Welcome to my first report of 2014. There looks to be a busy year ahead with the government continuing their cuts agenda which is punishing many Islington residents already.
Not unusually, the past 8 weeks were indeed quite busy:
There was sadness at the death and passing of Nelson Mandela, and I was pleased to be able to speak in his memory in parliament and raise the superb Islington connections to the anti-apartheid movement.
The big issues at the moment are the renewed attacks on the whole principal of the welfare state and the demonisation of the poorest. See my articles (website as well as at the end of this report) on this.
The disaster of the Syrian War continues; one hopes the Geneva II process works though clearly it would be more likely to succeed if Iran was involved. I was part of a parliamentary delegation to Iran recently and was able to raise issues of nuclear facilities, relations with other countries, human rights, as well as a potential nuclear weapons free Middle East and I wrote extensively on it including a piece for the Islington Tribune.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, or better named “Gagging Bill” makes its unwelcome return to the Commons and I remain resolutely against it – we need the right of expression in a free democratic society.
Locally I’ve been very busy, with many Christmas and New Year events and advice sessions in community centres all around the constituency. The biggest ongoing issue we face, as ever, is housing. We need more council housing and proper regulation of the private rented sector.
Sadly, this month saw the death of several significant individuals including Roger Lloyd Pack, (Trigger from Only Fools and Horses). Roger was a great actor in many roles, but also a great peace campaigner and a wonderful supporter of all the campaigns to defend our hospital, The Whittington.
I am very sad about the death of John Bowden, an iconic human rights lawyer, and former chair of Liberation and active in the NCCL (later Liberty). My abiding memory of John is seeing him with blood running down his face after he was assaulted whilst acting as a legal observer outside the Wapping trade union dispute.
Tragically, along with several others, Del Singh was killed in a suicide bomb in Kabul just this week. Del was an activist and key figure in the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and was preparing to stand as a Member for the European Parliament.
November 20th: It was a real pleasure to join Islington Law Centre in celebrating their 40th birthday, well done to everyone who has contributed to this invaluable community resource over the past 40 years, and in particular to the indefatigable Ruth Hayes.
21st: I attended a trustees meeting at Caxton House and at Elizabeth House; both community centres play an important role in our community.
22nd: I took part in a BBC Radio 5 debate on the privatisation of our prison service, something which deeply concerns me and I am opposed to.
It was a pleasure to visit Islington Mind and join their celebrations of World Mental Health Day, it has been encouraging to notice the stigma around mental health fade in recent years, but I am under no illusion that we still have some way to go.
23rd: Well done to everyone who helped organise the Voluntary Action Islington Conference in the Town Hall. I very much enjoyed speaking at the event.
I addressed the conference hosted by the LRC (Labour Representation Committee) at Conway Hall, where I spoke about various international issues and the need for the next Labour government to have a just and peaceful foreign policy.
I attended Stan Newen’s book launch in Harlow, In Quest of a Fairer Society. Stan was a former MEP and MP as well as a noted historian. Over 300 people attended the launch and I was pleased to say my bit on his behalf.
24th: The Sobel Centre’s 40th anniversary was marked with an open day to commemorate the building and the centre’s great value to community. I attended with Councillor Janet Burgess.
25th: I made an early morning visit to the Royal Mail sorting office on Hornsey Road to meet all the staff there and discuss issues around Royal Mail privatisation, and to reiterate my continued opposition to privatisation.
I went on to visit Sainsbury’s on Stroud Green Road to hear about their work getting kids active with their promotional scheme.
I attended a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Iran ahead of the visit we had planned for January.
I chaired a meeting as part of Islamophobia Awareness Month. It is important to challenge all forms of racism.
26th: Well done to all who arranged the Newington Green Christmas lights switch-on with Kirsty Valentine. Kirsty was the licensee of the Alma pub near Newington Green, from which she had recently been disgracefully evicted by her landlord. We are now campaigning for a community pub there.
I was presented with the Ghandi (Foundation) Peace Award (photo at the end of this report) which was humbling. Thank you to all who arranged this, it is a day I will always remember. My acceptance speech is on my website.
27th: The annual ‘lobby of parliament’ on Palestine was another huge success with more people than ever making the trip down to Westminster to speak to their MPs about Palestine.
28th: The Oxford Union invited me to speak in opposition to the motion “This House believes socialism does not work”, alongside Katy Clark MP and Rob Griffiths. We were opposed by MPs John Redwood and Andrew Rosindell. We won and the motion was rejected: Oxford students support a just and fair society.
29th: I enjoyed the opportunity to get my hands dirty (literally) with FinFuture, helping them with tree planting in Finsbury park, alongside Talal Karim and the three mayors of Islington, Hackney and Haringey.
I attended John Bowden’s funeral.
I was interviewed for the Ham&High Young Readers’ edition of the paper by some local budding journalists. It’s great to see a local paper encouraging young people to consider a career in journalism by giving them such practical experience.
30th: The Stop The War Coalition International conference was well attended and I spoke about the prospects for a different foreign policy for Britain in the future.
December 1st: As happens every year, December sees the start of the Christmas celebrations across Islington and this year my first festive speaking engagement was at Holloway Road Xmas Extravaganza.
I also attended the Islington Menorah Lighting as a guest of local Rabbi Mendy Korer on Islington Green; it was a well attended and fun event for our local Jewish community and their friends.
2nd: I met with Jengba, a campaigning group who oppose the joint enterprise laws which often lead to innocent people being prosecuted in crimes.
I met with Unison Labour Link, a regular meeting between the trade union and MPs ensuring that we stay in touch with working peoples’ issues and raise them in parliament.
One of the best parts of my job is welcoming local schools into parliament and it was a pleasure to meet with children from St Joan of Arc RC Primary School.
I spoke at a public meeting with the Islington Communications Workers Union (CWU) about Highbury Corner and Tufnell Park post office closures.
3rd: There have been huge cuts to the terms and conditions of staff working in further and higher education. I joined University College Union members locally on picket lines at London Metropolitan University and City and Islington College.
Local councillor Kaya Schwartz invited me to attend a Mental Health Foundation event she organised in parliament which was informative and well-organised.
4th: The Inter-Parliamentary Union held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) and I was re-elected to the executive committee.
It was a busy evening as I cycled to all four corners of Islington North meeting with local ward branch members at their respective Christmas parties.
5th: I met with Councillor James Murray from Islington Council as a monthly catch-up on housing strategy.
I spoke at Warwick University Labour Students on the topic “Against Austerity and Trident, For Jobs and Green Growth”, a very well attended event.
6th: I visited Bob Hamlyn, the head teacher at Holloway School, who took me on a tour of the school and I participated in a discussion with pupils about Nelson Mandela.
Drayton Park Women’s Crisis House and Resource Centre celebrated its 18th anniversary and this is an excellent organisation in Drayton Park.
It was a pleasure to join the light switch-on in Blackstock Road, accompanied by the Grafton School Choir.
7th: I attended the Latin America 2013 Conference and made the closing speech on the topic of prospects of social justice in Latin America.
CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) Council met (I am National vice Chair).
8th: I attended the Halkevi AGM. Having been at the founding meeting for this Turkish/Kurdish organisation it is great to see it grow from strength to strength.
I visited Tony Benn to wish him well for Christmas and take him some (homemade) cake. He was very diplomatic and said he liked the cake.
I attended St Mellitus Church’s Christmas concert with the London Medical Orchestra.
9th: I met with Dr Yi Mien Koh (chief executive) and Robert Aitken (acting chair) of the Whittington Hospital as part of our regular catch ups on the future of the hospital. I am pleased they are investing in an ambulatory care centre and refurbishment of the maternity unit.
I spoke at a public meeting as part of the campaign to save Islington’s post offices, so thank you to the CWU who organised this.
10th: I spoke in defence of the Human Rights Act at an event in parliament called ‘That Remarkable Piece of Legislation’.
11th: Islington Arts and Media School held their annual Christmas community lunch at the school, followed by an excellent theatrical performance by students. Well done everyone!
12th: Glasgow CND invited me to speak on the prospects of not renewing Trident. I explained that I thought that seemed like a good idea to me.
13th: I joined the older persons’ Christmas party at the Mildmay Centre.
14th: As a trustee of the Light Project International I attended their AGM. I also enjoyed the performance of Father Christmas who turned up to see the children. I thought he had a very good beard!
16th: I had one of my regular meetings with Rahel Geffen, Chief Executive of Disability Action in Islington.
I met with Cheryl Smith, an archivist looking at the history of Islington’s disability rights campaigning.
I met with Dave Luetchford from National Grid to discuss the Seven Sisters Road works.
I hosted a public meeting at Islington Town Hall about the Immigration Bill currently before parliament.
17th: I joined trade union members from the CWU on strike outside Highbury Corner Post Office.
I went to the Whittington Community Centre Christmas lunch.
I gave evidence to Islington Council’s Communalities’ Review on the issue of private rented sector tenants.
18th: I was impressed by the revamped shop OUTPOSTS (formally Bedfords) on Holloway Road and met with Clare Norton, the Chief Executive, and bought a picture from the charity.
I visited Grafton School for their end-of-year show.
I joined colleagues on a demonstration at Westminster Pier in solidarity with the victims of Lampadusa.
I treated my staff to a Christmas lunch together and it was like one big happy family dinner!
I met with Daniel Walker-Nolan from the Electrical Safety Council to discuss electrical safety and the private rented sector tenants.
19th: Bahraini human rights campaigners discussed their work with me.
20th: Along with Emily Thornberry MP, and Council Leader, Richard watts, I handed in a letter with CWU comrades regarding jobs threats locally.
A great number of constituents contacted me via 38 Degrees regarding the “Gagging Bill”; I met with several of them.
Richard Watts and I met with worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque and Muslim Welfare House.
21st: It was a pleasure to meet with Mr Jupudi P Rao, a member of the Legislative Assembly, Government of Andhrapadesh, India. He is a Dalit leader.
23rd: I attended ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’ at St James’ Piccadilly, highlighting the plight of the Palestinians which was a tremendous series of concerts with an imitation Israeli apartheid wall staged just in the surrounds of the church.
January: 6th – 10th: I was in Iran (see intro) it was very interesting and I have written extensively about my trip (Islington Tribune, Morning Star, Labour Briefing, and on my website).
10th: Upon landing back in the UK I attended a trustees meeting at the Light Project International in Islington.
Rowan Arts celebrated its 10th Birthday with a huge event at Resource Centre on Holloway Road. I am proud to be one of their patrons, unlocking the artistic potential in every one of us.
11th: I spoke at the demonstration in Trafalgar Square marking the 12th anniversary of Guantánamo Bay.
I made some closing remarks at London Region CND Annual Conference on scrapping Trident in a changing world situation.
13th: I met with Rabbi Mendy Korer at one of our regular catch ups to discuss issues facing the Jewish community locally.
Islington Borough Commander, Gerry Campbell and I met (as we routinely do) to discuss policing issues in the borough.
I attended Hanley Crouch AGM; it was the best attended for many years. I’m looking forward to seeing the new building across the road from its current site, next to the Holly Park estate.
14th: It was brilliant to meet Duncombe Primary School pupils on their visit to parliament.
Along with my colleagues with whom I travelled to Iran (Jack Straw, Lord Lamont, Ben Wallace MP), we had a lengthy meeting with the Foreign Secretary.
I was interviewed by Russia Today about the UK law firm which applied to the International Criminal Court about the torture by UK troops in Iraq.
15th: I attended and spoke at a protest outside Downing Street regarding the Al Yarmouk Refugee Camp in which forty people have died.
I attended the Friends of Finsbury Park AGM.
16th: I spoke at a public meeting on Tfl ticket closures which was organised by the railway unions, RMT and TSSA. It was held in Conway Hall which was packed, showing this is an issue many feel very strongly about.
17th: I met with Toufik Kacimi at the Muslim Welfare House to discuss community issues.
I continued on to the Holloway Mosque and addressed over 200 people there.
I was interviewed by Bishopsgate Institute for the Whittington Park Community Association archive and oral history project.
18th: As part of Peace Sunday I had my photo taken with Bruce Kent and Catherine West at an installation in St Mellitus Church.
20th: I met with the new Whittington Hospital chair, Steve Hitchens.
21st: I was interviewed on Voice of Russia about Syria and Iran’s potential involvement in the peace process.
I chaired Parliamentary CND, a forum for politicians to come together on nuclear disarmament.
Detention Forum held a parliamentary meeting about the detention of asylum seekers in the UK at which Lauren Cape-Davenhill was very informative.
22nd: It was a pleasure to welcome two classes from Christ the King RC Primary School on their visit to parliament. I think and hope everyone had a good day.
Parliamentary Contributions (chronologically)
Nuclear Disarmament, 2 December
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the work of the Open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament.
Hugh Robertson: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by the Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. and noble Friend the Baroness Warsi, in the other place on 15 July 2013, Official Report, column WA93.
Nuclear Weapons, 2 December
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the statement on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons at the UN General Assembly First Committee.
Hugh Robertson: A number of member states, including the UK, delivered statements on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons at the UN General Assembly First Committee.
We share the concern over the humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, expressed by nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) states parties at the 2010 review conference. The UK continues to attach the greatest importance to avoiding the use of nuclear weapons, and supports and participates in a range of efforts to increase international resilience to the threat of nuclear terrorism.
We are concerned that some efforts under the humanitarian initiative appear increasingly aimed at negotiating a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the possession of nuclear weapons, outside existing processes. The UK believes that any attempts to establish a new conference or body to discuss such approaches risk undermining the full implementation of all three pillars of the NPT, which must remain our priority.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the UK will be represented at the second international meeting on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, to be convened on 13 and 14 February 2014 in Nayarit, Mexico.
Hugh Robertson: We received an invitation from the Mexican Government on 26 November, and have not yet made a decision on whether the UK will attend.
Trident Submarines, 2 December
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what discussions were held by his Department on the replacement of the Trident submarines at the recent High Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament at the UN;
(2) what discussions were held by his Department on the replacement of the Trident submarines at the recent UN General Assembly First Committee.
Hugh Robertson: No discussions were held by my Department at the UN General Assembly First Committee or at the UN High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament on the subject of the UK’s planned replacement of its Vanguard class submarines. Maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the current system is fully consistent with our obligations as a recognised nuclear weapon state under the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Iraq Committee of Inquiry, 11 December
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Prime Minister what discussions he has had with (a) Sir John Chilcott and (b) the US administration on evidence to be made publicly available to the Chilcott Inquiry; and when he expects to receive the final report of that inquiry.
The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) on 22 November 2013, Official Report, 1038W.
Student Loans, 11 December
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what restrictions on future interest rates and debt collection policies were placed on the new owners of the Student Loan Book.
Mr Willetts: The Government announced the sale of the remaining publicly owned Mortgage Style student loans on 25 November for £160 million to Erudio Student Loans Ltd. There will be no changes to loan terms, including the calculation of interest rates which are fixed at a rate equivalent to the Retail Price Index, as a result of the sale.
Erudio Student Loans must adhere to strict OFT guidance about treating borrowers fairly which includes particular protections for vulnerable borrowers and those in financial difficulty.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills how much of the total level of debt on the Student Loan Book was incurred in each year since its inception.
Mr Willetts: The Student Loans Company publishes statistics on student loan debt in its Statistical First Release (SFR), ‘Student Loans for Higher Education in England’. Information on the outstanding student loan balance (including loans which are not yet due for repayment) at the end of each financial year since 1990-91, when student loans were introduced, is provided in the table. The figures are derived from Table 1(i) of the SFR. Since 2000-01, the publication has been available in digital format from the Student Loans Company (SLC) website at:
Copies of earlier publications are available in the Libraries of the House.
Since 2005-06 the Student Loans Company has published the statistics separately for each of the devolved Administrations; a separate series for England is presented in the table from this date.
|Student Loans balance outstanding at the end of the financial year, financial years1990-91 to 2012-13
|End of financial year
|1 From 2005-06, the figures show, separately, English domiciled students studying in the UK and EU students studying in England. Figures for the UK include EU students studying in the UK. 2 Separate figures for England were not published prior to financial year 2005-06. 3 From 2005-06, figures were published by the Student Loans Company on behalf of each devolved Administration. From 2005-06, the UK total reflects the aggregate balance outstanding for the devolved Administrations—England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. (The totals are not exact as they are derived from the sum of the figures for each Administration rounded to one decimal place).
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills who will be responsible for allocation and collection of student loans for the academic year 2014-15.
Mr Willetts: The Student Loan Company (SLC) will be responsible for allocating student loans in 2014-15. Student loan repayments will be collected either by HM Revenue and Customs if the borrower is employed or self-employed in the United Kingdom, or directly by the SLC if the borrower is living outside the UK.
Probation: Private Sector, 16 December
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) whether GEO has been approved for the purposes of competitive tendering for probation services in England and Wales;
(2) whether Delta has been approved for the purposes of competitive tendering for probation services in England and Wales;
(3) whether Stonham Home Housing Group has been approved for the purposes of competitive tendering for probation services in England and Wales.
Jeremy Wright: On 19 September we launched the competition to find the future owners of the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which will deliver rehabilitation services in England and Wales, as set out in the Transforming Rehabilitation Strategy, announced in May. The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) stage of the competition closed on 14 November. 35 bidders, representing more than 50 organisations, have submitted a PQQ. We are encouraged by this response, which demonstrates that innovative partnerships between organisations of all sectors will be bidding to run CRCs.
No organisations have been yet been approved under this process as the evaluation of responses is ongoing. The competition will continue through 2014 with contracts being awarded and mobilised by 2015.
Bahrain, 6 January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what meetings officials in his Department have held with the government and civil society organisations in Bahrain concerning human rights; and if he will make a statement.
Hugh Robertson: Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in Bahrain and in the UK frequently meet members of the Bahraini Government, opposition parties and civil society organisations to discuss the situation in Bahrain including human rights. Our engagement is constructive and focussed on supporting human rights and political reform, including the National Consensus Dialogue.
Employment and Support Allowance, 6 January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proportion of successful appeals to decisions on eligibility for employment and support allowance are subsequently recalled for interview; and what the average time is between the appeal and recall for interview.
Esther McVey: All successful appellants will be reassessed either by interview—the vast majority—or on paper evidence. Information on the average time between the appeal and reassessment is not collected.
Employment and Support Allowance: Greater London, 6 January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people made claims for employment and support allowance in each London borough in each of the last 12 months; and what the average waiting time was for work capability assessments to be undertaken in each borough.
Mike Penning: Information about the numbers of people who have made claims for employment and support allowance in each London borough in the last 12 months is not available in the format requested and information about the average waiting time for work capability assessments in each borough is not readily available.
Exports: Bahrain, 6 January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his Department’s policy is on the sale of crowd control equipment to Bahrain; and if he will make a statement.
Hugh Robertson: Following the unrest in 2011, the Government reviewed export licences to Bahrain. We revoked 30 licences for which we assessed there was a clear risk that the export might be used for internal repression.
We continue to monitor the situation in Bahrain very closely and assess all export licence applications, including for any equipment which could be used for crowd control, on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. We also assess applications in light of the prevailing circumstances, the capability of the equipment, the proposed end use and the record of the end user. A licence will not be issued if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.
Personal Independence Payment, 6 January
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what the average waiting time is for his Department’s response to an initial application for personal independence payment; what the overall success rate of those applications is; and how many such applications are subsequently taken to appeal;
(2) how many claims for personal independence payment (PIP) have been made in each month since the introduction of PIP in each region; what the average response time is in each region; and what the average time taken for claimants to be called for a personal assessment is.
Mike Penning: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), 11 November 2013, Official Report, column 516W.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service have recently published statistics which show that up to September 2013 14 appeals concerning personal independence payment had been directly lodged with HMCTS:
Oral Questions and Debates
Commonwealth Meeting and the Philippines, 18 November
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Prime Minister explain how exactly he proposes to follow up his demand for an inquiry? What monitoring and reporting will there be, and what action will the Commonwealth take if and when Sri Lanka does not follow up on the assurances he was apparently given? Many people are dead, and many people are very angry about the abuses of human rights by the Sri Lankan Government.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. The key thing is that the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has made the point that there should be an independent inquiry and has set the deadline for when it should at least begin. If it is not begun, there needs to be, as she has said, an international independent inquiry. We are saying that we support that view and will put behind it Britain’s international diplomatic standing in all the organisations of which we are a member, including, of course, the United Nations.
Iran, 25 November
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and draw his attention to what he said about momentum in the process in the region. I obviously hope that a detailed agreement is reached within six months. Will he now turn his attention to the need for a nuclear weapons-free middle east, and the importance of reconstituting the conference, which Finland was supposed to have held, involving all countries in the region? Without an agreement on a nuclear-free middle east, somebody will develop nuclear weapons or Israel will go on being unchallenged as the only nuclear weapons state in the region. This is urgent.
Mr Hague: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are keeping our focus on that. I pay tribute to him for keeping his focus—relentlessly—in his questions in Parliament, but we are also keeping our focus and continuing our work to bring the conference together. If we can carry our success on this agreement through to the success of a comprehensive and final settlement, it will be a big advance towards what he has been campaigning for and remove more of the excuses of other nations against such discussions. I think, therefore, that he can view this as a step forward in that regard.
Business of the House, 28 November
Jeremy Corbyn: May we have a debate in Government time on the situation facing people living in the private rented sector, many of whom have six-month tenancies, great difficulty getting repairs done and the danger that the tenancy will be ended if they complain to the landlord? In particular, those living in central London, where benefit levels do not meet the excessive rent levels, can then be forced to move out, leading to a social cleansing of whole swathes of our communities. It is a serious issue facing a lot of people, so it should be dealt with by the Government, not on a Back-Bench business day.
Mr Lansley: I agree that those are important issues, and I know that we will continue to have opportunities to debate them. Many issues that are for the Government to respond to are debated in time granted by the Backbench Business Committee. I do not subscribe to the view, and neither does the House, that Government time is allocated to discuss things that are the Government’s responsibility and Back-Bench business time is allocated to discuss things that are not. On the contrary, Back-Bench business time is available, as indeed is Opposition time, so that Members can raise issues that are predominantly for the Government to respond to.
Immigration Status Inquiries, 2 December
Jeremy Corbyn: How many random inquiries on immigration status have been made in public places in each of the last six months.
The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): None.
Jeremy Corbyn: That is a surprising answer, because a number of us have witnessed immigration officers at Metropolitan line and other tube stations around London stopping people and asking them for their immigration status. Will the Minister assure me that no immigration officer would ever stop anyone randomly in a public place, ask them for identity documents and then call in the police to assist them with their inquiries, when there is no requirement to carry identity cards at any time in this country? Indeed, such identity cards do not even exist.
Mr Harper: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not conduct random operations; we conduct intelligence-led operations, as did the previous Government, and they are very successful. The street operations we have conducted this year have led to the arrest of almost a third of those encountered. They are very successful in enforcing our immigration laws. We do not stop people at random; we are not empowered to do so by law and even if we were, we would not do so as a matter of policy. We stop people when we think there is intelligence to indicate that they are breaking our immigration laws, and I make no apology for that.
Iran, 3 December
Jeremy Corbyn: May I take the Foreign Secretary back to his favourite subject, a nuclear weapons-free middle east? That has now become a greater possibility with an interim agreement with Iran. Will he update us on progress on a conference that would include Israel, which of course is the only country in the region that has declared nuclear weapons?
Mr Hague: I do not have an update beyond the one I gave the hon. Gentleman a couple of weeks ago, but I will keep in touch with him as he is extremely assiduous on this matter. I agree with his assessment that the interim deal achieved with Iran on the nuclear issue reinforces the case for, and brings closer, a conference for which he has long campaigned and which the United Kingdom would like to see.
Tributes to Nelson Mandela, 9 December
Jeremy Corbyn: It is a privilege to speak in this debate. I will try to be brief because so many brilliant contributions have been made today by people who fought the good fight to try to rid the world of the scourge of apartheid.
I want us to recall the many people who died in South Africa fighting against apartheid, from those who were discriminated against from 1948 onwards, when the National party won the election, to the massacre at Sharpeville, the riots in Soweto, the killing of schoolchildren and the murder of Steve Biko and so many others who died, often completely ignored and forgotten. We should also recall the poverty of the black majority population in South Africa—a poverty inherited from colonialism, a poverty arising from work in the mines and so many other places, a poverty of children going to school where there was no water, no electricity, no books and very little else, and unbelievable discrimination in employment, land ownership and everything else. It was a system of dividing people on racial grounds that the Nazis would have been proud of. The idea that there would be some sort of accommodation with apartheid was something that many of us found anathema.
It was not as though the evil of apartheid extended only to the country of South Africa. It extended to the neighbouring states and greatly influenced the white supremacist regime in Rhodesia led by Ian Smith. It also included the war in Namibia—South West Africa, as it was then called—and it spread over into the problems faced by all the front-line states during the apartheid era because of their wish to impose sanctions on South Africa. It also spread over into Angola. The war in Angola was one of the turning points in the defeat of apartheid. Let us remember that it was the South African defence forces that went to the aid of another minority regime in Angola, and they were finally defeated in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988. Those were the significant changes that brought about a political reckoning in South Africa.
Those around the world who would recognise only the ANC and would not recognise the Government of South Africa are the ones we should also remember today—those people all around the world who took part in meetings, marches and demonstrations, and many Governments who bravely stood against the apartheid regime when it was in their economic interests to go in absolutely the opposite direction. There are therefore some very strong lessons for all of us to learn during our remembrance of Nelson Mandela.
The personality of Mandela was an extraordinary one. I was asked a question when I was visiting Holloway school last Friday morning and went into a history lesson. There was a discussion about the civil rights movement in the USA, the anti-apartheid movement in Britain and of course the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The students asked me whether Mandela would have been a better or worse president if he had never gone to prison. It is an impossible question to answer. All I could say was that I remember distinctly my mother telling me how evil the Rivonia treason trial and the Sharpeville massacre were, and how wrong it was that Mandela and all the others went to prison. In their suffering they obviously read and learned a great deal. In his final unconditional release from prison—it is very important to remember that it was an unconditional release from prison; he was offered all sorts of get out of jail cards many years beforehand—he displayed such amazing magnanimity.
I recall that when Mandela came here to Parliament shortly after his release—he was not President of South Africa at that time—there were Conservative MPs who wanted the meeting banned. There were people who said no MP should attend it. There were people who said that he was a terrorist. There were people who said that people like him should not be allowed into Parliament, but I remember the very good discussion that was held here. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) was there, as were Richard Caborn, chair of the anti-apartheid group, Bob Hughes, Tony Benn and many others. We had a truly fascinating discussion with a very great man who was forming his ideas of how he would lead a post-apartheid, multiracial, rainbow nation of South Africa.
I want to conclude with some thoughts about the people who were in prison with Mandela and also suffered a great deal. My constituency, Islington North, is a place where many people have sought refuge at various times and have been welcomed. I was very proud that David Kitson, one of those imprisoned with Mandela, lived in my constituency for a long time. Denis Goldberg, who was also in prison with Mandela, lived nearby and ran a bookshop for a charity called Community HEART which still exists, collecting books to be sent to schools in South Africa. We also housed the offices of the British defence and aid fund for victims of apartheid. I was a trustee of that, with the great Ethel de Keyser and others. We were able to fund education for victims of apartheid and do our bit to try to help the next generation of African leaders who had been born in the front-line states in exile camps to get some kind of university education. Many people did incredible work in that regard.
My local authority, Islington borough council, declared itself an apartheid-free zone. This was not universally welcomed by theEvening Standard, the Conservative Government or many others. In saying that, I look at my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). Many of us who were involved in local government or as Members of Parliament during the 1970 and 1980s did our bit. Okay, it might be said that it is gesture politics to name a street Mandela street or to name your student union building the Nelson Mandela building, but in that act you are showing which side you are on in the battle against apartheid. When we were being condemned by the media at that time, I always thought, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for they know not what they do.” Now they are all agreeing with us, as unfortunately they were unable to do at that time. Many of those who stood up then were in advance of others.
We also housed in my borough the offices of the African National Congress at Penton street. That building was under the most massive surveillance from the Metropolitan police, the South African secret service and every other secret service one could imagine. Indeed, the Anti-Apartheid Movement was infiltrated. The ANC offices were infiltrated. There were some ghastly goings-on in London via the long reach of the South African secret service. Also under surveillance and questioning were the offices of the South West Africa People’s Organisation, SWAPO, which had its offices in Gillespie road in my constituency.
A number of parliamentary colleagues of mine, including the late great Tony Banks and Stuart Holland, a former Member, and I were arrested outside South Africa house. It was one of those strange moments when you are arrested by the police and you say, “On what charge am I arrested?”, assuming that one is going be told that one is creating an obstruction or some such charge. The police said no, it was under the Diplomatic Immunities Act, for behaviour that was offensive to a foreign diplomatic mission. The police officer asked me, “What do you plead? Why have you come here?”. I said, “I’ve come here to be as offensive as possible to the South African apartheid regime, but I offer no plea, so you will have to offer a plea of not guilty on my part.” The cases all went to court and we were all exonerated on the grounds of our moral outrage at apartheid and all given compensation, and all that compensation was given to the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Some things do come full circle in the end.
Finally, in thanking so many people for all their work in the Anti-Apartheid Movement I must mention my friend the late great Bernie Grant, who went to South Africa to witness the release of Nelson Mandela. When he returned, Margaret Thatcher invited him to Downing street to discuss what he thought about it all—it must have been a pretty surreal moment for both of them. I hope that a record of the meeting was kept, but I imagine that its release is subject to the 100-year rule, or perhaps a million-year rule. I can well imagine what Bernie would have said, but I am not sure about the leaderene.
There are lessons to be learned from all that, so I will conclude with the following thoughts. After his release, Mandela of course became President of South Africa and did enormous and wonderful work, but poverty has not been conquered there. There are still children who need better schools and people who need homes, electricity and water, as Denis Goldberg reminded us at a Community HEART fundraiser. But Mandela also had things to say about other issues around the world. He was deeply concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people and sent them messages of support, not because he wanted the conflict to continue but because he wanted it to end.
Another of Mandela’s great legacies was to say, as President, that he did not wish to preside over a Government who had nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction. He took South Africa out of the nuclear equation, thus enabling Africa to become a nuclear weapons-free continent. There are many lessons we can learn from that. In Nelson’s memory, let us change things a bit here. That will make for a better, safer and more peaceful world.
Business of the House, 12 December
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Leader of the House indicate when we can have a debate on housing? I have raised this issue before. There are many people in this country who have no prospect of ever being able to afford a property, who have great difficulty accessing council housing association properties and who therefore have no choice but to enter the unregulated and—in London—incredibly expensive private rented sector. May we have a debate on Government proposals, if there are any, to regulate the private rented sector, including through a cap on rents or at least some kind of fair rents formula?
Mr Lansley: I think I heard the makings of a contribution to the pre-recess Adjournment debate being formulated by the hon. Gentleman even as he asked his question.
Jeremy Corbyn: Just answer the question.
Mr Lansley: Yes. I cannot at the moment promise the hon. Gentleman a statement, given the considerable pressure of legislative business, but when we can have one, I personally would welcome a debate on housing. One of the Government’s priorities is to turn around the 400,000-plus reduction in social housing under the last Government. We are setting out to ensure that more social and affordable housing is available, and we are seeing an increase of approximately one third in the number of planning approvals, which will sustain what I hope is now a rising trend from the position we inherited from the last Government on overall house building numbers.
Liaison Committee Report, 12 December
Jeremy Corbyn: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s statement, which I think is a welcome step forward. Following the previous question, I agree that Select Committees need more definitive powers. I think that they should be able not only to set up commissions, but, if necessary, and in extremis, to introduce their own legislation when the Government refuse to do so. We need to shift the balance of power towards Parliament and away from the Executive as far as we can. Following the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), what consideration has been given to the size, quantity and value of private contractors working on civil service functions, often core functions, and does he believe that that undermines the whole role of the civil service, as a Government-employed service, in giving robust advice to Government, rather than commercially-driven advice and running of services?
Sir Alan Beith: The hon. Gentleman is a much-valued member of my Justice Committee and himself provides evidence of the valuable work that can be done in Select Committees. The extent to which services should be either carried out directly by Government or contracted out to the private sector is a matter of legitimate political argument, although Governments of quite different political persuasions have extended the role of the private sector in that regard. One thing that united Select Committee Chairs from different political backgrounds was the point that the civil service must have the necessary equipment for effective contracting when those processes are engaged in and that at every stage it should tell Ministers what they need to hear, not just what they want them to hear.
North Korea, 16 December
Jeremy Corbyn: I share the Minister’s horror at the execution last week and I condemn the death penalty in any circumstances anywhere, but it has served to highlight the abuse of human rights throughout North Korea. Have the six-party talks at any stage included a discussion about human rights? When they are resumed, will he ensure that human rights are brought into the equation?
Mr Swire: It is almost impossible to conceive any discussion involving the abuses of the regime in Pyongyang not including its horrific abuse of human rights—as I said in my opening remarks, perhaps currently the worst of any regime anywhere in the world.
Topical Questions, 16 December
Jeremy Corbyn: The Secretary of State will be pleased to know that I have looked at “The United Kingdom’s Future Nuclear Deterrent” report, which he has just placed before the House. Page 5 gives me great concern, however, because it seems to assert that the programme is on track and on budget, and then goes on to predict savings thereafter. Those two things seem to me possibly to be in conflict. Will he assure me that there is no commitment to spending money beyond this Parliament in 2016, in relation to making the main-gate decision, when the new Parliament will have the right to decide the future of the whole programme?
Mr Hammond: Yes. Some £3 billion has been earmarked for spending before the next election, and the expectation is that that will have been committed, but that is the total commitment that will have been made at that time. That includes money that will not be disbursed until some time during the next Parliament, but which will have been committed.
European Court of Human Rights, 17 December
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Secretary of State think more carefully about this issue? Were Britain to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, and consequently, from the European Court, where would our moral stature be in condemning human rights abuses in any other European country, and what would be the future for human rights in this country? Does he not think that, instead, he should be more positive and proactive about the necessity of human rights legislation to protect us all?
Chris Grayling: Let us be absolutely clear: human rights are important and remain a central part of what this Government, and any Government in this country, do to promote good practice around the world. That does not necessarily mean, however, that we all have to endorse the working of a Court that, in my view, has lost its way.
Topical Questions, 17 December
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Secretary of State confirm that neither G4S nor Serco will be considered for any further contracts with the Ministry of Justice while the fraud inquiries are continuing?
Chris Grayling: Mr Speaker, you will understand that, for legal reasons, I cannot discuss the outcome of a tendering process before the appropriate time. I will make the appropriate statements when the right moment arises.
Business of the House, 19 December
Jeremy Corbyn: May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to the business in Westminster Hall on 23 January? He has set down only half the afternoon for a debate on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office report on human rights. That is completely inadequate for a debate on human rights around the whole world, the UK’s role in upholding them and the Foreign Office’s responsibility for them. It is simply not proper to try to debate all that in one and a half hours; we need at least a full afternoon or a debate in this Chamber.
Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will know that the time in Westminster Hall on that Thursday was allocated on the initiative of the Liaison Committee. If that debate were to show that there was a demand among Members for additional debating time, it would be open to him and other Members collectively to go to the Backbench Business Committee and to seek to secure a further debate.
Christmas Adjournment Debate, 19 December
Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. Sadly, I start with a complaint. Although I welcome the opportunity of a Christmas Adjournment debate and the fact that a Member can raise any issue they want, the system that we have had in other times when there have been themed debates with a Minister replying is a far more satisfactory way of dealing with parliamentary business. I do not doubt that the Deputy Leader of the House will report in great detail to each Minister concerned and ensure that we get an answer, but the whole point of the House of Commons is to hold the Government and Ministers to account rather than using it as a sounding-board Chamber where anyone can raise anything they like and it then disappears into the ether.
I strongly compliment the staff here—as I am sure does everyone else—for their work, loyalty, and sympathy to both Members and the public. They often do a difficult job, and I admire them enormously and want to put on record my thanks to them. As a Parliament, we should value them a lot more. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, the treatment of the staff in the Tea Room, their change of contracts and deteriorating working conditions are simply not good enough. We should be much better employers and we should value the service and the loyalty that those staff give us. We need to remember that we should provide a good example of employment practices and not work on the basis of gross exploitation of people. Indeed, we should not be losing our very good and experienced staff. We should reflect on that.
None the less, in the same spirit as everyone else, I wish all the staff here a good Christmas and new year and thank them for the work that they do.
Like the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), whom I compliment on his contribution, I want to raise the issue of housing in London. I represent an inner-city constituency, which has somewhat different characteristics from those of Harrow. Nevertheless housing is a huge issue. Roughly speaking, my borough divides 40:30:30—council and housing association houses and social rented accommodation make up about 40% of the borough’s housing; private rented houses about 30% and owner-occupied houses 30%. The owner-occupation rate is well below the national average, and falling very fast. The private rented sector is well above the national average and rising very fast. The social ownership section is increasing a bit through the work of the housing associations and the council’s commendable building programme to try to provide homes for people who desperately need them.
The problem we have is an enormous housing list of people in often desperate housing need. The chances of them being housed in a council-owned house or a housing association place are very limited, so the council fulfils its obligations to them in the only way it can, which is by placing them in the private rented sector. Many of those private flats are not in the borough; they are some distance away. That in itself creates a problem. The applicants accept the accommodation because they have no choice. They aspire to return to the borough, so the large numbers of families who are placed outside the borough make very long journeys to ensure that their children maintain a place at the same school, which is important from the point of view of the continuity of education for primary school-aged children.
The other issue is that the benefit level cap on housing expenditure, the housing allowance, is way below the average rent in the private sector. The transitional money the Government approved on the introduction of the cap is drying up and disappearing. Frankly, what we are going through is nothing more than a process of social cleansing from inner London, as families on benefit—sometimes in work, and sometimes not in work, as it affects people almost equally—can no longer remain in the borough and must therefore be accommodated elsewhere. That exacerbates the whole problem.
We have a high degree of housing stress among those families. I meet families all the time and I am very worried about the impact of such a degree of housing insecurity on a whole generation of children as they grow up. Members of this House all earn a good salary, have reasonable accommodation to live in and do not feel a sense of housing insecurity. We should try and put ourselves in the mindset of young parents trying to bring up children in the private rented sector knowing that they have no security of tenure and could lose their flat within six months. If they complain, they are likely to find that their tenancy is terminated. The effect on the parents is extreme stress, but the effect on the children is great uncertainty about their place in life and the ability of their parents to provide for them. We are damaging a whole generation of people through the housing policies that are being adopted in this country.
I am not making a partisan point, because my party, when in government, certainly did not do enough to build the necessary new housing. It certainly did not do enough to bring in much tougher regulation of the private rented sector any more than this Government have. I applaud what my council is trying to do by developing new council properties of a good and high standard and what it has achieved through the decent homes standard. The estates are in a much better condition than they ever used to be. Nevertheless, we live in an area where property prices are rising fast. I think I am right to say that more than 80% of the borough does not earn enough money to be able to buy a property within Islington, so the only option for those people is the private rented sector.
There are areas in which the sector must be reformed, and quickly. I have with me a copy of the report by the Communities and Local Government Committee on the regulation of the private rented sector, which is an interesting, well-written document that calls for the simplification of the regulation of the private rented sector and better education of both landlords and tenants. I agree with all that. Sometimes, the report’s proposals are a bit too timid but I agree with the general thrust of what it is trying to say.
We must be a little bolder. I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on the subject, and I want to see fundamental change in three areas of the private rented sector. The first is the role of the letting agents. At the moment, there is almost no regulation of letting agents. Anyone can set up a letting agency, there are no checks on them whatsoever and anybody can claim to be a letting agent and start renting out properties. I think they should all be regulated so we know who is working where, so that they have to provide proper information to all prospective tenants, and so that they are not allowed to introduce arbitrary and often totally unfair charges such as search fees, which are always non-returnable and often expensive. There should also be much clearer explanation for prospective tenants of what they are getting into.
Agents are also often deeply discriminatory. A sign in a window that reads, “No DSS” shows first of all that they are deeply out of date with the structure of the social security system in this country—it is now the Department of Work and Pensions and it is a housing allowance, not DSS as it was about 20 years ago—and also fundamentally discriminates against somebody who is perfectly legally claiming what they are entitled to from the DWP. Why should they not be allowed to rent because they are claiming? The investigation by “Panorama” showed the race discrimination and racial profiling by the agencies, which are a scar on our society that deeply disfigures people’s lives and life chances. Discrimination is wrong in any aspect, whether it be financial in respect of benefit claimants or racial discrimination as operated by some agents. We must have proper regulation of these agencies.
A number of London boroughs are actively considering setting up their own letting agency to manage the number of people they place within in the private rented sector and offering the service to landlords and tenants alike. I think that would be a wholly good thing—it would be properly run, properly managed and probably a lot cheaper for everyone concerned than the present system.
The second area relates to points raised by the hon. Member for Harrow East about the condition and maintenance of private sector properties. Yesterday, I met an interesting gentleman from the Electrical Safety Council, who told me his concerns—they were held by the fire service and many others, too—about the lack of regular electrical checks in the private rented sector. It can often be an extremely dangerous place to be. There are supposed to be gas checks and all kinds of checks, but they are often never carried out.
I have had experience of tenants in the private rented sector making wholly legitimate complaints about the condition of their flat—the lack of insulation, the poor quality windows, the high energy bills they incur because of all that and infestation by vermin. They usually find that nothing is done about that, and if they contact the environmental health service, they might find their tenancy terminated at the first possible opportunity by the landlord. It is scandalous that if tenants try to exercise their rights, they lose their property. Although that might mean that environmental health can enforce better conditions for the next tenant, it is not much help for the tenant who has been evicted for having the temerity to try to exercise their rights.
The third area is probably the most controversial—the question of the rent levels charged. If I look across the whole country, I realise that the rent levels charged in the private rented sector vary enormously, often over quite short distances. The rent levels in central London are massive; if we move a short distance towards the outer London boroughs, the rent levels are a bit less; if we move a bit further out of London, they become much less; if we move to other regions in the country, the rent levels might not be the main problem, but there could be other areas of regulation.
My private Member’s Bill—I have no notion of whether it will ever become law; certainly not in this Parliament, although I hope the idea will become law at some point—is not only about empowering local authorities to set up letting offices and agencies, but about requiring simplified advice to be given to landlords and tenants about how the properties will be operated. Authorities will also have the power to impose a level of regulation on the rent levels charged in the private sector.
In that respect, a number of formulae could be adopted. One would be simply to take a figure and declare it to be a reasonable rent for the area. Rent levels could be based on the capital value of the property and the cost of maintaining its value if money has been borrowed to purchase it. Alternatively, because the structure of the private rented sector is changing fast, we could require large private sector landlords—there are some of them around nowadays—to provide at least 50% of their properties for rent at an affordable level, as we would require for any new large housing development.
If we do not regulate the private rented sector, we are condemning, in the case of my borough, a third of the population to a life of insecurity—and the numbers of private rented properties are likely to rise considerably over the next few years. All the predictions are that while it is around 17% nationally now, it will probably be 25%, if not more, by the end of this decade. Other countries manage to have a pretty fully regulated private rented sector. The hon. Member for Harrow East referred to the Select Committee visit to Germany, which has a very regulated private rented sector—often, interestingly, with much larger landlords, who often manage the properties a lot better.
One of the problems in my constituency is that it contains a large number of very small landlords who only ever think of the headline return in the form of the rent. They never think of the cost of maintenance, the cost of repairs, or the cost of simply managing a property. We need to devise a much better system. The Select Committee report was a good start, but the Government’s response was more than disappointing. No doubt we shall return to the issue in the future.
Let me end with this thought. We all want to enjoy a nice Christmas—who doesn’t?—but we also want to enjoy a degree of security in our lives, and I think that we should consider for a moment the very large number of people who live in the private rented sector. Not all landlords are bad; some are good, decent, generous people who look after their tenants in the way in which we would all want to be looked after ourselves; but, unfortunately, not all of them are like that. There are some terrible rogue landlords, and some terrible practices. We used to say awful things about Rachman and what he did in winkling secure tenants out of north Kensington all those decades ago, but there are very few secure tenancies now. Landlords no longer need to winkle people out. They can end assured shorthold tenancies after six months, move another tenant in, and charge the new tenant a higher rent—and so the whole situation continues.
If we are to maintain the social and cultural diversity of London, and indeed other cities, we must maintain the diversity of housing, and of housing options and opportunities. Like all Members, I visit hospitals, Royal Mail sorting offices, police stations and fire stations. I always ask people where they live, and I find that fewer and fewer of them can afford to live in central London. They are commuting for longer and longer distances, at greater and greater cost to themselves.
We must address the housing issue. Yes, we can do that by building more houses and providing greater security and better conditions, but what is crucially and urgently needed is proper regulation of the private rented sector, so that we can provide the sense of security that we would all want for ourselves.
Detainee Injury, 19 December
Jeremy Corbyn: Is not the heart of the issue the lack of effective accountability of the security services, and the fact that the ISC is not an ordinary parliamentary Committee? It is appointed by the Prime Minister and reports to him. Are not the Minister’s proposals just a way of sidestepping the need for a serious examination of the accountability issue and for holding an independent judge-led inquiry rather than the process that has been set out?
Mr Clarke: I have addressed that point already, and I would have hoped that my earlier answer would have satisfied the hon. Gentleman. My starting point is the same as his. We need the intelligence services, and I share the gratitude that many have expressed for the bravery and determination that they demonstrate in protecting the citizens of this country from the undoubted threats to their lives and safety. I want intelligence services that work properly. Indeed, I hope that they will steal the secrets of our serious enemies. I also hope that they will alert us to what those enemies are proposing to do, and help us to frustrate them. It is the experience of quite a number of people in this House that that is exactly what the intelligence services do, and that they do it very effectively.
It is also important, as the hon. Gentleman says, that what the intelligence services do is proportionate to the scale of the risk posed, that they are accountable and that, when they start going in for subterfuge, it is authorised by a Minister who is democratically accountable to this House. That is what marks out our intelligence services from those of totalitarian regimes, and that must always be the case. Those standards must apply to all the activities involved, including collecting data, surveillance and the activity of the agencies in the field. I am afraid that, in the modern world, such activities will always be necessary to protect the safety of our citizens, so long as we are not damaging our values and so long as we can be confident that everything is accountable and authorised by the proper people.
Station Infrastructure, 19 December
Jeremy Corbyn: I am due to meet the Secretary of State’s colleagues in the new year to discuss Finsbury Park station. Can he assure me that his Department is intervening to ensure that both Network Rail and Transport for London invest enough money in that dangerously overcrowded station to ensure that it is fit for purpose and good for the future, rather than overcrowded and out of date, which it is at the moment?
Mr McLoughlin: I will obviously ask for a report on the points the hon. Gentleman has made. I am in regular contact with Transport for London and the Mayor of London, who continually make the case for greater investment in London. I have to try to balance that with the requests for station improvements from the rest of the country. The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point about the station he has referred to.
Syria, 13 January
Jeremy Corbyn: Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), I was part of the all-party delegation to Iran last week, which I put on the record. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement about the tentative nuclear agreement with Iran. If there is to be a successful Geneva II process, however, I agree with the former Foreign Secretary that it must involve Iran. If other countries are involved in the Syria talks and themselves support jihadist forces in the country, questions need to be asked about the amount of resources they are putting in. Why is it that the Foreign Secretary and, apparently, the United States are still opposed to Iran being part of the process, which can bring about a permanent peace and save a lot of lives?
Mr Hague: I can only reiterate what I said to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) who asked about the same point: it is not a dogmatic opposition in principle; we simply want those who attend Geneva II to be there on the same basis. Let me put the argument another way. If we think back to the Geneva I communiqué, which is now the basis of the peace talks to come, I do not believe that, had Iran been present at that time, we would have been able to arrive at that agreement on creating a transitional governing body in Syria. We all hope, as the right hon. Member for Blackburn said, that there will be a change of policy, but it is necessary to have a little more evidence of such a change than we have seen so far in order for Iran to play a constructive role at Geneva II. We would be very pleased to see in the coming days further signals of a readiness to play such a constructive role.
TfL (Funding and Station Staffing), 15 January
Jeremy Corbyn: I repeat my apology for missing the beginning of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I have a brief time to speak, and want to express my admiration for the people who work for London Underground. It carried 4 million passengers in a day during the Olympics, and despite the best advice of the Evening Standard in the run-up to the games the staff performed brilliantly. The service was delivered throughout the Olympic games, as it is every day, by willing staff at all the stations. We should think about that—as should the Mayor.
It is extraordinary for someone to have been the Mayor of a great city such as London for six years but still never to have met the representatives of the people who provide the services for which he is responsible. He has time to meet every banker in the City and to travel to every city in the world, but does not, apparently, have time to invite the union representatives of the people providing TfL services to his office to tell him their views about it. He needs to get a grip on what democratic accountability is about.
I drew attention to Finsbury Park station in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington because it is the one I use the most. Indeed, some of my colleagues in the Chamber today use it too. It is old, busy and getting much busier, and is an interchange between Network Rail and the Piccadilly and Victoria lines. It is not well laid out and was never well designed, and it has no ticket barriers; there is nowhere to put them. There are plans to change the station, but the changes are some years away. That means the station becomes very overcrowded, and frequently in the morning rush hour staff must stand in the street and ask the public not to come in until the numbers on the platform can be reduced. There is no physical way to stop them because of the lack of barriers.
There is a First Capital Connect ticket office and another for London Underground. For reasons that are beyond me, each seems to deal only with its own business. It should be possible for them to deal with each other’s business. The ticket office is very busy, with people making inquiries about Oyster cards, lost Oyster cards, or student travel; there are people using the freedom pass, who may have mislaid it or have a problem using it, and people simply trying to buy tickets or find where to go. They get a good response and good help from the very hard-working staff in that station. If the ticket office is closed, what are they supposed to do? The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) gaily told us that only a small percentage of the total number of travellers will be affected, but as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, that is 100,000 people a year, or the equivalent of a bit more than a full Wembley stadium. Would we really have Wembley stadium operating with only ticket machines and no staff? Think about the numbers and the potential for problems by not having fully staffed ticket offices.
When we make this plea, we do so to retain jobs, obviously, and to ensure that the public are properly represented and dealt with in ticket offices. We also do it from the point of view of station safety, because, in the days when not enough staff were at the stations and there were only, quite often, inoperative CCTV cameras inadequately guaranteeing the safety of passengers, the number of assaults went up and the number of passengers at night went down, and the number of people trying to drive in and out of London went up while the number of public transport users went down. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out, if we run a good public transport system that is well staffed and well run, more people use it, our city is less congested, and it has a much better sense of community.
Through the medium of this debate, I make an appeal to the Mayor: think again. Meet the staff representatives, understand what the ticket offices are there for and what they do, and reverse this crazy policy and retain staffed ticket offices on every station, as we have now.
Bangladesh, 16 January
Jeremy Corbyn: I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work as chair of the all-party group. I agree with her points about the garment industry. Will she comment on the disturbing reports of attacks on religious minorities, particularly Hindus and Christians, over the past few weeks that have resulted in a large number of deaths?
Mrs Main: The hon. Gentleman is another member of the all-party group to whom I pay tribute for his sterling work in raising concerns about this issue. We had a presentation from religious minority groups on how persecuted they are. Unfortunately, it is a failing of any democracy when people are not free to express their religion and belief. Bangladesh is a secular country that has many Muslim believers, but many other religions as well. In 1971, it had the proud aim that it would remain secular. It is also a proud member of the Commonwealth. It is a disservice to that country that people from minority religions now feel so oppressed and intimated, with their temples being daubed and disrupted.
Business of the House, 16 January
Jeremy Corbyn: May I ask the Leader of the House once again to look at the issue of housing in this country? Will he examine the terrible combination of the benefit cap, cuts in benefits altogether and the sky-high private sector rents in London, which are leading to the social cleansing of whole areas of our capital city? We need urgent action on this, including a debate on the need to bring in realistic rent controls so that housing is affordable for everyone in this country, not just the privileged minority.
Mr Lansley: I assure the hon. Gentleman that this Government are as focused as any Government in recent history on increasing the supply of housing, from the woefully low levels occurring in the years before the last general election. Included in that is the achievement of additional affordable housing; we have 170,000 more affordable houses, following the lamentable decline of more than 400,000 in the number of social houses available under the previous Government.
Women Offenders and Older Prisoners, 16 January
Jeremy Corbyn: I apologise that I was not here for the start of the debate. I was speaking in the debate on Bangladesh in the main Chamber. As a member of the Justice Committee, however, I have taken part in all the inquiries, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider for one moment that societies that obsess solely about punishment end up with large prison populations and a very high rate of reoffending. Countries that go in for a combination approach, including a rehabilitation process, often end up with smaller prison populations, less reoffending and less crime.
Philip Davies: Garbage.
Mr David Amess (in the Chair): Order.
Jeremy Corbyn: On a point of order, Mr Amess, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) just described what I said as garbage. Whether that is parliamentary or not, I am not particularly bothered, but if he wants to make an intervention to challenge my assertion, why does he not do so, rather than make such remarks?
Mr David Amess (in the Chair): I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. It is not in order to use the word “garbage”. Someone may wish to make a further intervention, but for now I call Mr David Nuttall.
UN Syrian Refugees Programme, 20 January
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Minister think again? Many of us welcome the amount of money the British Government have provided to assist refugees—we have no problem with that and fully understand the need. Syria as a whole, however, has hosted a very large number of refugees in the past, particularly Palestinians coming from Iraq, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) pointed out, they are being bombed in al-Yarmouk refugee camp. Will the Minister think again and join in a UN programme to give safety to the most vulnerable refugees who, should they remain in place, will be killed for political or social purposes?
Mr Harper: The hon. Gentleman talks about refugees who previously lived in Syria. Of course, the help we are providing is not just to the neighbouring countries; a lot of it is for people who are internally displaced in Syria. We are working very hard with our diplomatic partners to secure humanitarian access in Syria, as well as supporting neighbouring countries. I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome that too.
Iran’s Nuclear Programme, 21 January
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Foreign Secretary focus his attention on the issue of nuclear proliferation? In welcoming the interim agreement with Iran, does he not accept that it is now important to press ahead with the possibility of a non-proliferation treaty-led conference for a nuclear weapons-free region as a whole, and to use the current good atmosphere to achieve that outcome?
Mr Hague: Yes, I do accept that. That was an important outcome, promoted by the United Kingdom, of the NPT review conference in 2010. The progress that we are making with Iran is an additional argument in favour of bringing together that conference. There has been some renewed diplomatic momentum behind this over the past couple of months, which we are encouraging. Therefore, I very much hope that, over the course of this year, we will be able to make some serious progress on this.
Early Day Motions (EDM)
EDM 787: London Underground Ticket Offices, 25 November: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House is concerned at the Mayor of London’s proposal to close all London Underground ticket offices and massively increase reliance on ticket machines; is further concerned that this will not only result in the loss of almost a thousand front-line station staff but will also impact on the service provided to passengers, both regular commuters and tourists; notes that in particular ticket machines are not able to provide passengers with full advice and assistance which may result in passengers enduring more expensive and difficult journeys; is also concerned that disabled and older people could be disadvantaged when trying to use ticket machines and that there will be an increased threat to the safety and security of vulnerable groups such as women travelling at night; further notes that polls show overwhelming opposition to ticket office closures; and calls on the Mayor of London to reconsider his proposals and keep the ticket offices open
EDM 788: Roma Migrant Communities, 25 November: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House notes the significance of the University of Salford’s pioneering research into the demographics of the UK’s new Roma migrant communities; recommends that the Government carries out an urgent review to address the major shortcomings of its National Roma Integration Strategy; and calls on the Government to send out an urgent instruction to all statutory agencies reminding them of their duty to promote community cohesion particularly by refraining from anti-Roma rhetoric.
EDM 817: Imprisonment of Zakaria Al Safwan in Saudi Arabia, 28 November: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House is deeply concerned at the 10 year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia of Zakaria Al Safwan following his initial detention in April 2011 after writing an article entitled, In Defence of Peaceful Protest; is further concerned that the charges he faced included contacting foreign media and writing anti-government articles; notes he was denied access to a lawyer throughout this case; and calls on the Government to raise this case immediately with the government of Saudi Arabia and request access to him by independent human rights groups.
EDM 842: EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement, 4 December: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House notes the imminent vote on 10 December 2013 in the European Parliament on the new Protocol to the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement; acknowledges that the Government to date has not supported this protocol which, if approved, would be in clear violation of international law because it includes the Western Sahara (WS) territorial waters; further notes that the WS remains under illegal Moroccan occupation and no country recognises Moroccan sovereignty over it and so any agreement with Morocco should exclude the WS territories and its natural resources; recognises that the European Parliament voted against the same protocol 12 months ago; and calls on all MEPs to send a positive message to the Saharawi people and vote against the Protocol and to support the United Nations in its efforts to reach a just, lasting solution to this long-running conflict.
EDM 854: Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, 5 December: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House welcomes the statement from 125 states expressing concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons at the UN General Assembly First Committee on 21 October 2013; notes the attendance of 127 states at a governmental conference in Oslo to discuss this issue in March 2013; regrets the non-attendance of the Government; further welcomes the announcement of a new governmental conference in Mexico in February 2014; and urges the Government to ensure it is represented at the event.
EDM 855: Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free-Zone, 5 December: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House welcomes progress in diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East, both with Iran and Syria, to prevent the future development and eliminate existing stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction; believes it vital that the same pressure is applied to all states of the region to dismantle such arsenals; concludes that the UK must make serious progress on a weapons of mass destruction free-zone in the Middle East; and urges the Government, as one of the conveners, to do its utmost to take advantage of positive momentum and ensure a conference supported and attended by all states of the region is convened without delay.
EDM 880: Nelson Mandela and Nuclear Disarmament, 12 December: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House admires the nobility of spirit and political judgment of former President Nelson Mandela; recalls the wisdom of his final speech as President of the Republic of South Africa to the United Nations General Assembly on 21 September 1998; further recalls that the very first resolution of the General Assembly, adopted in January 1946, sought to address the challenge of the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction; further recalls the document submitted by the non-aligned states to the UN General Assembly in 1998 entitled Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World: The Need for a New Agenda; agrees with Mr Mandela’s call that all members of the UN should seriously consider this important resolution and give it their support; backs Mr Mandela’s view expressed in his speech on 21 September 1998 that the question of whether these terrible and terrifying weapons of mass destruction are needed should be asked, even if such a question were to sound naive to those who had elaborated sophisticated arguments to justify their refusal to eliminate such weapons; and believes that the Government should take all steps to deliver the elimination of all nuclear weapons of mass destruction as demanded by President Mandela.
EDM 901: Human Rights in Bahrain, 19 December: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House notes that despite the publication of the Bahrain Commission of Inquiry Report in 2011 which chronicled torture and extrajudicial killing regrets that many violations of human rights continue; is shocked that there are 3,000 political prisoners, children in detention, citizenship removed from activists and arbitrary arrests amongst the many violations of human rights independently reported; and calls on the Government to make the strongest possible representations to the government of Bahrain and to refuse all arms and crowd control equipment exports to Bahrain.
EDM 909: Threats to Anabel Hernández, 6 January: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House salutes the bravery of Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández whose recently published book on Narco Wars has highlighted issues of security and corruption in Mexico; is appalled that in common with many investigative journalists she faces constant death threats; notes that on 21 December 2013 her home was invaded by an armed gang in an attempt to find her and threaten her life; supports campaigns to secure the freedom and security of journalists to go about their work; and calls on the authorities in Mexico to ensure the safety and security of Anabel Hernández and the many serious investigative journalists who are also constantly threatened.
EDM 944: Vending Machines in the House of Commons, 14 January: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House notes the introduction of a number of newly-installed vending machines on the Parliamentary Estate packed with crisps, fizzy drinks and confectionery; questions the thinking behind the installation of these additional machines within an institution which purports to care about the health of the nation via the work of many hon. and right hon. Members devoted to health-related issues via All-Party Parliamentary Groups, Early Day Motions and other parliamentary means; further notes the fact that 2014 commenced with National Obesity Week; and calls on the House of Commons Commission to reconsider the content of those machines with a view to ensuring that they be altered to include fruit and a number of health beverages and snacks so that all who work in Parliament will have easy access to nutritious items rather than those significantly more detrimental to our health and wellbeing and thus that of the NHS.
EDM 956: Al Jazeera Journalists in Detention in Egypt, 15 January: Jeremy Corbyn
That this House is concerned at the safety of Al Jazeera journalists who are still being held in detention in Cairo and thus preventing proper reporting of important news from Egypt by this global channel; urges the Government to put all possible pressure on the government of Egypt to ensure the freedom of all journalists to safely report the events going on in Egypt; and recognises that the freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process.