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House of Commons Hansard
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04 February 2016
Volume 605

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Home Affairs if she will make a statement on events planned by the group Return of Kings.

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Roosh V is a US, self-styled pick-up artist. Media reporting has suggested that supporters of Roosh V and the Return of Kings website were scheduled to hold nine events across the UK this Saturday 6 February. An announcement on the group’s website has been publicised in the press this morning, stating that no Return of Kings events will be held on Saturday.

The Government condemn in the strongest terms anyone who condones rape and sexual violence or suggests that responsibility for stopping these crimes rests with the victims. Responsibility always unequivocally rests with the perpetrator of these serious crimes.

Any form of violence against women or girls is absolutely unacceptable. The impact of domestic and sexual violence on the victims—physically, psychologically and emotionally —cannot be overstated, and the Government are working closely with victims and survivors, support services, the police and criminal justice agencies to end these terrible crimes. If criminal offences have been committed, including incitement of violence against women, the Government would expect local police forces to deal with any offenders appropriately.

The Government do not routinely comment on individual immigration or exclusion cases, but the Home Secretary has powers to exclude an individual who is not a British citizen, if she considers that their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good. This Home Secretary has excluded more foreign nationals on the grounds of unacceptable behaviour than any before her. That can include, and has included, exclusions based on threats posed to women’s safety because of encouragement of violence against women.

The Government are pleased that the Return of Kings events appear to have been cancelled, and I look forward to this afternoon’s full debate in Westminster Hall on the subject of the role of men in preventing violence against women. I am sure we will discuss these issues at length.

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I welcome the Minister’s response. There has been widespread ridicule of, and revulsion at, the antics of the group Return of Kings, including from the respected police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, Vera Baird, and parliamentary colleagues. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has written to the Minister about the matter, and there has been widespread coverage in the media. The public, in this country and worldwide, have also responded. Indeed, there are 63,000 signatures to the online petition calling for the events to be banned, so I am very glad that they will not go ahead this weekend. That is in no measure, as far as I can tell, due to the action of the Government, but we need assurances for the future, because Roosh V has said that he cannot stop men attending private meetings.

The Minister has said that the Home Secretary has the power to exclude individuals from the UK. What information do the Government hold about Roosh V’s plans to travel to this country in future, and is it the Minister’s expectation that he would attract a ban? Has she or the Home Secretary considered classifying Return of Kings as a proscribed group?

Events were advertised to Roosh V’s followers, which led to plans for counter-demonstrations in a number of UK cities, creating a threat both to public order and to women’s safety. The Minister has said that the police have powers to act if they believe that crimes have been committed. Does she believe that the threshold for incitement to rape or hate crimes has been met? What discussions have been had with the police, and what guidance has been issued to them, about handling such activities? In relation to the online advertising of the events—at which participants were apparently required to give the password “pet shop” before being admitted—what discussions have the Government had with internet providers and Facebook about taking down those offensive posts?

The events take place against the backdrop of a 41% increase in rape in the past year and the loss of much specialist provision. According to the Women’s Budget Group, 29% of the cuts announced to local authorities in the 2015 spending review could fall on services to support women who are suffering from violence, and 32 specialist refuges closed between 2010 and 2014. Many rape crisis centres have told me that they have no guarantee about their funding after next month. Will the Minister assure the House that that funding will continue from April this year?

As the Minister has mentioned, there will be a debate in Westminster Hall this afternoon on the role of men in tackling violence against women, and that is welcome. I expect that it will cover perpetrator programmes and compulsory sex and relationships education in schools, for which Labour has been pressing for many years. Will the Minister commit to introducing compulsory sex and relationships education as part of the personal, social, health and economic education curriculum in every school?

Finally, when will the Government ratify and implement the Istanbul convention, which was signed in 2012? What is the explanation for the delay?

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I start by agreeing with the hon. Lady that the comments of this individual and the proposals of this group are absolutely repulsive. I am sure that everybody in the House will join us in condemning what they have said. Such things have no place in British society. I assure her that the Government are taking all the steps we can to deal with the matter, and I will be happy to write to her on the specifics of what the Government can do. She will understand that I cannot comment on individual cases, and many of the things that she asked about are operational matters for local police. I will be happy to write to her about what local police can do to stop such activities, but it would not be appropriate for me to go into detail here.

The hon. Lady talked about ridicule, and I share her view that we should ridicule the group and show contempt for them, because they hold the most ridiculous views. She mentioned Vera Baird, with whom I agree that we should make a point of ridiculing the comments. If we can show that they are ludicrous, people will not want to be part of this.

The hon. Lady asked about internet providers. As she knows, we talk with internet providers about many topics, including indecent images of children online, children having access to pornographic material, and inappropriate material. I will certainly take this point up with the internet providers when I see them at the UK Council for Child Internet Safety board next month.

The hon. Lady asked about the Istanbul convention. We have an issue on article 44 of the Istanbul convention, which concerns an extraterritoriality matter. We are discussing it with the devolved Administrations, because it needs primary legislation, and I am not going to ratify the convention until I am absolutely certain that we comply with all its measures. We comply with everything except that one point, and I want to make sure that we deal with it before ratification.

The hon. Lady mentioned the debate this afternoon in Westminster Hall. I pay tribute to the white ribbon campaign, which has been instrumental in making it clear that men do not want to see violence against women and girls.

Finally, I want to take up what the hon. Lady said about the 41% increase in rape. That is a 41% increase in reported rape, and we welcome that, because it shows that victims have the confidence to come forward and that they are reporting those crimes. If they do so, we can get convictions, which are at their highest ever level. The crime survey for England and Wales shows that the level of those crimes is not going up, and we welcome that. We want to see more reporting, and I hope she will join me in welcoming the increase in reporting.

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I welcome the Government’s commitment, through education, to raising awareness about sexual and relationship abuse with its “This is Abuse” campaign. Does the Minister agree that more emphasis must be placed on tackling controlling behaviour and emotional abuse, which often go unreported?

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I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The “This is Abuse” campaign has been extremely successful, and I am very pleased that the Government announced, just before Christmas, that we are continuing with it. It is so important that young people understand what is appropriate, understand what is appropriate in relationships and understand what a normal loving relationship is, as opposed to an abusive one.

My hon. Friend will know that the new domestic abuse offence—the offence of coercive or controlling behaviour—was commenced on 29 December. The new offence had been called for for many years. It was a difficult thing to do, which is why the Government made sure that we got it right, but we now have the ability to prosecute and convict offenders who never commit physical violence against their victims, but have abused them for far too long.

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I thank the Minister for her comments. I join her in condemning rape and violence in any form and, in particular, any attempt to blame the victims. I wholeheartedly agree with her that responsibility must always rest with the perpetrator.

We in the Scottish National party are pleased that the events have been cancelled. The anti-women agenda behind them is utterly and completely repugnant. In Scotland, our petition against the events, which were due to take place in Edinburgh and Glasgow, has attracted about 40,000 signatures. Members may be aware that SNP Members have signed an early-day motion condemning these sexist and hate-mongering meetings and the misogyny behind them.

In Scotland, Police Scotland has been working closely with anti-violence against women organisations. It put out a fairly strongly worded statement about the policing of the events that were to have taken place. It is obviously absolutely paramount, as I am sure the Minister would agree, that women should be able to go about their lawful business, day and night, in our cities and towns without being subjected to this sort of intimidation.

The Scottish Government and Police Scotland have worked hard on the investigation of sex crimes in Scotland. The Minister will be aware that a number of years ago —in 2008—the Scottish Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service set up a specialist national sexual crimes unit. I was very proud to be one of its founding prosecutors. Our conviction rates for rape and sexual violence have indeed increased, but we are still working very hard on that, as these are challenging crimes to prosecute.

I associate myself with the questions raised by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), and I thank her for asking this important urgent question. SNP Members, too, want the Istanbul convention to be ratified as soon as possible, and I am sure the Minister will reassure me that she is continuing to liaise with the devolved Governments about that.

Will the Minister reassure me about one point raised by the Member for Stretford and Urmston? If the Home Secretary becomes aware of any plans this gentleman—I use the word loosely—may have to enter the United Kingdom, will she liaise with the Scottish Government, and indeed the other devolved Administrations, on any future events?

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I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her comments. I assure her that I will copy her into my letter to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). We want to take all the steps we possibly can, and I want to set out in depth the steps that the Government can take and what we will do.

The hon. and learned Lady mentioned the Istanbul convention. I assure her that we are liaising with the devolved Administrations to make sure that we ratify it as soon as possible. She talked about police forces. I want to pay tribute to Police Scotland, and to all police forces across the United Kingdom. It is worth making the point that such criminals do not recognise borders, and police forces need to work together to make sure that we tackle these crimes. Such crimes are not acceptable in the United Kingdom—and I mean the whole United Kingdom.

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I very much support what the Opposition Front Benchers have said. We defend our cherished liberty of free speech to the utmost, but with that freedom must come responsibility. May I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I am pretty certain all Conservative Members would welcome the proactive engagement of the Home Secretary and her Department not only in excluding this man—frankly, he is an embarrassment to all men—but in proscribing his organisation?

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I want to reassure my hon. Friend that he would struggle to find a more proactive Home Secretary. This Home Secretary has excluded more people and done more to tackle violence against women and girls than any Home Secretary in history, and I am very proud to serve in her Department.

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These planned meetings may well have been simply a publicity stunt by an attention-seeker so insecure in his own masculinity that he goes to such lengths to augment the size of his—er—following. I have been contacted by many constituents—men and women—who are outraged and revolted and also frightened by the planned meeting in Newcastle, so can the Minister reassure them that anyone meeting in Newcastle or anywhere else, or coming to this country to plan or condone rape, would be treated in the same way as anyone planning or condoning murder, terrorism or any violent act?

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I can assure the hon. Lady that that is a criminal offence and such people would be treated in the same way. I join her in her comments about the possible reasons why this individual is doing what he is doing—to ensure that he gets publicity, which he may need for other reasons. I will say no more.

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Can we be really robust in deciding who is allowed into this country and who is not? Rather than relying on individual police forces to intercept such individuals after their arrival, if the Government have clear intelligence that an individual or a group are seeking to incite criminal activity in this country, the Government should have no qualms at all about making it clear that these people are excluded from our country, so that we do not have to put extra pressure on our police forces, who have many other things to do.

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My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on individual cases, but I agree that it is much better to exclude than to deal with such people when they are here. This Home Secretary has excluded more foreign national offenders and foreign nationals than any other.

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I can see no possible benefit from this individual being allowed into the UK now or in the future, so may I add my voice to those of hon. Members who say that, although we understand that the Minister cannot comment on individual cases, we hope that very soon she will be able to do so by saying that this person is excluded permanently from the UK? She cannot talk about operational police matters; is there a general steer that she would hope to give to the police as to their response to this matter?

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s comments will have been heard. I have the Police Minister sitting next to me and he has also heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

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Although I share the revulsion at this group’s views and the need to exclude such people from the UK, there is a substantial weight of evidence now to suggest that this group has no plans to meet and is concocting these plans across the globe to generate maximum publicity for its vile views, and that it is taking politicians and the media across the globe for a ride. I welcome the news that these alleged events have been cancelled, but has the Minister seen or heard any evidence to suggest that there was actually a plan to hold any of these events in the UK?

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I have as much information as my hon. Friend as to how valid the plans may or may not have been, but he makes an important point. We should all remember, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) said, to treat such people with ridicule rather than seriously.

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I, too, welcome the public revulsion which has resulted in the cancellation of the Return of Kings meetings, including one in Cardiff, which Plaid Cymru was set to oppose. How will the Minister address the wider question of the balance between free speech online and the incitement of violence against women as though it was socially acceptable?

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The hon. Lady asks about online specifically. I assure her that what is illegal offline is illegal online. If it is a criminal offence, it is a criminal offence, no matter where it happens.

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As part of the review of public order, will my hon. Friend review the weighting of the community impact element when the police decide when to intervene? One of the problems with such public order decisions is that the police take quite a black and white decision about whether the law has been broken, rather than taking a wider view of the impact that that has on the community involved.

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know that he has personal experience in his own constituency. I can assure him that we will look at those points.

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This is not the first time that a campaign of violence and aggression has been orchestrated via the internet, and it will not be the last. Although we hear warm words from the Government every time there is an incident, nothing ever seems to happen. I press the Minister to say what action the Government will take over the ease with which vile messages can be distributed via the internet.

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I assure the hon. Lady that it is a criminal offence to make these kinds of comments. The Government do not take these matters lightly. We work hard and at length with the internet service providers, which have a responsibility to ensure that such messages are not distributed.

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This individual’s offensiveness and arrogance are exceeded only by his ignorance. There are real worries about whether the meetings were anything other than a publicity stunt to get a reaction. Does the Minister agree that the key thing is to ensure that there are positive role models for young men, which the majority of people are, and that the key mistake this individual made was to think that many men would want to attend meetings so vile in their intent?

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I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend.

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On the very day when we will discuss for the first time at Westminster the positive role that men can play in preventing and ending violence against women, does the Minister share my concern that this small, small man’s abhorrent views and publicity seeking risk distracting us from the positive role that the vast majority of men —real men—would like to play in ending misogyny in all its forms?

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The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point and I look forward to debating the matter this afternoon. He is absolutely right that men have a positive role to play, and the vast majority of men do so.

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Does the Minister agree that this situation is symptomatic of a much bigger, awful trend towards misogyny, hatred against women and violence that we are seeing on all sorts of media, including Twitter, which is international? What efforts is she making to promote an attitude of zero tolerance towards that trend, not just in Britain, but by taking leadership internationally to address it at its roots?

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The hon. Gentleman leads me into an answer that could potentially last many days on the different things that need to be done internationally to promote women and women’s rights, such as the action that the Government are taking to tackle female genital mutilation and forced marriage. All people have a right to exist and live equally. These views and comments are not acceptable.

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It is a ridiculous irony that the events have been cancelled for the safety of this man’s supporters, given the nature of the events. I join everybody in their condemnation of this sick individual and his misogynist followers. Will the Minister pay tribute to the groups of campaigners across the country, particularly in Glasgow, who have helped to force the cancellation of the events? Will she also pay tribute to Police Scotland, which has worked closely with the campaigners in Glasgow and Edinburgh to ensure their safety at the events? There was unequivocal condemnation in the Police Scotland statement, which said that

“sex without consent is rape.”

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I agree with the hon. Lady. I pay tribute to Police Scotland and to all police forces across the country, which work equally hard to deal with these crimes and to make that message heard.

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I agree with the Minister that most men will not support these vile, anti-women, misogynistic, pro-rape views. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will support the Home Secretary unequivocally in making sure that Roosh V never sets foot on British soil. What more are the Government doing to make sure that the small number of individuals who do support these abhorrent views learn the error of their ways and see that such views are not acceptable in a decent society?

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The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that prevention and education are incredibly important to make sure that the young men—and older men—who hold these views understand that they are wrong. The “This is Abuse” campaign, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) mentioned, is part of that, as is our work to end gang and youth violence and exploitation, because young men who are in a circle where it is seen as acceptable to exploit young women and treat them as no more than sex objects have to be educated that that simply is not right.

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The fact that this event in Glasgow has been cancelled shows that people do make Glasgow. Does the Minister agree that any event planned to coach men how to coerce women into having sex. is not a free speech issue but an issue of public safety and order? Will she join me in condemning the sick-minded halfwits who support these events and were planning to attend them, and does she welcome the fact that this weekend they will now be sitting in their underpants, eating cold ravioli from a tin?

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The hon. Gentleman conjures up quite an image—I think I will leave it at that!

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Such grotesque misogynist and homophobic views are not masculine—they are a perversion of masculinity and are cowardly. Does the Minister welcome initiatives by the National Union of Students and student unions—including in Leeds—to train bar staff to spot signs of sexual harassment? We must stamp out sexual harassment in all our society.

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I would be very interested in learning more about what the hon. Gentleman says, as that is exactly the kind of initiative that we need to ensure that it is clear that no woman can ever be guilty of inciting her own rape. Rape is committed by the perpetrators, and they are the only people who are responsible.

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As the Minister will know, I wrote to the Home Secretary on this issue in response to the outrage and anger of my constituents who contacted me about it. The Government of Australia have publicly stated that they will continue to monitor any application from Roosh V, or anyone else associated with the Return of Kings. Will the Minister assure the House that the UK Government will do likewise for any individual associated with this group who is promoting a diet of hate?

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I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Home Secretary keeps a very close eye on all these matters, and that the Government take every step they possibly can.