House of Commons
Tuesday 5 February 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Sentencing must match the severity of the crime, but there is persuasive evidence that short sentences do not work in helping some offenders to turn their backs on crime, which is why we are exploring options that would see them used much less frequently.
A deeply concerning incident took place in my constituency at the weekend involving an assault using a noxious substance. May I ask the Secretary of State for a clear commitment not only that the sale and possession of acid will be targeted, but that he will ensure that those guilty of these despicable and evil crimes receive significant prison terms?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a very serious incident. Such attacks are truly dreadful and have life-changing consequences, and anyone committing them must feel the full force of the law. That is why the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is currently being considered in the Lords, will change the law to stop the sale of acid to under-18s and to make it an offence to possess a corrosive substance in a public place. It is for the independent courts to determine sentences handed down in individual cases, but it is already the case that the use of a weapon, including acid, in any offence is treated as an aggravating factor meriting an increased sentence.
Statistics show that 36% of rough sleepers in London have previously been in prison—the figure is up three percentage points on the year before—which is deeply concerning. Short sentences do nothing but exacerbate the issue and do not reduce reoffending. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is now time to introduce a presumption against prison sentences of less than 12 months?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. If someone is given a short sentence, it can mean that they lose their home, which would put them in a more difficult position, and then on their release they would be at much greater risk of rough sleeping. We are looking at our options, and I welcome her support. We are running pilots at Pentonville, Bristol and Leeds to see what we can do to address the problem of rough sleeping.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s much more realistic and nuanced approach to sentencing and the use of imprisonment. Does he agree that it is essential that we have space in our prisons for those whose crimes are so serious that only custody is appropriate, but that we do not overcrowd prisons with those who have mental or medical difficulties, or literacy or social problems, or those who might be better dealt with through rigorous community sentences?
I completely agree with the Chair of the Justice Committee. There are serious crimes for which a strong custodial sentence is exactly the right answer, but there are also cases for which short sentences, in particular, are ineffective for rehabilitation and do not serve society well. Prison should be used when appropriate, and we should look to develop alternatives to prison wherever possible.
I am heartened by the Secretary of State’s answers thus far. Last September the prisons Minister, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), said that
“the evidence on what could be done to reduce reoffending by not overusing short prison sentences inappropriately is a good lesson from Scotland from which we wish to learn.”—[Official Report, 4 September 2018; Vol. 646, c. 41.]
At Holyrood, however, the Scottish Conservatives have long campaigned against the presumption against short sentences, claiming it to be a soft-touch approach. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Conservatives are out of touch in wanting to pursue an old-fashioned and entirely ineffective approach?
I will focus on the approach that I want to take in England and Wales. If we can find effective alternatives to short sentences, it is not a question of pursuing a soft-justice approach, but rather a case of pursuing smart justice that is effective at reducing reoffending and crime. That is the approach that I want to take in England and Wales.
But the full force of the law too often is not very forceful at all, is it?
In reality, sentences and the prison population have gone up in recent years. I maintain that there are circumstances in which significant prison sentences are right as a means of punishment and a demonstration of society’s abhorrence at particular behaviours, but we also have to bear it in mind that some people who go to prison end up in a cycle of reoffending, with little achieved to the benefit of society or those individuals.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer Questions 2 and 19 together.
Order. I think that the Secretary of State’s intended grouping of Question 2 is with Question 18, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), who was looking mildly perturbed, but whom I hope will now be greatly reassured.
It is good to see the hon. Gentleman reassured.
We have made it clear that the probation system needs to improve, and we have taken decisive action to end current community rehabilitation company contracts and to develop more robust arrangements to protect the public and tackle reoffending. We have seen examples of good and innovative work from CRCs in Cumbria, where probation is being adapted to a rural setting, and in London, where CRCs are working with the Mayor’s office on programmes to rehabilitate offenders involved in knife crime.
I believe that public, private and voluntary organisations all have a role to play. The reforms that we are making are crucial to integrating the system better so that different providers can work more effectively together, and we will set out our proposals later this year.
I am grateful for that comprehensive answer but, in the light of the prisons Minister’s praise at our last session of Justice questions for the not-for-profit Durham Tees Valley CRC—one of the best, if not the best, at inspection, and, according to Napo, also one of the best to work for—may I ask how the Secretary of State will protect this rare success story, given that his own reprivatisation plans are set to allow security giants such as Sodexo to swallow it up?
I, too, pay tribute to the work of that not-for-profit CRC and its focus on rehabilitating offenders. The expertise and commitment of not-for-profit organisations are vital in helping offenders to turn their lives around, and the changes on which we are working will ensure that the probation system benefits from having a diverse range of providers, while also doing more to deliver operational stability.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, and for drawing attention to the statistics that we have seen in Durham. However, probation failures cause reoffending and place strains on already overburdened police resources. Will the Secretary of State consider meeting police and crime commissioners such as Ron Hogg, Durham’s police, crime and victims commissioner, who happens to head the only outstanding police force in the country, to discuss the devolution of probation services so that they can be tailor-made to meet the needs of local communities?
I have already met a number of police and crime commissioners to talk about this very issue, but I should be happy to meet Mr Hogg, as well as other PCCs, to discuss these matters again. We want to ensure that PCCs can play a full and active role in this process, and I am heartened by the determination and willingness of many of them to do all that they can to help to develop it and to ensure that we have a strong probation system.
Prisons: Criminal Activity and Drug Abuse
Turning around the problem of drugs in prisons involves focusing on relationships, staff and perimeter security, but for the first time, every one of those 10 prisons will have proper dog teams, X-ray scanners and full airport-style security. I believe that that will drive down the supply of drugs in those prisons, and I expect to be judged on the results.
The Minister won the admiration of the nation when he put his neck on the line in pursuit of his ambitious targets to reduce drugs and violence in our prisons. What other practical steps is he taking to meet those targets and to ensure that our prisons not only keep prisoners in, but keep drugs out?
As well as ensuring that people are searched at the gates, we are investing more in netting and grilles. We are also investing a great deal more in staff training and support. Last week, I was lucky to be able to visit Newbold Revel, our prison officer training college, to see the passing out parade of the new set of individuals who are bringing standards to those 10 prisons.
Violence in prisons has reached record levels, with assaults on prison officers up by 30%. When will the Government realise that their cuts are causing this crisis in our Prison Service?
The assaults on prison officers are genuinely shocking. That is why we have doubled the sentence for such assaults, and why we are investing in perimeter security. It is also why I have said that if I do not bring down the incidence of that violence, including assaults on prison officers, I will resign.
When I last visited HMP Bullingdon, it was explained to me that much of prisoners’ mail is saturated with drugs. How is the plan to photocopy mail where appropriate going?
Every one of the 10 prisons where we are running the pilots will either photocopy the mail or put it through it through a Rapiscanner, which will identify Spice and other psychoactive substances to ensure that prisoners cannot use mail to bring drugs into prison.
Order. In calling the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), I congratulate him on his tie, inserting only the modest caveat that it is perhaps a tad understated.
This is my celebration tie for Autism Day, Mr Speaker—a little bit of flamboyance for autism.
Nobody wants our prisons to have a culture of drugs and violence, but can the Minister imagine what it is like to be in prison and not to be guilty? I co-chair the all-party group on miscarriages of justice—we are meeting tonight. Some people do 18 years in prison are then found not guilty, but have no compensation and no reintroduction into society. When are we going to do something about that?
I think that this is a slightly different subject, but I would be very happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to look at the rare but tragic cases when somebody is wrongfully convicted.
Domestic Abuse Victims
Domestic abuse is a dreadful crime. We are determined to ensure that those who commit it face justice and that the victims of it are supported and feel able to come forward. A range of measures is available to support victims in taking their abuser to court, including eligibility to apply for special measures, and the use of video links and recorded evidence. However, we believe that we can and should do more, as we set out in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which was published last week.
In June 2012, Eystna Blunnie, a 20-year-old, heavily pregnant young woman, was unlawfully beaten to death by her abusive former partner—her unborn child also died—despite the abuser being known to the authorities and the Crown Prosecution Service. Will my hon. Friend take steps to strengthen the support and protection available to victims of domestic abuse to help to prevent such tragedies from ever happening again and so that such a situation never occurs in Harlow again?
I was sorry to hear about the dreadful and tragic case of Eystna Blunnie in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Strengthening the protections that are available to victims lies at the heart of the draft Bill. Its provisions include automatic eligibility for special measures in court for domestic abuse victims and, to better protect victims, a new domestic abuse protection order to enforce more stringent conditions on suspected and convicted perpetrators where breach will constitute a criminal offence.
Before Christmas, Sammy Woodhouse and I met the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer). Will the Minister update the House on the action taken after that meeting, particularly in relation to guidance issued to local authorities on exemption regarding the duty to notify? Is the Department willing to conduct a review to get to the heart of the scale of the issue that affected Sammy?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and to Sammy for their work in highlighting the terrible situation and looking at what more can be done. I know that she had a positive meeting with my hon. and learned Friend and we are determined that the family court system should never be used to coerce or re-victimise those who have been abused. My hon. and learned Friend is liaising with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in respect of councils’ obligations and has invited the president of the family division to consider clarifying the practice direction on notification.
The Public Accounts Committee held an inquiry into children’s social services yesterday. Does my hon. Friend agree that domestic violence is one of the key causes of the growth in the number of children being taken into care in local authorities? Will the Department work closely with the Department for Education to ensure that children’s social services have the information and finances that they need to deal with that growing problem?
I can offer my hon. Friend the reassurance that we are working extremely closely with colleagues across Government to do that. We often see that some of the young people who end up in the criminal justice system have come from homes or families where they have witnessed domestic abuse. It is incumbent on us all to do all we can to tackle that.
Practice direction 12J requires that a court must be sure, when ordering parental contact, that neither the child nor the other parent is at risk of harm. The direction makes it clear that this is an obligatory requirement, but campaign groups and lawyers say that its implementation is patchy, as we saw in the Sammy Woodhouse case. Will the Government task the new domestic abuse commissioner with responsibility for monitoring its implementation, with annual reports of any breaches to be laid before Parliament?
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her question, and I should have said in response to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) that I knew that the shadow Minister was concerned about this case and had done work on it. As I have set out, in the shorter term we have asked the president of the family division to look at that practice guidance to see whether it is working as it should. The hon. Lady mentioned the domestic abuse commissioner. In the context of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, the commissioner will have powers to investigate these matters. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady, as my opposite number, to discuss how that might work in practice.
The scourge of violence in prisons must be tackled. To do this, we need to get the basics right. We have strengthened the frontline with more than 4,300 new staff so that we can run full, purposeful regimes, and we have moved to a new key worker model to support prisoners. We are also supporting prisoners with measures to tackle drugs and to make the physical environment in prisons decent and safe.
We know that a positive working relationship between staff and prisoners is key to running safe, decent prisons. Will my right hon. Friend tell us more about what is being done to improve the relationship between staff and prisoners?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the work that she does in this area. I know that she is a frequent visitor to Chelmsford prison in her capacity as its constituency MP. In fact, I understand that she might almost have her own cell there, such is the regularity of her visits. She highlights the important relationship between prison officers and prisoners. We are introducing the key workers programme across the prison estate, and the early signs are that it is making a positive difference in terms of relationships and of reducing violence. There is more work that we need to do, but I am pleased that we are able to do that and to ensure that prison officers get the training they need to make best use of it.
Out-of-control drug use in prisons fuels violence. Yesterday I met the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), the Health Minister who is dealing with this issue. I want to know what more can be done both before a prisoner enters the prison system and afterwards, as well as how we can ensure that during that crucial period when he—it is usually a “he”—is in there, he can have proper drug rehab so that his time in prison is not wasted.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. We have formed a drugs taskforce and we are working with law enforcement and with health partners across Government to restrict supply, reduce demand and build recovery. The taskforce is developing a national drug strategy, which will provide all prisons with guidance and examples of best practice to support them in tackling drugs. I should also point out that we are investing £6 million in 10 of the most challenging prisons to tackle drug supply and reduce demand. There is a greater focus on drug detection, on dedicated search teams, on body scanners and on improved perimeter defences.
Purposeful activity for prisoners is vital to encouraging rehabilitation and reducing volatility in our jails. What steps are being taken to drive down the number of prisoners who are locked up for 23 hours a day, which does not help to bring about peace in our prisons?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The additional 4,300 prison officers will help to ensure that we can do this. A particular area on which I have been keen to focus is the education and employment strategy, which will ensure that we provide those prisoners who are prepared to take responsibility with the opportunity to educate themselves and prepare themselves for the world of work. I am very keen that we should continue to do that.
We found out from the Secretary of State’s Department last week the alarming fact that 51% of our youth offenders now come from a black minority or ethnic background. That puts us in a worse position than the United States. Given that context in our prisons, will he revisit my review, and may I meet him urgently to discuss how we can accelerate progress?
I am grateful for that question, and I would be happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman. I know he regularly meets the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), on this subject. I am also concerned about the proportion of BAME children in custody, which is something we take very seriously. My Department has introduced a dedicated team within the youth justice policy unit with a key focus on explaining or changing disproportionate outcomes for BAME children in the justice system.
The Justice Secretary has been in post for just over a year. In that time, every set of prison safety figures has shown violence spiralling out of control. In January 2018, assaults were up 12% year on year, reaching new record highs. In April 2018, assaults were up 13%, reaching new record highs. In October 2018, assaults were up 20%, reaching new record highs. And last week we saw yet more record highs—a record high for assaults on staff, a record high for prisoner-on-prisoner violence and a record high for self-harm. Does he agree that his Government have lost control of violence in our prisons? When will they get a grip?
Clearly, the figures set out last week, which relate to what was happening in July, August and September 2018, are not acceptable and we need to bring those numbers down. That is why we have increased the number of prison officer staff, it is why we are focusing on purposeful activity and it is why we are taking steps to reduce both the supply and the demand for drugs. We are seeing some encouraging signs, but I do not want to make too much of that as yet. We need to wait to see the numbers in April, when we will have details about the last quarter of 2018. I am beginning to feel that we have turned the corner, that the additional staff are making a difference and that the measures we are taking are making a difference, but I fully accept that much work still needs to be done.
Prison Officer Safety
We do not tolerate violence against our dedicated and hard-working prison officers. We are strengthening frontline officer numbers and rolling out the key worker scheme so that we can improve prisoner-staff relationships and tackle the causes of violence. We are giving officers the tools they need, like body-worn cameras and PAVA spray, to respond where incidents occur.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer but, in order to protect prison officers, what measures are the Government taking to ensure that the police and the justice system take crimes committed in prison as seriously as those committed outside in the community?
My hon. Friend makes a fair point, and it is important that crimes committed within prisons are taken seriously, just as crimes committed outside prisons are taken seriously. We have taken a number of steps, and I have already alluded to some of the measures we are taking to help prison officers in these circumstances. We also recently changed the law to strengthen sentences against those who commit crimes against prison officers.
A week before Christmas, one of my local prison officers, Ashley McLean, received horrendous facial injuries when he was violently attacked by a prisoner who was allegedly high on Spice. This was not an isolated incident. It happens every day of every week in one or other of our prisons. Much of that violent behaviour, as we have heard, is caused by drugs, so what steps are being taken to increase sentences for those found guilty of supplying drugs to inmates?
My hon. Friend rightly highlights an horrific incident, and I know the prisons Minister has already replied to a letter from him on this matter. We are fully committed to addressing the significant increase we have seen in the number of assaults on our hard-working prison staff. The new Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 increases the penalty for those who assault emergency workers, including prison officers, and I understand that the police are continuing to investigate this particular incident.
We have already heard that assaults against prison officers are at record levels, and those levels are rising at a record rate. Why is the Secretary of State more interested in taking prison officers to court for raising health and safety concerns than in sitting around the table and working with them to develop an urgent violence reduction strategy?
We are very focused on reducing violence, which is why we are taking the measures that we are: introducing the extra staff; giving prison officers access to PAVA; increasing the use of body-worn cameras; and increasing measures to stop drugs getting into prisons—as we have heard, they can often be a driver of this violence. So that is precisely what we are doing and will continue to do.
I recently met someone who trained to be a prison officer and left the job after six months. He told me that the three months of training left him ill-equipped to deal with the violence and intimidation, and to deal with prisoners with mental health problems. The Secretary of State will know that this is not an isolated case—it is widespread. What is he doing to improve training for prison officers so that they are equipped to deal with these incidents and have support when they are encountering this type of violence?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are constantly looking at ways in which we can improve the training for prison officers. The prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), has been very focused on that. We have managed to increase the number of prison officers significantly—as I say, the figure is up by 4,300. We are now seeing those prison officers gaining more experience and becoming increasingly effective. As I say, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic that we are moving in the right direction, but there is still much more that needs to be done.
What specific assessment has the Secretary of State made of the opportunities associated with the use of body-worn cameras by prison officers, given the successes we have seen in policing?
Again, my hon. Friend is right to highlight this issue. The increased use of body-worn cameras can help to ensure that we have evidence that can ensure that wrongdoing by prisoners can be brought to book—it can enable prosecutions to be brought. It also provides an ability to ensure that the truth can always be discovered, which is important. Body-worn cameras are not the sole answer, but they are part of an answer on how to bring the number of these incidents down. The nearly 6,000 additional body-worn cameras, alongside staff training, can help us to move in the right direction.
Every assault on a prison officer is, of course, one too many. In the last full year, there were five times fewer serious assaults on prison officers in Scotland than there were in English and Welsh prisons. Given that stark contrast, and the fact that while this Government were slashing prison officer numbers by nearly a third their numbers in Scotland actually rose, will the Secretary of State meet the Scottish Government to discuss what he could learn from Scotland’s approach to this issue as well?
We have a co-operative relationship with the Scottish Government and that will continue. Let me point out that since October 2016 we have seen an increase in prison officer numbers of 4,300, which is to be welcomed. At one stage, people said, “Those are new numbers but they are very inexperienced”, but of course as each month goes by those prison officers are gaining experience and confidence. I believe we will see improvements in the months and years ahead.
Prisoner Transfer Agreements
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for advocating on this issue consistently and for reinforcing a policy that has led to nearly 45,000 foreign national offenders being deported. In answer to the question, let me say that 46 of the 110 prisoner transfer agreements we have are compulsory. However, it is worth pointing out that, were we to leave the European Union with no deal and no transition period, we would lose 26 of those and face significantly greater challenges in deporting foreign national offenders who constitute nearly 40% of the cohort.
I understand that under those 26 EU agreements only about 200 prisoners have been compulsorily transferred to other EU countries, so that would make little difference. The point is that at any one time 10% of our prison population is made up of foreign national offenders. The best way to reduce overcrowding is to send these people back to prison in their own country. Will the Minister negotiate more compulsory prisoner transfer agreements so that we can get these people back to prisons in their own abode?
I agree strongly with what my hon. Friend says, and indeed we are actively engaged in this; my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor will be in Romania to discuss these issues, and I am meeting the Albanian Justice Minister this afternoon. But it is important to understand that, if we are going to put someone back into prison in another country, that country’s police, courts and prison service need to be onside, and that is a diplomatic challenge.
One of the saddest groups in our prisons are those women from abroad, usually with children, who have been duped into being drug mules. In the past, the Government have helped with the building of prisons abroad to allow those women to go back to their country of origin; is that still this Government’s policy?
As a former Minister in the Department for International Development, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we remain open to that. We have recently faced problems in Jamaica because there has been political resistance, not from us but from the Jamaican Government, to British development money being used in that way. We remain open to investment in the rule of law, and if it helps us to return foreign national offenders, at the same time as helping prisoners in that country, we will do that.
Court Closures and Staffing
I assure the hon. Lady that any decision to close a court is taken incredibly carefully, but in circumstances in which 41% of courts were operating at half their available capacity in 2016-17, it is right that the Ministry of Justice considers how best to spend its resources. We are investing £1 billion in our courts, bringing them up to date, improving back-office systems and making it easier for people to access justice.
Three years ago, I expressed concerns about the impact that the closure of Lambeth county court would have on the efficiency of the court system and access to justice for my constituents. Lambeth was closed two years ago and the workload was moved to Clerkenwell and Shoreditch. Yesterday, I heard from a local legal aid solicitor that Clerkenwell and Shoreditch county court is completely overwhelmed, that delays of six to eight months to receive court directions are common, and that the contact centre cannot provide up-to-date information on cases. When will the Government act to sort out this shambolic mess?
I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that specific situation. The MOJ is taking a number of steps to improve court timeliness, which is of course important. We are digitalising a number of services—people can now track their tribunal appeal online—and recruiting more judges to tribunals, with more than 225 recruited over the past year. I am happy to discuss that particular case.
Under the smokescreen of a digital revolution, the Government have taken the axe to our court system. A victim of crime who wants justice through their day in court will now have a much more difficult experience, perhaps having to travel much further after the closure of hundreds of courts, and perhaps finding that the help and support they need are lacking after the sacking of thousands of court staff. Given the recent chaos, instead of forcing through yet more court reforms, will the Minister agree to a moratorium on further cuts and closures, at least until this House has been offered a chance to scrutinise changes that will affect access to justice for decades to come?
The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the fact that an IT issue affected courts towards the end of January. That disruption was caused by an infrastructure issue in our supplier’s data and I apologise for any issues for people who were affected. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have consulted on what principles will guide any future court closures, and that consultation has now come to an end.
Victims: Policy Alignment
The victims strategy is the first time that we have looked in such detail and in such a joined-up way at how we treat victims of crime. The strategy provides the vision for the Government’s approach to victims. The Government’s violence against women and girls strategy refresh and draft domestic abuse Bill have been developed with this vision in mind, and have been designed to sit within the framework of the wider victims strategy. The Bill is a joint Home Office and MOJ Bill, with close ministerial and official-level working to ensure close alignment.
To return to a theme raised on the Opposition Benches earlier, there is great support on the Government Benches for closing the loophole that may allow convicted rapists to gain notification rights to children conceived through those heinous crimes. Will the Minister assure me that if it turns out that practice directions will not have the requisite strength, legislation will be looked at? When he meets the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) to discuss the possibility of the commissioner having powers with regard to practice direction 12C, will he consider including practice direction 12J under those same powers? That will also give safeguards to women and children.
Building on the answer that I gave to the shadow Minister, I hear what my hon. Friend says and I know his work in this area and his commitment on the issue. I am very happy to look at the points that he raises. It is a draft Bill and I very much hope that he will consider putting his views to us in that process.
For many victims of domestic violence and coercive control, like my constituent Chloe, and for their families, the process of giving evidence and preparing for trial adds to the pain of the original abuse. What is the Minister doing to support vulnerable witnesses, including victims of domestic abuse?
We are determined to improve the family justice response to vulnerable witnesses, including people such as my hon. Friend’s constituent Chloe and victims of domestic abuse. Family judges have a range of powers to make sure that difficult courtroom situations are handled sensitively. In particular, we are looking to give the courts a specific power to prevent perpetrators of certain offences, including domestic abuse, from cross-examining their victims in person. We will also give the courts the power, in certain circumstances, to appoint a lawyer to conduct cross-examination on the preventive party’s behalf.
In the victims strategy published on 10 September, we committed to consult on the detail of a victims law in the course of 2019. In taking that work forward, we have already begun discussions with both victims and victims’ groups. We will consult on amending the victims code before bringing forward detailed proposals for a victims law. That will allow us to update entitlements to ensure that they better reflect victims’ needs before considering the detail of legislation.
I welcome the Department’s victims strategy, particularly the review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme. The Manchester Arena bombing almost two years ago left people with serious and life-changing injuries and brought to light questions about the scheme’s suitability in providing support for victims of terrorism. Will my hon. Friend outline what plans are being considered by the Department to improve support for victims of major tragedies such as the Manchester bombing?
The Government are committed to ensuring that victims of terrorist attacks such as the Manchester Arena bombing receive the help and support that they need. In the victims strategy, we set out our intention to consult on changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, including considering how the scheme can better serve victims of terrorism. Terms of reference were published on 18 December 2018, with the review expected to report this year.
My constituent, Helen Hill, whose husband was murdered in 2002, has started a petition that has more than 8,000 names. The petition is about having supervision for life for murderers. I am sure the Minister understands the suffering that she has endured and is enduring to this day. Is not she the sort of person to whom he should be talking as a result of this, and will he please agree to meet me and Mrs Hill in the near future?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that specific case and I am very happy to meet him.
I pay tribute to Lord Farmer for this review. We have accepted all its recommendations and have implemented more than half of them. I meet Lord Farmer very regularly, most recently last Sunday, because we realise that good family ties can reduce reoffending by 37%.
Women prisoners face particular difficulties when parted from their families—as do their families. What consideration has been given to this issue?
The specific issue raised by my hon. Friend relates to women in the criminal justice system, many of whom are the primary care givers. So putting those women in prison has a very serious impact on their children, many of whom, unfortunately, then go on to commit crime themselves. We have therefore commissioned Lord Farmer to do a review looking specifically at the family ties of women.
Criminal Justice: Children
As far as possible, we believe that children should be diverted from the criminal justice system through liaison and diversion services. A custodial sentence should be used only as a last resort. As we have seen over the past 10 years, the number of children entering the criminal justice system has fallen by 86%, with the number getting custodial sentences falling equally dramatically.
According to the latest research, between 40,000 and 120,000 children are born every year with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Those with FASD often do not understand consequences, so will the Minister look at the special courts that have been set up in Canada, designed to reduce reoffending by helping those with FASD to understand the consequences of their actions?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. If he writes to me with more details, I will be happy to look at the matter.
If the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) were standing on this question, I would call her; if she does not, I will not.
But she is doing so, so I will.
Just a heads up in case the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) requires it—the same would apply to him in a moment.
No, no, not now. The hon. Gentleman can work up his question while the Minister is responding to the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] No, no, I am giving him preparation time; he should be thanking me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) makes an important point about the importance of stable accommodation, which can play a key part in reducing reoffending and giving people the opportunity to get their life back on the right track. We are working with partners across the Government, local authorities and others to ensure that the system works for those people.
We are all now uncontrollably excited.
Reducing reoffending is a key goal of the prison system, as we set out in the White Paper. Plans such as the New Futures Network show that we are serious about this. Research published by the Ministry of Justice last year showed that prisoners who have undertaken learning activity have a significantly lower reoffending rate on release than their peers, with a one-year proven reoffending rate that is 7.5 percentage points lower. Offenders who found P45 employment in the year after leaving prison had one-year reoffending rates that were six to nine percentage points lower than similar offenders who did not find employment.
While the total number of children in prison has declined over the years, the number of black and minority ethnic children in the prison system has remained static. How can the Lord Chancellor reassure BME communities that their children are not being disproportionately targeted?
The shadow Minister makes an important point, building on the point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I am concerned about the black, Asian and minority ethnic people in custody. As the Lord Chancellor has said, we take this matter very seriously. This runs through our response to the Lammy review and the race disproportionality work that we undertake in the Department. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady on this topic, if she would like me to.
We are making good progress with Wellingborough and Glen Parva Prisons, which will be modern and provide uncrowded capacity and will open in 2021 and 2022 respectively. This is against a background where the long-term population trend has put a stress on the prison estate. I am pleased that the prison population has decreased by around 2,000 in the past year. We will continue to look into how we can ensure further reductions, including looking at better community sentences. Our new prison estate will have up to 10,000 new uncrowded prison places, creating the physical conditions for governors to achieve better educational, training and rehabilitation outcomes.
Nearly two weeks ago, I raised concerns about broken screens at HMP Bedford that have resulted in my constituents having to put up with loud, intimidating and lewd behaviour from prisoners, and daily intrusions on to their properties by criminals smuggling contraband through their gardens and over the prison wall. The Minister committed to immediately raising the matter with the governor. Will he confirm what action has been taken?
The Prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), has indeed visited Bedford Prison and is in contact with the governor. The prison is introducing new scanners to help to address some of these issues. We will look at anything that we can do to ensure that no burden is placed on the local community.
Overcrowding in our prisons leads to inhumane conditions and puts pressure on provision, services and training. That is unacceptable. The public expect reform and rehabilitation. What is the Minister doing to address this issue, as well as the over-representation of black men within our prisons?
I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of rehabilitation. We have stressed that point, and it has been stressed a number of times this morning. Of course we want to bring overcrowding levels down. It would be fair to say that overcrowding levels have been pretty consistent; they are essentially at the same level as in 2010. On the disproportionate numbers of people from ethnic minorities within the prison system, we take that seriously, as the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), has just pointed out. I look forward to meeting the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) to discuss this shortly.
One source of overcrowding is the indefinite detention of prisoners using the imprisonment for public protection—IPP—sentences, which were introduced under the previous Labour Government but ruled unlawful in 2007. Why are 3,300 prisoners still in prison having served their sentence? Many of them—51%—have served five years or more after their sentence and are still in prison to this day.
Over time, more of those IPP prisoners are being released, but the Parole Board has to make a judgment in each individual case on whether there is a risk to society from releasing a particular individual. Those judgments can be difficult. Sometimes the Parole Board faces criticism when it does decide to release somebody in these circumstances. These matters have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Last year, almost half of prisoners held at HMP Birmingham were held in overcrowded cells, contributing to the crisis of violence that six months ago forced the Government to step in and take control away from G4S. On the last occasion I asked about this, the Minister of State was unable to give a response, so will the Secretary of State now confirm that he will not be handing HMP Birmingham back to G4S, and will he draw the obvious conclusion that privatisation has been a failure in our prison system?
We will not hand HMP Birmingham back if it is not safe for us to do so. I am afraid that the attack on any involvement of the private sector in the prison system that we hear from Labour Front Benchers does not represent a balanced approach. We have to look at the successes that exist within the prison system, where the private sector has run very effective prisons. That cannot be ignored, notwithstanding the very real problems that exist, and have existed, with Birmingham.
Finally, before we move on to topicals, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is an extraordinarily senior and distinguished denizen of the House, but he will have to be a little patient and he may get his chance in due course, queuing up with the rest. Meanwhile, he will, I am sure, celebrate the success of his hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone).
Over time, we have invested more and more in this, particularly in individualised rehabilitation programmes. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Stephanie Covington and Edwina Grosvenor, in particular, for their trauma-informed approach to counselling.
When we think about prisoners, we should understand that we all have a past that we cannot change but a future that we can change, hopefully this side of eternity. Many prisoners out there have records of good conduct and are desperately trying to turn over a new leaf. Surely we should therefore be doing everything in our power to encourage still more firms, companies and other organisations to offer suitable short-term placements to these people, because those placements can be so successful in terms of rehabilitation.
Absolutely. It totally transforms a prisoner’s life to have a job, and it leads them to be less likely to reoffend, therefore protecting the public. I pay tribute particularly to the work of Tempus Novo in Leeds, which brings businesses into prison, with two experienced ex-prison officers, and helps companies to become comfortable with employing ex-offenders, thus ultimately changing lives and protecting the public.
Yesterday, I published my review of the Parole Board rules and the Government’s response to the public consultation about creating a new reconsideration mechanism for Parole Board decisions. I have decided to proceed with changes to the Parole Board rules that will introduce such a mechanism later this year. Our report also sets out additional reforms that will bring greater transparency and improvements for victims. I announced the launch of a tailored review of the Parole Board that will consider whether more fundamental reforms are necessary in the longer term, including those that may require primary legislation.
New technology can play a key role in reducing the flow of contraband into our prisons. Will my right hon. Friend outline what support and financial investment his Department is providing in that area?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are strengthening the countermeasures against contraband for every route into prison, and technology is an important part of that. In 2017, we invested £2 million in modern technology, including hand-held and portable mobile phone detection devices. In 2018, we invested a further £7 million to enhance security in prisons through scanners, improved searching techniques and phone-blocking technology. In the work that my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister has done with 10 of our most challenging prisons, he is emphasising the use of technology to search letters, bags and people, and he announced last week that those prisons all now have scanners that can detect drugs on clothes and mail.
There is deep concern that the Government want to use the cover of Brexit to roll back citizens’ rights. Such fears have been further fuelled by the recent failure of Ministers in a letter to the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee to rule out repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 post Brexit. Labour introduced the Human Rights Act. We will fight any attempt by the Tories to undermine it or dilute our hard-won rights. Will the Secretary of State give a reassurance today that the Government will not repeal or reform the Human Rights Act in the aftermath of our departure from the European Union?
We certainly have no plans to do so, but on the subject of human rights, I am a little surprised that we are getting lectured by the hon. Gentleman, who will not condemn the Venezuelan regime.
We often pay tribute to the Scottish Government, but I am proud to say that we are ahead of them on this. We have rolled out body-worn cameras, which are making an enormous difference to safety in prisons. We are also ahead of the Scottish Government in having fully smoke-free prisons. There is something, at least, that Scotland can learn from us.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the cleaners and security guards are employed by private contractors, and that is a matter for them.
We take the Karen White case very seriously. In the light of that, we are reviewing both the content of prison service instruction 17/2016, which sets the policy on these questions, and its application. New guidelines will be published shortly, to ensure that it continues to strike the right balance between ensuring that all female prisoners are kept safe, that transgender prisoners have their rights respected and that we comply with our legal obligations under statute.
That is a highly technical question. I will look into it and get back to the hon. Lady.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are working with the Home Office to ensure that these orders are truly preventive in nature and put children on the right path away from a life of crime. These orders will give the police the opportunity to intervene earlier, and the court can include in the order a range of conditions that can be both prohibitive and proactive. They will be used only if the court is satisfied on the balance of probability that the child has carried a knife, or if they have been convicted of a relevant criminal offence and the order is necessary to protect the public or prevent crime. Sentencing is, of course, for the judge, but we are consulting on these proposals.
The Secretary of State is providing much exercise for the knee muscles of Opposition Members. It is an important fact of public interest that I think thus far he has not noticed, but of which he may wish to take account.
We said that we would publish the review early in the new year, and we will be publishing it early in the new year. The hon. Lady should expect it shortly. This is a serious matter that takes time. I would like to quote the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who told the Law Society Gazette early last year
“that I would rather the government take this seriously and take their time with it.”
That is exactly what we are doing.
Access to justice was denied to a constituent of mine who had a child taken away from her, after birth, by social services. She has struggled find legal representation because lawyers refuse to take on a local authority with huge financial resources. How will the Government help constituents such as mine?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Care proceedings are incredibly important, and when a child is taken away from their parent, it is a tragic matter that affects them for a long time. My right hon. Friend should be aware that legal aid is available for public law cases. I am very happy to discuss that particular matter with her.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that question. There has obviously been a recent case on this. We need to look very carefully at this to ensure we get the balance right between protecting the public and ensuring that those who have committed a crime in the past are given a second chance and have the ability to turn their lives around. I am keen to look further at this in the light of the recent judgment.
I call Bob Neill—one sentence.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital to ensure continuity of contractual obligations and enforceability of judgments once we leave the EU, which would be prevented by a no-deal outcome?
I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman, and to do so as soon as possible.
Over the past eight years, the number of trials listed at Northampton Crown court without a firm date—categorised as floating trials—has increased from 10% to 23%. Why is this, and what can be done about it?
This is a really important point because it is important that justice is done, and not only done but done speedily. I should emphasise that listing is a judicial function, but it is important that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service works closely with the judiciary on it. For that reason, I held a roundtable only a few weeks ago—with the judiciary, listing officers, the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society—to solve this issue.
I call David Hanson—in a sentence.
The number of outstanding repairs in prisons is 22,000 higher than this time last year and the number of outstanding planned repairs is 9,000 higher. Why is this?
It is largely to do with degradation across the estate, but we have had significant improvements in the performance of Amey recently, and we have of course taken Carillion back in-house so a Government company is now operating there. We therefore expect improvements to go with millions of pounds of extra investment into the estate.
Does the Minister agree with the Taking Control coalition of debt support charities that independent regulation of the bailiff industry is necessary to protect the public from the unscrupulous practices that have driven some of my constituents to the point of suicide and despair?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight that unscrupulous practice by bailiffs is unacceptable. I know that she will be aware that we are looking into the matter, and our call for evidence closes on 17 February, so I encourage anyone who is interested to submit. One of the questions we ask in the consultation is about an independent regulator.
Studies of offenders have suggested that 45% of young people and 24% of male adults screen positive for a childhood history of ADHD. Will the Minister therefore agree to attend the next meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for attention deficit hyperactive disorder to discuss the ways in which we can reform the criminal justice system?
I will do my very best to attend that meeting.
Wales has the highest incarceration rate in western Europe, which has risen to 154 per 100,000 of the population. Custodial sentences are also up in Wales but have dropped 16% in England. What more can Ministers do to bring about a bespoke solution for Welsh prisoners and to try to improve the criminal justice system in Wales?
The big transformation that will take place in Wales is bringing probation back fully under Government control, so we will have a much closer connection between prisons, probation and the devolved authorities. In the Welsh context, we think that is particularly suitable for the devolved Administration and should address some of those concerns.
Why is it that grown men in their 30s and 40s involved in county lines cases are escaping jail, even though we know that their trafficking in drugs and children is blighting the lives of children growing up in communities such as mine?
This is an enormously important issue. It is fundamentally a question for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, but I absolutely agree that those people should be prosecuted and put into jail.
I call a south-west London knight, a former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and, by all accounts, a cerebral denizen of the House of Commons, Sir Edward Davey.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, especially for allowing me to exercise my knees more than usual today.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the offer and acceptance of payments to and by an MP for the benefit of their constituents by a Minister of the Crown in an attempt to influence votes in this House could represent breaches of sections 1 and 2 of the Bribery Act 2010?
I am loth to provide legal advice, but the right hon. Gentleman has clearly raised a significant point. I would like to hear more of what he is saying and I am happy to discuss this with him. He is clearly alluding to something, but I am afraid that I am not quite aware what it is.
Clerk of the House
Before we move to the Urgent Question in the name of the right hon. Member for Tottenham, I have a brief announcement to make to the House.
Her Majesty the Queen has been pleased to approve that Dr John Benger be appointed Under Clerk of the Parliaments—that is to say, Clerk of the House of Commons—in succession to Sir David Natzler KCB who will retire in March.
For the benefit of colleagues and others who take an interest in our proceedings, I can say that Her Majesty’s approval of the appointment of Dr Benger followed an open competition and selection process composed of an independent non-executive member and four members of the House of Commons Commission—myself, the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and Stewart Hosie MP.
I wish to emphasise that it was a robust and rigorous process and that Dr Benger was the unanimous choice of the selection panel. For those of you who do not know him, I hope that you will come to do so. He is at present the Clerk Assistant of the House and Managing Director, Chamber and Committees. He has held that post since July 2015. My colleagues on the panel and I have come to know him well over the years. We believe that he has outstanding qualities and that he will be an outstanding successor to the outstanding Clerk who will retire shortly.
I hope that that public information notice is of interest to the House.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the operation of the Windrush scheme.
Righting the wrongs done to the Windrush generation has been at the forefront of my priorities as Home Secretary. That is why I apologised on behalf of this Government and our predecessors. History shows that members of the Windrush generation, who have done so much to enrich our country, were wrongly caught up in measures designed to tackle illegal migration long before 2010. We all bear some responsibility for that. This Government are acting to right that wrong. Our Windrush taskforce is helping those who have been affected. We are making it easier for those affected to stay and we have waived all fees. By the end of last year, some 2,450 individuals had been given documentation confirming their status. They were all helped by the taskforce which we set up in April. At least 3,400 have been granted citizenship under the Windrush scheme, which we opened on 30 May 2018.
The taskforce’s vulnerable persons team has provided support to 614 individuals, with 52 cases ongoing, and it continues to receive up to 20 new referrals each week. The taskforce has made 215 referrals to the Department for Work and Pensions to help people to restore or receive benefits, 177 individuals have been given advice and support on issues relating to housing, and 164 individuals have been identified by the historical cases review unit. Eighteen people have been identified who we consider to have suffered detriment due to their right to be in the UK not being recognised. Sadly, three of them are now deceased. I have written to the remaining 15 to apologise.
As part of putting right what has gone wrong, we are putting in place a compensation scheme to address the losses suffered by those affected. We have consulted on this to ensure we get it right, and we will bring forward more detail on the final shape of the compensation scheme as soon as possible, having carefully considered the views submitted. In December, the Home Office also published a policy for providing support in urgent and exceptional circumstances. This set out the approach and decision-making process for such cases. The policy will support those who have an urgent and exceptional need, and compelling reasons for why they cannot wait for the full compensation scheme.
Mr Speaker, I said on the day I became Home Secretary that I am determined to right the wrongs suffered by members of the Windrush generation. Let there be no doubt: my commitment remains resolute.
Home Secretary, I have asked you to make a statement to the House on the operation of the Windrush scheme. Your Department’s treatment of the Windrush generation has been nothing less than a national scandal. In November, we learned that at least 164 Windrush citizens were wrongly removed, detained or stopped at the border by our own Government. Eleven of those who were wrongly deported have died. You have announced three more today. Every single one of those cases is a shocking indictment of your Government’s pandering to far right racism, sham immigration targets and the dog whistle of the right-wing press. You have spoken about being a second—
Order. I have the highest regard for the right hon. Gentleman. Occasional descent into the use of the word “your” by accident is one thing, but a calculated repetition of the word “your” is not appropriate because a debate is conducted through the third person. I have not made any statement. I am not responsible for any scandal and I mildly resent any suggestion to the contrary. [Interruption.] Well, not this one anyway, as an hon. Lady rightly chunters from a sedentary position. But I do not want to interrupt any further the flow of the right hon. Gentleman’s eloquence, or, for that matter, the eloquence of his flow.
You are quite right, Mr Speaker.
Every single one of these cases is a shocking indictment of this Government’s pandering to far right racism, sham immigration targets and the dog whistle of the right-wing press.
The Home Secretary has spoken about being a second generation migrant himself. On taking this job he promised to do whatever it takes to put this wrong right. We are now 10 months on from when the scandal broke. Not a penny has been paid out to any Windrush victim in a compensation scheme. The independent Windrush lessons learned review has not yet reported. I say to you, Home Secretary, before the review is even complete, why, why are you deporting people? We have heard about deportation flights to Jamaica this week. You have detained up to 50 black British residents and given them open window removal notices. Why are you deporting them, given that this review has not reported and there has been no compensation?
How can you be confident that you are not making the same mistakes? Movement for Justice is working with 26 of those who are at risk of removal. Thirteen first came to the UK as children; nine came under the age of 10. Eleven people have indefinite leave to remain. Another has a British passport. Thirty-six British children will have their parents taken away by this charter flight—once enslaved, then colonised and now repatriated. Why do you say that these children should live without their parents? Why do you say, to the families of black British people who have been killed by your Department’s incompetence, that this is acceptable? That is what happens. We are now 20 years on from the Macpherson review, which found institutional racism in this country. I ask the Home Secretary: why is it that still in this country, black lives matter less?
First of all, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman. At least he has raised this important issue of Windrush—it is good at any time to update the House on this, in many different ways—but I have to take issue with his tone. He does himself no good service—a huge disservice—in the way that he speaks and the tone that he has used to suggest that there is even an ounce of racism in this House, and to ignore the facts. He chooses to ignore—[Interruption.] He could have made this into an honourable debate by looking at the actual issues and thinking about how we can help people who have been affected.
The right hon. Gentleman chooses to ignore that, for members of the Windrush generation who have been affected in a wrong way—as I have recognised and as many Ministers have recognised at the Dispatch Box—this began under previous Governments and continued under successive Governments, including the Government that he was part of, when he voted time and time again for compliant environment restrictions. He supported those restrictions on a number of occasions and now he chooses to speak out about some of the inadvertent effects of that.
The right hon. Gentleman also rightly brought up the issue that—as I have said before, including in the House—sadly, some people who were wronged are deceased, but he should know that a number of those people died under a Labour Government. The deportations took place under a Labour Government and he makes no apology for that. The right hon. Gentleman mentions the deportations of foreign national offenders. I think the information that he referred to, if I have understood him correctly, is about a charter flight to Jamaica of foreign national offenders only—every single one of them convicted of a serious crime. The UK Borders Act 2007, which he supported, requires that the Home Secretary issues a deportation order for anyone who is a foreign national offender. It does not matter which part of the world they are from, whether it is the United States, Jamaica, Australia or Canada. That is a legal requirement. If he does not want that to happen, he is asking me to break the law, and he is also saying that a person who is convicted of a serious offence as a foreign national offender should be allowed to stay in this country, so either he has changed his mind or he does not know what he is talking about.
Lastly, the right hon. Gentleman brings up the compensation scheme. He is right to raise that because we are absolutely committed to making sure that those who were wronged receive proper compensation. That is why I appointed an independent person, Martin Forde, QC, who has done an enormous amount of good work on this. He asked for an extension of the compensation scheme so that he could speak to even more people who were affected. I brought that to the House and I accepted that extension, and we are now working through what he and his team have done to come forward with a well thought through compensation scheme that is generous and supports members of that generation. In the meantime, we have put in place the vulnerable persons scheme that I referred to earlier, and an exceptional payments scheme, which has started making payments.
I just say this finally: if the right hon. Gentleman really wants to help, he should reflect on his tone and not use this as some kind of political football.
It was a Labour Government who in 2007 passed the UK Borders Act making it a legal requirement for Her Majesty’s Government to deport foreign national offenders who commit serious crimes in this country. May I support what the Home Secretary has said and urge him to ensure that foreign national offenders who commit crimes are sent back to the countries from where they came, because we do not want them in this country?
My hon. Friend refers to a law, which represents the will of this House, that was passed in 2007, which, I say again, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and many of his colleagues supported, and which requires the Government to deport foreign national offenders who have committed serious offences. None of those being deported are British citizens or members of the Windrush generation, who are exempt under section 7 of the Immigration Act 1971.
This morning, the news broke that Ms Sims had been denied help from the Windrush compensation scheme because she was not from the Caribbean. Just like Windrush, this is a result of the Government ignoring credible warnings about the impact of their policies. The National Audit Office found that the Home Office showed a surprising
“lack of curiosity about individuals who may have been affected, and who are not of Caribbean heritage.”
What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that, as Martin Forde QC has recommended, officials are aware that people other than those from the Caribbean are eligible? Will he commit to widening the remit of the Windrush review and compensation scheme? Can he justify Windrush victims being defined so narrowly? Some 186 people were formally refused help from the Windrush scheme. Can he guarantee that none of them was in fact eligible?
We have heard reports that the Home Office is restarting charter flights to Jamaica. Like those of many MPs, my constituency office phone has been ringing off the hook. Some 85,000 people have signed a petition. Why does the Home Secretary consider now an appropriate time to restart these flights? Victims of this scandal have not yet received compensation. The Windrush lessons learned review has not yet reported. A full year after the scandal broke, we do not know how many people have already been detained or deported. The hostile environment remains in place.
I understand that many of the detainees have been convicted of a criminal offence, but after Windrush, the Government have not proved they have the processes in place to make sure the wrong people do not end up on this flight. Will the Home Secretary urgently bring proof to this House that none of the people on the flight is a British citizen or has any other claim to be in this country? I understand the flight is due to leave from a Royal Air Force base. Does he accept that the militarisation of deportations sets a dangerous precedent of deportation happening behind closed doors?
First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s tone and approach of asking sensible questions, and he deserves answer to them all.
The hon. Gentleman raised the case of Ms Willow Sims, who I heard on the radio this morning. It was the first time I had heard about the case, and I was very concerned. She said she had written to me, which I was interested to hear, and I checked this morning. We received the letter on 28 January, which might help to explain why I have not seen the letter yet. That said, the Department was aware of the case before that, because her Member of Parliament wrote to the Department—in October, I believe—and Ms Sims is now getting the help she deserves. We will look further at why she was turned down for help by the taskforce, because that should not have happened.
The hon. Gentleman then mentioned the compliant environment. I remind him and the House that what he refers to as the compliant environment, which is about taking action against those who are in the UK illegally—in other words, people who have broken the law—began with laws that were passed under a previous Labour Government in 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2008 and which many of his hon. Friends will have supported. If Labour’s policy is now to abolish all those rules, it should be clear about that.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the compensation scheme, which I have said a bit about already. We are determined to have it in place, and I want it to be as fair and as generous as possible, but, in the meantime, the exceptional payment scheme has begun. I set out exactly how that would work in a policy paper published and made available to the House at the end of last year.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned foreign national offenders. I want to make it very clear that the flight in question, assuming he is talking about the same flight as the right hon. Member for Tottenham, is to Jamaica and that everyone on it who is being deported is a foreign national offender from Jamaica. All of them have been convicted of serious crimes, such as rape, murder, firearms offences and drug trafficking, and we are required by law, quite correctly, to deport anyone with such a serious conviction. This law applies universally to all foreign national offenders.
The hon. Gentleman should know that most liberal democracies around the world have similar laws in place. British offenders in foreign states are often deported back to the UK, including from Jamaica, which has in the past deported British nationals who have committed serious offences back to the UK.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments. It is very important that we clear up these difficult cases. Can he confirm that those applying to settle under the Windrush scheme are receiving support in navigating the immigration system and that his Department continues to take a sympathetic and proactive approach when resolving applications?
I am happy to confirm that to my right hon. Friend, and he is right to raise it. From the moment the taskforce was set up, it was designed to make it as easy and simple as possible for people to use, and, as I said earlier, it has so far correctly documented almost 2,500 people.
I wish also to raise concerns about removals and deportations to Jamaica being resumed. By all accounts, we are talking about people who came as children, about parents with British children and even about Commonwealth soldiers. To all intents and purposes, therefore, we are talking about people who are British even if they are not formally citizens. The Home Secretary has mentioned foreign national offenders. Will he publish the full list of offences people are being deported for?
Even the issue of foreign national offenders is not straightforward. Stephen Shaw said in his updated report on detention that
“a significant proportion of those deemed FNOs had grown up in the UK, some having been born here but the majority having arrived in very early childhood. These detainees often had strong UK accents, had been to UK schools, and all of their close family and friends were based in the UK.”
In other words, the Home Office is often really deporting UK offenders to other countries. Has the Home Office even begun to engage with the issue Mr Shaw himself has raised? I am asking the Home Secretary not to break the law but simply to review it and change it if necessary.
What work has been done to establish how people from other countries, including Commonwealth countries, have been impacted by Windrush-type disasters? Finally, what will the Home Office do to prevent probably hundreds of thousands of EU nationals from being subject to the same hostile environment measures when they miss the cut-off date for settled status applications?
I want to be clear again about the flight to Jamaica mentioned by hon. Members: not a single person being deported is British—a person cannot be deported and be British; they are all foreign national offenders, and under the 2007 Act, where someone is given a sentence of at least one year, the Home Secretary is required to make a deportation order, and where it is four years or more, the Home Secretary is required by law to order a deportation.
The wording of the hon. Gentleman’s question seemed to suggest that he knew who was on the flight and who was not. Let me say gently to him that the flight has not happened yet, but the deportation of anyone who is on it will be carried out absolutely according to the law. Ultimately, this is about public safety, because these are individuals who have committed serious offences. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that if we did not carry out the law, we would not only be breaking the law. Let us imagine what would happen if one of these people—someone, say, who had been convicted of murder—were allowed to stay in the UK and then committed that act again, against one of our constituents. What would the hon. Gentleman be saying to me then?
Order. Let me gently point out that approximately 30 Members are seeking to contribute. I am keen to accommodate them, but it is imperative that we have short questions and short answers.
I remember the Macpherson report, in which I was tangentially involved, and I would say that we have come a very long way since then. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State confirm that he will give a date soon for the compensation scheme?
I can confirm that we will be saying something about the compensation scheme very shortly.
The Home Secretary said that he would supply monthly updates to the Home Affairs Committee, but we have not received an update since December, and that referred to the circumstances up to 31 October. Since then a very damning report on the Windrush situation has been published by the National Audit Office, raising a series of concerns about ongoing immigration casework and policies and the impact that they might have. The Home Office has not issued a proper response to that report either. When will we receive a substantial response to its recommendations that recognises the serious anxiety about the possibility that many of the failings relating to the Windrush situation are continuing today?
Let me first thank the right hon. Lady and her Committee for their scrutiny of this important issue. She knows that we are absolutely committed to providing her and the Committee with regular updates, and we will continue to do so. We always endeavour to include as much information as we can, and I hope she agrees that we have tried to make those updates as detailed as possible. She mentioned the NAO report, and I welcome that scrutiny as well. We looking into the report carefully in order to establish whether more needs to be done.
I thank the Home Secretary for the constructive, honest and compassionate way in which he and his Ministers have dealt with a very difficult situation. However, the treatment of members of the Windrush generation highlighted a number of deep-seated concerns about the manner in which the Home Office operated. Can the Home Secretary reassure the House that all the lessons that can be learned from the situation—not just specifically in relation to the Windrush generation, but in the wider context of the culture of the Home Office—will be learned? In particular, can he reassure us that there will be a greater emphasis on the fact that we are dealing with people, and that this is not just about policy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am acutely aware that almost every decision that the Home Office makes has an impact on someone’s life, and we must ensure that every single one of those decisions is fair and made appropriately. That is the reason for the lessons learned review and a further, deeper review of some of the operations of the Home Office.
As the Home Secretary will know, I have encountered dozens of Windrush cases, and the taskforce has dealt with many of them well. However, one of my constituents, Owen Hainsley, will be on the plane that has been discussed. He came here, aged four, in 1977. He has left the country only twice since then, and on neither occasion did he go to Jamaica. He has no family there, but he has three children in this country, all of whom have British citizenship. He is well known on the music scene in Manchester, where he works with disadvantaged young people. He served two years in 2015. His British citizenship should have been regularised, but owing to an administrative error on the part of the Home Office, that did not happen. He is now being deported to a place to which he has not been for more than 40 years.
This is a grey area. Owen Hainsley is not a foreign national in any terms, and we are effectively making him stateless. I dealt with a very similar case—a Windrush case—in which the Home Office did not deport someone but granted that person, who had a criminal record, indefinite leave to remain. So the Home Secretary does have that discretion. Can he use it in this case, because this is a scandal?
The deportations to which the hon. Lady refers took place under the UK Borders Act 2007, which I mentioned earlier and which was debated in the House as a Bill. It gives little if any discretion to the Home Secretary, but every single person who is being deported is a foreign national who has committed a serious offence.
Is not a significant issue in all this the decision made in 2009, by the Labour Government of which the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) was a member, to destroy the landing cards and registry slips that constituted the only official documentation of some people’s arrival in Britain? Was not a mistake made then?
My hon. Friend has highlighted an important point, and it is worth emphasising. Members of the Windrush generation were affected by decisions made by a number of Governments, including the last Government.
Is not one of the lessons of the Windrush that when people have lived in our country for 20, 30 or 40 years, the idea that they should be deported if they do not have precisely the correct documentation is inhumane, and is not supported by the wider public? In the light of the Windrush scandal, will the Home Secretary review the unrealistic and draconian documentation requirements imposed on such people by the Home Office?
If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to cases in which someone does not have—to use his own words—precisely the right documentation, of course that should be looked at very carefully. The whole purpose of the taskforce is to work with such individuals to make the process as easy as possible, and to ensure that issues such as incorrect documentation are sorted out.
As we have already heard, it was a Labour Government who started destroying the landing cards of the Windrush generation. It was also a Labour Government who, under the Harold Wilson regime, forcibly exiled the Chagos islanders from the British Indian Ocean territory. As a result, members of the second and subsequent generations of the Chagos community do not have British citizenship. Will my right hon. Friend commit himself to looking into that as well?
I commend my hon. Friend for taking up this issue so energetically on behalf of the Chagos islanders, and I should be happy to discuss it with him further.
In December last year, the Home Office agreed to support members of the Windrush generation who had been mistreated by the Government with up to £5,000, but four of my constituents have found the arrangements for access to the fund overly stringent. Victims require immediate and ongoing assistance. Does the Home Secretary not agree that we should be ensuring that the people who were affected by the Windrush situation can re-establish themselves in the community? Moreover, there has been no cohesion between central and local government in this regard. I ask the Home Secretary to look at the system and make sure that it works for the most vulnerable people.
The hon. Lady has made an important point about joined-up government and the need to ensure that that approach is taken when we respond to the most difficult cases in particular. I can assure her that the Home Office has been working carefully with a number of other Departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Treasury.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if he did not authorise this latest flight carrying foreign national offenders, he would be failing in his duty of care, and he would be breaking the law?
My hon. Friend is correct. It would be breaking the law, and it would mean that we were not putting the safety of our people first.
In compelling evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee, we heard how difficult it was for Windrush victims to obtain housing. The Home Secretary listed the people whom he was helping, but the fact is that local authorities will need to allocate that housing, and given the squeeze that they are experiencing and the current housing demand, that is just not happening. Will he think again about what central Government can do to ensure that these people are not in the general housing queue, and that local authorities do not have to provide them with much-needed homes?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. As I said at the start, some people may have lost housing or been affected in other ways in their housing, and they are being helped. We are working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is speaking to local authorities. Where possible, we are trying to prioritise those cases.
I am grateful for the speedy resolution of individual cases, but will my right hon. Friend say something about the role that those who have been affected are playing in helping to shape the compensation so that we get this right?
Yes. When we started work on the compensation scheme, it was right to appoint an independent person, and that is exactly what we did. Martin Forde, QC, travelled across the country and spoke to as many members of the Windrush generation who were affected as possible. He asked for an extension to speak to even more, and we granted that.
I cannot respond to constituents who contact me about deportations tomorrow. They and I want to know whether any of my constituents are on those flights. I have phoned the Immigration Minister and been stonewalled again and again. The flights need to be suspended so that all individual circumstances can be properly examined. I am sure the Home Secretary agrees that this is an issue of trust and that, at the very least, the Department should engage in good faith with MPs on the matter.
I agree with the hon. Lady. I know that she has asked our Department a question, and we are looking into that. I hope she knows that, because I believe that we have communicated to her that we are looking into it. She is right that if any Member of Parliament has a question about any constituent, we will of course help in any way we can.
All of us who have Jamaican and other Afro-Caribbean communities will have apologised deeply, as I did, for the shameful, inadvertent mistreatment by successive Governments of some of the Windrush generation. I thank the Home Office’s Windrush help desk for its work in quickly resolving the immigration status of my two affected constituents. One has a strong case for compensation. Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether my constituent can file his application before the end of this financial year?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, which I welcome. He was right put things the way that he did. We will issue more details on compensation shortly, but we want to ensure, in the case of his constituent and others who are affected, that it is as generous as it can be.
In the light of the Sims case, which we heard about a few moments ago, and Sir Martin Forde’s comments, will the Home Secretary commit to further training for the Windrush taskforce in handling cases correctly, particularly complex cases?
I have asked for more information on the case of Miss Willow Sims, to which I referred earlier. When I heard her on the radio this morning, I was very concerned and determined to find out more. I do not want to prejudge that—I am waiting for further information—but I can make a commitment that if that information shows that more training is required or something needs to be done to ensure that such a case does not arise again, it will happen.
I know that the Home Secretary recognises that the Windrush generation have made a huge, positive contribution to the life of this country. It has therefore been strange to see Opposition Members defining them by the very small minority who have committed serious criminal offences. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that ensuring that compensation is available for those who have been unduly affected is important and should not be conflated with some of the issues we have heard about from Opposition Members?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend.
My constituent Willow Sims came to the UK in the early 1980s and spent part of her childhood in the UK care system. She went on to have a career as a teaching assistant in local primary schools, where I first met her. In October, Willow came to see me. She had failed some immigration checks at work, so she lost her job and her recourse to public funds. My constituent is fully entitled to assistance under the Windrush taskforce scheme, yet due to mistakes at every level of government, and despite numerous representations to the Home Office by Willow, her solicitors and me, going as far back as October, her status has wrongly been brought into question. She now risks eviction from her home. Will the Home Secretary urgently rectify that chaos, apologise to Willow and meet me to discuss her case and what has gone so badly wrong?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising the case, not just today but in October. Had she not done so, Miss Willow Sims might not be getting the support she now gets. I am happy to apologise to Miss Sims for the Home Office’s mistakes in not recognising the importance of her case from the first moment she contacted the Home Office. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss it further.
Anybody listening would be horrified at some of the cases, and they are not interested in which Government introduced schemes under what Act in what year. Unfairness and injustice must be rooted out wherever they lie, and I trust the Home Secretary to get on and do that. I have considerable sympathy with the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who raised the matter, and I agree with him that the Windrush scandal is a result of the dog-whistle politics that has plagued immigration. Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary agree that from now on, we will have an informed, grown-up, honest debate about immigration, particularly the benefits that it has conveyed to our country for centuries?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend about the tone of the debate on immigration—on anyone who has settled in our great country, regardless of where they came from, why they came here and how long they have been here—and with her point about our taking more opportunity, across the House, to highlight the benefits of immigration, whether from the Commonwealth or elsewhere, and how those people have helped to make this country great.
The Macpherson definition of institutional racism is:
“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping.”
There is no doubt that that—and much worse—has been the experience of the Windrush generation. Is not it time that the Home Secretary learned lessons and took action to prevent further institutional racism from continuing against the Windrush generation and others?
The hon. Lady chose not to listen to the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) made about the tone of the debate. If she is trying to suggest that there is institutional racism, she must accept that that was what existed under the previous Labour Government.
According to Movement for Justice, 18 people on the chartered flight are connected to the Windrush generation. One is a grandfather who served in the British Army; another one’s grandfather died as a serving British soldier, and two others are former British servicemen. I therefore do not understand how the Home Secretary can say that they are foreign nationals. I find his tone most disturbing. I am half Jamaican and very proud of it, but I feel that what he says is unhelpful to the Jamaican community in this country. Like him, I am second generation, but I feel that he sounds like a reincarnation of Enoch Powell.
The hon. Lady chooses to lower the tone of the debate when she could try to help her constituents. The whole House is proud of immigrants who have come to this country, whether they are first or second generation, and whether they came from Jamaica, Pakistan or anywhere else. The hon. Lady does herself no service by lowering the tone of the debate.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing the urgent question. Will the Home Secretary confirm that 13 of the detainees who are scheduled to be deported this week came to this country as children? We know that there is a grey area in the definition of “British citizen” and “foreign national”; does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that it is time to review it?
The law is very clear on this. It focuses on the crime and on the nationality of the individual, as in whether they are British or not. When someone has committed a serious crime such as rape or murder, the law requires that, as a foreign national offender, they should be deported.
Order. I should just point out that the two debates to follow are very heavily subscribed. I am happy to try to accommodate remaining would-be questioners on the understanding that each of them will put a single-sentence question. We will be led in this important matter by Ruth Cadbury.
The Home Office said last year that Windrush applications would be turned round within two weeks, but my constituent, who has retired after many years working as an NHS midwife, is still waiting, six months later. When will the Secretary of State admit that the overstretched immigration system cannot cope with Windrush generation cases and apologise to those who are living in limbo?
Most applications are being turned round within a matter of weeks, but if the hon. Lady sends me the details of that case, I will take a closer look at it.
The Home Secretary says, “The law is very clear on this,” but when I held a Windrush surgery, all the people who came to it had been told by the Home Office that they were not British citizens. They have all now been told that they are British citizens, so I suggest that the law is not very clear and that there are grey areas. I have also been told that someone from my constituency is on that flight. Will he commit to looking into whether there is someone from my constituency on that flight and whether they should be there?
If the hon. Lady sends me more information about the individual she has in mind, I will of course look into that case.
Will the Secretary of State please estimate how many people have had their access to healthcare affected? Also, if an individual has passed away due to being a Windrush victim, is the scheme open to a claim by their family members?
We plan to ensure that the scheme is open to family members in such cases.
My constituent has been waiting since 26 December for a decision on his Windrush application. The process has taken nine times the length of the two-week turnaround period that was promised. That is unacceptable when people cannot work, cannot claim benefits and are struggling to live, even though they are from this country.
If the hon. Lady sends me more details, I will take a closer look at that case.
Before the Windrush scandal became the Windrush scandal, many cases took years to resolve and victims disappeared because they feared deportation. To avoid future injustice, will the Secretary of State guarantee that all Windrush-style cases, including those involving people not from the Caribbean or Commonwealth countries, will be dealt with in a similar fashion?
The work of the taskforce is open not just to members of the Commonwealth who have come to Britain, but to anyone who came to the UK before 1988.
Last year, I helped a family in my constituency to get the passports to which they were entitled but were scandalously being denied. The family now find themselves in dire financial straits due to a family member’s terminal illness. When will they be paid the compensation that they are due, and when will they get a decision from the exceptional circumstances fund?
The exceptional payments scheme has started to pay out, and decisions are being made. We will be announcing more details of the compensation scheme shortly.
The Home Secretary will have heard Members expressing their very real concern about the status of those who are due to be deported this week. Will he therefore personally review the documentation and circumstances of each of those individuals before any deportation takes place?
Every one of those cases already has to be reviewed by a Minister.
I have written extensively to the Immigration Minister and to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about my constituent, a Windrush citizen, who has been denied attendance allowance because she was not in the country during the assessment period. The only reason why she was not in the country was the illegal action of the British Government. Will the Home Secretary now accept that a lack of joined-up working between Government Departments on the Windrush scheme is compounding, increasing and prolonging the injustice that the Windrush citizens are suffering?
We work closely with the Department for Work and Pensions, and the hon. Lady gives an example of why that is absolutely necessary. If she wants to give me further details of her constituent’s case, we will look into it as a matter of priority.
Given what the Home Secretary has heard, does he really believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) was inappropriate in his tone? Does he really think that someone is going to take him to court for exercising appropriate discretion, or does he in fact believe that it is right to deport first and ask questions later?
When it comes to the deportation of foreign national offenders, a lot of questions are asked first, including on the right of appeal, and we carry out deportations only if they are absolutely correct under the law. Ultimately, it is worth remembering that they are there to protect members of the public.
In conclusion to this important series of exchanges, I want to make two points. First, as colleagues will recall, I said nothing whatsoever about the tone of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I referred simply to a minor breach of normal procedure in terms of the debate going through the third person, but I made no other comment about tone. This is an extraordinarily important matter affecting people’s lives. People can comment on each other’s tone, but for my part, from the Chair, I do not underestimate the intensity of feeling and the sense of real anger about this subject, which was extremely eloquently voiced by the right hon. Gentleman and many other Members.
Secondly, I have a sense, on the basis of some experience of sitting in the Chair over the past nine and a half years, that this matter will be raised again and again. It affects very vulnerable people, as Members on both sides of the House with any sensitivity will acknowledge, and it will not go away. Quite a lot of activity—I am not saying it is nefarious activity; I am not criticising the Home Secretary—is taking place under the radar, but the purpose of this House is to give voice to grievances and to seek redress for them, and there is nothing to stop Members raising this matter over and over again in the Chamber, day after day, if that is their inclination.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I should like to thank you for your comments, with which I am sure we all agree.
On the matter of tone, I know that the Home Secretary is robust, but he gets a great deal of abuse, even though he might not like to talk about it. I do think that the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) likening the Home Secretary, or indeed any Member of this place, to Enoch Powell is profoundly offensive. Would you agree, Mr Speaker?
I note what the right hon. Lady has said, and I sense that the Home Secretary might well feel greatly offended by that comment. He might feel that it does violence to his values, his record or his intentions, but nothing disorderly has happened, and I therefore do not feel that I can intercede. I would just say that we should all weigh our words carefully and remember the precept of “Erskine May” that moderation and—in so far as it can be deployed in matters as serious is this— good humour in the conduct of parliamentary debate tend to conduce to better outcomes. I will leave it there for today.
Leaving the EU: No Deal
Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I now call Tom Brake to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The right hon. Gentleman has up to three minutes in which to make his application.
Thank you for granting this request, Mr Speaker. I rise to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration: the consequences of leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement or future political agreement. I have been pleased to receive support for this application from Plaid Cymru, which is well represented here today, as well as from the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), my Liberal Democrat colleagues and others who are here in the Chamber today.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister will board the latest shuttle to Brussels to attempt to recast the backstop she had painstakingly negotiated over a two-year period. This is the backstop that she described as a necessary guarantee for the people of Northern Ireland, adding that there is no deal available that does not have a backstop in it. Frankly, I doubt very much whether she expects to return from Brussels with anything more than her duty-free. The EU has made it clear for months that the backstop that the Prime Minister secured for the UK is the backstop that is on offer. This is just another round of kicking the can down the road, bringing us two weeks closer to crashing out of the EU. This reckless game is costing jobs, business investment—Nissan being the latest example—and damaging our international standing and credibility.
Airbus said that if the UK left the EU without a deal it would
“lead to severe disruption and interruption of UK production.”
Airbus employs 14,000 people in the UK. Ford warned that a no-deal Brexit would cost the company an estimated £612 million this year. Sainsbury’s, Asda, McDonald’s and others have warned that stockpiling fresh food is impossible and that the UK is reliant on the EU for produce, particularly in March. Standard & Poor’s warned that UK unemployment would rise from 4% to 7% by 2020 in the event of no deal. In the face of mounting evidence of the damage that no deal would cause, leading Brexiters still maintain the pretence that it would do no harm, with some saying that
“We want to be out and we know it will work just fine”,
and that a free trade deal could be “done in an afternoon.”
Yesterday, we debated sport in the UK, and we will debate beer and pubs later this week. I do not want to minimise the importance of those debates, but with an uncontrolled departure from the EU just 50 days away, I ask you, Mr Speaker, to allow an urgent debate in this House to consider the Government’s unwillingness to rule out crashing out of the EU without a deal, with all the associated harmful consequences.
Let me respond to the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I granted the opportunity of a three-minute application. I have listened carefully to his application. At this time, I am not persuaded that the matter is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24, but I have a little more to say. The right hon. Gentleman is a former deputy Leader of the House, and he will doubtless know that the Standing Order does not allow me to give the reasons for my decision or, at any rate, does not exhort or compel me to do so. However, the House will be aware that the Standing Order states:
“In determining whether a matter is urgent the Speaker shall have regard to the probability of the matter being brought before the House in time by other means.”
There have of course previously been SO24 debates appertaining to Brexit, and it is perfectly possible and readily imaginable that there may be others in due course.
I do not skit at the right hon. Gentleman. I am conscious of the pressing timescale. I am also conscious that we have been promised a statement on, if memory serves me, Wednesday of next week and a debate and likely votes on Thursday of next week. I genuinely believe that there is something to be said for observing processes taking place outside of this Chamber and coming to a view about what further consideration of this subject will be required.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the growing proximity to the intended departure day of 29 March, and I have that in my mind. He may rest assured that this matter will not be allowed simply to rest or to linger, nor is it the case that only the Government can choose when it is debated. I think I have demonstrated several times that I do not accept for one moment that only the Government can determine when the matter is debated or, indeed, the terms and amendability or otherwise of any motion. The Chair is rightly the custodian of some of those powers, which I exercise for the benefit of the House. I say no for now, but I have the matter under review, and I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman and a great many other Members on both sides of the House will be doing the same.
Kitchens in Rented Accommodation (Benefit Claimants) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Frank Field presented a Bill to require landlords to meet standards for the hygienic storage and preparation of food and the provision of cooking appliances and equipment in accommodation provided for tenants in receipt of Universal Credit or Housing Benefit; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March, and to be printed (Bill 329).
Crime (Impact Statements)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for statements made by persons adversely affected by a crime to be used in sentencing proceedings in court; and for connected purposes.
This Bill follows on from the great work by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) with the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which allows for judges to charge those who assault our emergency workers under a new offence that doubles the maximum tariff that can be handed out in court. The Act was a crucial step towards giving prosecutors the ability to ask for a sentence that is proportionate to the injuries caused by attacks to frontline workers in our emergency services. However, my Bill is about ensuring that judges are able to consider the full impact of the cost to communities, as well as to individuals, of losing staff time, which has an impact on public service delivery, as a result of attacks on police officers, firefighters, ambulance workers and many others who put themselves on the frontline to help the public.
The inspiration for this Bill comes from an incident that occurred in my constituency last May, when Humberside police officers attended after early morning reports of a man with a knife wound and evidence of drug use. When they moved to arrest 27-year-old Josse Jackson, he spat at them while telling them that he had hepatitis C and AIDS. Repeatedly threatening to bite them, he told one officer that he would
“find out where you live and you will be dead before the end of the week.”
When he was sentenced in October, he received just 13 weeks and was released almost immediately. That left officers with a sense that, no matter the impact of abuse against them, and the demotivation and reluctance to continue on the frontline that it could encourage, it was not relevant and such abuse was therefore acceptable as it had little consequence.
Any of us would find being on the end of such an attack both emotionally and physically taxing but, for those on the frontline, facing conflict on a daily basis, the cumulative strain is immense, and that strain does not lie with one individual, but permeates beyond to teams, departments and organisations. Many of us would be able to take measures to ensure that we do not end up in such a situation again, but that ability is not afforded to frontline workers, who will be expected to run towards situations that could bring them into contact with dangerous individuals and to deal with them professionally and confidently.
Emergency workers often have to take time off to recover following the worst attacks, taking up important staff time and stretching budgets, or be kept off the frontline, reducing levels of other available staff. From April to December 2017 in the west midlands, the local police force lost 356 days—nearly a whole year—while officers recovered from their injuries. The sick pay alone could have provided for another full-time officer or call handlers or PCSOs, but it still does not quantify the additional stress burden on the remaining colleagues who are required to pick up the workload. Nor does it consider the work not done as a result of absence.
Our communities are missing out on an important community presence and resources as a direct result of the actions of criminals towards public sector workers. The professional impact of crimes can be severe and wide reaching, yet there is no national standard for how such impacts are considered in sentencing. We need to change that and to make our justice system more responsive to the effects that crime has on our public servants and our public services.
My Bill would introduce a professional impact statement, to be considered as part of the sentencing process, ensuring that the impact of a crime on public sector workers’ ability to do their jobs is considered when sentences are being handed down. A number of police forces produce professional impact statements when officers and staff are injured in the line of duty. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) mentioned on Report during the passage of the 2018 Act that the local Crown prosecutor in Bedfordshire advises officers and staff to give personal impact statements to the court so that they are given the same attention as those of victims. In the west midlands, police chief Dave Thompson outlines the impact on his force and the wider community during sentencing in his area.
There should be a national standard for how such statements are produced and considered. By making professional impact statements part of national sentencing guidance, my Bill would enhance the support to public service workers who have come to harm through their work and send an even stronger message that assault and abuse should never be part of the job for any worker in the UK. My Bill would take the 2018 Act further by acting on calls from the likes of Humberside police for the broader consequence—the impact on the force’s ability to continue its core function—to be considered at sentencing. Professional impact statements would help to ensure that those who attack frontline workers have to pay their full debt to society, by taking into account the impact on our communities of the lost presence of emergency workers on the street, or the criminal damage to equipment, such as ambulances, that means members of the public have to wait longer to get the care they need.
If the justice system is partly intended to reflect the payment required to society, we must recognise the full impact, the full cost, in all its guises to bring about a sense of fairness in justice. We must make it clear that those who rush into dangerous situations to keep us all safe will be given the strongest possible protection should they come to any harm, and my Bill would help to do just that.
Question put and agreed to.
That Melanie Onn, Chris Bryant, Sir Graham Brady, Gareth Snell, Ruth Smeeth, Ms Harriet Harman, Martin Vickers and Nic Dakin present the Bill.
Melanie Onn accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 March, and to be printed (Bill 330).
Police Grant Report
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2019/20 (HC 1896), which was laid before this House on 24 January, be approved.
I start by paying tribute to the police. Coming from a policing family, I have seen their bravery, their dedication and their professionalism. They take extraordinary risks to protect the public day in, day out. I am in awe of what they do to protect us all. They undoubtedly deserve this House’s gratitude and support.
As Home Secretary, my mission is to keep the public safe and, of course, the police have an absolutely crucial part to play. When I took this role, I vowed to stand with them, to support them and to listen to them. I have met police leaders, and I have heard what they have to say. My right hon. Friend, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, has done the same.
We know the demands the police are facing, how those demands are increasing and how crime is changing and becoming more complex. Previously hidden crimes such as child sexual exploitation are increasingly being reported, which we encourage and welcome. More criminals are moving online, which is bringing fresh challenges. We are battling the worst spike in violent crime for a decade, and we are giving the police more of the powers they need, such as those in the Offensive Weapons Bill. I vow to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to help keep our communities safe.
I welcome what the Home Secretary says about supporting the police. Can he therefore explain why, since 2010, the Government have cut Merseyside police’s funding by over £90 million?
The hon. Lady is clearly arguing for more police funding, so I hope she welcomes the settlement, including the extra £18 million for her own force.
I am sorry that I do not have much voice.
One of the new tools we have given to the police is the ability to take people to court for assaults on emergency workers, including police officers, but it would be a terrible problem if, after bringing in this new law, the police have no time or facilities to implement it. Will the Home Secretary make sure the police are taking this on board seriously and have the time and financial resources to ensure that we protect all our emergency workers? Some of the violent crime he talks about affects ambulance workers, mental health nurses and nurses in accident and emergency.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I thank him for his work in introducing the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which the Government were pleased to support. The Act will make an important difference to the police. He is right to raise the importance of making sure there are proper resources behind the Act to help it to make that difference, and I therefore hope that he will welcome the settlement today.
The Home Secretary has already alluded to how policing has changed considerably over the past x number of years. Does he support the national campaign, which has over a quarter of a million supporters, demanding a police royal commission? We have not had one for almost 60 years and policing has changed considerably during the intervening period. We hear so many different stories about resource, or the lack of it, and about what modern policing is. Does he agree that the most effective way to deal with this so that the public, and even the Government, understand exactly what policing is today would be to have a police royal commission?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Because of the change in demand caused by the rising demand of certain crimes and by the complexity of certain crimes, it is important to make sure that the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs Council and others are continually looking at this. I am not convinced that a royal commission is the answer, because it may lead to decisions being delayed or not being made, but he makes an important general point about making sure we are on top of what is needed by considering the changes and the complexity of crime.
My right hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to the challenges facing the police. Is it fair that, in facing those challenges, so much of their time is taken up by dealing with mental health emergencies that, frankly, are properly the concern of another Department of State?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. It is not fair if police time is taken up by issues that should be dealt with by, in this case, health professionals. This has been recognised by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who has committed to using some of the extra resources the Government are now putting into the NHS to help to relieve the police and to work with them more closely.
I will give way one more time, and then I want to make some progress.
May I make the Home Secretary aware that in parts of Coventry, both in affluent parts and in less well-off parts, there has been an increase in burglaries and knife crime? The police used a dispersal order in the centre of Coventry on Saturday after a young man was badly stabbed. Will the Home Secretary increase police numbers in the west midlands, particularly in Coventry, where I am told by the police that they operate at only 75%?
The hon. Gentleman raises the very important issue of knife crime, and I am sorry to hear about that incident in Coventry. This is about powers, which is why the Offensive Weapons Bill is bringing new powers for the police, but it is also about resources. I therefore hope that he will support the Government’s settlement today because of the extra £34 million it will provide to his local force.
I must make some more progress. I will give way later.
The settlement provides the biggest increase in police funding since 2010, up to an extra £970 million in 2019-20. This will boost capacity and help forces recruit the extra officers they have told me they need. This is a significant increase. Last year, the House approved an additional £460 million for policing, including from the council tax increase. The latest workforce figures show that, by September 2018, this was starting to pay off, with officer numbers up by 466 in that year. At the time, the Policing Minister, who has shown steadfast support for the police, indicated that our intention was to provide a similar settlement this year, subject to improved efficiency, productivity and financial transparency. The police have met those conditions.
The police are on track to deliver £120 million in commercial savings by 2020-21. They are adopting more digital technology, including mobile working. All police and crime commissioners have published strategies demonstrating how they plan to use their financial reserves. They have kept their side of the bargain, and I am keeping mine. I am going further than we promised last year to provide the support they really need.
People in Corby and east Northamptonshire want to see more police out on the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime. Will my right hon. Friend be impressing on police and crime commissioners that a good chunk of the additional funding being made available should be directed towards that priority?
Yes, my hon. Friend’s point is an important one. He knows that with PCCs there is a lot of independence in setting priorities, but we work carefully and closely with police forces, including his, which will benefit by an additional £9 million through this settlement, to make sure that those strategies are the right ones.
I thank the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service for the supportive comments he has made about the improvements that South Yorkshire police force has made in the past year. However, it has the legacy issues of Hillsborough and child sexual exploitation in Rotherham to deal with, and each year it has to come to the Government with an application for a special grant. It has been given that, but the grant has to be top-sliced, putting an additional burden on police funding. Will the Home Secretary agree to a meeting with the South Yorkshire PCC and local MPs, involving either him or the Policing Minister, to see whether we can find a better way to deal with these issues in the future?
The hon. Gentleman highlights that there are sometimes special situations, and special grants are needed to deal with exactly what he has mentioned. I am happy to make sure that Home Office Ministers meet him to discuss that further, as it is a very important point.
I thank the Home Secretary for understanding the need and coming up with a much better settlement for us. Does he agree that Thames Valley, which contains fast-growing areas of the country such as mine, where a lot of extra housing is going in, needs some extra money just to keep pace with the extra number of people who require a police service?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend on that, and I thank him for his support. He highlights the need for this extra funding, and I know that he will welcome the support that will be provided—I believe it is almost £34 million—to his force.
Does the Home Secretary agree that as a result of having 21,000 fewer police officers on our streets, our intelligence-gathering capabilities have been severely restricted? Does he also agree that the proposal he is putting forward today is just nowhere near enough?
The hon. Lady will know that, when it comes to evidence gathering, a lot is needed by the police; it is not just all about resources, although they play an important role. She will know that today’s settlement gives a significant increase for her local force. I know that she supports that, so I look forward to seeing her in the Lobby.
I am going to make progress, but I will give way later on.
I want to be clear with the House on how this increase of almost £1 billion breaks down. Government grants to PCCs will rise by £161 million, which will protect their grant funding in real terms. This package includes an additional £12 million for the Met, to recognise the extra costs and challenges of policing in London. We will allocate more than £153 million to help forces manage increases in pensions costs. We are investing £90 million in much-needed capabilities to combat serious and organised crime at national, regional and local levels. Funding for counter-terrorism policing will increase by £59 million next year, to £816 million—that is £160 million more than we planned at the last spending review. We will support forces through a continued investment of £175 million in the police transformation fund and £495 million to replace and upgrade critical police technology infrastructure.
We are giving PCCs the flexibility they need to use their precept to raise more public money where it is needed most. We have listened to requests from PCCs and empowered them to increase the amount they can raise through council tax precepts. This will allow them to ask for an additional £2 a month per household without the need for a local referendum. The extra cost to a typical household will be up to £24 a year. We know that money is tight, and we did not take this decision lightly. The decision to use this flexibility is up to locally elected PCCs—they must make the case to their electorates. Providing this additional flexibility will allow them to raise up to £509 million in total. Many PCCs have welcomed the funding settlement we set out in December.
Almost all PCCs in England have chosen to use this new council tax flexibility in full, and local people have shown their support. For example, 6,500 people responded to the PCC’s precept consultation in Hampshire, with 76% indicating that they support the proposed increase. In Suffolk, nearly 70% voted for the full £24 rise. PCCs have been explaining what they want to use this extra funding for, and I am delighted that many of them plan to use it to strengthen frontline policing. They are consulting on plans to use the money to recruit more than 2,800 extra officers, potentially leading to the biggest annual increase in numbers for more than 10 years. If all PCCs use their full precept next year, overall police funding will have increased by £2 billion in just four years.
Police recorded crime figures for the last full year showed that police areas with the highest number of crimes per 1,000 people have received the smallest increase in funding. Cleveland has the highest crime figures yet it has the lowest increase. The Minister has ignored the letter from Cleveland MPs about our budget, so will he explain this bizarre outcome or, better still, recognise that he has got the Cleveland settlement very wrong?
First, the hon. Gentleman will be all too aware, given his closeness to this, that there are some other issues in Cleveland as well. He talks about resources and funding, and there is a £7 million increase for Cleveland in this settlement. If he means what he says, I am sure he will be joining me in the Lobby tonight.
Let me ask the Home Secretary the question that Ministers seem reluctant to answer. Police numbers have fallen by 21,000, and by 2,000 in the west midlands, and crime is soaring. Are the Government seriously suggesting that there is no link between falling police numbers and increasing crime?
Where the hon. Gentleman is right is that there have been increases in certain types of crime. For example, as I said earlier, there have been increases in serious violence, cyber-crime, and the reporting of sexual offences, especially historical sexual offences. We welcome such reporting, including of historical offences; we want to see more of those being reported so that we can investigate more. It does require more resource and, in some cases, with some forces, it also requires changes in practices. He has raised his concern for the West Midlands police force and making sure there are enough resources. I believe that there is about £34 million more for his force, which represents a significant increase. It is fair to say that it is more than would have been expected by the force this time last year. If he supports his local force and wants to see those resources going to it, I am sure he will vote with the Government later this afternoon.
May I press the Home Secretary a little more on these figures? I am talking about the support that local forces get from his Department, not what is being passed on to local council tax payers. The West Midlands PCC has estimated that simply to stand still West Midlands police force needs an increase in excess of £24 million. As the additional amount the Home Secretary is putting forward is just over £15 million, how is that anything other than a real-terms cut?
Again, the hon. Gentleman, like so many other Opposition Members, has raised the issue of resources. That is why I am sure he will welcome the biggest cash increase collectively since 2010. He talks about the West Midlands force, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) did. That force is receiving an increase of more than £34 million. I gently point out that the force has £85 million in reserves, which is one of the highest levels of reserves in the country, so the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) should have a chat with his PCC to ask whether he can do a better job.
It may have slipped the Home Secretary’s mind, but he did not actually answer a very important question. Is he seriously suggesting that there is no link between falling police numbers and rising crime?
I have been clear that in recent years we have seen an increase in certain types of crime, but it would be lazy of any of us to attribute that to just one factor. I recognise that resources are an important issue, which is why we are giving this record settlement today.
I will make some progress, then take some further interventions in a moment.
Supporting policing is not just about money; the police chiefs I have met have also consistently raised concerns about, for example, their officers’ welfare. That is why there will be more support for frontline officers, with a new national wellbeing centre of excellence. We will also help forces to identify mental health issues earlier with psychological screening, so that officers can access support and, where appropriate, stay in work.
The impact of next year’s funding increase will be immense. Forces will be able to continue to recruit and fill crucial capability gaps. They will be able to prevent more crime and deliver better outcomes for victims. We will work with PCCs and chief constables to make the most of this funding settlement. We are asking them to use the extra investment to address four priority areas next year. First, they should continue efficiency savings. Forces must see beyond their own boundaries and continue to join up to get better procurement deals and drive more benefits from shared services. Secondly, they should resolve the shortfall in detective numbers identified by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services. We will work with the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to support forces in meeting this challenge. Thirdly, they should continue improvements in productivity, with a view to delivering £50 million of productivity savings in 2019-20. That will include the smarter use of data and improved digital capabilities, including mobile working, where appropriate. Finally, I expect all forces to respond effectively to the threat from serious and organised crime. This is an area that cannot and must not be ignored by anyone. I have delivered on my own promise to the police, and I now expect them to respond to the challenge that we have set them, as they did so well last year.
Does the Home Secretary accept that the real lived experience of many people in Greater Manchester is that many crimes do not even get investigated, and are simply recorded? In many communities, police stations have been closed altogether, and in my own town we do not have a single custody cell left open for a population of quarter of a million people.
Like so many Members, the hon. Gentleman makes an issue of the need for more resources. I have met his local chief constable and other police officers from his force, and they are doing some excellent work in difficult circumstances, with some particular challenges in Manchester. I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming today’s settlement, which contains an additional £35 million for his local force. If he wishes to discuss the needs of his local force further, I would be happy to meet him, as would the Policing Minister, to listen more.
I welcome the biggest rise in police funds since 2010, which is excellent news for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. However, will my right hon. Friend concede that, as a force, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight has been historically underfunded relative to its size? When he considers future funding formulae, will he therefore take into account the historical underfunding of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and seek to rectify it?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment. He makes an important point and I am glad he has raised it. We have been clear in the Home Office that when the upcoming spending review, on which I will say more in a moment, comes around, it is important that we also look at the national funding formula for policing.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that the increases he is talking about will lead to better crime-fighting results, but he is denying that the cuts that led to 1,000 fewer officers in the Merseyside police force have affected the rise in crime. Will he now answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey)? There is actually a link between police funding and crime levels, and he should come clean about it. The right hon. Gentleman cannot claim that if money is going up, crime rates will get better, but deny there is a link the other way around.
I thought the hon. Lady was taking over my speech for me, but she raises an important point. On fighting crime, as I mentioned earlier, there has been a particular rise in certain types of crime, especially those that are more complex and so by definition require more resource. That is what the settlement recognises—that where crime, especially more complex crime, has risen, more resources should be provided. This is a record settlement—the largest since 2010—and contains £18 million for the hon. Lady’s local force.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the question before the House on the police report is about national support for police forces and has nothing to do with council tax rises, which may or may not happen? Furthermore, will he admit to the House that if one looks at where the rise in knife crime has been greatest, one will see that it is in those areas that are more dependent on national support?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that this debate is just about national support. The report also includes the Government’s decision, subject to the will of the House, to allow an increase in the precept of up to £24 without a referendum, as I mentioned earlier. That is part of the total funding package, to which I have referred, of £970 million.
I need to make some progress.
The police will continue to face pressures, and my commitment to them is ongoing. The Policing Minister has also shown unwavering support and will of course continue to do so. This is the last settlement before the next spending review, which will set out the resources available to the police in future years. I will continue to make police resourcing a priority in that spending review. Once again, though, it is of course a two-way street. The police must continue to improve efficiency, productivity and effectiveness, to provide value for money, and to give the public the top-class service they deserve. I will back them in the spending review, but any increased support must come with an important condition: the police must commit to a long-term action plan to further improve effectiveness and productivity. I am determined to give them the investment that they need, but it must be used efficiently. We have the best police force in the world, but they must also be as effective as they can be.
In Warwickshire, we have one of the smallest police forces in the country, but this year’s and last year’s settlements are enabling the police and crime commissioner to put in a further 150 police officers and staff. Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at the funding for county areas, which are under great pressure from a lot of criminality and problems coming from the city areas, which have traditionally been funded a lot more significantly than the county areas?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it draws me back to my earlier comment in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) about the national funding formula for policing. We are committed to looking at that when we consider longer term funding through the spending review process.
The Government are determined to respond to the threat from terrorism, organised crime and serious violence, and the police are of course a vital partner in that work. We must give them the resources they need to get the job done, which is why we are proposing the largest increase in police funding since 2010.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Home Secretary to tell me, in answer to my question, that the £24 that the Government are allowing local police authorities to raise is in the report, when I have checked the report and cannot find any mention of the £24 to which he drew the House’s attention? That report is the subject of tonight’s vote.