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House of Commons

Tuesday 8 March 2016

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Foreign National Offenders

1. Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on steps to remove foreign national offenders from UK prisons to their home countries. [903940]

4. Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on steps to remove foreign national offenders from UK prisons to their home countries. [903944]

9. Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on steps to remove foreign national offenders from UK prisons to their home countries. [R] [903950]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Dominic Raab): The Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary have regular bilateral meetings in which they discuss progress on removing foreign national offenders from UK prisons and more generally. It remains a top priority for both Departments.

Bob Blackman: In London, we welcome people who come here to study, be tourists or add to our economy, but not those who commit crime and are then imprisoned. With 40% of crime in London committed by foreign nationals, what more can my hon. Friend do to ensure that those responsible are deported at the end of their sentences and not allowed back into this country?

Mr Raab: The number of foreign national offenders in the prison population went down by 1,240 between June 2010 and December 2015, but my hon. Friend is right and we strive to do better. Further action is being taken. As the Prime Minister announced on 8 February, we have introduced in the Policing and Crime Bill a new clause that requires defendants appearing in court to provide their name, date of birth and nationality. That is an important tool, backed up by a criminal offence for failure to respond that will help us to remove even more FNOs. That is vital for public protection and vital to saving precious taxpayers’ money.

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Andrew Bridgen: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is totally unacceptable for the British taxpayer to be paying for foreign criminals?

Mr Raab: My hon. Friend is right. We have a range of existing measures, as well as the new action I have just described. The early release scheme allows for the early removal of foreign national offenders. We remove about 1,800 prisoners per year under that scheme and there are also prisoner transfer agreements. Overall, 29,000 FNOs have been removed between 2010 and 2015.

Mr Speaker: I call Suella Fernandes. She is not here. I call Mr Philip Hollobone.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What efforts are made to ensure that EU national foreign offenders who have been returned to their countries are banned from returning to the United Kingdom—or is that sort of sensible precaution not possible while we are a member of the European Union?

Mr Raab: My hon. Friend makes, if I may say so, a predictable but powerful point. There clearly are restrictions as a result of free movement, but we try to exercise the powers we have as strenuously and as vigorously as possible.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): My constituent was stabbed by a criminal who was given an indefinite hospital order. In my view, he should be deported. If I write to the Minister, will he look at the case to see that justice is done for my constituent?

Mr Raab: Those kinds of cases are very serious and very traumatic for the family. I am very sympathetic, and the hon. Lady should please feel free to write to me. All I would say to Opposition Members is that when we come to consider human rights reform, I hope that on the substance we can enlist as much support across the House as possible.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): The Minister will know that 25% of the foreign national offenders in our prisons come from three EU countries: Ireland, Poland and Romania. What is the reluctance of other EU countries to take back their own citizens who have been committing crimes in our country?

Mr Raab: We try, through our prisoner transfer agreements and residual national powers, to exercise powers as robustly as possible to remove as many people as possible. The right hon. Gentleman will know that, as a result of the EU free movement rules and of the Human Rights Act 1998 and human rights regime—which is, in fairness, separate, albeit related to some degree—there are restrictions. As I said to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), when it comes to looking at human rights reform I hope sensible people with experience, such as the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, will look very carefully at the substance and not just take a purely political stance.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): In July 2012, when the Government signed a compulsory transfer agreement with Albania, the then prison Minister said he hoped it

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would be the first of many. How many have there been since then, and how is the arrangement with Albania going?

Mr Raab: We have more than 100 bilateral prisoner transfer agreements, as well as Council of Europe and Commonwealth schemes. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I can write to him in due course on the particular numbers under the Albanian agreement.

Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the deportation of foreign national offenders is in some cases inhibited by the operation of the Human Rights Act? If so, will the Minister update the House on plans to repeal it and replace it with a British Bill of Rights?

Mr Raab: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One specific issue we want to look at in some detail is the scope to which our Bill of Rights can facilitate the removal of serious offenders, particularly when they have relied on their rather elastic, opaque and ever-expanding rights under article 8. The removal of serious offenders is made even more difficult because of the Human Rights Act. Our proposals will be coming in due course.

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): There are many convicted criminals in our prisons who, after committing crimes in the UK, fled the UK and were then returned here to face justice, thanks to the European arrest warrant. Will the Minister explain to the House how the interests of victims of crime can be protected if we leave the EU and, as a result, the scope of the EAW?

Mr Raab: I think the hon. Lady is slightly confused about the difference between extradition and deportation. As a result of European law, it has become harder and harder to deport foreign national offenders, while unfortunately the fast-track extradition of innocent British citizens has become easier and easier. That balance should be addressed, and in that I hope we can enlist her support.

Mental Health Treatment: Young Offenders

2. David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to improve mental health treatment for young people serving custodial sentences; and if he will make a statement. [903942]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Michael Gove): May I, through you, Mr Speaker, apologise to the House on behalf of the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning)? He is unavoidably detained in Bristol on departmental business.

We work closely with the NHS to make sure that young people serving custodial sentences have access to comprehensive mental health provision, and as part of his review of the youth justice system, Charlie Taylor is looking at ways to improve the provision of mental health care for children and young people.

David Rutley: I thank my right hon. Friend for the steps he is taking in this important area, but will he consider making mental health and substance misuse

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treatment one of the accountability measures in the new prison league tables, including for the youth estate?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a characteristically acute point. According to academic research, up to 70% of prisoners are likely to have had a mental health problem, often related to drink or drug abuse. It is therefore in all our interests that we do everything possible to ensure that appropriate therapy and rehabilitative activity are available to those prisoners.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that young people in custody are given adequate safe time outside to protect and safeguard their mental health and wellbeing?

Michael Gove: The hon. Lady makes a very good point. As part of the youth justice review, I have tasked Charlie Taylor with making sure that purposeful activity—education, sporting activity and time outside—is part of the regime that all young offenders in custody can enjoy.

Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the impact on prisoner mental health and rehabilitation of ensuring that prisoners serve their sentences as close as possible to their family homes?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important to ensure that families have access to prisoners. Sometimes, of course, that is facilitated by the prison or secure training centre being close to families, but there are ways to ensure that even geographically distant families have effective access to their loved ones.

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): Six weeks ago, at the last Justice oral questions, I asked how many fines G4S had received since 2010 and how many times it had breached its contracts for youth training facilities. I was told by the Minister that he would write to me, but I am yet to receive a letter. I have asked written questions asking for this information, but still nothing. It beggars belief that such information, relating to a contract of this size, is not immediately available to Ministers. It also raises a question about what internal row is going on within the Department over the delay of the information.

Michael Gove: I can only apologise again, through you, Mr Speaker, to the hon. Lady. She has been persistent on this important issue, and I am truly sorry she has not received answers to her questions. She will be aware, of course, that G4S has said it wants to remove itself from the administration of secure training centres for young people, but it is important that there be full accountability about how public money is spent and how these organisations have operated. I will make sure that a reply comes to her as soon as possible.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): We know that many of the young people in secure training centres have serious mental health problems and therefore require specialist support. That is certainly the case at Medway STC. As the Justice Secretary said, we understand that G4S has decided to end its contract at Medway and at

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another training centre, but I was surprised to learn that it can sell its contracts to other private companies. There is widespread agreement that G4S has an appalling track record in running STCs. In allowing it to sell its contracts, are not the Government rewarding it for failure?

Michael Gove: Absolutely not. It is our responsibility to ensure that children in secure training centres are kept in decent and supportive circumstances that enable them to reintegrate into society. As a result of Youth Justice Board monitoring, the work of the improvement board I set up and the wider work by Charlie Taylor, we are monitoring very carefully the health and welfare of children in all our secure training centres. My Department will have the ability to scrutinise any other organisation that takes over the running of these STCs to ensure that children are kept safe.

Legal Services (Brexit)

3. Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on legal services. [903943]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that on 19 February, the Prime Minister set out the Government position on remaining in the European Union.

Bill Esterson: The former head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, says that leaving the European Union would increase the risk of terrorism and would mean that Britain would become a safe haven for criminals. I am sure that the Minister agrees with Sir Hugh, but will he explain why the Justice Secretary is so keen to ignore this advice from such a well-respected authority and to take such a risk with public safety?

Mr Vara: May I make it absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman that the Government’s position is that we would be better off in the European Union and that we would be safer and more secure in it. It is also the case that the deal struck by the Prime Minister in Brussels very much achieves those objectives.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): England and Wales have by far the largest law firms in Europe and provide by far the largest legal services market in Europe, which is 1.5% of UK gross domestic product. Does the Minister not agree with most commercial law firms and the Law Society that up to £1.7 billion of annual legal services output could be lost following a Brexit?

Mr Vara: We have one of the best legal sectors in the world. We are thriving both within and outside the European Union. Whatever the decision on 23 June, I am confident that our legal sector will continue to thrive.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Given that an assessment of the impact on legal services will have been made by the civil servants in the Department,

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does the Minister think it fair, right and proper that his colleague, the Justice Secretary, is denied the opportunity to see the paperwork?

Mr Vara: As I said earlier, the Government’s position is very clear—that we will be better off in the European Union. As for any potential disagreements, let me gently say to Opposition Members that it is a bit rich for them to be engaging in this sort of conversation in view of the level of unity in their own party. I am prepared to bet a substantial amount with any Labour Member that tomorrow, in 24 hours’ time, when we have Prime Minister’s Questions, the cheer for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be a lot louder than the cheer that the leader of the Labour party will receive.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I invite my hon. Friend to think about how he would choose to spend part of the £350 million that we will save every week when we leave the European Union? Will he also confirm that there will be a big saving in translation services currently expended on foreign national offenders?

Mr Vara: My hon. Friend makes his point as robustly as he always does. I simply say that the Government position is that we would be better off in the European Union; he might wish to reflect on the 3 million-odd jobs that we have secured that are linked to our being in the European Union.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): It must have been tricky choosing who should answer this question. According to The Spectator, the Secretary of State has three Ministers for in, three Ministers for out—a perfect miniature of the Conservative party. Given that the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims is away, perhaps we should take the departmental vote today because there would be a majority for in.

We were promised a British human rights Bill last year, a consultation on the repeal of the Human Rights Act in the new year and then a sovereignty Bill last week. Are we going to get anything before the Secretary of State moves on or by the end of June, whichever comes sooner?

Mr Vara: The hon. Gentleman is a seasoned politician, so he will know that Governments operate and timetables are dealt with in the usual way through the usual channels.

Prisoners: Employment after Release

5. Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): What progress his Department is making on plans to ensure that more prisoners obtain employment after release. [903946]

12. Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What progress his Department is making on plans to ensure that more prisoners obtain employment after release. [903953]

13. David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con): What progress his Department is making on plans to ensure that more prisoners obtain employment after release. [903954]

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18. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): What progress his Department is making on plans to ensure that more prisoners obtain employment after release. [903959]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous): I hope you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to express on behalf of the whole House our utter disgust at the attempted murder of a prison officer in east Belfast on Friday. I am sure that prison officers throughout the United Kingdom will join us in wishing him a full recovery from his injuries.

I meet regularly with businesses and trade bodies to talk about the benefits of employing offenders on release. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of changes to recruitment practices for the civil service, to give offenders a fair chance of a job, I am keen to encourage all employers to “ban the box” when recruiting.

Michael Tomlinson: May I associate myself with the Minister’s initial remarks?

Given the reoffending rates of those who leave prison and manage to secure employment—the evidence shows that fewer than half reoffend, compared with those who do not secure employment—will the Minister support initiatives such as the excellent Footprints project in Dorset, which provides help and mentoring through its team of volunteers? Will he ensure that such projects operate a clear and transparent process of referrals from the new community rehabilitation companies?

Andrew Selous: I warmly commend the important work that Footprints is doing in Dorset. I want to see greater use of the voluntary sector, and an increased focus on offender employment on the part of CRCs. I made those points to CRC leaders only last week.

Oliver Colvile: As a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I, too, wish to associate myself with the Minister’s initial comments.

How can we ensure that prisoners do not become institutionalised as a result of seeing prisons as “safe havens”, rather than rebuilding their lives once they have been released?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend has raised an important point. We need to help prisoners to take responsibility for their lives, and that includes helping them to find legal work in order to support their families. I believe that the Prime Minister’s announcement that we will measure employment outcomes for prisoners will drive further progress.

David Mackintosh: Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the work of Goodwill Solutions in Northampton, which is running a “back to work” programme that is helping ex-offenders, homeless people, those with substance dependencies, and vulnerable young people to secure training and employment in the logistics sector?

Andrew Selous: I certainly welcome the work of Goodwill Solutions in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but the truth is that we do not have labour shortages only in the logistics area. We have them in construction, engineering, catering and many other areas, which is why I am very ambitious about increasing offender employment.

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Stephen Hammond: As was noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), the key to rehabilitation is employment, and the key to employment is training. What is the Department doing to encourage all employers to take an interest in training inside prisons, in order to help offenders to find employment?

Andrew Selous: That is an extremely important point. The model that I like best is that of the Clink restaurants and the Timpson, Halfords and Aramark academies, which offer demanding work and training in prison and a job and ongoing support on release. It works: I call it the gold standard. Clink graduates, who probably include some of my constituents, are now working at some of London’s top hotels and restaurants.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): May I, on behalf of Labour Members, associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about the prison officer who was so severely wounded in Northern Ireland?

We have heard the Minister make a commitment to providing education and employment for prisoners, but surely he is aware that the shortage of prison officers is causing many prisoners to be locked in their cells for long periods, unable to gain access to education and training opportunities. Will he commission a report from within the Department on the impact of staff shortages on prisoners’ education and employment, given that, as many have pointed out, the best way of ensuring that people do not reoffend is to get them into jobs?

Andrew Selous: The hon. Lady has made a valid point. The good news is that last year we appointed 2,250 prison officers—that is a net increase of 440—and we will continue to recruit the prison officers whom we need.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Employment is the single biggest factor that prevents reoffending, and I remind the House of the excellent changes that were made under the coalition Government in 2012, but will the Minister update us on what cross-departmental work takes place? This is a process that must start within the prison system but must continue afterwards, and that is obviously the job of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Andrew Selous: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is indeed some very good cross-departmental working. The Social Justice Cabinet Committee takes the issue very seriously, and I have had outstanding help from the Employment Minister, who has been extremely supportive. We have been given plenty of practical help by the DWP, the construction industry and training organisations. Buses are sent into prisons so that prisoners can complete their construction skills certification scheme cards, and sewing machines have been bought so that they can use them after their release.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), what is the Minister’s assessment of the impact of overcrowding on educational opportunities for offenders?

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Andrew Selous: What I can say to the hon. Lady is that we are building a prison estate that is fit for purpose. The Chancellor has just given us £1.3 billion to build nine new prisons, we are opening two new house blocks and we are about to open HMP Berwyn in February next year, so we are in the process of building a fit-for-purpose prison estate.

Women in Prisons

6. Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): What steps he is taking to reduce the number of women in prisons. [903947]

10. Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP): What steps he is taking to reduce the number of women in prisons. [903951]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice (Caroline Dinenage): I have been clear that I want to see far fewer women ending up in prison. We are committed to improving the treatment of female offenders and to putting in place the interventions needed at each stage to help them to turn their lives away from crime.

Dr Cameron: I associate myself and my colleagues on these Benches with the Minister’s earlier comments. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland has made clear the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling the number of women in prison by consulting on proposals to strengthen the current presumption against short sentences, by continuing to invest in robust community sentences and by investing an additional £1.5 million annually in community justice for women. Will the Minister join me in commending the efforts of the Scottish Government to apply a community-based rehabilitative approach?

Caroline Dinenage: Absolutely. We are keen to learn from any experiences in Scotland and elsewhere in the world that are successful in diverting women away from prison. Here in England and Wales, we have awarded £200,000 of grant funding to pilot earlier and more sequenced interventions with the right sort of multi-agency approach, which should see fewer women ending up in prison for short periods.

Martyn Day: The Scottish Government’s approach to justice has resulted in the number of offenders serving sentences of three months or less plummeting since 2008, and reconviction rates are at a 16-year low. Will the Minister look to the progressive example of the Scottish Government as a new approach to reducing the number of women in prisons?

Caroline Dinenage: We know that almost 45% of the women who were released from prison in 2010 reoffended within 12 months, and he is absolutely right to suggest that the maintaining of family ties and the education and rehabilitation of women while they are in our care will have a good impact on their life outside prison. That is why our transforming rehabilitation changes are showing unprecedented levels of support for offenders who have been released after very short sentences.

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Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): Research by the Prison Reform Trust shows that female prisoners are far more likely to receive custodial sentences even when they have no previous convictions or cautions. What interventions are being used at the sentencing stage to keep women out of prison?

Caroline Dinenage: Sentencing is a matter entirely for the courts, and they take into account the circumstances not only of the offence but of the offender. As the Prime Minister set out in a speech earlier in the year, we are also looking into how tagging, problem-solving courts and alternative resettlement units can support us to deal appropriately with female offenders, especially where children are involved.

20. [903961] Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP): The Scottish Government have moved to relocate female prisoners from Cornton Vale prison to HMP Polmont as part of the first phase of their plans to transform the way in which Scotland deals with women in custody. Improved facilities will clearly give additional support to address the underlying issues that fuel crime. Will the Minister join me in welcoming this progressive step towards the rehabilitation of female offenders?

Caroline Dinenage: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. This is exactly why we have set about shutting Holloway, an estate in which brilliant work is undertaken by some exceptional people despite the constraints of the building that they are in. We hope that by offering a much better environment we will be able to improve outcomes.

23. [903964] Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): In 2015, the Prison Reform Trust published research suggesting that 32% of women prisoners were borderline learning disabled, compared with 24% of males. Does the Minister agree that community sentencing such as that advocated in Scotland would be more appropriate than prison for such women?

Caroline Dinenage: So many of the women who end up in our prisons represent a failure of society to intervene and address the causes of their offending behaviour or other issues in their lives. The whole-system approach that we are piloting in England and Wales will enable us to intervene earlier to put in place the right interventions and support that will enable us to do just that.

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): The case of Sarah Reed highlights the Government’s failings on the mistreatment of prisoners with mental health issues. With women accounting for around a quarter of self-harm incidents, but only 5% of the prison population, will the Minister outline what action she is taking to lower the number of women who self-harm in prison?

Caroline Dinenage: We know that the women in our prisons are more likely to self-harm than their male counterparts. They are also more likely to suffer from mental health problems, to have drug and alcohol addictions and to have experienced such things as domestic violence and sexual abuse earlier on in their lives. That is why we are trying to divert as many people as possible from prison by putting in place interventions to address their

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offending behaviour as early as possible and to support them in any way that we can, and why we also have interventions within the prison estate to support such women.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): Does the Minister agree that going in and out of prison has a damaging effect not only on women themselves, but on their families and communities? Will she welcome the Scottish Government’s efforts to transform and improve services for women and to break the cycle of reoffending with targeted support to address underlying issues, such as alcohol, drugs, mental health or domestic abuse trauma? Will she tell us what specific actions her Department is taking to address those underlying issues?

Caroline Dinenage: The hon. and learned Lady makes some excellent points. The whole-system approach that we are piloting is all about trying to divert women away from prison and putting in the right interventions much earlier on in their offending behaviour. We are also doing a lot of work looking at problem-solving courts and how we can address such things as drug and alcohol problems much earlier on in people’s experiences of the criminal justice system.

Joanna Cherry: The Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland has said:

“The emphasis must be on preventing women from becoming caught up in the criminal justice system in the first place, diverting them at the point of arrest and prosecution wherever possible, and reducing the use of remand and short term prison sentences.”

It has also said that there must be

“sustainable funding for community-based services and there are lessons to be learned from the success of work with young offenders and the reduction”

in the number of young offenders at Polmont prison in Scotland. Does the Minister agree that the success in reducing the number of young people in custody in Scotland could be replicated across the UK for the number of women in custody?

Caroline Dinenage: I am certainly keen to take another look at that. Although sentencing is a matter for the courts, work is ongoing to improve the quality of the information that sentencers receive about community-sentencing options and we want to look more at that moving forward.

Prisons: Mental Health and Substance Misuse

7. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to improve mental health and substance misuse treatment in prisons; and if he will make a statement. [903948]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Michael Gove): Providing appropriate treatment at the right time is vital to improve outcomes for people with mental health problems. The NHS of course does a superb job in providing services for prisoners, but we want to give governors a much bigger role in helping to secure the treatment that prisoners need.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful for that answer. Drones can be great fun. I have been promised one for my birthday in June and I am looking forward to

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getting it. However, as my right hon. Friend says, this is a serious subject. Substance abuse is even more serious. Is he aware of press reports that drones are being used to smuggle drugs, mobile phones and other things into prisons? If he is aware of that, what can we do to stop it?

Michael Gove: The fact that it is my hon. Friend’s birthday in June means that I am looking forward to celebrating two significant anniversaries in that month. His substantive point is actually very important, because even though instances are still mercifully rare, there is a real danger that drones can be used to smuggle contraband into prisons: mobile phones that can be used in criminal activity; and drugs that can be used in unfortunate ways. That is why we have introduced new legislation to make it illegal to land a drone in a prison or to use a drone to drop contraband.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): Last month, the Prime Minister announced that prison governors would have far more autonomy to start tackling these issues in prisons, based on the academy model for schools. As the Secretary of State will know from his previous job, the lesson of academy schools is that more autonomy must be matched by stronger local governance. Can he reassure us that governors who do have more independence will have a stronger local governance arrangement to match it?

Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman makes a characteristically acute and intelligent point, and I absolutely agree that with greater autonomy must come sharper accountability. In the first six reform prisons that we are going to establish, which will model, in some respects, the freedoms that academy schools have, we are exploring exactly how we can ensure both that the local community is appropriately involved and that accountability measures ensure that areas such as mental health and substance abuse are tackled effectively.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Oh good, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) is now stirring. We are grateful to her, as she has an identical question.

22. [903963] Amanda Solloway (Derby North) (Con): Following the release of Lord Harris’s report last year on self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18 to 24-year-olds, will the Department be looking to implement any of its recommendations?

Michael Gove: We very much welcome the report of the Harris review and we agreed with 62 of its 108 recommendations. A further 12 are being considered alongside wider prison reforms in 2016. It is appropriate that we all recognise there has been an unwelcome increase in the incidence of self-harm and deaths in custody, and we need to do everything we can to tackle it. We also need to ensure that the mental health problems and substance abuse problems often associated with self-harm and deaths in custody are tackled even before people enter custody.

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Education in Prisons

8. Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to improve education in prisons; and if he will make a statement. [903949]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Michael Gove): As the House will know, I have asked Dame Sally Coates to bring forward the publication of a report on how we can improve education in prison. Crucial to the direction of travel that Dame Sally is recommending is more control for governors to decide the type of curriculum that prisoners should enjoy while in custody.

Pauline Latham: Does my right hon. Friend agree that too much emphasis is placed on the quantity of education in prisons rather than on its quality?

Michael Gove: I could not agree more. Inmates are often cycled through a series of low-level qualifications, none of which, after it is initially passed, secures any additional employability gains for the individuals concerned. I was very impressed on Friday, when I visited the military corrective training centre in Colchester, to see how our services have a prison that succeeds in helping individual prisoners to acquire more qualifications en route either to being reintegrated into the services or entering civilian life. That model could be applied with success in the civilian estate.

Magistrates Court Hearings: Torbay

11. Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential merits of using other venues in Torbay for magistrates court hearings after the closure of Torquay magistrates court. [903952]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): My officials are engaging with the local authority and will evaluate the suitability of any proposed venue. The majority of the work, however, will transfer to Newton Abbot, seven miles away. In addition, video link facilities are available in Newton Abbot for any victims or witnesses who are unable to attend court where cases are listed in Plymouth.

Kevin Foster: As my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware, there is disappointment in Torbay that justice may no longer be local after the closure of our magistrates court. Will he look again at options for holding some criminal cases at the town hall and county court buildings in Torquay?

Mr Vara: My hon. Friend will be aware that we have had a lengthy and thorough consultation, where there were more than 2,000 responses. We have had to make some difficult decisions. I am afraid that Torquay magistrates court is in a poor condition, with inadequate facilities, and the majority of work will be transferred to Newton Abbot, seven miles away. We are, however, evaluating options to continue to provide access to services locally. My officials in the region have written to the council inviting alternative solutions for the provision of services.

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Prisoner and Staff Safety

14. Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What steps he is taking to ensure the safety of prisoners and staff on the prison estate. [903955]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous): We are committed to running safe and decent prisons, and are taking action to improve this. We are trialling the use of body-worn video cameras, and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 introduces new offences to control supply and possession. We recognise that our prisons need reform, and there is still much more to do to ensure that prisons are places of decency, hope and rehabilitation.

Alex Cunningham: I have a large prison in my Stockton North constituency, and prison officers there tell me of an increasing threat of violence, with the latest figures showing that the number of serious assaults on prison staff is up 48% in a year. They blame staff cuts and increased substance misuse. What does the Minister blame? What does he want me to tell prison officers in my area? Do his plans include granting academy status to Holme House?

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman can tell his prison officers that all violence within prison is a crime. We strive to eradicate it, and it is wholly unacceptable. We take it very, very seriously. As I told the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) a moment ago, we appointed 2,250 extra prison officers last year—a net increase of 440—and we will carry on recruiting. Really importantly, we will be testing for new psychoactive substances throughout every prison next month, and that will make a significant difference to the important issues that he raises.

Access to Justice

15. Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to ensure access to justice does not depend on the ability to pay. [903956]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): The Government’s programme of reform aims to deliver faster and fairer justice for all citizens, by speeding up decision-making, giving parties the ability to submit and consider information online, and considering issues far more proportionately. We have committed to invest in the technology that will underpin that.

Yvonne Fovargue: The introduction of employment tribunal fees has caused the number of new cases to plummet. Sex discrimination cases are down by 80% and equal pay cases by 84%. Will the recently announced review publish an impact assessment on the introduction of those fees, and say whether it has disproportionately affected the number of women bringing forward cases to tribunal?

Mr Vara: The hon. Lady raises some important points. On the employment tribunal, she should consider the alternative facilities that are available. For example, the early conciliation service has reported that, in the first

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12 months, 83,000 people used its services, and that the vast majority were happy with the services that they received.

Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): A total of 3,600 barristers, including a third of all Queen’s counsel, contribute voluntarily to the Bar Pro Bono Unit. I am honoured that, as a barrister, I was one of those statistics. Does the Minister welcome the significant contribution that the Bar Pro Bono Unit is providing to free access to justice?

Mr Vara: I certainly commend not only my hon. and learned Friend’s contributions, but the contribution of the Bar and the legal profession generally. Pro bono work benefits many people, and I am pleased to see that our engagement with the legal sector is fruitful, and that it is considering other ways of helping the community.

17. [903958] Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab): Today is International Women’s Day, which gives us the opportunity to reflect on the fact that financial abuse is not just a crime in itself, but also a way for domestic abusers to control victims and to prevent them from leaving abusive relationships. Following the recent Appeal Court decision on legal aid in cases of domestic violence, how is the Ministry of Justice intending to make access to justice a reality for victims of financial abuse?

Mr Vara: The hon. Lady refers to a recent case. She will be aware that the court did confirm that the Lord Chancellor has the power to set domestic violence evidence requirements. As for the other issues, we are considering the outcome of the case and will clarify our decision on the way forward in due course.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): In his latest annual report, the Lord Chief Justice makes an astonishing admission. He said:

“Our system of justice has become unaffordable to most.”

Does the Minister accept that that is a wholly unacceptable state of affairs?

Mr Vara: May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we work very closely with the senior judiciary? On access to justice, he knows only too well that, despite the reductions that we made to the legal aid budget, it remains, at £1.6 billion, one of the most generous legal aid budgets in the world.

Violence against Women

16. Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): What discussions his Department has had with the Home Office on steps to reduce the level of violence against women. [903957]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice (Caroline Dinenage): The Government are committed to ending all forms of gender-based violence, which has absolutely no place in our society. Justice Ministers attend the regular inter-ministerial group, which is chaired by the Home Secretary and drives forward work on this matter. Today, the Government are publishing their ending violence against women and girls strategy, which sets out the whole package of support for victims

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Patrick Grady: Many women who experience violence are forced to flee to refuge accommodation, often with their children. Is the Minister aware of the devastating effect that the Government’s housing benefits limit will have on these women? Given that it is International Women’s Day, will she discuss these concerns urgently with her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and in the Home Office?

Caroline Dinenage: Under this Government, there are more refuge places than ever before. Since 2010 we have criminalised forced marriage and revenge porn, we have strengthened the law on domestic violence and female genital mutilation, there are now more successful prosecutions for domestic violence than ever before, and we have introduced FGM protection orders. We will build on that by doing more to deter and rehabilitate perpetrators, while continuing to improve the process for victims.

Estate Requirements and Disposals

19. Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): What progress his Department is making on implementation of its strategy on estate requirements and disposals. [903960]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): We keep our estate office under review to make sure that it delivers and supports business transformation, operates efficiently and effectively, and delivers best value for the taxpayer. By closing less efficient, poor-quality court buildings, for example, we will raise £40 million to reinvest in the justice system, and have saved hard-working taxpayers £27 million per year.

Richard Graham: The Ministry of Justice kindly agreed a year ago to dispose of an unused car park in Gloucester to provide more parking and an additional entrance to our railway station—a very good regeneration cause. The Justice Minister assured me that this would be resolved before the end of the financial year. However, we are almost there and there is still no resolution. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the time has come to lock the Courts and Tribunals Service real estate representatives in a room with representatives of Gloucester City Council and Great Western Railway, and to leave them there until they have reached agreement?

Mr Vara: That may be a little drastic as a negotiating procedure, but my officials are engaged in conversations with Gloucester City Council. Those are at an advanced stage. My hon. Friend will not expect me to make commercial comments at the Dispatch Box, but I hope that a final decision will be arrived at very shortly. He and I are due to meet shortly, when we will discuss the matter further.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): Can the Minister provide any further update on his plans for the Victorian prison estate and, in particular, any information regarding HMP Norwich in my constituency?

Mr Vara: I am keen that my hon. Friend should have the most up-to-date response, so I will write to her about that.

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Public Understanding of the Law

21. Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to increase public understanding of the law. [R] [903962]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Dominic Raab): The Ministry of Justice is working to increase public awareness of the law and of important initiatives in the criminal justice and civil law system. We do that by disseminating information to the media, by using our website and digital channels, and through bespoke campaigns of particular importance, such as on access to victim services.

Tom Tugendhat: I welcome the efforts made by the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor. May I encourage my hon. Friend to do more to broaden public legal education? Having just set up a new all-party parliamentary group on the subject, I urge him to work with us to provide such education not just in schools and through adult services, but perhaps in prisons. Although it may not reduce the inmate population, it may reduce the future conviction rate.

Mr Raab: My hon. Friend is right. I commend him for his efforts and his initiative. One illustration of the things we are doing is the victims information service, which provides information on the criminal justice system, on what a victim can expect and on restorative justice. He is right—we need to strive to bring the law and its operation closer to the citizens it serves.

Topical Questions

T1. [903930] Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Michael Gove): As a number of Members have pointed out, today is International Women’s Day. It is therefore appropriate that we should think of those brave and idealistic women who serve in our prisons and who do so much to keep us safe and to improve the lives of the individuals who find themselves in custody. It is appropriate, too, that today we are publishing the conclusions of the Prison Service Pay Review Body, and I am delighted to be able to inform the House that we will be accepting the PSPRB’s recommendations. That will include a non- consolidated pay rise for those who work in our prisons.

Jeff Smith: The director of Amnesty UK has said:

“The UK is setting a dangerous precedent to the world on human rights.

There’s no doubt that the downgrading of human rights by this government is a gift to dictators the world over and fatally undermines our ability to call on other countries to uphold rights and laws.”

In the light of that advice, is it not time to drop plans to scrap the Human Rights Act 1998?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Dominic Raab): Absolutely not. Frankly, it is irresponsible of any of our critics to weigh in with that kind of scaremongering before having seen the substantive proposals.

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T3. [903932] Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): Pilot studies into critical time interventions for released severely mentally ill patient prisoners have shown promising results in improving care for people released from prison with severe and enduring mental illness. They have also helped to cut reoffending rates. Will the Minister meet me and the team who helped to put this important work together to look at the potential for rolling out a national scheme?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous): I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, who is a distinguished former Health Minister, to discuss this important matter. As he might know, although mental health provision on release is provided by our health partners, probation staff work with health colleagues as part of their Through the Gate resettlement service, making sure that offenders access appropriate services and liaising with prisons and community mental health services.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) referred to the short and very clear recent judgment by the Court of Appeal, which said that the evidence criteria for accessing legal aid by domestic violence victims were unlawful in two important respects—something the Government have been told ever since the law was passed four years ago. The Secretary of State has had enough time to consider the matter. On International Women’s Day, will he tell us what he will do in the light of the Court’s ruling?

Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious point. We want to ensure that we get it right. He is absolutely correct to say that criticism was made of the provisions that we put in place and that the Court’s judgment is clear, so we want to ensure that in future we have an approach that ensures that victims of financial abuse receive the support they require.

Andy Slaughter: It is not only the financial abuse; it is the two-year rule as well. If the Secretary of State is going to go further than the Court of Appeal’s ruling, that is all well and good. He should bear in mind that 40% of victims of domestic violence fail to meet the evidence criteria. They must then get into debt by paying for a solicitor, represent themselves and risk cross-examination by their abuser, or—this is the case for the majority—have no access to justice and continue to suffer. That is unacceptable, is it not?

Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that victims of domestic violence need all the support that we can give them, which is why I am reflecting carefully on the judgment and will come forward in due course with proposals that I hope will meet with the support and approval of as many Members of the House as possible.

T4. [903933] Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Many prisoners in our system suffer from mental health and substance misuse problems. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), what further support can be given in prison to support people with mental health and substance misuse problems?

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Andrew Selous: I welcome my hon. Friend’s continued focus on this important issue. As the Prime Minister said in his speech on 8 February, we believe in humane treatment and care. In our work in prisons we are going to give prison governors more say in this area, and we are going to move towards full co-commissioning for governors with NHS England, meaning that prison leaders can have more of a say in defining what kinds of services prisoners need and the budgets available for them.

T2. [903931] Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State welcome back, after her long illness, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire)? Will he also consider giving the House a report on the Peterborough prison experiment, where a social impact bond involved voluntary and private sector investors to reduce the amount of recidivism in prisons? May we please have a report on how that is going?

Michael Gove: First, may I take up the hon. Gentleman’s kind offer, because we are all delighted to see the hon. Member for Bristol West back in her place—fully recovered, I hope—and look forward to her playing a prominent part in our debates in future; she is a real asset to the House. Secondly, the social impact bond that ran in Peterborough prison helped to inform some of the changes that we made through Transforming Rehabilitation. I have had the opportunity to visit Peterborough prison, which is run by a private company. It provides a significantly improved level of care, compared with the mean level offered by many other custodial establishments. I think that the spirit of the SIB lives on, both in Transforming Rehabilitation and in the way in which Peterborough prison operates, but I am open to other ideas about how social investment can help to improve the justice system.

T8. [903937] Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): My constituent Mr Tony Conti was convicted last November of fixing LIBOR when he worked for Rabobank. Given that the US established the international prisoner transfer programme in 1977 to make it easier for foreigners who are convicted to return to their country of origin, will my hon. Friend consider such a transfer for my constituent?

Andrew Selous: I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, and we will give careful consideration to any transfer application from his constituent that is referred to us by the US authorities.

T5. [903934] Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): It surely cannot only be Opposition Members who are dismayed that, to quote the Lord Chief Justice again:

“Our system of justice has become unaffordable to most.”

Has the Secretary of State discussed this dreadful situation with the Lord Chief Justice, and is there a plan to do something about it?

Michael Gove: I have discussed this issue with the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and other members of the senior judiciary. It is a complex matter. One of the key things that is problematic is the level of costs in the justice system, and we need to bring about reform, particularly to the civil justice system. That is why the report by Michael Briggs, which lays out particular

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reforms, including more justice being transacted online, is a powerful way forward, but much remains to be done.

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): The Government have given strong support to the idea of creating a new legal form of guardian, to help with the property and affairs of the 3,000 people who go missing every year in the UK. Will the Minister confirm when that might be brought into effect?

Mr Raab: I know that my hon. Friend has a family in his constituency who have been through the ordeal he mentions. We are absolutely committed to helping families of missing people to deal with the administrative problems they face over and above the heartache that is involved. We are working on creating the new legal status of guardian of the property and affairs of a missing person, and we will introduce measures to the House as soon as parliamentary time permits.

T6. [903935] Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): On International Women’s Day, it is truly shocking that one in four women will experience gender-based violence. On 4 February, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), stated that primary legislation was required to ratify the Istanbul convention to try to tackle that disgrace. When will that legislation be brought forward?

Mr Raab: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The last Government signed the convention in 2012. We have already implemented almost all its provisions, so the purpose would be to promote it abroad. There is a specific issue, as she may know, about extraterritorial jurisdiction under article 44. We are looking carefully at how that might be addressed.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): I apologise for my absence earlier, Mr Speaker. In the recent case of Kiarie and Byndloss, the Court of Appeal roundly upheld the deport first, appeal later policy, which prevents foreign national offenders from extending their leave to remain in the UK while their immigration appeals are pending—the two men in the case were convicted of serious drug offences and had leave to remain here. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the judgment of Lord Justice Richards, which highlights the need for more clarity in the guidance given to caseworkers so that the policy can be better applied?

Mr Raab: My hon. Friend brings considerable experience from her time as a barrister. We welcome this decision. This is an important area of policy. It is also a Home Office lead, but I can reassure her that the relevant guidance for caseworkers was updated following the decision back in October.

T7. [903936] Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): Today is International Women’s Day, as other Members have noted. A recent survey by Women’s Aid of women survivors of domestic abuse who have attended the family courts regarding child contact found that a quarter reported being directly cross-examined by their abuser. Does the Minister agree that that is completely unacceptable? What action is being taken to address it?

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice (Caroline Dinenage): Protecting women and children from violence is, of course, a key priority for the Government. We will be working with others in the family justice system to discuss and address the report’s conclusions, including in relation to the measures already in place to protect women and children, and their effective implementation.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The Secretary of State knows my real concern about the accessibility of certain high-powered laser pens, which have been used to target civilian and military aircraft, cars and trains. I have called for them to be made a prohibited item. Will the Department look at my request before a major tragedy occurs in our country?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend has campaigned consistently and effectively on this issue. We are reviewing what steps we and other Departments can take in order to mitigate this danger.

T9. [903938] Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Last Thursday, the House voted for the Government to set up an all-party commission to look into gangs and serious youth violence. Will the Minister’s Department contribute to that commission?

Michael Gove: The problem of gangs and serious youth violence was the subject of discussion between me and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe only last week. We will do everything we can and report back to the House on what we as a Government, collectively, are doing to deal with these problems.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): The Secretary of State knows how much I, and many of my constituents, welcome the Prime Minister’s big speech last month on prison reform. While there is little benefit in trading numbers, does he agree that the logical consequence of rehabilitation that really works is not only fewer victims of crime, but ultimately fewer people locked up in our country, with huge savings?

Michael Gove: I applaud my hon. Friend for the work that he did when he served on the Justice Committee in pioneering the case for a transformed approach towards justice. He is absolutely right. If we get prison reform right and get rehabilitation right, crime will fall, individuals will be safer, and of course the number of inmates in our prisons will fall.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): On a basic point of clarification, can G4S sell the Government contract it has in place on the secure training centres to the highest bidder without any Government veto or Government involvement? It really is concerning that that could be the case.

Michael Gove: First, I take this opportunity to thank the hon. Gentleman for his diligence in asking questions on behalf of his constituents, and also for his historic work for mineworkers in distress. I know that over the past couple of days there have been reports in the press. I want to say in the House that he is an exceptionally dedicated worker for people who have fallen on hard

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times and the vulnerable. As someone from another party, I want to say how much I admire him for that work.

The hon. Gentleman’s question was in that tradition. It is absolutely not the case that G4S can simply sell the contract to the highest bidder. We have the right to ensure that any transfer is done appropriately. I will make sure that he is briefed on the progress that we are making in order to ensure that these young people are looked after well.

Mr Speaker: I trust that the hon. Gentleman will have the tribute framed and put in an appropriate place in his constituency office for everyone to observe. He should savour it—it was very, very fulsome.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): In 2013, my constituent Adele Bellis was the victim of an acid attack. There has been a significant increase in such attacks in the past three to four years. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could confirm that the Government will bring forward a strategy to address this, particularly the need for tougher sentences. Adele has shown great courage, but she has to live with that attack for the rest of her life.

Mr Raab: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. That is an absolutely appalling case, and all cases of that kind are absolutely abhorrent. I would certainly be willing to hear from him about the specifics of the case, and we will of course look to see whether there is a case for additional sentencing powers over and above those that we already have.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Before the legal aid restrictions were introduced, 78,000 disabled people a year were able to challenge social security decisions, 80% successfully. How can withdrawal of legal aid to disabled people, who are twice as likely to live in poverty, be fair or just?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): It is important that the hon. Lady appreciates that we have not withdrawn or abolished legal aid. Legal aid still exists for the most vulnerable and the most needy. We do have certain criteria. However, in terms of the decisions that are coming to the courts, the officials who take the decisions in the first instance are looking at the decisions of the courts, so that they do not have to come to the court by way of appeal in the first place.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): In 2009, Walter Scott and Ross, a solicitors firm in my constituency, was closed down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority due to financial irregularities. Since then, the SRA has systematically failed in its duty of care to former clients of the firm, leading to at least one bankruptcy. Will the Minister agree to investigate that case as a matter of urgency so that we can at last secure some closure for my constituents?

Mr Raab: My hon. Friend will know that the regulation of the legal profession is independent of Government. It would be wrong and improper for a Minister to try to intervene in any individual case, but there is an ombudsman service that allows for review of complaints against the SRA, and I encourage her to consider that possibility.

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Points of Order

12.34 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Thursday this House had an excellent debate on Welsh affairs, but unfortunately the Secretary of State for Wales was absent. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), said:

“I can advise the House that the Secretary of State has parliamentary business elsewhere”.—[Official Report, 3 March 2016; Vol. 606, c. 1162.]

However, we learned from Twitter that the Secretary of State was at a lunch with Bexley Conservative Ladies, and I have the photograph to prove it. That is not parliamentary business, so I respectfully suggest that the Under-Secretary comes to the Dispatch Box to apologise for inadvertently misleading the House.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, I am happy to clarify the position and, of course, apologise if I have inadvertently misled the House. I can confirm that the Secretary of State was on a mixture of Government and political activity that afternoon. I can also confirm that it was always expected that I, as Under-Secretary of State, would respond to the Backbench Business Committee debate on St David’s day.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think that is helpful and we will consider that matter closed.

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During last December’s debate on Syria, the Prime Minister made a commitment to provide quarterly progress reports to the House, and during last Thursday’s business questions, the Leader of the House said

“that there will be a further statement shortly on matters in Syria.”—[Official Report, 3 March 2016; Vol. 606, c. 1105.]

Could you offer me any guidance, Mr Speaker, on how I can encourage the Government to provide a clear indication of when that update will take place, and

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on how I can persuade Ministers that it would be beneficial for the Prime Minister himself to report back to Members?

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. I understand that the Government have given an undertaking that they will provide quarterly progress reports on Syria to the House. It is for the Government to determine the appropriate form of those reports and, indeed, which Minister should make them. That cannot fall to the Chair. However, if the hon. Lady is dissatisfied with the form or content of the updates, there are a range of opportunities open to her for pressing the Government for more information. I would add that, similarly, if the statement is not forthcoming with the speed that the hon. Lady thinks proper, she will also be aware of the mechanisms that she can deploy to try to procure the presence of a Minister, possibly even the Prime Minister. We shall await events with interest.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I personally apologise to you for inadvertently, or through frustration, using an eight-letter word beginning with “b” and ending in “cks” when a colleague was raising yet another scare story about what a disaster it would be if we were to leave the European Union? It was unseemly.

Mr Speaker: Actually, I had heard the utterance of the hon. Gentleman, which was spontaneous and from a sedentary position, but precisely because of its unseemliness I did not wish to draw attention to it. However, the hon. Gentleman has now done so and there is nothing further that requires to be said. [Laughter.] I note in passing that the hon. Gentleman has occasioned —or possibly I have done by my reply—notable hilarity from the Secretary of State for Justice. It is good to know that the right hon. Gentleman is in such an upbeat frame of mind.

If there are no further points of order, we come now to the ten-minute rule motion in the name of Mr Will Quince, a notably busy fellow in this House. Let us hear from the hon. Gentleman.

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Driving Licence (Mandatory First Aid Training)

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

12.39 pm

Will Quince (Colchester) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require applicants for full driving licences to have received first aid training before undertaking the practical driving test; and for connected purposes.

Britain has some of the safest roads in Europe, but there is still more we can do to reduce the death rate. In the last 12 months, 1,780 people were killed on British roads, and 23,700 were killed or seriously injured. Land transport accidents are one of the top five biggest killers of both males and females between the ages of five and 34. In such situations, where someone is seriously injured or fighting for their lives, every second counts. A review of road traffic in Europe cited by the World Health Organisation claimed that 50% of deaths from road collisions occurred within a few minutes of the crash, so there is often not time for an ambulance to arrive. Knowledge of first aid can be absolutely critical. The immediate initiation of CPR, for example, can double or even quadruple survival from cardiac arrest.

The sad reality is that in Britain, knowledge of first aid is patchy. Through no fault of their own, many people do not feel confident enough to intervene and provide first aid in crash and accident situations. A survey for St John Ambulance found that 59% of people would not feel confident enough to save a life. At the scene of an accident, 24% would do nothing until an ambulance arrived or a passer-by who knew first aid appeared. Those are troubling statistics, but I hope that they set the scene for the Bill that I am introducing to require first aid training as a requirement of the driving licence application.

Many other European nations already require driving licence applicants to undertake such training. In order to qualify for a driving theory test in Switzerland, applicants must prove that they have undertaken 10 hours of first aid instruction from a company approved by the Swiss Government. Since 2016 in Germany, there has been a single first aid course for applicants for all categories of driving licence. That course takes seven hours and consists of nine 45-minute lessons. In the Czech Republic, learners must take obligatory lessons in a driving school, including four 45-minute first aid lessons. Other countries that require first aid as a condition of receiving a driving licence include Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and the Baltic states.

Introducing such a requirement would make a huge difference to our population’s knowledge of first aid. Around 63% of the population aged between 21 and 29 have a driving licence. If that figure remained steady, in about 13 years the proposal would have helped to ensure that nearly two thirds of those aged under 30 in Britain were potential life savers. Far more drivers would feel confident enough to step forward in the event of a crash or any other emergency situation. First aid knowledge and skills would also make new drivers more aware of the potential dangers on the road, and of the perils of speeding and reckless driving.

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The Bill is a great opportunity to boost the ability of a substantial proportion of the British population in an important skill. Every year, as more young drivers receive their licence, the number of British people who have first aid training will rise. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the change has the potential to save hundreds of lives. Indeed, it reinforces the Government’s strategy to improve road safety and reduce the number of people killed on our roads by 2020.

A Conservative Government first introduced the stand-alone theory test in 1996. It is a tough test, and so it should be. The pass mark is 86%. It helps to ensure that applicants for a full driving licence have a good knowledge of the Highway Code and can spot potential dangers through the hazard perception test. At the time, some claimed that the stand-alone theory test was unnecessary, but since it was introduced, road fatalities in this country have more than halved. The theory test may have played a role in that reduction. Since 2007, the theory test has contained a number of first aid questions, and that was a good development, but I believe that it is time to introduce a requirement for stand-alone practical first aid training as another condition to obtaining a licence. This reform is supported by both the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance. Those two groups recognise the transformative effect that first aid can have in accident situations.

Last year, I supported the private Member’s Bill to make first aid lessons compulsory in schools. Some opponents of that Bill claimed that it would put too much pressure on school timetables and undermine the discretion of teachers, and I understand such concerns. That is why I think my Bill is a good compromise. British people should have the opportunity to learn such skills through their lives. It would help to boost the first aid skills of many more British people. Surely we want to foster an environment in which people are more willing to step forward and help in an emergency. The Government’s Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015 aims to do that by removing the fear of liability for those who help out, but how can we expect people to act if they do not have the skills and confidence to do so?

I propose that attendance at a four-hour practical first aid course, run by an approved first aid provider, should be a minimum requirement for receiving a full driving licence. Evidence of the training would have to be produced before allowing an applicant to take a practical test, as with the current theory test. The change would be made by amending the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999.

I hope that I have done this proposal justice in such the short period available. I truly believe that introducing the change will have a transformative impact on the British public’s knowledge of simple, but life-saving techniques. So many of the British public lead busy lives. The introduction of this reform would ensure that the majority of young people were required to take the time to learn these skills. Indeed, I believe that many would welcome the opportunity provided by this reform. Moreover, I am encouraged by the fact that Members from six separate parties have agreed to sponsor the Bill, which shows a degree of cross-party support for the proposals. Put simply, this change will give many more British people the chance to learn life-saving skills and, potentially, to save a life. I urge colleagues to support the Bill.

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Question put and agreed to.


That Will Quince, Dr Tania Mathias, Peter Aldous, Wes Streeting, Jim Fitzpatrick, Sir Roger Gale, Mr Nigel Evans, Mrs Cheryl Gillan, Lady Hermon, Caroline Lucas, Martyn Day and Mr Mark Williams present the Bill.

Will Quince accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March, and to be printed (Bill 149).

Enterprise Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

12.48 pm

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Order of 2 February 2016 (Enterprise Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading shall be concluded in two days.

3. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.

4. Each part of the proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.

ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings

First day


New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the Green Investment Bank plc; amendments to Clauses 37 and 38.

One and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to public sector exit payments; amendments to Part 9.

Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

Second day


New Clauses and new Schedules relating to Sunday trading and working; amendments to Part 7.

Three hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration on the second day.

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the Pubs Code Adjudicator and the Pubs Code; amendments to Clauses 39 and 40; remaining proceedings on Consideration.

6.00 pm on the second day.

5. Proceedings in legislative grand committee and proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm on the second day.—(Anna Soubry.)

Question agreed to.

8 Mar 2016 : Column 142

Enterprise Bill [Lords]

[1st Allocated Day]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

Mr Speaker: As I informed the House on Monday 26 October, before a Report stage begins on a Bill, I will seek to identify in advance those changes made in Committee that I would expect to certify, together with any Government amendments tabled on Report that, if passed, would be likely to lead me to issue a certificate. My provisional certificate, based on those changes and expected amendments, is available in the Vote Office and on the “Bills before Parliament” website. At the end of the Report stage on a Bill, I am required to consider the Bill as amended on Report for certification. At that point—tomorrow, in this case—I will issue my final certificate. As I informed the House on 26 October, I have accepted the advice of the Procedure Committee not, as a rule, to give reasons for decisions on certification during this experimental phase of the new regime. Anybody wishing to make representations to me prior to any decision should send them to the Clerk of Legislation.

New Clause 4

Objectives of UK Green Investment Bank

‘(1) Prior to a sale of shares of a UK Green Investment Bank Company (as defined in section 30(2)) the Secretary of State shall—

(a) ensure that the objects of the UK Green Investment Bank Company contained in its articles of association (“the Objectives”) shall be—

(i) the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions;

(ii) the advancement of efficiency in the use of natural resources;

(iii) the protection or enhancement of the natural environment;

(iv) the protection or enhancement of biodiversity;

(v) the promotion of environmental sustainability;

(b) ensure the articles of association of the UK Green Investment Bank Company require its directors to act and review their actions against the Objectives;

(c) create a special share; and

(d) establish a company limited by guarantee registered with the Charity Commission (“the Charitable Company”) that will own the special share.

(2) Any amendment to the Objectives shall require the consent of the Charitable Company, as holder of the special share.

(3) The special share shall—

(a) have no income or capital rights;

(b) have no voting rights except on a vote to amend the Objectives and on a vote to alter the rights of the special share.

(4) The rights of the special share shall be deemed altered by the issue of any other special share of the same class.

(5) The Charitable Company that will own the special share shall—

(a) have three members, none of which shall be public bodies;

(b) have as initial members legal persons appointed by the Committee on Climate Change established under the Climate Change Act 2008;

(c) provide that if any member ceases to be a member the remaining members shall nominate the replacement member;

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(d) provide that the members will be required to act unanimously in exercising the rights attached to the special share.

(6) For the avoidance of doubt, the Committee on Climate Change shall play no role in the conduct of the Charitable Company or its members following the initial appointment of those members prior to the sale of UK Green Investment Bank company shares by the Secretary of State.”—(Kevin Brennan.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.50 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 8—Disposal of Crown’s shares in UK Green Investment Bank Company: purchaser’s obligations

‘Before any sale of the Crown’s shares in the UK Green Investment Bank Company takes place each prospective purchaser must enter an enforceable undertaking to fully fund the Bank’s current five year business plan.”

This new clause would ensure that the Green Investment Bank is maintained as a single, functioning institution and can continue to invest in the UK’s low carbon economy at the same level as was planned prior to privatisation.

Amendment 17, in clause 37, page 54, line 44, at end insert—

“6B Report on remuneration of chair, non-executive directors and executive team

(1) For each year following a disposal of shares held by the Crown in a UK Green Investment Bank company the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the remuneration of the company’s chair, non-executive directors and executive team by the company.

(2) The report shall include a statement of the framework or broad policy for the remuneration of the above individuals.

(3) The report shall include the value of the following, where applicable, in respect of each individual—

(a) salary or fee,

(b) pension,

(c) other cash or non-cash benefits, including bonus or performance-related payments, and

(d) shareholdings in a UK Green Investment Bank company.”

This amendment would require, following a disposal of shares in a UK Green Investment Bank company, that the Secretary of State to report annually on the remuneration of the Chair, non-executive directors and Executive Team of the company.

Kevin Brennan: New clause 4 might be referred to as the “hokey-cokey clause” because it has been in, out, and shaken all about during the passage of the Bill. I am not exaggerating when I say that, because this new clause should still be in the Bill. You may not be aware of this, Mr Speaker, so I will read briefly from the record about what happened with this clause in Committee.

In Committee the Chair put the question that clause 32 stand part of the Bill, and hon. Members responded “Aye”. The Chair asked for votes to the contrary, and said, “I think the Ayes have it.” The Minister then moved that the clause should not stand part of the Bill, and I raised a point of order to the Chair to point out that the Committee had just voted that the clause should stand part of the Bill, and that the Minister could not then move that it should not. The Chair then said:

“For clarity, I will put the question again.”––[Official Report, Enterprise Public Bill Committee, 23 February 2016; c. 201.]

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The clause was accepted in Committee, but the vote was taken a second time because the Chair, in a spirit of extraordinary generosity and to save the Minister’s blushes, allowed a second vote. First the clause was in, then it was out, and today we are suggesting that new clause 4 should again be included in the Bill. It is not really a new clause; it was clause 32 when we considered the Bill in Committee.

The Government are wary of new clause 4, or old clause 32, because they fear that the Green Investment Bank’s borrowing would, because of the position taken by the Office for National Statistics, remain on the Government’s books and be classed as public sector debt after privatisation. If there were any suggestion of statutory control of the Green Investment Bank’s purpose, the ONS would insist that it stayed on the books.

There is currently statutory control of the Green Investment Bank’s purpose, to ensure that it is green and not just like any other investment bank. The Green Investment Bank is supposed to be a different kind of entity; it is not supposed to be like the bank that the Secretary of State worked for when he earned £3 million a year, and which was fined £600,000 by the European Union for fiddling interest rates. It is not supposed to be that kind of institution; it is supposed to be completely different and focused on sustainable investment in green projects, not based on the unsustainable culture of greed that brought the world economy to its knees in 2008, with millions of hard-working families still suffering the consequences of that. If the Green Investment Bank is meant to be a new kind of institution, how do we ensure that it remains so if the Government strip it of its statutory purpose, which is to invest in green projects?

In Committee we asked whether the Government should allow that potential ruling by the ONS to drive completely policy in this important area of sustainable public policy, but the ONS point is a technical matter. If the Green Investment Bank remains on the books after privatisation, that does not reflect any problematic public debt. It may cosmetically spoil the look of the Chancellor’s forecasts on public debt, but it would not change the fundamental underlying substance of public finances. In other words, statutory protection for the Green Investment Bank’s purposes is to be removed by the Government because of an accounting convention that is inconvenient to their political narrative. It is spin over substance on stilts.

As we discussed in Committee, the Green Investment Bank is not getting the same treatment as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Treasury is all too ready to allow UK borrowing to be part of financing that bank, and it was not worried at all that public debt will be part of its financing. However, it is extremely reluctant to allow the same treatment for the Green Investment Bank.

You will not be surprised to hear, Mr Speaker, that I praised the former coalition Government for introducing the Green Investment Bank. Policy in that area can be difficult to implement, because by its very nature it is new and innovative—in Committee I quoted the wise words, as ever, of Kermit the Frog who said, or sang or croaked, “It’s not easy being green”. That is true. It is not easy, and this is an innovative and effective piece of public policy, and I praise the former coalition Government for introducing it.

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Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Is one benefit of the Green Investment Bank that in large part it addressed some of the market failure that had gone before? We risk losing some of the benefits that it brought in terms of securing green investment. All that will happen—an unforeseen consequence, perhaps—is that taxpayers will have to pay more through a larger subsidy.

Kevin Brennan: I believe that the proposals on privatisation that the Government quickly brought forward following the election were seriously undercooked, if I can put it that way. The Green Investment Bank has only just started to turn a profit. We are glad that it is doing that, but it is a very small amount. When the Government said that they intended to privatise the bank, they prayed in aid the statutory obligation to invest in green projects that they now wish to remove from statute, because of what the ONS said about public debt and the Green Investment Bank being on the books. That proposal has been in trouble all along, and the way that the Government are scrabbling around for a solution shows that the original proposal was undercooked.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I praise my hon. Friend for tabling this new clause, and for the way that he scrutinised the Bill in Committee. Does he agree that things have moved on substantially since we met in Committee, with the Government’s publication last Thursday of the prospectus and the announcement that the sale was to proceed and will be a two-stage auction? It certainly looks as though the bank will be fully privatised, so all the debate and discussion that we had in Committee about whether the Government would keep a minority share in the bank, as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee, seems to have been pretty much for the birds. The Minister probably knew that in Committee.

Kevin Brennan: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election to the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. I am sure she will be as assiduous in scrutinising this proposal and other areas of Government policy as she was in Committee and on the Back Benches, along with my other hon. Friends. She is right to say that the publication of the Government’s intentions last week was interesting, and I hope that the Minister will answer her point about the Government’s intentions, and clarify whether they intend to maintain a stake in the Green Investment Bank after privatisation. When we probed the Minister on that in Committee, answer came there none. From the way that the proposals have been published, it would appear that the Government intend to fully privatise the bank, even though—as we discussed in Committee—it must be the worst possible time, given the current state of the market, to consider privatising this important public asset, if part of the purpose is to get good value for the taxpayer.

Mary Creagh: I will develop this point in my speech, but in Committee two weeks ago I mentioned the bear market, the slide in value of all bank shares since Christmas, and the softening of growth in China. Only this morning, Mark Carney and the Bank of England revealed the large amounts of liquidity that they are preparing to inject into the UK banking economy in the

8 Mar 2016 : Column 146

event of an exit from the European Union after the referendum, to avoid a complete meltdown and financial crisis such as the one that took place in 2007-08.

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is right to point that out, and, by implication, to point out that the privatisation would of course occur after the referendum in the summer. The implications of a leave vote on the attempt to privatise the UK Green Investment Bank would be highly significant, as she points out.

1 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I wholly support my hon. Friend’s remarks. What impact does he think it might have on the prospects for full privatisation of the Green Investment Bank were the official Opposition to indicate that they were minded to purchase back the bank into the public sector?

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend will understand that I am not going to speculate on that, given that it is not current party policy or under discussion. What I will say is that the Government have a duty, if they go ahead with a privatisation that we do not support, to be absolutely sure they get value for money for the taxpayer, as well as to give an absolute guarantee that they will protect the bank’s green purpose.

I have praised the Government for the introduction of the Green Investment Bank, but why would they do anything to place its central green mission in grave doubt? I remind the House that the bank was first proposed under the previous Labour Government. It was first mentioned as a proposal for development by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, in one of his Budgets. It was developed in the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills when I was a Minister in those Departments. It was introduced under the coalition Government, and it has made a good start. It has been able to participate in the financing of projects that would otherwise not have taken place and that make a real contribution to meeting our commitments under the Climate Change Act 2008.

I think we all agree, throughout the House, that the creation of the bank is a good news story. I do not see any dissent from that proposition from anyone in the Chamber. We have therefore come to a strange pass when even something we all agree is a good thing—good borrowing for sustainable purposes—is classified as bad for no other reason than that it appears on the Government’s books.

During the difficult years following the banking crash, in which we were sometimes in recession, a significant part of the UK economy’s growth came from the green economy. By some estimates, it accounts for 1 million jobs in the low-carbon sector and is worth more than £100 billion. It is disappointing that the Government are in danger, if they are not careful, of undermining one of the key drivers of that sector. If we could tap into our country’s wind, wave and tidal power, we could create thousands more high-quality, sustainable jobs for our economy as well as doing the right thing for the environment.

When the Government announced their privatisation plans last June, the Secretary of State assured the House in a written statement:

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“This should bring a number of important benefits, giving GIB greater freedom to operate across a wider range of green sectors in accordance with its green purposes, which are enshrined in legislation.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 27WS.]

He emphasised that the green purposes of the GIB were protected by the legislation in which its duty to pursue them are enshrined. After that, something obviously went wrong with the Government’s proposals. They received advice from the ONS that led them to say instead that they intended to repeal the very legislative protection that the Secretary of State had prayed in aid on 25 June 2015 when he announced the decision to privatise the bank. By October, they were effectively saying that it did not really matter whether they repealed the statutory protection, as long as they made sure the bank did not appear on their books. In his letter of 15 October, when he announced his intention to repeal the relevant measures in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, the Secretary of State offered no assurance that the bank’s green purposes would definitely be maintained.

We have been demanding assurances on how we can ensure that the bank maintains its green purpose when it is privatised and does not simply become yet another bank—albeit a very small bank, but one that could easily be gobbled up by somebody else in the marketplace. That is why Labour and other parties defeated the Government on this issue in the other place and introduced the special share that we are trying to reintroduce in new clause 4.

The Government say that the GIB can create the special share itself. In Committee, the Minister quoted a letter from the chairman of the bank, Lord Smith, to Lord Mandelson and Lord Teverson. She may well quote it again today; we will find out in a moment. In Committee, she said that she was confident that that approach would satisfy the ONS, but could not give us a guarantee. As I said then, we need an absolute assurance on that before we relinquish the legislative opportunity to future-proof the purposes of the GIB.

Since Committee stage, the bank has written to hon. Members, as is its right, outlining its plan to issue the special share envisaged in new clause 4 itself, rather than through the Bill, which is what we are proposing. Its reason for doing that is its belief that the ONS will then allow it to be classified as off the Government’s books. I asked the GIB whether it could guarantee that. Colin Faulkner, its director of government affairs, responded to me by email, writing:

“You’ll likely be aware that ONS doesn’t engage directly with arms length bodies like GIB. At the same time, however, we have been engaging closely with the Government over all matters relating to the sales process, and this is an issue where we’ve been as close as we can to Government throughout. We understand that Government has been engaging closely with ONS on this whole issue, including the special share structure which GIB is putting in place, and we understand that on the basis of those discussions the Government were sufficiently satisfied to allow the sales process to proceed.”

On that basis, if the Government say they are satisfied, they should be able to guarantee categorically, here on the Floor of the House, that their special share proposal will definitely be acceptable to the ONS. I hope the Minister will say that. If she wants to intervene and say that now, she can, but I hope she will at least be able to say it in her response. She is not indicating that she wishes to intervene.

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Mary Creagh: I wonder whether my hon. Friend has had the chance to look at annex C, which was presented to Parliament last Thursday, on the proposed disposal of shares in the bank. It states:

“As a key part of any sale discussions, potential investors will be asked to confirm their commitment to these values”—

that is, green values—

“and to set out how they propose to protect them. Bidders’ stated intentions will be taken into account in the overall assessment of bids.”

I wonder whether we will hear what percentage will be allocated to that in the bidding process. All bids will be marked against a schema. I, for one, would be curious to know what weight and relevance will be given to the protection of green purposes when the Government decide to sell.

Kevin Brennan: I think we would all be interested to know that. Perhaps the Minister will be as informative as she possibly can and tell the House about that in her response. We have a legislative opportunity here, because after privatisation anything could happen. What guarantee do we have that the bank will not simply be swallowed up by somebody else, and that all the guarantees given by the original investors will not evaporate?

Mary Creagh: Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that, although the Government have bent over backwards with the ONS to create a special purpose vehicle—a special charity—with independently appointed people to protect the green purposes, they have refused to make any such moves on another matter we debated in Committee, which is the transparency of executive pay, on which the bank is a rare exemplar in the banking sector? I hope to speak about that shortly.

Kevin Brennan: I agree. My hon. Friend has been dogged in her pursuit of that both in Committee and in tabling her amendments on Report, and I look forward to her contribution on that subject.

Will the Minister guarantee that privatisation will not dilute the bank’s green purposes, or must we just keep our fingers crossed? The Government still need to adequately answer questions that were not answered properly in Committee. Am I right that the legislative lock on the green purposes is being repealed purely to get the bank off the Government’s books? If that is the principal reason, is it a good enough reason to give up the statutory guarantee, given what I said about the technical nature of the accounting issue that the ONS raised?

Will the Minister indicate the Government’s view of the stake they expect to retain in the bank, if any, following privatisation? I understand that it is a market transaction, but we need an idea of the kind of return they expect from the sale. As was mentioned earlier, market conditions are so poor that the Chancellor had to abandon the sell-off of Lloyds shares, but we need to know whether they really expect a significant return from the privatisation, given all the pain associated with the process and the record of poor value for money for the taxpayer in previous privatisations. I do not expect her to be able to be precise, but she will want to avoid the criticism the Government encountered over the lack

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of value achieved previously, so will she gives us an idea of what she expects the Government to get from privatisation?

Is the Minister concerned that these matters will provide further uncertainty for low-carbon investors, at a time of real concern about the Government’s retreat from investment in wind power? We have learned over many years that making policy in haste is not wise—it is certainly not wise to privatise in haste—and we might well repent at leisure if this innovative and effective piece of public policy is lost as a result of a lack of care and a rush to privatise. That is no way to make sustainable policy, particularly in an area where we are trying to create a sustainable future for the country, which is why we have tabled new clause 4.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am happy to be able to speak to my new clause 8, which I would like to press to a vote, but first I wish to associate myself with the shadow Minister’s case in favour of new clause 4, to which I have also put my name.

Essentially, the context of new clause 8 is my dismay at the Government’s determination to push through privatisation of the Green Investment Bank despite concerns expressed by the House of Lords, Members of this House, the Environmental Audit Committee and civil society. Through this and other actions, I fear that the Government have demonstrated that their desire to get the bank off their balance sheet is taking massive precedence over their interest in whether the bank is genuinely contributing to the green economy to the fullest extent possible.

1.15 pm

The EAC, on which I am proud to serve, noted in its report on the future of the bank back in December:

“Whilst we recognise there are potential benefits resulting from an injection of capital, we found that the Government has taken the decision to privatise GIB without due transparency, publication of relevant evidence, consultation, or proper consideration of alternatives. The absence of these steps is likely to lead to the suspicion that the move and its timing are not evidence-based policy.”

Nothing has changed my view since December. The Government are again acting without looking at the evidence. My new clause is therefore intended to ensure that the bank is maintained as a single functioning institution that can continue to invest in the UK’s low-carbon economy at the level planned prior to this deeply regrettable privatisation.

As well as being regrettable, the privatisation will not be easy. The Government say they aim to sell 75% of the bank, which equates to roughly £1.5 billion up front, which is a considerable sum. Indeed, it is huge, even by the standards of the behemoth investment funds. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, one of the largest successful green energy sales in 2015 was worth just $688 million. Given that few notable deals even touched the £1 billion mark in 2015, how can the Government be sure of making a sale of £1.5 billion in one round? There is a risk that it will turn out to be fanciful.

In addition, investor confidence in the UK’s green economy is at an all-time low. One need only look at last week’s Energy and Climate Change Committee investor

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confidence report to see that. In that context, it is even more unlikely that the Government will sell a majority stake in the bank in one round or that the taxpayer will get value for money on any sale. Furthermore, any equity stake bought would require the buyer to follow through on their equity annually—in other words, to bankroll the bank’s annual business plan—which would mean another £500 million to £600 million a year.

The huge sums involved make it highly likely that come October, the desired 75% will not have been sold. Given the Government’s determination to hold on to only a 25% stake, if that, there is a good chance of the Government saying that they have done what they can but not been able to make the sale, and therefore proceeding to dismantle the bank and sell off its assets. In other words, we could essentially face a fire sale. That is even more likely given that the most attractive parts of the bank are ripe for asset sell-off, particularly the £1 billion offshore wind fund and the £500 million waste to energy fund.

Furthermore, there is a risk of the bank’s owners—the new ones and the Government—not committing to fully funding the bank’s business plan for new investments in the UK’s green economy. It would then become little more than a fund manager, as opposed to a bank driving additional investment in the UK’s green economy. It is really important that the Government do not just sell to any investor. New investors must be committed to maintaining the bank as a going concern, fully funding its business plan, driving the expansion of the UK’s low-carbon economy, addressing market failure to crowd in additional private investment, implementing best-in-class governance, transparency and public accountability standards and facilitating and scaling up citizen investment in the UK’s low-carbon economy.

Quite simply, my new clause is intended to inoculate the bank against the risks that I have described by committing the Government to maintaining its integrity as a single functioning institution with a fully funded business plan, not simply selling off its assets.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Would not inoculation, to use the hon. Lady’s word, be guaranteed by the special share the Government intend to operate?

Caroline Lucas: Unfortunately, the special share has no legal underpinning, so we cannot have reassurance about that. In addition, the Government’s overestimation of the ease with which they will sell the bank is a real problem, as I am demonstrating. They have massively overestimated the speed at which they can sell, which I fear will lead to a temptation to asset-strip. My new clause is a simple way of ensuring that that does not happen. I suggest we ensure that anyone buying the bank commits to the full five-year life of round one.

Mary Creagh: The hon. Lady is a credit to our Committee, and I am grateful for the many points she is making on this issue. Does she share my concern that the proposed special share might not be carried forward in any future sale of assets? Will she join me in asking the Minister to clarify that in her response? The bank may be sold once, but the danger is that the next time it is sold, it may well be a case of, “We want to get rid of all this stuff about the green part of what the bank does”.

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Caroline Lucas: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and kind words, and I congratulate her on her chairmanship of the Environmental Audit Committee. I do indeed share her concern that we have no real legal guarantee that this special share mechanism will be safe over time. We need a guarantee that it will protect not just the bank’s green purposes but the focus on complex and novel investments that a public green investment bank is uniquely fitted to be able to fulfil.

I fear that this privatisation is being done in haste. It has not been properly thought through, and the guarantees that we are being offered are not watertight. I therefore commend my simple new clause 8, which would provide at least some reassurance that the Green Investment Bank will be maintained as a single functioning institution that can continue to invest in the UK’s low-carbon economy at the same level as was planned prior to privatisation. If the Government are so sure that that is possible, I hope they will accept the new clause.

Mary Creagh: I shall speak to amendment 17, which stands in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). Before I come on to the substance, I would like to congratulate previous speakers in the debate. The fact that the Government have moved substantially on some of these issues is a testament to the scrutiny provided by the Environmental Audit Committee and the Labour party as the Bill has passed through the House. I put on record my anxiety about the fact that this asset sale was rushed out last Thursday, before the Bill had had a chance to pass through the House, which suggests that we are moving on the basis of a timetable not dictated by the Minister or the market conditions that would achieve the best possible value for a Government asset of this kind, but driven by the Chancellor, who is going to have make some difficult announcements in his Budget on 16 March.

To meet the climate change targets that were agreed at Paris, we will need billions of pounds of green investment to upgrade the energy and transport infrastructure of the UK. So far, the Green Investment Bank has done a really sterling job in attracting capital to low-carbon infrastructure projects in the UK that might otherwise have struggled to find funding. The Bill allows the Government to sell off the bank. I stress that I am pretty certain that this bank is going to be sold in one piece at one time, with the risk that it will not achieve best value for the taxpayer. I am not opposed to privatisation, if it can be shown that it is the right policy tool to get the job done, but this decision seems to have been rushed through just to get the bank off the Government’s balance sheet.

The Environmental Audit Committee, on which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and I both sit, produced a report before Christmas that concluded that the Government took

“the decision to privatise GIB without due transparency …consultation, or proper consideration of alternatives.”

Ministers have simply not yet proven to Parliament that the bank will achieve its aims better in the private sector. The Government have relied heavily on assurances from potential shareholders and executives who stand to benefit personally from the sale.

Amendment 17 would ensure that, if the sale goes ahead, the Green Investment Bank would remain accountable to Parliament and taxpayers by reporting

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annually on the pay of its top team. The Environmental Audit Committee recommended that the Government undertake proper consultation and evidence gathering before any sale and that protecting the GIB’s green identity should be paramount. While I welcome the Secretary of State’s pledge to protect the bank’s green status with a special share, as the Committee recommended, I am concerned that without locking that in legislation, it may not be secure. I am concerned that the special share will not be worth the paper it is written on in any future sale of the bank and that it will be forgotten because, of course, the bank’s onward sale value is depressed if we are limiting the nature of the activities in which it can invest.

When the bank was established, it was intended by the Government to be an exemplar of transparency in the financial services sector in reporting executive pay. That particularly important point was accepted on a cross-party basis, given the recent banking scandal and the low levels of public trust in bankers and their bonus culture, which rewarded recklessness and persists to this day. It is therefore disappointing that that welcome clarity will not continue under the Minister’s proposals to privatise the bank. Ministers are happy for the bank and its executives to revert to the status of any other bank or fund with minimal reporting of remuneration that is limited to the highest paid member of staff and the chairman of the board. My amendment would commit the Government to providing full disclosure to Parliament of the remuneration of the Green Investment Bank’s senior management and board after privatisation.

This point was hotly disputed and argued by the Minister in Committee, but it is fair to say that the Committee saw a certain irony in her stout defence of allowing Green Investment Bank executives to have the freedoms to increase their pay under the Bill and privatisation, although the Bill simultaneously caps the pay of people working in private sector companies such as Magnox with salaries of around £25,000. That stands in sharp contrast to the salaries of the executive team at the Green Investment Bank, which range—we know this because of the transparency—from £125,000 to £325,000, plus bonuses and benefits.

The bank began in 2012 to invest in green infrastructure projects. It has invested in 58 projects with a total value of more than £10 billion. Last June, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said, the Government announced their decision to privatise the Green Investment Bank. The Bill provides the means to do so by reclassifying it as a private sector organisation so that its finance will not contribute to public sector net debt, and by removing reference to the GIB’s green purposes and identity from the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.

Bob Stewart: It seems to me that the Green Investment Bank has been a success since it was set up by the coalition Government. One reason why it should go into the private sector is to liberate more investment and increase the possibilities.

Mary Creagh: That has indeed been the argument from Ministers. We want the bank to be able to fund more projects, and the hon. Gentleman might say that the Government have called this privatisation a “natural

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next step”. However, who else supports the move? The Green Investment Bank certainly supports it, and the Government have drawn on that support as a primary motivation for their plans to proceed, but we have not had the same transparency and consultation that accompanied the bank’s establishment.

The Environmental Audit Committee heard in evidence to our inquiry that the Government’s decision was taken

“without due transparency, publication of relevant evidence, consultation, and proper consideration of alternatives.”

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are many different ways to raise money. When the GIB was established in 2013, the idea of privatisation so soon after its creation was not discussed. Our Committee also heard that the Government have not presented enough evidence for privatisation, or considered a wide enough range of alternatives to a sell-off.

In their response to the EAC report, the Government claimed that they had undertaken unpublished market testing over the course of two years. In Committee, I asked the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise whether she would be willing to publish that market testing. She declined, and said that she would not publish the impact assessment either, because there were no regulatory or significant cost impacts of the GIB sale or changes to its pre-existing policy goals. Our Committee disputes that because of the risk to the green purposes of the bank.

What concerns us is that a bank that was set up to invest in green projects is being privatised without consultation or transparency, and that, although it might have more money, it may not retain its laser focus on green purposes following any future sale. We know that when assets are sold—transport assets, for instance—they tend to be sold on by the pension fund or the other establishment that ends up holding them, hence my question to the Minister.

1.30 pm

Bob Stewart: I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me for intervening, given that I was not a member of the Committee. It seems to me that the special purpose of the Green Investment Bank will be maintained through the special share and the special share ownership. Any change to the bank’s original purposes will have to come back to Parliament one way or another.

Mary Creagh: The Minister has said that a report will be presented to Parliament before the bank is finally sold. In Committee, I asked her how the report would be considered by Parliament. I asked if it would it be considered on the Committee corridor as part of statutory instrument proceedings and if it would be subject to the affirmative or negative procedure. Will we have a chance to vote on this issue again? The Minister is nodding, so I am sure that she will clarify the position when she responds to the debate.

The Committee had a series of concerns, and I still worry that the bank might be sold on at some future stage as the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Investment Bank. Investment banks are going through a very tricky time, and things are not at all well in their sector.

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Any purchaser of the GIB will be looking for maximum freedoms so that potential future sale capital receipts can be maximised.

The only robust consultation that the Government can point to, given that they will not publish the market testing and have not carried out an impact assessment, is consultation with the bank itself. They relied heavily on the bank and its executives in evidence and their response in Committee and, of course, those executives stand to benefit from the sale.

Amendment 17 invites the Government to commit themselves to providing Parliament with information on the remuneration of the bank’s senior management and board after privatisation. That information is currently provided in the bank’s annual report. For instance, how much will the executive team who are in charge of the bank stand to gain personally from the privatisation? How objective can their views be if they are to gain personally from the bank’s privatisation?

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): Are not private sector companies and their directors already under disclosure obligations in relation to executive compensation for directors? What would be the rationale for going further and making the requirements of the Green Investment Bank over and above those of any other company in the economy?

Mary Creagh: This company has been financed by more than £3 billion of taxpayers’ money at a time when my constituents have had the third lowest pay increase in any part of the country since the financial crisis of 2008. The pay of my constituents and those of the hon. Gentleman has been eroded and depressed over the past year as a direct result of the actions of reckless bankers. Given that, and given the journey on which we have travelled in the past 10 years, it would be negligent of us to privatise a fully owned state bank without introducing protections to prevent the huge increase in remuneration that tends to take place when state assets are privatised.

Steve Brine: The hon. Lady’s arguments are, of course, very persuasive while the bank is in public ownership and in receipt of public finance, which justifies the current disclosure regime, but surely, once the bank is in private hands and financed principally—75% or more, I believe—by private money, they will no longer apply.

Mary Creagh: The bank will not be financed principally by private money. We do not know how much it will be sold for, but at present it is financed 100% by public money. I do not know whether whoever takes it over will put in the £3 billion match funding that the Government have put in, but they will certainly not be putting in that money on day one.

This bank was set up to be an exemplar to the banking and financial industry. It was not set up to be just another bank; it was set up to do something special, and to be something special. The Minister has reassured us—we hope it is the case—that the special share will protect the specialness of its green purposes, although I think there is a question mark over how long that will last. What I want to know, given that the bank was also set up to be an exemplar in respect of executive pay, is why that part of it should be lost.