Gleision Mine Tragedy

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab) It is a pleasure, Mr Chope, to serve under your chairmanship.

On Thursday 15 September 2011, seven men left their homes and commuted to work at the Gleision pit in my constituency. Having drunk their morning tea, they moved underground just after 9 o’clock to labour on the number two Rhondda seam. Wearing high-visibility jackets and safety gear, they expected to work until 5 o’clock and then return to their families. Instead, at 9.45 am, a small explosion that they detonated led to the release in a matter of seconds of 3,000 tonnes of water into a shaft hardly 4 feet high. The exact sequence of events is unknown, but the mine manager, Malcolm Fyfield, was close to the inrush. Astonishingly, he was able to survive the torrent of water and climb through the breach hole, finally to emerge bloodied, having struggled out of another entrance to the mine.

Further from the breach, David Wyatt heard the roar from the coming torrent and ran until he was able to jump on a conveyor belt, which carried him to the main mine entrance, the water chasing him through the passage. There, he alerted his colleague, Nigel Evans, and the emergency services were called. Daniel Powell, another collier in the mine, was also lucky to escape after running from the inrush. Those three were the only men to survive. Charles Breslin, Philip Hill, Garry Jenkins and David Powell were crushed by the terrifying raging force of the flood. With nearly a century of mining experience between them, those colliers had laboured in mines across the Swansea, Neath and Dulais valleys all their working lives. Charles Breslin had returned from retirement for a stint down Gleision to earn extra money to complete the family home he was building.

In the hours immediately after the explosion, teams from across Britain came to the fore as emergency services from Dinas, Cwmgwrach, Glynneath and even Yorkshire rushed to help in a frantic rescue operation and the subsequent investigation. Down the mountain in Rhos community centre, the families of the trapped men gathered with community leaders in a 36-hour vigil until the miners’ bodies were eventually recovered and gradually identified, and everyone began to come to terms with the trauma, and the families with their stunned grief. Today, over three years on, we are no closer to being told by any of the key agencies or the justice system why Charles, David, Philip and Garry died.

This is not an exercise in finding someone to blame. There was a trial and the manager and mine owners were acquitted of manslaughter and corporate manslaughter respectively. Mining is inherently dangerous, but neither I nor the families who were present during the long hours of that sad vigil in Rhos community centre have been given answers as to why the accident occurred by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Health and Safety Executive or indeed the trial at Swansea county court earlier this year. I am therefore left to make my own judgment after careful assessment of the trial evidence and other inquiries.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall. Can he say what happened at the inquest? Unfortunately, I have been involved with deaths in the mining industry all my life, and normally there is some indication from an inquest of how an individual died.

Mr Hain: My hon. Friend speaks with great authority as a former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers. The coroner’s inquest was convened and then adjourned, and has never been completed, which has left unanswered questions.

The Gleision tragedy was a chilling reminder of a death-strewn mining era long thought consigned to history, and of the fact that short-cut attitudes to health and safety can be fatal. It also revealed how erosion of the Mines Rescue Service could create greater tragedies in the future if we fail to address the formidable budget challenges that that key agency faces if it is to maintain its long and dedicated record on mining.

The first lesson is that employers must be responsible for their employees in a way that was obviously not the case at Gleision. Throughout its recent life, it seems there was illegal mining at Gleision, certainly in the decade prior to 2011. At the trial, Mr Justice Wyn Williams said that successive managers had read into health and safety regulations what suited their needs, failing to co-operate sufficiently with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of mines. Despite this, the mines inspectors confirmed that the mine plan from which the manager and the four men were working, even as they detonated that fatal blast, was accurate. The inspectors checked during the official investigation after the tragedy and found that, although Gleision had not been inspected in the 16 months prior to the accident—an attempt to do so had been foiled by bad weather—the survey conducted two months before in July 2011 by mines surveyor John Brosnan was up to date and sufficiently accurate.

Of course, the Management and Administration of Safety and Health at Mines Regulations 1993 made it incumbent on the mine manager or owner to inform the mines inspectorate of any major changes in working plans underground. The inspectorate relies on the mutual co-operation of the mine manager and mine owner to alert to changes in the faces that they seam, and it is more than likely that multiple Gleision managers before Malcolm Fyfield had failed to do that adequately and properly.

The entire legal framework of health and safety at work in Britain is sensibly based on a self-policing model, relying on companies and their executives to comply with and guarantee safety standards by keeping risk as low as reasonably practicable. It is clear to me that in the events leading up to the tragedy the regulations were not complied with. However, the most frustrating question, and the one that haunts us all, is: why were the four miners there facing death in the first place?

The day after the tragedy, having been escorted from Rhos community centre up the mountain to stand at the mine entrance amid rescue workers and police, the mines inspector showed me the same mine plan from which Fyfield and the men were working. It showed clearly that they were mining directly towards an area in the old mine workings marked “Old Central Workings and Underground Water”. I have the mine plan here. The mines inspector expressed his surprise at this, and there is still no explanation for why the decision to take that risk was made.

The exact source of the water—whether it was in the area marked on the plan I saw, only a few metres from where the men fatefully detonated their explosion, or somewhere else nearby—was hotly disputed during the trial. The fact remains that the water was indeed there, exactly as marked on the mine plan, and that it killed them. Mines inspectors investigating the accident afterwards confirmed that its presence coincided with markings on the plan I saw. Indeed, they were able to see the high tide mark previously reached by the water that subsequently raged torrentially through the breach.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing this sad debate to the Chamber today. Is it true that this is not a one-off, and that some of the regulations on water ingress into mines were developed because of tragedies such as this? There was one in the 1970s at Houghton Main in Yorkshire, when exactly the same discussions took place. That is one reason why the need to map out where water lay was built into the inspection regimes. That is why it is clear that plans should be checked regularly, and not just cast to one side.

Mr Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend. He also speaks with great authority as a former miner.

Mr Fyfield, who was the mines manager, is highly respected and experienced. He told the court that he went into the old workings to check for the presence of water marked on the plan and found none. Somehow, there was a catastrophic misjudgment. The water was indeed there, and it nearly killed him, just as it killed the four miners. Built into the regulations is a statutory procedure that could have prevented all this. A precautions against inrush scheme would surely have given the men an indication of the presence of the water. There can be no question but that it should have been implemented, because the Mines (Precautions Against Inrushes) Regulations 1979 demand that if miners are moving towards a suspected hazard, a PAI scheme be created.

These were all experienced miners, led by an expert and experienced mine manager, yet the Health and Safety Executive has not yet explained—neither has the trial evidence nor the verdict—why those crucial regulations were not followed. Whether motivated by cost-cutting, or simply the result of a cataclysmically mistaken judgment, the decision was taken to blast too close to the water, and four men died as a consequence, the manager only narrowly escaping, emerging so bloodied, severely injured and traumatised that he needed intensive hospital care to get back on his feet.

In 2011, the mines safety expert Dave Feickert claimed that it was possible to have a no-fatality mining industry in the UK, such was the strength of HSE regulations, yet at Gleision, those were ignored. In my view, that is the truth that should have been established by the trial and never was. Although the verdict is the verdict, it delivered neither justice nor accountability to the victims of the tragedy and their families. They have all been failed by the justice system and by the absence of a full coroner’s inquest. It was only through the immense efforts of the fantastic Mines Rescue Service, together with Walter Energy and the Unity mine, close to Gleision in the Neath valley, and which, unlike now, were fully operating at the time, that the bodies were recovered and the accident could be fully investigated.

After the tragedy in 2011, in an open letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I warned of three things. The first was that without proper review, the Mines Rescue Service would risk becoming so chronically underfunded that it would be unable to provide the stellar service to Britain’s mines that, following coal privatisation, it was set up to in 1996. Secondly, I warned that were the current funding arrangements to continue, the cost to British mining of the MRS would become prohibitive, unless it was subsidised by Government. Thirdly, I stated that both those factors would combine to reduce and diminish the vital mutually co-operative spirit that is at the heart of the Mines Rescue Service and the coal industry in Britain, irreparably changing them for the worse.

The coal industry has changed a great deal in the three subsequent years. Faced with increasing international competition and dwindling profit margins, more coal mines in the UK have had to shut down. The Mines Rescue Service has been forced to change its funding structure in order to carry on providing a service to British mines while not having its viability impinged on too badly. However, under new regulations, the few remaining mines in Britain will no longer be obliged to pay a levy to the Mines Rescue Service, and instead will have a commercial relationship with a suitable provider should a disaster occur.

The MRS has evolved to become a successfully run enterprise able to diversify and rely on fees from its other work. In 1996, the MRS levy on each mine was able to cover its core costs, but the relentless closure of British mines since means that the coal levy now accounts for only 11% of the Mines Rescue Service budget, and even that is predicted to drop to 7% next year. That clearly impacts on the capability of the MRS to carry out its vital mines emergency service. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the MRS centre at Dinas in the Rhondda valley may have to be closed and its facilities transferred perhaps to Mansfield in England, because there are no longer sufficient south Wales mines to fund it.

Since 1996, the MRS has not received a penny of support from the Government. In the heyday of British Coal, it had the resources to deliver a universal rescue service. Even after privatisation, mines paid the levy because it did not affect their profitability. Instead, a mutually co-operative understanding ensured that aid would come if an accident occurred in a mine. The MRS scheme covered the costs of funding when it was called into action, and additional costs fell to the mine or to nearby mines.

For three weeks after the accident, when the Gleision mine was investigated, the HSE became responsible for keeping the mine open because Gleision’s owners, MNS Mining Ltd, could not afford to do so. Under normal circumstances, the costs of investigation and rescue would be placed on the mining business in question. However, the finances of MNS were so precarious that that was simply not feasible. Such a scenario had never been encountered before by the Health and Safety Executive and the mines inspectorate, and they deserve a great deal of credit for ensuring that a full investigation was carried out despite experiencing budget cuts, yet they should not have been put in that position.

Although the MRS has a team of core rescue specialists, it relies heavily on the mutual co-operation of other British mines, which provide their own men to aid the rescue effort, as well as equipment and resources. In 2011, as I said, those were provided by Walter Energy and Unity, two mining companies nearby in my constituency, and the unsung heroes of the disaster. However, the rescue effort was much more fragile than it appeared. The co-operative ethos, which is the foundation of the MRS, is based on a pooling of fiscal and technical resources in the event of an accident, and was built on the foundations provided by the Coal Board’s central fund, yet Gleision clearly exposed flaws in the mutual co-operation model that were not envisaged when the scheme was set up.

The financial costs of keeping the mine safely open to enable South Wales police and the HSE to investigate fell on the shoulders of the HSE together with Walter Energy and Unity, which were also sacrificing men and equipment to investigators, and this was a heavy burden. By Friday 16 September 2011, the day after the tragedy, Walter Energy alone had covered costs of £77,645 for the recovery and investigation, yet by December had still received no recompense. Last year, it laid off over 100 men, and the Aberpergwm pit has since been on care and maintenance, as has the Unity mine, both victims of the falling price of coal, yet they were both essential to the rescue effort.

As a result of all that, if there were ever to be a future Gleision-type accident, both a rescue and a full investigation might not be feasible. When I was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 2007-08, the HSE’s budget was £215 million. By last year, it had been cut by £50 million, or a quarter, to £165 million. Unless the Government provide more money for mines rescue and the HSE, accidents in mining will be more frequent, as self-policing health and safety and self-funding rescue and investigation services are no longer viable or fit for purpose.

I was one of the many community leaders who, over those long hours, observed the heroic and dedicated efforts of mines rescue workers, supported by highly professional police officers, other emergency workers and mines inspectors. I am full of praise for all of them. None of us knew at the time that there was never a chance of rescuing the men who died, but at least their bodies were recovered, in dark, dangerous and filthy conditions. The families of Philip, David, Garry and Charles have conducted themselves with dignity and deserve enormous praise from all. They do not seek vengeance and scapegoats, and nor do I; all they have asked for is justice, but they have still not received that.

In his letter of January 2012, the Secretary of State assured me that lessons would be learned from the Gleision accident. We await the impending report by the Health and Safety Executive, and I trust it will not be constrained by the trial verdict, because if it is, the inspectors will not be able to reveal their professional conclusions, which I strongly suspect broadly coincide with mine.

The day of 15 September 2011 would have been an unremarkable day in the history of the Swansea valley had proper health and safety practice been followed. We still have no answers as to why Garry, Charles, Philip and David died, why they were heading straight for the water that killed them, and why no precautions against inrush scheme was implemented. The Gleision tragedy should not have happened; that is what makes it not simply a terrible accident, but a shocking, terrible scandal.

The Minister for Disabled People (Mr Mark Harper): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) for securing the debate. It is very helpful to be able to debate such issues in the House with the hon. Members for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), who are very experienced in these matters.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, it was a tragic accident on 15 September 2011 that resulted in the deaths of four miners: Charles Breslin, David Powell, Philip Hill and Garry Jenkins. I remember the events myself. My own constituency has a mining history. The last large pit closed in 1965, but there are a number of free miners who still work in small mines. As I said, I remember the events, and I can only imagine the heart-rending situation faced by the families. The right hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to them for all that they have gone through. It is obviously on their behalf that he raises these issues in the House.

I mention my constituency only because we will come on to talk about the changes to the regulations and the Mines Rescue Service. There are a number of small mines in my constituency. I have had the experience, thanks to an excellent constituent of mine, Rich Daniels, who is president of the free miners, of going down one of those mines and seeing how small mines operate. I have had the opportunity to talk to him about the health and safety challenges. My constituency has the same issues with the Mines Rescue Service and its viability, and putting in place alternative arrangements that would provide a safe and secure method of rescuing miners if a tragedy happened. I shall come on to that.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, the accident triggered a rescue operation of a type not seen before. There was immense commendation for all those who contributed to the efforts to save the miners. He was right to pay tribute to the emergency services, other mine operators and their staff, volunteer cave divers and many others. Tragically, it quickly became clear that the task was one of recovery rather than of rescue.

South Wales police assumed primacy from the outset, and the investigation was led by the police throughout, with technical and other support from the HSE mines inspectors and other individuals and organisations. The site investigation concluded when all reasonable lines of inquiry had been followed and closed. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, after the investigation concluded, the Crown Prosecution Service brought manslaughter charges against the mine manager and the mine owner. Those Members present will know that there was a three-month trial earlier this year. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it concluded when the jury delivered not guilty verdicts on both the mine manager and the corporate defendant—the mine owner. The decision of the court must be respected. Obviously, I cannot today—this would be inappropriate for a Minister—delve into and try to reopen the case.

However, I can say that, now the legal processes are concluded, the HSE is producing a report that will be published, and that will pull together in one place the details of the site investigation that it carried out and the lessons that can be learned for the future. I know that that is one of the things the right hon. Gentleman wants to ensure happens.

Mr Hain: The Minister will have noticed that I said, because I am worried about this, that the HSE report will be constrained by the trial verdict. I am worried that the HSE report will not be able to be as open as perhaps, for all I know, the mines inspectorate would like to be about its views on what really happened. Will he do whatever he can to try to ensure that that barrier, if it is there, as I suspect, is taken away?

Mr Harper: What the report can do is set out the results of the investigation. It can set out the facts that those who inspected with their professional judgment found in the mine. What it cannot do is rerun or revisit the questions that were investigated at the trial and the jury’s conclusion. I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said. I fear that he wants the HSE to be able in its report—I do not think it can do this—to answer questions about what was in the minds of the mine manager and those working there about the direction that they proceeded in. It simply cannot revisit those questions. My understanding is that those issues were dealt with at the trial. Evidence was put forward on both sides of the argument. The jury reached a verdict, and that is something that the HSE cannot reopen in its report and investigation.

Mr Hain: I am not asking for that. I am certainly not asking for the HSE to read the minds of those, including the mine manager, who were mining at the time. I am simply asking the Minister to try to create circumstances in which the mines inspectors, in the HSE report, can confirm that they suspect that the water, as I said in my speech, was where the mine plan said it was and that, therefore, a catastrophic misjudgment was made. For what reason and how, it would be impossible to speculate. I readily accept that, but the misjudgment was made none the less.

Mr Harper: What the inspectors will be able to do is set out the evidence they got from the site investigation. They cannot revisit questions that were dealt with at the trial.

Ian Lavery: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Harper: Let me just reply to the right hon. Gentleman, because it is his debate, and then of course I shall listen to the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. The inspectors cannot rerun the trial and, in effect, re-answer the question that was dealt with at the trial and come up with either the same or a different answer. That is not possible. I listened to what the right hon. Gentleman said. I am sure the inspectors will endeavour to ensure that they go as far as they can in setting out the evidence—the facts that they found on the ground—but they may not be able to speculate about things they simply cannot know. They have to stick to what the evidence says.

Ian Lavery: There is a big difference between the individuals being charged with corporate manslaughter and being found guilty of an offence, and what my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) is referring to, which is basically the causation of the accident. The causation of the accident is something that can be investigated completely differently, but using the same evidence that has been used in court for a criminal investigation. It is common sense that that would be the case.

Mr Harper: As I said, I have not seen the report and I do not know what it will say. The mines inspectorate will use its professional expertise to set out the evidence from the thorough site investigation that took place, but it cannot rerun the trial. For example, it is not disputed that the water was there at the time of the incident; what was disputed in court was whether the water was there all the time. The right hon. Member for Neath mentioned that there was a debate about the mine manager giving evidence that he had inspected the old workings. The HSE will not be able to settle questions that were dealt with at the trial and on which a conclusion could not be reached. That is all I am saying. It will endeavour, with the best of its professional judgment, to set out the evidence—what was found from the investigation. I have not seen the report and I do not know what it will say. It is in process.

My final point about the report is on timing. The report will be published in the new year—early in the new year, I hope—and, as I said, it will be published for everyone to see. I hope it will set out some lessons that can be learned from this tragedy.

Mr Anderson: I thank the Minister for giving way again —he has been very generous. The crux of why we are here today is that, if this was a one-off and had never happened before, we would probably feel a lot more comfortable, but as I said, it was not a one-off and had happened previously. My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) mentioned the 1979 regulations that were supposed to address the issue. It is all right saying, “Let’s learn the lessons.” A lesson learned is no use unless it is then applied. Our worry—hopefully this can be tightened up in the report if the HSE decides to do that—is ensuring that things like this, as far as is humanly possible, do not happen again. If, as has been said, the gentleman went in, did the investigation and found that there was no water, that should have raised concerns, because where had the water gone? That should have been followed up. The worry that Opposition Members have is that such an incident could happen again through things just generally not being tight enough.

Mr Harper: The hon. Gentleman makes a helpful point, because I was going to move on to the work that has been done to bring forward shortly new mine safety legislation that ensures clear duties on the operators of mines to manage the risks. That work was instigated independently of the Gleision accident, and it arose from the independent review of health and safety legislation by Professor Löfstedt, which reported in November 2011. We have taken into account what happened in the Gleision incident as we have developed the new law.

The current law governing safety in mines comprises more than 40 pieces of legislation, some of which date back as far as 1954. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the coal industry is vastly different today. In addition to the huge changes in the coal sector, there has been a big shift in the wider health and safety framework, and the old mine safety legislation needs to be reviewed. The Health and Safety Executive has undertaken a review of that legislation over the past two years, and new mines regulations will be introduced in April next year. They will consolidate the key requirements for the control of risks that are, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, inherent in underground mining. That will include managing the risk of water inrushes, which was clearly the major issue at Gleision. Mine operators will remain legally bound to determine whether there is water around workings and to assess the risk of that water causing harm to mine workers.

The new regulations will place duties, for the first time, on the mine operator rather than, as at present, on the mine manager. They will also require the other principal risks in mining to be controlled. They will place clear and simple requirements on operators to ensure that adequate rescue arrangements are made. The current requirement for coal mines to belong to an approved scheme will not be carried forward. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that scheme, which was designed and introduced when there were 65 coal mines in operation, all of which contributed fees to fund the scheme and resources as part of their commitment to mutual assistance. There are now an insufficient number of mines to fund those arrangements. I looked into the matter in detail, not only now but as a result of experience in my constituency. Mine operators will be under a new duty to ensure that, if the rescue of workers is required in any foreseeable scenario, rescue arrangements will be available and workable. Coal mines will be required to make their own arrangements for rescue provision, tailored to the risks in each particular mine. Mine operators can use whatever third-party services may be appropriate to those risks. The HSE’s mines inspectors have a programme of interventions, between now and the entry into force of the new regulations, to check the arrangements that mines will have in place from April.

The current law is riddled with requirements to notify or otherwise seek the permission of the regulator before undertaking certain activities. It is not the regulator’s role to oversee day-to-day operations in such a way. Regulation of other major hazard industries successfully requires duty holders to demonstrate that their risk assessments and their control systems are in place and, importantly, robust, so that they can adequately manage risk to protect their employees and the wider community. The new regulations will take a similar approach in the mining sector. HSE inspectors are talking to mine operators and trade unions in the period leading up to the introduction of the new regulations to ensure that they are clear about how they will implement and comply with the regulations.

The new regulations will retain all the key controls over the hazards that are, as the Gleision tragedy and the right hon. Gentleman have reminded us, involved in mining, but they will deliver a modern, risk-based regime that will drive mine operators continuously to improve the management of the risks involved in mining. Tragedies such as the one he has powerfully described show us why we should never be complacent. We must try to prevent such incidents from happening again.

The hon. Member for Wansbeck raised the question of the inquests. My understanding is that they have not been restarted following the trial, and no formal notification has been made to the HSE that they have been closed. I will contact colleagues at the Ministry of Justice and make inquiries about the plan for those inquests—I will ask whether they will be restarted or formally concluded. I will write to the right hon. Member for Neath and, with his permission, to the two other hon. Members who are present, to set out the position.

Mr Hain: I am very grateful to the Minister for offering to do that. Will he tell his colleagues at the Ministry of Justice that it is my strong view that the process should be resumed? There should be a full inquest.

Mr Harper: When I contact colleagues at the Ministry of Justice, I will put on record the fact that it is the strong view of the constituency MP that the inquests should be resumed. I am not familiar with the legal rules around the matter and I do not know what the position is, but I will contact colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. I will write to the right hon. Gentleman—and, because of their interest in the matter, to the other two hon. Members who are present—and set out the position. I hope that that is helpful and that it will go some way to meeting the concerns of the families who, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, have conducted themselves with great dignity throughout the process. I hope that offers some small measure of comfort, and I thank him for raising the matter in the Chamber today.

Personal Independence Payments (Wales)

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I apologise at the outset for having to leave immediately after I finish speaking, to undertake an official appointment relating to my duties as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I will not hear the Minister’s reply, but I will of course read it.

In the short time since personal independence payments have come into force, it has quickly become evident that the system is miserably failing people and leaving some of the most vulnerable in our communities in absolute desperation. My Neath constituency has one of the highest rates of take-up of the old disability living allowance, a legacy of the industrial heritage that once provided livelihoods for many of my constituents, but has now resulted in serious health problems—a heavy price to pay.

New applicants face a system of delay and despair. Many constituents have been waiting six months or longer, having had their face-to-face assessments and been told, frustratingly, that

“the report is in the final stages with a senior healthcare professional.”

For those six months they have been living off savings to help them to adapt to their conditions. The prospect of a backdated payment is of no comfort to them as they struggle with day-to-day tasks that many of us take for granted, while their families suffer under the stress and strain of caring for them.

In some of the cases processed by Capita, health care reports have not been up to standard and further information has been required. That involved going back to the assessor and requesting further information. In one case, a second face-to-face assessment was required, and in one astonishing instance it came to light in March 2014 that despite the assessment being carried out in November 2013, no assessment report had been prepared by the assessor. Those constituents’ misery and distress seems to have no end.

The protracted ordeal is just to get the assessment report from Capita to the Department for Work and Pensions. As the assessment reports start to trickle through to the Department, the emerging trend is of further delays in the final decision after the report has reached the Department. So after months of waiting with Capita, applicants face further delays, and that only adds to their misery.

I raised with Capita and the Department a case that encapsulates the ordeal. A constituent made his original application on 5 July 2013 after suffering a serious brain seizure, a stroke and several other seizures. He returned to work initially, but because of his mobility problems he could not continue. He underwent a home assessment on 15 October 2013, and made numerous calls to the Department for Work and Pensions to chase up the progress of his application. Every time, he was referred to Capita because the report had not been sent, but he was told that

“the report is in the final stages with a senior healthcare professional”.

One event epitomises his situation. He woke up one morning and asked his wife to leave him in bed as he was feeling unwell. Shortly after she left for work at 8 o’clock in the morning, he suffered a series of convulsions that lasted approximately 30 minutes. He had difficulty breathing and removing his continuous positive airway pressure mask, which he has to wear because of obstructive sleep apnoea and the danger of a stroke or heart attack. He was unable to get out of bed for the rest of the day until his wife came home at 4.30. He did not eat or drink all day and had to urinate into a bottle.

My constituent’s wife is caring for him but because he has no income from PIP she is at the point of utter exhaustion. The decision to award the benefit is vital to enable his wife to give him the proper care and supervision he needs. Until a decision is made, the couple cannot arrange that care, and their life is in limbo. In March, my constituent finally received his decision notice, only to be informed at the end of the month that a stop had been put on his payment—a decision that could not be explained when he phoned DWP. It has now been nine months and he has not received a payment. DWP’s decision notice states that he is owed a back payment of more than £5,000. He has been let down by Capita and the Department for Work and Pensions as his anguish goes on.

In another case, the application was made in June 2013. The report from Capita was eventually received by DWP on 13 February, but a decision has still not been made. The claimant told me:

“I have no confidence that the process will ever end, there is always one more stage, one more delay.”

That sentiment is felt by many who have lost faith, which is a dreadful stain on the Department for Work and Pensions, where I served as Secretary of State.

The excruciating stress and anxiety is hitting people seriously, including cancer sufferers and ex-servicemen with post traumatic stress disorder. Ministers should be ashamed of the system, which is punitive, nasty and causes abject despair to far too many people.

Kevin Brennan: To emphasise the dilemma facing our constituents, I should say that in a similar case in my constituency a women who suffered a stroke made an application in June 2013, and has just received the benefit. Her husband elected to reduce his hours at work as a result of which they lost the tax credits that they were entitled to, so they went into even deeper problems as a result of the unacceptable delays.

Mr Hain: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am not going to make personal attacks on Ministers because they probably believe they are doing a professional job, but I sometimes wonder whether they have any idea of what is happening on the ground as a result of their policies.

If the Atos debacle taught us anything, it is the importance of getting the decision right in the first place—in my constituency, the local welfare rights unit had an 80% success rate with its appeals against Atos’s decisions—but that should not mean waiting unacceptably long times such as six, seven or eight months for a decision that could dramatically affect somebody’s life and income. Action must be taken immediately to address this inexplicably lengthy and prolonged system that is causing misery and despair for applicants. The turnaround of applications must be drastically accelerated by both the assessment provider and the Department.

Foodbanks Wales

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend comment on a particular feature of the Neath food bank? Some 1,400 people in the Neath area are dependent on the food bank. Around half of those are in work. It is not solely people on benefits who are dependent on  food banks; people in work are, too. The Wales Office website has still not taken down the Secretary of State’s commitment that people in work will always be better off than they would be on benefits. Those people are dependent on food banks in my constituency.

Kevin Brennan: Indeed. In a recent debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned that he had collected food for FareShare in Penarth. Many of the people being helped by the food bank were not the people one might expect, but people in work who were struggling to get by. The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) has been keen to intervene; I note that a new food bank has opened up in Chepstow. I am sure that he will pay it a visit shortly, if he has not already done so.

In Wales, the rapid expansion of food banks is a subject that resonates and rankles. It is symptomatic of an approach by the Government that represents a shift away from the British belief in the importance of social security, founded by the three great Welsh pioneers and symbolised by the old-age pension, national insurance and the national health service, and its replacement with the alien American concept of welfare stigmatism—the demonisation of the poor and the replacement of the state’s responsibility with the vagaries of the charitable handout. The good society has been gazumped by the ill-named “big society”, in which well-meaning individuals try to patch the gaping holes created by austerity economics.

Zimbabwe Blood Diamonds

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Havard? It is a delight to speak under your guidance, as a fellow south Wales valleys Member of Parliament. I immediately pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey); in her chairmanship of the all-party group on Zimbabwe, she has provided inspirational leadership for a long time.

In December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/55/56, supporting the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds. That led to the Kimberley process, a mechanism for negotiations, and the international treaty banning blood diamonds, established under UN Security Council resolution 1459 in January 2003. I put a great deal of effort into achieving that when I was British Minister for Africa, because illegally traded blood diamonds were paying for arms, which fuelled conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Sierra Leone, where those very arms were used against British troops by terrorists. Now we are seeing a different kind of blood diamond from Marange in Zimbabwe, and it is high time that the Kimberley process and the World Diamond Council stopped turning a blind eye to serious abuse with an anti-democratic, violent purpose.

The history of Zimbabwe has been punctuated with violence. Cecil Rhodes’s exercise of colonial power in southern Africa was built on a monopoly of violence. Until it was swept away by the liberation war, which I supported as a British anti-apartheid leader at the time, Ian Smith’s racist Rhodesian regime used violence against opponents demanding democracy. Robert Mugabe’s ZANU, first elected in a landslide victory in 1980, betrayed the freedom struggle that it once led with distinction, by systematically using violence as a political strategy to maintain power and the privileges of an increasingly corrupt mafia surrounding him. Killings, torture and beatings of ZANU-PF opponents and massive human rights abuses accompanied the elections of 2000, 2002 and 2008. Mugabe’s regime specialised in stealing those elections by violence.

My fear is that Zimbabwe’s forthcoming election, due by June next year, might be no different despite the Government of national unity, who have given some relief to their beleaguered, suffering nation. In that Government, the Movement for Democratic Change has been given the Ministries of Finance, Education and Health, among others. ZANU-PF retained the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Mines and the Office of the President, the home of Zimbabwe’s feared secret police—the Central Intelligence Organisation or CIO. Since the MDC took control of the Ministry of Finance and clipped the wings of the Reserve bank, the security mafia loyal to President Mugabe has been on a hunt for sources of off-budget finance. It has now found those sources, thanks to an accident of geology and the failures of the international community.

In 2006, diamonds were found in the Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe. The area holds one of the world’s richest deposits of alluvial diamonds. The gems lie close to the surface of the ground, making them easy to collect by hand. During 2008, the military deployed soldiers and helicopter gunships during the clearance of thousands of small-scale miners from the Marange diamond fields, killing and wounding many people in the process. Nearly every soldier in Marange is involved in one way or another in illegal mining. Soldiers have formed syndicates of diamond panners, whom they protect and escort.

Many of the diamonds are smuggled to the town of Vila de Manica, in Mozambique, only 12 miles from the Zimbabwe border. It is crawling with illegal dealers from countries such as Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Israel, most living in smart houses, bristling with barbed wire and CCTV cameras, and guarded by armed men, admitting they do so with the help of army syndicates and senior ZANU-PF politicians.

Global Witness deserves our thanks for its impressive report, “Financing a Parallel Government?”, which has unearthed devastating evidence on Zimbabwe’s blood diamond trade. In Zimbabwe, mineral rights are vested not in the state, but with the President. Robert Mugabe has granted a series of mining concessions. One was to Canadile, a company that has since collapsed amid allegations of corruption, including against Obert Mpofu, the ZANU-PF Minister of Mines. Mpofu is a man on a £1,200 monthly salary, who is now rich enough to spend over £13 million buying a bank. Another was to Mbada Diamonds. Its chief executive officer, Robert Mhlanga, a Mugabe crony, is developing a £20-million mansion in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal. Behind Mbada Diamonds and up to its neck in its shady start-up, is a South African scrap metal company, New Reclamation, and its former chief executive officer, South African business man, David Kassell.

South African business interests were heavily involved in mining diamonds in Marange or profiting from their irregular sale, in what the South African Broadcasting Company last October reported as a:

“blatant disregard for the rule of law and continued plundering of the diamond fields in Eastern Zimbabwe. New evidence suggests that South African firms have muscled in, and are mining there illegally.”

In 2011, 25% of the shares of Mbada were transferred to a mysterious network of shell companies based in Mauritius, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands. Those companies are connected to Robert Mhlanga, a retired air vice-marshal in the Zimbabwean air force. The use of secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens should raise a red flag for any legitimate businesses trading with Mbada. They should be asking the question, who are the real beneficial owners of Mbada? We have seen with Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi how banks, lawyers and businesses colluded in illicit financial outflows of national wealth. I fear that that is being repeated in Zimbabwe.

A third mining concession was to Sino Zimbabwe Development and a fourth to Anjin Investments. Sino Zimbabwe Development purports to be a joint venture between the state-owned Zimbabwe minerals development corporation and an investor, Sam Pa—a businessman from the Queensway syndicate, a network of companies based in Hong Kong, Singapore and Angola. Sam Pa and the Queensway syndicate were the subject of a recent feature in

The Economist

, which raised two issues in particular. First, the Queensway syndicate’s amoral deal in Guinea. Just one month after security forces massacred 150 protestors in a stadium, the syndicate signed a multi-billion dollar deal with the Guinea junta—effectively providing a financial lifeline to that pariah regime. Secondly,

The Economist

alleged that the syndicate was buying Angolan oil ridiculously cheaply and selling it on at market prices to Chinese oil companies—suggesting the Angolan people may have been cheated out of billions of dollars.

In Zimbabwe, several sources suggest that Sam Pa gave the secret police—the CIO—a large sum of money, which one CIO document places at $100 million, and over 200 Nissan pick-up trucks. In return for that apparent assistance, Sino Zimbabwe Development was granted opportunities in Zimbabwe’s diamond and cotton sectors. Sino Zimbabwe Development was set up and registered in Zimbabwe and Singapore. The Singaporean company is in turn part-owned by Strong Achieve Holdings, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands and controlled by someone believed to be a member of the Zimbabwean secret police. That, again, illustrates the highly disreputable role of the British Virgin Islands in facilitating such murky dealings. Sino Zimbabwe Development is ostensibly a legitimate business. Yet its three Zimbabwean directors, Gift Kallisto Machengete, Masimba Ignatius Kamba and Pritchard Zhou are all believed to be members of the CIO, and the firm is in reality a front company for the Zimbabwean secret police.

Anjin Investments purports to be a joint venture between a previously unknown Zimbabwean firm, Matt Bronze, and a Chinese construction company. In reality, Anjin’s company secretary is Brigadier Charles Tarumbwa, who is also the Judge Advocate General at Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Defence, and is on the EU sanctions list for orchestrating violence. Anjin’s executive board includes Martin Rushwaya, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence, and serving and retired military and police officers. Anjin claims to be the biggest diamond mining company in the world and has been described by informed observers as having the potential to be the next De Beers. In reality, Anjin is a front for the Zimbabwean military; nor does that shadowy activity involve only diamonds.

On 27 June, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant reported that Zimbabwean officials had approached Russian companies with a prospective platinum deal in exchange for attack helicopters. A Russian joint venture, named by Kommersant as involved in the deal, is called Russ Zim and Rushchrome. The deal is ostensibly with the parastatal Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation. However, Anjin’s Brigadier Charles Tarumbwa is company secretary of the Russian joint venture, and the chairman of its executive board is Martin Rushwaya, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, who is on the board of Anjin. Again, the planned deal seems to have been cooked up by the Zimbabwean military-industrial complex.

Why is that important? First, the Zimbabwean military and secret police are known for their uncompromising support for ZANU-PF. It has even been alleged that money from Sam Pa has been allocated towards a CIO smear campaign against MDC Prime Minister Tsvangirai, called Operation Spiderweb. If the secret police have access to off-budget sources of funding, they can set and finance their own agenda, in flagrant breach of democratic and civilian control of the security forces budget.

Secondly, Zimbabwe desperately needs tax revenues. Life expectancy at birth in Zimbabwe is 47 for a man and 50 for a woman. The Government are slowly rebuilding the education and health infrastructure after the devastation wrought by years of misrule and the hyper-inflation of 2008. Out of a budget of US $4 billion, the MDC Finance Minister Tendai Biti was promised US $600 million in diamond revenues by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development. Yet he recently stated that Anjin had not paid one cent to the Zimbabwean Treasury, adding that Anjin’s failure to remit diamond proceeds to the consolidated revenue fund was in breach of the constitution. Anjin claims that it paid some money to the ZANU-PF-controlled Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation. Yet none of that has yet reached the Finance Ministry’s consolidated revenue fund. Diamond revenues are being siphoned off when Zimbabwe needs teachers and nurses, not attack helicopters and secret police thugs.

Thirdly, there is a risk that any money given by Sam Pa, Anjin and Sino Zimbabwe Development to the security forces will fund human rights abuses in the run-up to next year’s election. Let us remember that, to cling on to power in the 2008 election, soldiers, ZANU supporters, secret policemen and so-called war veterans—a pseudonym for Mugabe’s thugs—killed 200 people, tortured and assaulted 5,000 and forced 36,000 more to flee their homes.

What can the British Government do? I urge them to engage with the Southern African Development Community facilitators to push security sector reform and democratic and civilian control of budgets up the agenda in forthcoming negotiations. In the long term, much more must be done to regulate the diamond industry properly. I feel strongly that the Kimberley process certification scheme, which is designed to stop the trade in blood diamonds, has failed to deliver on the original objectives that we designed for it during my time as a Foreign Office Minister between 2000 and 2002. It has three weaknesses that have not been addressed. It does not cover polished gems—only rough diamonds. It applies only to crimes committed by rebel groups, not to human rights abuses committed by Governments such as Zimbabwe’s. It does not enforce its own rules properly: the scheme is found wanting when confronted with problems in Venezuela, Côte d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe.

The Kimberley process report on Anjin praises the modern security procedures of the company, makes small recommendations to reduce the risk of theft and smuggling and thanks the Minister of Mines for his co-operation, yet not once does it ask who owns Anjin. That is wilful blindness, and it has led member states, including the UK, acting through the EU, to authorise exports of Anjin diamonds.

Let us be clear: Zimbabwean military-controlled blood diamonds are now sold in the EU and almost certainly in the UK, appearing on wedding rings all over the place. It is time for jewellery companies to stop hiding behind the facade of the Kimberley process and to take responsibility for their own supply chains. Each company must ask, “Where do my diamonds come from, under what conditions are they mined and traded, and who benefits from their sale?” That system, known in the jargon as supply chain due diligence, was first developed for the trade in conflict minerals sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It should be adapted for the trade in diamonds and other gems, so that those resources can play a constructive role in the development of other countries at risk, such as Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Burma.

I urge the British Government to commission the OECD, which has played an important role in working out the details of such a scheme for the trade in gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, to examine how it could be applied to precious stones such as diamonds. I hope that the Minister will tell us something about that.

The European Union has placed many individuals and entities on restrictive measures: travel bans and asset freezes. One such entity is the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation and its subsidiaries and joint ventures. Bizarrely, Anjin is not on the sanctions list, despite there being a more compelling case for its inclusion than for the inclusion of other mining firms that are sanctioned by virtue of their association with the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation. Recently, the Zimbabwean Deputy Minister of Mines stated in Parliament that

“Anjin is owned by the Chinese and the Government of Zimbabwe where ZMDC owns 10% and Zimbabwe Defence Industries owns a 40% shareholding”.

Given that both Zimbabwe Defence Industries, which is wholly owned by the Ministry of Defence, and the ZMDC are already on sanctions lists, it seems to me that Anjin should be listed as well, not least on the grounds that it is a subsidiary of listed entities.

Even stranger, in my view, is the news that at its Foreign Ministers Council on Monday the EU proposes to remove or suspend some or all targeted sanctions. To do that less than a year before Zimbabwe’s next election could be very damaging. Are EU and UK officials really suggesting removing an asset freeze on someone like Didymus Mutasa, the former State Security Minister, who is accused by the EU of being

“involved in murders in Manicaland”,

or lifting the EU travel ban on our old friend Brigadier Charles Tarumbwa, who is accused by the EU of being

“directly involved in the terror campaign waged before and during the elections”

and of being in charge of a

“torture base in Makoni West, Mutasa Central in 2007/2008”?

Instead of suspending sanctions at the behest of ZANU-PF, Monday’s EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting and the British Government should argue for Sam Pa, Anjin and Sino Zimbabwe Development to be placed on the EU’s targeted sanctions list and for the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation to remain on the list. That should remain the case at least until the election—probably less than 12 months away—has passed off peacefully.

If the intention is to wave a carrot and not just a stick, by all means suspend sanctions against some of those lower down the ZANU-PF command list, or examine the more calibrated strategy that is recommended by the International Crisis Group and that is being considered by southern African countries. We must ensure that substantive sanctions, such as asset freezes on Anjin and Sam Pa, are imposed so that the security forces cannot build a war chest before the election.

If off-budget financing of the security forces is not addressed immediately, regardless of what happens to Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe could soon be ruled by a free-floating securocrat elite: unaccountable, unelectable and unstoppable. More than enough damage has been done already to the wonderful people of Zimbabwe, as a once-prosperous country has been reduced to penury. Let us ensure that we do not perpetuate the terrible damage that has been done by premature suspensions of highly targeted sanctions, especially on those who are responsible for the Marange blood diamonds, when the imperative is to impose more not less.

The World Diamond Council and Governments with a substantial diamond trade must act to block blood diamonds from Marange, or the whole diamond trade could well find itself tarnished and targeted by boycotts and protesters, just as was threatened until it acted in 2000. I hope that hon. Members will consider these matters and that the Government will take forward the policies that I have recommended for targeted sanctions.