Alex Chalk – 2019 Speech on the GCHQ Centenary

Below is the text of the speech made by Alex Chalk, the Conservative MP for Cheltenham, in the House of Commons on 11 July 2019.

I secured this debate this evening because I wanted this House to have the opportunity to pay tribute to GCHQ in this its centenary year and, most importantly, to the staff who work there. They are some of the finest public servants anywhere in our country—people who work night and day, often at considerable cost to themselves and their families, to keep this nation safe. It is worth reflecting on what is meant by that expression. It means bluntly that there are people alive today able to return to their families who would not be able to, but for the skill and professionalism of those working at GCHQ. Some are British soldiers on operations abroad. Others are ordinary citizens who may never have had the faintest idea that they were ever in harm’s way. There are others who have been protected from the devastation wrought by serious violating crime that shatters lives and robs innocence, and there are those who have been spared the anguish of seeing their jobs, livelihoods and futures destroyed by the actions of cyber gangsters and hostile state actors. That is what is meant by keeping our country safe.

Many of those professionals who have provided that blanket protection and security are my constituents. They work necessarily in the shadows, with discretion and professionalism. They are committed to the mission, but they do not chase recognition or plaudits. They do, however, deserve them. And I wanted us to send out the message, at this time and from this place, that they are admired and appreciated here in the democratic epicentre of the country they serve.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

I agree entirely with everything that my hon. Friend has said, endorse it and give my profound thanks to those people. They do us honour all over the world; many countries depend on the work of GCHQ, for which they are eternally grateful, and we should be eternally grateful to those people for what they do in our name.

Alex Chalk

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend, who makes an excellent point with his customary eloquence and force.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this debate forward. Will he also pay tribute to the people who did so much in the predecessor organisation GCHQ during the second world war, and lived out their lives afterwards in complete secrecy, claiming no credit for their great achievements? I can remember the year 1974—two years before he was born—when the book “The Ultra Secret” revealed what had happened, by which time it was far too late for many of the people who had done those deeds to claim the credit they deserved.

Alex Chalk

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. Selflessness and discretion are the watchwords that so many of these dedicated public servants live by, and he has explained the point extremely well.

John Howell

My hon. Friend mentioned cyber. Would he pay tribute, with me, to all those people who work in cyber, because that is the most incredibly difficult area to deal with, and they are doing us a great service?

Alex Chalk

I am very happy to do so, and I will come on to that in a moment. Let me make some progress now.

As the title of the debate suggests, GCHQ has been at the frontline of our nation’s security for 100 years and, although based in Cheltenham, it is truly a UK-wide institution. Three of GCHQ’s directors have come from Scotland. Scots were behind the founding of signals intelligence. The Director of Operations for the National Cyber Security Centre is Welsh. Today, GCHQ has sites across our nation.

The organisation was formed in 1919 under the original name of the Government Code and Cypher School, specialising in cyphers and encryption—securing our own codes and cracking those of our adversaries. As the engaging GCHQ Instagram stories have reminded us, cryptography and military intelligence are as old as war itself. The Spartans used cyphers. Julius Caesar did too. Elizabeth I’s famous spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, used the methods of a 9th-century Arabian scholar, Abu Yusuf al-Kindi, to crack enemy codes. Shakespeare wrote in the play “Henry V”:

“The king hath note of all that they intend,

By interception which they dream not of.”

Those words are engraved on a plaque at Bletchley Park.

Back in 1919, the Government Code and Cypher School was the result of the merger of Room 40 in the Admiralty, responsible for naval intelligence, and MI1(b) in the War Office, responsible for military intelligence. It was said in one of the books that I have read on this subject to be,

“an eccentric mix of art historians, schoolmasters, Cambridge dons and Presbyterian ministers”.

In those days, being able to solve the Daily Telegraph crossword in under 12 minutes was, it appears, routinely used as part of the recruitment test; but of course we know that GC&CS broke the German Navy’s codes, and famously it intercepted the 1917 telegram for German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann that revealed the German plan to begin unrestricted submarine warfare in the north Atlantic, in breach of the commitment to US President Woodrow Wilson. That contributed to the US joining the allied war effort.

In 1939, GC&CS was given the name GCHQ to better disguise its secret work. In that year, shortly after Munich, Neville Chamberlain was given an intelligence report that showed that Hitler habitually referred to him in private as “der alter Arschloch”. Parliamentary decorum prevents me translating that, Mr Speaker, but I can say that that revelation, in the words of one diplomat, was said to have

“had a profound effect on Chamberlain.”​

By June 1944, Bletchley Park had accessed the communications between Gerd von Rundstedt, the Commander of the German Army in the west, and his superiors in Berlin. The importance of decrypted German communications—known as the “Ultra secret”—which my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has referred to, to the war effort is universally recognised. It gave the Allies an invaluable insight into the enemy’s capabilities and intentions.

Of course, the world has moved on a great deal since then. In 1984, Denis Healey said in this House of Commons:

“GCHQ has been by far the most valuable source of intelligence for the British Government ever since it began operating at Bletchley during the last war. British skills in interception and code-breaking are unique and highly valued by…our allies. GCHQ has been a key element in our relationship with the United States for more than forty years.”—[Official Report, 27 February 1984; Vol. 55, c. 35.]

As the director of GCHQ said at an event I attended in London only yesterday, GCHQ might be 100 years old, but its time is now.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Alex Chalk

I will in a moment.

That is because it is a matter of public record that in recent months and years GCHQ has detected and disrupted numerous threats against our country—from nuclear proliferation to cyber-attacks that could cause immense harm. It supports British troops, providing the vital nugget of information that can make the difference between life and death. It is reported to have played its part in the arrest and conviction of Matthew Falder, a prolific paedophile later described by the judge as “warped and sadistic” and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. Nowadays, of course, defending our nation in cyberspace means having the ability to strike back—not just deterring the threat but sometimes disabling or even destroying it. Only recently, the director of GCHQ has stated that this has been used to suppress Daesh propaganda, hindering its ability to co-ordinate attacks and brainwash vulnerable young people overseas, no doubt including in this country.

I want to say a little about the solemn responsibilities that any intelligence agency has in this, our nation of laws—but before I do, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown).

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

On the comment by the director of the GCHQ that its time is now, does my hon. Friend agree that the threat against this country and its citizens is becoming ever more multi-faceted and ever more universal, that therefore the task that GCHQ undertakes on our behalf is ever more needed, and that we should pay tribute, as he has done, to the people who work there? I would like to pay particular tribute to my constituents who work there.

Alex Chalk

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who puts the point well. It is an extremely complex threat landscape, but I am pleased that there are people working there—my constituents and his—who are equal to the task.

As I had begun to indicate, successive Foreign Secretaries have made clear their respect for GCHQ and their deep appreciation of its responsibilities. William Hague ​perhaps put it best when, referring to the surveillance and interception decisions made by GCHQ and others, he stated in this House:

“If the citizens of this country could see the time and care taken in making these decisions, the carefully targeted nature of all our interventions, and the strict controls in place to ensure that the law and our democratic values are upheld, and if they could witness, as I do, the integrity and professionalism of the men and women of our intelligence agencies, who are among our nation’s very finest public servants, I believe they would be reassured by how we go about this essential work.”—[Official Report, 10 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 34.]

He cited the work of the Interception of Communications Commissioner, who had said:

“it is my belief…that GCHQ staff conduct themselves with the highest levels of integrity and legal compliance.”

I believe that the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which I and other hon. Members grappled with on entering Parliament in 2015, creates probably the strongest system of checks and balances and democratic accountability for secret intelligence anywhere in the world. In particular, the stringent judicial double-lock safeguard that I and others argued for means that the most intrusive investigatory powers require the approval of a judge—and that is exactly as it should be. That is not to say, of course, that mistakes will not be made—I am afraid that is inevitable whenever human beings are involved—but professional integrity and respect for the law are institutionally ingrained at GCHQ.

I want to say a word or two about the National Cyber Security Centre, which is superintended by GCHQ. Since the introduction of the national cyber security strategy in 2015, the NCSC has the mission of making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online. It supports British business, with its “Small Business Guide: Cyber Security” providing guidance on improving resilience. Its “10 Steps to Cyber Security” guidance is now used by two thirds of FTSE 350 companies. And it is having success. The UK’s global share of phishing attacks has dropped from 5.4% in 2016 to below 2% in March 2019. In 2016, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was the 16th most phished brand globally; now, it is 146th. That suggests the UK is becoming a harder target, thanks in large part to the work of the NCSC and GCHQ.

What about the impact on Cheltenham, my constituency? After the end of world war two, GCHQ staff reduced from about 10,000 to fewer than 1,800 and left Bletchley Park. They moved to Gloucestershire in September 1949, and GCHQ has had a continuous presence in Cheltenham ever since. In 2004, the famous “Doughnut” building opened—the largest secret intelligence building outside the United States. It is that impact on Cheltenham that I want to take a few short moments to talk about.

In 2013, when I was first selected to stand for Cheltenham, I thought long and hard about how I could try to make my home town better for the people who live there. One of the issues that really troubled me was that, of the 18 wards that make up the constituency of Cheltenham, three were in the bottom decile of income per capita anywhere in our country and had been for many years.

Wherever we sit in the political spectrum, every Member has to have a plan for how to try to address that issue. It always struck me that GCHQ could be better harnessed to galvanise the local economy and generate the invaluable opportunities that can break the cycle of deprivation and turn lives around.​
I then read a Policy Exchange paper called “Silicon Cities”, and the penny dropped that GCHQ could support a local tech cluster to foster start-ups in the growing cyber-security industry. That was the main message of a speech I gave to Gloucestershire businesses at local IT firm Converge in 2014.

How far we have come since then. In November 2015, George Osborne, then Chancellor of the Exchequer announced at GCHQ that Cheltenham would receive a cyber-innovation centre and cyber accelerator, which he described as

“an ecosystem in which our best people move in and out of institutions like this one, bringing the best minds and deepest expertise into the private sector, and the latest innovation back into government.”

That accelerator is now up and running, and 21 companies have been through it so far. Between them, they have invested £30 million and created valuable tech jobs.

As was always hoped for, this is now starting to catalyse the local cyber-economy. Hub 8—a play on Bletchley Park’s Hut 8—in the centre of Cheltenham is a new co-working space where start-ups in this £5 billion a year sector can scale up. Meanwhile, Gloucestershire College is now offering cyber-degrees accredited by GCHQ in collaboration with the University of the West of England. There are exciting plans for a cyber-park adjacent to GCHQ, with a GCHQ-avowed building close to the Doughnut, to anchor a local cyber-ecosystem. The plans continue to be supported by Government and the local borough council and are progressing at pace. The new frontier is cyber, and Cheltenham is uniquely well placed—through the presence of GCHQ and its connectivity to the midlands, the south-west and the Thames valley—to benefit from it, securing a better future for people of all backgrounds.

I now want to say a word about the extraordinary community work that GCHQ staff do. GCHQ is truly Cheltenham’s charity superpower. It has raised more than £1.5 million for charities over the last 10 years. GCHQ staff use their three days’ special volunteering leave a year to regularly volunteer at local charities. That has included supporting projects such as the hamper scamper, a Christmas scheme run by Caring for Communities and People that provides gift hampers to vulnerable families; the James Hopkins Trust Easter Egg appeal; and GCHQ’s Poppyfall installation, which was hanging in Gloucestershire cathedral last year and was incredibly and unbearably poignant. On 19 May this year, a charity bike ride from Bletchley Park to Cheltenham raised around £30,000.

To secure its future, GCHQ continues to recruit new generations of people with the right skills, aptitude and mindset. It sponsors the young entrepreneurs competition, which aims to encourage young people to think creatively and innovatively, with the final held at GCHQ. Its CyberFirst Girls competition had 40 finalists from 40,000 participants. Meanwhile, the NCSC has supported its first ever cyber schools hubs in Gloucestershire. I have seen their work, and it is incredibly uplifting and exciting to see young people engaged in such a dynamic way.

The UK may not have faced a category 1 attack yet—one that causes sustained disruption to the UK’s essential services or affects our national security—but the director said on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year that he thought it was a question of when, not if. Those seeking ​to act against our country in that way or perpetrate organised crime know that this is a nation with the capability, partnerships and resolve to protect its citizens in accordance with our laws and values.

Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is making a powerful speech and I am privileged to be here. A dear friend of mine is a senior official in the NCSC, and I know the important work done there. The hon. Gentleman is talking about protecting the institution in the future. We have been talking about the ever more complex and universal threat against citizens. Does he agree with me and many other Members who have spoken in recent days that it is incumbent on all of us as Members of Parliament to back up our excellent civil servants, fight the politicisation, in any form, of the civil service and give them all the support they need?

Alex Chalk

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point extremely well. The strength of our civil servants is their scrupulous independence and preparedness to serve political masters of whatever hue. We see that across our civil service and we see it very clearly at GCHQ. That is its strength and that is what we must safeguard.

The point I really want to emphasise is that this is a nation that can defend itself because it has the capability, partnerships and resolve to do so in accordance with the law and with our values, and it is able to do so because of the skill and integrity of those working at GCHQ.

GCHQ’s centenary just so happens to coincide with the 175th anniversary of the first use of Morse code to send a message between cities. It is, therefore, perhaps fitting that I should conclude by playing a message to GCHQ in the form of Morse code, which will last for 13 seconds:

[. . . .  . –  . – – .  . – – .  - . – – / – . . .  . .  . – .  -  . . . .  - . .  . –  - . – – / –  - – – / – – .  - . – .  . . . .  - – . -]

Happy birthday to GCHQ.

Victoria Atkins – 2019 Statement on Modern Slavery

Below is the text of the statement made by Victoria Atkins, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, on 9 July 2019.

Today the Government have published their response to the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and launched a public consultation on the transparency in supply chains requirements. A copy of the Government response and the consultation will be placed in the House Libraries and both documents will also be published on www.gov.uk.

The landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 established the UK as a global leader in the fight against modern slavery. The Act provided law enforcement with new tools and powers to apprehend perpetrators, new duties on businesses to publish transparency in supply chains statements, enhanced protections for victims and created the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner role.

The Act has underpinned the significant progress the UK has made over the last five years to tackle modern slavery. More victims than ever before are being identified and receiving support. More police investigations are taking place to apprehend perpetrators and bring them to justice. Thousands of businesses are taking seriously their responsibilities to publish statements on the steps they are taking to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains.

However, the Government are not complacent and we are determined to ensure our legislation keeps pace with the evolving threat from modern slavery. That is why in July 2018, the Home Secretary commissioned right hon. Frank Field MP, right hon. Maria Miller MP and the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE to conduct an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act.

The final review was laid in Parliament in May 2019. The review made 80 recommendations aimed at improving our response on four discrete themes: the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, transparency in supply chains, legal application and independent child trafficking advocates.

The review made a compelling case that now is the time to strengthen elements of our legislation and its implementation. The Government have accepted ​many of the review’s recommendations now. Some recommendations require further consultation to determine the best way to deliver them. To support this, we are now launching a consultation on proposed measures to strengthen the transparency in supply chains legislation. The consultation seeks views from all interested parties on proposals to extend the reporting requirements to public sector organisations, measures to increase transparency and reporting quality and civil penalties. The consultation opens today and will run for 10 weeks. On certain recommendations relating to independent child trafficking advocates, the Government have committed to publish a further update to Parliament.

I am grateful to the reviewers and all of those who contributed to the review for their comprehensive work on this report. Tackling modern slavery remains a priority for the Government and our response to the review will form a significant part of our future priorities. To implement our response, the Government will continue to work in partnership with law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, devolved Administrations, the private sector, NGOs, civil society and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

James Brokenshire – 2019 Statement on the Local Government Audit

Below is the text of the statement made by James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the House of Commons on 10 July 2019.

Local government in England is responsible for 22% of total UK public sector expenditure. It is essential that local authority financial reporting is of the highest level of transparency to allow taxpayers to understand how their money is being spent.

The responsibilities for the framework within which local authority audits are conducted is the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. It gave effect to commitments to abolish the Audit Commission and its centralised performance and inspection regimes and put in place a new localised audit regime, refocusing local accountability on improved transparency.

Now the Act has been fully implemented, the Government are required to review its effectiveness. The Government want to use this opportunity to step back and review the effectiveness of the local authority financial reporting and audit regime. Developments in the sector have led to a perceived widening of the “expectation gap”; that is, the difference between what users expect from an audit and the reality of what an audit is and what auditors’ responsibilities entail.

This is why I am today announcing a Government commissioned independent review to assess the effectiveness of the local authority audit framework and of the transparency of local authority financial reporting. I have asked Sir Tony Redmond, a former local government ombudsman, former local government boundary commissioner for England and former president of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy to chair this review.

This new review will examine the existing purpose, scope and quality of statutory audits of local authorities in England and the supporting regulatory framework to in order to determine:

Whether the audit and related regulatory framework for local authorities in England is operating in line with the policy intent set out in the Act and the related impact assessment;

Whether the reforms have improved the effectiveness of the control and governance framework along with the transparency of financial information presented by councils;

Whether the current statutory framework for local authority financial reporting supports the transparent disclosure of financial performance and enables users of the accounts to hold local authorities to account; and​
Appropriate recommendations on how far the process, products and framework may need to improve and evolve to meet the needs of local residents and local taxpayers, and the wider public interest.

A copy of the terms of reference has been placed in the Library of the House.

Kelly Tolhurst – 2019 Statement on Whirlpool Tumble Dryers

Below is the text of the statement made by Kelly Tolhurst, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in the House of Commons on 10 July 2019.

The Government’s number one priority is public safety. We are committed to ensuring that the UK continues to have one of the strongest product safety regimes in the world.

I updated the House on 4 April and on 17 June. Following the publication of the review by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) into the Whirlpool tumble dryer modification programme, I informed the House that OPSS had issued a decision letter placing a number of requirements on the company. Having reviewed Whirlpool’s response to the Government’s requirements, OPSS determined that it was inadequate.

Accordingly, on 4 June, OPSS notified Whirlpool of their intention to serve a recall notice in respect of as many as 800,000 remaining unmodified tumble dryers currently in use.

I am able to confirm that Whirlpool is now to issue a full product recall of all unmodified tumble dryers from consumers’ homes.

Whirlpool has agreed to undertake a number of actions required by OPSS, and which have been reviewed by an expert panel, consisting of an independent Queen’s counsel and three chief scientific advisors from the Home Office, health and safety executive and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Under the recall, consumers with an unmodified, affected Whirlpool tumble dryer will be entitled to a new replacement machine. This will be delivered and installed, with the old one removed, at no cost. A refund based on product age or a modification will be available to those consumers who do not want to take up the offer of a replacement dryer. Whirlpool have agreed to implement additional quality assurance procedures for any new modifications in consumers’ homes.

Whirlpool will deliver a significant consumer outreach campaign with wide ranging publicity of the product recall. Whirlpool have committed to deliver improved identification of, and outreach to, vulnerable consumers. They guarantee that there will be no charges for the delivery, installation or removal of affected machines. Whirlpool have also committed, and will be legally required, to provide OPSS with effective and timely reporting of progress made in the product recall.

As part of OPSS monitoring of the programme, OPSS is receiving weekly data reports from Whirlpool and it continues to monitor the situation very closely.

The actions taken by OPSS illustrate once again this Government’s commitment to ensuring the safety of consumers. No other European country has used the recall process in this way, and on this scale before for domestic appliance safety.​

OPSS will closely monitor the recall and it will take further action should it be necessary to ensure public safety. It will continue to work closely with other Government Departments and key stakeholders to raise awareness of the recall.

The message for consumers who have an unmodified dryer is to stop using and unplug their dryer immediately and to contact Whirlpool for a replacement.

Justin Tomlinson – 2019 Statement on Universal Credit Fraud

Below is the text of the statement made by Justin Tomlinson, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, in the House of Commons on 10 July 2019.

Universal credit is now in all jobcentres, with around 2 million people claiming this benefit. In accordance with our approach to test and learn while rolling out universal credit, we have made several changes to the advances claimants may receive while they wait for their first payment. If they need it, people can now claim an advance from day one of their claim. They can apply in person, by phone or online—a facility we introduced in July 2018. On Monday, the BBC published an article that described cases where fraudulent applications had been made to acquire advance payments. The figures quoted are unverified.

Those who defraud the benefits system take taxpayers’ money from the poorest people in society. We have a dedicated team of investigators working on this issue, and are working with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that, where appropriate, perpetrators will be prosecuted: we have in fact already secured our first successful prosecution. We frequently raise awareness among frontline staff to be vigilant to fraud risks, and raise concerns where appropriate.

I remind hon. Members, and their constituents, that DWP staff will never approach a claimant on social media, or in the street, to discuss their benefit claim. Claimants should never give out personal or financial information to a third party unless they are certain they work for DWP, and have followed a password or security protocol. Anyone with concerns about their benefit claim should contact their local jobcentre directly.

Maria Eagle – 2019 Speech on a Public Advocate

Below is the text of the speech made by Maria Eagle, the Labour MP for Garston and Halewood, in the House of Commons on 10 July 2019.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a public advocate to provide advice to, and act as data controller for, representatives of the deceased after major incidents.

The Bill is about changing how we handle the aftermath of public disasters so that we can better enable families of the deceased and injured survivors to get what they need from the events that inevitably follow. It aims to provide collective representation for bereaved families and injured survivors during the investigations in the aftermath and to provide for the establishment of an independent panel to review documentation relating to the disaster. It should prevent families and survivors from feeling excluded by the official processes and feeling like their needs are being ignored. It will enable a more cost-effective response that helps families and facilitates a collective solidarity amongst them, as well as putting their voices at the very centre of the aftermath.

The Bill arises out of the experience of the Hillsborough families and its aim is to prevent others from having to go through the trauma and agonies that the Hillsborough families and survivors have endured simply to get the truth about what happened to their loved ones officially accepted and to get justice and accountability for what went wrong. Families and the injured survivors in disasters usually want two simple things—to find out what happened and why, and to stop it ever happening again to other people—yet it is striking how frequently they feel let down. We have seen it time after time: Hillsborough, the MV Derbyshire, the Marchioness, terrorist attacks such as Lockerbie and other bombings, and more recently the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. In all these cases, there have been reports of families and survivors feeling alienated and ignored and often feeling the need to campaign for truth and justice because they do not feel that their needs have been met by the proceedings that have happened.

I would like to thank Lord Wills for drafting the Bill, following work that he and I did consulting family support groups involved in a number of public disasters. It is he who devised the mechanics of how the Hillsborough independent panel should work in 2009, when we were both Ministers in the Ministry of Justice. Its establishment followed a call for transparency and the publication of documents on the 20th anniversary of the disaster by Andy Burnham and me—both then Ministers. Without Lord Wills, the Hillsborough independent panel would never have happened, and without the HIP the full truth about Hillsborough would never have been officially acknowledged. The original inquest verdicts of accidental death would never have been quashed and replaced after the second inquests with verdicts of unlawful killing. It was the HIP that finally and definitively reported the full truth of what happened at Hillsborough, 23 years after the events, and it did so using the principles of openness, transparency and the publication of documentation.​
I have had an involvement with Hillsborough families for 29 years. When I was an articled clerk in a legal practice in Liverpool in 1990, my principal was one of the solicitors on the Hillsborough steering committee conducting the original civil litigation. I have known and tried to help the Hillsborough families ever since that time. When I was first elected to this House in 1997, members of the executive committee of the Hillsborough Families Support Group were amongst the first of my constituents to come to me for help, and I have been helping them ever since. Significant progress has been made over these years—very much against the odds, it must be said—so I have a deep understanding of what has happened to them in the past 30 years. The members of the executive committee of the Hillsborough Families Support Group have told me that they support the Bill because they think that it will make a difference to bereaved families in future disasters.

The Hillsborough families’ experience is extreme, but not unique. In the aftermath of disasters, things often seem to go wrong for the families of the deceased and for injured survivors. I have handled other cases myself. The families of the 44 people who were killed when MV Derbyshire sank with all hands in 1980 spent 20 years campaigning to clear their loved ones of blame for what happened. They felt that the British Wreck Commission had blamed alleged poor seamanship for the sinking, thus casting aspersions on the victims—who could not answer back—rather than on the owners, builders and insurers of the vessel. As the secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on MV Derbyshire, I saw what a heavy toll that took on them, and I helped them to succeed in their long and difficult campaign for official acknowledgement of the truth of what had happened. The truth was that their relatives had been wholly innocent victims of the disaster, and their campaign was fully vindicated, but it should not have taken 20 years.

There have been, and will continue to be, other disasters that kill and injure people, creating more bereaved families and injured survivors. We should use the experiences of past disasters to improve the way in which we handle the aftermath of those that happen in the future. The Bill would establish an independent, adequately resourced public advocate for those who are bereaved in public disasters, and for injured survivors. It would locate the public advocate’s office in a Government Department; the advocate would be able to call on its resources but, crucially, would be totally independent of the Government. It would require the public advocate to act if 50% plus one or more of the families of the deceased and injured survivors asked for that to happen. The advocate would then act as a representative of the collective interests of the bereaved and survivors in securing the openness and transparency that families need.

The process would not replace any representation in legal proceedings, but the advocate would have an additional role intended to give families and survivors confidence that their needs were central in the securing of truth and justice. That would be done by ensuring transparency and openness in a way that cannot be hijacked by organs of the state or other interested parties in the various legal proceedings that often follow in the aftermath of a disaster.

The public advocate, as a data controller, would establish a panel—like the Hillsborough independent panel—in consultation with relatives of the deceased and survivors, to review all documentation at a much ​earlier stage than was the case with Hillsborough, thus facilitating transparency and disclosure by way of reports to Parliament and the Lord Chancellor. That would counterbalance legal proceedings, inquiries, inquests and other trials leaving families feeling like unimportant, unrepresented parties—which is how they often feel. It would complement and add to the sum of knowledge about what happened and why, and it would do so in a timely fashion and at an early stage.

In the Queen’s Speech of 2017, the Government promised to establish such an office, but—unbelievably, given how straightforward such legislation would be—they have made no progress beyond conducting a consultation. It is also clear from their consultation document, published in September last year, that their public advocate would not be independent, would not be a data controller, would not be able to act at the behest of families, would be directed by the Secretary of State, and would not have the power to establish and appoint independent panels such as the Hillsborough independent panel.

Let me say to the Government that unless the families have more agency and the public advocate is truly independent, that simply will not do the job of maintaining families’ confidence and putting them at the centre of the search for the truth in the aftermath of disasters. To be effective, the public advocate needs independence, the confidence of the families and survivors, and the ability to establish an independent panel as a data controller and to report findings. Those are the essential elements that will prevent the aftermath of future disasters from being made more traumatic for families and survivors, as has happened in the past.

I believe that, if implemented, these measures will prevent bereaved families and injured survivors from ever again having to endure decades of fighting for the truth to be acknowledged by officialdom, and decades of striving for justice and accountability. If passed, the Bill will also stand as an enduring monument to the dignity and collective strength, fight and stamina of the Hillsborough families and survivors, so that they can know at last that something good and permanent has come out of their decades of agony and trauma, and that no one will ever again have to go through what they have endured simply because their family has had the great misfortune to be caught up in a public disaster.

I commend the Bill to the House.

David Rutley – 2019 Speech on the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by David Rutley, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in the House of Commons on 10 July 2019.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill delivers another important commitment from the Government on animal welfare, cementing our place as a world leader in the care and protection of animals. Under the current legislation, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences is six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The Bill extends the current maximum penalty to five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine for the worst animal cruelty offences relating to animal welfare in England and Wales. It is a simple yet vital measure to ensure that those who perpetrate cruelty on animals are subjected to the full force of the law.

We all agree that there is no place for animal cruelty in this country. Those who mistreat and abuse animals through unacceptable activities such as dog fighting, the abuse of pet animals, and cruelty to farm animals will be faced with tougher responses from the courts. An increase in the maximum custodial sentence from six months to five years will help to deter people from committing detestable acts against animals, and will demonstrate that such behaviour is not tolerated in this country.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)

Is the Minister aware of the growing concern about the welfare of tethered horses? Many horses are attached to a short rope all day long, next to a highway, with no water and surrounded by ragwort, which is harmful to them. However, the authorities seem reluctant to take action. Might the reason be that the law is not quite clear enough in this respect, and if so, could that be addressed by the Bill?

David Rutley

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, and for his concern about horse tethering. I share that concern, which is why we recently had a roundtable meeting with the relevant welfare groups and authorities to discuss how we could achieve best practice in this regard. I think that there have been some case studies—particularly in the Swansea area, if I remember correctly—and that real action has been taken. We need to spread that best practice far and wide.

It is a pleasure to introduce this important Bill. We committed ourselves in September 2017 to increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty offences, and in December 2017 we published our draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. That followed the introduction of the Animal ​Fighting (Sentencing) Bill in July 2016 by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and the introduction of the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill, also in July 2016, by the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). I pay tribute to both of them and the supporters of their Bills; I thank them for their hard work.

I am delighted to have secured the parliamentary time to introduce this small but incredibly valuable Government Bill, which is of great importance to the House, the animal welfare community and the public more widely. I pay tribute to all who campaigned for the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019, popularly known as Finn’s law, which is closely linked to the Bill. Finn is a police dog fondly known as Fabulous Finn to his friends, and a distinguished example of the incredible bravery and hard work of service animals. This Bill will ensure that those who cause injury to a service animal will receive a proportionate penalty for their horrific actions; I will speak on this in more detail a little later.

Many animal welfare charities and other organisations have been calling for increased sentencing for a number of years. I thank them for their campaigning on the matter and for ensuring that this issue has remained at the top of the agenda: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the League Against Cruel Sports, to name but a few, have been incredibly effective in their support for an increase in the maximum penalties, and I praise their tireless efforts. Claire Horton, chief executive of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, stated that the introduction of this Bill is a “landmark achievement”.

This Bill is indeed a landmark step forward for animal welfare in this country. It demonstrates our commitment to protecting this nation’s animals. I pay tribute to Northern Ireland and my hon. Friends in the Democratic Unionist party for setting such a great example in support of animal welfare; Northern Ireland has already introduced a higher maximum penalty of five years for animal cruelty offences, which we are pleased to be able to match in England and Wales.

I also pay tribute to those hon. Members who have consistently advocated introducing this Bill, notably my hon. Friend—most of the time my friend—the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. He can be grumpy on occasions—[Interruption.] Oh, he is there! I had not realised he was behind me! Indeed, I thank all members of the Committee, who tirelessly press the Government on this issue.

Our Bill and the proposals therein on animal welfare sentencing have received strong support from across the House, and I am grateful to the Opposition Front- Bench team, not least the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) for her full and wholesome support; it is much appreciated.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)

Thirteen years ago in 2006 when the Animal Welfare Act was going through its stages, I proposed an amendment that would do exactly what this Bill does, so may I thank the Minister for bringing it in but express regret that it has taken 13 years to do so?

David Rutley

I am pleased the Bill is before us today; sometimes these things take time—too often in animal welfare—but I am really pleased that through working ​together across this House we have seen a number of pieces of legislation come forward in recent weeks and months. That is because we are working so closely together. I am extraordinarily grateful for that and for the support we have had from the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who has long called for higher sentencing.

It is also important to recognise the hard work of our Whips. They are not able to speak on this matter, but I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) are very keen for this legislation to come through. It would be remiss of me not also to mention the irrepressible hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who is a complete enthusiast for this Bill and I am sure would love to be associated with it.

The Bill amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which currently sets out a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine for the more serious prevention of harm offences. That is much lower than the current European average for animal welfare offences, which is two years; indeed many countries have much higher maximum penalties. I am pleased to say that the Bill introduces one of the toughest punishments in the world and will bring us in line with the maximum penalties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, India and Latvia, which are all five years’ imprisonment.

The Government published the draft Bill for consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny in December 2017 as part of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. The consultation closed in January 2018 and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs received over 9,000 direct responses to it; 70% of respondents agreed with the new maximum penalties. In the summary of responses document, the Government committed to bringing forward the sentencing clauses in a separate Bill as recommended by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee scrutiny report in January 2018.

There have been a number of recent cases related to serious animal welfare offences in which judges have expressed a desire to impose a higher penalty or custodial sentence than that currently provided for under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. For example, in 2016 an 18-year-old man kicked his girlfriend’s pet spaniel to death in an horrific attack. The dog was kicked repeatedly so hard that her brain stem detached. The man was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay costs and victim surcharges of more than £1,000. The judge at the magistrates court said that he would have imposed a stronger, longer sentence if the law had allowed it. It was a sickening act of deliberate cruelty and in such cases a higher sentence would have been favourable for the court.

If I may, I would like to give another horrific example of where the judge explicitly told the court that he would have imposed a longer sentence if the guidelines had allowed. In November 2016 a man gave a dog painkillers and then beat her to death with a shovel. The man was sentenced to four months in prison and was disqualified from keeping all animals for life. That sentence was clearly not appropriate for such a dreadful act, and we need to change that, and we will now.

This Bill relates closely to the warmly received Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019, commonly known as Finn’s law, which prevents those who attack or injure ​service animals from claiming self-defence. It received Royal Assent on 8 April 2019, and I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), who is also in his place, for steering the Bill so skilfully through this House.

When this Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill is enacted, those who cause harm to a service animal in the course of the animal’s duty could be subject to a maximum sentence of five years. The intention of Finn’s law was to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty as well as improving the protection of service animals. We are now completing the increased protection of service animals with this Bill, and as a result achieving what the Committee and campaigners have worked so hard for.

The Bill is due to commence two months after Royal Assent and has a limited impact on costs to the criminal justice system. The increase in maximum penalties will not result in an increase in the number of offenders being sent to prison; it will result only in the potential length of time that might be served by the most serious offenders. We have been in discussion with the Ministry of Justice on this matter, and the Government consider that this may lead to some marginal extra costs to the criminal justice system which are unlikely to be more than £500,000 per annum. DEFRA has agreed with the Ministry of Justice to take on the costs, as set out in the explanatory notes.

While some offences committed under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 may be more minor incidents, there are unfortunately cases of serious or systematic cruelty. For example, some forms of animal cruelty, such as dog fighting, can be linked to organised crime and are carried out for financial gain through betting and prize money.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

The Minister talked about the extra cost involved. If a case has to go to the Crown court, very often animals will have to be kept in custody or in care in kennels, so that will cost more. We also need to make sure we have proper kennelling so that the whole court system can cope. We very much welcome the extra sentencing, but that knock-on effect needs to be dealt with as well.

David Rutley

Once again, my hon. Friend speaks with authority on the subject, and he can be assured that we are working through all those details. I just want to underline that costs will be covered through the arrangements put in place.

As I was saying, dog fighting inflicts a high level of suffering on the animals involved. We believe that in such cases, where the level of cruelty and culpability is so high, a higher sentence is clearly justified, and I am sure that the House agrees.

The Bill is a simple measure, amounting to just two clauses, but with a very positive outcome. Clause 1 is the Bill’s main clause; it outlines the mode of trial and maximum penalty for certain animal welfare offences. As I previously outlined, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 the maximum penalty in practice is currently six months and/or an unlimited fine. The clause changes the maximum custodial sentence available for five key offences: causing unnecessary suffering to a protected ​animal; carrying out a non-exempted mutilation; docking the tail of a dog, except where permitted; administering a poison to an animal; and involvement in an animal fight.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op)

The Bill is hugely welcome. However, I am concerned about the narrowness of its scope, and my investigations have not been able to satisfy me that there are no potential areas of obscurity in it. Given that the Bill applies to domestic animals and not to wild animals, what is the situation in regard to, say, feral cats? Would somebody who did harm to their neighbour’s cat be subject to a different maximum sentence from somebody who did harm to a cat that was effectively feral and unattached?

David Rutley

We can talk about that in more detail in Committee, but it is clear that this is about animals that are under the control of man. So in a situation where a feral cat was under the control of a man or woman and was experiencing unnecessary harm, the Bill would apply.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

I apologise for coming in a bit late. The Minister might have covered this earlier, but will the courts have discretion in relation to the maximum sentence? Am I right in thinking that there will be a scale?

David Rutley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Just to clarify, we are discussing the maximum penalty; there will be other gradations that the courts will see fit to use. It is important to highlight, as I have done with a couple of case studies, that the courts felt they did not have the right sentencing available, given the horrific nature of some of the crimes they had been looking at. The Bill is about providing a maximum. The hon. Gentleman must be psychic, because I was about to come to that point. Under clause 1, the existing maximum penalty of six months will be retained if the offender is summarily convicted. However, offenders may now receive a higher penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine if they are convicted on trial by indictment.

Clause 2 outlines that the Bill will come into force two months after Royal Assent. The application of revised maximum penalties is not retrospective and does not apply to offences committed before the Bill comes into force. The clause also specifies the short title of the Bill, and provides for the Bill to extend to England and Wales. Animal welfare is a fully devolved matter, as many Members know. However, in this case the Welsh Government have confirmed that the maximum penalty should also apply in Wales, and the Bill is drafted on that basis. The Welsh Government are preparing a legislative consent motion so that the Bill can be extended and applied in Wales.

It is the Government’s view that the subject matter of this Bill is considered to be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have commended Northern Ireland for having already set the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences at five years’ imprisonment in August 2016, and I am pleased that the Scottish Government have announced their intention to do so as well. This country has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the ​world, but our maximum penalties are currently among the lowest. An increase to five years’ imprisonment should be introduced to enable the courts to have more appropriate sentences at their disposal for the most serious crimes of animal cruelty, and to reinforce our position as a world leader on animal welfare.

The Government are pleased to be taking forward this positive step on animal welfare. Just a month ago, we introduced a ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens, and we have introduced mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses. The Bill follows the previously mentioned passing of Finn’s law and we are also demonstrating the importance of the value of wild animals with the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill progressing well through the other place. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill is a fundamental step in ensuring that we have an appropriate response to those who inflict deliberate suffering on innocent animals and, for the reasons I have set out, I commend the Bill to the House.

Kit Malthouse – 2019 Speech on Intentional Unauthorised Developments

Below is the text of the speech made by Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Housing, in the House of Commons on 9 July 2019.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) on securing this debate. He has been a persistent and formidable champion for his constituents, and has raised this issue with me on a number of occasions. I am pleased that we are now able to address it in the open air.

The Government take unauthorised encampments extremely seriously, and a lot of work is ongoing in this area. Both I and the Secretary of State have listened extensively to views from across the House on this highly important issue, and recognise the strong feelings and concerns that have been raised in recent debates and discussions. As both I and the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), have stressed before in this Chamber, the Government are listening and taking action. We have listened to concerns raised in debates, discussions and correspondence, and we have sought evidence on the issue through consultation.

In February this year, we published the Government’s response to the “Powers for dealing with unauthorised developments and encampments” consultation, working with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. Since then, ministerial colleagues and officials have been working together closely towards delivering on the commitments made in that response. Among the concerns that have been raised by colleagues in the House and members of the public, there were particular concerns over fairness in the planning system, illegal activity and the wellbeing of travelling communities. Indeed, I can understand the frustration that is felt when it appears that the law does not apply fairly to all. We want to ensure that the system is fair, so we must take into account the concerns being raised—whether those concerns are from the travelling community or members of the settled community. This means ensuring that all members of the community have the same opportunities and are free from the negative effects of those who choose to break the law.

The responses we received to our consultation on unauthorised development highlighted several aspects that we need to improve on in order to address this issue. Our response put forward a package of measures, including consultation on stronger powers for the police to respond to unauthorised encampments, practical and financial support for local authorities to deal with unauthorised encampments, support for Traveller site provision and support for the travelling community to improve their life chances. My colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks), recently provided a summary to the House on some of the work that the Government will be undertaking as a result. For the benefit of everybody here today, I will briefly reiterate some of these points, with consideration to what has been brought up by my right hon. and learned Friend.​

First, let me address the concerns raised by my right hon. and learned Friend about intentional unauthorised development, and, in particular, how this type of development is taken into account when planning permission is sought retrospectively. The Government do want to ensure that fairness and confidence exists in the planning system, and I believe that this can be partly achieved through the strengthening of policy in this area. In 2015, the Government introduced a policy that made intentional unauthorised development a material consideration in the determination of planning applications and appeals. As set out in our response, we are concerned that harm is caused by the development of land that has been undertaken in advance of obtaining planning permission. We will therefore consult on options for strengthening our policy on intentional unauthorised development so that local authorities have the tools to address the effects of such developments. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will contribute to that consultation.

We know, however, that this is not only about having the necessary policies and regulations in place, but about local authorities having the powers and resources to enforce them. There is already an extensive range of powers in place, as set out in the 2015 guidance, to allow local authorities to clamp down quickly on unauthorised encampments. The Government expect authorities, working with the police as necessary, to use these powers to take swift and effective enforcement action. The responses to our consultation on unauthorised developments and encampments demonstrated that local authorities generally believe that the powers available to them under sections 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 are adequate. Local authorities have extensive planning enforcement powers under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The Government believe that, if used effectively, these are sufficient to tackle unauthorised development and reduce the risk of it occurring.

We note, however, that some local authorities may deal with unauthorised encampments less frequently than others, and the Government have heard that it can be difficult to develop expertise and good practice in all areas. We recognise that resourcing, training and skills are a concern in relation to planning enforcement. That is why we have committed to practical and financial support for local authorities, including new good practice guidance and funding for planning enforcement to support local authorities to deal with unauthorised encampments more effectively.

Sir Paul Beresford

There has recently been a meeting of every single local authority in Surrey. The Chancellor set it up and a number of other MPs went there. They would disagree totally with the Minister that we think that the legislation is adequate. It is inadequate.

Kit Malthouse

I hear my hon. Friend’s view of the legislation, but, as I say, it is not the generally accepted view that came through in the consultation. I am more than happy to take a submission from the local authorities in Surrey if they believe that there are lacunae in their powers that mean they are unable to enforce successfully. However, there are local authorities across the country that do successfully enforce in this area. I would be more than happy to put his local authorities in touch with those local authorities who are successful in this ​regard, particularly the one that is always held out as an example—Sandwell in the west midlands, which has a particularly assertive and successful policy in this area, and might, I am sure, be able to offer some tips and tricks on what is available in the armoury of legislation for local authorities to use.

We want to ensure that local authorities use their powers to full effect and, as I say, draw on good practice across the country, at county or district level, in the ways that they can work more effectively with police and neighbouring authorities.

Sir Oliver Heald

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for the discussions we have had. However, what about the point that a person who is in breach of an enforcement notice is still able to apply for retrospective planning permission?

Surely, he should remedy the breach before he is allowed to do that. What about the point on the local plan where a council goes to the trouble of surveying the need and getting the thing looked at by the planning inspector, it is signed off by his boss and the Secretary of State, and then, two or three weeks or a month later, it is being argued that it does not adequately reflect the need?

Kit Malthouse

On my right hon. and learned Friend’s first point, those are very pertinent issues that should be submitted as part of the consultation on how we can strengthen measures against intentional unauthorised development. I am very focused on this issue. In particular, during the Department’s work, I was keen that we should enforce against that, because I agree that people need to have confidence in the planning system and know that there is a level playing field.

If someone intentionally breaches the rules, there should be a higher bar for them to pass. However, we should bear in mind that a planning system with too much rigidity can often cause problems for those who stumble across the line or did not necessarily understand the rules in the first place, which can happen with ordinary domestic planning applications. I would be more than happy for him to submit that as part of the consultation. His second point has slipped my mind.

Sir Oliver Heald

It was about the local plan having considered need, been approved and then, within weeks, been impugned.

Kit Malthouse

I will come on to this in a moment, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend will know, along with all elements of a local plan, five-year supply is often the subject of legal challenge and challenge through the planning appeals process. I have consistently said to local authorities on all types of housing that if they want to be bulletproof on planning, they should aspire to a supply beyond five years. Too many authorities spend a lot of time in court arguing about whether they are at 5.1 or 4.8, but if they plan their area with authority and perspective—even as far out as 10 or 15 years—there is no argument to be had, particularly if it has been evidenced through the local plan process and supported by a planning inspector.

We want to ensure that local authorities use their powers to full effect and draw on good practice across the country and at county and district level. That can include ways in which public bodies can more effectively ​work with the police, neighbouring authorities and the travelling and wider communities—for example on welfare issues and clarifying roles and responsibilities, to move unauthorised encampments on efficiently and successfully.

We will in due course create a power to place this guidance on a statutory footing, to ensure that all local authorities are following this advice and using their powers effectively. Our package of support for local authorities includes a commitment to make up to £1.5 million of funding available to local authorities to support planning enforcement. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will publish details of the fund and how to bid shortly. Alongside that, the Government will continue to keep local authorities’ powers in this area under review, following the proposals to reform police powers and where there are deliberate and repeated breaches of planning.

While we acknowledge that Government still have work to do on the issues associated with unauthorised encampments, I would like to reiterate the importance of appropriate levels of site provision provided by local authorities. The planning policy for Traveller sites requires local planning authorities to produce their own assessment of needs for Traveller sites in their area, to meet the needs and expected needs of the travelling community in the same way they would for the settled community, as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out. However, when assessing the suitability of sites in rural or semi-rural settings, local planning authorities should ensure that the scale of such sites does not dominate the nearest settled community. The Government have committed to produce guidance on the concentration of sites and have made clear that the Secretary of State will be prepared to review cases where concerns are raised that there is too high a concentration of authorised Traveller sites in one location.

I would like to relay to the House our ongoing work on enforcement against unauthorised encampments, as I am aware that this has been an area of particular concern to many Members across the House, including those who have attended previous debates. As I mentioned, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks), has outlined this in previous debates, so I will try to keep my summary brief.

From listening to our consultation responses on the matter, we have identified a set of measures to extend powers available to the police, to enable unauthorised encampments to be tackled more effectively. Those include our commitment to seek parliamentary approval to amend sections 61 and 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The Home Office will soon launch a public consultation on the specific nature of these measures, to take the proposals forward.

Oliver Heald – 2019 Speech on Intentional Unauthorised Developments

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir Oliver Heald, the Conservative MP for North East Hertfordshire, in the House of Commons on 9 July 2019.

In my constituency of North East Hertfordshire, there have recently been intentional unauthorised developments of caravan sites on land bought by Travellers. This is becoming more common nationally and has been increasing locally.

It is important that the rule of law is upheld. To local residents who abide by the law, it just seems wrong that planning law can be flouted and treated with disdain. If planning permission is needed, it should be applied for in advance. My constituents are concerned that there should be a level playing field for the planning system. Unauthorised sites are frequently a source of tension between the travelling and settled communities. Although councils have some powers to deal with unauthorised sites, deliberate unauthorised development remains a significant issue.

In July 2018, there were 3,093 caravans on unauthorised sites nationally, of which 2,149 were on land bought by Travellers. The number of caravans on unauthorised sites increased by 17% between July 2017 and July 2018. So, what is going on? In a typical case, it seems that a Traveller will buy land where there would be little or no prospect of someone obtaining planning permission for a home. In my constituency, examples have included land in the green belt and land in a conservation area—I believe that all the sites were ones where planning permission to build a house or to develop a business had previously been refused.

On some occasions, on the Friday evening of a bank holiday a fleet of lorries, caravans and building equipment has arrived on a site, and people have started to lay internal roads and hard standing on the site without planning permission. In some instances, children are brought on to sites. This could be coincidental, or it could be designed to be used in later legal proceedings to demonstrate a family life for Human Rights Act purposes. Where notices are served by the council for enforcement or an injunction, they are ignored. As council enforcement proceeds, with a good deal of development already on site, applications are made for retrospective planning permission.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I have a deep interest in planning matters and am perturbed to hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. Does he agree that the purpose of the planning system is to ensure that there is protection for the environment and neighbourhoods, and that planners need to work with developers or potential developers to find a way forward? If no such way is found, swift and firm action must be taken by local councils and, ultimately, by the judiciary.

Sir Oliver Heald

I accept that point. It seems to me that we are trying to have an orderly planning system on which people can rely as a level playing field, equal for all. If the planning system is not enforced, we end up with a system that can be railroaded, which is in effect what is happening.​

As I was saying, as council enforcement proceeds, with a good deal of development already on site, retrospective planning permission is applied for. The process is delayed, with the inevitable inertia of court or planning inquiry proceedings, and the scope for applications for adjournments, so months can pass into years. Perhaps a personal permission is eventually obtained on appeal. Then, I am told, more unauthorised development might take place for a family member here or a living room there. Over a period of years, the initial failure to apply for planning permission has been rewarded with a full caravan site. That might help to explain why the number of caravans on unauthorised sites has increased by 17% in the past year.

If a site is intentionally developed without permission, should it not be put back into the state that it was in before, and then a planning application could be made? Should not the enforcement notices all be followed, and then, from the position of anybody else applying in advance, we should have that proper process.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con)

As the Minister is aware, I have had considerable difficulty in my constituency. Some of the sites have been fought over for 14 to 18 years. I have a very aggressive one at the moment. Perhaps the Minister might consider enabling the local authority to put a stop order on any development at all, emphasised and backed by the courts.

Sir Oliver Heald

That is a very constructive proposal and I would be interested to hear how the Minister responds to it. At the moment, if a site is intentionally developed without permission, there does not seem to be much of a disincentive to ignore planning law in the first place. The Government’s planning policies and requirements for Gypsy and Traveller sites are set out in “Planning policy for traveller sites”, which must be taken into consideration in preparing local plans and taking planning decisions. In theory, that encourages local authorities to formulate their own evidence base for Gypsy and Traveller needs and to provide their own targets relating to pitches required, which is a good thing. Where planning authorities are unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable sites, that in turn might make it more difficult for them to justify refusing planning applications for temporary pitches. However, where a council does what is suggested, that does not provide the certainty for the council or the local residents that is intended.

In preparing its local plan, East Hertfordshire District Council undertook a thorough process to establish Traveller needs. That was scrutinised by the planning inspector as part of the public examination of the draft plan and, after due consideration, the plan was approved by the Secretary of State and adopted in November 2018. Yet within weeks, it was being argued successfully on a retrospective planning appeal before another planning inspector that this did not adequately reflect Traveller need in the district because it did not include the appellant, who was not actually living in the district at the time of the council survey a few months earlier. Surely the local plan should have more force than that. There should be a period from adoption of the plan within which it is not possible to reopen issues such as that of need.

The plan should be determinative—at least for a reasonable period.​
In a welcome January 2014 written ministerial statement, the Government sought to re-emphasise existing policy that

“unmet need, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2014; Vol. 573, c. 35WS.]

I asked the Minister whether that still applied.

In September 2014, the coalition Government published, “Consultation: planning and travellers”. This made intentional occupation of land without planning permission a material consideration in any retrospective planning application for that site. Will the Minister confirm that that remains the case?

The guidance “Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments: a summary of available powers” was published in March 2015. Since then, there have been a number of debates in which hon Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), have highlighted these issues. On 9 October 2017, the then Housing Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), said that the Government expected local authorities and the police to act and announced a review of the effectiveness of enforcement against unauthorised encampments, and made the point that this was not a reason for local authorities and the police not to use their existing powers.

On 12 October that year, the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), reiterated that the law must apply to everyone and agencies should work together to deal with wrongdoing. In April 2018, the Government launched a consultation and published their response in February this year. In it, the Government set out their intentions for further action on unauthorised developments and encampments, including:

“Practical and financial support for local authorities including new good practice guidance and funding for planning enforcement to support local authorities to deal with unauthorised encampments more effectively…Supporting traveller site provision through planning policy and the Affordable Homes Programme…Support for the travelling community to improve life chances”.

Many Gypsies and Travellers now live in settled accommodation—mostly in bricks and mortar—and do not travel, or do not travel all the time, but they do consider travelling part of their identity. The number of Traveller caravans is on the increase. In July 2018, the figure was 22,662—an increase of 29% since July 2008. There are concerns expressed by Select Committees of the House that this is leading to unsatisfactory conditions in unauthorised sites. It is also worth making the point that Travellers have the worst outcomes across a wide range of social indicators, so work to improve their life chances is welcome.

The Government have said that they will consider writing to local authorities that do not have an up-to-date plan for Travellers, to expedite the requirements of national planning policy and highlight examples of good practice. But this may be ineffective if the general view of councils becomes that, even if they prepare a plan and it is approved as part of the local plan by the inspector and the Secretary of State, such a plan can still be impugned within weeks in a retrospective ​planning appeal. I understand that the Government intend to publish further consultations on options for strengthening policy on intentional unauthorised development, but action is needed now to uphold the rule of law, provide a level playing field, and remove the stress and tension caused to local communities by intentional unauthorised developments.

George Eustice – 2019 Speech on Tin Mining Subsidence

Below is the text of the speech made by George Eustice, the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, in the House of Commons on 9 July 2019.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Coal Authority to undertake remedial works on properties with subsidence damage as a result of tin mining; to make provision for the Coal Authority to make compensation payments in lieu of such works; and for connected purposes.

The Cornish tin mining industry left many great legacies. In its heyday, it generated extraordinary wealth for our nation. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, there was even a stannary parliament in Cornwall that had the power to veto certain tax proposals coming from central Government. The industry was also a catalyst for great invention and innovation. Richard Trevithick from Camborne invented the first steam locomotive, and William Murdoch from Redruth invented gas lighting—both inventions that shaped our modern world.

There were companies, too, such as Holman’s, which developed extraordinary drilling technology that was exported to mining operations around the world. When the industry declined in the late 19th century, Cornish miners took their expertise around the globe to build mines as far afield as Australia, South Africa, California, Mexico and South America. Today, we still have the world-famous Camborne School of Mines, located with Exeter University at Falmouth, and a new generation of companies is taking that heritage of drilling expertise to the oil and gas industry, and to renewables. There is even some discussion about reopening the last tin mine at South Crofty, as tin prices have recovered.

For those living in Cornwall, however, there is a less welcome legacy from tin mining—the problem of subsidence damage caused by historical mine workings. The subterranean area in Camborne, Pool and Redruth in particular, but also in many parts of Cornwall, is said to resemble a Swiss cheese. It is a complex network of tunnels and mines under the towns in my constituency.

Those mine workings pose several difficult problems for residents. First, there can be significant costs when damage occurs. One of my constituents had to raise a second mortgage on their property to secure £20,000 to put right a mining feature that had opened up in their front garden. Secondly, there is sometimes ambiguity over the liability of insurers. In general cases, insurers help when there is damage directly to a property, although they seldom assist when there are problems arising within the curtilage of a property but not to the structure of the building. They do not generally remedy features to prevent future damage.

The final problem this issue poses for my constituents and others in Cornwall is that there are many cases where people undertake a mining search with a particular company when they buy a property and the company tells them there are no issues, so they purchase a property and secure a mortgage, but often when they want to move and sell their home, they find that a different buyer will use a different mining search company that ​has different data available to it, and that reveals an issue that can make it difficult for a purchaser to get a mortgage.

The problems arising from mining subsidence damage are obviously not unique to Cornwall—coalmining took place in huge areas of this country—but what is unique to Cornwall is that there is no Government-backed scheme to assist residents with the problems they face.

There has been a long-standing Government scheme for coal. In 1957, when the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act was introduced, there was an opportunity to include tin mining workings, but it was not taken. In 1975, there was a new Coal Industry Act, which formalised the role of British Coal in giving compensation, particularly to the nationalised industry. Again, the opportunity to include tin was missed. In 1991, new legislation was introduced to consolidate the compensation schemes in this area, through the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991. Again, tin was excluded. In 1994, the Coal Industry Act assigned responsibility for these compensation schemes to the Coal Authority and, again, this excluded tin. My Bill would correct that long-standing oversight and end the prejudice against communities that suffer from subsidence damage as a result of tin mining.

It is sometimes said that coal is different, and it is sometimes said that coal is different because it was a nationalised industry. However, this claim does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny, because the 1991 Act applies to all damage caused by coalmining, whether that was pre-nationalisation, during the war or post-nationalisation, and whether it was private or public. Even after the nationalisation of our coal industry, there continued to be some private mines. Indeed, the original 1957Act on coalmining subsidence mainly addressed the issue of private mines, where the liability for damage could not be established.

Sometimes it is said that the geology of Cornwall means there are fewer problems. Cornwall is okay, people say, because it is built on granite and there are fewer subsidence issues. All I can say is that if a homeowner does have a subsidence event on their property, that is every bit as difficult for them as it is for any resident in a coalmining area. The fact that there could be proportionately fewer cases in tin mining areas, frankly, ought to make the Government more ready to act in this space. There is no need for the Treasury to fret about the cost of it all, because including tin mining would be a modest extension of the scheme.

The Coal Authority deals with between 500 and 600 claims in coalmining areas each and every year, and it has a budget of about £27 million, much of which is ​spent on remedying subsidence issues. In 2014, there was a triennial review of the functions of the Coal Authority, and in 2017 a separate, tailored review was run by the Cabinet Office. Both those reviews concluded that the current approach and the current system in the Coal Authority were fit for purpose. They considered other alternatives to compensate communities, but those were all ruled out. My contention is that what is good for coal is good for tin.

I am aware, from my discussions on this, that the Treasury—I think some officials in the Treasury—also took the view that there was an unfairness here, with coal being treated differently from other types of mining. Initially, I was encouraged by that, but the Treasury being the Treasury, it of course had a rather different solution to this, which was to pull the rug out from under the coal scheme, rather than to add tin to it. Thankfully, both the reviews and Ministers have ruled out such action.

My Bill would broaden the remit of the Coal Authority, placing an equivalent legal requirement on it to assist in subsidence cases in tin mining areas. The geographical footprint for tin mining—located, as it is, mainly in west Cornwall, although in other parts of Cornwall too and in some parts of west Devon—means there will be far fewer cases for tin mining than there are for coalmining. As I said earlier, the geology of Cornwall—built, as it is, on solid granite—means the Government could expect proportionately fewer claims coming from these tin mining areas than they currently receive from coalmining areas.

The addition of tin to the compensation scheme that has existed since 1957 would be a drop in the ocean for a Department such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, it would mean a great deal to those families and communities that are affected by the blight of subsidence caused by mine workings. Given Cornwall’s great contribution to the wealth of our nation and to the industrial revolution, I believe that the least we could do in this House is correct this historical oversight, prejudice and injustice against Cornwall and against communities suffering from tin mining subsidence.