting efforts elsewhere. Time is against me; I will try to write to hon. Members if I have not answered their points. In conclusion, we have a deep and growing relationship and substantial mutual interests with Kazakhstan. These interests will not stop us raising sensitive issues, including corruption and human rights, as we would with any partner country. Kazakhstan’s ambition to take on a wider regional and international role is also leading it to take on associated responsibilities. I acknowledge what my hon. Friend said about the UN Security Council seat. It is a prominent role, which we welcome. We of course do not declare our voting intentions to do with any country. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham for securing this debate and for the contributions that have been made. If I have not answered all the questions—I know there is one outstanding question to do with a particular case—I will write to hon. Members in due course.

2.28 pm

Bob Stewart: I want to thank some of my favourite Members of Parliament for turning up to support this debate. Kazakhstan is somewhere that matters a great deal. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) for saying that people matter just as much as Governments and we should do our best to get to grips with the people. I am very impressed, as always, by the right hon.

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Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who always speaks so well and to the point. She made the point that democracy is not just about ballot boxes, but about a system, and I entirely agree with that. She was absolutely right about getting good governance in the financial system to spread the wealth of the country around.

My very good friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), raised the matter of persecution and human rights, and the 2.5 million Christians in the country. I hope that our debate today will help protect them.

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The Front-Bench speakers were excellent too. I very much agree with the speech of the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant). He said that it is not our country, but we can have a bit of influence—if we can—in that country. We all agree that a free press is important, and I subscribe to the view that we should try to encourage the country to use some of its wealth to increase life expectancy among its population.

2.30 pm

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