House of Commons
Monday 10 June 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Violent Crime: Young People
Diverting young people from crime is at the heart of my approach to tackling serious violence. Factors such as domestic abuse, truancy and substance abuse can make a young person more vulnerable to becoming a victim or perpetrator of serious violence. That is why we are investing over £220 million in early intervention schemes to steer young people away from serious violence.
The experience of the local police in Chelmsford is that once a young person is in a gang they become indoctrinated and indebted to the gang, and it is hard to turn that round. It is therefore better to invest in prevention, and the role of schools is vital. Will my right hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State for Education and the Treasury to ensure that schools get the resources they need to run proactive initiatives to prevent young people from being sucked into violent gangs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we cannot arrest our way out of crime, and early intervention is critical. That is why we have, for example, the £200 million youth intervention fund to do precisely that: steer young people away from violence. She is also right to think about how schools can work much more closely with police and others. That require some more resources, and I am very happy to continue that conversation with the Department for Education and the Treasury.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of county lines and his concern. More support is being provided for Hampshire in particular, with Hampshire police receiving £1.2 million from the £100 million extra that I announced a few months ago for the serious violence fund. Hampshire is also benefiting from the early intervention youth fund, through which we have sponsored a number of projects, including a £400,000 project in Hampshire aimed at supporting young people away from future offending.
The Home Secretary referred to youth intervention investment, but that money is spread over several years. As he will know, the Select Committee on Home Affairs asked for the annual breakdown of that money. We are still waiting for that. That matters, because it looks to us as though the additional investment he has proposed adds up to around only 5% annually of the £760 million being cut from youth services.
I know from a meeting in Knottingley in my constituency this morning that antisocial behaviour is rising, and knife crime among young people in west Yorkshire has trebled over the last few years. We need this investment very rapidly and cannot wait. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Select Committee will get those figures, and that he will give oral evidence to the Committee before the summer recess? His office suggested that he would not.
I do plan to give evidence to the Select Committee before the summer recess. I can confirm also that the right hon. Lady will get the numbers that she has asked for. Perhaps she was referring to the £200 million youth endowment fund, but she will know that there is also the £22 million early intervention fund, which has supported some 29 projects already.
I welcome the Government’s decision to adopt a public health approach to youth violence, but aside from a summit we are yet to see any affirmative action. The Home Secretary recognises that early intervention is important, yet we have seen cuts to our Sure Start centres, our education and our youth services. What urgent action will he take to implement a public health approach? What will he do to step up conversations with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that those vital early intervention services get their funding restored to them immediately?
The hon. Lady rightly raises the importance of the public health approach—having a legal requirement for all Government Departments and agencies to work together—but she is wrong to suggest that the only thing that has happened is the summit that the Prime Minister held. The hon. Lady will know that we have already published the consultation, which is ongoing. She will know that, to get good policy, it is right to hold a consultation. I hope that she will input into it and that, when it leads to legislation, we can have cross-party support.
The normally quiet and law-abiding town of Calne in my constituency has been rocked in the past two weeks by the brutal murder of 18-year-old Ellie Gould by, allegedly, an under-age knife-bearing murderer. I will not ask the Home Secretary to comment on that case, but does he not agree that one very good way of deterring people from carrying knives and taking part in this kind of appalling outrage is by applying the strongest possible sentence to these people to send a message to others who might be that way inclined?
May I take this opportunity to extend my sympathy to Ellie’s family for what has happened and their terrible loss? My hon. Friend is absolutely right that to tackle serious violence we need to take action on many fronts. As well as law enforcement and early intervention, it is right to ensure that sentencing is fit for the crimes that have taken place.
Part of the Government’s response to the horrifying rise in violent crime has been to commission an independent review on drugs. Given the revelations over the weekend in relation to various Tory leadership hopefuls, is it not time to consider extending that review to consider whether our drug laws and policy are discriminatory, and whether they, in fact, fuel violent crime?
The hon. Lady will know that the Government have been very clear, as have previous Governments, that drugs and the crime related to drug gangs are leading to serious violence and all sorts of other serious problems in society and other types of crime. That is why we have taken action on many fronts, but we do want to understand more about drugs and their impact. That is exactly why I commissioned the independent review, by Dame Carol Black, on drugs misuse.
Windrush Victims: Compensation
On 3 April, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the opening of the Windrush compensation scheme. The forms, rules and guidance were published on the same day. The freephone helpline is available to answer any queries. The scheme will ensure that those who have been affected are able to claim for the losses they faced and receive appropriate compensation.
How will the Government compensate Windrush victims such as my constituent who could not work for eight years because of his lack of status, losing his NI contributions and his pension? Are Ministers making sure that in such complicated cases people get the advice they need to fill out the forms, so they are not victimised yet again?
We worked very hard with the independent adviser, and indeed with victims of Windrush, to ensure the claim form was as accessible and as easily understood as possible. It is a complicated claim form, because there are 13 different heads of claims under which people are able to claim compensation, but we have set up a contract with Citizens Advice so they can get independent advice without having to resort to using lawyers.
Community organisations working with Windrush citizens, including the Black Cultural Archives in my constituency, report that the compensation scheme simply is not working. The form is too complex, advice is neither accessible nor specialist enough, and the burden of proof is far too high. Will the Minister review the scheme, acknowledge that it is not working, and, as an absolute minimum, provide immediate funding for specialist legal advice to be available not only by phone but in person to every Windrush citizen who needs it?
As I outlined, there is already a contract in place with Citizens Advice to provide that independent advice. There is an ongoing series of engagement events, with taskforce officials from the Home Office attending different community groups across the country, including in London. There have been two events in Newport. It is important that we get this right, which is why we worked with Martin Forde to have a scheme that gave us independent advice. It is important that we work through it. I know that at 18 pages the claim form is quite long, but of course individual claimants have to fill in only the components that are relevant to them, not every page.
This gross injustice with respect to the Windrush scandal is not an accident or a one-off; it is a direct result of the Government’s hostile environment policy. Have the Government considered how their hostile environment might affect migrants from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh now and in the future?
It is important to reflect that roughly half the individuals affected by Windrush had a negative impact pre-2010 under the previous Labour Government. We are determined to put right all those wrongs and ensure that wherever people have come from—people from a wide variety of countries, not simply the Caribbean, have made contact with the Windrush taskforce—they are given the support to go through the process of getting the documentation they need. Well over 4,000 people have secured British citizenship as a result, and over 6,000 people have the documentation they need to prove their right to stay in the UK.
The Minister has to begin to acknowledge communities’ grave concerns about the Windrush compensation scheme as it stands. They think that it is not working. She also needs to bear in mind that this is an ageing cohort, who will probably need more support on average than a cohort that is more mixed in age. The Home Secretary told the House in April last year that we
“will do whatever it takes to put it right”.
“We have made it clear that a Commonwealth citizen who has remained in the UK since 1973 will be eligible to get the legal status that they deserve: British citizenship.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 35.]
What progress has been made on those promises?
Will the Minister reconsider some of the worst aspects of the current scheme? It will currently not compensate those who may have been wrongly deported. I quote from the document:
“It is difficult to determine whether inability to return to the UK is a loss”.
Of course someone being deprived of their home, job, family and community is a loss. How can Ministers say that it is “difficult to determine” whether there is a loss?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. It is absolutely because we acknowledge that people have been wronged that, in the last week, I personally have attended two separate outreach events for people who wish to understand the compensation scheme. It is why there are dedicated helplines. It is why we have put in place the scheme with Citizens Advice, so that it can provide advice. I reiterate that 6,470 individuals have been granted some form of documentation and 4,281 have been granted citizenship. As I said, there are 13 different heads of claim, including not only deportation, but loss of ability to work, loss of benefits and so on. We are absolutely determined to make sure that we compensate the individuals affected in a timely manner.
Facial Recognition Technology
Facial recognition technology can help the police to do their job. It must be right to support trials of this rapidly improving technology, but given its sensitivity it must also be right that the technology’s benefits should be independently reviewed. That is exactly what the Met is doing with the University of Essex and we will consider that review very carefully.
In May, San Francisco, one of the most tech-friendly cities in the world, banned the use of live facial recognition technology because of massive error rates and concerns about racial bias in its use. Five United Kingdom police forces use similar cameras and systems. Both the Met and South Wales police have seen a 90%— or worse—misidentification rate of innocent members of the public. It is clear that the cameras carry serious risks, yet no legislation governs the use of the technology; it operates in a legal void. The Minister refers to the Metropolitan police. This is not a decision for a police force to make; it is a decision for Parliament. Will the Minister bring legislation to the House laying down strict guidelines on the use of this technology?
My right hon. Friend has a long track record in this area. He is entirely right to raise the sensitivity in finding the right balance between security and civil liberties. On the Met’s numbers, there is a one in 1,000 chance of a false alert, but we need to see the evaluation. I am very clear in my mind that we need to support the police in trialling new technology, but if we are to take the public with us we have to be absolutely sure that it sits inside a regulatory framework that they trust. We believe that there is a legal framework for it, although that is being challenged in the courts. I give him my undertaking that, given the importance of maintaining public confidence and trust, we are doing urgent work to review the regulatory environment in which this technology development sits, including new oversight and advisory boards, because I recognise the fundamental importance of taking the public with us on this journey.
The police national database contains 15 million images, which have been used in a much less controversial way for static facial recognition since 2014, but police tell me that the algorithm that is used to support the database is out of date and needs investment. Will the Minister confirm that the necessary investment will be made?
I can confirm to the hon. Lady that, across a substantial range of technology requirements for the police, the Home Secretary and I are considering the funding requirements of the police in the context of the comprehensive spending review, and he and I have made it clear that police funding is our priority.
In the last year or so, the Met have issued many of their officers with tablet computers, but the feedback I have had from officers and constituents is that very often these are unstable, freeze routinely and can actually mean that work takes longer, so will the Minister talk to the Met Commissioner to ensure that their technology is stable and reliable for officers to use?
I have had those conversations with the Met Commissioner because I have heard exactly the same thing from members of the serious violence taskforce and officers on the beat in my own constituency. It is clear to us that mobility—the ability to work on the move without having to go back to the station to fill in reports—is critical to improving police productivity, so we must make sure we get the technology right.
What was not known during the Huawei furore was that it was a leading pioneer of facial recognition technology distinguishing between Han and Uighur citizens within the Chinese republic. Are the Government seeking to use this technology as a solution on the British border on the isle of Ireland?
I will not get drawn into that. It is our responsibility as a Government and a Parliament to support the police in pushing the frontiers of what technology can do in law enforcement, but I come back to this fundamental point: we have to take the public with us, and that means the regulatory environment has to be fit for purpose.
The Minister will be aware of the comments of the new independent reviewer of our counter-terror laws at the weekend about our police and security services using artificial intelligence and algorithms in detecting suspicious behaviour. He was speaking of a future like that in the film “Minority Report” where predictive technology drives everything. Is not the only way to establish the appropriate balance between liberty and security to create a new durable legislative framework that can be properly considered by this House? Why can he not commit to bringing that forward today?
I repeat that I am extremely aware of the need, as technology develops in this area and others, for there to be public confidence and trust in it, underpinned by a legislative and regulatory framework in which people have confidence. We feel that that legal framework is in place, but we are reviewing the oversight and regulatory framework in which this all sits, and that is a work of some urgency for me.
Refugee Family Reunion
The Government provide a safe and legal route for bringing families together through our existing family reunion policy. These provisions are consistent with our obligation to respect family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. We are listening to calls to extend this policy and will continue discussions with stakeholders.
Ministers will recall that last July the other House passed the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill overwhelmingly but that it was not introduced here because of lack of parliamentary time. Since parliamentary time no longer appears so scarce, will the Minister introduce it here to help reunite families, many of whom are divided by some very rigid and inflexible rules?
Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am that in designing a refugee family reunion policy we do not create incentives that encourage even more people to leave their homes and undertake an extremely dangerous journey in the hope they will bring the rest of their relatives to our country at a later date?
My hon. Friend rightly raises the Government’s concern that allowing children to sponsor close family members might create incentives for more children to be encouraged or even forced to leave their families and risk a hazardous journey to the UK in order to sponsor relatives at a later date. I am sure he agrees that we absolutely want to avoid that because it could play into the hands of criminal gangs already exploiting vulnerable people.
In December 2018 the Government set out their proposals for a future immigration system in a White Paper, “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system”. The new system will be focused on those with the skills that the country needs, who will bring the most benefit to the United Kingdom.
My constituency needs migrant workers to support local industry—particularly, but not exclusively, in the health, hospitality, fishing and farming sectors. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that there will be sufficient flexibility in any post-Brexit immigration system to allow those sectors to flourish?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We recognise that the future system must work for the valuable industries that make this nation great. We are working with many businesses and employers, including some in the sectors that my hon. Friend has listed, to ensure there is proper engagement which will achieve precisely what he has described.
On Thursday night, a 17-year-old schoolboy visiting Canterbury from Germany was violently attacked in our city centre. He is now fighting for his life. I thank the Home Secretary for intervening personally to enable the boy’s family to travel to be at his bedside, and I am extremely grateful for his—and his team’s—rapid response, kindness and hard work over the weekend. In the light of this awful incident, will he please reassure me that he is listening carefully to the grave concerns that are being expressed about the dwindling number of police on our streets?
I was very concerned to hear about that case when the hon. Lady contacted me, and I am pleased that the young man’s parents are now at his bedside. I can give her the assurance for which she has asked. We have a big police funding settlement this year, which is leading to the biggest increase in police numbers since 2010.
I thank the Home Secretary for the support that he has expressed for the amendment drafted by our hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), which has the support of many colleagues on both sides of the House, and which seeks to ease post-study work restrictions on overseas students. Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only is this an economically sensible and useful thing to do, but it will enhance UK soft power as we build global Britain?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he will know, we have already announced steps in that direction in the White Paper, because we want to make it easier for those who come from abroad to study in our universities to stay and continue to lead their lives in the UK. I do believe that we can go further, both for our own economic benefit—indeed, I think, for our cultural benefit—and, certainly, for the benefit of our soft power.
International students are vital not just for our exports, but for university funding and regional economies. Britain is lagging behind our main competitors in attracting the brightest and the best. What plans has the Home Secretary to add countries such as India to the list of states with fast-track access to tier 4 study permits to help to address that issue?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of international students, including their importance as an export for our economy. He will be pleased to learn that there is no cap on the number of international students who can come to the UK, and that the number who came last year reached a record high. As for fast-track access for certain countries, we constantly keep that under review.
My constituent Ken Macharia is under threat of removal back to Kenya, where he will not be able to live openly as a gay man. In the month of Pride, it cannot be right for us to deny him the right to be who he is. More importantly, however, does the Home Secretary agree that Ken’s sexuality should not be the issue? He came here to qualify as a mechanical engineer, and he therefore has skills that we urgently need for our economy. Should we not be letting him stay for that reason, irrespective of his sexuality?
I understand why my hon. Friend has raised this case, and I can assure him that the Home Office is taking it very seriously. He will, perhaps, appreciate that I cannot comment on an individual case, especially if it involves an application for a judicial review, but I can reassure him that in cases of this type, at the heart of decision making is the welfare of the individual concerned.
As has already been pointed out, the Home Secretary has pledged that if he becomes Prime Minister he will reintroduce the post-study work visa. The university sector in Scotland, business, and my colleagues in the Scottish Government have been calling for its reintroduction for some years. The right hon. Gentleman is already Home Secretary, and he has the power to reintroduce it with full effect for Scotland today if he wants to, so will he make a commitment to do so?
I am disappointed that the Home Secretary does not feel able to make that commitment, but I hope he will maybe follow through on it if he becomes Prime Minister.
May I ask the Home Secretary about something else that is very important to Members in all parts of this House? A recent freedom of information request from one of my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament revealed that 19 children and six pregnant women have been held at the privately run Dungavel detention centre since 2016, and this is despite the Government committing to end the detention of children at Dungavel. Can the Secretary of State explain how this has been allowed to happen and will he commit to ending indefinite detention as part of his future plans for the UK’s immigration system?
On the hon. and learned Lady’s first question, it sounds as though she has not read the White Paper yet because it talks about increasing post-study work permits. On the question about detention, we have a comprehensive and detailed policy on adults at risk; we constantly keep it under review, and when there are specific cases we will look at them very carefully.
Fire Services: Overnight Cover
Operational decisions are for each fire and rescue authority to make as part of their work to assess local risk and manage and allocate resources according to their integrated risk management planning process. What we have done is reintroduce independent inspection by asking HMICFRS—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services—to assess how effective each fire and rescue service is in responding to fires.
I thank the Minister for his response, but the reality is that Government cuts are having a dangerous impact on safety. If Tyne and Wear’s fire and rescue service funding does not increase, this year we could see overnight cover cut by 50% in South Tyneside, putting my constituents and our local firefighters’ lives at risk. When will the Government increase funding to protect our lives?
I know there are strong feelings about the funding of Tyne and Wear fire service because we had a debate in Westminster Hall, and I have subsequently met Chris Lowther, the chief, to discuss that. Our view is that the fire service has the resources it needs to continue providing what is acknowledged to be a good service underpinned by very high levels of reserves, but we are approaching a comprehensive spending review in which we will be looking to continue to make sure that the fire service has the resources it needs to do its very difficult job.
In the Minister’s response of 5 June to my letter about fire service funding he stated that all services had the capacity to respond to high-rise fires, yet the speed of the fire spread we saw yesterday in Barking was terrifying, and if that had happened at night people may well have lost their lives. Seconds count and seconds save lives; is the Minister truly convinced that he has done everything he can to keep people safe in their beds?
The whole House will understand the sensitivities of this subject, not least this week, and the fire was indeed extremely intense and unsettling. I congratulate the 100-odd firefighters who attended that scene on their success in getting the fire under control with no serious injury. In response to the hon. Lady’s point, yes of course I take this extremely seriously. I have received assurances from the fire chiefs that the current arrangements around integrated risk planning, the requirements around mutual assistance and the national resilience are fit for purpose, but if anyone has hard evidence to undermine that my door is open.
In Northamptonshire the fire service has been successfully integrated with the local police service, saving money on administrative overheads and providing more resources for frontline capabilities. Is the Minister going to encourage more such mergers?
The answer is yes, and I congratulate Steve Mold and the leadership in Northamptonshire on what they have done to show what can be achieved through really creative collaboration. This is not just about saving taxpayers’ money; it is also about exploring the opportunities to deliver a better service to the public.
We are approaching the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which, as Members will know, happened overnight. The Grenfell residents had complained about their treatment by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and had specifically highlighted the fire risks, but they were ignored. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that similar warnings from those who know most—the residents themselves—are heeded and acted on?
I think the right hon. Lady meant to say that it was the second anniversary, but of course the point she makes is a fundamental one that will be addressed in the statement that follows on the Government’s response to the fire, not only on future arrangements for social housing and the regulation of that, but to ensure that the voice of tenants is a louder one and a respected one.
Firefighters: Health Screening
The health and wellbeing of firefighters is of huge concern to the Home Office and to the sector leaders we are working with to support further progress in this area. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the responsibility of individual fire and rescue authorities, as employers, to ensure that health screening suitable for the risks faced is available to their firefighters.
The stress facing our firefighters has grown considerably under this Government. We have fewer of them, and many have been replaced by retained firefighters, including in Cleveland. As we have heard, they face some of the most difficult circumstances. Does the Minister recognise the impact of those circumstances and stressors on the mental and physical health of firefighters? Will he tell me what the Government are going to do to fund health services properly for firemen?
I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Firefighters are exposed to major risks and highly traumatic situations, as well as to contaminants and toxic agents, so it is even more important that local fire authorities have appropriate strategies in place and that they are properly resourced and, critically, inspected and assessed by independent inspectors, which is what we have introduced. In relation to resources, I come back to the main point that a spending review is imminent, and it will provide an opportunity to ensure that the fire service continues to have the resources it needs to do its job and support its people.
Some of the things that those in our brave emergency services—whether in the police, the fire service or the ambulance service—are tasked with dealing with are truly horrific and have long-lasting impacts, particularly on family life. What work is being done to ensure that those in our emergency services are always able to access the very best mental health care?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. There is a growing awareness and culture in the leadership across the police and fire services about the importance of the welfare and wellbeing agenda. That is why we have supported the first ever national wellbeing service, which is being developed and rolled out across that system, and why we continue to engage with the fire chiefs in order to be absolutely sure that, on top of the money we have provided for the blue light services and for mental health support, we are doing everything we can to ensure that those on the frontline of our response to emergencies are properly supported and that the old culture of “stay strong” can be challenged when it needs to be, because of the trauma that our first responders are often exposed to.
Two years on from Grenfell, firefighters and members of the community still have not been screened for fire-related toxic contamination. Speaking as a former nurse and the mother of a young woman who died of cancer, I find that genuinely unacceptable. Given the dangerous carcinogens that have been found in the area surrounding the building, the Government’s inaction displays a reckless disregard for people’s health, and I hope that the Minister is not going to pass the buck here. I should like to ask him to commit to undertaking a wide review of cancer rates among firefighters, and to consider implementing a national fire service cancer screening strategy. This is just too important for him not to.
I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Lady is saying. In relation to the Grenfell firefighters, that is something that I will of course take up with the London fire brigade. On the broader point, she is absolutely right to say that firefighters are exposed to contaminants and toxic agents. Exposure will vary, but I am sure she will be aware that past research has not shown an increase in risk. However, this is a source of concern to us, and the fire chiefs have recently commissioned research from the University of Brighton. We will need to wait for that to conclude before agreeing the next steps in relation to the kind of comprehensive universal screening service that she has mentioned.
A review of powers was undertaken as part of our updated comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, and the lessons learned from the attacks of 2016 and 2017 were incorporated. Following the review, the Government launched the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which received Royal Assent on 12 February 2019.
Our security services are world class, but we know that co-ordination is key, so does my right hon. Friend agree that negotiating security co-operation with our European partners and neighbours and strengthening our alliances around the world should be top post-Brexit priorities?
Yes, I can reassure the House that intelligence sharing will go on unchanged. The relationship between intelligence services under national security, irrespective of our status within Europe, will not diminish, and the same goes for our status within the Five Eyes community—a strong partnership for intelligence. In addition, when it comes to law enforcement tools, our relationships are also underpinned by the 1957 Council of Europe convention on extradition and the 1959 European convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters, and those will continue no matter what the settlement is.
This weekend, the Home Secretary announced as part of his leadership bid a £500 million investment in border security in Northern Ireland, plus ongoing costs. Will the Minister agree to publish the proposals as soon as possible, so that they can be open to public and private scrutiny?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about investment in our border. However, I had a quick discussion with the Home Secretary, who does not have the same recollection of what he announced at the weekend. I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman writes to the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary will set out the position.
I was horrified to read that a Hezbollah bomb factory storing three tonnes of explosive materials was discovered in north-west London in 2015—three and a half years before the Home Secretary fully proscribed the antisemitic terror group. Why did the Government wait so long to act? Why were the public and MPs not informed, given the debates that we have had on this issue?
The right hon. Lady will know, as a former Home Office Minister, that we do not comment on intelligence operations for obvious reasons. In addition, if Hezbollah was behaving in that manner at that time, that would have been under its military wing, as it was classified, and that would have been an act of terrorism and, indeed, would have been subject to the proscription provisions. I therefore do not think that anything different would have happened. However, as the right hon. Lady knows, the Home Secretary recently moved to proscribe the entirety of Hezbollah, partly because of such cases.
EU Settlement Scheme
EU citizens are our friends, neighbours and colleagues, and we want them to stay. The EU settlement scheme enables them to do so, and we launched a £3.75 million marketing campaign in March to encourage them to apply.
If these people genuinely are the Home Secretary’s friends, colleagues and neighbours, perhaps the Government should start to treat them as such, instead of preparing to make them the victims of another Windrush-type scandal. The Home Affairs Committee recently reported that thousands of EU nationals in the UK run the risk of being left with an uncertain legal future. Does the Home Secretary not accept that it is time to get rid of the application and potential refusal system that they have just now and replace it with as a system of right to remain by declaration? That would leave the onus of proof on the Government if they think that someone should not be allowed to stay, instead of making the person prove that they can.
The settlement scheme is working incredibly well. To update the House, 800,000 applications have already been made since its launch, with almost 700,000 concluded. The hon. Gentleman mentions Windrush, and if he wants another Windrush, he should continue with the proposal that he just suggested.
Just some of the actions we are taking to tackle knife crime include: strengthening the law through the Offensive Weapons Act 2019; establishing the national county lines co-ordination centre; consulting on a new duty to support a multi-agency public health approach; launching the £100 million serious violence fund in the spring statement; and providing new lesson plans to schools as part of our #knifefree campaign. We take careful note of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s recent comments about knife crime levelling off, and I am sure we all support the police’s efforts to tackle this.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but there were 18,000 assaults and 17,000 robberies involving a knife or a sharp object in the year ending 2018. The Government have cut police officer numbers by 21,000, and two weeks ago there was a murder in Tower Hamlets due to a knife attack. Does she agree that the Home Secretary is not fit to be the next Prime Minister, considering that he has lost control of law and order in his Department?
I have to say that I think this is such a serious subject—I understand the hon. Lady’s comments about her constituency—but I do not think this is the appropriate forum to make those sorts of comments. What I do know is that the Government, working with the police, local authorities, the medical profession and educationalists, are doing everything we can not just to tackle the causes of knife crime through law enforcement efforts but to intervene early to stop young people carrying knives before they take that terrible step, which can affect not only their lives but other families and communities.
I am very happy to look into that. The hon. Gentleman will know that, through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, there are six powers available to the police and to local authorities and agencies to tackle, in a flexible way, the terrible crimes that can be occasioned by antisocial behaviour.
As the proud Member of Parliament for one of the most rural constituencies in England, I know only too well the trouble that farmers and landowners can have with antisocial behaviour, including, for example, hare coursing. A range of powers is available to the police, depending on the type of criminality involved. I am very happy to involve my hon. Friend in the discussions we are currently having to see what more we can do to tackle hare coursing in particular.
Inshore Fishing Boats: Non-EEA Workers
As part of the future borders and immigration system, we have launched a year-long engagement programme to seek the views of stakeholders, including the fishing industry, and I am listening very carefully to what they have to say. I have met representatives of the industry on several occasions, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and we are reflecting on the views expressed.
The Minister has previously said that:
“there was no case for schemes for particular sectors in the immigration system, other than agriculture, which has some unique characteristics.”—[Official Report, 8 April 2019; Vol. 658, c. 153.]
I am sure the Minister and everyone accepts that the fishing industry has unique characteristics as well. Although we want local labour to do these jobs in future, they are not ready and able to do them now. Will she look again at this with an open mind, because our fishermen are crying out for a solution?
I reassure my hon. Friend that I was quoting the Migration Advisory Committee when I said that agriculture is a unique sector with characteristics that justify the sectoral scheme, and the Government have certainly listened to that advice. He will know that we are undertaking a year of engagement as part of the proposals set out in the immigration White Paper, and no final decision will be taken on the future system until that is complete.
That is much appreciated, Mr Speaker. This cuts across the Department for International Trade, of course, and I have a constituency interest.
The Minister talks about a year-long engagement. She told me the very same last May. She said that the Home Office would reflect and ask industry for its views. We hear the same rhetoric today. It is quite simple: she should go to her boss, the Home Secretary—a man who needs to show leadership at the moment—and ask him to lift his pen and get fishing boats working on the west coast of Scotland. It will happen that easily. Get it shifted, make it happen, and make it happen this year. We do not want another year-long engagement.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I do not think I have quite recovered from him appearing in my office asking me to write visas on the back of an envelope for those whom he deemed to be appropriate. It is important that the Home Secretary and I listen to all sectors, take the time to reflect on the advice received from the Migration Advisory Committee and the proposals set out in the White Paper, and make sure that we make the right decision, not simply the decision that the hon. Gentleman is demanding.
Asylum Application Process
The Home Office is committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered and protection is granted, where necessary, as soon as possible. We have ambitious plans to improve the system, including developing new service standards to ensure that cases with acute vulnerability are prioritised.
The hon. Lady will know that in certain circumstances asylum seekers can work: after a year and if the occupation is on the shortage occupation list. She is right: I have said that. We continue to look at how we can change this and how we can expand those rights potentially. That work is under review and we will report to the House in due course.
Emergency Services Network: National Audit Office Report
Frankly, we welcome all scrutiny of the emergency services network. It remains an extremely ambitious and very challenging programme, but our intent remains the same: to make sure that our emergency workers have access to the best available communications network. We still believe that the benefits are there.
I have been raising this issue since 2013, when it became apparent that the Home Office was prioritising cost-cutting over the resilience of the communication network that enables our police officers, fire officers and ambulance crews to save lives. This is years late and billions overspent, so when are we going to have a proper plan to deliver this essential network? Will the Minister compensate police forces for the extra they are having to spend because of his incompetence?
Our plans have been set out and will continue to be available for scrutiny. The funding of forces will be dealt with through the spending review, but I push back on the hon. Lady’s premise. This has not been primarily just about reducing the costs of the Airwave contract, although that is real. It is also about making sure that 300,000 emergency workers have access to the most resilient, most modern emergency communications network. That is exactly what we intend to deliver.
We are committed to tackling antisocial behaviour, which is why we reformed the powers available to local areas through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Although we recognise there has been a small increase in the number of people who have experienced or witnessed antisocial behaviour in their local area, we would expect local areas to use the powers in the Act to tackle ASB.
The Minister is correct; more than a third of respondents to the latest crime survey have experienced or witnessed ASB. Whether we are talking about drug dealing, vandalism, or people riding motorbikes or quad bikes in public places, for example in our parks, it has a real, damaging effect on people’s lives. Will she therefore support Lib Dem calls to invest more in community policing? Will she also publicise more effectively the community trigger, so that people know that it exists?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the point about the community trigger. We, as constituency MPs, can really help to publicise the power of the community trigger and how members of the public can use it to review decisions with which they do not agree. On police funding, he will know that we have just voted through up to an extra £1 billion, with the help of police and crime commissioners, to put into policing. Of course the Home Secretary has set out his commitment to resources as well.
I am concerned to hear of the experience of my hon. Friend’s constituents. He is right to ask about vehicle theft and the terrible impact it can have on victims. Vehicle theft is a priority of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing; indeed, he is bringing together industry, the police and others to help to ensure that the response to vehicle theft is as robust and technologically up-to-date as it can be.
As we approach the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, our thoughts are with the families of the victims and everyone affected by the tragedy.
We continue to increase support for the police and victims of crime. More money has been made available to tackle serious violence, with further allocations to the worst-hit police forces from the £100 million fund. We are making calls to the 101 non-emergency number free from April 2020. I have announced plans to change the law to give trained police drivers more confidence to pursue suspects, better protected from the risk of prosecution.
In his remarks about facial recognition technology earlier, the Minister for Policing rightly spoke about the need to take the public with us. Does the Secretary of State recognise that the imposition of Big Brother-style surveillance and fining people for covering their face with their coat is no way to secure the public’s trust? Will the Government halt the use of live facial recognition technology in policing until there has been a proper public debate, Parliament has considered a framework and there are civil liberties safeguards?
I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that it is absolutely right that the police, and those involved in law enforcement more generally, take advantage of changes in technology. Facial recognition is one of the technologies that are advancing and it is right that we test it properly. Police forces are piloting its use. The whole point of a pilot is to look at the results and then determine whether it makes sense to take the pilot forward. That may well include the need for proper guidance and perhaps even legislation.
I am very much aware of that. Forced marriage is of course a terrible form of abuse. The Government have introduced a range of measures to tackle the crime, including the creation of a specific forced marriage offence and the criminalisation of the breach of a forced marriage protection order. My hon. Friend raised the important issue of under-18 marriages. It is right that we consider our position, which is under review.
The Government’s call for evidence on violence and abuse towards shop staff is welcome. However, research by the Charity Retail Association shows that more than a quarter of charity shops are reporting an increase in incidents of violence or verbal abuse against their volunteers. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that retail volunteers are included in the review and that they, too, will benefit from any proposed protections?
The statistic the hon. Lady cited is sobering. I see no reason why charity shops should not be included in the review. I encourage all Members of Parliament to advertise the call for evidence, which we are holding precisely because we want to find out the nature and extent of the problem. I very much look forward to discussing it with the hon. Lady in due course.
My hon. Friend has been persistent in making the case for more funding for Lancashire police, so he will welcome the additional £18.4 million of cash in 2019-20, on top of the exceptional grant for the costs of fracking. Chief Constable Andy Rhodes is recruiting additional officers, and I know that my hon. Friend will play his full part in lobbying the police and crime commissioner and Andy to make sure that Fylde gets its fair share of that additional resource.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue. I am sure he has in mind the horrific attack that was reported at the weekend and that I condemn in the absolute strongest terms. There is no place in our society for such hate crime. My understanding in respect of that particular incident is that the Met has arrested five individuals. The Government are absolutely committed to tackling all forms of hate crime, including LGBT hate crime, and we will continue to do all we can.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she has already done to bring this about. She was one of the Members of the House to make the case for the scheme so powerfully and that is exactly why we have it. The intention is to see how it works while we have freedom of movement, but she has raised an important point. I think that it is worth considering an earlier review and I will be happy to discuss it with her.
The Home Office has been preparing for a potential no-deal exit, not because it is what anyone expects or wants, but because it is the responsible thing to do. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman right here and now what the total costs are, but I am happy to write to him with more detail. But it is right that we make these preparations, whether they are for border issues, immigration issues or customs and security.
The strong message that came out of the referendum is that people want an immigration system that provides control, but they also want an immigration system that is underpinned by the principle of fairness, where everybody is treated equally, regardless of where they come from in the world. Is the Minister confident that the new system that we put in place will deliver on both those objectives?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. That is absolutely the principle underpinning the proposals put forward in the White Paper, which was published in December last year. We want to have a single immigration system that treats everybody from every country according to the skills and talents that they can bring to the United Kingdom, not one based on where they come from.
The independent review of drugs misuse to which the hon. Gentleman refers is, I think it is fair to say, the most comprehensive review that has ever been commissioned on such a subject by a Government. It has a broad remit and, when Dame Carol Black reports back—I think there will be an interim report this summer—we will take it very seriously.
If I understood the hon. Lady correctly, she is referring to my comments about Stapleton Road, but I was referring to the Stapleton Road that I knew 40 years ago and I do accept that things have moved on. In fact, I was at Stapleton Road just a few days ago. I very much enjoyed myself and met some of the local residents, which was fantastic.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. She is right to identify the fact that there is emerging evidence that gangs are ensnaring girls, in particular to rape them, but also to conceal weapons and drugs for the larger gang. If I may, I will write to her with the precise details. I am pleased that she has raised this because we tend to think of male members of gangs, but she is absolutely right to remind us that this includes girls as well.
Can I give the Minister a brief message from my constituents? They say that perpetrators of organised crime are constantly improving their ability to use new technologies to defraud them, and they have no resistance to having the best and most modern technology possible in the fight against crime.
One of the biggest challenges is how to get ahead of organised crime. Organised crime uses technology to organise better, and we need to organise better to counter it. The hon. Gentleman will have heard the different views in this House about technology and surveillance, and it is important to get the balance right. Members should be under no illusion that technology is giving the very baddest people in our society a real advantage, and that takes long-term investment to address.
Last Thursday, I travelled to the Netherlands with Teagan Appleby’s mother, Emma, to pick up the medical cannabis that has reduced Teagan’s seizures from 300 to four a day. In the absence of NHS prescribing, parents like Emma are having to go abroad, or pay exorbitant import and pharmacy charges. Emma had a UK prescription, so met the criteria presented to her at border control to the letter. Why, then, did the Home Office make UK Border Force detain the medicinal cannabis that Teagan so desperately needs?
The hon. Lady will know that I took immediate action to change the law to make medical cannabis available when I first heard about young children who are drug resistant and have severe epilepsy. But rightly—even with that change—it is necessary for a clinician to be involved and for a prescription to be given. Although medical cannabis is now legal with a clinician’s approval, it is still a controlled drug and it is necessary to have some controls to minimise the risk of misuse, harm and diversion. I am very sympathetic to the case that the hon. Lady has raised. We are discussing it with the Department of Health and Social Care and will do all we can to help.
Scotland had a 10-year strategy to develop a public health approach to tackle violence, although people in Scotland would argue that it should have been a 15 or 20-year strategy. Will the Government show us how serious they are about taking a public health approach to this issue by committing to a 20-year strategy from the start?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Further to Question 7, it is widely known that fire crewing per pump has been cut across the country from five to four, and even from four to three. Although we all know that this is an operational matter, is not the safety of firefighters a ministerial matter as well?
The safety of firefighters is of huge interest to Ministers, and it is something that we do keep an eye on, but the hon. Gentleman is right in his fundamental point: these operating decisions are best taken locally. [Interruption.] He makes a face, but we cannot have a Minister sitting here and making judgments on what is right when it comes to allocating resources to risk in Cleveland, Cumbria or anywhere else.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
My constituent, Eryaar Popalzai, came to the UK from Afghanistan at the age of 14 some five years ago, as an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker. Since his further submissions in 2017, he has yet to hear anything from the Home Office. He is an incredibly vulnerable young man and has been getting therapy from Freedom from Torture for three years. What do I tell him when he comes to my surgery this Friday?
I am happy to take up this specific case with the hon. Lady after questions, if she would like. One of the changes that the Home Office has made over the course of the past few weeks is to ensure that we are prioritising older cases and cases of more vulnerable asylum seekers, so that we can get through the backlog of cases and ensure that people such as her constituent get a response.
The following Member made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:
Lisa Forbes, for Peterborough.
Murders in Northamptonshire: Serious Case Reviews
The deaths of Dylan in 2017 and Evelyn-Rose in 2018 were both tragic and, indeed, horrific. Separate serious case reviews were published on 5 June this year by Northamptonshire’s local safeguarding children board. The serious case reviews highlight serious weaknesses in child safeguarding practice and partnership arrangements at those times, and together make 16 recommendations for Northamptonshire and its safeguarding partners to implement.
These events have highlighted the serious systemic issues in Northamptonshire. I want to assure the House that we have already begun taking action. Since those deaths, and following an Ofsted focused visit in 2018 that exposed a more general decline in the quality of services, my Department has appointed a highly experienced commissioner, Malcolm Newsam CBE, to ensure that improvements take place, and has increased improvement support from Lincolnshire County Council—one of the best in the country for children’s social care. The commissioner has already identified six priority areas for significant improvement to effectively improve outcomes for children. He has identified the importance of learning from the tragic deaths of these two young children and others. I have written to Malcolm today to ask that he continue to put learning from Dylan and Evelyn-Rose’s deaths and the recommendations from these reviews firmly into his future work.
I have already set out my intention, on the recommendation of the commissioner, to create an operationally independent children’s service trust serving Northamptonshire to drive improvement in services. I can announce to the House today that I have issued a statutory direction to the council to work with the commissioner on the creation of that trust by July 2020.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question on these horrific and tragic cases. I thank the Minister for his heartfelt response. I also thank the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), for highlighting this issue to the Government during business questions last Thursday.
Last week, two serious case reviews were published in Northamptonshire on the deaths of these two toddlers. Both these very young children were systematically let down by the local authority, Northamptonshire County Council—an institution that was supposedly there to protect them. The reports examined the deaths of Dylan Tiffin-Brown, aged two, when he died of a cardiac failure after his father assaulted him in December 2017, and Evelyn-Rose Muggleton, aged one, when she died in hospital days after being assaulted by her mother’s partner in April 2018.
I hope that we will now see—I believe that we will—Ministers use everything in their power to ensure that this public institution does not fail children again and to prevent other tragedies from happening elsewhere.
I note that a serious case review into the death of a third child remains confidential. The review looked into the case of a boy from Northampton who was locked in a room, beaten and abused. The parents were jailed for neglect last month, with professionals describing it as the worst case of child cruelty that they had seen in 25 years.
The two published reviews highlight key misjudgements from staff about the level of danger posed by the men to the two children and failures to act on warnings that the children were at risk. Northamptonshire safeguarding children board said that there were “lost opportunities” leading up to the murders and that the two children’s safety was “seriously undermined” after the significance of the killers’ criminal past and history of domestic abuse was overlooked by agencies.
Dylan died aged two after sustaining 39 injuries to his face, neck, torso and limbs, including 15 rib fractures and lacerations to his liver. After a sustained beating at home by his father—a drug dealer from Northampton who was convicted of murder in October 2018—a post-mortem found cocaine, heroin and cannabis in the two-year-old’s body at the time of death. No social worker saw Dylan in the two months between his being discovered at his father’s home during a police drugs raid and his death at his father’s hands.
Evelyn-Rose, aged one, died three days after sustaining a traumatic brain injury from her mother’s partner. She had received multiple bruising and bleeding injuries, including damage to her spine and both eyes. Social care and health agencies that had been involved with the family had failed to recognise the neglect that was taking place. The safeguarding children board stated that two social workers had been allocated to the case, but that the case had started to
“drift, with little if any attention being paid to the children’s welfare”.
Sadly, Northamptonshire’s children’s services have been on the radar since the severe financial troubles at the county council overwhelmed the local authority. The county’s children’s services were said to have “substantially declined” when inspectors were called in during last October’s visit and that a “fundamental shift” in culture was required—something that the Minister acknowledges. Given that, can he assure the House that the financial problems at Northamptonshire are not further jeopardising or worsening the provision of children’s services across the county? If he finds that they are, what representations will he make to Ministers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to ensure that Northamptonshire has the resources it needs? Is he assured—
Order. I am loth to interrupt, because the hon. Gentleman is treating of a matter of the utmost gravity, and I respect that, but I am afraid he has taken two and a half times his allotted time. I feel sure that he is reaching his peroration, which will be of formidable eloquence and brief.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. These are very serious matters. Is the Minister assured that the authority is able to finance improvements to children’s services both now and during the reorganisation, including the transfer to the trust that he mentioned, and to implement the improvements needed to put right these severe service failings? Lastly, will he intervene and ensure full transparency on the third serious case review, which remains unpublished? This matter is so severe and so serious that every opportunity must now be taken to act.
Let me take the last point first, about the third serious case review. Our statutory guidance is clear that local safeguarding children boards must let the independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel—the panel, as I will refer to it—and the Department for Education and Ofsted know of any decisions about a serious case review initiation and publication, including the name of any reviewer commissioned, as soon as they have made a final decision. The local safeguarding children board should also set out for the panel and the Secretary of State the justification for any decisions not to initiate or publish a serious case review. They should send copies of all serious case reviews to the panel, the DFE and Ofsted at least seven working days before publication.
There has been and continues to be a great deal of debate about the transparency of the child protection system in England, but there is a presumption that all serious case review reports are published. That is why local safeguarding children boards and the new safeguarding partnerships are required to send copies of all serious case reviews to the panel, the DFE and Ofsted within at least seven days, as I have mentioned. At that point, they would need to provide justification for any decision not to publish the report. The panel has not yet received the draft serious case review in relation to child JL.[Official Report, 23 July 2019, Vol. 663, c. 13MC.] Once the draft serious case review is received, the panel will consider carefully if there is any justification for not publishing the report. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
On our work with the MHCLG, the hon. Gentleman can see that my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), is on the Front Bench, and we take our work together very seriously. We are working towards the spending review and making sure that funding for children’s services is adequate. Overall, if we look at England, local authorities have made some tough decisions, but they have actually protected the funding for children’s services. I can give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that working with Malcolm Newsam, with the recommendations he has made for me and the trust that we will be delivering for all Northamptonshire’s children, will be the best way forward.
I thank the Minister and, indeed, the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for the way they have treated this matter in the House today.
It is with great sadness and a sense of shock that I and others have read these serious case reviews. I have been here since 2010 and, unfortunately, throughout that time I have been raising concerns and cases with the local authority—Northampton’s children’s social services—that have caused me great concern. I am going to see Malcolm Newsam, whose appointment as the Government-appointed children’s commissioner I really do welcome, next week to discuss a number of current cases that I have. Throughout the various reviews and reports we have had on these issues, a serious lack of challenge and reporting has been highlighted in every single one. Can my hon. Friend explain to my constituents why these lessons have yet not been learned?
My hon. Friend raises a very powerful point. All I can say to him is that my Department triggered our intervention powers immediately when those concerns in relation to children’s services were raised with me. I hope that, after his meeting with Malcolm Newsam, he will be reassured that we have the right commissioner in there. We are taking those steps, and I have mentioned the direction I have made to the local authority.
It is impossible not to be moved by these stories. As the saying goes, it takes a community not just to raise, but to protect a child. Surely, early intervention must also be at the heart of all these stories. In Oxfordshire, over 30 children’s centres used to exist; now there are just eight hubs, many of which are far too far away from the most deprived communities. Given how important these centres are and the fact that groups such as Abingdon Carousel have needed to raise funds from county and town councils to keep centres open for a very limited period, will the Minister robustly make the case in the upcoming spending review for why children’s centres are so important to prevent children from getting into this situation?
The hon. Lady raises the issue of children’s centres. I hope that she would commend the troubled families programme, which has reduced by a third the number of children needing to be taken into care. We have announced the strengthening families programme, in which we are scaling up the whole-system approach to children’s services and childcare from Leeds, North Yorkshire and Hertfordshire and investing £84 million to scale that up to another 20 local authorities. They have made it very clear to me that very much part of that whole-system approach is the troubled families programme work that they do.
The hon. Lady also mentioned children’s centres. I am looking at how local authorities make best use of their infrastructure, including children’s centres. Local government—local authorities, local leaders—is best placed to decide how it does that. Staffordshire, which chose to close more than 60 children’s centres, but keep 14 in the areas most promising for reaching the most difficult-to-reach families, has delivered much better outcomes because it has used that resource. It has not taken it away; it has used it for outreach, to go and knock on the doors of families who would never think of coming into a building run by a local authority. There are different models, but we are looking to learn from the best models, including some of the family hubs in places such as Westminster.
I thank the shadow Minister for requesting this urgent question and you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. These are among the most serious issues that anyone in this House could discuss. Evelyn-Rose Muggleton was just one when she was murdered by her mother’s partner. She died in hospital. Evelyn-Rose and her siblings were well known to the local hospital, the local GP and other services, and this clearly was a family in urgent need of assistance from the local authority. Sadly that was not forthcoming.
Responsibility for this must rest with Northamptonshire County Council, which has been dysfunctional for many years, but particularly in children’s social services. This must never happen again, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to put those services into a children’s trust. That is welcome, but the public in Kettering will want to know who is going to take responsibility for this appalling tragedy, and I am afraid that the answer must be the local councillor in charge of children’s social services at the time. That individual now happens to be the leader of Northamptonshire County Council. He is a good man, and he is working very hard to transform the county council into the two new unitaries, but I believe, and my constituents believe, that the buck must stop with the person at the top. Will the Minister therefore join me in calling for Councillor Matt Golby to resign his position as leader of Northamptonshire County Council?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He spoke powerfully about the injuries that these poor souls sustained and about how they were well known to other services. We legislated in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 to require local areas to establish new, much stronger multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, which I think will enhance the protective net around our most vulnerable children. That includes the police and health as statutory partners. Safeguarding partners in Northamptonshire must publish a plan setting out how they will deliver those arrangements by 29 June and must implement them by 29 September. My Department is monitoring compliance, and we will be asking those partners to work swiftly and collectively to ensure that lessons have been learnt and implemented.
My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not comment on the local political leadership. What I would like to see now is us moving forward with Malcolm Newsam’s recommendations and getting the trust up and running as quickly as possible.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and the Minister for their approach and their responses to this horrific example of child abuse. The connections between the abuse of women and the abuse of children are unfortunately long known, and I am afraid that I could give several similar examples from when I was national children’s officer at Women’s Aid in the 1990s. I have heard previous Ministers and previous Governments say that lessons would be learnt and action taken, yet here we still are. I therefore ask the Minister respectfully, will he work with domestic violence organisations, as well as other organisations of course, to try to really learn the lessons that should be learnt about the connections between abuse by violent men of their children and abuse of their female partners?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful and well-made point. There is, if not causation, then certainly a correlation between people who abuse and hurt children and those who abuse and hurt women. I try to make sure that we learn as much as possible and that we act as quickly as possible, as I think we have in this case.
These cases are truly harrowing and nothing will ever bring back the young children who so tragically lost their lives at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for them. I think we are all clear, both locally in Northamptonshire and here in this House, that this can never, ever be allowed to happen again. What steps are being taken to ensure that best practice from other parts of the country is being learnt as a matter of urgency in Northamptonshire to overhaul its children’s services? What ongoing monitoring of those services will be taking place to give my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire confidence that in future we will have first class children’s services that protect the young people in their care?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I hope he heard me say earlier that we have Malcolm Newsam. In conjunction with Malcom we have Lincolnshire County Council, which is one of our exemplars in delivering the best services and safeguarding children. The important thing to remember in this case is that we must always ensure that the safety of children comes first. We know that poor practice can cost more money, not less, in the longer term. The director of children’s services has been clear in her statements that funding was not the cause of these tragic incidents, and that system, practice and partnership was where it needs to be. The important thing is that we get on.
In Doncaster, I saw at first hand how children’s services can be transformed. They went from failing with very poor outcomes, to good outcomes for children when we put it into trust. I met the social workers on the frontline, and 70% of them are the same people who were there when the local authority was failing. I said, “I want all the directors out of the room. I want to talk to just the frontline.” I said to them, “What is the difference here? What have you done here that has transformed the service? You are the same people who were here when it was failing.” They said it was all about leadership: leadership that supported, trusted and nurtured them, and delivered that support for them. Those are the sorts of lessons we need to learn in order to be able to deliver the same level of success as Doncaster.
Funding may not have had a direct effect, but surely the Minister needs to recognise that, with the huge cuts to local authorities and a national shortage of well-qualified social workers putting enormous pressure on social services systems around the country, we are seeing a crisis in one area responded to by putting in extra money and bidding up social workers’ wages, allowing them to move to solve one problem but creating gaps in other areas. Surely the Minister needs to take a much more systemic view of what is going on in social services up and down the country, and recognise that funding is an issue.
I think—I hope—I have been clear in saying that I recognise there are funding pressures on children’s services. I am working with the director of children’s services and the sector as a whole in preparation for the spending review. However, to simply characterise this as a funding issue would be misleading. We have to do both things. We have to have a whole-system approach. We are learning from the best—Leeds, North Yorkshire and Hertfordshire—and scaling those models from those three local authorities to 20. We also have to look at the workforce, and by introducing the national accreditation assessment process and Social Work England we begin to deliver a system that really does work to protect the most vulnerable children and families in our society.
I speak as a former Minister who changed the rules so that SCRs are published. The regulations are clear that if publication would compromise the welfare of a surviving child or sibling, they should be kept confidential. From reading these serious case reviews, I feel that there is a profound sense of déjà vu when they talk about the lack of joined-up working and the lack of information, showing lost opportunities. Last year, the Minister announced that he was going to change serious case reviews and the local safeguarding children’s boards who commission them. They will be replaced by team safeguarding partners, which consist of local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and the police. The only agency that seems to have rung the alarm bells in this case was the schools attended by the siblings of the victims. Why are schools and education not part of those essential team partners in the new format?
My hon. Friend is absolutely passionate about work in this area. Schools and other local partners are involved and engaged, but the purpose of the legislation was to make sure that health, police and social services work together. However, he raises an important point about how we can make sure that schools are much more involved.
I am not attacking the Minister, but for years, his predecessors have come to the Dispatch Box and said, “We are going to learn the lessons. It’s not going to happen again.” Some years ago, I took a delegation to meet one of his predecessors and we were assured that resources would be available, but we are back at square one today, and I feel very sorry about what has happened to these kids in Northampton, as much as I do about some of the things that have happened to kids in Coventry. The Minister really has to get a grip on this now. It is no good talking about good practice in one authority as opposed to another. He has to face up to it: there is a shortage of social workers and a lack of resources in local government.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for at least not blaming this Minister, but nevertheless, he raises a very important point. One of our innovations is the introduction of a national panel, chaired by Edward Timpson, which has a remit to make sure that nationally we learn the lessons from such terrible cases. For the first time, it will undertake national reviews. The first of those reviews is on the criminal exploitation of children, so we are learning the lessons and putting the infrastructure in place to be able to do that and act upon it.
I have met Malcolm Newsam several times and will do so again shortly. I have a lot of confidence in him. The proposed children’s trust model seems like the right way forward and particularly the “children first” focus and the focus on the child rather than necessarily on the mother or other carers involved. We have heard about the role of the community from the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran). While the children’s trust model is welcome in many places, will the Minister provide assurances that local democratic oversight will continue to be involved in it?
It is very important that there is local democratic oversight. When I look at the areas that deliver the best outcomes and best practice, I see that it is a combination of very strong leadership at local authority level—so, the officer class—and strong political leadership, including from councillors who really understand their remit to protect children.
This is a deeply harrowing case and I appreciate the Minister’s focus on leadership; he is absolutely right about that. I hope that he can also see the connection between leadership and properly funded services. Surely it is very difficult for even the best leaders to lead adequately if they have an insufficient supply of skilled staff.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point overall about funding and the challenge of funding for children’s services. In this case, it is also important for us to understand the detail. Sally Hodges, the director of children’s services, told the Local Government Chronicle:
“It was because of the failure of a number of people through the whole system in respect of risk to those children. I don’t think financial matters had a direct impact.”
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point overall, but in this tragic case, it is not about simply saying that the money was not there.
The UK Government remain acutely aware of our enduring responsibility towards Hong Kong as one of the joint signatories to the 1984 joint declaration that established the principle of “one country, two systems”. This principle, underpinned by the common law system, provides Hong Kong with the foundations for its continued success as a truly global financial centre and prosperous world city.
Let me turn to the current issues around the ramifications of the Hong Kong Government’s contentious proposals to change their extradition laws. Yesterday’s huge protest march—peaceful right up until the end—was a clear demonstration of the strength of feeling in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has insisted that new legislation is needed to close a loophole that has prevented a Hong Kong national accused of murdering another Hong Kong national in Taiwan from facing justice, yet the Taiwanese Administration also oppose the changes, while civil society and business and legal groups in Hong Kong have expressed the strongest concerns about the content of the proposals and the very short consultation period.
Many fear above all that Hong Kong nationals and residents risk being pulled into China’s legal system, which can involve lengthy pre-trial detentions, televised confessions and an absence of many of the judicial safeguards that we see in Hong Kong and in the UK. While we welcome recent efforts by the Hong Kong Government to react to the unprecedented level of public concern—of the 7 million people living in Hong Kong, between 300,000 and 1 million were on the streets yesterday—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is clear that the changes proposed fail to address fully some core issues that we and others have raised.
The UK Government have been unequivocal in their views. From the outset, the consul general, Andy Heyn, and my officials have been raising concerns with the Hong Kong Government, members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the Executive Council at all levels. We have also had full and detailed discussions with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, both bilaterally and as part of an EU démarche. On 30 May, the Foreign Secretary issued a joint statement with his Canadian counterpart on the potential impact of the proposals on our citizens in Hong Kong, including on business confidence and on Hong Kong’s international reputation.
Some Hong Kong lawmakers have proposed an array of alternative solutions, including that additional legally binding human rights safeguards be included in the proposed legislation. In my meeting in London on 20 May with Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau, I made it clear that proper consideration must be given to all these suggestions as part of a wider and more comprehensive consultation. More time for consultation would allow for a more adequate consensus to be built.
As the House will be aware, the operation of the court system on mainland China is very different from that which applies in Hong Kong. There are widespread concerns that fear of extradition to China might have a chilling effect on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms and result in increased self-censorship. We shall continue to stress to the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities that for confidence in the “one country, two systems” policy to be maintained, Hong Kong must enjoy the full measure of its high degree of autonomy and rule of law as set out in the joint declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law.
It is very disappointing that the Secretary of State could not make it to the Chamber for the 1 million Hong Kong residents who took to the streets yesterday to protest against their Government’s proposed extradition Bill. If enacted, the law would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to mainland China, bypassing Hong Kong’s independent legal system. Over the past few weeks, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the business community, civil society organisations, the Hong Kong Bar Association and the International Chamber of Commerce have all expressed deep concern that the Bill will further erode the “one country, two systems” model.
The law courts on mainland China are seen as an arm of the state. Forced confession is frequently practised and activists often fear imprisonment for crimes they have not committed. Hong Kong’s common law system is not open to such abuse, as the Minister mentioned in his introductory remarks, and although it is under pressure, the separation of powers remains more or less intact. The amendments to the extradition law would significantly compromise the firewall that separates the sharply different systems.
In recent times, we have watched with great unease as political and civic freedoms have been put under increasing strain. Those freedoms are guaranteed under the Basic Law, a core component of the Sino-British joint declaration. As the co-signatory to that treaty, which is registered at the United Nations, the Government have a legal duty to ensure that it is upheld.
The last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes, said that this Bill’s provisions were
“an assault on Hong Kong’s values, stability and security. They create fear and uncertainty…at a time when we should all be working to safeguard Hong Kong’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest business”
and cultural centres. Does the Minister agree with his colleague’s assessment, and will he outline how the Government intend to address this issue in the immediate future, alongside long-standing concerns about the erosion of democratic principles in Hong Kong?
We have a long and enduring history with Hong Kong, and we have lasting political, economic and cultural ties. As we mark the 21st anniversary of the handover next month, it is crucial for us to keep our promise that “Hong Kong will never walk alone”.
I thank the hon. Lady for the tone of her comments. She will be aware from discussions that we have had—and I have visited Hong Kong twice already during my time as a Minister—that we understand many of the concerns which have been raised by Lord Patten and, indeed, by her. In particular, we understand the concerns raised in the most recent six-monthly report—not without some controversy do we continue to have a six-monthly report—which states that, while we believe that one country, two systems is working well, in the sphere of civil and political freedoms Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is being reduced.
Let me say this in relation to the joint declaration as a whole. Three years ago, in 2016, we called on a breach of the declaration following the involuntary removal of the Causeway Bay booksellers from Hong Kong to the mainland. That was the first and, to date, the only time that we have called upon a breach. However, it is clear that these events are becoming close to breaching not just the spirit but the letter of the joint declaration. I fear that this is also a good example of tough cases making bad law. There is a potential loophole, but it is interesting to note that it is not one that the Taiwanese authorities have asked to be sorted out.
A Hong Kong national is being accused of a very serious crime—murder—and there is clearly no extradition prospect, but, as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, this opens up a potentially much broader extradition-related concern. As I mentioned in my initial comments, one of the biggest concerns is that, particularly at a time when President Xi has a strong anti-corruption campaign in place, there is a risk that individuals could be caught up in this in a very inadvertent way. While there are proposed safeguards—it is proposed to raise the extradition level from a three-year custodial sentence to one of at least seven years—the situation none the less still raises the deep concerns to which the hon. Lady referred.
Lord Patten has said that the decision to exclude any extradition agreement between Hong Kong and mainland China in 1997 was not a loophole, but a deliberate decision that was made in order to protect the autonomy of Hong Kong and the firewall between it and China. Does the Minister agree that if countries speak with one voice in expressing concerns about this issue, there is likely to be more of an impact? What is the UK doing to join like-minded countries in expressing such concerns?
I thank my hon. Friend, who takes a great interest in matters to do broadly with China but also specifically with Hong Kong, and I pay tribute to her for her detailed and steadfast work in that regard. Yes, she is right: we need to work together as an international community on this. It is perhaps fair to put it on record that there are already some extradition arrangements between some countries and Hong Kong, but obviously we are deeply concerned that this particular law provides a much more general overview, particularly as it engages the Chinese mainland. But I will, if I may, reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his Canadian counterpart, Christina Freeland, said as recently as 30 May:
“It is vital that extradition arrangements in Hong Kong are in line with ‘one country, two systems’ and fully respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I also want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing it. I share her profound concern about these extradition laws, as evidently do hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who took to the streets over the weekend. These laws constitute not just an erosion but a fundamental breach of the Sino-British declaration and the one country, two systems principle it enshrines. They threaten the judicial independence of Hong Kong.
The warning signs have been coming for several years now: we have seen an increasing crackdown on dissent and protest. Now we face the prospect of a direct line between Beijing and Hong Kong’s courts that could see Hong Kongers sent thousands of miles away to face trial in mainland China’s flawed criminal justice system.
The UK does not have an extradition treaty with China, so why have the Government done next to nothing? The joint declaration is a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations, and the British Government are the joint guarantor with China of the rights of Hong Kong citizens. Moreover, there are 170,000 British national overseas passport holders, many of whom reside in Hong Kong.
The concessions offered by the Hong Kong Government in the last few hours have no legal force, so I have one question for the Minister: will he make every effort to persuade the Executive in Hong Kong to halt the progress of these highly dangerous extradition amendments before Wednesday’s crunch votes?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, although I think some of them are a little unkind to officials, Ministers and also more particularly our excellent consul general, Andy Heyn, who has been out in Hong Kong, as we have recognised that this issue has been emerging for quite some time. As I mentioned in my earlier comments, it is also fair to say that we have consistently, certainly in my two years as a Minister, at every six-monthly report expressed ongoing concerns about the deterioration, as we have seen it, in political and civil rights.
It is probably fair to say that these proposals—the proposed extradition law—did not originate at China’s instigation, but there is no doubt that the Hong Kong Government are now under distinct pressure from Beijing. We believe that some opportunities to climb down have been missed, but even the huge public display of defiance yesterday—as I have said, up until the last few moments it was very peaceable—combined with concerted opposition from the international business and legal communities has not been able to turn the tide.
I say to the hon. Lady that of course we will do all we can. Andy Heyn is I believe in London this week, but his very able assistant Esther Blythe is back in Hong Kong, and we will do all we can to make further urgent representations to the Hong Kong Government.
This issue has highlighted that it is not the Chief Executive and not even the Legislative Council that can provide an effective check to external influence in Hong Kong; it is the presence and continuation of an independent judicial system. Obviously, again as the hon. Lady rightly alluded to, it now looks as though we are heading towards a potential pitting of the Hong Kong judicial system squarely against that of Beijing.
I agree with the Minister: the United Kingdom has a serious and special obligation to defend civil liberties in Hong Kong. One of the leaders of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement said in a note last week that these new extradition amendments and this Bill will, if passed,
“have destructive effects on our civil liberties as well as on our economy.”
Does the Minister agree with that assessment, and does he feel we are discharging our obligation to defend civil liberties in Hong Kong as fully as we can at the present time?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and I broadly agree with what has been said. I hope that the work of democracy and diplomacy will ensure that we are able to do our best not only to push back but to advise and express our deep concerns. We have only to look at the recent six-monthly reports to recognise the increasing buzz of concern on our side and indeed from many in Hong Kong in relation to this matter. In particular, the extradition treaty has engaged many in the business community, many of whom have felt broadly positive over the past 22 years. One of the messages we put to our counterparts in Beijing is that a strong Hong Kong is required for their own plans, whether on the belt and road or other economic initiatives, to be fully successful. Hong Kong’s unique legal system provides an opportunity for substantial capital markets. The great success of Hong Kong therefore relies on its high degree of autonomy being maintained.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this urgent question and I thank you for granting it, Mr Speaker.
Anyone who saw last week’s remarkable documentary by Kate Adie to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre will not need to be reminded what respect for human rights means to the Government of China. Although people will say that China has moved on since then, it has not moved on enough even to admit that Tiananmen Square happened, never mind to apologise to the relatives of all those who were killed. Most people in China do not know that the weekend’s protests in Hong Kong happened because the Chinese Government made absolutely sure that they were not allowed to know about them. That is the extent of the ongoing repression of human rights in China and we should all be concerned that a similar repression of human rights will start to be inflicted on the people of Hong Kong as well.
Normally, under an extradition treaty, a person cannot be extradited for an offence that is not a crime in the country they would be extradited from. That will not apply in these circumstances, however, because China will not respect the terms of any treaty with Hong Kong. Also, a person cannot normally be extradited to a country where they would not get a fair trial, but does anyone seriously believe that that protection would be respected for anyone in Hong Kong? I welcome some of the assurances that the Minister has given, but will he say a bit more about what action the United Kingdom is taking just now—through the United Nations, for example—to ensure that all possible international diplomatic pressure is brought to bear, not just in Hong Kong but, more importantly, in China to ensure that this law never becomes effective? Also, given that China is one of the countries that we are supposed to be looking keenly towards for a trade deal, may we have an assurance that in no circumstances will the prospect of a trade deal allow the voice of the United Kingdom and our allies in Europe to be silenced when it comes to speaking up in defence of the rights of people to whom the United Kingdom continues to owe a legal and moral responsibility?
I thank the hon. Gentleman from the Scottish National party for his comments and I will try to answer his questions. It is obviously not my place as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to comment on the specifics of trade deals other than to say that we will continue relentlessly to express any concerns about human rights with any country with which we are looking to strike a trade deal. That said, this is a particular circumstance because of the nature of the joint declaration. The hon. Gentleman rightly suggested that that document, which was signed by China and the United Kingdom in 1984, is now lodged with the United Nations and that is clearly one mechanism by which we could try to stand up for its terms. Back in 2016, there was a particular episode in which we thought the joint declaration was being abused and, if we feel that we are not getting the changes we are looking for on this extradition law, we will use whatever means we can.
The Hong Kong Government released a statement at 11 o’clock last night, Hong Kong time, noting the people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly, but insisting that the Bill would continue to its Second Reading on Wednesday. Chief Executive Carrie Lam reiterated that message on television this morning, again Hong Kong time, and we are obviously looking to try to ensure that the safeguards put in place over the next two or three days are as watertight as possible. However, this is an ongoing discussion and I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we want to leave all our options open.
I thank my right hon. Friend, as ever, for his charming and succinct question. He has obviously been to the same school as you, Mr Speaker, in that regard. The reality of the situation is that there is an international agreement that was signed with the UN, and we and many other international partners take it seriously. I hope that my right hon. Friend was reassured when he heard what I had to say about our discussions with our Canadian counterparts—a significant number of Canadian nationals live and work in Hong Kong—which happened as recently as 30 May. The message that is coming out loud and clear is that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) said earlier, we need the international community to work together. This is clearly a crucial point in Hong Kong’s history, and our legal leverage may be more limited than we would wish, but we can maximise it by working together.
The worries about this breaking of the firewall and the possible intrusion into one country, two systems would not exist if there were not serious concerns about egregious breaches of human rights in China. What further information can the Minister provide about the discussions between the UK Government and the Chinese Government about improving human rights in China more generally?
As I have pointed out to the hon. Lady in our previous exchanges, we never stint from making our concerns clear in relation to issues in Xinjiang in the north-west of the country or more general issues around human rights. We have a strong diplomatic relationship with China that involves working together in a productive way in a range of areas, including tackling money laundering, people trafficking and, increasingly, climate change. Building up that body of trust also involves being able to have robust conversations about human rights matters. At the highest possible level, when the Prime Minister spoke to President Xi and when I speak to my counterparts in Beijing and other cities, we do not stint from making clear particular concerns where there are concerns, either on consular matters or, indeed, more generally on human rights.
Coincidentally, earlier this afternoon, I met a group of students from Hong Kong who are studying here. They are British national (overseas) passport holders, and they are obviously concerned about the recent developments in relation to China. What consideration has the Department given to the effect that the proposed changes would have on BN(O) passport holders in Hong Kong? What steps is the Foreign Office taking to provide ongoing support and advice to BN(O) passport holders in Hong Kong?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right that we have significant obligations to British national (overseas) passport holders. He will be aware that the right of abode in the UK was defined by the Immigration Act 1971, so there are immigration controls to which BN(O) passport holders are subject. The rights they have are not the full rights of British citizens. None the less, they are British nationals from Hong Kong. It is something that we do take very seriously. I hope that he will forgive me if say that I will write to him in due course to try to answer his specific issues, with particular regard to any changes to the rights of such individuals since 1997.