Overseas Residence: Landlords, 7 April
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what the value was of penalties issued to overseas landlords who failed to submit the tax returns issued to them in each of the tax years (a) 2009-10, (b) 2010-11, (c) 2011-12 and (d)2012-13; 
(2) what proportion by value was paid of the penalties that were issued to overseas landlords who failed to submit the tax returns issued to them in each of the tax years (a) 2009-10, (b) 2010-11, (c) 2011-12 and (d) 2012-13; 
(3) how much rental income was declared by overseas landlords in each of the tax years (a) 2009-10, (b) 2010-11, (c) 2011-12 and (d) 2012-13; 
(4) what the total value of tax self-assessed by overseas landlords was; and what proportion was paid in each of the tax years (i) 2009-10, (ii) 2010-11, (iii) 2011-12 and (iv) 2012-13; 
(5) how many overseas landlords had their application to have rent paid to them without tax being deducted at source (a)approved and (b) declined in each of the tax years (i) 2009-10, (ii) 2010-11, (iii) 2011-12 and (iv) 2012-13; 
(6) what the five most common reasons were for declining an application from an overseas landlord to have rent paid to them without tax being deducted at source in each of the tax years (a) 2009-10, (b) 2010-11, (c) 2011-12 and (d) 2012-13; 
(7) how many overseas landlords had tax returns issued to them in each of the tax years (a) 2009-10, (b) 2010-11, (c) 2011-12 and (d) 2012-13; 
(8) how many overseas landlords submitted the tax returns issued to them in each of the tax years (a) 2009-10, (b) 2010-11,(c) 2011-12 and (d) 2012-13. 
Mr Gauke: Overseas landlords in the UK typically operate through the non-resident landlord (NRL) scheme. Their tax liabilities and any penalties are reported and collected via the self-assessment system. The data requested under Questions 3398N, 3399N, 3400N, 3401N, 3409N and 3410N could be obtained only at a disproportionate cost.
The number of applications for the NRL scheme, which will vary slightly from the actual number that are registered, that have been made to HMRC for the last five tax years are:
Around 12% of applications for the NRL scheme are returned as they have incomplete data, the reason for which is not recorded.
Middle East, 28 April
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how many visits she made to the Jordan Valley in (a) 2010, (b) 2011 and (c) 2012. 
Justine Greening: The former Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), visited the Jordan Valley in 2011.
Palestinians, 28 April
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of 10 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank who were murdered by the Israeli military in March 2013. 
Hugh Robertson: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office receives various reports throughout the year on the issues affecting Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this includes reports, from credited and un-credited sources, on Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Israeli government regarding the distribution of water between Palestinians and settlers in the west bank. 
Hugh Robertson: Officials from our embassy in Tel Aviv most recently raised the issue of water distribution in the west bank with the Israeli Office for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) on 22 April 2014.
Russia, 28 April
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent changes have been made in the issuing of visa applications at the Visa Centre in Moscow. 
James Brokenshire: In March 2014 the management of the UK’s network of Russian visa application centres passed from VFS Global to Teleperformance. We are offering a full visa service in Russia and our global customer service standards continue to apply.
Teleperformance opened all five new Visa Application Centres in Russia on time in March 2014. There was no break in service between the closure of the VFS centres and the opening of Teleperformance centres. The new Visa Application Centres are all fully functioning and there are appointments available at all of them.
Vocational Guidance, 28 April
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education when he plans to publish statutory guidance on careers advice. 
Matthew Hancock: The revised statutory guidance “Careers guidance and inspiration in schools” was published on 10 April.
Effective from September 2014, the guidance sets a clear framework for schools with a focus on preparation for work and high ambitions for every student. This important guidance will encourage schools to build links with employers to inspire and mentor pupils, helping them to develop high aspirations and realise their potential.
Non-statutory departmental advice has also been published containing examples of schools that already offer innovative careers guidance.
Copies of both documents have been placed in the House Library and can be found at:
Castes, 14 May
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Ministers for Women and Equalities when the Government plans to introduce regulations under the Equalities Act to prevent discrimination by caste and descent. 
Mrs Grant: There is a lack of certainty on some intrinsic issues around caste, such as what it is and how it is manifested, partly because there had never been any form of public consultation on caste. It was accepted therefore by both Front Benches during the parliamentary debate on this issue last year that the whole process, up to and including the commencement of legislation, would take time and should include a consultation on the proposed legislation. The Government is currently considering two issues which have developed and which have potential implications for the consultation stage. We would expect the public consultation document, including our conclusions on these matters, to be issued in the autumn. We will then be in a position to consider plans to introduce regulations. You may also wish to note the answer given to Lord Avebury by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, on 6 May 2014, Official Report, columns 331-32.
Deportation, 14 May
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what payments her Department makers to destination countries for visas allowing entry to people being deported from the UK to those countries. 
James Brokenshire: We work closely with embassies from a wide range of countries to obtain travel documents, rather than visas, to assist removal. We pay a small administrative fee for these documents, which enable the removal of people who have no right to be in the UK.
Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, 14 May
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what response the UK has made to the application of the Marshall Islands to the International Court of Justice in respect of compliance by the UK with Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 
Hugh Robertson: The UK is currently considering its response to the proceedings instituted by the Marshall Islands in the International Court of Justice on 24 April 2014. The UK is confident of its record in progressing nuclear disarmament in accordance its obligations under the 1968 treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and will defend its position robustly.
Nuclear Weapons, 14 May
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what level of representation the UK will have at the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons war conference being hosted by the Austrian Government in December 2014. 
Hugh Robertson: We have not received an invitation from Austria to this conference, and have therefore not yet made a decision on whether the UK will attend. I will update the House when a decision has been made.
Tenancy Deposit Schemes, 10 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much funding each tenancy deposit protection scheme has received from the Government in each of the last 10 years. 
Kris Hopkins: The tenancy deposit protection schemes are operated by private companies under service concession agreements with my Department. All the schemes are designed to be self-financing.
The service concession agreement that was agreed by the previous Administration with the custodial tenancy deposit protection scheme contained a guarantee that the Government would meet any shortfall arising if approved fees were not covered by the interest on deposits held.
As a result of the low interest rates that emerged due to the financial turmoil in 2008 and 2009, this agreement left the Government—i.e. taxpayers—liable for a shortfall under that guarantee which was estimated to reach over £30 million by the end of the contract in 2012.
In May 2010, the coalition Government inherited this unacceptable situation and looming liabilities. As outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), on 19 July 2011, Official Report, column 828W, following extensive negotiations in summer 2010, the guarantee and all associated liabilities were removed as part of a revised agreement which also incorporated a payment of £12.7 million and a four-year extension of the original agreement.
This is the only payment which has been made by Government to any of the tenancy deposit protection schemes.
Accommodation Agencies, 10 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (1) what estimate he has made of the costs to local authorities of proposals to extend fines on letting agents who fail to publish their fees tariff in full; 
(2) what representations he has received from local authorities about the extension of fines to letting agents who fail to publish their fees tariff in full; 
(3) what consultation he has had with local authorities about the extension of fines to letting agents who fail to publish their fees tariff in full. 
Kris Hopkins: Requiring letting agents to be transparent about their fees will prevent the small minority of rogue agents from imposing unreasonable, hidden charges. This common sense approach avoids excessive state regulation which would just push up rents for tenants. This and mandatory membership of redress schemes will give local authorities the tools they need to weed out the cowboys that give agents a bad name; and drive up standards.
We have not received particular representations from local authorities on this issue. We will undertake a New Burdens assessment in due course in the usual way.
Equality, 11 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Ministers for Women and Equalities if he will make it his policy that the Government adopt when designing domestic policy the same gender equality provisions as contained in the International (Gender Equality) Act 2014 for development assistance provision. 
Mrs Grant: Public bodies in England, Scotland and Wales are subject to the s149 of the Equality Act 2010 (Public Sector Equality Duty), which requires them to have due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between different groups, for example between men and women in carrying out their functions including policy development.
Prisoners: Romania, 11 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many Romanian-born prisoners are being held in British prisons. 
Jeremy Wright: On 31 March 2014 there were 588 prisoners in England and Wales who declared they were Romanian on reception to prison.
All foreign national offenders sentenced to custody are referred to the Home Office for them to consider deportation at the earliest possible opportunity.
Romania has implemented the EU Prisoner Transfer Arrangement and relevant cases have been referred to the Home Office to obtain deportation orders.
The Prisoner Transfer process is just one mechanism for removing Foreign National Offenders. The number of FNOs deported under the Early Removal Scheme (ERS) has increased under this Government. In 2013, we removed nearly 2,000 FNOs under ERS and under the Tariff Expired Removal Scheme (TERS), which we introduced in May 2012, we have removed over 240 FNOs to date.
Whereas this Government has begun to reduce the foreign national population in prison since 2010, between 1997 and 2010, the number of foreign nationals in our prisons more than doubled.
Large Goods Vehicles: Driving Tests, 12 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what training is given to driving examiners who test students in laden lorries. 
Stephen Hammond: Potential large goods vehicle (LGV) examiners are required to hold the relevant driving licence entitlement for the category of vehicle they will be testing. In the case of laden lorries that is either category C or category CE.
Initial training courses last five weeks with a ratio of two trainees to each trainer. Courses emphasise health and safety issues connected with working practices, test centres and vehicles. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) conducts regular progress checks which culminate in a final test and end-of-course evaluation.
Since early 2010 some of the vehicles used to train examiners to conduct category C and CE practical driving tests have been loaded with independent bulk containers to simulate a lorry carrying a commercial load. Consequently during training all potential LGV examiners are trained and examined using loaded vehicles. Before 2010, some category CE training made use of concrete blocks on the trailer to simulate a load.
DVSA also delivers refresher courses for examiners who have not conducted LGV testing for six months or more which readdress the most important elements of the initial training course.
Schools: Inspections, 16 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education within what time period Ofsted is required to provide feedback to a school after it has reported to his Department. 
Mr Laws: This question is a matter for Ofsted. I have asked Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to write to the hon. Member. A copy of his reply will be placed in the House Library.
African Great Lakes, 17 June
24. Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to promote peace and reconciliation in the African Great Lakes region. 
Mark Simmonds: Last week, I met with Ministers from the DRC and Rwanda, and with representatives of the UN, and urged all to seize the current opportunity to stabilise eastern DRC.
When I met President Kabila in February in Kinshasa, I discussed the importance of his Government taking clear steps on stability and governance.
Marine Protected Areas, 17 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the cost to the public purse of litigation associated with the declaration of the Marine Protected Area on 1 April 2010 are to date. 
Mark Simmonds: Though some final costs from Counsel on the recently concluded Court of Appeal hearing are yet to be received, the costs of domestic litigation to date is £325,444.42. We understand the litigant, Mr. Olivier Bancoult, has also been in receipt of legal aid. HM Government has been successful in defending all such litigation, and has therefore been awarded full costs in the Divisional Court, and half of our costs in the Court of Appeal, though these are still subject to assessment.
In respect of the recently concluded challenge by Mauritius in an arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, various costs matters are still ongoing.
Schools: Inspections, 17 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Education what criteria are used to commission Ofsted to carry out spot inspections on schools. 
Mr Laws: Ofsted has been carrying out Section 8 inspections at schools with serious behavioural problems since January 2014. No-notice inspections can also be triggered by parental complaints or safeguarding concerns.
Oral Questions and Debates
European Council and Nuclear Security Summit, 26 March
Jeremy Corbyn: I welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition of the problem of nuclear fissile material and the need for it to be controlled, but could he assure me that the Government will support the humanitarian effects of war conference that will be held in Austria later this year and that, at the non-proliferation treaty prep com at the end of April, the Government will resolutely work to get a middle east nuclear weapon free zone conference under way as a way of reducing and trying to prevent any nuclear proliferation in that region?
The Prime Minister: I can confirm that we will be working towards that goal and will continue the excellent work the Foreign Office does on it.
Royal Mail, 1 April
Jeremy Corbyn: The Secretary of State has given an estimate of what profits the public will make from their 30% share ownership in the company. Will he say what the loss of profits would be to the public over the next five years had we done the correct thing and kept Royal Mail in public ownership?
Vince Cable: The National Audit Office assessment is the exact opposite and it accepts a valuation of Royal Mail under continued public ownership as being considerably less than the value that has been realised.
Prime Minister’s Questions, 2 April
Jeremy Corbyn: Is the Prime Minister aware that at the current time in England 3,956,000 people are in the private rented sector? Generation Rent finds that two thirds of them feel insecure and half of them feel that they pay far too much in rent. Does he not think it is time to end the social cleansing of inner-city Britain by bringing in proper rent regulation with a fair rent formula and total regulation of the private rented sector to give people security and peace of mind in where they live?
The Prime Minister: Where I am sure the hon. Gentleman and I would agree is that there is a need to build more houses, including houses in the private rental sector—I would say there is cross-party agreement on that. Where I think he is wrong is on full-on rent control, which has been tried in the past and has tended to destroy the private rented sector, drive everyone back to the state sector and reduce the quality of housing as a result.
Asylum Seeker’s Support, 10 April
Jeremy Corbyn: This ought to trigger a review by the Home Office of its asylum policy, given the points raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and others about the very slow response to initial applications and in dealing with those who wish to appeal against an initial refusal—many of these appeals are granted. Will the Minister look at the misery, destitution and waste of human resources that comes from keeping asylum seekers in desperate poverty, and not allowing them to work and contribute to our society and economy?
James Brokenshire: I agree that it is important to take decisions as speedily as possible to ensure that those who are entitled to the full humanitarian protection of this country receive that support and can continue with their lives, and that those who are not entitled can then be removed from this country so that the system is seen to be upheld.
We judge that the levels of support are appropriate, but we keep them under review. We will be reviewing the level of current support in the coming months, as I have committed to do in this House.
Business of the House, 10 April
Jeremy Corbyn: Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), may I ask the Leader of the House to answer another question? According to Generation Rent, which represents the interests of private tenants throughout the country, half those tenants believe that they are paying too high a rent, and two thirds of them believe that they are insecure in their assured shorthold six-month tenancies. Does the Leader of the House not think that it is time for the Government once again to review their whole policy on the private rented sector, given the excessive charges and rents and the deep insecurity that many private tenants feel? Can he not ensure that we bring some justice to the people—nearly 4 million in England alone—who are living in the private rented sector?
Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman made the same point, rather more briefly, to the Prime Minister, and I agree with what the Prime Minister said. We cannot start trying to distort the market or control rents, because that would destroy the private rented sector. The availability of private rented accommodation creates diversity in the housing market, and enables people to be more flexible in relation to housing supply. That is very important, not least because—as our country’s economy, unlike many other European economies, has demonstrated —housing markets can help to provide flexible labour markets.
Legal Aid, 6 May
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Lord Chancellor think for a moment about the logic of his case? Surely all those who come before the courts have a right of representation, a right of access, and a right to have their cases heard. If Lord Chancellor’s logic had been applied in the past, the Mau Mau people, who suffered the most grievous maltreatment by British armed forces in the 1950s, would never have had a chance to bring their case before the courts in this country, and would never have had any hope of securing justice.
Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman and I have always differed on these matters. It is important to deal with historical wrongs, but I do not believe that we should encourage British law firms to deal with cases from other parts of the world, at enormous cost to the taxpayer, when in the end—as in the case of the Iraqi situation—there are serious question marks over those cases. I think we need a system that makes our legal aid available to British people, but not to people in the rest of the world.
Immigration Bill, 7 May
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Minister clarify the point that he has just made? Is he suggesting that there will be a right of appeal against a ministerial decision, or will there only be a right to undertake a judicial review, which of course would relate to process and not to the facts of the case?
James Brokenshire: There is the ability to challenge deprivation decisions. Many cases have been brought before the courts that relate to the Home Secretary’s use of the existing deprivation powers. That will continue to apply for the power and the amendments relating to the specific circumstances in which someone may be rendered stateless, subject to the Home Secretary’s being satisfied of their ability to seek the citizenship of another country. The existing challenge, process and procedures will continue to apply.
Jeremy Corbyn: I agree with what my right hon. Friend has just said, but is not one of the fundamental problems the fact that what the Government are doing has about it more than a whiff of Executive decision making on major issues to which there is no simple legal remedy? The Government are trying to avoid a court process, and to give powers to an elected politician over an independent judiciary.
Mr Hanson: I am grateful for that because my hon. Friend anticipates the concerns we had and that we raised in the debate on 30 January. The proposal then from the Minister was that the Home Secretary could determine, on reasonable grounds, the deprivation of citizenship. There was no judicial oversight promised. The Minister has today brought forward amendments (a) and (b) which would provide for a review. I do not happen to think they go far enough. I think we need to stick to the original idea of an examination by a Joint Committee. The Minister, however, has brought forward those amendments which move slightly from his original proposal of some six or seven weeks ago. Why has he done that? He has done so because he has been roasted in another place and, this proposal having been considered by Members of that other place, has lost the vote quite considerably. Yet today we find that, rather than listening to those concerns, the Minister wishes to vote down this amendment and has brought forward proposals that, again, I think do not go far enough.
Business of the House, 8 May
Jeremy Corbyn: The Leader of the House is obviously grappling with how to fill up the hours of the day and the days of the week. Instead of ending the Session next week, why does he not spend a week allowing as many private Members’ Bills and ten-minute rule Bills as possible to be debated? In that way, Parliament could become a real debating Chamber, enabling us to debate the issues that affect ordinary Members of this House rather than being sent into yet another recess because the Government have run out of business.
Mr Lansley: I am afraid that there is some kind of fantasy going on. Next week, I have announced three days of Government business—Report stages of three Bills. I did not notice the Labour party recognising that by the end of next week, as a consequence of commencing with more than one day on Report on three carry-over Bills, we will have had 11 Bills this Session that will have had more than one day for consideration on Report. There were only 10 Bills that had more than one day’s consideration on Report in the whole of the previous Parliament. I hope that Opposition Members will recognise that this Government are creating much better opportunities for legislative scrutiny.
Overseas Territories (Sustainability), 8 May
Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that we are having this debate today. As chair of the all-party group on the Chagos islands, I will address the issues surrounding the British Indian Ocean Territory. Although there are not a massive amount of references to the Chagos islanders in the report, it quite rightly discusses the need to protect all environments in British overseas territories, which I welcome.
As the House will be aware, the Chagos islands were finally depopulated in the early 1970s after a secret agreement between Britain and the US to do so in order to build a US base on Diego Garcia. The way that depopulation took place and the way that the islanders have been treated, frankly, are a source of shame for this country. Ever since, the islanders have been concerned about the environment that they left behind, the environment of Diego Garcia, and their right to return.
I recognise that this debate is not about the politics of the decision that was taken at that time, but we should place that decision in the context of the issues we are debating today. The islands represent a significant chunk of the Indian ocean. The archipelago is some distance from Diego Garcia, yet even though it is nowhere near the US base, it was depopulated apparently for reasons of security. There have been many court cases and actions about the depopulation, and the Foreign Office is at last undertaking a feasibility study on the right of return. Will the Minister clarify exactly when that feasibility study will report to us?
A marine protected area was introduced around the islands on 1 April 2010 in a statement to the House by the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. It was introduced without any consultation with either the all-party group on the Chagos islands, any of the Chagos islands organisations or, as far as I can work out, anybody else at all—it was simply announced. As chair of the all-party group, I was extremely annoyed, and tabled an urgent question, which Mr Speaker granted. Many Members expressed similar views. The proposal, which has now been carried out, was that there should be a no-take fishing zone around the archipelago. It is envisaged that there will be no return to the islands at all for the population.
I want to put it clearly on the record that the Chagos islanders were very angry at not being consulted on that proposal. I quote from a letter from Olivier Bancoult, the chair of the Chagos Refugee Group:
“We cited the unilateral declaration of the Chagos Archipelago as a Marine Protected Area as the perfect example of our views and interests being disregarded despite the fact that we voiced out our concerns and opposition loud and clear.”
In the same letter, written in July 2013, he goes on to discuss a meeting “conducted in an honest manner during which both parties have had the opportunity to freely express their positions” and asks for more such meetings.
David Snoxell, the former British high commissioner to Mauritius, who is the voluntary co-ordinator of the all-party group on the Chagos islands and chair of the Marine Education Trust, said at the time—he is quoted in the 2013 Library briefing paper on the islands—that “Everyone would have been happy with the creation of a marine protection area providing it had made provision for the interests of Chagossians and Mauritius, which it could so easily have done”. That remains the position of the Chagos islanders, including those in Crawley who have opted to take residence in this country and have become British passport holders—well, most of them did—as a result of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.
The Chagos islanders support the principle of a marine protected area. That is clear. As I said in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Chair of the Committee, it is clear that, in practical terms, a conservation process that we want to work has to be undertaken with the co-operation of the local population. They are most interested and affected and are most likely to look after the place. Instead, there was no consultation whatever with the Chagos islanders, who live as a community in Mauritius, the Seychelles and this country. We now have a rather ineffective naval presence that is supposed to be able to monitor what is going on throughout 630,000 sq km of ocean and protect those waters.
The only people who go to the islands are passing yachtspeople who have the money to spend their lives sailing around the world on expensive yachts, and people fishing illegally, who manage to enter the area because it is insufficiently protected. We should bear in mind that a population returning to inhabit the archipelago sustainably with licensed, limited and sustainable fishing would provide much better protection for an undeniably beautiful and pristine environment that has become an important haven for swordfish, sharks and other large sea mammals that have taken refuge there and whose populations are being protected as a result. Instead, the Foreign Office maintains an obdurate position of non-return of people to the islands—unless the feasibility study brings about a change of heart. I sincerely hope it does.
I also want to raise the issue of pollution of the waters around Diego Garcia. It is the largest island of the Chagos group and, as I explained, is some considerable distance from the archipelago. It became a base from which the United States has launched military operations to Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. The US lease on the base runs until 2016. We are told that the base is well run, yet there are reports of considerable and disturbing levels of pollution caused by activities there. I will give an example. On 15 March this year, The Independent said:
“The American military has poured hundreds of tonnes of human sewage and waste water into a protected coral lagoon on the British-owned base of Diego Garcia over three decades in breach of environmental rules…According to scientific advisers, elevated levels of nutrients caused by the waste—which have resulted in nitrogen and phosphate readings up to four times higher than normal—may be damaging the coral.”
On 28 March, The Independent revealed that the scientific adviser to the Foreign Office had criticised the British Government’s failure to protect those pristine waters. Russia Today reported on the issue at some length in an article entitled “US Navy pollutes islands cleared of natives in order to ‘protect environment’”. Even more seriously, there are concerns about radioactive pollution from nuclear-powered submarines that have been using the base there. I believe those reports to be credible, and it is important that the Foreign Office recognises that despite the fact that only the base and not the whole island is leased to the United States, the US has a responsibility to protect the environment there. The commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory also has responsibility, and that responsibility has clearly not been carried out if such pollution has taken place.
The issue, then, is what happens to the islands now. I received a letter from the Foreign Secretary on 14 February this year. The all-party parliamentary group on the Chagos islands asked that the feasibility study being undertaken in response to the many legal processes that have taken place be concluded as quickly as possible. I have a copy of the original feasibility study on the possibility of return, which was prepared in the early 2000s. It is in three very large volumes in my bookcase at home and was too heavy for me to carry in to show Members, but it concluded that the islands exist and that they sustained a small population through fishing and copra production. One hopes that a population can be supported there again.
The issue is really about the principle of the right of return. There are some well-thought-out positions on how the islands might be repopulated, how many people would go there and the sustainability of what would happen as a result. The principle must surely be that repopulating the islands would involve bringing in people who love the place—people who lived there and were heartbroken at being forcibly removed from the islands. They are the people best able to protect the environment. We have a rather strange situation in which a population was forcibly—and, in my view, illegally—removed to make way for an American base, and now we spend money on security to keep them out and prevent other people from going in and illegally fishing. Why not make a virtuous circle of it and allow those people to return, so that they can protect a pristine and valuable environment?
The issue is not going to go away. Every time the Foreign Office thinks that it is over and done with, it comes back, because the islanders have an amazingly steadfast determination to ensure that their case is heard. The Environmental Audit Committee report calls on the UK and US forces to “work constructively to minimise the environmental impacts of military presence and to conserve the island” of Diego Garcia, and refers to the problem of nutrient discharges by US ships there.
I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm in his response that the Government are aware of the pollution occurring in Diego Garcia, that we are on track for the feasibility study to be undertaken on the possibility of return, and that the issue can be concluded within this Parliament—that is, that we will receive the report before the end of this year, so it can be properly debated in the House in January or February next year, before this Parliament is dissolved to make way for the general election in a year’s time. The islanders protected those islands for many years. They should have a right to return and continue that protection.
Political and Human Rights (African Great Lakes), 13 May
Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that we are having this debate on the political and human rights situation in the African great lakes region. First, I want to say a big thank you to the all-party group on the African great lakes region, not just for its preparatory work for today’s debate, but for its work over a lot of years to draw attention to the situation facing people throughout the African great lakes. At one point it was the largest all-party group in the House. I do not know whether it still is, but it has always had a substantial membership.
My constituency includes a considerable diaspora community, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but there are also people who have sought asylum here from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. I hear harrowing stories from them of the life they have left behind. Obviously I welcome them into my community, as well as the contribution they make to our society and the work they do in this country. The numbers of people seeking asylum is an issue and is testament to the problems that they are trying to escape from back at home.
I will discuss the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda; there is also obviously a relationship with the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Angola and Tanzania. We have to set this debate in its historical context, and to do that we have to think for a moment of the tragic history of the whole region, from the arrival of the first Europeans to the tragedy of the slave trade and all that went with that, and then the colonial occupation of the region, particularly by the Congo Free State in the case of the DRC, but also by Belgium, Britain and France. We must also consider the incredible wealth in minerals, rubber, timber and other natural resources that has been dragged out of the region and made an awful lot of people and an awful lot of companies all over the world very rich indeed.
Levels of brutality in the colonial world are almost unsurpassed by what happened in what is now the DRC. We should recall that the European powers sat around a table in Berlin in 1884 and calmly carved up the whole region with straight lines on the map to represent areas of European influence and control. King Leopold was given Congo personally. It was not even given to the Belgian state—that did not happen until some time later, in 1908. The huge personal wealth he gained and his obsession with dragging it out of that place is the stuff of legend. I urge everyone to read Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost”, a salutary book that explains exactly the brutality associated with that time. Some heroic people stood up against it. One was E.D. Morel, a shipping clerk in Liverpool, who worked with others who were opposed to what was going on in the Congo and helped to expose it. Later, he became a Member of this House and I think he was the first Labour Foreign Minister, in the 1920s.
After the First World War, which we are commemorating this year, the victorious powers at Versailles changed a few names as German colonies became French or Belgian ones; nevertheless colonies they still were, and they were still administered. The independence movement in Africa took off in 1945 with the Pan African Congress held in Manchester. Independence was achieved first in Ghana and then in many other countries.
In the case of the Congo, independence came rapidly in 1960-61, when the Belgians basically threw in the towel, gave up and left very quickly. Patrice Lumumba became its first Prime Minister. He lasted only a very short time but is still a legendary figure, as he attempted to unite the country and make the change from colonial rule. The battle for control of the rest of the Congo after his death killed many people and resulted once again in a scramble for mineral wealth and the abuse of power and of human rights there. Tragically, that has gone on ever since, with extraordinary levels of human rights abuses and of death. I will come back to that in a moment.
As for neighbouring countries, Rwanda, as we debated last week in the House, went through the horrors of the genocide as the Tutsi and Hutu groups set about each other. Anyone who has visited the memorials in Kigali will realise the sheer scale and horror of that genocide. I have been to Rwanda a number of times, and have visited all the other countries in the region. Talking to schoolchildren in Rwanda about what they have been through, one realises that horror, and wonders what more could have been done to prevent it and can still be done to defend and protect human rights and democracy, which are the best defence against the excesses of those who seek to abuse human rights. It is not just an issue for the DRC and Rwanda. In Uganda there has been horrific abuse of human rights on many occasions, particularly during Idi Amin’s reign. That abuse unfortunately still continues there, particularly in respect of gay people—I will come back that matter in a moment. In Burundi, there is a similar story of the tragic loss of so much life.
I will speak on the DRC first, then move on to the other countries quickly to give colleagues time to speak. In the DRC the situation is really quite appalling. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs confirms that “conflict in the DRC has resulted in a total of 2.9 million internally displaced people currently living in camps or with host families in the DRC, as well as extensive suffering through human rights abuses committed by armed groups, the DRC armed forces…and police. Over 60% of the total figure came from just two regions of eastern DRC: North and South Kivu. The persistence of a complex mosaic of violent conflicts has caused widespread death and displacement”.
It goes on to describe the numbers of refugees and the problems that they face. I have visited refugee camps in Goma, and it is a frightening and depressing experience. On one occasion, along with the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce), I met a group of hundreds of women, all of whom had suffered rape and violence, and were all victims of that war. Nevertheless, they were trying to build on the strength of women together to oppose the use of rape as a weapon of war. I visited camps where mainly women and children were living, often in quite limited conditions. Now, I do not blame the UN, which was doing its best to provide food and shelter. Nevertheless, the situation was odd. This was a skilled group of people, all of whom were quite capable of growing enough food to feed themselves and their families in what is the most fertile place in the world, but who were being fed on rice and maize imported from the USA and were not allowed to grow any food in the camp because the UN did not want them to take up permanent residence there. That is one of many issues we have to face.
Behind that issue, of course, is the one with which I started—the mineral wealth that has come out of the Congo. There is clear evidence that mineral companies make a great deal of money out of the DRC’s minerals. Some of those, such as coltan and diamonds, find their way through Rwanda, and make a lot of people very rich. There is no wealth among the poorest people living on top of the world’s greatest mineral resources in one of the world’s most prolific forests. There is something deeply tragic and appalling about such poverty alongside such potential wealth. It is as though the tragedy of the 19th century has gone on for ever more.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend may be coming to this point, but does what he said about the mining industry not illustrate the absolute importance of transparency in the extractive industries, something that needs direct action by western Governments, including our own?
Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I absolutely agree. The DRC has signed up to the extractive industries agreement, but it is clear to me that the effectiveness of that agreement is strictly limited and we need something much tougher. Indeed, we must ask questions of those mineral companies based in this country and Switzerland who import a lot of this stuff and are clearly making a lot of money out of that poverty.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does my hon. Friend note that the Catholic episcopal conference in Congo said that one of the best things that the international community could do is host a proper international conference on the extractive industries, asserting land and labour rights and addressing the false pretensions of those paramilitary groups who present themselves as somehow protecting those rights?
Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that my hon. Friend raised that because I had an interesting meeting last night with a group of representatives, including Bishop Ambongo, Bishop Murekezi, Bishop Kambanda, Denise Malueki, Father Santedi and Consolate Baranyizigiye from Burundi. They represent the Church in the region and made a number of good demands, or hoped-for results, one of which is to bring together the Churches throughout the region. The second was, in the long term, to look for peace in the region with greater involvement of the international community in the UN in both respecting international accords and conventions and working to create a climate of confidence and co-operation at all levels in the Administration. They are on a visit to this country and will address a meeting upstairs in the House later today. They are very welcome, as are their efforts, and I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention
I want to draw attention to two other issues in respect of the Congo. The first is the need to understand the relationship with Rwanda, which is a relatively powerful and efficient country compared with the lack of governance in much of the DRC. Yet there is clear evidence of vast resources flowing into the conflict in the eastern DRC and an imbalance between the relative power and structure of the Congolese army compared with those of the rebels and the high level of suspicion of Rwandan involvement, which is hotly denied by the Rwandan Government but is an issue that we must address in relation to Rwanda because that conflict has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people through the consequences of that war.
There is also a renewed threat from and thirst for minerals in the region. The World Wide Fund for Nature sent an interesting briefing to us describing the problems facing the Virunga national park, which was the first national park to be established in Africa in1925. It has extraordinary landscapes, high levels of biodiversity and is a world heritage site. It is also home to the internationally important Ramsar wetlands and to the only two populations in the world of critically endangered mountain gorillas as well as many other animals. All that is under threat as people eye up the possibility of exploiting oil and other resources in that national park. The chimera of short-term wealth from mineral and oil is attractive, but the reality is that sustainability of the forest and the planet depends not on destroying national parks, but protecting them. In the long run, there will be more wealth and better resources for people living in national parks of world importance than if they are allowed to be destroyed quickly for short-term mineral wealth. I hope the Minister will indicate Government support for that.
A question for the Home Office—the Minister is from the Foreign Office, but he may be able to help with this—is that I am deeply concerned about the safety of anyone who is returned to the DRC as an unsuccessful asylum applicant in this country. There is chaos at the airport in Kinshasa and elsewhere, and a considerable threat to the families of those who have sought asylum or returned having failed to gain it. There is a serious lack of co-ordinated governance and transparent democracy in the Congo. I have been there as an election observer, and the election I observed with my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) and others was relatively well run compared with later elections in the DRC. There are big issues about democracy, human rights and minerals in the DRC.
I spoke about the legacy of genocide in Rwanda and the horrors that go with that. One can fully appreciate people’s anger and the need for every young person in Rwanda to understand what happens when a society completely breaks down and hundreds of thousands of people are killed with the most appalling brutality, and the feeling of immediacy. However, it is right to draw attention to the excesses of the Rwandan Government and their treatment of political dissent, the number of opponents of the President who have disappeared and the number of journalists who have been arrested or prevented from reporting what is going on in that country. There can be no justification for the abuse of human rights because of the horrors of Rwandan history. Surely the lessons of history are that the best protection against evil and excess such as happened in Nazi Germany or towards mainly the Tutsi people in Rwanda is a strong democratic society where there is freedom of expression and rights of representation.
Likewise, across the border in Burundi, there are serious problems with the new law on journalists and the way in which they are allowed to report and express what is going on. We must again raise those matters. I was part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Burundi some years ago when a number of the issues were discussed and raised.
The world is well aware of the laws that have been perpetrated in Uganda to make homosexuality a crime and the threat to those who have been caught allegedly committing acts of criminal activity—homosexual relations—who may face the death penalty as a result. Should we really have normal relations with the Ugandan Government while that is going on? Should we not be making much stronger representations and looking at the levels of human rights abuse that continue to take place in Uganda? The whole history of Uganda from Idi Amin onwards is one of terrible tragedy, with not just the anti-gay law but the behaviour of the Lord’s Resistance Army and excesses by the armed forces in trying to deal with that. Having met former child soldiers who were recruited into various militia forces in Uganda and other countries in the region, one must have some humanity and understanding.
My final point is that we are elected Members of Parliament and proud of that. Many concerns have been expressed by the IPU’s human rights committee about the treatment of Members of Parliament and other elected members who have become—how shall I put it?—unpopular with their Governments. The matter of Leonard Hitimana from Rwanda was brought to the IPU’s human rights committee. He disappeared in 2003 and it is believed that he was abducted by state forces.
There are a number of other cases, such as that of Hussein Radjabu in Burundi, who, likewise, apparently remains in jail as an elected parliamentarian. I do not believe that parliamentarians should be above the law or allowed to act with impunity, but it is important to recognise that one should not be arrested or imprisoned because of one’s political views—only for any criminal acts that may have taken place.
As we search for long-term peace in the region, we have to take up the issues of human rights and of conflict minerals and the profits that have been made from them. We should also become a force that tries to protect the environment, human rights and the populations of the area, rather than allowing the mineral companies of the world to do what the colonialists did in the 19th century, which was to destroy the pristine and beautiful environment for the short-term wealth that minerals can bring. We should look for something more sustainable in the future. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to debate the matter today and I look forward to the Minister’s response to my remarks.
Ukraine, 13 May
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Foreign Secretary say something about NATO’s longer term intentions? Since 1990 we have had constant expansion of NATO and that in turn has encouraged an equal and opposite reaction within Russia. Does he not think it is time to stop the expansion of NATO and try to bring about a peaceful central European region?
Mr Hague: NATO is not an alliance designed for offensive purposes. NATO is designed for the defence of the countries concerned and there are free sovereign nations who aspire to join NATO. What is more, their aspiration to join NATO is one of the positive influences on them to adopt strong democratic systems and free and open societies. So the expansion of NATO has been a very healthy development for many countries in the world. I think it would be wrong to bring down the shutters and say, “This is not available to any more countries at any stage.” Becoming a member of NATO is a demanding process, but I think it would be wrong to confine NATO to those countries that are already a member of it.
Afghanistan, 14 May
Jeremy Corbyn: The Secretary of State and her Department will be aware of the huge mineral reserves and resources that exist in Afghanistan. What discussions has she had with the Administration in Kabul about the distribution of licences for the exploitation of those resources, what benefits are there for local people, and who in the long term will get the riches out of Afghanistan?
Justine Greening: That is an important question. We have seen in other countries how mineral extraction has filled the pockets of the few and how the opportunity for shared prosperity has been missed. We do not want to see that happen in Afghanistan. The value of minerals in Afghanistan is estimated to range from $2 trillion to $3 trillion. There is a huge opportunity there. DFID has worked with the Afghan Ministry of Mines on the minerals law, which has, I think, now passed through Parliament. That should provide a legal framework for responsible investment. We will be doing further work to ensure that those concessions that the Government give are ones that ensure not only that companies profit from extracting minerals but that Afghanistan itself starts to reap the rewards of having those resources.
Cost of Living: energy and Housing, 5 June
Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate, which takes place in the atmosphere generated by the negative attitudes of the UK Independence party and others in the recent local and European elections. I urge people to be very cautious about starting to dance to the tune of xenophobes and closet racists or, indeed, open racists in their attitude towards society as a whole.
I compliment in particular the speeches of the right hon. Members for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) for highlighting the human consequences of what happens to people who migrate from one place to another. We should be aware of the fact that in every story there is a human story and in every tragedy there is a human tragedy. We should not suddenly shut the doors against anyone who is fleeing from violence, oppression or destitution, which is, indeed, what many people are doing.
Of course, the situation has consequences for our society, but people from this country have also sought to migrate to many other parts of the world in order to make a better life for themselves. This is the way of the modern world. If we start saying that nobody can come here, other countries might start saying that none of us can go there. These things go full circle, and we should be more cautious in our attitude to issues of migration and society.
I want to make two germane points and I will try to adhere to the 10 minutes suggested by Mr Speaker. First, the Queen’s Speech stated:
“The Bill will enhance the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources.”
I urge a degree of caution before we rush down the road of fracking all over the country, particularly the north-west, which will have environmental consequences. Many different organisations hold briefing sessions in this House—it is a form of lobbying and there is nothing wrong with that—and I was astonished at the large attendance at yesterday evening’s Friends of the Earth briefing on fracking and its consequences. A very interesting speaker from Australia, where there has been much fracking with apparently limited controls, explained what has happened there. She pointed out that a vast amount of water is used for fracking and that it causes pollution when it is pumped up to ground level. Storage ponds are needed to allow the water to settle and the process has longer-term environmental consequences.
Indeed, the first line of fracking has caused earth tremors in Lancashire, and there has also been a significant number of earth tremors in the United States as a result of fracking. Although it is presented as a cheap form of energy—any cheap form of energy sounds attractive when we first hear of it, and there is all kind of talk about Klondike and the new gold rush—there are two problems. One is the congestion caused by extra traffic and the noise and other pollution caused by the process itself, and the other is the clean-up phase afterwards. Are we not building in potentially huge costs to the public sector in having to clean up all the environmental pollution that will result from the process?
Surely we should be thinking even more strongly than we have up to now about energy sustainability and security, by which I mean not necessarily producing vast amounts more, but using a lot less through better conservation, better insulation and more efficient forms of transport, as well as, increasingly, the use of renewable energy. It is populist to attack wind farms, but they make a significant contribution to our electricity supply and will continue to do so. They do not, of course, create the pollution problems of fracking or any other fossil energy. There will be a huge debate about fracking and I would be very cautious about going down that road, because of the pollution problems it causes.
The other issue I want to address is housing. I represent an inner-city constituency and am very proud to do so. We face massive housing problems. We have an image problem, in that everyone thinks that Islington is an extremely well-off, wealthy and great place to live. It is, indeed, a great place to live, but the housing market is totally out of control. A first-time buyer seeking to buy in my borough would need to be on a very substantial income indeed, so no MP need think about buying as a first-time buyer in Islington.
We also have a large social rented sector—it is mainly council-run, but there are some housing associations—which makes up about 40% of the market. Thirty per cent. of the population in my borough live in the private rented sector. They pay very high rents and have very good security as a result. Those in the private rented sector who are in receipt of housing benefit or any other kind of benefit now find that the Government’s benefit cap affects them in a very damaging way. They are unable to pay the rent from their housing benefit, and they cannot make up the gap between their housing benefit and the rent level from any other benefits or, indeed, their wages—their low wages; many people receiving housing benefit are already in work. The council does not have enough houses to put them in, so they are forced to move away from the borough to a private rented flat somewhere else in London or, in the case of other London boroughs, outside London. That means that families have to up sticks and move, caring and child care support arrangements disappear, and children travel very long distances to remain in local schools to try to maintain a link with the community in the desperate hope that there will one day be a council flat available for them to come back to. Not just in my borough but all over London significant numbers of very young children make very long journeys every morning to keep a place in a primary school.
Is all this avoidable? Yes, I believe it is. I welcome the moves that the Labour party and its Front Benchers have made on changing our attitudes to the private rented sector, the regulation of letting agents, environmental conditions, longevity of tenancies and the ending of the ludicrous charging and deposit scheme that many agencies promote. I suggest that at some point, however, we will have to face the fact that we cannot go on controlling benefit levels but not rent levels, and therefore forcing people who rely on benefits for all or part of their income to move away from the areas where they have traditionally lived and been a very important part of the community.
In introducing a Ten-minute Rule Bill last Session, I pointed out that London was significantly different from the rest of the country in this respect. Rents are significantly higher and there is a significantly greater churn of people in London than in most other parts of the country. I do not see why we should not involve local government in the solution. After all, local government is the primary housing authority. Why can we not have some form of rent registration and regulation—London-wide—that takes account of the needs and costs of producing and providing housing in London so that we do not lose out on the private rented sector altogether, but can keep our mix of communities?
I would not normally go along with much of what the London chamber of commerce and industry says, but it points out in a briefing note sent to Members for today’s debate that of their members in London
“59% of firms are experiencing a greater pressure to increase wages as a result of higher housing costs…42% of firms believe that higher housing costs are having a detrimental impact on their ability to recruit and retain staff” and “33% of firms believe that their employees’ punctuality and/or productivity is being affected by longer commutes as a result of not being able to afford to live in the capital.”
All that is absolutely true. Unless we ensure that there is a sufficient supply of housing for a whole range of people in London or any other big city, we will end up destroying our communities and increasing the pressure on longer and longer commuter rail lines, bus routes and roads, while not actually solving the problem. I hope that we will be able to make some progress on that.
My last point on housing is that my local authority, like others, assertively uses its planning powers to try to ensure planning gain from any private sector development that takes place, as is absolutely right and proper. Hitherto, it has been able to ensure that any new housing development of more than 10 units must include a proportion of affordable housing, including a proportion of social housing. Many developers try to get around that, so the council has levied a surcharge to try to ensure that there is sufficient money for local housing development. Islington has done very well. It has one of the largest council house building programmes in the country, which, ultimately, is the only solution to the housing crisis.
However, the Government came along and changed the regulation on office conversions so that these no longer require planning permission. A developer who buys an office block can therefore convert it into private sector housing without any social housing requirement whatsoever, and no local authority or planning authority has any say in whether the conversion should take place. I can understand the point that some local authorities might oppose the conversion of office blocks into housing to retain jobs, and I think that local authorities should have the right to do that and that local people should have the right to have a say. However, when a large number of office blocks are converted into housing, with the developer making no contribution whatsoever to resolving the local housing crisis, it is time for regulation and for the local authority to have a say in the matter.
For example, Archway tower, near Archway underground station, which was originally built by London Transport in 1967, has been used for a succession of offices, mostly in the public sector, but is now empty. It has been bought by a company called Essential Living, which is converting it into 120 flats for tenants earning somewhere above £80,000 a year, which is far more than anyone earns who works in the area. No contribution whatsoever is being made to the social housing needs of my borough. That is happening all across London; indeed, it will soon happen in cities across the country.
We therefore need regulation, local government input and more council housing, but above all we urgently need tough regulation of the private rented sector so that very many people do not go through the insecurity and indignity of being forced to move out of their community simply because landlords can put up rents to whatever level they like and that they think the market can bear. Surely we must understand that housing is a necessary right for everyone, and that all children deserve to be brought up in a decent, clean and dry household and to attend a local school without the insecurity of moving every six months.
G7, 11 June
Jeremy Corbyn: The Prime Minister must be concerned about the continuing remilitarisation of central Europe both by Russia and by NATO. Does he not think that we should pause for a moment and question the role of NATO and its continuous expansion eastwards, and start to put limits on what NATO does and what its ambitions are, as a way of de-escalating this crisis and demilitarising that region to avoid future conflict?
The Prime Minister: I cannot see any sort of point in trying to draw some moral equivalence between Russia’s totally unacceptable action with respect to Ukraine and the fact that NATO, as a defensive legal alliance, has sent extra forces to the Baltic states or indeed Poland to demonstrate our belief in collective defence. If we do what the hon. Gentleman has just said in his question, we would actually let Russia off the hook for everything that it wanted to do anywhere, and that is a terrible basis on which to conduct foreign and security policy.
Iraq and Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, 16 June
Jeremy Corbyn: Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent destruction of all the structures of civil society there have led to this implosion? Does he also accept that the current crisis is being exacerbated by the arms in the region? He has confirmed that there will be no military intervention by Britain or the USA, but what discussions has he had with Saudi Arabia about its influence, its arms supplies and its friendships within the region, and about its actual aims?
Mr Hague: We have had many discussions with states throughout the region, particularly in relation to Syria. We have said that any support, including the non-lethal support from the United Kingdom, should be given to moderate groupings and not to extremists. Indeed, these events underline the importance of that, and it is something that we will always restate to Saudi Arabia and to other states in the region. They are committed to not supporting extremist groups, because those groups ultimately present a threat to them as well as to Iraq and to many people in Syria. On the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I think we will have to wait for the report from the inquiry into Iraq. People can argue the case either way in regard to the consequences of the 2003 invasion, but it is worth pointing out that if Iraq had developed a more inclusive politics over recent years and if the Assad regime had not opted to wage war against its own people, the scenario would now be very different, notwithstanding the 2003 invasion.
Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, 17 June
Jeremy Corbyn: I will restrict my remarks to new clauses 6 and 7 moved by the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who has left the Chamber. Much as I respect his work and his commitment to dealing with knife crime, I cannot agree with or support his amendments. I agree very much with the points just made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on mandatory sentencing. There is a principle at stake here. There is a Sentencing Council and legislation on what is and is not a crime, but surely it must be for the courts to determine what is appropriate for the prisoner in front of them, rather than to have that laid down by statute. Surely that is the right way forward, and we should respect it.
I do not underestimate the issue of knife crime. Less than two weeks ago a young man was killed in my constituency by yet another knife crime. As I have done with the other families concerned, I went to see the family afterwards. The shock, the horror, the loss and the waste, and then seeing the flowers placed alongside the spot where the young man died, and young people congregating around it—that is a pretty significant message to an awful lot of young people that that person died because of a knife crime. It is an important message to them about the loss involved in it.
I have been to funerals where the families have turned up grieving, and hundreds of young people have turned up. We have held memorial events at which an incredibly strong message has been given to young people that carrying knives is not a protection; it is in fact an increased danger to themselves and they are more likely to be injured by the knife they are carrying than they are to be able to defend themselves with it, and it is simply not the right way forward. Surely that is a strong message to get across. The sense of shock that affects young people is considerable. I was astonished when visiting a primary school last week to be asked questions about knife crime, because the pupils had all seen the stories of the murder in the community.
We must ask ourselves a number of questions. Is a mandatory sentence for someone who is carrying a knife for the second time the right thing to introduce? Will it reduce reoffending? Will it make the person who is convicted of carrying a knife for the second time more or less likely to reoffend, or is it more likely to brutalise them—because that is what our prison and youth justice system does—making them more likely to reoffend than someone who has not been given a custodial sentence?
The hon. Member for Enfield North kindly allowed me to intervene and I drew attention to the evidence taken in the Justice Committee when we were examining issues of youth justice. We visited a number of young offenders institutions and took evidence from former inmates and victims of crime. We took evidence from large numbers of people, and the piece of evidence that most strongly sticks in my mind is being told in no uncertain terms by a repeat offender—though not for knife crime—that their toughest sentence was a community service order in which they had to attend a place, carry out a task and do something to try to turn their lives around, because somebody was on their case, in a way that never happens when someone is in prison, and happens only to some extent in young offenders institutions.
Mandatory sentencing looks tough, sounds tough and will please some of the less thoughtful media in our society, but its implications are not helpful. I draw attention to the advisory note given to us for this debate by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, which has looked at the issue and knows a thing or two about it. Its estimate is that 200 more young people—children actually, in law— will be put in prison as a result of the new clauses that we are discussing today, should they be agreed to and should the House of Lords want to put them into law.
I also draw attention to another, perhaps more difficult question. Those who are found in possession of a knife and convicted of that have not necessarily committed a crime. They have been found carrying a knife with a blade more than 3 inches in length. Often they have been found by stop and search or by intelligence gathering by the police. The House should not misunderstand me: I do not approve of anyone carrying a knife, but when one then looks at who is stopped and searched, one rapidly finds a wholly disproportionate picture of modern Britain and modern youth. A disproportionate number of black youngsters will have been stopped and searched, therefore a disproportionate number will be in possession of knives, and there will then be a disproportionate number in the prison system and a disproportionate number will reoffend. Surely the courts should have discretion on this matter, and instead we should redouble our efforts to provide young people with the opportunities, inspiration and ambition that takes them beyond gang culture and the idea that possession of a knife will protect them and provide them with some degree of security in the future.
The Prison Reform Trust has also looked at the issue in some detail and the latest Ministry of Justice figures show the rates of child and adult convictions for knife possession. In the first quarter of 2014, 652 offences involving knife possession were committed by children aged 10 to 17, resulting in a caution or a sentence. The adult figure was 3,262. The number of knife possession offences committed by children under 18 in the last quarter reduced by 34%, and I pay tribute to all those who have ensured that it has reduced. The number of knife possession offences committed in the last quarter by adults over 18 fell by 23% over the same period. It is also evidential that custodial sentences have the worst outcome of the sentencing options available, with nearly 70% of children and 58% of young people aged 18 to 20 being reconvicted within a year of release. The Prison Reform Trust says:
“Mandatory prison sentences for knife possession could drive up the numbers of children and young people in custody following a welcome period of decline both in youth imprisonment and youth crime.”
The Standing Committee for Youth Justice and the Prison Reform Trust have highlighted the disproportionate effect on black youngsters that will result if the new clause goes through. It is very easy to follow newspaper headlines and media reports of the horror of death of any sort—from shotguns, firearms, knife crime or any other kind of murder—but we have a duty to try to make our society safer and better in future. I think that this knee-jerk reaction of more and more custodial sentences for our already overcrowded prisons will result in much greater cost for all of us, much higher rates of reoffending, which affect all of us, and a more criminalised rather than a more peaceable society. Surely we need to address the root causes of the issue. We should give the courts the discretion to give custodial sentences, yes, where necessary, but they should also have the discretion to use community service orders, restorative justice, and all the things that have been shown to work, rather than the one that does not work—the automatic imprisonment of so many of our young people.
Topical Questions, 17 June
Jeremy Corbyn: May I turn the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the situation facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbouring countries? There have undeniably been huge changes and improvements in the DRC and I commend him for his work on violence against women and rape as a weapon of war, but is he not concerned that last week there was an exchange of fire between Rwandan forces and the DRC, and that Rwanda still appears to have some military ambitions in that region? Will he put pressure on it to desist?
Mark Simmonds: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I can give him an assurance that we are heavily engaged from a diplomatic perspective in trying to support the international community in finding a resolution to the challenges that the eastern DRC has faced for far too long. To that end I met both the Rwandan Foreign Minister and Senator Feingold, the US special representative for the region, to encourage everybody to work together, both to find a lasting solution to remove the militia groups that operate in the eastern DRC, including the ADF and the FDLR, but also to find long-term solutions to the big problem.
Early Day Motions (EDM) I have tabled:
EDM 1278: Inter-Parliamentary Union and Nuclear Disarmament, 9 April
That this House welcomes the unanimous adoption of the resolution Toward a Nuclear Weapon Free World: The Contribution of Parliaments including support of the UK delegation by the Inter-Parliamentary Union at its 130th Assembly on 20 March 2014, which recognises that Parliaments and their members have a key role in moving governments to implement their shared commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons and proposes specific action to this end; and invites this House to urge the Government to implement the resolution to its fullest extent, including support for and attendance at the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons conference in Austria in late 2014 and to start negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or package of agreements to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world.
EDM 1280: Canned Hunting, 9 April
That this House notes the fact that well over 8,000 lions are being bred in captivity to supply the canned hunting trade which entails captive-bred lions being kept in confined areas to be shot by paying hunters using rifles, bow and arrow and even pistols; further notes that at least some of the funding for this barbaric practice is derived from UK volunteer agencies who are often unaware of the destiny of these lions; further notes that on 15 March 2014 people in 62 cities in 21 countries marched on the streets to protest against canned hunting; further notes that on 13 February 2014 a world summit was held in London to halt the illegal trade in wildlife products; further notes that precedents for concrete action include the EU ban on imports of seal skins from Namibia and Canada because it is based on animal cruelty; and calls on the Government to ensure that preservation of the UK’s world wildlife heritage is given the high level priority that it so clearly deserves and that appropriate restrictions or banning are implemented wherever necessary.
EDM 1322: UK Attendance at Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons Conference in Austria, 8th May
That this House notes the recent governmental conferences on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, attended by 127 states in Norway in March 2013 and by 145 states in Mexico in February 2014; welcomes the announcement of a new follow-up conference in Austria in December 2014; further notes the call for UK attendance; and urges the Government to ensure it is represented at the event in Vienna.
EDM 1323: Marshall Islands and Nuclear Disarmament, 8th May
That this House notes the 67 nuclear weapons tests conducted in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958; regrets the environmental and humanitarian impact of those tests on the Marshall Islands; further notes that the US Atomic Energy Commission in 1956 described it as by far the most contaminated place in the world; expresses support for the Marshall Islands’ legal proceedings against nine nuclear weapon states, including the UK, at the International Court of Justice over their failure to comply with Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and urges the Government to respond by committing to scrap Trident.
EDM 37: Trident Replacement, 4th June
That this House notes the findings of the National Security Strategy that a nuclear weapon threat from another state is of low likelihood; further notes a procurement cost of £25 billion and an estimated lifetime cost of over £100 billion for the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon system; believes that there are greater spending priorities both at the Ministry of Defence and across other departments; and urges the Government not to replace Trident.
EDM 39: UK Attendance at Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons Conference, 4th June
That this House notes the recent governmental conferences on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, attended by 127 states in Norway in March 2013 and by 145 states in Mexico in February 2014; welcomes the announcement of a new follow-up conference in Austria in December 2014; further notes the call for UK attendance; and urges the Government to ensure that it is represented at this event in Vienna.
EDM 49: Treatment of Palestinian Children, 5th June
That this House notes that Israeli forces continue to use excessive force including live ammunition and rubber coated metal bullets on unarmed protestors, including children and that 1,400 children have been killed in this way since 2000; further notes the lack of transparency in the investigation of such incidents; acknowledges the excellent work that Defence for Children International Palestine do in increasing awareness of these deaths; further notes that since January 2008, 129 children have been affected by settler violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including four fatalities with each of the cases occurring near Palestinian neighbourhoods, villages or roads located close to Israeli settlements and the nature of the violence includes being shot at, beaten, pelted with stones and sprayed with gas; and calls on the Government to press the Israeli government to respect the right to peaceful protest and prioritise the safety of all children who come under such attack on a routine basis.
EDM 50: Marshall Islands and Nuclear Disarmament, 5th June
That this House notes the 67 nuclear weapons tests conducted in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958; regrets the environmental and humanitarian impact of those tests on the Marshall Islands; further notes that the US Atomic Energy Commission in 1956 described it as by far the most contaminated place in the world; expresses support for the Marshall Islands’ legal proceedings against nine nuclear weapons states, including the UK, at the International Court of Justice over their failure to comply with Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and urges the Government to respond by committing to scrap Trident.
EDM 51: Defence Review 2015 and Trident Replacement, 5th June
That this House notes that a National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is due to be conducted in 2015; further notes the Seventh Report of Session 2013-14 of the Defence Committee, Towards the next Defence and Security Review, HC 197, and its concern that SDSR 2015 must be about understanding and outlining Britain’s place in the world; believes that the decision on whether to maintain a nuclear weapons system beyond the life of Trident is central to this discussion and must be fully debated within the NSS and SDSR process; and urges that the Main Gate decision on the construction of Trident replacement submarines be delayed until after the publication of the SDSR.
EDM 53: Journalists in Detention in Egypt, 5th June
That this House notes the dangers encountered unjustly by journalists reporting from areas of conflict and change; expresses its alarm that since July 2013 more than 30 Al Jazeera staff have been detained in Egypt while four still remain imprisoned; further notes that Abdullah Elshamy was arrested in August 2013 and has been on hunger strike and is ill and that Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were arrested in December 2013; further notes the international support for their plight from the National Union of Journalists as well as #FreeAJStaff and spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and prominent international journalists; urges all governments to guarantee the safety of all journalists who play a crucial role in reporting the news as and when they see it; and further urges the Government to press the Egyptian authorities to bring about the release of all the detained journalists as a matter of the utmost urgency.