Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister agree with Secretary of State Kerry that Israel is not doing enough to minimise

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civilian casualties? Will he also be clear with the House about whether he believes that Israel’s current strategy is proportionate?

The Prime Minister: I certainly agree with what John Kerry has been saying to the Israelis about the importance of reducing civilian casualties, exercising restraint and bringing an end to the conflict.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Realistically, we have ruled out military action over the Ukraine crisis, but one possible military option in response to Putin’s continuing fermentation of conflict in eastern Ukraine would be for NATO to position ground forces in the Baltic republics or Poland. Is that a response that Her Majesty’s Government might consider and support in the North Atlantic Council of NATO?

The Prime Minister: What we have done, and what we will continue to do, is ensure that NATO acts together, for instance with the Baltic air policing task that British forces are carrying out. When the Russians see NATO troops in Latvia, Hungary or Poland—President Obama has said this, and I think that it is a sensible thing to say—it is important that they see the troops of the different NATO nationalities. I think that is absolutely right.

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Benjamin Netanyahu said on TV over the weekend that the US, the UK and others supported Israeli action in Gaza. Given that the Prime Minister said in his statement today that the indiscriminate targeting of men, women and children is a war crime, why does he not condemn Israeli actions, rather than just making excuses for them, as he has done today?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is important that the first thing we do is condemn the indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas from Gaza into Israel, without provocation, that have brought this situation about.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the appalling incident in Ukraine is the consequence of a war that has been raging for many months and that had already led to the loss of hundreds of lives? As well as now imposing the toughest possible sanctions on President Putin and Russia, if it is shown that they continue to support the separatists, will he consider what additional support he can give to President Poroshenko to restore the authority of the Ukrainian Administration throughout the whole of the country?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend. The most important thing we can do with regard to Ukraine is to help its economy recover and to make sure it has the assistance to restructure and be a successful, prosperous democracy. That is the best thing we can do. The association agreement signed between the EU and Ukraine is very important in that regard.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister has talked today about the importance of political will. He also said that he spoke to several

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EU leaders over the weekend. In those conversations, did he talk to them about the situation in Gaza and what further pressure can be brought to bear to bring about a ceasefire to end this ceaseless violence?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I have had conversations with others about the situation with Israel and Gaza. Indeed, we discussed it at the European Council last Wednesday. The European Council conclusions, which are in the Library of the House of Commons, are very clear about what needs to happen.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Some journalists have recently criticised both the concept of soft power and its application by Britain. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the right type of sanctions would not be soft and their consequences would be strongly felt in Russia? Does he think that if there was not the necessary collective resolve in the EU, a coalition of the willing might be able to achieve something important?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Sanctions are not soft if they are well targeted—they can hit an economy quite hard. The danger of trying to find a coalition of the willing rather than working including through the institutions of the European Union is that some of these areas are governed by European Union procedures and we need to get the agreement of everyone in order to make these sanctions count.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister stand by his words of 2010 that the blockaded Gaza

“must not be allowed to remain a prison camp”?

Does he believe that the killing of 500 people and the displacing of 83,000 people is a proportionate response to the attacks he has mentioned? May I appeal to him to show courage and international leadership and to act as an honest broker to help bring an end to this conflict and humanitarian catastrophe?

The Prime Minister: The point the hon. Lady makes by reading out the remarks that I made is that I have a consistent record, yes, of defending Israel’s right to defend itself, but also of speaking out when I think that wrong things are being done. I am doing everything I can to help bring this conflict to an end. The most important thing, as I said, is for Hamas to accept the ceasefires that Israel has been prepared to accept.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On Gaza, what evidence has the Prime Minister seen that Hamas has been using women and children as human shields in order to turn public opinion and to win the air war—the broadcast air war?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises an important accusation that has been made by many. I do not have the expertise or information to be able to confirm exactly what Hamas’s tactics are, but certainly the accusation is made by many that it is indifferent to the loss of Palestinian life. I think that is demonstrated by its continuing to fire rockets even when ceasefires have

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been suggested or, indeed, implemented by the Israelis. That is the cruellest point of all. When the Israelis have adopted a ceasefire, why does not Hamas follow suit?

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I agree with the Prime Minister about the need to stop the rockets from Gaza. However, does he not understand and, indeed, share the widespread revulsion at the apparent disregard for human life in the current military action in Gaza? Surely the Secretary-General of the United Nations is right that this action must now stop.

The Prime Minister: We all want the action to stop, and the best way for it to stop is for the rocket attacks to stop. For anyone watching this as a parent, you cannot help but feel huge, heartbreaking concern for the loss of life. But, as I just said, when there are ceasefires called by the Israelis, we have to ask ourselves, if Hamas cares about preventing civilian casualties, why does it not accept the ceasefire and act on it.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Prime Minister is right to condemn Russia, but he was less than even-handed when it came to Israel. As he has ducked the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) and the hon. Members for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and for Preston (Mark Hendrick), will he now confirm that the disproportionate action of Israel’s political and military leaders constitutes war crimes and that, as with the downed aircraft, criminal sanctions should not be ruled out?

The Prime Minister: As I have said, I support Israel’s right to defend itself and that right has to be exercised in a proportionate way. That is what international law says.

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that he is in danger of following the pattern of his predecessor but one, who supported Israel for far too long? Speaking as a friend of Israel, may I say that the most candid thing we can say now is that the massive land invasion is disproportionate and causing loss of civilian life, and that it will in no way enhance the long-term security of Israel?

The Prime Minister: I think I have been very clear about what needs to happen, as, indeed, I was in 2006.

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): Although I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, I am left rather baffled. Three years ago, time was made available to discuss phone hacking and Mr Murdoch, and last summer Parliament was recalled to discuss an international crime. As far as I am concerned, an international crime has taken place on the continent of Europe, yet I am not in a position to be able to express my views on something to which I think we have responded rather timidly.

The Prime Minister: Obviously, Parliament is due to be suspended tomorrow, but if it is necessary for Parliament to be recalled to discuss this or any other issue, that facility is, of course, open to the leaders of the parties. Indeed, it has on occasion been exercised by Mr Speaker. I think it is good that we are having this statement

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today. I am trying to answer as many questions as fully as I can. Obviously, throughout the recess, the Government will be on the case of these issues and parliamentary colleagues will be able to contact us.

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): Everyone in this House condemns the rocket attacks, but the Israeli defence force is firing the most dangerous of weapons in the most dense of communities, and it is very clear that Secretary Kerry and Ban Ki-moon think that not enough is being done to minimise civilian casualties. Does the Prime Minister accept that analysis? What we really want to know in this House is what he will do today, tomorrow and through the week in the Security Council to stop the slaughter of the innocents in Gaza and beyond.

The Prime Minister: I could not have been clearer that I think there needs to be restraint and the avoidance of civilian casualties, and the Israelis need to find a way to bring this to an end. I have made all those points repeatedly.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): May I welcome the Prime Minister’s strong words of leadership in yesterday’s article in The Sunday Times? Does he agree that strong and robust leadership, particularly from President Obama and the US, is needed now, more than ever, to demonstrate that Russia’s actions in Ukraine and around the world are completely unacceptable and will not, under any circumstances, be tolerated?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To be fair, President Obama has been very clear that what has happened in Ukraine is unacceptable. He has been working hard to try to keep the United States and the European Union working together, because, obviously, if we can list the same people, take sanctions against the same banks, take sanctions against the same airlines and look at a third tier of sanctions in the same way at similar times, we will maximise the impact of what we do.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Parts of St James’s park have been turned into a shrine of flowers and footballing memorabilia as a mark of respect for my constituent Liam Sweeney and John Alder, who died following the team they loved. Does the Prime Minister agree that the contrast between that and the total lack of respect shown for the victims’ bodies and remains at the crash site itself is totally unacceptable? When does he think the bodies will be brought home, and what is he doing to support the victims’ families in the meantime?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady is absolutely right: this is a question of basic decent humanity. Anyone who saw on their television screens the thuggish separatists wandering around and fiddling with people’s personal belongings will agree that that was a deeply unpleasant thing to have to see. I cannot give the hon. Lady an answer about when the bodies will come home. Many of them are on the refrigerated train, and negotiations and discussions are under way right now about trying to get that to leave to go to a Ukrainian city. I will try to keep the House and the country updated.

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Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): On behalf of my Ukrainian community, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on bringing an end to the violence in Ukraine. With regard to the crisis in Gaza and Israel, I join my constituents in deploring the loss of innocent lives. As my right hon. Friend said, we have all seen the horrific scenes of women and children being caught up in the cycle of violence. Will he continue to show leadership, with the United Nations, the US and others, in order to stop this senseless violence and to kick-start a meaningful peace process once again?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is quite right. What is needed at the end of this is to get the peace process going again. This has been a massive setback for it, not least because it was preceded by talks of Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas launching these rocket attacks has not helped either that cause or the cause of a two-state solution.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I should like to associate myself and my colleagues with the Prime Minister’s condolences to those affected by the terrible tragedy of flight MH17, and with what he said about the need for early access to the site. On Gaza, when he is speaking to our European partners, will he press for a joint approach to allow the medical evacuation of seriously injured Palestinians, given the terrible situation there?

The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his expressions of condolence. On getting people out of Gaza, we have helped a number of British citizens to get out, but I will look carefully at what he suggests about medical evacuations.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that there are about a dozen flights a day from Britain to Russia or Ukraine, with thousands of people travelling every week on business, to study or as tourists. Given the volatile situation following this terrible crime, what advice are the Government giving to those who are thinking of travelling to either country at this time? Do they need to reconsider their plans?

The Prime Minister: The air routes are effectively set out and controlled by Eurocontrol. In terms of countries and destinations, people should look at the travel advice on the Foreign Office website, which is regularly updated. That will give advice specifically about eastern Ukraine.

Mr Speaker: I call Jim Dowd.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must have been renamed; or perhaps I was not clear enough. I called Jim Dowd.

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is not the first time I have been confused with my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown).

I am not surprised that the Prime Minister has been called to be here for much longer than normal. He has tried to conflate two very important statements into one, but I am sure he knew that. Nobody with any sense would object to the UN Security Council’s call for an

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immediate ceasefire on the west bank, but I can tell from looking at a lot of the faces across the House today that there is a sense of déjà-vu here. This happens every few years because the underlying elements of the Israeli-Palestinian problem—the illegal settlements and the occupied territories—have not been addressed. Until they are addressed, we and our successors in the next Parliament will be coming back to discuss this in 2016, 2017 and 2018. That is a tragedy. On the shooting down of flight MH17—

Mr Speaker: Briefly, please.

Jim Dowd: Yes, Mr Speaker.

The Prime Minister said that flight MH17 was shot down by an SA-11 missile fired by separatists. What evidence does he have? Those systems can be used only by those of the most highly trained calibre, who would either have come from the Russian Government or been supported by the Russian Government. Does he have any information about that?

The Prime Minister: The reason that there are two statements put together is that one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues quite properly tabled an urgent question about Gaza, and I thought that it was important to show the House respect by answering both the questions. I said in my statement that it looked increasingly likely that an SA-11 had been fired by a separatist, because of where the missile came from and because of the information and intelligence that have been shared. In terms of who trained the person, who was responsible and who knew—that is information that I am sure the Russians could make available, and I would argue that it is their responsibility to do so.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that, with regard to the situation in Gaza, the greatest strength is sometimes demonstrated by showing restraint? All that Israel’s actions are doing is creating the next generation of highly motivated Hamas terrorists. Is he minded to talk to his fellow European leaders about a form of sanction to encourage that restraint?

The Prime Minister: Everyone wants to encourage that restraint, and I agree with my hon. Friend and with the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) about the sense of déjà-vu and the cycle of violence that is created. However, we have to come back to how we can stop this current cycle. When we see that Israel has accepted a ceasefire, we need Hamas to accept it as well. Then we can stop the cycle before we go on to the more fundamental question of how we can bring about a two-state solution.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Prime Minister rightly spoke of his anger at the deaths in Ukraine and the dangers of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries. Will he apply those maxims to Gaza? Will he stop blaming the Palestinians for the murder of their own children? Will he show consistent resolve and equal action to uphold international law in dealing with Tel Aviv as with Moscow?

The Prime Minister: As I have said on many occasions today, when it comes to condemning illegal settlements and to the importance of a two-state solution and when

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it comes to calling out on such issues on past occasions, I have always done so. I would do so again, and I have been very clear today.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): With regard to flight MH17 being shot down, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to work with the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to seek a UN resolution this evening. In the event that Russia vetoes the resolution to allow unfettered access to the crash and crime site, what further international actions will the UK seek to take not just with Europe, but with the wider international community?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which is that the resolution will go to a vote at, I think, 8 pm UK time. We have drafted it in such a way as to try to prevent the Russians from having any sort of excuse about obfuscation or lack of clarity. We are not being particularly precious about who exactly leads the investigation. We are happy for it to be done by international experts with the backing of ICAO—the International Civil Aviation Organisation—which is an international body, so there is no excuse for a Russian veto. The whole world will be watching very closely, and if there is one, obviously there will be very bad consequences.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Israel has a right to security, with an end to rocket attacks by Hamas, but does the Prime Minister agree that while Israel uses overwhelming and disproportionate force with heartbreaking consequences in Gaza and continues to build settlements in the west bank, there will not be peace and security until such time as it recognises the right of the Palestinians to live in security as well and agrees to a two-state solution?

The Prime Minister: We want to see a two-state solution and there are many in Israel who accept a two-state solution, but at the moment the people who are preventing a two-state solution from even being on the table are Hamas, through its actions.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Somebody asked how long the statement would run, but I would just point out, if I may, that there is intense interest in it and that the frequency of the Prime Minister’s tennis playing on the one hand and his jogging regime on the other means that he is quite fit enough, I am sure.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): On the murder of the passengers of MH17, may I commend my right hon. Friend on his swift action and the clarity with which he has stated his Government’s position to the British people? Has he seen the Bloomberg report today that the Russian business community—the billionaires around the Russian Government—is beginning to worry that the Russian Government’s actions will push the Russian economy into recession, and will he take that report with him when he negotiates with the Italians, the French and the Germans to push them for team action? I think this could really change the hearts of the Russian Government?

The Prime Minister: I have not seen that report, but I will study it. My hon. Friend makes a good point, which is that those who argue that sanctions do not and

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cannot work fail to understand that if sanctions have an impact on Russia’s economy and the finances of the people around the Russian Government, they can have an impact.

Mr Speaker: I am sorry about the identity crisis. I call Lyn Brown.

Lyn Brown: A reported 12,000-plus rockets have been fired into Gaza over the past 13 days, with more than 500 deaths and more than 80,000 Gazans displaced. May I simply ask the Prime Minister what pressure he is prepared to apply, if he will not pursue economic sanctions against Israel, to ensure that Israel complies with international humanitarian law and exercises the restraint that he says he wants to see?

The Prime Minister: The pressure we bring to bear, as a friend of Israel, is to be very clear in our interactions with it about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. The hon. Lady has got to consider—the figure she cites is actually now out of date; 1,850 rockets have been fired into Israel—that if we want a ceasefire, we have to ask ourselves this question: why has Hamas not accepted a ceasefire, when Israel repeatedly has?

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on leading the world’s response to these terrible murders? During the Easter recess, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) and I visited Ukraine as part of a cross-party delegation. We spent part of the visit in the town of Odessa. It was made very clear to us that the Russian media, which are controlled by Putin, are putting across an image of the people in eastern Ukraine being under attack from the people in Kiev. I urge the Prime Minister to say to the French Government that it only adds to Putin’s strength if he can say to the people that people in Europe are willing to deal with him, especially over the supply of new warships.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that people in Russia hear about what is happening in their name. One Russian newspaper has reported—I think this is a quote—that it seems likely that it was a separatist missile that was fired at the plane. It is very important that we get that information through. What he says about working together in Europe is absolutely right.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): The Prime Minister rightly says that big countries should not bully smaller countries, and he rightly expresses concern about the 500 Palestinian dead and 3,000 injured. However, he stops short of accepting what I believe is the opinion of the majority of people in this place and in the country, which is that the Israeli response is not proportionate. What more can he do to express to Israel that that is the view in the UK?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the Israelis will be watching the debates in this House and international opinion carefully. One point that I made to Prime Minister Netanyahu was that international opinion supports Israel’s right to defend itself, but that it is in danger of losing the support of international opinion if anything happens that shows a lack of restraint and a lack of

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care about civilian casualties. At the same time, the message should go out from this House that there have been ceasefires called by the Israelis and not matched by Hamas. We must not wish that away or ignore it, because it is a crucial point.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I am sure that at the forthcoming meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers, the return of the bodies to their families will be the top priority, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the potential deployment of UN peacekeepers to Ukraine should also be discussed and should not be ruled out altogether?

The Prime Minister: I will listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has said. The difficulty is that we are making the argument that the territorial integrity of Ukraine should be respected. That is why the people who should be securing the crash site and making it available for investigation should be the Ukrainian Government—it is their country. To bring in UN forces in some way would be to accept that there is a legitimate case to be made for the separatists who are trying to break up the country through violence.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Prime Minister is right to condemn utterly the downing of MH17 and the way in which the bodies have been dealt with. Does he understand why those who recall that the west supplied and encouraged the protesters of Maidan and held out to them the probably false prospect of the EU welcoming them into its bosom, and who saw the support that the west provided for the overthrow of Ukraine’s former President as a clear provocation of Russia, find it ironic that the Prime Minister now accuses Russia of being the party that initiated and fomented the tragic division in Ukraine?

The Prime Minister: I respect the hon. Gentleman, but I really do not agree with that. The former President of Ukraine wanted to sign an association agreement with the EU. I believe that if a sovereign country in Europe wants to sign an association agreement with the EU, it should be free to do so and Russia should respect it. I have always said that Ukraine does not have to choose between a European future and a Russian future; it should seek to be a bridge between the two. Europe is prepared to let that happen, but apparently Vladimir Putin is not.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his comments about Hamas. Israel has faced not just 1,850 missiles, but 11,000 missiles fired from Gaza, even after the unilateral withdrawal and millions of tonnes of aid going from Israel into Gaza every year. Will my right hon. Friend also look at the source of the missiles, because Iran is supplying Hamas with the weapons?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which is that we must look at where the missiles came from. There is information to suggest that what he puts forward is the case. If we are to de-escalate the conflict, we need to look at the source of the weapons, as well as at the people who are firing them.

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Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister has been clear today about his views on Hamas’s conduct, but I would like to give him the opportunity to be clear with the House about his views on Israel’s conduct. Given what we have seen over the weekend, does he believe Israel is acting in accordance with international law, the Geneva conventions —including on access for the Red Cross—and humanitarian principles? It is a clear yes or no.

The Prime Minister: I think it is very important that it does those things, which is why I said that it should exercise restraint, avoid civilian casualties and look at ways of bringing the conflict to an end.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Although President Poroshenko has announced a 40-km cordon around the MH17 crash site, reports from Donetsk over the weekend suggest that the fighting, far from diminishing, has increased. Does my right hon. Friend believe that Putin and his puppets have any real sense of the enormity of what has been done, the anger of the international community and the response that we expect to that anger? I have to say, the fighting on the ground suggests that they do not.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I cannot exactly tell him that I feel the enormity of what has happened has got through to the Russians yet, not least because of the way their media operate, but the repeated calls by Prime Minister Abbott, Prime Minister Rutte, Chancellor Merkel, François Hollande, Barack Obama and myself must be giving some impression that the whole world is coming together in saying that what is happening in eastern Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that nothing happens in isolation. One of the reasons for what is happening is that in Gaza, in the past 60 years more than 6 million Palestinians have been forced out of their homes, forced to live in squalor while moving from one country to another, unlawfully imprisoned and treated really badly. All those people have legal documents to prove their ownership of their homes, yet we have done nothing. I am sure that if all those people were given back the homes to which they are legally entitled, the ceasefire would occur immediately.

The Prime Minister: I do not accept that we have done nothing. Britain is one of the largest donors to the Palestinian Authority, and we repeatedly meet and work with the Palestinian leadership. We have been staunch in our view that the settlement activity is illegal, and we have done a huge amount to try to bring about a two-state solution. But in the end, we cannot want it to happen more than the parties themselves want it to happen. They need to negotiate.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): The Prime Minister is right to highlight Hamas’s refusal to end rocket attacks as a fundamental block on ending the conflict. All international efforts to broker a ceasefire have failed. What will it take to bring Hamas back to the table?

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The Prime Minister: I hope that even now it will respond to the Egyptian plan for a ceasefire and discussions. It is on the table, the Israelis have accepted it and the international community accepts it; we just need Hamas to accept it.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Hundreds of my constituents have contacted me because they are angry and sickened by the killing of innocent Palestinians and the injuries to many thousands more in Gaza over recent days. They find it hard to understand the Prime Minister’s view that that violence is proportionate, so will he explain how he has reached that conclusion?

The Prime Minister: What I have said clearly is that the Israelis need to exercise restraint, obey the norms of international law, do more to avoid civilian casualties and help bring the situation to an end, but they would be assisted in that if Hamas agreed to the ceasefire that Israel has agreed to.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): The Prime Minister is right to identify that Russia’s behaviour has been so gross that it cannot expect the access to international markets that a normal, civilised country might. Does he agree that the logical next political step might be to consider the appropriateness of Russia continuing as a member of the Council of Europe, which is supposedly a body of civilised democracies?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We demonstrated with the G8 that if countries want to belong to organisations that have at their heart a belief in democracy and the fundamental values that we share, they have to act accordingly.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for making a statement this afternoon on two such terrible disasters—tragedies that are of deep concern to my constituents. On Friday, 10 mosque leaders in my constituency came to me to ask me to ask the Prime Minister to use his good offices and his influence with Israel to ask it to de-escalate this terrible conflict, and to use his good offices and his influence with the United States to ask it to use its authority to persuade Israel to do likewise.

The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The message that President Obama and I have delivered to Prime Minister Netanyahu is very similar, stressing the importance of restraint, avoiding civilian casualties and ending the conflict.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Many of my constituents view today’s appalling humanitarian tragedy in the context not only of the rocket attacks but in the context of Israel’s full range of actions over many years, and they draw some of the most appalling conclusions—conclusions that I am reluctant to accept. Will my right hon. Friend do more to persuade Israel that in the long term it must find a hopeful way forward for the people of Palestine?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that we should confront views that are not sound when we receive them—as perhaps he has—but we should try and lay out a vision, not least for the

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people of Israel, about why it is in their interest to have a two-state solution. That is what my speech in the Knesset was all about: there is a strong and positive case for everyone concerned if they can make the difficult decisions necessary to bring that about.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): While I welcome the UN Security Council’s call last night for a ceasefire, will the Prime Minister take on board the representations I have received, including e-mails from my constituents this morning, urging him—pleading with him—to urge the Israelis to stop using flechette shells in Gaza, which lead to lethal metal darts and innocent people being killed or maimed? Does he agree that the Egyptians calling for dialogue is not enough?

The Prime Minister: The point I would make about the Egyptians calling for dialogue is that at least there is a process in place for a ceasefire and talks, which the Israelis and the international community are accepting and calling for. We now need Hamas to do that as well. On the issue of weapons, as I said earlier, I have not seen that evidence and I will look into it.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): How likely does the Prime Minister think it is that the EU will agree to impose further meaningful sanctions on Russia?

The Prime Minister: I think it is likely. It may not go as far as I would like, but I think that when we are dealing with an organisation of 28 members, some of whom are heavily reliant on Russia for gas or financial services or whatever, it is always difficult. However, I think what we have seen is outrageous, and in the end this depends on what Russia’s actions are. Russia can relieve the sanctions pressure by making sure there is access to that site and that it stops supporting the Ukrainian rebels. If it does those things, there will not be the sanctions pressure, but if it does not, there will be.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I unequivocally condemn the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas, but the Prime Minister has to accept that the response from Israel is disproportionate. The disregard for the safety of innocent civilians, whether they are in Israel or Gaza or in an aeroplane over Ukraine, is unacceptable, and international law must be applied. On Ukraine, is the Prime Minister satisfied that western banks applied the proper criteria when money was being hollowed out of the finances within Ukraine and smuggled out of that country and into bank accounts in the west? It has led to the situation in Ukraine today. Will he ensure at tomorrow’s meeting of Foreign Ministers that an investigation is instigated into that?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly look at the point the hon. Gentleman makes with regard to Ukrainian banks and the money that has been taken out, and I will mention it to my colleague the Foreign Secretary who will be attending that meeting.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The Prime Minister will know that Russia repeatedly vetoed any early intervention in Syria, which has led to a complete mess in Syria. Will he now review our policy

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on Syria despite Russian objections, taking into account the words of Robert Ford, the former US envoy to Syria, who says that current international policy does not relate to the position on the ground? Finally, there are reports that Hamas is prepared to accept a ceasefire if it is guaranteed by Qatar and Turkey. Is there any progress on that?

The Prime Minister: I have not seen that latest report, but anything that brings about a ceasefire would of course be welcome. On Syria, our policy remains the same.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Hundreds of my constituents have contacted me expressing their horror at what is happening in Gaza, and I share that horror. This is—yet again—a disproportionate response from Israel. Does the Prime Minister agree that the collective punishment of the Palestinians, which has seen many hundreds die, including many dozens of children, is disproportionate and a war crime? People watching this debate today will see that his response has been wholly inadequate.

The Prime Minister: Our response has been very clear to the Israelis: they have to obey the norms of international law, act proportionately, exercise restraint and avoid civilian casualties.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I am sure that everyone in the House wants an end to rocket attacks, but on Friday I met literally hundreds of my constituents—people from mosques, churches, and people of no religion at all—who had taken to the streets of Worcester because of their deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. May I urge the Prime Minister, on their behalf and mine, to use every diplomatic tool in the box to impress on both sides in this conflict the need to bring about a ceasefire, come to the table and work towards a long-term peace?

The Prime Minister: That is absolutely what we are doing. In particular, we are pushing this Egyptian ceasefire plan, to which others are prepared to sign up. We need Hamas to sign up to it, too. When we get to the talks process, we need to press Hamas to accept the Quartet principles, which include Israel’s right to exist. It is difficult to negotiate with an organisation that does not accept that the country with which we are negotiating has any right to exist.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Russia is reliant on the manufacturing base in eastern Ukraine. It relies on 30% of Ukraine’s manufacturing output for unique and irreplaceable military components for the arsenal of the Russian military. Does the Prime Minister accept that it is about time that we put an end to this false belief that Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea were anything to do with the support of Russian-speaking minorities and everything to do with supporting the Russian military base?

The Prime Minister: I hear what the hon. Lady says and I am sure that she is right. It is partly about that, but it is also about Russia’s vision of itself and its

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neighbours and about it feeling that connection with Ukraine. What we should be saying is that of course we will protect the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in eastern Ukraine, but the people of Ukraine have made a choice in terms of a free and democratic election and a free choice to have an association agreement with the European Union, and Russia should respect that.

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that the Russian Government’s recent action demonstrates the limitations of soft diplomacy, and that it may soon be time for a bigger step, including withdrawing Russia’s right to host the 2018 World cup, with its cloak of respectability and economic benefits?

The Prime Minister: A number of points have been made about the dangers that Russia faces if it opts for a path of increasing international isolation.

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): Now that the Israeli ground offensive has moved into densely populated urban areas of Gaza, the death toll of innocent Palestinians, especially of children, will only rise. The Israelis say that civilians should leave these areas. Given the Prime Minister’s own description of Gaza as an open-air prison camp, perhaps he could advise the men, women and children of Gaza as to where on Earth they are supposed to go?

The Prime Minister: What we want for the people of Gaza is for them to have a country of their own—Palestine —that lives in peace next to Israel. That is the goal.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): How should President Putin respond to the concerns about the crash site that have been expressed by the Australian Prime Minister, who said that it is a bit like leaving criminals in charge of the crime scene? How will the strength of public opinion and economic weight in Australia and south-east Asia be used to put further pressure on President Putin?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that this is a tragedy that has affected many Australian families, and it demonstrates the fact that we need the whole world to come together to send the clearest possible message to Russia about its behaviour. Having spoken three times over recent days to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, I know that he will be very strong in delivering that message.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister accept that the balance of opinion in the House today is that, with more than 500 Palestinians killed, the vast majority of whom were civilians and many of whom were children, and 20 Israelis also killed during this conflict, this could never be described as proportionate? What action will he take as a result of that balance of opinion? I urge him to get behind the United Nations in its peacekeeping role rather than continue to make waves about the Egyptian role. The United Nations is where it should be at, and if he empowers the Secretary-General, hopefully we can get a solution.

The Prime Minister: I am fully behind the United Nations and think that it does have a leading role to play. What the Secretary-General said about the need for a ceasefire was very welcome. The point about the

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Egyptian proposal is that it is on the table; the Israelis have accepted it. If Hamas accepted it, we would have a ceasefire. As for the debate today, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is important that Israel bears in mind the fact that there is very strong public opinion here and around the world about the need for restraint and the need to avoid civilian casualties. I am sure that it will listen carefully to what hon. Members say today.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister accept that one major impediment to a lasting ceasefire in Gaza is the widely held belief across the Palestinian occupied territories, the wider middle east and our own constituencies that Israel has not lived up to its previous commitments under previous ceasefires? Furthermore, does he accept that the normal test he would apply on the deliberate targeting of civilians starts to break down in an area as densely populated as Gaza?

The Prime Minister: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that in densely populated areas it is incredibly important that Israeli forces accept the norms of international law. In terms of assurances given, for a negotiation to succeed everyone has to stick to the undertakings they have given. For instance, we need the Israelis to have a Palestinian partner with whom they can negotiate. That means that, over time, Hamas has to accept Israel’s right to exist and give up the use of violence.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): There is a saying that if the truth is stretched thin enough, people start to see through it. In relation to Israel’s response being proportionate, I ask the Prime Minister whether he can seriously tell the House that, had he been in power at the time of republican bombings in the United Kingdom, he would have sanctioned the use of carpet bombing, close range artillery and naval bombardment in parts of Belfast and Kilburn?

The Prime Minister: I do not think the comparison is a fair and honest one. Weapons are being launched from a neighbouring country into Israel. The Israeli Government have a duty to protect their people and stop those missiles being launched. Internal terrorism is an entirely different situation.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I offer my condolences to families and friends who lost loved ones on MH17. I agree that we need to have strong EU leadership with a single voice and to send a clear message to Russia.

On Gaza, I am absolutely stunned by the Prime Minister’s change in tone. Will he unreservedly condemn the indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on the Palestinian people, particularly civilian women and children, and the breaches of international law and the Geneva convention?

The Prime Minister: I believe I have been thoroughly consistent over many years on this issue. It is very important that Israel obeys the norms of international

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law. It is right to condemn it, for instance, over illegal settlement activity, and I do. It is right to push everyone towards a peace process. It is right to accept that Israel has a right to self-defence, but it is right to be very clear that that means restraint, proportionality and avoiding civilian casualties. I could not have been clearer.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): President Obama was absolutely right to say that the vile crime committed on Thursday in Ukraine represents a wake-up call for Europe, but the scale of sanctions from the EU on Russia has lagged far behind those applied by the United States. Will the Government make the case tomorrow to broaden sanctions to include, for example, the Russian company that manufactures the surface-to-air missile system that may well have brought down flight MH17?

The Prime Minister: I will look very carefully at the specific suggestion the hon. Gentleman makes. I think he is being a little unfair in that the US and the EU have worked quite well in partnership to try to deliver strong and consistent sanctions packages, and long may that continue.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): I thought my new suit would catch your eye, Mr Speaker, but it did not. [Hon. Members: “It did.”] Maybe it did.

The slaughter of 298 innocents on flight MH17 was a direct result of the deployment of the most lethal arms at the top of the technology tree, which has been part of an escalation from violent skirmishes in Ukraine towards all-out civil war with a possible pretext of Russia entering Ukraine. Does the Prime Minister agree that the only people Putin will listen to, in translating him from a warmonger to a peacemaker, are the people of Russia themselves? Does he further agree that sanctions need to be far reaching and hard hitting? With that in mind, will he argue tomorrow for new sanctions by the end of this month?

The Prime Minister: I agree with almost every word the hon. Gentleman said; he put the point extremely well and made clear what needs to happen. On the timing of sanctions, some of these things can be done quite quickly. If we can nominate and agree new people—for instance, I have been arguing that we should start to sanction cronies and oligarchs connected to the regime, even if they do not have a particular connection to Ukraine and Crimea—those names can be written down and those targets dealt with relatively quickly.

That was a good note on which to end. In spite of the suit, it was a very good point.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Prime Minister warmly for both his presence and his fortitude. I feel sure that the suit of the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and the red trousers of the hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) were highlights of this afternoon.

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Points of Order

5.25 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In his response to my question on Gaza, the Prime Minister accused me of seeking to justify Hamas rocket attacks. Seeking to understand a conflict is very different from justifying it, yet so often in the Israel-Palestine debate it suits some to conflate the two, which is both lazy and unhelpful. Given that in my question I clearly said I deplored the rocket attacks, as I deplored the Israeli incursions, would it be appropriate to ask the Prime Minister to retract his earlier statement?

Mr Speaker: I do not think I have to ask the Prime Minister to do anything of the sort, to be honest, although he is perfectly welcome to come to the Dispatch Box, if he wishes. However, I say in all courtesy to the hon. Lady—I hope she takes this in the right spirit—that I was very happy for her to raise her point of order and put her concerns on the record, and I am sure she will not be affronted when I say that she is a robust character and capable of looking after herself and that I do not think he has anything to apologise for or to add, unless he wishes to do so. We will leave it there for today.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister appears still to be in the Chamber; he must have heard the question, and he knows the answer he gave, which was clearly a travesty of what my friend said. Should he not now apologise?

Mr Speaker: These things are all a matter of context and interpretation. I have the highest respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I do not want to umpire on what

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really are considerations of preference, taste and judgment. I have the utmost confidence—this is an important parliamentary point—in the


writers faithfully to record what was said by every right hon. and hon. Member. The hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman have made their points, and I think it is fair that we leave it there for today.

Bills Presented

Energy (Buildings and Reduction of Fuel Use) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Dr Alan Whitehead presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to draw up and publish an Energy in Buildings Strategy; to require the Secretary of State to take reasonable steps to implement that Strategy; to require the Secretary of State to set cost-effective targets to reduce fuel use; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 September, and to be printed (81).

Houses in Multiple Occupation (Energy Performance Certificates and Minimum Energy Standards) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Dr Alan Whitehead presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to make regulations about the renting out of houses in multiple occupation; to require landlords to provide energy performance certificates to prospective tenants; to set minimum energy efficiency standards for the letting of houses in multiple occupation; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 September, and to be printed (82).

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Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

Second Reading

5.28 pm

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is about bringing back common sense to a part of our society that week in, week out frustrates many of us; about restoring balance to the health and safety culture that all too often goes beyond what is necessary to protect individuals; about tackling a culture of ambulance chasing that all too often is about generating opportunities to earn fees, rather than doing the right thing; about ensuring that people who do the right thing are confident that the law is on their side when they do so; about trying to protect those who act in the interests of our society; about protecting those who go out of their way to take the responsible approach; and about protecting those who take risks to try to help those who are in trouble. It does not rewrite the law in detail or take away discretion from the courts, but it sends a signal to our judges and a signal to those thinking about trying it on—by bringing a case in the hope that it will not be defended—that the law is no longer on their side.

We live in a society that is increasingly litigious. In a country where things are safer than ever, where our workplaces are less risky than ever and where safety standards on our roads are higher than ever, that should not be happening. Of course accidents happen; they always will. Of course people do dumb things; they always will. Of course unscrupulous people will cut corners and put others in danger; they always will. But there is no need for us to be suing more and more. In the last three years alone, figures for personal injury claims registered with the compensation recovery unit show that claims against employers have increased from around 81,000 in 2010-11 to more than 105,000 in 2013-14—an increase of 30%.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I very much support what the Minister is doing, because there are some people out there who genuinely need to sue when there is a problem, but there are many who have manufactured a situation, where they were probably at fault themselves, and then want to blame somebody else. There is a culture of blaming somebody else whatever happens. We need to take responsibility for our own actions as well as everyone else’s.

Chris Grayling: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I want those who are tempted to try to attract people who have been the victim of an accident—those who say, “Hey, there’s an opportunity for you to sue”—to believe that it is perhaps not in their business interests to do so. Accidents do happen. Where people are genuinely on the bad end of a poor decision or malpractice, they should of course have a defence in the courts, but people who are blameless should not be sued none the less.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I say how delighted I am to see that the Minister is still in his place and is a survivor? It is nice to have him here,

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but I am bit worried about the title of this Bill. He seems to be talking about a Bill with a different title from the one on the Order Paper. This Bill is about social action, responsibility and heroism. I thought it would be about citizenship, and I am concerned that that is not in the Bill and that he has gone straight on to health and safety issues and people being sued. What has gone wrong?

Chris Grayling: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being pleased to see me still in my place. If he looks at the three elements in the Bill’s title—social action, responsibility and heroism—he will see that all are of great importance. However, when it comes to the responsibility piece in particular, which I am talking about now, those who try to do the right thing and take responsible decisions can still sometimes end up on the wrong end of the law. That is where I want to avoid being. I want those who do the right thing—in terms of responsibility, that means employers who go out of their way to have the right standards in their workplace—to feel protected against claims that can sometimes, frankly, be spurious.

Mr Sheerman: Most of us on the Opposition Benches would agree: we do not want people to be intimidated by threats of legal action. They are totally preposterous—we have seen them, we hate them, and we can all agree on that. On the other hand, we want people to be protected from serious accidents at work and the things that trouble people who are vulnerable. Can the Minister assure me that he will get that balance right?

Chris Grayling: I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, because this Bill is not about taking discretion from the courts. It is about deterring spurious claims and sending a message to the courts that we want them to focus on ensuring that they are on the side of the person who has done the right thing. Of course, where the wrong thing has been done, the force of the law is there to provide an appropriate remedy. However, all too often cases are brought that I think frankly should not be brought. If the hon. Gentleman talks to small businesses in his constituency, I am sure he will find many examples of firms that say, “Actually, when I get a case against me, it’s just too much of a hassle to defend it.”

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I do not want to misinterpret what the right hon. Gentleman has been saying, but it seems to me that there would not be many frivolous claims, given that it is difficult to take somebody to a tribunal and that legal aid has been cut. I do not quite see what he is getting at with that aspect of his Bill.

Chris Grayling: All I can suggest is that the hon. Gentleman find a moment or two in his day to watch daytime television and see the number of adverts for firms trying to attract people who will sue when something has gone wrong—“Have you had an accident? Come and launch a case.” He needs to recognise—I am sure he has constituents in this position as well—that there are very many responsible employers who fear cases being brought against them when they have done nothing wrong. There are people who volunteer in their communities and who are worried about the legal position in which

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that puts them. There are people who, whenever they are faced with a spur-of-the-moment decision on whether to intervene in a crisis, are pursued by the fear that makes them ask themselves “If I do this, will I be doing the right thing?”

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): As my right hon. Friend may know, yesterday parts of my constituency experienced severe flash flooding from surface water, which affected pretty much the whole of Canvey Island. On numerous occasions, many public-spirited individuals stepped in. I am thinking of people such as Neal Warren and Simon Hart who spent all afternoon unblocking sewers and road drains in Hadleigh, at their own risk, and the neighbours of Bill Monk, a 103-year-old whose carers could not reach him because of the floods. Would the Bill make people in such circumstances more confident that they are safe and will be protected?

Chris Grayling: That is very much my aim. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents, and indeed to her. I know that she spent time helping her constituents at the weekend. I saw the television pictures of what happened in her constituency, and I am sure that we all send our good wishes to the residents of Canvey Island who have experienced such a sudden and unexpected turn of events. Considerable damage and great disruption were caused to the island, and I pay tribute to everyone who has been involved in trying to sort things out. Of course, such people should always feel confident that if they do the right thing by, for instance, trying to unblock a sewer, yet something goes wrong, it is not their fault but a result of their trying to do the right thing for the community. The balance of probability should be that the law is on their side, and that is what the Bill will achieve.

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Everything that we have heard so far is entirely worthy, and no one would wish to gainsay or criticise the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), but I am a little puzzled, because I cannot find, in my head or my heart, a practical difference that the Bill will make to the current law. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could give me a few examples.

Chris Grayling: The key thing that the Bill does, in legal terms, is lay down a set of principles for the courts. As my hon. and learned Friend knows, there have been a number of examples over the years in which Parliament has set out principles and allowed the jurisprudence to evolve from them. However, this is not just about what happens in the courts; it is also about what happens outside the courts. It is about the decisions to sue that may or may not be made. It is about the small business that gives way to a spurious claim, believing that there is a risk in defending it. The Bill is designed to send a powerful message, inside but particularly outside the courts, that if someone is going to take legal action, there is clear visibility of the law, and the law will clearly not be on the side of a person who is trying it on. That is what we are trying to achieve.

Many of the claims that are represented by the 30% increase are doubtless valid, but at least part of that rise must be attributed to an increasingly litigious climate,

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spurred on, as I have said, by personal injury firms that are quick to cash in by advertising their services on television and radio, through unsolicited and often deeply irritating and upsetting telephone calls, through posters on buses, and through other marketing techniques. We have focused firmly on ensuring that in future it will be much more difficult for spurious, speculative and opportunistic claims to succeed.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way of deciding, in future years, whether the Bill has been a success will be to measure the number of unsuccessful claims for negligence that are being brought before the courts?

Chris Grayling: That is clearly one of the measures that could be used, but this is an area in which it is very difficult to collect statistics. All too often, these are cases that are conceded a long time before they come to the courts. A small business may be involved. Perhaps there has been an accident at work and it is not the employer’s fault, but the employee, backed by a firm that is operating on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, pursues the case anyway. All too often, the employer simply gives way. I think that every one of us, in our constituencies, could find a firm that had found itself facing a claim and had felt uncertain about the law: legal aid is expensive, the firm did not feel that the law was on its side, and it therefore did not defend the case.

Mr Sheerman: The Secretary of State is being very generous in giving way. As I have said, I have great respect for him, but when I read about “social action, responsibility and heroism” in the Queen’s Speech, I thought that that meant qualities such as citizenship. I am involved in a campaign about citizenship, and about making educating young people—and older people—in good citizenship more of a reality. Listening to the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, my constituents might fear that the Bill is not what they thought it would be.

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman will have to let me finish my speech and decide in the round, but I can assure him that small businesses share the concerns I have been setting out. They believe the law needs to be more clearly on their side, but I will come back to the heroism piece and the social responsibility piece because these are important parts of the Bill as well.

We have focused on trying to ensure that we clamp down on the no win, no fee environment. In 2010 Lord Young published the “Common Sense, Common Safety” report, drawing attention to the fact that businesses were operating their health and safety policies in a climate of fear, and that the no win, no fee system introduced by the Labour party had given rise to the perception that there was no risk in starting litigation and it encouraged speculative claims. A whole industry had grown up around that.

Since that report was published, we have introduced a wide range of measures to tackle these damaging effects. We have transformed no win, no fee deals, so lawyers can no longer double their fees if they win at the expense of defendants or their insurers. We have banned referral fees paid between lawyers, insurance claims firms and others for profitable claims. We have reduced by more than half the fees lawyers can charge insurers

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for processing low-level personal injury claims. We have banned claims management companies from offering cash incentives or gifts to people who bring them claims. We have changed the law to enable companies that breach claims management regulation unit rules to be fined. We have also helped remove the fear of being sued for breaches of strict liability health and safety duties by introducing changes last year through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 to prevent claims for damages from being brought under health and safety regulations. In addition to these measures, we are currently taking action through amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to extend the ban on offering inducements to include things such as iPads. I do not think they should be offered as a reward by those who drum up business in order to pursue personal injury claims. Together with other provisions in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill requiring the courts to dismiss fundamentally dishonest claims, this will root out the insidious and damaging bad practice and unacceptable behaviour on the part of some claimants and their lawyers that has tainted personal injury claims in recent years.

Sir Edward Garnier: I am probably being very obtuse, but everything my right hon. Friend has said over the last two or three minutes is undoubtedly true, yet what I do not understand is how clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 change what is already in place.

Chris Grayling: They do two things. They consolidate the law, which exists in fragmented places around past legislation, so it is very clear what the law says, and they provide additional protection, particularly for volunteers, but, above all, they send a signal from Parliament to the courts, in the way that past legislation also has, and set out a series of principles off the back of which the courts will evolve a jurisprudence. They also send a powerful message to those who never get near the courts and who may give in to claims and currently do not feel the law is on their side—I can assure the House that they do not feel the law is on their side—that actually they can stand up and defend a claim in the knowledge that Parliament has very clearly said that the balance in the courts should be in their favour. So this is as much about sending a message outside the courts as inside the courts.

Although this Bill focuses on three issues, as I have said I do think that clause 3—the responsibility piece—has a particular importance in ensuring we provide proper protection for small businesses. I have talked to countless business groups and employers who tell me how the compensation culture is tying their business in knots. Employers might do the right thing and put in place sensible procedures, but then someone does something daft and the employer still finds themselves facing a damages claim. Of course sometimes that claim will have a genuine basis, and of course sometimes it needs to be recompensed in the courts, but if we are to achieve our goal of supporting business and enterprise and ensuring we continue our success in creating new jobs, we have to make sure the law is properly balanced.

I recognise that worries about liability can arise in other circumstances, too, particularly in the voluntary sector, and let me now turn to the other clauses that address those concerns. In a survey carried out by the

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NatCen Social Research and the Institute for Volunteering Research, worries about risk and liability was an issue cited by 47% of those questioned who were not currently volunteering. That study was carried out over the course of 2006-07, but the more recent insightful reports by Lord Young and Lord Hodgson concluded that this remains a real issue for would-be volunteers. Indeed, in the Queen’s Speech debate we heard from a number of hon. Members who reinforced that message from volunteering groups in their constituencies. It has been confirmed by Justin Davis Smith, the executive director of volunteering and development at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who said when we announced our plans that there is

“a great concern about risk…anything that can be done to break down barriers to people getting involved in their communities is very welcome.”

I say to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) that it is precisely for those people that we are sending one of the signposts in this Bill.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Obviously, I support the Government’s objectives and making things easier for volunteers. Have the Government made any study of what effect the Bill would have on the costs on insurance to protect people against strange litigation?

Chris Grayling: It is difficult to give an exact answer on that. We have not been able to quantify it exactly, but I believe the Bill will contribute to the downward pressure on insurance premiums coming from a range of measures we are putting in place. In itself, it will not necessarily make a massive difference, but together with the other pieces of the jigsaw puzzle we are putting in place on different aspects of insurance costs, ranging from the independent medical panels we are putting in place for motor insurance claims to some of our changes to the regulation of no win, no fee lawyers, it will have—we are already seeing this in some areas—a downward effect on insurance claims.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one constraint on getting more volunteers into organisations is the risks they perceive? Does he agree that these concerns and risks are stopping the growth of great organisations such as the Scouts and St John Ambulance, because they cannot get the volunteers? They cannot get young people involved, off the streets and doing positive things.

Chris Grayling: That is absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) has highlighted the case of a constituent of his who ran an outward bound organisation but has been hamstrung—he has seen his business almost disappear—because of pressure as a result of a claim that has been brought. That caused problems to his business when he was seeking only to do the right thing.

I want people to feel confident about participating in activities that benefit others without worrying about what might happen if, despite their best efforts, something goes wrong and they find themselves defending a negligence claim. Clause 2, on social action, provides valuable reassurance that if that does happen, the court, when reaching a decision on liability, will take careful and

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thorough account of the context of the defendant’s actions and the fact that he or she was acting for the benefit of society.

The final limb of the Bill on heroism addresses another key area of concern. Unfortunately, it is often the case that people are unwilling to intervene to help in emergencies, and may stand by and do nothing when somebody collapses on the street, for example, because they are worried about the legal position if they do try to help and something goes wrong. Although many people act spontaneously in such situations without giving a second thought to their own interests, we know that many people think it would be safer not to get involved. The debate in this House—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), in his usual chattering way, asks how I know. Let me refer him back—he probably was not here—to the debate following Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech, which yielded a number of examples of how those worries can manifest themselves. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) told us about his experiences as a community first responder with the ambulance service in Yorkshire. He said that when he turned up at emergencies, he often found that people were unwilling to involve themselves because they were worried that the law would not protect them. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) confirmed that she has found similar attitudes in her constituency. These are not isolated cases, and other right hon. and hon. Members will be able to think of other examples in their constituencies.

Mr Sheerman: May I put the record right, Mr Deputy Speaker? As a Yorkshire Member of Parliament, I know that we have so many volunteers and so much spontaneous public action to step in to the fray when things go wrong. I would hate for that example the Secretary of State gave of someone from Yorkshire to stand, as we are second to none. I have never heard, as a Member of Parliament, of anyone being frightened to wade in and save someone or help someone if it is needed in Yorkshire. I am sorry, but I do not believe there is that much reticence.

Chris Grayling: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that if he were right, this move would not have been as widely welcomed as it has been by the voluntary sector, for precisely the reasons I gave. It has been widely welcomed by that sector, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole would be happy to share his experiences with another Yorkshire Member of Parliament.

Clause 4 therefore addresses these concerns by giving reassurance that heroic behaviour in emergencies will be taken into account by the courts in the event of a negligence claim being brought. The Bill will therefore apply in a wide range of situations in which employers or others have demonstrated a generally responsible approach towards the safety of others during an activity or in which people have been acting for the benefit of society or have selflessly intervened to help others in an emergency.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I realise that the point I am about to make slightly stretches the parameters of the Bill, but given that the Secretary of

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State has been praising people who heroically intervene is he not as surprised as I am that the people who heroically intervened to help Lee Rigby and confronted the people who had killed them have not seen their bravery recognised? Most of us expected them to get the George medal once the trial was over, so is it not a shame that their bravery has not been recognised?

Chris Grayling: I think that every one of us in this House would pay tribute to those people. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s comments have been noted and he is right to highlight the degree of bravery shown on that tragic afternoon.

Mr Nuttall: I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor for giving way. Does he agree that clause 4 would be just as effective without the last 11 words thereof? I urge him to look closely at the clause and see whether the words are necessary.

Chris Grayling: I can certainly give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I do not think he is right, but we will debate the Bill in Committee and I am sure that he will have the opportunity in Committee and on Report to take a more detailed look at the wording. If there are ways to improve the Bill, we are certainly not closed-minded in that regard, although I believe that the wording is necessary to clarify when clause 4 applies.

What the Bill does not do is tell the court what conclusion it should reach. It does not prevent a person from being found negligent if all the circumstances of the case warrant it. It is important to be clear that it does not prevent medics who negligently injure their patients or others or who perform public services in a negligent way from being held to account. It does not do that. Nor does it have any bearing on deliberate acts of ill-treatment or harm that are inflicted on others and that might amount to criminal offences. In those instances, there could, as now, be repercussions in the criminal courts as well as the civil ones. What it does, as I said at the start of my speech, is drive out spurious claims, deter health and safety jobsworths and help to reassure good, honest and well-meaning citizens that if they act responsibly, do something for the public good or intervene heroically in an emergency, the law will be on their side. Businesses should not be deterred from providing jobs and contributing to our economy by a fear of opportunist litigation and individuals should not be deterred from helping their fellow citizens by a fear that they will somehow put themselves at legal risk.

Mr Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con): I support the Bill, because I think it sends a valuable message of reassurance to volunteers and charities. Having knocked around the sector for six years now, I know that there definitely is an issue with people being afraid of being sued. May I urge him to consider this in the wider context of what the Government are doing to support volunteering, and will he join me in celebrating the fact that volunteering has risen on our watch following five years of gentle decline?

Chris Grayling: I will certainly make that very clear. We value enormously the work done by volunteers. May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his very good work with the voluntary sector, which rightly values the contribution he has made?

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He has undoubtedly been one of the principal architects of a more favourable environment for charities to operate within.

I believe that the Bill strikes a fair, proportionate and sensible balance that will provide a clear and valuable reassurance to counter the fears that are proving such a deterrent, putting people off volunteering, and that cause anxiety to small businesses, which worry that they might end up at the wrong end of litigation, while ensuring at the same time that those who are genuinely injured through negligence or who suffer wrongs are not prevented from obtaining redress where appropriate.

I believe that the Bill embeds common sense and will reassure all those people. I hope that the House will welcome the policy intentions that underpin it and I commend it to the House.

5.54 pm

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): It is customary, after a reshuffle, to welcome to their places the new Ministers who have been promoted by the Prime Minister. I appreciate that there were a couple of days when the Ministry of Justice was without Ministers and I appreciate that the new ones are part time and unpaid, but I am surprised that they are not here to share the glory of this five-clause Bill. In their absence, I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on his new role, and welcome my good friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) to his new role. It is pleasing that there were finally some willing takers to take up the opportunities in the Ministry of Justice and I wish them luck in their jobs. They will need it over the next 10 months.

So here we are, on the final Monday before the summer recess, in the fifth year of this coalition Government, discussing a five-clause Bill which has been variously described as “complete gobbledygook”, “a turkey” and my favourite one, “the gallinaceous love child” of the Secretary of State and the Minister for Government Policy. Perhaps the most painful of all insults comes from the ConservativeHome blog. The editor of that site put the Bill on the list of those that should not be in the Queen’s Speech. That is how much the Conservative activists think of the Bill. It is hardly a glowing list of endorsements that herald its arrival.

In his own puff piece for the Bill on ConservativeHome, the Justice Secretary wrote:

“SARAH has taken a while to bring to the fore, and she is now getting ready for her debut in the world.”

Given the rather flat reviews that SARAH’s debut has so far received, I cannot help but wonder whether she should ever have seen the light of day.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): If the right hon. Gentleman takes that view of the Bill, why is he not going to oppose it? And why have Labour MPs been told that they are on a one-line Whip, which means that they need not be here?

Sadiq Khan: The right hon. Gentleman should give me a chance to complete my speech. Then we can discuss what we are going to do. He has been here for many Parliaments and he will know that we take the opportunity where we can to improve Bills, even five-clause

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nonsense Bills, in Committee. I look forward to working with him to improve the Bill during the remaining stages of its passage through the Commons.

I have referred to the fact that the Bill has only five clauses, and I accept that we should not necessarily judge its quality by its length, but if we strip out the first clause, which sets the scene, and the fifth, which deals with extent and commencement, it is only a three-clause Bill. It is so small that the short title is almost longer than the Bill itself. Does the content really warrant a Bill of its own?

It goes without saying that we all support those who volunteer. We want to see even more people contributing their time to good causes and to the vibrancy of civil society and communities throughout the country. We do not want to live in a country where there are unnecessary barriers in the way of those who want to donate their time to helping in the local community, nor do we want to live in a society where people feel unable to help out in an emergency because of a fear of litigation. But the premise of the Bill is built on sand. The Justice Secretary has stated:

“All too often people who are doing the right thing in our society feel constrained by the fear that they are the ones who will end up facing a lawsuit”,

and he repeated that in his Second Reading opening speech. One might think that such a sweeping statement would be followed up with some concrete examples of where that has happened, or perhaps some statistics to back it up, but no. Instead we are given generally wishy-washy scenarios where people and organisations might—I stress the word “might”—be put off by fear of litigation.

Chris Grayling: How does the right hon. Gentleman therefore explain the 30% increase in three years in personal injury claims?

Sadiq Khan: I am pleased that the Justice Secretary asks that question because the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the number of civil cases is going down, not up. It would be worth his spending some time looking at his own statistics. He spent a great deal of time during his speech talking about all the progress that he has made in reducing the number of personal injury cases. Either his reforms are not working or the statistics from his Department are wrong. He must decide which it is.

During his 30-minute speech he gave us no hard facts, no proof and no evidence. We know he has previous when it comes to lack of evidence. We have seen the meltdown in probation that has come about because of his Government’s reckless and half-baked probation privatisation—all done, again, without any evidence, let alone testing or piloting; nothing to show it would work or would not risk public safety. The Justice Secretary said at the Dispatch Box that he trusted his instinct ahead of hard statistical evidence—the same instinct that brought us the Work programme and that delivered a prison crisis has now brought us SARAH.

The Justice Secretary tried to give the impression that there was a problem, and he referred to the impact assessment. I can imagine the fear in his officials’ eyes when they were told to go and find some evidence—any evidence—to support the aims of his Bill. But the Justice Secretary should have been worried when all

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they could come back with was a survey—a survey—from 2006-07, when the ink was not even dry on the Compensation Act 2006. How can he use as evidence a survey done when the 2006 legislation, which many people think deals adequately with the problems that he says he wants to solve, had barely come into force? In fact, there is plenty of evidence out there, as the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) said, that contradicts the Government’s claim. A Cabinet Office report from 2013 shows not a fall but a rise in volunteering, confirmed also this week by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. Volunteering is going up, not down.

Mr Hurd: The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right, and both sides of the House should celebrate that. It is in part the result of significant Government interventions to remove barriers and reform Criminal Record Bureau checks, and to invest in the opportunities to volunteer, not least the National Citizen Service. This is another milestone on that journey of removing barriers. Yes, volunteering is rising, but still, 20% of volunteers do 80% of the giving. There is so much potential to do more, but far too many people are put off by the risk of being sued, and this Bill aims to create a greater sense of reassurance on that fundamental point.

Sadiq Khan: I am grateful for that intervention because it means that I can refer to the evidence on the barriers to volunteering. The biggest obstacle is a lack of spare time—60% of respondents said that this applied to them a lot and 23% said it applied little. Where does the Bill give people who want to volunteer more spare time? The second biggest reason given by the survey was bureaucracy. Where does the Bill deal with bureaucracy? Other barriers to people coming forward to volunteer include work commitments; looking after children or the home; looking after someone elderly or ill. The hon. Gentleman will know, if he is really honest, that this is a Bill without a cause. Fear of litigation is a very small factor—I think only 1% in the most recent survey referred to that.

Mr Hurd: Can we just be clear that the position of the Labour party is that all is well with the 2006 Act, and that there is not a significant issue in the voluntary sector about the risk of litigation and the concern about managing that risk?

Sadiq Khan: If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I will come on to what the Justice Secretary should have done and pray in aid experts in that regard.

As I said, volunteering is going up, not down. If the health and safety culture is stifling volunteering, perhaps the Justice Secretary can explain the increase in volunteering. As I have said, there is no evidence to support the problem that he describes. There is no great health and safety beast suffocating the life out of those doing good deeds, petrified into inaction at the prospect of having to fork out compensation after being sued. Even if there was, the Bill provides no real substantive solutions anyway.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): I think that many of us are of the view—I am a little surprised that this is not in the Bill—that certain volunteers, particularly

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in cave and mountain rescue organisations, and even the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, are put in situations that are probably far too difficult and dangerous. In certain situations, for example when people seem to make a specialism of going on to mountains when they know there will be bad weather, the Government should be doing more to protect those volunteers.

Sadiq Khan: If the Bill was really about social action, responsibility and heroism, those sorts of measures would be in it, but clearly it is not.

Let me remind the House of the conclusions of the Government’s own inquiry, which the Justice Secretary referred to, but not fully. Lord Young of Graffham, in his 2010 report, concluded:

“The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality.”

There we have it, from the Government’s mouth: it is a perception, not a reality. The report goes on to highlight:

“One of the great misconceptions, often perpetuated by the media, is that we can be liable for the consequences of any voluntary acts”.

The report then refers to advice given to people in the winter of 2009 about not clearing snow from the front of their houses in case someone slipped and sued them. The Lord Chief Justice said that he had never come across someone being sued in those circumstances, yet the Justice Secretary has wilfully reported that old chestnut in articles he has written before today. I am happy to give way if he would like to intervene and list the occasions since 2010 when such incidents have occurred. No? Well, there we have it. His silence is telling, as he knows there are no such cases.

If the Justice Secretary’s point was that the threat of litigation is putting people off clearing snow, the Bill will do nothing to address that. In fact, the MOJ’s own statistics show that the total number of money claims in civil courts has been following a downward trend in recent years, rather than going up. In any case, the Bill deals with cases that have already reached the courts, so nothing in it will reduce the prospect of being sued. It will not reduce, as he describes it, the “stress and strain” if someone is sued.

Instead of preparing this Bill—the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner asked this question—the Secretary of State’s energies, and those of his officials, would have been better spent rebutting some of the myths about negligence and health and safety. That would have been a better way of tackling the fear of litigation, given that the likelihood of a negligence claim is pretty small. In fact, that was the advice of Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls. In a speech entitled “Compensation culture: Fact or fantasy?”, he argued that the perception of a compensation culture

“is not however as grounded in reality as had been suggested.”

He also suggested:

“All of this may also require a substantive educative effort on the part of government, the courts and the legal profession to counter-act the media-created perception that we are in the grips of a compensation culture. It may also require greater public legal education.”

Perhaps that education should have begun with the Justice Secretary.

I have already welcomed the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims to his new post and congratulated him on his promotion. I am sorry that he

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is not here to share the joys of the Bill with his line manager, because in his previous job at the Department for Work and Pensions he understood exactly the importance of exploding myths about health and safety. In January, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on health and safety, he said that

‘it is very important that health and safety is taken seriously in the workplace and in public areas. Right across the Christmas period, I went public about the need to ensure that Christmas was not spoiled by stupid comments, and stupid local authorities saying, ‘We shouldn’t do this or that’—throw snowballs, or have Christmas trees in certain areas—‘because of health and safety.’ That is wrong, and it has nothing to do with health and safety; it is an insurance risk.’—[Official Report, 13 January 2014; Vol. 573, c. 579.]

I hope that although the Minister is absent today he will be able to import some of his common sense into the current MOJ team. After all, as drafted, this Bill will not help. The Government are seeking to legislate to deal with how we perceive risk, real or otherwise. If he were serious, the Justice Secretary would tackle the misconceptions about the risk of being sued, but that is a trickier task that he has chosen to duck.

In introducing this Bill, the Justice Secretary said a lot about how it will protect the responsible employer. That prompts this question: where are the dozens of examples of courts having had a case before them where an employer has done the right thing and an employee has not, and yet they have found for the employee? There are no examples of such cases. He talked about members of the emergency services not going to someone’s rescue in case they breach health and safety rules. Will he tell the House what representations he has received from the fire, ambulance, police and coastguard services in support of that contention? Silence again.

I would like to pick up an important legal point. The Bill seems to conflate health and safety and negligence cases. The former are usually strict liability and the latter are not. That confuses civil liability with criminal liability.

Dr Julian Lewis: I think I know how the right hon. Gentleman will respond to this point, but, for clarity, I am going to put it anyway. There have undoubtedly been cases, have there not, where policemen have said, for example, that they were not prepared to pull an apparently drowned victim out of a pool for fear of not being suitably qualified to do so? Is he saying that some measure other than this Bill will try to prevent that in future? Such cases clearly do exist, as they are widely reported to a horrified public.

Sadiq Khan: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but he was not in the Chamber when I referred to the Master of the Rolls. We need to make sure that employees who do not know the position are educated and told the position, and that those who are not properly trained are properly trained. Debating a three-clause Bill today, and even passing it in the next few months, will not make a jot of difference. We need to make sure that the public and those who work in the emergency services are better educated and know what obligations and duties are placed on them, without the risk and fear of litigation.

Let us be clear: this Bill is targeted at negligence and not at health and safety at all. When the Justice Secretary claims, as he does, that his Bill will

“finally slay much of the ‘elf and safety’…culture”,

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he must be honest about the fact that he is being disingenuous, to say the least. If this Bill were really about health and safety, he would be telling the House about the conversations he has had with the Health and Safety Executive and its views on the necessity for such legislation. Again—I think for the seventh time—I will happily allow him to intervene on me to update the House on those conversations with the Health and Safety Executive. Silence again.

We will use the Committee stage of the Bill to scrutinise in more detail its ramifications, both intended and unintended, because it might end up having the opposite effect to that which the Justice Secretary wants. A single act or omission is all that is needed to be negligent. That act or omission might be so serious, causing injury, pain or even death, as to outweigh any amount of good behaviour. He likes talking about hypothetical situations, so what about this one? You are the parent of a child. Would you want them to go on a trip knowing that if they are injured owing to a fault on the part of the school, youth club or scouts, they will not get compensated? The Bill creates the impression that this is the Government’s intention. Or this one: the chairman of a local football team cuts corners when vetting volunteer coaches working with children in the belief that he is protected by the law because in providing coaching for children, he is, to quote clause 2,

“acting for the benefit of society”.

The ramifications of this Bill are that children risk being more exposed to risk. Is that the Government’s intention in introducing it?

If that is not the Government’s intention, this three-clause Bill will not make any difference to the current state of play, as the former Solicitor-General made clear in his intervention. When assessing negligence claims, courts already take into account whether somebody is doing something for the benefit of society, as is recognised by the impact assessment of the Ministry of Justice. That is why organisations have insurance. Although they may be defendants in a claim, they would not be financially liable and their insurer would pay out.

That leads me on to another point. It is interesting that the impact assessment states:

“Insurers and other defendants may gain from slightly reduced aggregate compensation paid and this may feed through to lower insurance premiums.”

However, there is no attempt whatsoever to quantify that, and nor is there any undertaking from insurance companies that it will be passed on to customers—all of which leaves us questioning whether any of that will actually happen in practice, or will insurance companies just end up with higher profits? We all know, by the way, that those companies have donated millions of pounds to the Conservative party’s coffers over recent years.

The House must also steel itself for the inevitable last-minute tabling of a slew of Government new clauses and amendments. The Justice Secretary has a very bad habit of doing that. Such proposals get a cursory amount of scrutiny at best, but they are designed to get the good media hit he so craves and to raise a cheer from his beleaguered Back Benchers. We are very alert to the possibility of new things being added to the Bill at later stages.

Short though today’s Second Reading debate will be, given the paucity of Government speakers, it would be helpful if the Justice Secretary could provide a number

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of reassurances. Will he reassure us that the Government have no intention of watering down the duty on businesses, particularly small firms, to take out employers’ liability insurance, and that there are no plans to make individual employees take out their own insurance as an alternative to employers’ liability insurance?

Chris Grayling: Given that the right hon. Gentleman is opposed to every aspect of what we are proposing, I am baffled that the serried ranks of Labour Bank Benchers do not plan to vote against the Bill.

Sadiq Khan: I appreciate that the Justice Secretary is demoralised because he has not been moved from the Justice Department. When the Prime Minister asked Cabinet members to volunteer Bills and the Justice Secretary put up his hand and said, “Please, sir, I’ll put forward a Bill,” he thought he would have moved on by the time it came to Second Reading, so I am sorry that he has to deal with this pathetic and embarrassing Bill. Given that it is the Justice Secretary’s Bill, we expected dozens and dozens of his MPs to be present saying what a wonderful Bill it is, but they are not piling up behind him to say so.

The Justice Secretary has claimed that years of work—that is what he said—have gone into this pathetic and embarrassing Bill. It confuses important legal concepts and it is not properly thought through, so it could have negative knock-on effects as a result. It lacks an evidence base and seeks to legislate on the back of myths. It will not do what the Justice Secretary claims it will. It is UKIP-friendly, but it is more like something out of “The Thick of It”. It does not seem to do anything that the current law—section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006 —does not already do.

Members should not just take my word for it. Today’s briefing by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which was mentioned by the former Minister for Civil Society, who has now left the Chamber, says:

“NCVO does not expect this bill to significantly alter the current law, with similar provisions already made in the Compensation Act 2006.”

Therefore, the only people whom the Justice Secretary could pray in aid say that the Bill will not make a jot of difference. All three main aims of the Bill are covered by that existing legislation. In fact, the MOJ’s own impact assessment also notes that

“the courts are already very experienced in dealing with these cases”.

It is a sad indictment of this Government that this is the best they have to offer in the final year of this Parliament, when prisons are in crisis, probation is in meltdown and access to justice is under attack on a daily basis. If the Justice Secretary was told by the Prime Minister that he had to introduce a Bill in this Queen’s Speech, we would have thought that he might have chosen a better one. What about a victims’ law? He could have used this window to put the rights of victims and witnesses into primary legislation. Instead, we have the SARAH Bill—a turkey of a Bill, a vacuous Bill—which, without doubt, is the most embarrassing and pathetic Bill that the Minister of Justice has published since the Department was first formed.

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6.20 pm

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I confess that I am no enthusiast for this Bill, but if I was ever to be persuaded to change my mind, the speech of the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) would go a long way to doing so. It was a rather snide and unnecessarily cheap speech, if I may say so, but it pains me to say that I largely agree with its thrust.

Sadiq Khan: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Particularly bearing in mind where I think the former Solicitor-General is going in his speech, is it not the practice for someone who has made a speech to stay for at least the next two speeches to hear other people’s contributions?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Actually, it is in order normally to hear one. I do not know the circumstances, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has made his point. The Secretary of State waited fully until the end of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. I am not sure whether he wanted to hear Sir Edward Garnier’s speech—that is not for me to decide—but the point has been made.

Sir Greg Knight: Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it also not normally the case that members of a political party should come into the Chamber to listen to their Front-Bench spokesman address the House, and is it not the case that there is not one other MP here?

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Sir Greg, come on. Not only can you do better than that, but we are certainly not going to waste our time discussing it.

Sir Edward Garnier: That was very interesting. I have absolutely no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wanted to hear every word I am about to say, but he has other pressing public duties to attend to. No doubt, he will read the whole of this afternoon’s debate in the Official Report in due course.

One good reason for speaking in this debate is to give me an opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) for his work as a Cabinet Office Minister, particularly on the voluntary sector. He worked extremely hard, with precious little thanks, and was content to do so, despite the fact that all he did achieved, sadly, very little public profile. At least on this occasion, we can thank him very much for all he did. I trust that it will not be long before he is back in government again.

As I said at the outset, I am not hugely enthusiastic about this particular piece of legislation. I am concerned that what the Secretary of State said does not reflect the long title, which states that it is a Bill:

“To make provision as to matters to which a court must have regard in determining a claim in negligence or breach of statutory duty.”

Most of what he said had to do with sending out messages. We all need to send out messages from time to time—sometimes to ask for help, and sometimes to ask people to pay attention to what we are trying to do. In so far as it went, his speech was no doubt well intended, but it did not, if I may say so, condescend to deal with the Bill as a potential piece of law. If we are to pass or

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make laws, they must be coherent. Although I entirely agree with all the sentiments that he uttered this afternoon about reducing the so-called health and safety culture, reducing the easy acceptance of the only answer to a problem being to sue and dissuading ambulance-chasing solicitors from doing this, that or the other, I regret to say that I do not agree that this particular Bill will achieve that.

I do not know how many people who are intent on bringing an action, if they are not lawyers themselves, think about pieces of legislation. Let us hope that I am wrong and my right hon. Friend is right, and that when the Bill is enacted, copies of it will be plastered all over doctors’ waiting rooms and other public places, so that no citizen will be tempted to bring a spurious claim.

I would be interested to hear how many High Court or county court actions would have been decided differently had the Bill been in force. It is perfectly true to say that the Compensation Act 2006 covers many of the areas of conjecture that are covered by the Bill. I am not persuaded that the Bill covers any new territory.

Sadiq Khan: The hon. and learned Gentleman is being very generous. I hope that my comments will be helpful. The impact assessment that accompanies the Bill states in paragraph 17:

“Both the possible reduction in case volumes and the size of any compensation payments are unknown, but are likely to be small.”

Sir Edward Garnier: That is, no doubt, what the impact assessment says. Whether that justifies the bringing into law of the Bill, I rather doubt.

I spoke about the Bill before having read it on the Thursday of the Queen’s Speech debate. I teased the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government rather rudely by inviting him to provide a definition of “heroic negligence”. He heroically tried to provide me with such a definition, but he did not do so. That is not surprising, because I am not entirely sure that there is such a thing.

I was interested in what my noble Friend Lord Faulks, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, said on 9 June in the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the other place. He said that the Bill will not change the existing overarching legal framework or leave victims without protection, but that it will provide reassurance and send a strong signal to the courts. To quote directly, he said:

“They will still need to look at whether a defendant met the appropriate standard of care in all the circumstances of the case.”—

I say, in parenthesis, that that is what they do already—

“Nor will it introduce blanket exemptions to civil liability. There is an important balance to be struck between encouraging participation in civil society and being mindful of the impact that careless or risky actions could have on the very people that the defendant was trying to help. The Bill is not about removing protection and leaving victims without proper recourse in those circumstances. However, it will give valuable and needed reassurance to a wide range of people and send a powerful signal that the courts will take full account of the context of a person’s actions when determining a negligence claim.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 June 2014; Vol. 754, c. 132.]

I do not think that anybody in either House knows more about the law of negligence than my noble Friend Lord Faulks, who has 40 years’ experience at the Bar dealing predominantly with cases involving negligence

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and public authorities, such as fire authorities. Reading between the lines of what he said—he will contradict me if I have got this wrong—he does not have a huge amount of enthusiasm for the Bill. However, I may have misread what he said.

The Bill is more like an early-day motion than a proper statute. I say that because, as the Secretary of State admitted, it is predominantly there to send out a message—a strong signal. As I have had many opportunities to say in my 22, 23 or 24 years in this House, we should legislate not to send out signals or messages, but to make good black-letter law, so that the courts know what the law is and can apply it, and so that the legal professions know what it is and can advise the public on it.

My concern is that the contents of the Bill have been within the common law and the ambit of the court’s appreciation for years and years. In 1954, in the case of Watt v. Hertfordshire County Council, Lord Justice Denning, as he then was, spoke about the balancing act performed by the court when people intervene to help in an emergency, which relates to clause 4. He said:

“It is well settled that in measuring due care one must balance the risk against the measures necessary to eliminate the risk. To that proposition there ought to be added this. One must balance the risk against the end to be achieved. If this accident had occurred in a commercial enterprise without any emergency there could be no doubt that the servant would succeed. But the commercial end to make profit is very different from the human end to save life or limb. The saving of life or limb justifies taking considerable risk, and I am glad to say there have never been wanting in this country men of courage ready to take those risks, notably in the Fire Service.”

What Lord Justice Denning said is as true now as it was in 1954, as I know from the emergency services in my own county of Leicestershire, be it the police, the ambulance service or the fire service. There are plenty of brave people who will risk their own life and limb to save others.

I rather agree what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) said about the last words of clause 4, which refer to an action taken

“without regard to the person’s own safety or other interests.”

I suggest, and I think he agrees, that it is much more heroic to do something having had regard to one’s own safety or other interests, and to go on and do the brave thing—rescuing someone from a frozen lake, pulling them out of a burning building or whatever it might be—despite having thought about those interests. For goodness’ sake, if the Bill is to become law, the least we can do is to remove those last few words of clause 4. Even if it were difficult to work out in law what heroic negligence actually was, we would at least have made that clause a little better.

Nobody will be thanked, least of all a Government Back Bencher, for making a rude speech about a Government Bill, but from time to time, even on a hot day when I would rather be somewhere else, I find it necessary for this House to introduce a degree of common sense into a Bill before the other place gives it a thorough grilling. Far too often, the laws that we pass are the laws of the unintended consequence, and I have a horrible suspicion that if the Bill becomes an Act as it is currently drafted, it will be the subject of derision and confusion, or that even if that does not happen, it will fall into disuse.

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I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take my remarks in the spirit in which they are intended. I really do share with him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the aims that the latter set out quite a few times— to prevent the abuse of the health and safety culture, to reduce spurious litigation and claims and so on. If I may say so, though, passing a Bill that has a hideous resemblance to an early-day motion rather than a proper Act of Parliament is not the way to do it.

I hope that the Bill will not be the subject of a Division this evening, because I cannot support it. If the Opposition seek a Division I will not join them in the lobby, because I found the manner in which the right hon. Member for Tooting made his speech unattractive, but that is a matter for him. We need to take the Bill away and give it a thorough scrubbing over the summer holidays.

6.34 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to say a few words about this Bill, and I congratulate the Secretary of State in his absence on bringing it before the House. I support the principle of the Bill. That may come as a bit of a blow to my colleagues in the Opposition and is probably unusual, but I feel that the principles behind the Bill are right, and its theme and thrust appropriate. I am aware that the Bill currently relates only to England and Wales, but I give it my full support and I am both hopeful and confident that in future it will extend to Northern Ireland so that protection is given and awarded to volunteers. I am reminded of the comedy programme back in the ’70s—you will be much too young to recall it, Madam Deputy Speaker—called “Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width”: do not judge the Bill by the fact that it contains only five clauses; it is important that we judge it on its content.

In 2007, a national survey of volunteering found that 47% of people who do not volunteer said that one of the main reasons for their not doing so was the fear of being sued. We are in a very litigious age in which people are sued for the smallest things, sometimes without justification. However, the number of people volunteering is increasing and it is estimated that about 15 million people volunteer every month. That is a fantastic number who contribute on a volunteer basis every month of the year to help very many people. As Members of Parliament, each one of us will be aware of the impact of those volunteers. That is great news, and it is even better that 28% of young people between 16 and 25 volunteer—something that I know in Northern Ireland is supported and encouraged by schools and universities. Volunteering gives those young people experience and discipline when it comes to making a contribution and giving time each day.

I was speaking to my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), about the age of litigation, and I reminded him of a story from back home. It was the Christmas before last and there was terrible snow and ice in the streets in front of the shops. The shopkeepers said, “Should we clear the ice? We are afraid that if we do so we will find ourselves in a position where if someone falls outside the shop, we will be held responsible.” It turned out that those shopkeepers cleared the ice anyway and took the chance,

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and everything worked out okay. However, their fear was that someone could fall and that they would be held responsible. I suspect that the Bill will address such cases.

There are provisions in the Compensation Act 2006 for those caught up in litigation, but I completely support and agree with the aims of this Bill, which are to ensure that the good Samaritans out there, and the thousands of volunteers and charitable groups across the UK, are not put off helping for fear of getting into difficulties. Those thousands of volunteers and charitable groups—the good Samaritans of this world whom we all know—are those we need to help. The Bill will ensure that people receive what I believe is a “fair trial”, and those who have been acting for the benefit of society will not be punished for their actions or interventions. The Bill will also seek to protect those acting in an emergency.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) intervened at the beginning of the debate to speak about floods in the south of England and the people who react to emergencies. Will they be held responsible? I hope that the Bill will reassure such people and recognise that they were simply trying to help. Again, there is a clear issue there.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): My hon. Friend is outlining circumstances of deep winter and people clearing snow, or flooding in south- east England. Does he agree that when dealing with people who voluntarily try to help others, we need to see substantive evidence during the passage of the Bill that the situation will be dramatically different in future?

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. In his introduction, the Minister—and, to be fair, the shadow Minister—made the point that the Bill is trying to achieve much in principle, but will probably need to be firmed up. My hon. Friend is right, but that will come out through the Committee stage, and everyone will have the chance to contribute.

Helping someone in need seems like the natural response, and so it should be on every occasion, but everything has become so bureaucratic these days that people will often cross to the other side of the street—unlike the good Samaritan in the Bible—because they fear that they might become part of a conflicting or illegal situation. It is important that people do not turn a blind eye, or develop a Nelson’s eye, to what is going on. They should continue to have a compassionate interest in people and in what they can do to help.

I fully support this Bill, and believe that it will bring positive changes to the current system. Hopefully, it will encourage the 47% of people who are concerned about volunteering to do so. A number of people had expressed their concerns about volunteering, fearing that it could have an impact on them in the event of litigation. Hopefully, the Bill will address that issue as well.

This Bill will also protect those who are acting in a “generally responsible way” when an accident occurs. For example, there are youth leaders who organise numerous events and trips throughout the year for young people. People in such roles do fantastic jobs, which is why I think this is a worthwhile Bill to support.

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I was disheartened to hear that some of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches have concerns about the Bill. Hopefully, they are frivolous concerns, and when it comes to discussing the contents of the Bill, they will come together to support it. This Bill is certainly not a waste of time; I believe it is something that people want to see. Given the importance that is placed on voluntary work in this economic climate, particularly for young people—the Prime Minister has talked about volunteers many times—it is a vital piece of legislation to introduce, and the benefits will be there for young people as well. The Bill will ensure that further checks and balances will exist for anyone making unmeritorious claims, and as an outcome we expect they will be deterred from making such claims. I hope to see the Bill introduced in Northern Ireland in the not-too-distant future. Given the large number of volunteers in Strangford, who do a really tremendous, worthwhile job, and whom we could not be without, I certainly welcome its introduction.

6.41 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). He is right that I will not find the same value in the Bill that he does, but none the less I felt that his speech showed his usual good grace and spirit. He is the archetypal good Samaritan in this respect.

It is all change in the engine room at the Ministry of Justice, though the captain is still there steering manfully for the rocks as ever. [Hon. Members: “Where is he?”] He is rather more like Captain Oates today. I think it showed some disrespect for this House that he did not stay for any speeches, including that of the former Solicitor-General, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier).

May I, in true bipartisan spirit, congratulate the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who is not in his place, on his promotion to the role of senior Law Officer? He will no doubt discharge it with the same calm and rational demeanour that was his hallmark at the Ministry of Justice. Let us hope that he also adopts the robust independence that the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) showed in that post.

I also welcome the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) to the justice team—it is a shame he is not in his place either. I understand that we are getting only a part of him as, along with being an unpaid Prisons Minister and an afterthought in the reshuffle, he will spend part of his time in the Whips Office. Of course it is an unalloyed pleasure to see the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), still in his place.

This Bill has been described as “a turkey”, “a complete waste of time,”

“a solution in search of a problem”


“an unnecessary and wholesale interference with the rights of injured people.”

It has been accused of

“shifting the blame to workers when they are injured.”

It is said to be, “an erosion of workers’ rights”, “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”. It is said to cause confusion about

“who is protected from the law and to what degree.”

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Surely it has some supporters. Well, no, it does not—not really. The Government pray in aid the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, but the NCVO says it is

“not expected to significantly alter the current law.”

It says it is “classic nudge tactics”. At best, it sends a message and is

“unlikely to be able to do any harm.”

But then that is the Government’s view as well. The explanatory notes say that the Bill would not change the overarching legal framework. The Lord Chancellor himself says it is

“a signpost from Parliament to the Courts.”

Do we really need legislation for that? It is only two stops on the tube to the Royal Courts of Justice. Where are the other representatives of civil society, defendant lawyers and even political allies speaking up for this Bill?

We heard a thoughtful speech from the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, who quietly but effectively proved there is no justification for the Bill. As we have heard, ConservativeHome described it as a Bill that should not be in the Queen’s Speech. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), is now charged, on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, with weeding out unnecessary laws that clog up the statute book. He could start with this one.

There are only three short operative clauses in the Bill. They instruct a court considering negligence or statutory duty claims to have regard to whether a defendant was acting for the benefit of society, demonstrating a generally responsible approach or acting heroically. The Lord Chancellor claims the Bill will not fetter judicial discretion, but that is all it sets out to do. Fortunately, it is so poorly drafted that it will probably fail in that aim, but it will undoubtedly spark quantities of satellite litigation as the parties seek to define “benefit of society”, “a generally responsible approach” and “acting heroically”.

First, insofar as it is necessary at all, the purpose of the Bill has already been fulfilled by section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006, which states:

“A court considering a claim in negligence or breach of statutory duty may, in determining whether the defendant should have taken particular steps to meet a standard of care (whether by taking precautions against a risk or otherwise), have regard to whether a requirement to take those steps might—

(a) Prevent a desirable activity from being undertaken at all, to a particular extent or in a particular way, or

(b) Discourage persons from undertaking functions in connection with a desirable activity.”

This gives guidance to the court in less ambiguous and florid language than the instant Bill, while retaining discretion. If the Secretary of State disapproves of the Compensation Act, why is he leaving it on the statute book? If he thinks it ineffective, why is he repeating the mistake of legislating in much the same terms? If he thinks it is working, his own Bill must be otiose.

Secondly, the Lord Chancellor has, as usual, adduced no evidence that a new law is necessary. He relies on a survey of 300 people from almost 10 years ago to say that some people are deterred from volunteering by fear of being sued. But the National Council for Voluntary Organisations says only 1% of volunteers stopped because they feared opening themselves up to litigation. Last year, the former Minister for Civil Society, the

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hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), issued a press release trumpeting that volunteering was at an all-time high.

Let us look at the problems the Lord Chancellor purports to address in the Bill. The first is:

“the person who holds back from sweeping snow off the pavement outside their house because they are afraid that someone will then slip on the ice and sue them”.

No one, up to and including the Lord Chief Justice, can point to a case of this kind being brought, let alone succeeding. Indeed, the Government’s own website,, used to host a section debunking the snow and ice myth. It said: