5 Jan 2016 : Column 87

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): The River Calder runs through the very north of my constituency. I went into the Ribble valley to see the devastation caused in Whalley. It truly was a tragedy. In the south of my constituency, the River Irwell burst its banks dramatically, having burst its banks in 2012, and nothing has been done about it. I went to Irwell village on the periphery of my constituency, where nearly all 100 houses have been flooded under five or six feet of water. In there, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) has said, are people who cannot get insurance—it is £3,000 to £6,000 for insurance, and the excess on the insurance is £20,000 to £30,000. What will the Government do to ensure that those people can access help? What are they going to do about Irwell village, which has been so devastated by this? It has now been devastated twice. What will the Secretary of State do about it?

Elizabeth Truss: First, we are making funds available to the local council so that residents can apply for up to £5,000 to put their house back in order. We are also working with the insurance industry to ensure that it is treating these cases sympathetically.

Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): It is of course right that we protect homes above farmland, but can I ask the Secretary of State that we consider that the value of that farmland is often what powers local economies and that we try to get that balance as adequate as possible to ensure we protect both the economy and houses?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Under our six-year plan, we will be protecting more farmland. In fact, between 2010 and 2021, we will be protecting an additional million acres of farmland.

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): Between 2011 and 2015, Lancashire fire and rescue service saw a reduction of 241 firefighters. Will the Secretary of State commit to creating a statutory duty, and with it the relevant investment, to enable our firefighters to tackle flooding in future?

Elizabeth Truss: I pay tribute to the fantastic work of the fire service and all the emergency services, the Environment Agency and the Army for what they did on the ground. We deployed those personnel as early as possible. We deployed the assets and I think they did a fantastic job in responding to the flooding.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): In the last 12 months, the UK has paid £35.6 million into the EU solidarity fund, the second biggest contribution. We have only ever made one claim on the fund, in 2007, following flooding, and we were paid out £130 million. May I urge the Secretary of State to push an application for funding from the fund? If we are not going to do that, can she explain why we pay into the fund?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Our priority has been getting money to the affected communities as soon as possible. That was paid into the bank accounts of local councils within three days. I have said that we will look at the EU solidarity fund, but the reality is that it would take seven months for that money to come through and our priority has been responding to the immediate situation we face and ensuring that people get the support they need.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 88

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Following the floods in 2007, the Government commissioned the “Land Use Futures” report, which laid out exactly what has happened this week. The people who produced that report said at the weekend that the Government ignored the report. They should go back, read the report and listen to the evidence. Will the Secretary of State do that and respond properly to the request made earlier by a colleague to look at the Pitt review, which said that the fire and rescue service should have a statutory duty to be the first response? Will she please answer those questions properly?

Elizabeth Truss: We did respond to all the recommendations of the Pitt review, apart from those relating to bodies that no longer existed. The reality is that we saw a fantastic response on the ground from the fire service. The issue is: how do we protect our communities, given that we are seeing more extreme weather? That is the issue we are dealing with here.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Residents and businesses in Ramsbottom, Summerseat and Redvales in my constituency were all hit by last week’s floods. On their behalf, may I thank all those— the emergency services, staff from Bury Council and Six Town Housing and particularly the small army of volunteers from the local community—who have helped, and indeed continue to help, with the clean-up operation. Understandably, my constituents are worried that they could be hit by flooding again, so can my right hon. Friend reassure them that, when the review of flooding risk is completed, whatever is necessary to protect them in future is actually done?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The resilience review will look at a number of issues: first, the flood defence formula and how the allocation is made; and, secondly, how we respond and predict these extreme weather events. The reality is that we will do all we can to minimise flood risk but we cannot eliminate it altogether and that is why we need to build resilience, too.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): Manchester City Council and Salford City Council responded to the flooding of the Rivers Irwell and Irk and the businesses affected by that. Those businesses need not only finance but business support and information. Salford City Council, with the councils for Broughton, and charities such as Helping Hands, responded to the River Irwell overflowing in Broughton, causing damage to up to 800 properties. Can the Secretary of State assure those councils and the House that the funding that is being made available will go beyond the Bellwin formula and allow money to be given to the charities that have spent their money and the local authorities that are already financially hard-pressed?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Minister responsible in the Department for Communities and Local Government will look at that specific issue.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): As the Secretary of State knows, Worcester is familiar with flooding; she has visited our flood defences. I welcome the additional investment that she has supported in our area. I particularly

5 Jan 2016 : Column 89

welcome the national flood resilience review and the inclusion of transport resilience within it. In Worcester we are seeing the raising of new defences to try to improve the resilience of the city this year. Can she ensure that the Department for Transport is linked in with that review so that it can take into account the value of capital bids such as the case for dualling the Carrington bridge in Worcester for improving flood resilience?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Transport Secretary is very much linked in to that review. There are all kinds of critical infrastructure that we need to ensure are covered. One of the issues that has been raised today is telecommunications infrastructure. That is also vital and will be covered by the review.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): My constituency over the last 10 years has suffered three one-in-100-year floods, but the story has got much better with the progress of the community-inspired initiative called the Connswater Community Greenway. I encourage the Secretary of State to look at that not just because it has increased protection but because it has galvanised communities. The community recognises that Government neither control the rain nor can do everything. More importantly, they have levered significant resource from outside Government to provide the level of protection from flooding that we need. I encourage her to visit and other Members to learn those lessons, too.

Elizabeth Truss: The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of involving local communities, and I should be very interested in looking at that scheme myself. Similar schemes are being delivered in areas such as Pickering, and by the Cumbrian Floods Partnership and the Somerset Rivers Authority. I think that we should give local communities more power over decisions and involve them more in building up resilience, as well as paying attention to our national risk.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Throughout Pendle, most rivers rose to record levels. The town of Ireby, on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border, was worst hit. A number of homes and businesses were flooded, and I shall be holding a special advice surgery with councils this weekend to meet affected residents and business owners. Although a number of parts of Pendle have benefited from flood defences in the recent past, Ireby suffered once again. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss what more can be done to help the town?

Elizabeth Truss: Either the Floods Minister or I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): I want to record my thanks to the magnificent team of community volunteers led by Steve Houghton-Burnett, to Bury council, to local Labour councillors and to the emergency services, all of whom provided tremendous support for flood victims in Radcliffe, in my constituency.

Can the Secretary of State explain how a Government who talk about a northern powerhouse can allow disproportionate cuts in flood defence budgets, and shocking complacency, to threaten the security of thousands of residents and business people across the north of England? When will they release the outstanding £40 million that was promised to councils?

5 Jan 2016 : Column 90

As for what the Secretary of State has said about the European solidarity fund, I fear that Ministers are putting Tory party internal EU debates ahead of the national interest. Will she answer the question that has been asked about that?

Elizabeth Truss: The hon. Gentleman is simply not right about the spending division between north and south. Let me give the House the figures again. In our six-year programme, we are spending £54 per head on the north-east region, which covers areas such as Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria, and £42 per head in the southern region, which covers areas such as London and the home counties. The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): It was heartbreaking to see homes, businesses and farms along the Aire and Wharfe valley flooded, especially at Christmas time. I praise the responses from the emergency services and council workers, but, in particular, the magnificent response from the local volunteers who came out to help, and who have raised money as well. I hope that the Government will match all those funds. However, may I ask the Secretary of State to admit that it was a false economy to cancel the £250 million Leeds flood defence scheme? Will she now consider allowing the full amount to be spent, and will she also discuss with me the possibility of flood defences for Otley and Lower Wharfedale?

Elizabeth Truss: I agree that we should pay tribute to the fantastic work done by volunteers throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire at a very difficult time. Many of them had given up their Christmas.

As I have said, we will of course look at the Leeds scheme. We need to do so, given that water levels in the Aire have been a metre higher than they have ever been before. I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues in Leeds to discuss the issue.

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): As the Secretary of State probably knows, my constituency is being flooded as we speak, the River Wear having burst its banks earlier today. Durham faces real challenges, because the huge cuts imposed on the local authority make it difficult to respond to flooding and the problems that emerge from it, such as a lack of appropriate dredging of the river and building on the flood plain. How will the Secretary of State tackle those issues?

Elizabeth Truss: An official Cobra call is taking place at the moment to ensure that the people of Durham have every resource that can be provided for them.

Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP): I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in sending condolences to the family of the late Ivan Vaughan, who was swept away by the floods in my constituency and killed as a result.

The £5,000 that has been paid to homes and businesses in England seems great when compared with the £1,000 in Northern Ireland. Will Northern Ireland benefit from the significant amounts that have been paid by the Government as a result of Barnett consequentials?

Elizabeth Truss: That is a devolved matter on which local government must decide.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 91

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): During the floods I have visited Heywood fire station, which is one of only two stations in Greater Manchester with water rescue units, and which has done sterling work in rescuing people from the floods. However, not only does it face significant further cuts, but, as was pointed out earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), it does not even have a statutory duty to attend incidents of this type. Does the Secretary of State agree that we now need a serious debate about future co-ordination of flood responses, and about long-term funding for our fire and rescue services?

Elizabeth Truss: We saw a very effective emergency response from the fire service and other emergency services, the Environment Agency and the Army, all working together. That lesson has been learnt from previous flooding incidents, as we have brought in all those services as soon as possible to ensure that we protect lives and property.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): My constituency was badly affected by the floods over Christmas and new year, as indeed was the whole of north Wales. There was an impact on roads, rail and homes. The Welsh Government have given extra resources, which is very welcome, but I want to press the Secretary of State on the issue of the European solidarity fund. If she is not willing to apply for it, devolved Administrations are willing to do so, and to use that money. Three years ago, the Prime Minister said that it took a long time to make an application. If he had applied then, the money could have been put to better use in the United Kingdom.

Elizabeth Truss: As I have said to other Members, we will consider applying for the fund, but it does take a long time to come through. My priority is ensuring that businesses and residents have the support that they need now.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Northern Ireland did not experience as much flooding as Cumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire and parts of Scotland, but if such high water levels had been experienced throughout Northern

5 Jan 2016 : Column 92

Ireland, we would have been in deep trouble. What plans have been made, and what discussions have taken place, about assisting the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Minister in times of extreme emergency when the available resources are not enough to cope with flooding levels?

Elizabeth Truss: The Floods Minister will be happy to discuss that further.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): A number of homes and businesses in my constituency were affected by floods over the Christmas period. Will the Secretary of State tell us how much of the £600 million of emergency flood money that the Government have announced and which is from sources outside Government is still outstanding? Will she also tell us whether the £5,000 that is available to people who have been affected by floods will apply to those without insurance, and what will happen when their losses are more than £5,000?

Elizabeth Truss: Yes, the £5,000 does apply to people who do not have insurance. The money is being given directly to local authorities to administer, so affected residents should get in touch with their local councils.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The River Tame in the Dukinfield part of my constituency breached the retaining wall, flooding a small part of the town where it is channelled through that part of Tameside. The flooding would have been much worse had it not been for the extensive flood plains around Denton and Reddish Vale in the lower Tame valley, which took the excess water. My concern, and the concern of my constituents, is that the Greater Manchester green belt is up for review next year, and developers are already seeking to have plots of land on those very same flood plains removed from the green belt for development. The Secretary of State has told the House what is in the national planning policy framework. Will she now tell us clearly that she does not expect those flood plains to be taken out of the green belt?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It really is a question for the Communities Secretary and the local authority in question.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 93

Saudi Arabia

7.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabian Governments.

The Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, has mattered to the UK for generations. Our relationships there are among our most enduring in the world. The Gulf is critical to our foreign policy objectives of security, prosperity and support for UK nationals overseas.

Turning to Saudi Arabia specifically, the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia enjoy a deep, long-standing history of friendship and co-operation. December marked 100 years since the signing of the Darin treaty between the United Kingdom and King Abdulaziz, who founded modern-day Saudi Arabia in 1932. As hon. Members are aware, Saudi Arabia is an influential voice in the region. It is the only Arab country to be represented among the G20. As the home of Islam’s two holy mosques, it has enormous global religious influence.

Today, the UK and Saudi Arabia co-operate in areas as diverse as education, healthcare, culture, defence, and, of course, counter-terrorism, as well as on the shared challenges facing the middle east. Some 25,000 Britons are proud to call the kingdom their home, and a further 70,000 visit each year as pilgrims. More than 15,000 Saudi students study in some of the UK’s world-class universities.

A strong relationship with Saudi Arabia matters. Our collaboration has foiled terrorist attacks, directly saving British lives. British-Saudi co-operation has specifically resulted in the foiling of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks that would have caused substantial destruction and loss of life. An example of this co-operation was the discovery at East Midlands airport of a “printer bomb” on board a US-bound flight in October 2010. The initial alert came from the Saudi authorities, which have been quick to provide information to protect British interests on this and many other occasions.

We should not ignore Saudi Arabia’s important and growing contributions to regional stability. We work together to tackle regional threats. We both want stability in the middle east. Saudi Arabia’s role in the region is essential to solving the crises in Syria and Yemen and to defeating terrorism.

The Saudi Arabian Government have been at the forefront of international efforts to defeat Daesh, from which the country has suffered first-hand. The King and the religious establishment continue clearly and publicly to condemn Daesh, and to emphasise that its poisonous ideology does not in any way represent the teachings of the Islamic faith.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to participate in airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. It also co-leads the global coalition’s work to cut Daesh’s resources and has established the Islamic military coalition to fight terrorism. We are grateful to the Saudi Arabian Government for hosting a successful conference of Syrian opposition groups in Riyadh last month to agree a common political platform and to start to form a negotiating team for UN-brokered peace talks with the Syrian regime, due to take place in Geneva on 25 January.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 94

The recent escalation in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran is deeply concerning. I urge all parties in the region urgently to show restraint and responsibility, and to work towards resolving tensions. I was very concerned to hear of the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad on 2 January. We know only too well the impact of this. It is essential that diplomatic missions are properly protected and respected, in accordance with the Vienna conventions. The Foreign Secretary, myself and our representatives in the region have been in touch with all sides to urge calm and to de-escalate tensions.

I make it clear, however, that the UK’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia does not mean that we shy away from raising legitimate human rights concerns. We make this point very clearly in public and in private. The Saudi authorities are well aware of our views. I raised them most recently myself with the Saudi authorities yesterday, following the execution of 47 people over the weekend, 43 of whom were Sunni.

As I said in my statement on Sunday, the UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty. Our opposition extends to all circumstances and all countries. We remain firmly committed to advancing the global abolition of the death penalty. Regarding recent articles on the FCO’s “Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty 2010-2015”, I would like to clarify that this document is a general policy guide from 2011, rather than a case-by-case list of countries where the death penalty is applied. A full list of countries of concern was published in March 2015 in the annual human rights report; that includes Saudi Arabia and its use of the death penalty. The Saudi Arabian Government are well aware of our views. We will continue to raise our concerns with them.

We also raised the case of Ali al-Nimr with the Saudi authorities again over the weekend. We expect that Ali al-Nimr and the two others who were convicted as juveniles will not be executed. We will continue to raise these cases with the Saudi authorities.

More broadly, Saudi Arabia remains a Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights priority country, not only because of the use of the death penalty, but because of restricted access to justice, women’s rights, and restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion or belief. The UK’s position on human rights in Saudi Arabia is a matter of public record.

Founded just over a 100 years ago, Saudi Arabia is a relatively young country and we recognise that change cannot happen overnight. The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia reflects widely held conservative social values and, as such, needs to move at a pace that is acceptable to its society, but we believe that we will be more successful in discussing cases privately with Saudi Arabia. We use the strength of our relationship and engagement to encourage reform. We believe that it is more effective to work with other countries to improve and reform their systems than to criticise from the sidelines. We take this approach with Saudi Arabia, as we do with other countries around the world.

When it comes to reform, there has been some recent incremental progress. December’s municipal elections were the first in which women were allowed to stand and vote. Some 21 women were elected. A law on non-governmental organisations was passed in December

5 Jan 2016 : Column 95

to create an official channel to enable the formation of NGOs and charities within the kingdom, but there is, of course, much progress still to be made.

Our prosperity relationship is important, but it is only part of the relationship, not our key driver. Saudi Arabia is one of the UK’s largest trading partners in the middle east, and the leading middle eastern exporter of goods to the UK. In 2014, exports of goods reached over £4 billion, and exports of services in 2013 reached over £5 billion. UK companies, with the assistance of Her Majesty’s Government, have delivered projects worth over £2 billion so far this financial year in the transport, healthcare and education sectors, but this does not come at the expense of human rights; we can, and do, raise these issues with the Saudi Arabian Government.

Only by working with them are we likely to bring about the change we all desire. I commend this statement to the House.

7.30 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it. He is right to refer to the long-standing relationship between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, to our trade relations, to the vital importance of intelligence and security co-operation in countering terrorism and to the efforts that both countries are making to defeat Daesh brutality. But with the region already in ferment, with the brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen and the threat from Daesh not only in Syria and Iraq but in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, the Minister must recognise that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other people has caused a major diplomatic and political crisis. Surely the basis of any close relationship must be that the two parties can be honest with each other.

We, too, oppose the use of the death penalty in every circumstance, including what has happened in Saudi Arabia. But we on this side of the House believe that the Saudi Government were profoundly wrong to execute Sheikh al-Nimr, a Shi’a cleric, and three young Shi’a men whose alleged offences appear to have involved taking part in political protests and demonstrations against the current Government. The House will have noticed that neither the Prime Minister’s comments nor the Minister’s statement today mentioned Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by name, and that is a matter of great regret.

These mass executions have caused dismay and outrage around the world. Amnesty International has described Sheikh al-Nimr’s trial as “seriously flawed”, and reported that he was denied the most basic means to prepare for his defence and was not represented by legal counsel for some of the proceedings because the authorities did not inform his lawyer of some dates of the hearings. Does the Minister share those concerns? Can he confirm the basis on which he has just told the House that the Government still believe that the sheikh’s nephew, Ali al-Nimr, who was convicted and sentenced to death as a juvenile, will not now be executed, given that his uncle has only just been put to death?

In the last few days, the Saudi embassy in Tehran has been attacked and there has been a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Gulf states. This is a very dangerous moment. In

5 Jan 2016 : Column 96

agreeing with the Minister’s call for calm and restraint, may I ask what he thinks the implications of this crisis will be for the Vienna talks on Syria? What are the prospects for the urgently needed ceasefire there, and does he still think that face-to-face negotiations between the parties will start by the end of this month? What is his assessment of the impact of all this on the Yemen peace talks, given that the Saudi-led coalition, which has been bombing the Iranian-allied Houthi movement in Yemen for nine months, announced on Saturday the end of a ceasefire that only began on 15 December?

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is increasingly desperate, and many civilians have been killed in airstrikes. There have been reports of potential breaches of international humanitarian law by the Saudi military, which uses British-supplied weapons, among others. Before Christmas, in the light of those reports, I called on the Government to launch an immediate review of arms export licences relating to Saudi Arabia. Will the Government now carry out an independent investigation into whether there is a risk of UK arms being used in breach of international humanitarian law? I ask this because the Government say that they have urged Saudi Arabia itself to investigate any such breaches of international humanitarian law. Will the Minister tell the House what investigations have been undertaken by the Saudis, and what assessment he has made of their credibility?

Following the cancellation of the proposed UK prison contract, will the Government now publish the memorandum of understanding on judicial co-operation signed with Saudi Arabia on 10 September 2014? What discussions have taken place since then, and does the Minister think it would be appropriate now to suspend any co-operation on judicial matters with Saudi Arabia in the light of these mass executions?

Finally, it has been reported that in 2013 the UK assisted Saudi Arabia in its candidacy for a place on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Can the Minister confirm whether that was the case? If it was, why did the UK Government take that action, given that his own Department’s human rights and democracy report lists Saudi Arabia as one of the countries of human rights concern, relating not only to its use of the death penalty but to access to justice, to women’s rights, and to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion or belief—all of which this House and our country are deeply committed to?

Mr Ellwood: Before I reply to the right hon. Gentleman’s important questions, may I just say that I am delighted to see him in his place today, following so much speculation? He commands a great deal of respect, and Parliament is all the wiser for his expertise in foreign affairs. I am pleased to see him back in his place.

The right hon. Gentleman has raised a number of questions, some of which related to the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. He mentioned the importance of the work being done in Yemen and in Libya and also in Syria. It is fair to say that we ended 2015 in a better place—marginally—than we started it, so far as the middle east is concerned. We had a ceasefire in place in Yemen. We had agreement around the table from adversaries from Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States and France, and from other participants and stakeholders in Syria, after waiting four years for

5 Jan 2016 : Column 97

all the necessary players to work together and agree on the requirements for a ceasefire and a transition process and on the necessary steps to put in place an 18-month approach towards elections. That could not have happened had Iran and Saudi Arabia not come to the table themselves.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out the involvement of Saudi Arabia in Yemen. It leads a large coalition—he is fully aware that it is not just Saudi Arabia that is involved there—and had that action not been taken, the Houthis would have moved all the way down to the port of Aden. The consequences of that would have been dire. So yes, Saudi Arabia has participated in the push-back, but it is following resolution 2216, as he is also well aware.

Saudi Arabia is bringing together the opposition parties that have not been at the table at the Vienna talks, and that is absolutely critical. That illustrates the work that Saudi Arabia needs to do. I hope the right hon. Gentleman agrees that we need to de-escalate the tensions. We have had confirmation from Saudi Arabia that it wants to continue to participate in the Vienna talks, and I am pleased that the President of Iran has condemned what happened at the Saudi Arabian embassy and at the consulate. That condemnation is important if we are to see a de-escalation of tension.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned arms sales. He is aware that Saudi Arabia has the right to defend itself and to participate in UN-approved actions in places such as Yemen. We have in place a robust system of licensing and scrutiny. We will look at any aspect of this where we feel that UK arms have been seen to be used inappropriately. We are working to make sure that the coalition, comprising not only Saudi Arabians but Emiratis, Jordanians, Egyptians and all those who are involved, tries to follow the standards of military engagement that we honour in this country as well.

The right hon. Gentleman specifically asked about—or made reference to—judicial co-operation under the memorandum of understanding. I understand from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), that there is no agreement on judicial co-operation in that MOU.[Official Report, 11 January 2016, Vol. 604, c. 3-4MC.] We are working behind the scenes with Saudi Arabia and we are endeavouring to improve the situation in Saudi Arabia, but this country is pivotal to overall peace in the middle east. Only with agreement to de-escalate the current tensions will we see Iran and Saudi Arabia come back to the table to make sure that we can build on what we did in 2015, in Yemen, in Syria and in places further afield such as Libya.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that although this is a complex relationship, the Saudis are often very difficult allies and they often find us very difficult and inexplicable, too? Does he also agree that in a region racked by civil war and political upheaval, they are essential and very long-standing allies and friends, and are not just to be cast aside like President Mubarak?

Mr Ellwood: My right hon. Friend, who has huge experience in this area, makes a very important point. I made reference to the fact that Saudi Arabia is a young state, created in 1932. There was no sense of nation state before that. There was no sense of central Government;

5 Jan 2016 : Column 98

rather, there were powerful tribal structures. It remains a mostly socially conservative society, where today’s leadership is on the liberal end of opinion—we must not forget that. We will therefore continue to work with Saudi Arabia to make sure that it moves towards its programme of reforms and modernisation.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): I thank the Minister for his statement and for advance sight of it. The Independent recently reported that a legal adviser to the Foreign Secretary stated that it was “not at all clear” whether UK weapons sold to Saudi Arabia have been used on civilian targets in Yemen, and a recent legal opinion published by Matrix Chambers has further cast doubt on the Government’s action. I await a response from the Minister to my letter of 3 December, in which I asked for specific reassurances from him that international arms treaty laws have not been breached in the sale of these weapons. I hope he can use this opportunity to give that reassurance to the House.

At the same time, the Minister should explain why the work of this Government on the export of weapons and military equipment has not been subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny by the Committees on Arms Export Controls. Why have they been reluctant to have transparency on this vital matter? We must have a full explanation as to why Saudi Arabia was excused from the UK Government’s five-year strategy towards abolishing the death penalty worldwide, despite its having one of the world’s worst human rights records. Why did that happen? Following the execution of 47 people in a single day last week, does the Minister regret that decision? What representations did the Government make to Saudi Arabia before and after the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr?

Finally, let me say that this Government are fast losing any credibility when it comes to supporting human rights around the world. The question has just been asked, but not answered, as to whether they supported Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council. What role did the Tory-Lib Dem Government play in that process? In addition, and of paramount importance, does the Minister support Saudi Arabia’s continuation in the role?

Mr Ellwood: Let me answer that last point about Saudi Arabia’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council first. The UK does not publicise how it votes, and that has been the case under all Governments, but I should say that this election was uncontested so it was very clear what the actual outcome would be. This appointment was made via an internal nomination of the consultative group, and the UK is not a member of that group. I hope that clarifies the British position in relation to Saudi Arabia and the UN Human Rights Council.

I thought I had answered the question about the five-year strategy. I specifically made it clear in my statement that that was written in 2011 and is no longer relevant in relation to the countries of concern, including Saudi Arabia. In dealing with a point about Ali al-Nimr made by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), which I did not answer fully, I can only repeat what I have said over the weekend, as have the Foreign Secretary and our ambassador in Riyadh: there

5 Jan 2016 : Column 99

are no reasons why Ali al-Nimr should face execution, and nor should the other youths convicted while they were juveniles.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): There should be much to be welcomed from more dynamic Saudi leadership and decision making, but not if it comes at a price of fomenting conflict with Iran. That relationship is key to conflict resolution in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and to stability in Lebanon and Bahrain. The rest of the international community is going to have to pick up the pieces and the costs if the Saudi-Iranian relationship does not have both parties trying to work towards co-operation, not confrontation. Will the Minister assure the House that the United Kingdom’s view that both countries must be working hard towards co-operation and repairing this relationship is our absolute expectation?

Mr Ellwood: I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the work that he has done and his interest in this area. I am aware that the Committee visited Tehran recently and has first-hand knowledge of what is happening there, following the nuclear deal. That is crucial: what message are we sending to the people of Iran with this opportunity, after the cold war that they have been through, to participate more responsibly in the region? We want to send a clear and positive message to the people of Iran, which is why it is so important to de-escalate the current tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Is it not clear that the Saudi authorities will continue with executions, including beheadings, stonings and even crucifixions, with the British Government saying, in effect, “Naughty, naughty” and continuing to be one of the main suppliers of arms? The record between this country and Saudi Arabia is one that should bring shame to Parliament.

Mr Ellwood: I think I have answered that question very clearly. We do not differentiate in respect of our arms sales; they very much go hand in hand, and we do exert influence behind the scenes, not just in Saudi Arabia, but in other countries. I am sorry that things are not as in the public domain as the hon. Gentleman would like.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): It can never be said too often that in highly contested areas of this sort one often has to choose the lesser of two evils. The Minister has painted a convincing picture of the way in which important intelligence tip-offs against Daesh are furnished to this country, but can he use his and the Government’s influence to say to the Saudis that their protestations of opposition to Daesh would carry more weight if there were less support from Saudi Arabia for the spreading of extreme Wahabist ideology through mosques and in countries around the world?

Mr Ellwood: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We are facing extremism, not just from Daesh, but from a series of extremist operators, including the Khorasan group, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Ansar al-Sharia and al-Nusra. They have one objective in common: to harm the west. It is important that everybody recognises that we will win not on the

5 Jan 2016 : Column 100

battlefield, but by winning hearts and minds. Nothing is more important than countries such as Saudi Arabia recognising the work it can do, which it is starting to do, in persuading the extremists and everybody else who might be encouraged to join those extremists that that is not what Islam is all about.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): The executions over the weekend, including that of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, must surely raise fundamental questions about the United Kingdom’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. People in the UK have every right to want to know what arrangements we are entering into as a country with another country that has acted with such brutality and with such disregard to the impact of its actions on co-operation across the middle east, especially in the light of the Vienna process and the ongoing conflict involving Daesh. Will the Government now commit to publishing both the memorandum of understanding on security, which was signed by the Home Secretary on behalf of the United Kingdom, and the memorandum of understanding on judicial co-operation, both of which have been withheld in full despite Freedom of Information Act requests? Bearing in mind the Saudi Government’s appalling record on human rights, especially the rights of women, will the Government call on Saudi Arabia to step down from chairing the UN Human Rights Council? The Minister carefully avoided condemning the actions of Saudi Arabia over the weekend, so will he do so now? Clearly, Saudi Arabia has a great influence over this Government. Will this Government now prove that they have some influence over Saudi Arabia?

Mr Ellwood: I have made it very clear that we oppose the death penalty—I think that view is also shared by the Opposition—and we continue to engage on the matter at the highest level. Saudi Arabia is aware of our views. The UK is also committed not just to abolishing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, but to advancing the global abolition of the death penalty. As a first step towards that objective, we should continue to work with our EU partners in applying the EU minimum standards. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Vienna talks. He seems to want to have his cake and to eat it too. Saudi Arabia is playing an influential role in the Vienna talks. Indeed, one could argue that those talks could not happen without Saudi Arabia at the table. It is very important that we continue to engage with Saudi Arabia and to de-escalate the tension that currently exists between Saudi Arabia and Iran so that we can ensure that the Vienna talks are able to proceed as expected later this month.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): One country that is working increasingly with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and particularly Yemen is Sudan, and there are growing relations between Khartoum and the Gulf states. Will the Minister use his influence with Saudi Arabia to put further pressure on the Sudanese President over the human rights abuses in Darfur?

Mr Ellwood: We have wandered away a little bit from Saudi Arabia. None the less, I did have the pleasure of attending the signing of the South Sudanese peace deal in Ethiopia. Clearly, human rights issues were very much at the forefront, and, yes, we will continue to work with Saudi Arabia to encourage change in Sudan.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 101

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): The Minister made it clear in his statement that there are conservative social values in Saudi Arabia. Does he also agree that there is no excuse whatsoever for the brutal executions, the lack of access to justice and the treatment of women? What confidence does he have that the way in which we are engaging with Saudi Arabia will bring about a visible improvement in its human rights record in the coming months?

Mr Ellwood: I made it very clear in my opening statement that we had concerns about governance, rule of law, human rights and women’s issues. Saudi Arabia is making small progress and taking incremental steps. We will continue to work with it to ensure that it stays on that path.

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): I commend the Minister for saying that he raises human rights concerns with the Saudi authorities and that he did so yesterday, but will he tell us what he has done to support the Sakharov human rights prize winner and the PEN Pinter prize winner, Raif Badawi, bearing in mind that the Pinter prize is given to somebody who tells the truth about our lives?

Mr Ellwood: The House will be well aware that Raif Badawi is the blogger whose case has been a source of concern for Members across this House. We have raised the case with Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions. I have raised it myself, as has the Foreign Secretary. We understand that Badawi’s case is still in court, but let me make it clear that we do not expect him to receive the lashes that he has been sentenced to receive.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): If the name of the game is de-escalation, bringing people around the table and making some progress in this situation, have Ministers made it clear to the Saudis that they could not have done anything more provocative than the 47 executions, particularly the one involving Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, to make the situation worse?

Mr Ellwood: The right hon. Lady’s points are now on the record. Our focus is to de-escalate those tensions. We have a number of regional challenges in which Saudi Arabia plays an important role, and that is what we will focus on now.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Bob Stewart.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should not look quite so surprised; he was standing to speak.

Bob Stewart: Forgive me, Mr Speaker, I have a problem with my hearing.

The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was clearly a real blunder, strategically, politically and in all senses, and everyone in this House believes that is so. Will the Minister outline what he thinks is good about Saudi foreign policy that helps peace and security in the region?

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend allows me to underline the important role that Saudi Arabia is playing in relation to attempting to control a ceasefire under UN

5 Jan 2016 : Column 102

resolution 2216 and to supporting the UN envoy Ismail Ahmed’s work in trying to bring peace to that area. Obviously, that is one area of concern. Syria is the other area of concern, and Saudi Arabia is playing a vital role in that regard too. We must also understand Saudi Arabia’s important role and efforts in countering the poisonous message and ideology of Daesh.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I think the Minister owes the House an explanation of why Saudi Arabia was omitted from the 2010-2015 strategy document. He has dismissed the question on the basis that there has since been another list published, but why was it not in the strategy document? Was it an oversight?

Mr Ellwood: I think that the document has been misinterpreted. It was not an exhaustive list as such, as I made clear in my opening statement. Saudi Arabia remains a country of concern, and we remain committed to encouraging and improving human rights in that country.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is indeed a very important ally of the United Kingdom in the region. Although internal order must be a matter for the Saudi authorities, as internal order is a matter for the authorities in the United Kingdom, the draconian crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia has already had very serious ramifications across the region and potentially has serious ramifications for the relationship between our country and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I urge my hon. Friend to impress on our Saudi friends that this is a serious matter and that, in showing leniency, particularly to these young juveniles, they will be doing a favour not only to us but to themselves, and they will be promoting the country as a better example than currently, sadly, is the case.

Mr Ellwood: I am pleased to repeat our concern about Ali al-Nimr and the other youths that were convicted when they were juveniles. We have received reassurances from the Foreign Affairs Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, and from the Saudi Arabian ambassador in London that they will not face execution.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Does the Minister recognise that huge numbers of people across the country will be genuinely shocked by his inability to say that he condemns the actions of Saudi Arabia over those executions? Will he now strengthen his language on that matter? Has his Department assessed the legal opinion published last month by Matrix Chambers which concluded that the Government have misdirected themselves in law and in fact in continuing to grant authorisations for the transfer of weapons to Saudi Arabia that are capable of being used in the conflict in Yemen?

Mr Ellwood: We have one of the most vigorous export licensing schemes in the world. Indeed, it was set up by the previous Government. If there are any genuine examples of the misuse of weapons systems that have been sold to any country, the process is in place to ensure that they are examined. If such examples are brought forward, we will certainly look at them.

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): As someone who has visited the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and who perhaps has more constituents working in the kingdom than any

5 Jan 2016 : Column 103

other Member in this House as a result of the relationship through the defence sector, may I urge the Minister to impress on our Saudi friends the importance of working with the moderate influences within the kingdom to ensure that peace and stability prevail throughout the region?

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend rightly underlines the importance of this bilateral relationship, which is not only commercial but includes academic and medical perspectives and so forth. The more we are able to engage and share ideas, the more we will be able to encourage change, modernisation and adaptation of international standards and the rule of law.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What preparations has the Minister’s Department made for the potential legal action which the Government now face owing to the fact that arms have been exported to Saudi Arabia which, it has been reported, have been used against civilians in Yemen?

Mr Ellwood: I repeat what I just said. Saudi Arabia has a legitimate right to purchase weapons systems. It also has a legitimate right under UN Security Council resolution 2166 to provide legitimate support to the President Hadi in Yemen. Had actions not been taken, as I said, the humanitarian catastrophe in that country, which the hon. Lady’s Front-Bench spokesman rightly mentioned, would be worse than it is, as would the challenges that we face. A port off the Red sea called Al Mukalla—a town bigger than Bournemouth—is now run by al-Qaeda. That is the threat that we face in Yemen. So yes, we must be concerned and aware of any weapons systems that we sell across the world. We have robust systems in place, but let us keep in check how they are used and what the consequences are in the country where they are used.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): For any nation to welcome 2016 with a display of mass execution more fitting of 1016 is profoundly wrong. Will the Minister confirm that, as in the case of our deal on nuclear issues with Iran, our relationship with Saudi Arabia will not prevent us from continuing to press human rights issues, in particular the oppression of religious minorities, and that all nations in the region which are expressing concerns about that in Saudi Arabia should look to eliminating it in their own jurisdiction as well?

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend is right. I pay tribute to his understanding and knowledge of the area. We are working with Saudi Arabia across a wide range of issues, one of which is religious tolerance.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): We have seen a very weak response from the UK Government tonight. We find ourselves allies to one of the world’s biggest human rights abusers. It comes as no surprise to me when we heard at the weekend the Foreign Office use the word “disappointment,” stating that it did not expect the executions to go ahead. I am glad that I have heard tonight that the Minister has been in touch with the Saudi Kingdom and asked for the boys to be spared. The Minister is well aware that I have been campaigning for Ali for months and also for Dawoud and Abdullah, so I call on the Minister to

5 Jan 2016 : Column 104

make sure that the Saudi King commutes the death penalties and does not carry them out. Does the Minister seriously think that evidence of successful dialogue with Saudi is that only 47 executions were carried out, instead of 53?

Mr Ellwood: I do not entirely understand the final point that the hon. Lady makes. I pay tribute to her and the work that she is doing in making sure that she raises these issues on the Floor of the House. I take all her contributions extremely seriously. She is aware that I am in constant dialogue over these cases, not just Raif Badawi, but Ali Mohammed al-Nimr and others. We have been working closely together on that and I assure the hon. Lady that we will continue to do so.

Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con): Saudi Arabia is co-ordinating the Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism, a coalition of 34 nations brought together to help defeat Daesh, in addition to the Vienna talks. Iran is not one of the 34 nations, and it is difficult to imagine how that coalition will be able to grow and work effectively, given the increased acrimony and the breakdown in diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries, including Iran. How can the Government make sure that this embittered Sunni-Shi’a division does not put the stability of the region and our own safety here at home at further risk from sectarian conflict and extremism on both sides, when we need bold steps towards a Sunni and Shi’a reconciliation?

Mr Ellwood: I agree with my hon. Friend, who I know has huge expertise in this area. She describes exactly the challenge that we face and what we need to do. She talks about the Islamic military coalition to fight terrorism. That is in its infancy. Countries have only just come together. It would make sense for Iran to be involved in that. The first meeting took place just before the new year. Further meetings are planned. It is a positive move that countries are now looking towards the longevity of their own security.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Is not the problem that the Saudi authorities are prepared to ignore diplomatic niceties, the Minister’s disappointment and a statement in the Foreign Office’s report in July about its continued concern over death penalty use in Saudi and the fact that the Foreign Office regularly raises the issue with the Saudi authorities unilaterally and bilaterally? Well, that’s worked, hasn’t it? Is it not time for the Saudi authorities to face concrete action from Britain, such as an end to arms exports, rather than continued expressions of concern? [Interruption.]

Mr Ellwood: I am reminded of Labour’s policy towards Saudi Arabia over 13 years. We must have clear and precise rules on the export licensing schemes around the world. We cannot do it by whim or by choice, according to whether a country is flavour of the month or not. There are rules that we follow. Saudi Arabia has the right the defend itself and to purchase weapons systems. No country has the right to purchase weapons systems from us and then abuse them or use them incorrectly. The licensing scheme then kicks in and makes sure that the sales are revoked.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): It is clear that countries in the region ought to be doing more on the Syrian refugee situation. What discussions have Ministers had with the Saudi Government on that?

5 Jan 2016 : Column 105

Mr Ellwood: It is worth paying tribute to all the countries in the region that have taken on a huge commitment to look after refugees fleeing persecution not just in Iraq, but in Syria. That includes many of the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. My hon. Friend’s question allows me to pay tribute particularly to Jordan and Lebanon, which have taken the largest burden.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): The executions last week were shocking and deeply troubling. May I place a different emphasis from that of some of my colleagues and urge the Minister and the Government only to enact measures that will be effective in improving the Saudis’ record on human rights, acknowledging the dangers that bellicose statements from the west—from infidels—can sometimes make matters significantly worse in a situation where the Saudi Government themselves are fragile and could at some time be replaced by a far more brutal regime? We would not forgive ourselves, nor would we be forgiven in the country, if our actions resulted in a fundamental reappraisal of our relationship that stopped the vital intelligence that could have prevented a fatal attack on our shores.

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman articulates very well the challenge that we face. I pay tribute to his interest in and knowledge of this area. He is right. I described the leadership today as being at the liberal end of opinion in that country. He uses a different form of wording. There are huge challenges that we face in the middle east, and different ways that we can provide support and influence the country. We can use foghorn diplomacy, stand back and shout from afar. That does not work and has not worked in the past.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The greater prize for both traditions of Islam is reconciliation, and one has only to ask the families returning to their homes in Tikrit and now Ramadi to see that. This escalation of tension could reverse some of those hard-won victories. Has the Minister or the Foreign Secretary had any discussions with our American allies—with Secretary of State Kerry—and is he or the Foreign Secretary planning to go to Saudi Arabia and Tehran to help de-escalate the situation?

Mr Ellwood: Yes, huge efforts are taking place behind the scenes, involving many countries. My hon. Friend speaks about Ramadi. I place on record the importance of the capital of Anbar province now returning to the Iraqis. That shows that Daesh is on the back foot. The next step is Mosul. That will be significant for Iraq, which my hon. Friend knows well. It is important that that country is able to change the laws on de-Ba’athification and the national guard. If that does not happen, all that work will be challenged.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): I think that most of us would agree that last week’s dreadful executions in Saudi Arabia reinforced the case for a global abolition of the death penalty. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that our democratic allies in the west also adhere to that? Will he strongly make the case to Americans in the southern states of the US, many of whom have a deep concern for religious freedom, that their support for the death penalty in their country weakens the case for a global abolition of the death penalty and for religious freedom worldwide?

5 Jan 2016 : Column 106

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. I reiterate our commitment to advancing the global abolition of the death penalty, whether in Saudi Arabia or in the United States of America.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is indeed hardly alone in practising judicial killing, but this latest bloodbath suggests a regime under some kind of pressure. What contingency planning does the Minister think should be done for the potential geopolitical consequences of the regime falling, given that it would do so swiftly and brutally, not unlike the Shah in 1979?

Mr Ellwood: We are very much focused on de-escalating tensions between the two countries, for the reasons I have outlined, not just for the benefit of Saudi Arabia and Iran, but because there is much to be gained from getting back around the table and working on the progress made in 2015 to deal with the challenges in Syria and Iraq, and indeed in Yemen.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The international reaction to the executions was entirely predictable, not least from Iran. Given the precarious nature of the Vienna process at the moment, what confidence does the Minister have that the Saudi Government are committed to pursuing that process? Why does he believe that that commitment is still there?

Mr Ellwood: It is not just Saudi Arabia that we put pressure on to deal with human rights issues, and indeed with the death penalty; we also put pressure on Iran, which executes far more people—that point has not yet been made today. However, the reaction from President Rouhani, and indeed from Saudi Arabia, recognising that they must encourage and continue regional discussions on these other issues, has been noted. Flights and diplomatic relations have been broken off, but we have been given assurances that those who wish to can continue to visit the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): The execution of Sheikh al-Nimr has had disastrous consequences and is a gift to Daesh. Has the Minister made a calculation of the effect of the failure to deliver a straightforward condemnation on relations with other regional powers?

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend is right to recognise that Daesh benefits when there are disagreements between the regional players, which is why it is important that we de-escalate tensions.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): The Islamic scholar and cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was described by our US allies as someone who promoted democracy, justice and peace. I do not doubt the Minister’s commitment to those values, but we really do need more than a statement of disappointment—a rather perverse manifestation of the British understatement. Given that promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia now appears to be a capital offence, can he outline exactly what the Saudi Government would need to do to draw an official censure from the Dispatch Box?

Mr Ellwood: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to link two different conversations. Two and two does not equal five. The fact that those who promote democracy are now facing the death penalty is incorrect.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 107

We will continue to build our relationships with Saudi Arabia to encourage the reforms that we would like to see, as I articulated in my statement.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest threat to human rights in the region is ISIL-Daesh and that we must not be naive about the threats faced by allies such as Saudi Arabia? Therefore, as well as putting pressure on them to improve their human rights record, we must also help them to do so, and we must stand by them.

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point that needs to be underlined in this Chamber. The organisation that is the most brutal in its failure to recognise any form of human rights is Daesh. It plays upon that fact, promising a better life to those who are attracted to make the journey to its self-imposed caliphate. It is a false promise; to the girls and boys who end up there, and on what happens when they eventually die, because they will not go to heaven and be rewarded for their actions.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Minister referred to our close relationship with Saudi Arabia but said that that should not mean that we shy away from raising legitimate human rights concerns. Does he understand that the concern that many people have, both in this House and across the United Kingdom, is that commercial considerations are doing precisely that? What can he say, and what can the Government do, to ensure that commercial considerations are not being put ahead of human rights concerns, both for religious minorities and females?

Mr Ellwood: I touched on that in my statement and have made it very clear that no aspect of our commercial relationship with Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, prevents us from speaking frankly, and indeed openly, about human rights challenges. We will not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights; they can and should be complementary.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): My hon. Friend quite rightly refers to Saudi Arabia as a key ally, and to the emphasis on preventing further executions, so can he make it clear to the House what efforts were made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in advance of the executions to prevent them taking place at all?

Mr Ellwood: We were not informed when the executions would take place, and once they did we were in touch with the authorities immediately.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The Minister said that the UK Government had no role in securing the chairmanship of the United Nations Human Rights Council for Saudi Arabia. Following the execution of 47 people in a judicial process widely deemed to be grossly unjust and deeply flawed, and with the threat of execution hanging over Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon, will the UK Government now be lobbying to get Saudi Arabia to stand down from that chairmanship?

Mr Ellwood: No, we will not.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 108

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): It is particularly concerning that, notwithstanding assurances that have been given, death sentences remain in place against a number of juveniles, including Ali Mohammed al-Nimr. Will my hon. Friend pursue all available means to ensure that those executions do not happen?

Mr Ellwood: That is now our priority. It has been the subject of many conversations that we have had with the Saudi authorities, not least the Foreign Minister and the embassy. The assurance that we have received is that those executions will not take place.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Do the UK Government realise that unless western powers have a consistent approach to foreign policy in the middle east, particularly on human rights, there is no hope for a lasting peace? With that in mind, elementally, what is the difference between Islamic terrorist groups beheading people and Saudi Arabia beheading its political opponents?

Mr Ellwood: What Daesh is doing is beheading everybody who does not believe in it. But Daesh is not a state, so the influence that we can have in defeating it and its ideology is well documented—indeed, it was debated and voted upon in this House. Our approach to Saudi Arabia has again been discussed here today. We are committed to removing the death penalty, and not just in Saudi Arabia; we are working with other countries to see it removed across the world.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): The dreadful events last week have made a complicated situation even more challenging and tested fragile relationships in a region where we need to see peace. What reassurance can the Minister give the House now that he is in proper contact with our allies—notably our European allies and the United States—to bring more influence on making sure that human rights are a priority and that, above all, peace is introduced?

Mr Ellwood: The two issues are absolutely related. We need to encourage Saudi Arabia and other allies that need to make progress in this area and work out the best strategy for providing that support. That is exactly what we are doing. We are also in discussion with other Gulf Co-operation Council countries, the Arab League, the United Nations and the European Union to work together on how best to support the introduction and improvement of human rights, governance, the rule of law and women’s rights as well as the important issue of the freedom of the press.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): Both Amnesty International and Save the Children have recently produced reports on the conflict in Yemen, expressing concern that UK-sold arms are being used by the Saudi coalition in breach of international human rights law. Does the Minister accept that if that is the case, the UK could be found to have been complicit in war crimes? What steps is he taking to investigate those reports and make sure that that is not the case?

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman is asking me a hypothetical; I am not going to go down that particular road. I will say, as I have repeated, that if there is

5 Jan 2016 : Column 109

genuine intelligence evidence to suggest that weapons systems—not just in this country, but anywhere—have been abused, our robust export licence scheme will absolutely kick into place. I met representatives of a number of NGOs that operate in Yemen who raised concerns in the same vein. Again, I make the request to let us see the intelligence, then we will investigate it ourselves.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I have visited Saudi Arabia and met its parliamentarians and Ministers; one made it clear that one was against the death penalty and called for religious freedom. However, may I ask the Minister for clarification on this point? Has he seen the article by Joseph Braude from the Foreign Policy Research Institute? He said that many of those executed in Saudi Arabia along with Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr were members of Hezbollah al-Hejaz—a sister wing of Hezbollah that has been listed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union. Some colleagues have said that there was peaceful protest, but has the Minister seen the other side of the coin, which indicates that some of those involved had taken part in terrorist activity?

I do not know the answer; I am simply seeking clarification. Linked to that issue, has the Minister seen a statement from al-Qaeda and Daesh calling for open revolt and for people to take up arms against the Saudi Government? We have a common enemy in Daesh and al-Qaeda in that respect.

Mr Ellwood: I have not seen the article and would be grateful if my hon. Friend passed it on to me. He makes an important point about the charges against these people. I underline, however, that we do not believe that the death penalty was deserved, whatever the charge. Britain has stood by that position for some time. As an interim step, there are EU standards that could be introduced. I hope that Saudi Arabia will take heed of that.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In ascribing a key role in the Syrian process to Saudi Arabia, the Minister is dressing a wolf in sheep dog’s clothing. Does selling sophisticated armed technology to that regime blind the UK Government to the primitive barbarism that it continues to demonstrate? Is there any excess by that regime that the British Government will not offset by scraping the barrel of political excusery?

Mr Ellwood: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman; he has his views. I make it clear that the two are not mutually exclusive: we are able to have a legitimate, recognised and transparent arms export scheme, which includes Saudi Arabia, but that does not prevent us from having very frank conversations—public and private—about issues of human rights in Saudi Arabia and other countries as well.

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): I welcome the recent appointment of our new chargé d’affaires, Nicholas Hopton, to Tehran and I hope that before too long our two nations will have full diplomatic relations. Does the Minister agree that maintaining and strengthening diplomatic relations, even with countries with which we have substantial differences of opinion, is absolutely the best way to have those difficult conversations about human rights and democracy?

5 Jan 2016 : Column 110

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I pay tribute to the knowledge and experience in this area that she brings to the House. In February, there will be elections to the Majlis in Iran. We are hoping that the signing of the nuclear deal will allow a moderate grouping of MPs to be elected, which will encourage greater representation of the voices of the Iranian people. We very much encourage that.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Saudi Arabia is 12th on the Open Doors World Watch list of countries where it is difficult to live as a Christian. In February last year, 12 Ethiopians, worshipping in their own house in private, were arrested, questioned and deported. In a Westminster Hall debate on international human rights in the second week of December, I brought to the attention of the Minister the issue of the 28 Christians—women, children and a few men—who were also arrested. For the record, I should say that those people disappeared into the ether of Saudi Arabia and there has been no explanation of where they have been.

On that day, I asked the Minister whether he could find out what had happened. I am concerned about the welfare of those people, as I am about the welfare of all Christians in Saudi Arabia, and other Members are also concerned. Will the Minister take up those issues directly with Saudi Arabia and give Members the answer we need?

Mr Ellwood: I am very happy to take that request away. I place on the record my acknowledgment of the hon. Gentleman’s understanding, expertise and commitment to encouraging greater tolerance in matters of religion across the middle east—and, as we discussed this morning in Westminster Hall, south-east Asia as well.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): The Minister says that any incidence of the use of British weapons against civilians in Yemen will be investigated. Is the bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in the Saada region being investigated, as Saudi planes were identified as having been involved?

Mr Ellwood: First, I recognise the work that the hon. Lady has done as a doctor in various areas of conflict; she brings huge knowledge and expertise to the House.

The concerns about the misuse of military equipment are about where kit has been used, collateral damage has taken place and that has not been admitted to. When the Saudi Arabians—not only them; 10 other countries are involved in the coalition—have put up their hands to collateral damage having taken place, the necessary compensation has been paid. That is the correct process. Our concern, which has been articulated in the House, is whether the weapons are being used deliberately and indiscriminately to cause harm from a height and there has been no follow-up whatever.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The Minister is simply not facing up to the revulsion felt by British people at this outrage. He should have acknowledged and condemned it at the start of his statement, and he did not. He says it is important to deal with Daesh, who are executing their cultural and religious enemies, yet we are sitting down with a state that is executing—beheading—its cultural and religious enemies without proper trial. Is it any wonder that people around the country, including members of the all-party group on

5 Jan 2016 : Column 111

the abolition of the death penalty, are concerned and suspicious that Saudi Arabia is not on the FCO strategy list of 30 countries where we are trying to abolish the death penalty?

Mr Ellwood: First, I acknowledge the work of the all-party group, which I would be delighted to meet if that would be of help in looking into these matters in more detail. This prompts the question of how we best exert influence. Do we shout from afar; do we back away from any relationship that we have, right across the piece, and expect change to happen in that way; or do we follow our current strategy, which was articulated and shared by the Liberal Democrats when they were in government as well, of being able to work behind the scenes to get elections so that women are now elected, and NGOs and charities are now represented, to allow this very young nation state to take the necessary steps towards the place where we want it to be?

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): This very young nation state is about the same age as the nation state of the Republic of Ireland. I do not think we would excuse murder by the authorities in the Republic of Ireland on the basis that it was a young country, nor indeed in the nine member states of the European Union that did not exist in the early parts of the 20th century.

We are discussing a brutal and violent outrage perpetrated by an unelected dictatorship against its own citizens, and the public record will show that the Minister chose to say that he was very concerned about the reaction to that outrage before he even mentioned the outrage itself. Given that we are dealing with a regime that has made it perfectly clear that it is more than willing to murder its own citizens, not, in a phrase that will be familiar to the Minister, because of anything they did but because of who they were, does he accept that if the rules on arms sales allow such a brutal regime to receive arms from the United Kingdom, then those rules have to be changed with immediate effect?

Mr Ellwood: Again, this goes to the strategy of how we can best influence what is going on. We condemn state murder wherever it takes place, whether in Saudi Arabia or any other countries across the world. I have made that absolutely clear. We stand firm in wanting to advance the global abolition of the death penalty, and that will not change.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 112

Points of Order

8.31 pm

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am genuinely sorry to take up the House’s time today. Over the Christmas recess, we discovered that the Government have stopped the long-standing practice of releasing the historical Cabinet papers to the national archives for the new year. Only a small selection of files covering the 1986 to ’88 period have been provided, and those dealing with issues such as the poll tax and the Black Monday stock market crash remain secret. Given that the Ministers responsible were themselves advisers to the then Government, it is important that we know who made this decision and for what reasons, yet no statement has been made to this House. Apparently they have found a way to reduce the accountability of two Tory Governments in one go. Is there anything you can do, Mr Speaker, to ensure that Ministers come to this House to explain this decision, not just so that they are held to account for themselves but to ensure that the public know about decisions that previous Administrations made in their name?

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice that she intended to raise this matter. I have to say that it is not a matter of order for the Chair but rather a matter for Ministers. As things stand—I do not think she will be surprised to hear me say this—I have received no indication that a Minister wishes to make a statement on the subject. That said, her concern will doubtless have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and will be relayed to the relevant Ministers. Knowing her as I have come to know her over the past eight months, I am sure that she will use her ingenuity to find ways to pursue the matter through questions or possibly by seeking an opportunity for debate.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today is not a normal Tuesday, because we usually finish at about 7 o’clock or 7.30 pm but today we are finishing at 10 o’clock, 10.30 pm, or later. Could you help me by telling me what will be the consequence of passing the programme motion before us or defeating it?

Mr Speaker: I can answer very simply. If the programme motion is passed, there is protected time of up to six hours for debate on the Report stage of the Housing and Planning Bill. That is clearly what the Government intended in putting the motion on the Order Paper—six hours of protected time. If the motion is not passed, the answer to the hon. Gentleman, and for the benefit of the House, is that debate on the Bill could not continue beyond 10 o’clock. However, I must advise the House that in debating the matters appertaining to the Bill up until 10 o’clock, we would not do so in the order set down for consideration in the Government’s motion; we would have to proceed in a different way that would require ingenious and speedy work of an administrative kind by those within the usual channels responsible for these matters. I am glad that one such senior denizen who would have that responsibility is nodding in assent to my proposition, whether with enthusiasm or an air of resignation I will leave it for the House to judge. If the motion is passed, we proceed as the Government had

5 Jan 2016 : Column 113

intended; if the motion is not passed, we cannot proceed beyond 10 o’clock and would have to proceed in a different way.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Would it not be possible for Members on both sides of the House to agree voluntarily to continue with the order of debate in the proposed programme motion, even if it was all to be stopped at 10 o’clock?

Mr Speaker: It is a hypothetical question, but if the right hon. Lady is asking me whether it would be open to the Government to table a different proposed order of consideration at this stage, I am advised that it would be possible. I cannot recall a precedent for it, but if the right hon. Lady is asking me whether it is possible, the answer is that, like most things, if the House were to will it, it could happen. I have to say, however, that, although the resources of civilisation are not yet exhausted, no representative of the Government Whips Office has approached me on this matter. Given that we have been on statements for some time, one would rather have thought that if they did will that, they would have approached me. They have not, so I assume that they do not, if the House follows my drift.

We will have to leave it there for now, but I have explained the position and it is up to Members to do as they wish. As things stand, the House is due to sit—unusually, it has to be said, and pretty exceptionally—for several hours in order to progress the Government’s business. I am the servant of the House and I will do whatever the House decrees.

If there are no further points of order—for now, at any rate—we come to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) has been waiting exceptionally patiently.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 114

Mesothelioma (Amendment) (No. 2)

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

8.37 pm

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Mesothelioma Act 2014.

I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, and your amazing ability to stay in that Chair for so many hours. I regularly play football on a Friday night and the question I am always asked by my colleagues is, “How does he manage to do it?”

May I once again pay tribute to my predecessor, Paul Goggins, who worked tirelessly for the victims of this cruel disease? As we approach the second anniversary of his death this week, I hope the whole House will join me in extending our warmest wishes to his family at this difficult time. I also express my gratitude to my mentor and the former MP for Wythenshawe, Lord Alf Morris, who campaigned tirelessly on the issue in the other place and saw that work as part of his groundbreaking Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill 1970.

I also want to pay tribute to Conservative Members, namely the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who have taken a particular interest in the matter and given their support, and to Lord Alton, who is promoting a concurrent Bill in the other place. He has also been working tirelessly for the victims of this disease.

Every year, hundreds of people gather in cities across the UK to raise awareness of mesothelioma and to call for better treatment of patients, for prevention of exposure to asbestos and for a ban on the export of asbestos to developing countries. Last July, a few colleagues and I once again attended Lincoln Square in Manchester with victims’ families. Loved ones released white doves symbolising each of the victims. It was an incredibly poignant and moving occasion. The number of people attending the event grows each year. The latest Government figures show that seven new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every day.

Next year’s event will be even more poignant because of Stuart Packard, who was highlighted recently by The Daily Telegraph. As most of us in Manchester went about our business on 15 June 1996, the city was rocked by a massive IRA bomb. As one of the first civilians allowed through the cordon later that week to view the devastation, I wondered how there was no loss of life. However, Stuart was just 21 when he spent about three weeks working as an emergency security guard at the scene and he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March, having come into contact with the carcinogenic dust from the subsequent demolition work. He died just before Christmas, aged 40, leaving his wife and two young children. His father-in-law said:

“This disease just came back to get him so many years later.”

Mesothelioma is an invasive type of lung cancer that is caused primarily by prior exposure to asbestos. There is currently no cure. Patients often experience complex, debilitating symptoms and most die within 12 months of diagnosis. There is a long time lag between exposure

5 Jan 2016 : Column 115

and the development of the disease. Although it can be as little as 10 years, the average interval is between 30 and 40 years.

Most people with the disease developed it after being exposed to asbestos in the workplace—building our houses, schools and hospitals; working on our shipyards; or serving and defending our country in the armed forces. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who is sat on the Front Bench, because, working with the Royal British Legion, he secured a better deal for our service personnel who are victims of the disease during the recent passage of the Armed Forces Bill.

The UK has the highest rate of the disease in the world. Mortality rates are increasing and have more than quadrupled over the last 30 years. It is estimated that more than 2,500 people will die of the disease in the UK this year and that during the next 30 years, about 60,000 people will die unless new treatments are found.

Research needs to be done to understand why certain individuals develop the disease and others do not. We know of instances where the wives of construction and shipyard workers have been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos dust on the overalls of their husbands, yet the husbands have never developed the disease. We do not know why that is.

The James Lind Alliance has identified a number of priority areas for research—essential questions that need to be answered to improve the understanding of the disease and provide hope to patients and their families. We need to ensure that there is funding to take that research forward.

The Bill offers an alternative route for funding research. Although Aviva, Zurich, AXA and the RSA have been contributing to this field, too many companies have evaded their responsibilities. We need statutory underpinning. Three million pounds a year will not dent the pockets of the companies who pay out £187 million a day to their customers.

Dr Robert Rintoul, who works at MesobanK, sees the importance of research not only for people living in this country, but for others around the world. He says that

“asbestos is still being used in on unsafe and unregulated way. Although the number of cases of mesothelioma in the UK will

5 Jan 2016 : Column 116

fall over the next 30 years, there will continue to be an epidemic of the disease globally and the lessons that we learn today about the biology of the disease will be used by doctors the world over in years to come.”

Lord Wills stated in the recent debate in the other place that the cost to the health service and society was a reason for action. Going by the data that each patient costs £75,000 and that there are 2,500 patients, he estimated a £5 billion cost to the UK over the coming years. That is an interesting argument, given the current focus on the financial burden to the NHS in the “Five Year Forward View”.

Unless a change is introduced to the way mesothelioma research is funded, we will risk stagnation and endanger potential life-changing and even life-saving breakthroughs. Currently, the research relies on ad hoc contributions from insurers, charitable donations and modest funding from the Government. That unreliable approach to funding jeopardises ongoing research, which impacts not only on the British research industry, but on mesothelioma mortality in the UK. That is why statutory funding must be secured for the research.

One can make plenty of salient and important arguments about the value of research, both to insurers and to the British research industry. However, the focus must remain on the people affected by this devastating disease—the workers, the spouses, the children—who currently have little hope due to the lack of treatment options available to them. For them it is essential that we seize the life-saving opportunity in front of us today.

I see that the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) is in his place. His father, Phillip Glen, dedicated his 50-year working life to the horticultural industry in Wiltshire until his recent retirement. He was, however, exposed to asbestos by working with boilers in the nurseries, and he was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing the hon. Gentleman, his father, and all sufferers of this terrible disease our heartfelt best in the years ahead.

Question put and agreed to.


That John Woodcock, Jim Shannon, Sammy Wilson, Andy Slaughter, Andy McDonald, Mr Graham Brady, Jonathan Reynolds and Mike Kane present the Bill.

Mike Kane accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 29 January, and to be printed (Bill 114).

5 Jan 2016 : Column 117

Housing and Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

8.47 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Brandon Lewis): I beg to move,

That the Order of 2 November 2015 (Housing and Planning Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

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

(2) Proceedings on Consideration up to and including Third Reading shall be taken in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.

(3) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings

First day

New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to Part 1

Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the following: (a) Chapter 3 of Part 4; (b) the recovery of social housing assistance; (c) the insolvency of social housing providers; (d) Part 2; (e) Part 3

Four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the following: (a) Part 6; (b) surplus land held by public bodies or the disposal of land by public bodies

Six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

Second day

New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the following (a) Chapter 2 of Part 4; (b) Chapter 4 of Part 4; (c) Chapter 5 of Part 4; (d) Chapter 1 of Part 4.

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

New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the following: (a) Part 5; (b) Part 7; remaining proceedings on Consideration

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

(5) Proceedings in Legislative Grand Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement on the second day.

(6) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement on the second day.

In light of the points of order that we had a few moments ago, let me say that this programme motion has been agreed through the usual channels to ensure proper and full scrutiny of the Bill, and I am happy to facilitate requests from Labour Members to do that. Given the comments made by some Members about the time until which we may be here tonight, all colleagues have the ability to exercise self-restraint if they wish,

5 Jan 2016 : Column 118

and from a ministerial point of view I will do that to ensure that Back Benchers have a good opportunity to speak.

8.48 pm

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I rise to take real issue with the Government’s programming of the Bill. Not only did we have extraordinary cut-offs in Committee that at times made it difficult for the Opposition effectively to scrutinise the legislation, but we must ask why the Bill was brought back today when it had to be fitted in around four statements, meaning that we are starting the debate at this late hour. Why have the groupings been so oddly applied, meaning that little time is available for really contentious parts of the Bill?

What I most take issue with is the huge amount of new clauses and amendments to the Bill that the Government tabled over the Christmas period. We are considering most of them this evening when seeking to determine what the changes mean for housing associations with regard to regulation and deregulation, and to large-scale systemic changes to our planning system. Most planning organisations and agencies have simply had no time to assess what these changes will mean for them or the planning system. Never in my experience of many Bills in this House have I witnessed 65 pages of Government new clauses and amendments being produced at the last minute for a Bill that is 145 pages long. That is simply appalling and means that there will be no proper scrutiny in this House of almost a third of the Bill. We wish to register our strong view that that is no way for legislation to be made, and the Government should do the honourable thing and reprogramme this debate.

8.49 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I do not think there would be any objection if the Government agreed to that, but we are in the situation we are in.

The Bill totally misses out the necessary changes to leasehold and commonhold. Some years ago, the House passed a Bill to allow commonhold to come in. It has defects and we are going to be lumbered with more and more leaseholds being created—for over half of new homes.

The second thing I object to is that we have not taken the easy opportunity of cutting out the forfeiture of people’s homes when there has been a little dispute over some charges. I hope that later on, perhaps in another place, if not on Report and Third Reading, the House will realise that the Government really need to get on and sort out the problems of leasehold that affect a very, very high number of property owners.

8.50 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I am very unhappy about the programme motion, merely because of the time we are starting to debate it: 10 minutes to 9. This means that really important clauses will be considered after midnight, for example on whether there can be any priority for local people when it comes to purchasing of starter homes, which is included in new clause 57. There a number of really important issues which frankly I think our constituents, who are concerned about housing

5 Jan 2016 : Column 119

and planning, would not expect to be decided after midnight. That is not grown up; it is a return to the days when I first came to this House and voted against beating children at 4 am. I vowed never to have such important votes at that time of the morning again.

This House has modernised most of its procedures. In line with that, we should reject the programme motion. We should agree to proceed on the order of debate that we have agreed to. I am quite sure the usual channels could arrange that comfortably if the motion were to be defeated. We should defeat it and not have a debate on such important matters at 1 am.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 303, Noes 195.

Division No. 153]


8.52 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Sir Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donelan, Michelle

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Elliott, Tom

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hall, Luke

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollingbery, George

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kinahan, Danny

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Parish, Neil

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Royston

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Tugendhat, Tom

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Simon Kirby


Sarah Newton


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brake, rh Tom

Brennan, Kevin

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burgon, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Butler, Dawn

Byrne, rh Liam

Cadbury, Ruth

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Coffey, Ann

Corbyn, rh Jeremy

Coyle, Neil

Crausby, Mr David

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Dromey, Jack

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Farron, Tim

Field, rh Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Gardiner, Barry

Glindon, Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Greenwood, Margaret

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harpham, Harry

Harris, Carolyn

Hayes, Helen

Hayman, Sue

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollern, Kate

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huq, Dr Rupa

Hussain, Imran

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Kinnock, Stephen

Kyle, Peter

Lamb, rh Norman

Lavery, Ian

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Clive

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian C.

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Malhotra, Seema

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

Matheson, Christian

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McKinnell, Catherine

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morris, Grahame M.

Mulholland, Greg

Murray, Ian

Onn, Melanie

Osamor, Kate

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Pennycook, Matthew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Jess

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Saville Roberts, Liz

Shah, Naz

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sherriff, Paula

Siddiq, Tulip

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, Angela

Smith, Cat

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smyth, Karin

Spellar, rh Mr John

Starmer, Keir

Streeting, Wes

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, rh Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Turley, Anna

Turner, Karl

Vaz, Valerie

West, Catherine

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Mr Mark

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Dame Rosie

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Noes:

Holly Lynch


Jeff Smith

Question accordingly agreed to.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 120

5 Jan 2016 : Column 121

5 Jan 2016 : Column 122

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): As Mr Speaker informed the House on Monday 26 October, before a Report stage begins on a Bill, he will seek to identify in advance those changes made in Committee which he would expect to certify as relating only to England or only to England and Wales, together with

5 Jan 2016 : Column 123

any Government amendments tabled for Report stage which, if passed, would be likely to lead him to issue a certificate. Mr Speaker’s provisional certificate, based on those changes and expected amendments, is available on the Bills before Parliament website.

At the end of the Report stage of a Bill, on its second day in this case, Mr Speaker is required to consider the Bill as amended on Report for certification. Before we get to that point, he will issue a further provisional certificate. As Mr Speaker informed the House on 26 October, he has accepted the advice of the Procedure Committee not, as a rule, to give reasons for decisions on certification during this experimental phase of the new regime. Anyone wishing to make representations to Mr Speaker prior to any decision should send them to the Clerk of Legislation.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you can help me. Have you any idea or any clue what any of that meant—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Because there is noise in the Chamber, I cannot hear the hon. Gentleman’s point of order.

Pete Wishart: I repeat my point of order. Have you any idea or any clue what any of that which you have just read out meant?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Yes. I thought it was crystal clear and I deliberately announced it very slowly to ensure that all Members in the House had a chance to understand it. If the hon. Gentleman would like a tutorial, we are all available later—it is no problem.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 124

Housing and Planning Bill

[1st Allocated Day]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Building Control Standards for Starter Homes

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations require all starter homes meeting the definition at section 2 to meet the requirements of this section.

(2) The requirements are that—

(a) he starter home complies with all the requirements of Building Regulations currently applicable to the dwelling at the time of its construction or adaptation;

(b) the starter home has been inspected by a Building Control Body in compliance with the Building Control Performance Standards currently applicable at the time of its construction or adaptation; and

(c) all records relating to all site inspections and assessments by the Building Control Body regarding the home’s compliance with the Building Regulations are made available to prospective buyers of the starter home.”


(Mrs Miller.)

This new Clause would require all Starter Homes not only to be subject to the statutory regime of building inspection controls, carried out in compliance with the Building Control Performance Standards, but also to comply with a requirement for site inspection records and the assessment of compliance to be made available to home buyers.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Duty to meet the resilience objective

‘(1) The Secretary of State and planning authorities in exercising and performing the powers and functions conferred or imposed by the provisions in Part 1 (New homes in England) and Part 6 (Planning in England) of this Act shall exercise or perform them in the manner which he or they consider is best calculated to further the resilience objective at subsection (2).

(2) The resilience objective is—

(a) to secure the long-term resilience of housing developments as regards environmental pressures, population growth and changes in consumer behaviour, with particular regard to water supply management, sewerage management, flood risk mitigation and waste disposal, and

(b) to secure steps for the purpose of meeting, in the long term, the need for sustainable homes and communities, including by promoting—

(i) appropriate long-term planning and investment by relevant parties, and

(ii) the taking of measures by the relevant parties to manage resource use in sustainable ways, to achieve sustainable management of water, and to increase resource efficiency so as to reduce pressure on the natural environment.

(3) In this section, “relevant parties” includes—

(a) relevant undertakers, including licence holders and authorised suppliers, as provided in the Gas Act 1986, the Electricity Act 1989 and the Water Industries Act 1991; and

(b) individuals and bodies corporate who are seeking planning permission in order to build houses.”

5 Jan 2016 : Column 125

This new Clause would provide a statutory duty on the Secretary of State and local authorities to secure and promote the resilience of housing and other development.

Amendment 31, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, after “promote”, insert

“new homes across all tenures, including”.

The amendment would change the purpose of the Bill to one that would enable the supply of more housing across all tenures rather than just starter homes.

Amendment 32, in page 1, line 7, at end insert

“and the infrastructure needed to support such developments”.

The amendment would ensure that additional housing is supported with adequate infrastructure.

Amendment 33, in page 1, line 12, leave out

“at a discount of at least 20% of the market value” and insert “at a price no higher than is affordable to a household receiving the median local household income, with affordability to be determined by the local authority.”

The amendment would ensure that starter homes are affordable at locally-determined rates of income.

Amendment 34, in clause 2, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

‘( ) is not to be sold to buy-to-let investors”.

The amendment would exclude “Buy to Let Property ” from the definition of starter home.

Amendment 35, in page 1, line 15, at end insert—

‘( ) is built on under-used or unviable brownfield sites not currently identified for housing on public and private land, as determined by the local authority.”

The amendment would limit starter homes to ‘exception sites’, as previously announced by the Government.

Amendment 37, in page 2, line 10, at end insert—

“(d) lives or works locally, with the definition of local to be defined by the local authority or the Greater London Authority in London.”

The amendment would ensure that a proportion of starter homes are available to local people.

Amendment 38, in page 2, line 22, after “State”, insert

“after consultation with the relevant local authority or local authorities and the Mayor of London.”

The amendment would provide that the price cap can only be amended after consultation with the relevant local authorities and the Mayor of London.

Amendment 39, in page 2, line 25, at end insert—

‘(8A) The restrictions on resales and letting at open market value relating to first time buyer starter homes must be in perpetuity.”

The amendment would require the discount to remain in perpetuity.

Amendment 1, in clause 3, page 2, line 28, after “starter homes” insert

“or alternative affordable home ownership products, such as rent to buy”.

This amendment would ensure that new developments provide a mix of affordable home ownership products for first time buyers, to further widen opportunities for home ownership.

Amendment 110, in page 2, line 28, after “starter homes” insert

“and other types of affordable housing”.

This amendment would ensure that new developments include a range of affordable housing options, to rent and buy.

Amendment 40, in page 2, line 28, at end insert

“except where the local authority considers that providing starter homes would prevent other types of affordable housing being built.”

5 Jan 2016 : Column 126

The amendment would enable local authorities to be able to ask for planning gain measures that provide for a range of affordable homes other than starter homes.

Amendment 41, in clause 4, page 3, line 13, at end insert

“and which has been subject to a full assessment of the need for starter homes in the relevant local authority area.”

The amendment would ensure that priority is not given to the provision of starter homes in a given area before a full assessment of the number of such homes needed has taken place.

Amendment 42, in page 3, line 18, at end insert—

“The regulations may provide that sites can be exempted from the requirement to promote starter homes where a site has a scheme that—

(a) is a “build to rent” scheme;

(b) contains supported housing for younger people, older people, people with special needs and people with disabilities;

(c) contains a homeless hostel;

(d) contains refuge accommodation; or

(e) contains specialist housing.”

The amendment would remove sites from the starter homes requirement where other types of affordable housing has already been planned for.

Amendment 43, in clause 5, page 3, line 31, at end insert

“which must be displayed on the authority’s website and updated annually, contain information on all types of affordable housing, and include information that starter homes remain to be sold at 20% below market value.”

The amendment would require local planning authorities to report on their functions in respect of starter homes, affordable housing more generally, and that starter homes remain to be sold below market value annually and to publish the report.

Amendment 44, in page 3, line 40, at end insert

“and to demonstrate that the land in question is not needed for employment, retail, leisure, industrial or distribution use.”

The amendment would empower the Secretary of State to require data on the extent to which land used for starter homes was not needed for employment, retail, leisure, industrial or distribution use.

Amendment 45, page 4, line 1, leave out clause 6.

The amendment would remove Clause 6 from the Bill.

Amendment 2, in clause 6, page 4, line 4, after “starter homes” insert

“or alternative affordable home ownership products such as rent to buy”.

This amendment would ensure that new developments provide a mix of affordable home ownership products for first time buyers, to further widen opportunities for home ownership.

Amendment 46, in clause 8, page 5, line 36, at end insert “and without unreasonable cost.”

The amendment would prevent local authorities having to bring forward sites that are deemed to be at an unreasonable cost.

Mrs Miller: I am sure that new clause 1 will be well worth the wait. I take this opportunity to thank the Clerks of the House for their expert help in drafting the new clause.

The new clause will ensure that the Bill does exactly what the Minister wants it to do. It will ensure that every starter home is top-quality and is inspected and built in accordance with existing house building quality processes and standards, and that the records that are already made at key points in the building process are available to new home owners in order to increase transparency and drive up the quality of the new homes in which the Government are investing.

5 Jan 2016 : Column 127

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) for his support, and in particular for his diligent chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment. In the APPG, we are working together on a formal inquiry into house-building standards, which involves a detailed evidence-led scrutiny of the problems that need to be dealt with.

Victoria Borwick (Kensington) (Con): Will these homes also be disabled-accessible? I am a passionate believer in the importance of lifetime homes for communities and families, especially in view of debates that we have had and what we have already heard this evening. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that all possible ways of improving disabled accessibility will be considered?

Mrs Miller: My hon. Friend has raised an important point, to which I am sure the Minister will respond later. One of the problems is that proposals for the construction of houses which might include disability accessibility are judged by the same group who made the proposals in the first place. There is, at the very least, some conflict of interest in the way in which the process currently works.

Ensuring that enough homes are available is, rightly, a priority for the Government, and I applaud their commitment to helping to ensure that people have the security of owning their own homes. Hundreds of my constituents have already benefited from the help to buy scheme. I know that many of them keenly await the roll-out of the right to buy scheme, and will take careful note of anything that the Minister may say about it. Let me, at this point, thank him for his support for the new self-build scheme that was announced in my constituency just before the Christmas break.

The Minister is clearly committed to ensuring that the new starter homes are of top quality. Those are not just warm words; the Minister has taken action. The design panel of which he has spoken at length during the Bill’s earlier stages will play a significant part in ensuring that the plans for starter homes are of the highest quality. My new clause would ensure that the top-quality plans that he rightly endorses are turned into top-quality buildings each and every time, and I hope that he will respond to it positively.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): No one wants to see jerry-built properties; we all want to see high-quality properties being built. However, will my right hon. Friend give some indication of the discussions that she has had with providers of starter homes about the risk that the building of extremely high-quality homes will lead to a diminution in the overall number of starter homes, and to a reduction in what might be called the conventional affordable supply that is intended to meet the needs specified in section 106?

Mrs Miller: My right hon. Friend is right to suggest that there could be a trade-off in terms of quantity and quality, but I do not think that that should be used to disguise the need to ensure that every single house that is built reaches the standards that are already in place. My new clause does not ask for higher standards; it

5 Jan 2016 : Column 128

simply asks for the standards that are already in place to be applied uniformly to every house that is built. It is not a question of creating new standards; it is simply a question of applying the standards that already exist.

9.15 pm

My right hon. Friend is right to raise the point, because at a time when we are seeing a significant increase in the demand for housing and the Government are attempting to ensure that more houses are built, we need to prevent further blocks from being put in the way. However, the Minister must acknowledge that the market for house buyers has changed. There are fewer local builders and more national brands. Indeed, over the last year, a mere eight companies were responsible for building half the new homes in the country.

On a regional basis, at any one time the level of real competition between house builders is frankly non-existent. This is far from a perfect market, and the current system of quality oversight was put in place when the local reputation of a builder was critical to a purchaser: builders were as good as their last build. Times have changed, and now a buyer may have little or no choice, and little or no information to go on other than national advertising campaigns. National builders seldom employ their own plumbers, bricklayers and electricians, and use subcontractors in their place. This change in market conditions means it is right that there should be a change in the independent quality monitoring scheme that is in place so that those changes can be reflected in full.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): On the point about restriction of choice and the rise of the big unit developers, does my right hon. Friend feel this might explain why we are not getting all the builds we need in the timely way we need, and that it may well not be in the interests of the big unit developers to build fast enough to stop the prices rising?

Mrs Miller: My hon. Friend is right to raise that point, and I was very pleased to see the Minister, and I think the Prime Minister as well, underlining the importance of encouraging more small house builders to be involved, particularly in self-build schemes where they can increase the supply of housing far faster than some of the national builders.

Good building plans are not enough; there needs to be a watertight process to ensure that at each stage every home is built to standard. Few who buy one of the 200,000 new starter homes that the Minister is talking about today will be expert house builders, plumbers or electricians, and by definition none will have purchased a house before. If these people were buying a second-hand house—one that somebody else had lived in before—most would be relying on the professional services of a surveyor. They would therefore be relying on a professional who would give their potential new home a structural health check before the sale was completed.