House of Commons
Monday 15 July 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—
Disclosure and Barring Service
The Disclosure and Barring Service is a vital part of the safeguarding regime. The DBS issued more than 5 million certificates last year, which was more than the previous year. The Home Office, as the sponsoring Department, continues to oversee the DBS’s performance.
Does the Home Secretary not understand —I think he does, along with the Justice Secretary—that it is widely accepted across the House that the service is not fit for purpose, because it makes it far too difficult for those with a record to get back into work, which is bad not only for them but for their families and society? Can we have some urgent action to get back to trying to rehabilitate offenders by putting tight limits on disclosure, especially for cautions and minor offences in early years, and so let many of our citizens turn their lives around? Why does he not cut through the bureaucratic inertia in the Home Office and get a move on?
The House will be aware that there have problems with the service in recent years. As a result, a number of changes are being made and performance is up. In fact, a new chief executive is starting this week, I believe, so there is new management. On the actual policies it implements, the right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Changes can be made and active discussions are taking place right now between me and the Justice Secretary.
Already this phenomenal summer of sport will have inspired many children to play football, tennis and cricket, with netball, golf and rugby still to come, but there are still failings in our safeguarding processes, including the DBS checks. I worked extremely hard with the excellent Minister on this policy. The main issue remains broadening the remit of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to include sports coaches, but will the Home Secretary update the House on progress towards strengthening DBS checks for those involved in coaching, including assistant coaches, to ensure the next generation of possible sporting heroes and heroines are safe from abuse?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work she has been doing for several years to encourage more people, particularly young people, to take part in sport. She is right about the current position: sports coach is not included as position of trust. Enhanced criminal checks are available, but I agree that we need to do more work, which is why we are reviewing the effectiveness of the law on those who take advantage of young children with sexual relationships and are looking at what more we can do to include them as positions of trust.
The scope of the DBS is far too narrow. Private tutors are exempt, as are host families of international students. As we head into the summer, it is a reminder that we need to safeguard all young people. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure it is far more comprehensive in who it covers?
I understand that the hon. Lady has had a meeting recently with the victims Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), on this very issue, and I am glad that she has raised it. She may be aware that there are changes we have to, and want to, make because of a recent Supreme Court judgment, and because of that I want to bring forward other changes that we are looking at and planning and that, when they happen, she will welcome.
Sometimes, when there are delays, they will probably be very case-specific, so it is hard to attribute fault, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the need for speedy checks. There have been significant improvements. He may be interested to know that there is a 14-day maximum on the basic checks we apply, and in 98% of cases that has been met.
Last week, the Government published a new economic crime plan in partnership with the private sector to create a whole-system approach to economic crime. Her Majesty’s Government are investing at least £48 million this year to bolster capabilities to tackle economic crime, including with the establishment of the National Economic Crime Centre, to increase the number of financial investigators and to recover more assets.
The new economic crime plan brings together all the different actors on the stage the Government have invested in and identifies all those areas that need to be solved. It is a better analysis of economic crime. We have set up the NECC to bring together all the assets of government—everything from UK Visas and Immigration and the Home Office to the intelligence services—to focus on some of the biggest money launderers and to implement the new powers in the Criminal Finances Act 2017, to deal with criminals and money launderers and to take the money back from them.
Given the economic character of that question, the best thing is for me to write to the hon. Lady with the detail of the number of financial investigators—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady has not been particularly specific. Does she mean the number of detectives within the National Crime Agency, within the Met’s serious organised crime command, within the regional organised crime units or within the local forces? I will send her the details so that she can analyse and discuss them.
Absolutely. Building “failure to prevent” offences such as bribery and tax evasion into statute makes a real difference. It is important for us to give our law enforcement agencies powers to deal with, for instance, corporations that engage in conspiracies, because in the past that has been very hard to prove.
Poor pension transfer advice can amount to fraud, but in my experience local police officers often refer such cases to the Financial Conduct Authority, which often focuses on administrative penalties rather than criminal prosecutions. Will the Minister agree to meet me, and to review economic crimes against pensioners, so that justice can be done?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. While large sectors are regulated under the FCA, we have seen fraudsters exploiting marketing as a guise to escape that regulation. When we identify them, there are criminal investigations, but I should be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and hear more about his views.
Transparency is the best disinfectant in such cases, and the Government are working hard to improve the operation of Companies House to ensure that we get to the bottom of some of these spurious companies. We are also fully committed to the establishment of a public register of property ownership in the UK, and are working with overseas territories to ensure that similar registers are established to cover ownership there.
As capital moves ever more easily, it is imperative that we look again at the very limited circumstances in which large financial actors can at present be held accountable before the law. The Minister mentioned corporations a moment ago, but the Government’s economic crime plan totally fails to take on the issue of corporate criminal liability, which we must consider. Here is a very simple question: what are the Government afraid of?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have been talking about that issue for a long time, and we have been working hard on it. “Failure to prevent” in relation to tax evasion is now being rolled out, and the National Security Council discussed the issue more than a year ago. The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, wait to see what happens, but we are determined to try to deal with it.
EU Settlement Scheme
EU citizens are our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues, and we want them to stay. The settlement scheme is performing well. The latest published statistics show that more than 800,000 applications have been received and the majority of people are finding it easy to apply. Additional support is available to those who are vulnerable, or who do not have the appropriate access, skills or confidence to apply online.
Instead of implementing a scheme that makes EU citizens—many of whom have lived here for a great many years—unlawfully resident if they fail to apply by December 2020, will the Minister introduce a declaratory system whereby people apply for proof of settled status rather than the right to stay?
A declaratory system that did not require EU citizens to obtain status and provide evidence of it would risk causing confusion, especially among the most vulnerable, and people might struggle to prove their status in years to come. There would also be a risk of confusion among employers and service providers, and the system might impede EU citizens’ access to benefits and services to which they are entitled.
The vast majority of people I hear from say that the settled status scheme is working very well and is easy to use. Many receive responses within a few hours of submitting their applications. However, it is a bit frustrating that the service is still not available on Apple devices such as phones; can the Minister update us on when it might be?
It is not just anecdotal information that tells us that people are finding it easy and quick to apply; we know that most applications are settled within one to four working days. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been tireless in pursuing the issue raised by my hon. Friend, and we are very hopeful that the app will be available on Apple devices in the autumn.
There is a significant eastern European community in Enfield and other parts of London. Sections of the Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish and Roma communities can be hard to reach, and some have limited English language skills. Community representatives are concerned about individuals who have worked in the grey economy as cleaners or handymen, or for unscrupulous employers, being able to supply the right paperwork. What further steps is the Department putting in place to support these communities and to ensure that everyone can access, and apply to, the scheme?
The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Office has provided up to £9 million of grant funding to 57 voluntary and community-based organisations specifically to help the vulnerable people to whom she refers. I was pleased to visit the East European Resource Centre and to have the opportunity to speak to a group of long-standing UK residents about the support available. She references the grey economy; we do not wish to see anybody working in the grey economy, but we recognise that there will be those who do. The Home Office is absolutely prepared to accept a wide range of evidence of people’s stay in the UK, including tenancy agreements or letters from health providers with whom they have been in contact. This is absolutely about working with individuals. The EU Settlement Resolution Centre is up and running, and is incredibly well staffed. I was pleased to visit it, to see the help that it can give to individuals.
There is a seeming desire among some Opposition Members for the EU settlement scheme to be a complete failure, but will my right hon. Friend again confirm that this is a successful scheme and that take-up has been positive? If Opposition Members continue to tell their EU citizen constituents that they will not be able to apply, they are not being helpful.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The scheme has been a success, and it is shocking when hon. Members talk the scheme down. It is working well. We are determined to put in place support for those who are vulnerable, as I said. Later this week, we will see the latest statistics surrounding the scheme, which will show a considerable uplift from the figure of 800,000 reported from the end of May.
Refugee Settlement Programme
We continue to engage with international and domestic delivery partners and stakeholders, as we work through the detailed policy and operational considerations for the new global resettlement scheme. In the meantime, we continue towards our commitment of resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees affected by the conflict in Syria.
The hon. Lady will know—this is an ambition that I have often voiced to her—that we have sought to bring together the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme and the gateway protection scheme, to consolidate our refugee programmes. We continue to work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and indeed with those delivering the schemes, local authorities included. As part of the ambition—this is why we have given a figure in the region of 5,000—it is important that we learn from VPRS, work through local authorities to establish the number of people they can best assist through the schemes and make sure that we do not downgrade the good commitments we have previously given on resettlement.
Young adult asylum seekers often face unique and complex challenges to their mental health and wellbeing, with many having survived unimaginable experiences in their country of origin and during their long and treacherous journey to reach this country. In setting out details of the integrated programme to resettle an additional 5,000 refugees from 2020 to 2021, will the Minister commit to there being a youth welfare officer in every asylum accommodation and dispersed accommodation location, so that vulnerable, traumatised 18 to 25-year-olds receive the support that they need to recover from their experiences and can live as well as possible in the UK?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out the distinction between the formal resettlement schemes referred to in the question and those young people who have made, in many instances, terrible and perilous journeys of many thousands of miles and who have travelled across the whole of Europe to get to these shores. It really is important that we work to support young asylum seekers; I am conscious that the largest numbers will be found in a small number of local authorities, particularly Croydon, Kent and Hillingdon, which work incredibly hard to support not only unaccompanied minors but those leaving the care system and those for whom we have a responsibility up to the age of 24 under the Children and Families Act 2014. It is crucial that we get this right; that is why I was so pleased to see the uplift in funding to local authorities for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
Scotland has played a leading role in the current vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, resettling nearly 3,000 people across all Scotland’s local authorities. Recent opinion polls show strong support in Scotland for maintaining that commitment and, indeed, for improving on it. Will the Minister join me in welcoming Scotland’s success story, and will she commit, through the comprehensive spending review, to funding integration support for refugees under the new scheme at the same levels that are currently provided under the VPRS?
The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to point out the significant role that Scotland has played. In Jordan last summer, I was pleased to meet a family who were being resettled to East Ayrshire within a few days of my visit. It is important that we provide not only support for resettling people but the necessary integration, not least through the provision of English language teaching, which is a crucial component. She will know from previous comments I have made in this House that one of my big passions is ensuring that we assist those with refugee status into work and ensure that good schemes exist across the entire country to help them to do that.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As well as Scottish local authorities, Scottish community groups are also planning to sponsor refugee families. I met representatives of Refugee Sponsorship Edinburgh in my constituency recently. This is the first group of people to do this in Scotland. They will be delighted that the UK Government have finally agreed that any refugees supported under the community sponsorship scheme will be additional to those resettled under the UK Government scheme. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the new scheme will make it easier for named individuals to be resettled and for family members dispersed across the world to join refugees who have already been settled here? I am sure I am not alone in being approached regularly in my constituency surgery by refugees with those concerns.
The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to highlight the brilliant role played by community sponsorship schemes. They are absolutely the gold standard of resettlement. However, it is important that we continue to work with the UNHCR to ensure that it is the most vulnerable people who are resettled here, whether through community schemes or through the sponsorship of local authorities. It would be very wrong for us to use resettlement schemes to resettle people from safe third countries when many people across the middle east and north Africa region and across the world are in parlous situations and in real danger. They must always be our first priority.
In noting that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) was chuntering from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of the length of an inquiry, I simply say to him in the gentlest possible spirit that I feel sure that, in his own mind, his own questions are never too long but merely fully developed.
Modern Slavery Act: Business Compliance
Around 16,400 UK businesses are within scope of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Home Office has commenced the first stage of a compliance audit, following which non-compliant businesses will risk being publicly named. We are developing a Government-run registry to track compliance and make it easier for consumers and others to scrutinise business action. We are also consulting on strengthening modern slavery reporting requirements, including improving compliance and the quality of business statements.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but the number of potential victims of modern slavery identified in the UK each year has more than doubled since 2015 and now stands at just under 7,000. The Modern Slavery Act was a step in the right direction, but it has been left to go stale due to lack of enforcement, with a staggering 40% of companies not complying with it at all. Will the Minister take urgent action to commit to an enforcement body to enforce sanctions against non-compliant companies?
I think that, when we have the opportunity to do so, we should talk up our country and what we are doing to lead the world in tackling modern slavery. We really are leading the world; the Prime Minister hosted a dinner last week with the McCain Institute, at which people from across the world acknowledged the world-leading work we are doing in this country. Of course there is more to do, which is precisely why we asked the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss to conduct an independent review of the Act to ensure that it is up to date and working. We know that modern slavery criminals change their mode of working. From that, last week we announced £10 million over five years to establish cutting-edge policy and evidence centres on modern slavery and human rights. We also responded to the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act and accepted the majority of its recommendations. I really believe that this work on transparency in supply chains will be groundbreaking.
I entirely endorse what the Minister said about how this country leads the fight against modern-day slavery, which is a great credit to the Prime Minister, but should she not encourage all businesses to report possible victims as they come across them in their daily business? Police would prefer to have an investigation that leads to nothing than leave victims in modern-day slavery.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who has done much work in this field. We have only to look at the terrible case that was finalised last week to see the breadth and range of ways in which people who indulge in modern slavery torture and enslave their captives; some of the details of that case were truly shocking. It absolutely underlines the fact that every single business that meets the criteria in the Act is obliged by law to report and ensure that its supply chains are free from slavery. That has a trickle-down effect for smaller businesses that are contracted to those larger businesses, because they have to make sure that they are doing the right thing too.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman, as I said, for the work that he and his colleagues did on the review? It was an extraordinary piece of work and very thorough, and I know that he was pleased that we were able to accept the majority of its recommendations. We absolutely accept the point about the public sector, and he will know that the Prime Minister recently made an important announcement to confirm that Departments will make modern slavery statements to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery. As for the further details, I will write to the right hon. Gentleman in due course.
We on the Labour Benches appreciate the progress that has been made on modern slavery thus far, but the House will be aware that there was recently a shocking case of agricultural slavery. A fresh produce supplier to major US supermarkets was using slave labour in its supply chain. Does the Minister accept that consumers who are conscious of issues such as organic production and sustainable food production will not appreciate unwittingly purchasing fresh food with slave labour in its production? Will the Government act more swiftly? We need faster action than she is suggesting to get proper business compliance with their modern slavery legislation.
I am delighted that this is one of those issues that enjoys the support of Members from all parts of the House. The right hon. Lady will know from the announcements last week on our response to the independent review that we are very much seeking to toughen the regulations and requirements for the largest businesses. For what it is worth, some 75% of businesses that are in scope have set down a modern slavery statement, but we want to make it easier for civil society and others to judge how effectively businesses are doing, which is why we are looking into setting up a central Government registry to help that happen. We are conscious, too, of the role that non-governmental organisations can play in this space. Only last week, Oxfam released its new behind the barcode supermarket scorecard, which shows how the sector as a whole needs to step up activity to identify and rectify labour exploitation risks. I am delighted that many UK supermarkets have signed up to that.
The Home Office is bound by the public sector equality duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote good race relations. The Equality Act 2010 provides that discrimination is not unlawful if it is required by legislation or authorised by Ministers. For example, a visa regime that applies to a particular nationality constitutes discrimination, but is lawful under the Equality Act.
An Iranian refugee in my constituency applied for a Home Office travel document and has been refused. He was told that he must get a passport from his own country, which, as he fled that country, is almost impossible. Even to apply for a passport, he would have to agree to sign up for national service. Surely that is discrimination.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that specific issue. Although I cannot comment on individual cases, we do not wish to see anybody disadvantaged because of the individual requirements of travel documents from their country of origin. I would be very happy to work with her to see whether we can find a solution.
The Department’s own statistics make it clear that last year’s average refusal rate for entry visas from Nigeria was 37%, and almost 44% for entry visas from Ghana, compared with an average refusal rate of only 12% across all countries. Can the Minister explain to my west African-born constituents, whose family members, friends and ministers of religion are being refused visitor visas in ever rising numbers, why the system is discriminating in that way?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the system is not discriminating in that way and that the Home Office is obliged to consider all visa applications in light of the evidence presented by the applicant. He might be reassured to learn that, in the year ending June 2018, we saw a 2% increase in the number of visas issued to sub-Saharan African nationals compared with the same period of the previous year.
The Home Office has offered warm words and reassurances to migrant communities about a movement away from the hostile environment, yet the Government are appealing against the High Court ruling that the right-to-rent scheme, which requires private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants, is discriminatory and breaches human rights law. Does the Minister believe that discrimination is a necessary price to pay for enforcing the hostile environment?
The Government disagree with the judgment and are appealing. The evaluation conducted during phase 1 implementation found no evidence of systemic discrimination as a result of the scheme. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commissioned further evaluation, which will examine the potential for discrimination in right-to-rent checks.
Churches in Stirling and in other parts of Scotland are struggling with the recent change in immigration rules for visiting ministers of religion. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the degree of difficulty this is causing faith groups in Scotland? What can be done to alleviate it?
I was very pleased last week to meet ministers of religion across a wide range of faiths to discuss this specific issue. I am sure Members will agree that when it comes to ministers of religion, as opposed to religious workers, it is imperative that those who are going to preach and conduct pastoral work within any religion need to have a good standard of English, which is why the Home Office is requiring them to apply for a tier 2 visa, as opposed to a tier 5 visa, which of course does not require the language check.
The Windrush crisis did not fall from the sky but was a direct result of the hostile environment, which the High Court has found directly causes discrimination. The Windrush compensation scheme took over a year to set up and has a two-year deadline. Has anybody actually received the money in their bank account yet? How will the Minister ensure that claimants receive speedy compensation? Does she believe that two years is long enough to ensure that nobody who is entitled to compensation loses out?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will, of course, recall that elements of the compliant environment were introduced under the last Labour Government, including the controls introduced in 1999 on temporary and illegal migrant access to benefits and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which introduced controls on local authority social care.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important question about the Windrush compensation scheme, and it is important that we have the scheme up and running and are receiving applications. We have, of course, undertaken to provide regular updates to the Home Affairs Committee, which will provide exactly the information that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Of course, it is a requirement under legislation that the compensation scheme be for a period of two years, but we are looking closely at that. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that should there be a requirement to extend it, which would undoubtedly need primary legislation, we would be happy to consider that.
Violent Crime: Young People
Diverting young people away from crime is at the heart of our 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, for example, we are investing £220 million in early intervention schemes—a record amount.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. We all know that instances of violent crime in urban centres such as London get the most media attention, but sadly we are also seeing our share of violent crime in my coastal constituency. We had one robbery at knifepoint and one serious assault in the same area of the town in the past week. Following a campaign that I led in Essex, we have seen 12 more officers on the streets of Clacton. They work so hard, but what more can be done to prevent young people in areas such as my constituency from turning towards violent crime?
My hon. Friend has led an excellent local campaign and I commend him for it. As he will know, Essex police has received £1.7 million from the £100 million extra funding to tackle serious violence that was recently announced. In addition, his local police and crime commissioner has been provisionally allocated a further £1.16 million for a violence reduction unit. He may also welcome the £660,000 allocated to Essex from the early intervention youth fund.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating N-Act, in my constituency, which has toured the schools producing plays that have a profound effect on young people, meaning that they do not get involved in gangs, and Gorgui Thiam, a Senegalese sports coach whose work has been very effective in breaking up violent gangs through the power of sport?
I happily join my hon. Friend in commending that work. The work being done there locally and similar work across the country shows the power of early intervention. That is why we have set up funding to support more and more schemes like that, both through the early intervention youth fund and the youth endowment fund.
Of course we all join in the celebration of the power of sport as a positive force, be it, for example, tennis, cricket or indeed football. [Interruption.] And lots of other sports to boot—netball, hockey, rounders and athletics. We also celebrate those who teach sport, and those who broadcast it and write about it, one of whom I spy not very far from me at this every moment—the great Richard Evans. [Interruption.] That will do for now.
The hon. Lady raises an important point and it shows precisely why we are planning to introduce the public health duty—to get more Departments and public agencies to work together in providing early intervention through many different types of programme. She is right to highlight alternative provision and some of the issues associated with it, especially how some of those children, sadly, become the target of gangs, and we are doing more work across government.
When it comes to early intervention, youth activities, youth clubs and the kind of thing we have just heard about in Southend are the sort of important work that we want to support more. I have talked about the £220 million of early intervention funding, which is a record amount, and it will go towards doing that, supporting some 200 different projects.
I have long said that we need to tackle crime, especially serious violence, on many fronts, and that means making sure that the police are properly resourced so that we have enough police on the streets. That is why this year we had a record settlement of almost £1 billion, which was voted for and supported by Government Members but rejected by Opposition Members.
Often, the focus is on violent crime in cities, but towns such as ours in West Yorkshire have seen an increase in robberies and antisocial behaviour, and the results of county lines and drug violence, too. Our area has lost nearly half its neighbourhood policing, which the Home Secretary will know has been cut throughout the country. The Home Affairs Committee has called for more police on the beat—we need more police back on the beat—and the Home Secretary has recognised that we need 20,000 more police back on the beat. When does he estimate we will get them?
I very much agree with the right hon. Lady about the need for more police. That is why we had a record settlement this year, which included, for example, more than £28 million extra for her local police force, which is leading to more police officers and more police staff. I have said that we need to go further, and we are discussing that internally in Government to see what more can be done. I hope the right hon. Lady recognises, though, that it is about more than just police; it is about early intervention and understanding some of the underlying causes of crime. I have always recognised the need for more resources and more police.
The Home Secretary referred to the new public health duty. The Opposition agree that it is a good idea in principle, but does the Home Secretary agree with the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, who has said that the change is not enough on its own and who is calling for the next Prime Minister, and perhaps his Chancellor, to ensure that preventive services such as youth services have the right resources? Will the Home Secretary tell us how often the Prime Minister’s knife crime taskforce has actually met?
The right hon. Lady has mentioned an important partner in tackling serious violence, and the Children’s Commissioner is part of the serious violence taskforce and we listen to her important views regularly. Of course, the Children’s Commissioner is right that this issue requires action on many fronts. There is no one single answer—we have talked about resources, new powers, early intervention and, of course, the public health approach—which is why we are working across Government. We have institutionalised that in Government in many ways, including with the taskforce that the Prime Minister set up, which has already met once and is meeting again today.
Our £63 million “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme provides funding to local community groups that seek to challenge extremist views. Since 2016, we have supported more than 230 civil society groups, which have access to training opportunities and a network of 40 expert counter-extremism community co-ordinators who are embedded in local authorities.
What more can the Government do to publicise those important examples of where communities and community organisations have succeeded in the supply of information that has prevented terrorist plots, saved innocent lives and helped to take people who were at risk of radicalisation away from extremist doctrines?
My right hon. friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have often talked at the Dispatch Box about, for example, the importance of the Prevent programme, which is fundamentally about safeguarding and supporting vulnerable individuals to stop them becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that in just one year, 2017-18, our Channel safeguarding programme supported some 394 individuals, and 181 different community projects that have reached 88,000 different people.
The Home Secretary really should be ashamed of himself. If he comes to a place such as Huddersfield and other towns in West Yorkshire, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has just mentioned, he will find that it is about not only diverting young people from violence, gangs and crime, but tackling extremist views early on. If the Government dismantle local government youth services, they cannot just pass the responsibility across to community associations and think that is okay.
The hon. Gentleman should know that we have done a great deal since 2000 to support community projects, including youth community projects. I mentioned earlier the £63 million that we put into the “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme. That is through the Home Office alone, but much more is going on through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education and local government. He mentions Huddersfield. Just last week, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man called Jamal, who was the victim of racism, a form of extremism, in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency. I had the opportunity to welcome him to our great country and to tell him that what happened to him in Huddersfield in no way represents the people of our great nation.
Hostile State Activity
Across Government, we are taking a broad range of legislative, diplomatic and operational action to prevent, disrupt and deter hostile state activity.
A wonderful opportunity! Scarcely cricket, but a wonderful opportunity.
Following the attempted poisonings in Salisbury, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took robust action to secure the dismissal from the United Kingdom and other European countries of Russian spies posing as diplomats. There is some reason to suppose that that network is now being rebuilt. Without asking my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to give details of the work of MI5, may I ask him to give us a reassurance that it is very firmly on the case?
As my right hon. Friend says, I will not comment on any sensitive intelligence matter, but he is right to be concerned about the rise in hostile state activity. There is ongoing activity across Government to ensure that our democracy is protected. We have taken many steps and co-ordinated them across Government and the relevant authorities. He will also be pleased to know that, now that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 is on the statute book, it gives us many more powers to counter hostile state activity.
The Home Secretary will know that police numbers remain key to hostile state activity prevention. I have still not heard an answer to the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) posed—how many extra police officers are going to be recruited, and when, to tackle this important issue?
I am enormously tickled to see the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the Father of the House, beetle into the Chamber by walking across the Government Front Bench. I suppose that he was so long an habitué of the Treasury Bench that it may seem a perfectly normal means by which to enter the Chamber, but, in any case, we are delighted to see him.
Community and Neighbourhood Policing
As funding for the police increases, we have made it clear that we want to see more consistent, proactive neighbourhood policing, which is the cornerstone of the British policing model.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but my police and crime commissioner has cut the number of warranted officers by more than 500 since 2010, and, despite the efforts of my brilliant local police, only two are now allocated to Kidsgrove. We have seen a spike in threatening antisocial behaviour in the past month, with some people now refusing to go to the local park. I will not have no-go areas in my constituency, so what will the Minister do?
I am a bit puzzled by what the hon. Lady says, because I have spoken to her police and crime commissioner, the excellent Matthew Ellis, and he is extremely animated about how he is going to use the additional money from the funding settlement to move 100 more people into neighbourhood policing by the year end and to get behind proactive policing to disrupt crime, including drug dealing, in hotspots. I hope that she welcomes such plans, and she certainly needs to sit down and discuss them with him.
We all agree about the importance of neighbourhood and community policing, but does the Minister agree that effective community policing does not rely on police officers having degrees? Yes, it is critical that we have enough officers; yes, it is crucial that they have common sense; but does he agree with me and other blue collar Conservatives that it is ridiculous to say that all police officers must have a degree, as proposed?
They do not need a degree to go into policing; that is what the apprentice route is for. I know plenty of people with degrees who would make very poor police officers. What we are keen to do is upskill the force and, critically, ensure that the very considerable skills that people coming out of policing have developed are accredited.
Northumbria police has had its funding increased by £18 million in a process that the hon. Lady opposed. The excellent Conservative candidate in those elections—Robbie Moore, whom I have met—is absolutely committed to neighbourhood policing, as are this Government. We are making police funding a priority.
Investment in neighbourhood policing looks set to become even more difficult following last month’s Supreme Court ruling that the Government’s post-2015 pension changes were unlawful. This ruling affects tens of thousands of public servants, including police officers, who have no negotiating rights and have had these discriminatory changes imposed on them. Will there be an industrial resolution to this mess for officers who have been left in limbo, and will funding for policing be protected when the Treasury finally brings forward measures to remedy this illegal discrimination?
The Government have made very clear the priority that we attach to police funding. We are increasing funding, through council tax and other measures, by up to £1 billion this year. The Home Secretary and I have made it quite clear that police funding is our priority, as have the candidates for the roles of leader of our party and the next Prime Minister. In relation to the very important judgment—it is extremely significant—against which the Government cannot appeal, it is for my colleagues in the Treasury to make a considered response.
Ending domestic abuse remains an absolute priority, which is why I am delighted to announce that tomorrow we will be launching the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which will contain a groundbreaking series of measures to promote awareness, support victims and children, tackle perpetrators and improve services.
I thank the Minister for answering my supplementary question before I had asked it—I am delighted that the Bill will be introduced tomorrow. Can she confirm that it will support my constituents in Daventry who have experienced or been victims of domestic abuse, and protect others from experiencing it in the future?
Very much so. I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done to raise with me the issues in his constituency. We are delighted that the Bill will be introduced tomorrow. There is also a package of non-legislative measures that will be critical in ensuring that we are supporting victims, preventing further opportunities for abuse and, also importantly, helping children who live in abusive households.
I would be delighted to commend the centre. It was a pleasure to visit the Copeland hub—a great example of multi-agency working, which, as everyone in the House knows, is essential if we are to tackle this pernicious crime of domestic abuse effectively across our country.
It is great news that the Bill is going to be published tomorrow—real credit to the Minister personally for sticking with this. Can she confirm that she has listened to the survivors of abuse, particularly of emotional and economic abuse, through the draft process and strengthened the final Bill as a result?
Very much so, and may I thank the hon. Gentleman, too, for all his work and his lobbying of me to support and protect victims of domestic abuse? I must also record my thanks to the Joint Committee —a brilliant Committee of parliamentarians from both Houses who scrutinised the draft Bill in great detail, heard lots of evidence from incredibly important stakeholders and produced a report, to which we will publish a response tomorrow alongside the Bill.
We continue to fight serious violence and support our world-class police. Yesterday I announced a new legal duty on public bodies to prevent and tackle serious violence, which will compel all relevant public agencies to work together to understand and address this epidemic. Over the last year, we have engaged with police officers and staff on our frontline review, which was published last week and will lead to even more support.
Given the ongoing police inquiry into the leaking of confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents, together with the need to protect the freedom of the press, my right hon. Friend has a difficult circle to square. Can he tell the House how he intends to both protect the freedom of the press and ensure that the person responsible for this crime is brought to book?
I am not going to comment on an ongoing police investigation—I hope my right hon. Friend understands that—but the person who leaked the document should, of course, face the consequences. When I was Culture Secretary, I was very passionate about the freedom of the press. That view has not changed in any way whatsoever. I will always defend the hard-won liberties and the operation of the free press.
The latest Government fire and rescue service inspections found that nine years of austerity have created a postcode lottery of response times and crewing levels. We now have rising response times, with fewer firefighters attending incidents. The Government’s reckless lack of oversight and investment is risking the safety of many communities across the country. Will the Minister consider implementing national minimum standards, to confront the geographical inequalities that his Government have deepened?
We have introduced independent inspections of fire and rescue services, which in fact show that most people across the country get an excellent service in the response to emergencies, but there are variations. That is why we have introduced a national standards board, which is looking at the opportunity to develop greater consistency in standards across the system in the light of the inspection findings.
I commend my hon. Friend for the huge amount of work he has done on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping; I saw that as Communities Secretary as well. The Government believe that no one should be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live and sleeping rough. The Government’s 2018 rough sleeping strategy committed us to reviewing the homelessness and rough sleeping legislation, including the Vagrancy Act 1824. That is what we are doing, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further.
The Government continue to give the fire service the resources it needs against a background of falling fire numbers. We continue to monitor that in the run-in to the comprehensive spending review, working closely with the fire service. On the remediation of buildings and the urgent review of a fire safety system that had clearly failed, we continue to work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in our consultation on that.
As my right hon. Friend knows, asylum seekers can work in jobs on the shortage occupation list if their claim has been outstanding for 12 months. I know that she will agree that we need to distinguish between those with the need for protection and those who are here only to work. She is right to raise the issue, and it is time for reform. The work in the Home Office is ongoing, and we hope to bring something to the House as soon as possible.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question on an issue that has been raised several times in the House. The Home Office is working hard to make sure that we have a solution so that not just students at Scottish universities but those in English universities who might be studying a longer course such as medicine, veterinary science or architecture are not disadvantaged. We are determined to find a solution that works for all students.
Those of us who have active neighbourhood watch networks in our constituencies know the value of that network of active citizens working closely with the police: it is the heart of our police model. We are big fans of neighbourhood watch and we have supported it for many years. I would be delighted to sit down with my hon. Friend to discuss how that funding could help in her constituency.
We are of course grateful to the archbishop for his thoughts, and to the independent inquiry, which is doing an incredibly important job in looking at tackling institutional child sexual abuse. We have looked at mandatory reporting really carefully, and the balance of evidence came down against, but it is something that we very much keep under review, and I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss it with her.
My right hon. Friend has led a long campaign against such people. He will be glad to know that in the last few years, with our new impetus on economic crime, we have found that a number have already had their collars felt, some have had to explain their wealth—the latest case being £100 million of London property—£112 million of assets have been frozen, and some have found it very hard to visit the country altogether.
My constituent Bibi Rahima said that
“my life is just a prison”
after she was accused of cheating in the test of English for international communication. She was overjoyed when she won her appeal in May, but I have written to the Home Secretary on her behalf again today to plead against a further appeal now being taken against her. I am certain she did not cheat, and the judge in her appeal in May said that
“there is no specific evidence in relation to this Appellant at all.”
Will Ministers now withdraw that cruel and pointless action?
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s interest in this issue and the work that he is doing through the all-party parliamentary group that he chairs and helped to set up. We have discussed the broader issue several times. He will know that in 2012 the National Audit Office highlighted widespread abuse of the student migration system. That said, I have agreed with him and many other hon. Members that we need to look again at the action that was taken and see what more can be done. I am planning to come to the House with a statement to say much more before the summer recess.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the work he has done in this space, especially on tackling unauthorised encampments. He will know that the Home Office has identified a set of measures that will extend the powers available to the police. We are also conducting a review of the act of trespassing to see whether it can be automatically criminalised.
Disability hate crime has increased more than fourfold since 2011, and that is not even the real level of hate crime and abuse that disabled people have faced. Disabled people have been particularly hit by this Government’s cuts, so what will the Home Secretary do to tackle not just the consequences of this hate crime but the causes?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The latest official data indicates an increase in police recorded disability hate crime. We believe that is due in part to general police recording improvements, but more clearly needs to be done. That is why we are instigating a review by the Law Commission to ensure that the framework, generally, tackles such hatred. We have had a nationwide public awareness campaign, including specific examples of disability hate crime. We are also funding community projects across the country, including a number that directly tackle disability hate crime, such as Changing Faces and Barnardo’s.
In his excellent op-ed in the Financial Times on 7 June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said it made no sense at all to send back home straight after their studies some of the brightest and most enterprising people in the world, and he also backed a cross-party move to liberalise the student visa regime. Could he update the House on his progress in restoring the two-year post-study work visa that was removed in 2012?
I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend has said. I think that is exactly the kind of change we should be looking at. It is not the policy of the current Cabinet, but, as he knows, there will be a change in the Cabinet very soon. We do not know who will lead that change, but it might well be someone he is quite close to, so he might want to lobby them too. However, I am very sympathetic, and I will happily work with my hon. Friend.
TransPennine Express recently locked a gate that is a major access point to the Hull Paragon station, and prominent disability campaigners have been protesting about that. It has locked the gate because it believes that that is the best way to deal with the rising problem of antisocial behaviour. Does the Minister agree that the company should be letting the police tackle the problem of antisocial behaviour and not discriminating against disabled people? Will Ministers join me in sending a clear message to TransPennine Express to open the gate?
I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me if I am not familiar with the precise railway gate in question. However, she will know that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides at least six powers for not just the police but local authorities to tackle antisocial behaviour. It might be that the train company would benefit from a bit of discussion with not just the police but local authorities to see whether they can come up with a better solution.
Over the last couple of weeks, my constituency has been rocked by two serious incidents of crime. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to join me in thanking the emergency services and in wishing a speedy recovery to those who were physically injured in those attacks. However, what cross-departmental discussions has he had about providing a more holistic approach to supporting the victims of such crimes?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Having visited her constituency recently, I am incredibly sorry to hear of the experiences her constituents have had. She will know that the Government have recently published the victims strategy, which, although led by the Ministry of Justice, very much had the input of the Home Office as well. We want to ensure that we support victims through targeted, focused help, while ensuring that all the relevant agencies, including the health sector, also play their part in helping victims of such terrible crimes.
The hon. Gentleman will understand the distinction between deportation, which happens to foreign national offenders, and removal, which happens to those who are immigration offenders. There is a very clear difference. He will know that I cannot comment on individual cases, but it is worth stating that the Supreme Court has upheld the Government’s minimum income requirement to have dependants and spouses in this country. That is an important principle, which the Government support, because we want people to have an adequate level of income that will enable them to integrate into society.
Given that we ran a highly successful seasonal agricultural workers scheme from 1945 to 2013, what do the Government think they can learn from a two-year pilot? Since we have an urgent labour shortage in agriculture, will the Secretary of State commit to convert the current pilot into a fully operational scheme next year?
My hon. Friend will be conscious that at the moment free movement still prevails, which is one of the reasons why this is still a pilot. The Government will of course carefully evaluate the outcome of what is scheduled to be a two-year pilot to understand the impact and to look at what we can do going forward.
That is ultimately a decision for the Mayor in his capacity as police and crime commissioner, working with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Our role is to ensure that the Met has the resources it needs. That is why we have taken through funding settlements resulting in the Met receiving £100 million of additional investment last year and £172 million this year, with more to come. How that money is spent and allocated is down to the Mayor and the commissioner.
Detainee Mistreatment: Judge-led Inquiry
(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if she will make good on her Government’s commitment, made over a year ago, to bring to the House within 60 days their view on reinstating the judge-led inquiry into detainee mistreatment and rendition that the former Government promised in 2012.
As my right hon. and learned Friend indicates, this issue has a lengthy history. It was in July 2010 that Prime Minister Cameron announced Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry into allegations that the United Kingdom had been implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries in the aftermath of 9/11.
In December 2013, the Government published Sir Peter’s preparatory work and asked the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to follow up on the themes and issues which that work had identified, to take further evidence and to make a report. At the same time, the Government said that they would:
“take a final view as to whether a further judicial inquiry still remains necessary to add any further information of value to future policy making and the national interest.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 916.]
In June last year, the Intelligence and Security Committee, its work having been interrupted by two general elections and the task of reconstituting the Committee after those elections, published two reports: “Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001-2010” and “Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues”.
In response to an urgent question from my right hon. and learned Friend on 2 July last year, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), said that, in responding to the ISC reports, the Government would:
“give careful consideration to the calls for another judge-led inquiry and will update the House”.—[Official Report, 2 July 2018; Vol. 644, c. 26.]
The Government responded formally to the ISC on 22 November last year, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in a written statement, said:
“The Government continue to give serious consideration to the examination of detainee issues and whether any more lessons can be learned and, if so, how.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2018; Vol. 644, c. 31WS]
That serious consideration has included the question of a further judge-led inquiry.
As the House will understand, this has been complex work, which has involved some of the most sensitive security issues. I confirm to the House today that the Government will make a definitive statement setting out their decision about a judge-led inquiry later this week and, at the same time, we will announce to the House our response to Sir Adrian Fulford’s recommendations on the consolidated guidance.
You have asked the most penetrating question, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister for finally producing some indication of when we might get a decision and for saying that the Government have reached conclusions. I will not repeat his precis of events, which goes back to the most firm undertakings in 2010 and 2012 that there would be a judge-led inquiry. The preliminary inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson set out the questions that the inquiry had to answer. It was postponed only because of the police inquiry into the further revelations of rendition to Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. After that, the resumption of the inquiry was postponed while the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee examined matters. When the ISC finally discovered the extent of British intelligence services’ complicity in cases of torture and their involvement in hijacking and the unlawful rendition of people for interrogation, mainly in America, the Committee’s investigations were stopped and it made a report saying what it would have liked to examine if it had been allowed to interview witnesses.
For years and years, this has been put into the long grass in the hope that it would eventually go away, so I hope that that comes to an end this week. We need to know how there was such a terrible breakdown in responsibility and communications that produced the misdeeds that took place in the time after 9/11, so that we can avoid the culture of the intelligence services and their relationships with Ministers ever slipping back into the same thing again. I hope that we will not just be told, “It is too late. Everything is all right now; there is no need to do anything,” because if it is all right now—as I trust it is—we have to reduce the risks that in future, we as a country will ever get involved in torture and rendition again.
If this decision comes out in the last days of this Session, on the eve of the summer recess and in the middle of the appointment of a new Prime Minister in an attempt to bury it away in the pages of Hansard and to escape any further challenge until the autumn comes around, it will be the most blatant further attempt to get out of the most solemn undertakings that were given by me when I was Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor on behalf of the then Prime Minister. That Prime Minister gave these undertakings himself, in a Government in which the present Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and many of their colleagues were serving. We had cleared that line and should honour it, and the whole House should demand a proper, full statement later this week. If there is one success that the delay may have achieved, it is, I regret to say, that for serious personal reasons—not because I am going on holiday—I may miss the final denouement and the statement later this week, because I may be absent from the House. However, I hope that the House will hold the Government fully to account if they try to slip out of their commitments and obligations in the end.
I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend that, far from there being any attempt on behalf of the Government to slip things out under the radar as the summer recess approaches, the Prime Minister has been very clear that she regards it as her responsibility to ensure that the decision is taken and announced to Parliament before she leaves office. It would be understandable if a new Prime Minister on taking office wanted to look again at or acquaint himself with the material that was coming to the present Prime Minister. This decision and its timing are actually designed to ensure that we do not slip anything out under the radar.
I would just say to my right hon and learned Friend that the Government are very clear that officials in our agencies have not been involved in torture and that this Government and previous Governments have been resolute in opposing torture. We are talking about the extent to which it is alleged that there was knowledge of or to some extent complicity in the treatment of detainees held by the authorities in other countries.
In my right hon and learned Friend’s time, a number of significant changes were made, both in internal Government practice and in the law, that I believe have put us in a much better position since his time in office. I agree strongly with him about the need for us when we debate these matters to look forward as well as backwards. That is exactly why I believe it is right that we acquaint the House with Sir Adrian Fulford’s recommendations on the consolidated guidance at the same time as we respond to the obligation to take the decision on a judge-led inquiry and announce it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank the Father of the House for securing it and for being so diligent on this issue. He has spoken with typical lucidity on this matter, and I agree with everything he has said, particularly about the unfortunate long grassing.
There is no need for me to repeat what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has already said concerning the constraints that were placed on a nevertheless damning report from the Intelligence and Security Committee. He rightly says that the only way to lift those constraints is to authorise a judge-led inquiry where all the witnesses can be called and all the evidence examined so that finally we can get to the full truth about the historical allegations of torture and rendition that took place under a Labour Government and about the operation of secret courts established by the current Government under the Justice and Security Act 2013.
The inquiry would be for the benefit of all future Governments, whichever party is in charge, as it would enable us all to truly learn the lessons from what has happened and to put in place new procedures and any necessary changes to the consolidated guidance so that we can absolutely guarantee that these abuses will never happen again. The reason it is so urgent is that in fewer than 10 days we will have a new Government in charge led by a Prime Minister who has proven by his actions not just as Foreign Secretary but also on the debate stage last week that he cannot be trusted to stand up to Donald Trump—a President who, let us not forget, has publicly said that he believes that water boarding and other forms of torture are effective and that we have to “fight fire with fire”. If we have a new Prime Minister who is willing to throw our ambassadors under the bus, we must have new procedures in place to stop that Prime Minister allowing our Government once again to be in danger of becoming complicit in torture and rendition by the United States or any other country to whom he kowtows.
I am glad to hear that there will be a further statement, and hopefully that statement will include a decision by the Prime Minister, but will the Minister tell the Prime Minister to establish the inquiry that we were promised seven years ago in the next week and to provide at least one fitting legacy from her time in office and one necessary protection for the country from the recklessness of her successor?
Obviously I will not pre-empt the content of the Government’s statement later this week, but I think it is clear from the way in which the right hon. Lady has posed her questions that it is acknowledged on both sides of the House that this is an extremely important as well as an extremely sensitive decision. What I will say to her is that the protections against involvement in the use of torture apply to this and any future Government in the United Kingdom, not least by virtue of Ministers’ obligations to obey the law. That includes our international legal obligations, including those set out both in the United Nations convention against torture and the European convention on human rights.
In recent years we have seen not only a much stronger and, for the first time, a statutory role for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner—who now reports annually on his work, including the application of detainee policy—but enhanced powers for the Intelligence and Security Committee, notably the power that enables it, in law, to require rather than just request information from the security and intelligence agencies.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says about obeying international law, but it is clear from the Prime Minister’s apology to the Libyan victims alone that the British Government, at very best, came perilously close to breaching article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which forbids torture but also its facilitation or complicity in it. Moreover, without an independent judge-led inquiry, the Government may now be in breach of article 13, which, as well as encapsulating centuries of established common law, provides for the right to “an effective remedy”.
I do not know what is making the Government take so long to decide whether to pursue a judge-led inquiry. It may be pressure from the agencies, although I doubt that now, or it may be pressure from allies who were complicit or involved in this. Whatever it is, I hope that what I shall say next will help my right hon. Friend in his argument with them. If he does not announce an independent judge-led inquiry in his statement later this week, or next week, I will certainly seek advice on whether we have broken either of those articles, and, if need be, use the proper judicial mechanisms to ensure that the Government are put back within the bounds of the law.
As I said earlier, it is the duty of every Minister, in line with the Ministerial Code, to comply with our international as well as our domestic legal obligations. In the case of officials, those obligations are statutory, because the civil service code is itself incorporated in statute. I hope that when my right hon. Friend sees the detail of what will be announced later this week, he will be able to feel reassured by it.
I commend the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), for bringing this matter to the Floor of the House, and for securing what seems to be something of a concession in relation to an announcement later this week. However, it is still very unclear why there has been such a lengthy delay since the undertaking given more than a year ago that the decision would be brought to the House “within 60 days”. Can the Minister elucidate?
Before the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on these matters last year, the United States Government were given the chance to review the report and to request redactions. Will the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place with the Trump Administration about a potential inquiry, and will he reassure us that the Government’s delayed response is not a consequence of pressure from the United States?
This has taken time because the Government have felt, I think rightly, that an issue of such importance and sensitivity requires very careful and meticulous consideration. The Government’s decisions are made on the basis of the United Kingdom’s national interest, and nothing else.
Not withstanding my right hon. Friend’s mellifluous and reassuring tones, it is pretty reprehensible that the Father of the House has had to raise this matter yet again. Not only were he and I members of the Cabinet that promised the House this inquiry nearly 10 years ago, but it is day 378 since the 60-day promise made by the Government and reinforced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office in answer to a written question from me. The damage that this has done to the UK’s precious international reputation is not well understood. This is not about hauling individuals before the courts; it is about transparency, openness, leadership and lessons learned.
The right investigation would have been by the Intelligence and Security Committee; a senior group of Privy Counsellors would have been best placed to handle this, and it would have been cheaper, but we are asking for this inquiry, the Government having hobbled the ISC’s inquiry. We are thrown back on a judge-led inquiry, but it must be a judge who is not part of the securitocracy.
Looking at international practice, I think we in this country can point to a system that requires high standard, and that is remarkably transparent, given the extremely secret nature of some of the personnel and operations that are relevant here. We now have a statutory role for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and we have his annual reports, including on detainee policy. We have enhanced powers for Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, and the Prime Minister no longer has the power to appoint its Chair. The framework established by the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 measures up against the best standards in the world.
The Intelligence and Security Committee, on which I sit, finished its investigation on rendition, but the Government refused it access to certain individuals, so it could not interview them on the matter. If there were to be a judge-led inquiry, would the Government allow all individuals to give evidence to the judge?
I note my right hon. Friend’s answer to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) about high standards for the United Kingdom, but if the United Kingdom’s reputation for having the highest standards in this area is to be sustained, surely it is important, in this case and in others in which our security services come into contact with potential violations of fundamental aspects of international law, that there is proper accountability, driven by the Ministers who are meant to oversee it.
I agree with the final point that my hon. Friend makes, but I ask him to take account of the fact that we are dealing with the work of security and intelligence agencies—work on which the safety, and indeed the lives, of our citizens often depends—and that information about how operations are carried out can be of great value to our adversaries.
It must surely be the objective of all civilised countries to ensure that such events as rendition and the mistreatment of detainees never occur across the world. If we are to achieve that, should we not stand on the highest possible moral ground?
We should certainly act on the highest possible moral grounds. I believe that we have a statutory framework in which we can take considerable pride, and that marks a significant improvement on the practices that the Intelligence and Security Committee previously criticised.
As a member of the Committee, I think it is worth putting on record our extraordinary respect for the young men and women who serve in our intelligence services and who make impossible decisions, often at a moment’s notice. I think that an inquiry would show the extraordinary times in which they lived and how life has changed since many of the cases in question came before us. For example, there was no consolidated guidance in the earliest stages of the period we were looking at. I believe that the Government made a fundamental mistake in not allowing us to see the witnesses we wanted to see, because we would actually have been able to show something that assisted the Government—namely, that we live in a completely different regulatory regime. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister made the point about the changing powers and the extension of the consolidated guidance. Will he tell us whether the examination of the consolidated guidance will be announced soon, or whether we will have to wait a long time for it?
First, I thank my right hon. Friend for the just tribute that he paid to the men and women working in our security and intelligence agencies. I can give him what I hope is a reassuring answer to his question. Yes, we will be publishing Sir Adrian Fulford’s conclusions and recommendations in full later this week.
Does the Minister accept that any UK involvement in extraordinary rendition is a stain on our reputation as a country that claims to uphold the rule of law and defend human rights? Does he agree that the best way to deal with this is for him to announce this week that there will be an independent judge-led inquiry, and also to announce the appointment of the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner?
When a Minister of the Crown stands at the Dispatch Box and says that something will be brought to the Chamber within 60 days, how should we understand such a commitment? Given the utter failure to deliver on this occasion, surely the House is entitled to a fuller explanation than the one the Minister has given so far, which is that this is terribly difficult?
It is not just a matter of something being difficult; it is a matter of Ministers having to consider the best course of action when we are talking about the work of security and intelligence agencies, which, by definition, has to be done in secret and whose disclosure could do considerable harm to our national interests.
Governments all over the world are challenging international law and the rules-based international order, and we have a President in the United States who clearly does not support those laws, so is it not time for our Government to accept that the promises they made at the Dispatch Box should be carried out? The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the Father of the House, is one of the most experienced figures in these matters, and he has been persistent in trying to get the clarity we need on these issues. When the Government make what I hope will be an oral statement on this, should they not bring the matter to a conclusion rather than forcing us to come back to it again under a new Prime Minister?
I commend the Government on their work on human rights, but does the Minister share my concern that failure to protect human rights by complicity by mistreating detainees diminishes the UK’s capacity to be a champion for human rights abroad?
It is important that we demonstrate through our actions, not just our words, our commitment to human rights. Moreover, when one has the privilege of speaking to officers in the intelligence agencies about these matters, they make it clear that they want to uphold human rights. The intelligence agencies have to operate within the statutory remit that Parliament has given them. Anything that they do that breaches their lawful purpose and objective is something that they should not do.
Although the Gibson and ISC inquiries were curtailed or restricted, nevertheless they revealed hundreds of cases in which the UK was complicit or benefited from torture or mistreatment. Does that not mean that there is more of a case to set up such an inquiry than there was nine years ago, when the then Prime Minister said that there should be a judge-led inquiry
“fully independent of Parliament, party and Government”—[Official Report, 6 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 181]?
The only thing that has changed in those nine years is that it would be difficult now to reach the truth because of the effluxion of time. Will the Minister at least say that there will be an inquiry, even if we hear the details later this week?
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman in his assertion that little has changed. There have been important statutory changes in the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. There have been important changes in the powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and in the statutory basis of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and in the practice that Ministers must be consulted whenever an intelligence officer involved in a planned operation believes that a detainee is at risk of mistreatment by a foreign state. That obligation applies even when consulting a Minister might be thought to lead to a risk of a terrorist act succeeding. The rules are much stricter than they once were.
Given that Britain’s reputation is at stake in relation to human rights when we talk to the world about our values, an oral statement should be made in the House so that we can make a judgment on what sort of inquiry should take place and so that we can question the relevant Minister, even if that is the Prime Minister herself.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. What we are discussing as, in fairness, the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) acknowledged, are historical allegations, particularly concerning the period from 2001 to 2010, and the immediate aftermath of the appalling 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The statutory and administrative basis on which our affairs are now organised give us much greater assurance in the House that decisions are made appropriately and that our agencies adhere to the highest possible standards of conduct.
The Minister made it clear that he thought that the change in the legislative, statutory and administrative frameworks were sufficient to assuage concerns that the House might have, but how can the House assess that unless it is thoroughly tested in this inquiry? That is the only way truly to understand whether it is effective or not.
The tests would be threefold. First, there will be an annual report from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner on how Government and the agencies use the powers with which they have been entrusted. Secondly, there are the reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee, and the confidence that the House should have that that Committee now has much greater autonomy and power than was once the case. Thirdly, Sir Adrian Fulford, the commissioner, was asked by the Government to review, reflect on and recommend changes to the consolidated guidance, and that is what we will put before the House later this week.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for taking time on another point of order on the question of the Home Office’s failure to answer questions satisfactorily, but you will recall that it is just over a year since, in June 2018, I raised a point of order on the Home Office’s refusal to provide information about tier 2 general certificate of sponsorship visas in response to written questions that I had tabled. This information was subsequently released in response to a freedom of information request.
When, subsequent to the information being provided via that FOI, I tabled a further question asking for updated figures, I assumed the Home Office would provide them to me, given that the information was now in the public arena, but it refused again, hence my point of order last June. In response, Mr Speaker, you shared my concern about the danger of FOI requests becoming a more effective way for colleagues to obtain information than a parliamentary question, and you said:
“There is a basic issue here of parliamentary self-respect”.—[Official Report, 18 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 78.]
That is clearly relevant to all Members.
Mr Speaker, you also advised me on how to pursue the matter, and I followed up with a letter to the Home Secretary, on 19 June 2018, highlighting your comments. Despite repeated phone calls and emails to the Home Office’s correspondence unit, I have not yet received a response to that letter—over 12 months later.
I finally tabled a written question asking when I could anticipate a response, and I was told that it was “being prepared”. No reason has been shared with me that would explain why an answer about the procedure for parliamentary questions has taken over a year, Mr Speaker, so I would be grateful if you could advise me on how to pursue this matter and how I might receive a response before the House breaks for the summer recess.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it.
In summary, the matter is very unsatisfactory. The way in which the hon. Gentleman has been treated does not fall foul of any particular rule or Standing Order of the House. That said, it does not in any way become any less unsatisfactory. The essential issue at hand is, as I indicated in response to his previous point of order, a matter of parliamentary self-respect and, I say to occupants of the Treasury Bench, of courtesy on behalf of Ministers towards Members of the House seeking to discharge their duty of scrutiny.
It is therefore very disappointing that the hon. Gentleman has not achieved satisfaction in this matter, and what I want to say to him is as follows. First, he has been dogged and persistent in pursuit of this matter and, as he indicated, he has waited over a year for a Minister to answer his letter, which referred to my answer to his previous point of order.
I would hope that the delay in replying—I say this as much in hope as in expectation—is because Ministers are keen properly to address the underlying issue of providing a less helpful answer to elected Members of the House than to those who pursue freedom of information requests.
I hope that Home Office Ministers, having heard this point of order, will ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives the full ministerial reply for which he has waited so long, and that he does so in a matter of days—specifically, before the summer recess.
The final point I would make, on which I expect concurrence, not least from senior and experienced Members of the House who have been here for decades, is this: it was at one time a very established expectation that, if Members were experiencing difficulty in securing replies from Ministers to letters or, indeed, written questions, the Leader of the House would see it as her or his responsibility to chase them in order to secure expeditious replies. I am sorry if that is not currently the case, but it used to be the case—[Interruption.] I note that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) is nodding from a sedentary position, and I assume this view would be shared by Members in other parts of the House.
What I would say to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is that he should approach the current Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), and try to extract a commitment from him that he will engage in the matter and pursue Ministers. That is not only right for the hon. Member for Sheffield Central and his constituents but is in the interest of the effective functioning of all Members of the House. This is a matter not of rules but of parliamentary courtesy, and we need to return to it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I would have spoken to you earlier about this if there had not been a muddle in our diaries. I had a similar example, where I had tabled questions on how many victims of modern slavery were held in detention centres. The Home Office replied that it did not know, but an outside organisation, after two Freedom of Information Act requests, gained that information, which the Home Office had denied having. Might I therefore also register through you that there is something much more rotten in the state of Denmark than just one simple question taking a whole year to answer?