House of Commons
Tuesday 8 October 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Female Offenders: Rehabilitation
I start by saying how deeply upsetting it was to hear of the recent tragic incident at HMP Bronzefield. It was a terrible incident, and my thoughts are with all those who have been affected. As would be expected, there are a number of ongoing investigations, including an investigation by the police.
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the important role of women’s centres in providing holistic support to vulnerable women. This approach forms part of our female offender strategy, which announced a £5 million investment in community provision for women from 2018 to 2020. As we take forward the strategy, we are committed to ensuring sufficient funding for female offenders.
Of course it is important that we look after all our offenders, and we have a particular strategy in relation to female offenders. We not only want to ensure they get adequate care in prison, but we are also intervening early to try to prevent women from entering the justice system at all.
Our local women’s centre, which supports many women in my constituency, helped 850 individual women in 2017-18. Currently, though, there is no core Government funding to help these women. Does the Minister agree that funding early intervention to support vulnerable women would prevent future crises and future pressure on the justice system?
I pay tribute to the centre’s work, which I am sure is important to the hon. Lady’s local community. There is funding from a variety of sources for women’s centres and, as I mentioned, it is something we will be looking at very carefully as we develop the female strategy. We have funded a number of very valuable women’s centres over the past year, including the Sunflower Centre in Plymouth and a new women’s centre in York.
Two thirds of women sent to prison get sentences of less than six months. Such sentences are proven to lead to more reoffending, and so create more victims of crime than tried and tested alternatives such as women’s centres. The Justice Secretary and his team know this, but they have chosen to ignore the evidence. Will the Minister tell the House today how many crimes her Department’s own research shows will be prevented by investing in such alternatives to ineffective short prison sentences?
We are very interested in looking at alternatives to prison sentences. Although we want the most serious offenders who commit serious violence and sexual crimes to spend the appropriate time in prison, we want to ensure there are sentences on offer in which the judiciary have confidence and that will turn people’s lives around. We are already working to improve the quality of information that sentencers receive about community sentencing options, including, for example, whether an offender is a primary caregiver and is pregnant or has given birth in the previous six months, so they can take that into account and give the appropriate sentence.
To help with that answer: the Government’s own research says that investment in alternatives would see more than 30,000 fewer crimes every year, an answer the Minister omitted, yet the Tories are deliberately choosing to ignore the evidence and are failing to invest properly in women’s centres and other proven alternatives. Instead, they are chasing “hang ’em and flog ’em” headlines, thinking that will help them win the coming general election. Luckily, the British people are not the mugs they are trying to take them for.
Does the Minister agree with her own Department’s report from July, which notes a
“statistically significant increase in proven reoffending”
for those on short sentences rather than effective community alternatives? If so, will she act on it?
I think the hon. Gentleman failed to listen to my previous answer on the importance the Government place on appropriate sentences and on our particular strategy for female offenders. I was at HMP Send a few weeks ago, and I saw how we are turning people’s lives around in prison. I met a woman who was due for a parole hearing—she is a lifer who has served 10 years—and she told me that she is not actually ready to be released because of the amazing support she is getting through the therapeutic community in her prison. For the first time, she is realising the consequences of her actions. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that women get the right sentences and the right provision in the community and in the prisons.
Knife Crime Prosecutions
I work closely with the Attorney General and Home Office Ministers to ensure that the criminal justice system commands public confidence and tackles crime effectively. To address this and other serious crimes, we are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers, investing £85 million in the Crown Prosecution Service and building an additional 10,000 prison places, and this is together with the work of police and crime commissioners in setting up violence reduction units.
Of course, the prosecuting authorities take knife crime incredibly seriously. In 2015, minimum custodial sentences of six months for repeat knife crime possession were introduced, and in the year ending March of this year 83% of offenders received a custodial sentence for that type of repeat offence.
Does the Justice Secretary agree that the sentence should reflect the serious nature of knife crime and the serious damage it does to our communities? Does he support the work of organisations such as Only Cowards Carry, which help to highlight the devastating damage knife crime does to the individuals involved, on both sides?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the hard work of that local organisation and many others, such as the Ben Kinsella Trust, which do so much to educate young people about the folly of carrying knives. The new knife crime prevention orders, introduced by this Government as part of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, will be a key tool in preventing knife crime, and we are working with the Home Office to develop operational guidance, because we want to get on with introducing that programme.
Yesterday, it was reported that knife crime in my relatively safe constituency has risen by 50%, which is extremely worrying, particularly for parents with teenage children in Darlington. Will the Justice Secretary look at the fact that since 2010 funding for youth offending teams has been halved?
The hon. Lady, like all of us in this House, whether we are parents or not, shares the worry about young people either carrying knives or coming into contact with people who do. The truth about the trends in knife crime offending are these: there was an alarming rise 10 years ago and there was then a decline, but we are seeing a rise again. We are taking a twin-pronged approach, which is about not just sentencing, but intervention. That is why announcements about youth funding at last week’s Conservative party conference are welcome and indeed this is part of the work our youth offending teams are doing all across the country.
The Secretary of State may be aware of the recent murder of high-flying teenager Yousef Makki from Manchester. His killers were found not guilty of either manslaughter or murder, coming as they were from affluent Hale. The case stands in stark contrast with many I have raised here recently involving groups of young black men from Moss Side, who are all serving mandatory life sentences under joint enterprise. Given that the Secretary of State’s Government’s own race audit and Lammy review found that there were burning injustices in our criminal justice system when it comes to race, background, class and wealth, what are the Government doing to address these very different outcomes in the same cases?
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. I think she would agree that it is difficult to extrapolate trends from an individual case, however concerning and deeply distressing that case was. I think the lesson is that knife crime respects and knows no class or race boundaries. We should not stigmatise this, particularly outside London, as a crime that is exclusively based upon any racial profile—that is wrong. However, I take the point that she makes and clearly we need to look carefully across the piece as to whether we are sometimes being a bit shy—institutionally shy—about addressing knife crime in some of the less typical places.
The latest CPS figures from the “Violence Against Women and Girls Report 2018-19” show that the conviction rate for those cases taken to court has increased from 58% in the previous year to 63% in the year ending March 2019. However, the number of cases reaching court, which peaked in 2015, has declined significantly, which is a substantial cause for concern. A number of steps are being taken to address that, including recruiting 20,000 extra police officers and giving the CPS £85 million a year in additional funding.
Many women, including many survivors of rape and sexual violence, have lost confidence in our justice system, due partly to the appallingly low rate of prosecution for rape. Women’s organisations are calling on the Government to launch a fully independent review of how the justice system handles rape cases. Will the Minister take this opportunity to join Labour in committing to deliver on that?
A review by a sub-committee of the Criminal Justice Board is already under way and is due to report in spring next year—in just a few months’ time. That will be accompanied by an action plan, which is clearly needed, as the hon. Lady’s question pointed out. Just a few weeks ago, the Government announced additional funding for the victims of sexual violence; that extra £5 million a year is a 50% increase, bringing annual spending to £13 million a year to support victims of these crimes in exactly the way that the hon. Lady rightly describes.
The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre in Guildford, of which I am a patron, is overwhelmed by women and men requesting help. The abuse often happened years ago, and a fear of coming forward means that the perpetrators do not face prosecution. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s Close the Loophole campaign aims to ensure that young men and women are better protected. I do not know what progress has been made in reviewing the Sexual Offences Act 2003; perhaps the Minister can update us.
My right hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the importance of giving victims the confidence to come forward and not only report these offences but take them through the system—there is quite a high drop-out rate between the reporting of an offence and the case being prosecuted in court. She mentions a particular centre in her constituency that is doing excellent work; I hope that some of the additional money announced last week may find its way into that centre’s hands to help with its work. The 2003 Act is among the matters being considered as part of the review that will report back in spring next year.
Via the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was debated last week, a number of steps are being taken in the direction that the hon. Lady points towards. I repeat the point I made a moment ago about the additional funding for the victims of rape: there has been a 50% increase, which I hope will increase provision of the kind that the hon. Lady rightly calls for.
Financial Capability: Prisoners and Prison Leavers
As my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Education knows, education is often the route out of a challenging background. I pay tribute to all the work that he did in his previous role. We know that we can sustain employment and manage our own budget only if we have financial capability, so we have ensured through the new prison education contracts that personal budgeting skills can be taught. Under the new prison framework, 103 out of 104 prisons currently commission functional mathematics qualifications.
Building up savings can be truly transformational. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 allowed for prisoners’ earnings to be paid into an account. I encourage my hon. and learned Friend to look at that provision again and enact the regulations, as part of her wider work on meaningful paid work.
My right hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that leaving prison with savings can be hugely beneficial to an offender’s rehabilitation. Although he is right to point out that the relevant clauses of LASPO have not been commenced, we do enable prisoners to save money under the terms of the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996. In addition, all prisoners have access to a prison savings account during their time in custody. We hope that our recent changes in respect of release on temporary licence will enable an even greater number of prisoners to benefit from saving. Since I have been in post, I have been looking actively at how we can ensure that all prisoners have a bank account.
Leaving prison with just £48 is not a great start for someone to manage their own finances. Can the Minister say, first of all, whether the Government plan to review that amount and, secondly, what steps are being taken to streamline the application process for universal credit so that it can start from inside the prison ahead of release?
As I mentioned, we are increasing the opportunity for people to do work on release on temporary licence, which will increase their ability to earn money while they are in prison, so we are looking at the point that the hon. Lady raises. In relation to universal credit, my predecessor, now the Lord Chancellor, had a number of meetings with his counterpart in the Department for Work and Pensions and offenders are now able to access a DWP work coach prior to release, so they can make an appointment early and then, even on the day of release, complete their claim, because universal credit is critical.
Whatever advice and guidance prisoners get while in prison, it is of little use if they are released at the weekend when support they need is often not available. How many prisoners as a proportion are released at the weekend and what are we doing to reduce that?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about releases on Fridays. It is something that I have been looking at, but whether a prisoner is released on Friday, Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday or Monday, it is important that they have accommodation and support.
Today’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation is one of the most shocking independent inspection reports that I have ever read. Nearly two thirds of children are going on to reoffend. Accommodation, health services and support on leaving custody are all highlighted as failing. How much longer are Ministers going to throw good money after bad in providing more prison places, rather than the targeted investment on education and support that we know helps turn children’s lives around?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about rehabilitating people in prison. We have reduced the youth estate over the years, so only the most serious offenders are in prison and we do want to ensure that appropriate sentences are handed down. None the less, education in prison, accommodation on release and universal credit are priorities for this Government.
I hope the Minister will be interested in learning more about the Street & Arrow initiative run by Scotland’s violence reduction unit, which helps ex-offenders make a livelihood through its street food vans, which in turn are supported by public projects such as the Glasgow Hospital and Dental School and the University of Glasgow’s construction project. This helps them learn new skills and take initiatives to reduce offending and improve their livelihoods. I hope the Minister will be willing to look at projects such as that.
Prisons: Staffing Levels
In my first orals in this role, I am very pleased to pay tribute to the hard work of all our prison staff. I have had the opportunity, since I was appointed, to visit a number of prisons and I have seen at first hand the dedication of their staff. It is critical that we recruit and retain staff to keep our prisons secure. We have invested significantly in increasing staff numbers, recruiting a net total of an additional 4,366 prison officers between October 2016 and June 2019, surpassing our original target of 2,500, and we will continue to recruit officers to ensure that our prisons are decent and safe.
Since 2010, the number of prison officers has dropped by 80,000. Violence and insecurity in our jails have soared. What estimate has the Minister made of the impact in jails of her party conference’s proposals to increase jail sentences on violent and sexual offenders and the cost of delivering it?
We have recruited more than 4,000 staff since 2016. The hon. Gentleman is right to identify that if the police catch more criminals and we prosecute them, there will be more people going into our prisons. That is why we have committed to investing £2.5 billion in prison places. He is also right to identify that we will need not only prison places but more prison officers. We are actually ahead of our recruitment targets in this regard. The Prison Service has been lauded as a good employer: for example, it is in the top 100 graduate employers.
I congratulate the Government on their efforts to recruit more prison officers. However, does my hon. and learned Friend accept that cuts earlier this decade contributed to a vicious cycle of prison violence because fewer officers on landings led to more assaults, which caused more staff to leave, leading to more violence and so on? With morale and retention of prison officers at rock bottom, does she accept that more must be done to reward these brave public servants—for instance, by improving and reducing their retirement age to 60 because 68 is far too late?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the profile of the work of prison officers in his Westminster Hall debate last year, as well as this morning in questions, and for participating and promoting the excellent Prison Service parliamentary scheme. He is right to refer to prison officers as “brave public servants”, and the Secretary of State referred to them in his conference speech as “unsung heroes”. We made offers to staff to reduce the pension age in 2013 and 2017, but both offers were rejected by the Prison Officers Association.
I welcome the Minister back to the Ministry of Justice in her new role. Like her predecessors, she comes to this House triumphant about the Government’s recruitment campaign. However, the reality is that we just have to look at the breakdown in the number of prison officers to see that it is far from the truth. Some 80,000 years of cumulative prison officer experience have been lost, a third of officers have less than two years’ experience and the number of officers is now falling again—still lagging 2,500 behind 2010 levels. Will the Minister in her new role simply commit to bringing prison officer numbers back to 2010 levels?
We have made a significant breakthrough in the number of prison officers. We have introduced the key worker scheme, which allows prison officers to build relationships with the prisoners, and during my visits to prisons I have heard that the scheme is extremely popular among prisoners and prison officers. We are professionalising our workforce in the youth estate, providing all frontline officers with a foundation degree—
But in looking at the way in which the Prison Service operates, will my hon. and learned Friend also review the kind of prisoners who are sent to open prisons? Bearing in mind the announcements made last week, there is concern that open prisons will contain more people who have been convicted of very serious offences and are therefore not suitable for open prisons. Will she review this?
An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of our constitution and our democracy, and we are rightly proud of our world-class judiciary. As Lord Chancellor, I have sworn an oath to defend its independence. I take that extremely seriously and will continue to defend its independence vigorously.
Consistent with the Lord Chancellor’s speech at the opening of legal year, will he confirm that there is no place for political involvement in the appointment of judges and no question but that the rulings of the courts must be observed by all?
Will the Secretary of State today put it on record not only that he believes in the independence of a robust judiciary, but that his Government will obey the law, and not crash us out of the European Union against the law?
I thank the Lord Chancellor for speaking out in favour of the independence of the judiciary.
Lord Hope of Craighead, a former Deputy President of the Supreme Court and Lord President of the Court of Session, has pointed out that
“The Supreme Court justices were careful to explain in their judgment”
on the Prorogation case
“that they were not pronouncing on political questions. The issues with which they were dealing…were issues of law.”
Will the Lord Chancellor explain that to those in his party demanding a politicised appointment process for the judiciary?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. I treat the remarks of the noble Lord Hope with extreme gravity, bearing in mind his experience and knowledge. It always bears repeating that the judiciary do not have political motivations, and that case was no exception. Frankly, I think the matter needs no further debate. If we ended up with an American-style approval system, we would all be the poorer for it.
Yesterday a Scottish court recorded the Prime Minister’s unequivocal promise to comply with his statutory duties under the Benn Act. The judge, Lord Pentland, said:
“it would be destructive of one of the core principles of constitutional propriety and of the mutual trust that is the bedrock of the relationship between the court and the crown for the prime minister or the government to renege on what they have assured the court that the prime minister intends to do”.
Can the Lord Chancellor assure us that he will be impressing on the Prime Minister the grave consequences of ignoring that warning from a senior member of the Scottish judiciary?
We have seen the Justice Secretary forced to take to Twitter to defend the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law after recent briefings from No. 10 Downing Street. He may well have to do that again later today, after this morning’s headlines. The Attorney General has briefed the press that he will resign if the Government refuse to adhere to the law demanding an extension to rule out no deal. Will the Justice Secretary do the same?
We have already announced that we will strengthen probation by bringing back into the National Probation Service the supervision of offenders. In July, we published a draft operating blueprint.
The former Justice Secretary’s decision in 2013 to privatise probation was set up to fail from the start. Now that a partial U-turn has been announced, can the Minister set out for the House the full cost, from start to finish, of the failed privatisation of probation services?
Good probation can be the means to transform young people’s lives and help to rehabilitate them in communities. We do not have a prison in Cornwall, but we have many people who are involved in this process. What can the Minister do to help those organisations to get the funds they need to support those young lives, so that they can play a full part in life?
The new system will ensure that, while offender management is brought in-house, private sector innovation will be involved in providing unpaid work, and there will be a dynamic framework to enable new schemes and charities to bid to provide bespoke local services. I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend about what might be provided in Cornwall.
I rise as the co-chair of the justice unions cross-party group. Following disastrous mismanagement by the former probation provider, Working Links, it is to be welcomed that probation in Wales is due to come back under public control by 2 December. The terms on which staff are employed by HMPPS in Wales will set a benchmark for England. How confident is the Minister that terms will be agreed with the unions over the next seven weeks, and what will be the consequences if that does not happen?
We are working hard to ensure that we succeed in Wales. As the right hon. Lady mentioned, it is the first of our operations. I met representatives of Napo, GMB and Unison at the end of last month to discuss that very issue, and we are working hard to ensure that matters are in place by the end of the year.
Prison Leavers: Accommodation
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that finding accommodation for prisoners at the end of their sentence is vital. That is why we have already started pilots to help offenders released from three prisons—Bristol, Pentonville and Leeds—to secure and maintain accommodation, with £6.4 million from the Government’s rough sleeping strategy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) mentioned today’s report which says that young offenders are being set up to fail when they are released. One concern raised in the report is about the quality of unregulated supported living, which is a real concern in Bristol. May I urge the Minister to talk to her counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to see how we can regulate supported housing?
I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend has said about the pilot projects now under way and wish them success. Since up to 30%, by some estimates, of people sleeping rough on the streets have a prison record, does she agree that one of the best ways to secure a reduction in reoffending is to step up these schemes and ensure that when someone has served their time, they have a roof over their heads on release?
I agree very much with my experienced right hon. Friend, from whom I learned so much as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. He is absolutely right about accommodation. We are looking at the pilots. We are also trying to expand the approved premises estate by an extra 200 beds. Accommodation is a critical matter, and we are looking hard into it.
Access to Justice: Court Digitisation Programme
Digitisation is designed to improve access to justice and, of course, efficiency in the court system. Last year, 150,000 people accessed court services online. To date, no fewer than 63,491 people have entered uncontested divorce proceedings online. The take-up rate is now 62% and growing. Some 94,975 people have issued or responded to civil money claims to date, and they report an 88% satisfaction rating. No fewer than 317,206 minor pleas have been entered since 2014, and if the House is wondering, 85% of those pleas were guilty and 15% were not guilty.
From next April, the vast majority of personal injury claims will have to be dealt with online, without the benefit of legal advice. Even the Association of British Insurers—the major advocate and beneficiary of that policy—does not think the Government will be ready. It is urging the Government to drop the proposed increase in the small claims limit for employers and public liability and concentrate on road traffic claims. As the Government often follow the ABI’s advice, will they on this occasion?
The House has been in the process of legislating in this area for some time. The Prisons and Courts Bill fell at the 2017 election. We finally legislated in the Civil Liability Act 2018, which is due to be implemented along with the £5,000 limit for the small claims track in April next year, and that remains the Government’s intention.
In Suffolk, nearly half of all victims of domestic abuse or sexual offences are unwilling to proceed with prosecutions. Clause 75 of the Domestic Abuse Bill will help to improve the situation, but will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to root-and-branch reform to remove the culture of confrontation, fear and intimidation in the courts and tribunals system?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point, which was touched on by Members under Question 3. It is vital that we help victims of these terrible crimes to pursue the case right through the court system, rather than dropping it after reporting the crime, and there is a lot more to do there. The provisions in the Domestic Abuse Bill, introduced for its Second Reading last week, will help that, as will the increased funding to support victims of these terrible crimes, to which I referred earlier.
The Government have undertaken an unprecedented sale of courts, which has made giving evidence in court far more difficult for the many victims of crime who now have to travel much further to have their day in court. As the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) said, the fact is that victims of sexual and other physical abuse are already reluctant to come to court, and this plays into that even more. Will the Minister agree to an independent assessment of the impact of these court closures and commit to no further closures unless it can be proved that they are not having a detrimental impact on access to justice?
Of course, access-to-justice considerations are extremely important. Before any court is earmarked for closure, there is an extremely thorough consultation process, and if any courts are due to close in the future, a similarly thorough consultation process will be gone through. I would point out that in the cohort of courts consulted on in 2015 that were subsequently closed, on average their utilisation rates were about one third. We need to balance a reasonable approach to the court estate with the access-to-justice considerations that the hon. Lady quite rightly raises.
The Government have not conducted a public consultation on the law in relation to assisted suicide. We remain of the view that any change to the law in this sensitive area is a matter of conscience and a matter for Parliament, rather than one of Government policy.
The Secretary of State will be aware that, under the current law, people can be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison for assisting the suicide of a terminally ill loved one in great pain, and that the Crown Prosecution Service is pursuing prosecutions, with traumatic effects in some cases, so why have the Government decided to abandon even the call for evidence that his predecessor initiated only a few weeks ago?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. There was no initiation of a call for evidence. However, I hear his point about prosecutions. The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines, which were actually pioneered by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), in my view strike a very sensitive and sensible balance between the need to protect the vulnerable and the need to understand the sensitive and emotive circumstances of many of these tragic cases.
Last week, the police and crime commissioner for Durham, Ron Hogg, said there needed to be changes in the law on assisted dying, and this reflects the view of many in the police. I know that the Secretary of State for Justice is a very compassionate man, so will he meet police officers to discuss their concerns?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a very close interest and been actively involved in this issue. Of course I would be happy to meet police officers—indeed, I have committed to meet others on this issue—but I do harbour the gravest of doubts about the ability of legislation to be watertight when it comes to the potential, sadly, for abuse.
It is a great pleasure to ask a question of my old friend the Lord Chancellor. I fear that he may not have received complete information from his officials, because his immediate predecessor did ask for a call for evidence and for No. 10 approval of a call for evidence. It is true that the previous Prime Minister resigned before that request could be approved, but the previous Lord Chancellor did make it clear that he thought a call for evidence was justified. To be clear about the reasons why: it is not that Government are going to take a position on a possible change of law, but only the Government can gather the information about the effect of the current law so that Parliament can decide whether that law needs to be changed.
I am grateful to my old friend for the way in which he asked that question. I accept the comments that he made. It was not agreed that there should be a call for evidence, and it is not my plan to initiate one. However, discussions and conversations will continue, and the wealth of information out there on both sides of the argument is something that will prompt right hon. and hon. Members to continue this debate, either on the Floor of the House or by other means.
Parliament is out of step with the people on this issue—90% of the UK population believe that assisted dying should be legalised. Shropshire man Noel Conway recently had his case turned down in the Supreme Court, which believed that it was a matter for Parliament to decide. Does the Minister agree that Parliament must look at this issue once again, because it is not right for us to decide that terminally ill people, who are enduring great suffering, have no right over how they choose to die?
My hon. Friend raises the Noel Conway case, in which the Court found that Parliament’s decision not to change the law did indeed strike a fair balance between the interests of the wider community and the interests of people who were in that tragic position. That was upheld by the Court of Appeal. It is a matter for right hon. and hon. Members to raise that issue, either in a private Member’s Bill or in a general debate.
Automatic Release from Prison on Licence
I do not have any immediate plans to extend the proposals that I made last week. I reassure my hon. Friend that public protection weighs very much in my mind when it comes to automatic early release—something about which I have long held strong views, from my days in the criminal justice system.
The automatic early release of prisoners halfway through their sentences, introduced by the last Labour Government, is dishonest. It undermines public confidence in the justice system, and it lets people out halfway through their sentence even if they still a pose a risk to the public and there is a risk of their reoffending. A Conservative Government should scrap that for all offenders.
I hear my hon. Friend’s strictures. He will be greatly encouraged by the announcement that I made last week to move that threshold to two thirds for serious, violent and sexual offenders. As I have said, this is about public protection and confidence in the system, and I am sure that he will fully support the Government’s measures.
The Secretary of State is aware of my constituent Jackie Wileman, who was hit and killed by four men driving a stolen heavy goods vehicle. They had nearly 100 convictions between them. One man was in the probation system; another two had just completed probation. As part of the Government’s renationalisation of the probation service, will the Minister commit to review the way in which offenders are classed and monitored. Those men were not classed as high risk and were not monitored as such. That was a clear failure, which, as he knows, had devastating consequences.
The hon. Lady and I have spoken about this case in this past. She is an assiduous campaigner on this and other issues, and I am grateful to her. The reforms to probation give us an opportunity to get that sort of risk assessment absolutely right. Ending the division between the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies will allow us to focus on the offender, rather than worrying about which part of the system they should be in. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue.
My constituent Valerie Matcham’s grandson was killed by a single punch to the side of his head. Bradley’s killer was sentenced to just two years in prison, and the family is distraught at the thought that he could be out on licence after just one year. I am encouraged by my right hon. and learned Friend’s words and urge him to keep the views of families at the forefront of his mind when considering these difficult decisions.
My right hon. Friend raises a distressing case. It is perhaps not appropriate for me to comment on it individually, but I extend my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of that victim. It is precisely why we have decided to take action to try to create a higher degree of confidence for victims and their families when it comes to the administration of sentences.
I was out with Gwent police on Friday. A large amount of their casework relates to serious high-risk offenders being released halfway through their sentences, which is a massive drain on resources both locally and nationally. Will the Lord Chancellor commit to review automatic release?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will join me in actively supporting my proposals to change the automatic release to two thirds for serious violence and sexual offenders. That will indeed help local police forces, such as Gwent, with their management of offenders in the community. I pay tribute to the work the police do in that respect.
When violent criminals are released, it is a time of fear and sometimes terror for their erstwhile victims. Release under licence allows the restriction of both movement and access, but not beyond licence. When the Lord Chancellor reconsiders the issue of licence, will he consider whether restrictions can be put on such criminals after their licence periods are over, to protect the victims?
My right hon. Friend asks a very important question. I have to accept the limitations on the period of sentencing. Supervision is an important part of the licence period, but what happens beyond that is difficult in terms of court order. However, work can and should be done by the probation service to ensure we are protected as fully as possible.
Almost two years ago to the day, the Government made a pledge to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life. In the light of the Secretary of State’s recent announcement, will he be revising that pledge? To date, no action has been taken.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who I know has written to me. I repeat my pledge to get on with legislating on that issue as soon as possible. We have, we hope, a new Session coming. I am not going to pre-judge what might be said then, but I think there will be an opportunity for us to right this wrong.
Support for Victims of Crime in Court
The Government are prioritising support for victims through the criminal justice system and beyond, and we are committed to tackling poor criminal justice outcomes for them. Just last month, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and I took part in a roundtable at Downing Street to discuss support for victims of rape. Victims and stakeholders highlighted the importance of support in their engagement with the criminal justice system.
The Minister will be aware that the recent consultation on the code of practice for victims of crime has recently closed, and she will be considering representations. Will she look closely at the greater use of criminal compensation orders for the victims of child sexual abuse? They are used in a woefully small number of cases, so vulnerable people have to re-live the trauma either through a private prosecution or through the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
Compensation orders are an important power. The purpose of the order is to pay the victim compensation for any personal injury, loss or damage caused by an offence, and they allow courts to ensure that offenders make financial reparations to victims where possible. As part of our review of the victims code, we will be considering the recommendation on raising awareness of criminal compensation orders made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
Support for victims is not good enough, so can I appeal to the Government to change the law to remove the automatic entitlement of joint assets from those who have attempted to murder their partners? The case I am working on sees the perpetrator demand £90,000 from the woman he attempted to kill, or, as she puts it, a £3,000 reward for every stab wound.
I know what my hon. Friend means. I laid a written ministerial statement before the House last week, and at the Conservative party conference, I announced reforms that will end automatic halfway release for the most serious violent and sexual offenders. These criminals will be required to serve two thirds of their sentence behind bars. I also announced that we will allow courts across England and Wales to sentence offenders guilty of alcohol-related offences for up to 120 days of electronically monitored abstinence. That follows two successful pilots, including one in London launched by the then London Mayor, now the Prime Minister.
During the last Prorogation of Parliament, I was looking forward to serving on a jury. When the Supreme Court decided that we should be here, I had to be released from that jury service by a distinguished judge in Hereford. It cannot be right that judges decide when we sit and who attends, but the Secretary of State’s Department has been pathetic in its written responses to me about how it proposes to make sure that we can fulfil both sorts of public service.
I am distressed to hear that from my hon. Friend—I have sat as a judge in Hereford and it is a most pleasant court. Matters of jury service and jury duty are, of course, for the court system, and it would be inappropriate for my Department or Ministers to—[Interruption.] No, I am sorry; it is not appropriate for us to intervene in these matters. This Parliament changed the rules about jury service some years ago not to exempt Members of Parliament, or indeed judges or barristers. That was the right thing to do. While the system is there to accommodate my hon. Friend and his needs, like all other members of the public, we just have to work with respect to the system.
The coming Labour Government are committed to restoring all legal aid-funded early legal help. That will restore legal aid help in nearly half a million cases, but the Government refuse to do it, so which of these groups of people does the Secretary of State think would be undeserving of such legal help: the 50,000 or so people who get help fighting dodgy landlords and other housing issues; the 90,000 or so people who get help fighting cruel decisions denying them the social security that they are entitled to; or the thousands of people who get help taking on bullying bosses? Which is it, or will the Government change their mind and agree to back this policy?
I am afraid that I will take no lectures from a Labour party that took a knife to civil legal aid back in the 1990s. I have a very long memory about legal aid, and I challenge anybody else to better it. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about early intervention. That is why we are working with a £5 million pilot—[Interruption.] I will not be heckled by the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry)—[Interruption.] I will not. I think it is extremely discourteous, Mr Speaker, and I am trying to—[Interruption.] And now she wants to insult me even further. [Interruption.]
Order. The Secretary of State for Justice is entitled to be heard. There is quite a lot of noisy chuntering from a sedentary position, but I wish to hear the mellifluous tones of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is now looking discontented, to put it mildly. Blurt it out, man, with your usual elegance.
What plans does my right hon. and learned Friend’s Department have to help to facilitate careers for people who want to join the Ministry of Justice who have served in the military or the armed forces, so that it can help to communicate and facilitate their transition back into civilian life?
I fully understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. It is fundamental to our legal and justice system that everyone has the right to a fair trial. None the less, it is important that we give our utmost support for bereaved families. I am determined to do all that I can to ensure that bereaved families are at the heart of the coronial process, and we are working across the Government to achieve this.
My hon. Friend has done some work in this area as a former trustee of a charity that seeks to rehabilitate ex-offenders. He raises a very important point. The new futures network, which we recently set up, and to which 500 employers have now signed up, seeks to ensure that ex-offenders are rehabilitated into jobs in the community.
As the hon. Lady will know, criminal defence lawyers play a crucial role in upholding the rule of law, and the Government greatly value their work. We have the legal aid support action plan, which we are working through, and I am keen to do all I can as legal aid Minister in this regard.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. The level of appeals and the number of successful appeals remain stubbornly high, which has been of concern to all of us who have taken an interest in this for many years. I want to see the mandatory reassessment process be as meaningful as possible so that the courts are not having in effect to overturn these decisions. I take her point onboard and am looking at it anxiously.
I am aware of two cases in the last year where the most senior Appeal Court judges have come to a unanimous agreement only for that to be followed by unanimous disagreement in the Supreme Court. The Justice Secretary might know of more. Would it be a good idea to have an independent body to write an explanation so that those of us who are not lawyers can understand what is actually going on?
A novel point, Mr Speaker. I think the judgments of their lordships and the lords justices in the Court of Appeal speak for themselves and are increasingly written in clearer language, and the recent Supreme Court judgment was an eloquent example, whatever one’s view of it might have been.
We are very concerned about the level of violence in prisons and very pleased that the 10 prisons project showed that we can reduce violence in prisons by reducing drugs in prison. I am very pleased that the Government recently announced the £100 million investment in prison security to make our prisons safer for those who work in them.
I thank the Minister for recently discussing the important Camp Hill site on the Island with me. Will the Ministry of Justice now develop, with me and Isle of Wight Council, a considered position in a timely way so that we can get a public interest outcome?
Very briefly, Mr Speaker. The Lord Chancellor will remember that there used to be a convention involving judges not speaking publicly other than in their written declarations. Does he agree that speaking publicly can sometimes make people confused about what is the judgment of the court and what is personal opinion?
The £1,000 limit has not been changed for many years, and it is of course a great deal lower than the general small claims limit of £10,000. In my view, a small claims track limit of £5,000 balances access-to-justice considerations with reasonably administering the courts system.
The hon. Lady raises a hugely important point. I assure her that the mental health of offenders and prisoners is my priority. I think that we can do far more, and far more sensibly, working with other Departments such as the Department of Health and Social Care, to get the commissioned services right and to stop those delays. I will talk with the hon. Lady further about this important issue.
The hon. Lady will welcome the £170 million that we are investing in new scanners, up to now and in the next year. We are prioritising category B local prisons, which are particularly problematic in terms of security, but I will take away the point about New Hall and consider it carefully.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
Local families and police in the south lakes have been badly affected by the closure of Kendal court. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to ensure that we restore access to justice in the south lakes?
Given the tragic case of the baby who died in prison and the mother who laboured on her own in a prison cell, will the Minister please, in her review, look at two issues? First, were enough prison officers on duty that night, and secondly, will every single pregnant prisoner be given a healthcare plan suitable to her needs for every day of her pregnancy on which she is in prison?
The hon. Lady has made a very important point. I assure her that a number of investigations are under way. Ten separate investigations of the incident are currently taking place, and I am pleased to announce that the Secretary of State and I have formally asked the prisons and probation ombudsman to conduct an overarching investigation. I spoke to the governor of the prison yesterday. She has introduced hourly checks throughout the night for all pregnant women, and fortnightly pregnancy review boards are being held for them, involving a multidisciplinary team. That is happening throughout the female prisoner estate.
What assessment has the prisons Minister made of the discrepancy between the starting salaries and pay scales for prison officers employed by Parc Prison in Bridgend, which is run by G4S, and those for officers employed by the Government-run HMPs in Swansea and Cardiff?
In June, a 15-year-old and an older accomplice broke into my house to steal my car. Thankfully, Humberside police force was excellent. It found those two and made sure they were imprisoned and put on remand. However, that 15-year-old was released on tag but apparently has removed the tag and stolen two further vehicles, which have been crashed into community buildings and people’s homes. Can the Minister please explain to my community how the current system is working to protect them?
US Troop Withdrawal from Northern Syria
We are consulting the US on its response to the proposed Turkish military action in north-east Syria. The Foreign and Defence Secretaries both spoke to their US counterparts yesterday. The US position, including any movement of US troops, is of course a matter for the US Government. However, the US Department of Defence said in a statement yesterday that the US does not endorse a Turkish operation in north-east Syria. We have been consistently clear with Turkey that unilateral military action must be avoided, as it would destabilise the region and threaten efforts to secure the lasting defeat of Daesh. As members of the global coalition, our focus remains on securing the enduring defeat of Daesh. We will continue to work with the US and other international partners to that end.
I first declare an interest: I am a dual-US national.
The US is our most trusted and valued ally. We share the same vision in wanting to shape the world around us to defend international standards and values. It is why we stepped forward in the first place to form the international coalition to defeat Daesh, to which the Minister referred. That bond—that friendship, that trust—means that we have a privileged relationship with the US that enables us to be honest and speak out if there are differences of opinion. Today is one such case.
The President’s decision to remove US troops from northern Syria goes against official and congressional advice and will leave the Syrian Democratic Forces exposed to the expected Turkish offensive to establish a 30-km safe zone in northern Syria. These are the same Kurdish forces who worked with us to defeat Daesh. Essentially, they were our boots on the ground. Now it seems we are turning our backs on them. If this goes ahead, it will be no orderly handover. The Kurds will fight to defend their land. If the zone is secured, Turkey intends then to move over 3 million refugees who are currently in Turkey into the zone, fundamentally altering the ethnic makeup of the region.
If anything must be learned from previous interventions, it is that we do not abandon the very people who stepped forward to help before the job is done. General Petraeus has said that it is no longer good enough to defeat the enemy; we have to enable the local. We need to learn from Iraq in 2003, Afghanistan—Charlie Wilson’s war and after 9/11—and Libya. If we create a vacuum, it is quickly filled by stakeholders who pursue a very different agenda.
Further to the Minister’s or the Secretary of State’s conversations, will the Prime Minister be speaking to the President on this matter? Has the Minister or the Foreign Secretary spoken to our coalition allies about this fundamental change in US foreign policy? The Minister says that the placement of US troops is a matter for that country, but the US is part of an international coalition. We will only defeat the challenges around the world if we work and stick together. What impact will this decision have, therefore, on our efforts—Department for International Development efforts—to help provide aid to this war-torn country?
The Minister talks about discouraging Turkey from crossing the border in some form of invasion and creating that safe zone. What actions will the international community, or indeed Britain, take if such an action does, in fact, take place?
More generally, does the Minister acknowledge that the character of conflict has changed? These are not soldiers in uniform, but radicalised extremists committed to pursuing their jihadist agenda. Many of these fighters come from across Europe, including from the UK. Simply denying dual nationals the ability to return to the UK is not enough to keep our nation safe. Does the Minister therefore agree that the international community must design a better long-term legal solution to this challenge, which will not go away?
Neither the SDF nor Turkey has the desire to properly process the number of detainees and foreign fighters. If Turkey invades, the SDF will fight back, and these camps, such as that at al-Hawl, will get caught in the middle, with thousands deliberately released or able to escape. We will then see the emergence of Daesh 2.0.
We must have the strength and resolve to ask our closest ally to reconsider. Let us also exhibit our own international leadership by energising the same international community that so swiftly came together to defeat Daesh militarily and that now needs to stay the course to stabilise the region we helped to liberate. Otherwise, why did we step forward in the first place? Our world is getting more dangerous, and the threats more complex. The international community must stick together.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman speaks with very considerable authority on these matters, and that was part of the rationale for granting him his urgent question. He rather gently pointed out to me that it was his first urgent question, so I granted him some latitude, because I think the House wanted to hear from him, but other colleagues cannot expect comparable latitude. Two minutes does not mean four minutes.
Nevertheless, Mr Speaker, I think the eloquence of my right hon. Friend probably justified the time he took.
I will try to address some of the points my right hon. Friend made. I absolutely agree with him about this being primarily an issue about Daesh. To answer his question about foreign fighters and others, my worry would be that this will divert the SDF from its activities against Daesh in the Euphrates valley—absolutely, 100%.
My right hon. Friend will understand that we are talking to all our interlocutors at the moment. This situation is very kinetic and very fast-changing, and we of course need to ensure that, so far as we can, we influence our partners in the way that he has just described.
As I understand it, the US withdrawal, if it happens, will be fairly small-scale. It will involve a small number of troops in the immediate vicinity of the border. That is our understanding. We do not support any incursion by Turkey into north-west Syria.
My right hon. Friend will know from previous outings at the Dispatch Box of the extent, breadth and depth of support for the crisis in Syria. We are among the top few in terms of our financial contributions to that awful humanitarian disaster. I hope that that begins to address some of the points he raised.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), along with all those other Members who sought to pursue this issue today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle).
The number of UQ applications you had on this issue today reflects the range of concern and, indeed, anger across the House about the Trump Administration’s decision to open the door to a Turkish invasion of northern Syria and to the subjugation of the Kurdish people in Rojava— the very people who led the fight against Daesh and who lost 11,000 brave fighters in the process. Donald Trump is not just abandoning those Kurdish allies; he is betraying their sacrifice. Of all the great and unmatched ways in which he has shamed his office over the last three years, this is one of the very worst.
However, simple expressions of anger will not help the Kurdish people now, so I have four specific questions for the Minister. First, in answer to critics of the decision, Donald Trump said yesterday:
“The UK was very thrilled at this decision … many people agree with it very strongly.”
Will the Minister make it clear today that that is a lie? Can he explain what, if anything, the Foreign Secretary said yesterday to Mike Pompeo that might have given Donald Trump that impression?
Secondly, will the Minister agree to table emergency resolutions at this afternoon’s UN Security Council meeting and tomorrow’s North Atlantic Council meeting prohibiting Turkey from taking any action on the ground or by air to increase its military incursions into northern Syria? Will he redouble our efforts through those bodies to reach a genuine peace settlement, a political solution and the negotiated withdrawal of all foreign forces?
Thirdly, will the Minister also work through the UN Security Council and the High Commissioner for Refugees to make it clear to Turkey that it must not use the American withdrawal as a green light to forcibly resettle non-Kurdish Syrian refugees in the Rojava region in an effort to change its ethnic composition?
Finally, will the Minister insist, as a matter of urgency, that Kurdish representatives are finally invited to join the Syrian committee on constitutional reform so that they are able to stand up for their own rights?
An old rule of middle east conflict is that, one way or another, the Kurds will always get sold out. Donald Trump may be following that rule in the most brutal of fashions, but we must unite today, both here and at the United Nations, and say that this time we will not let it happen.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions. As for the tweet, I have no idea where that came from. It certainly is not based on the conversation that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had with Secretary Pompeo last night. Let me be quite clear that we would be opposed to any incursion by Turkey into Syria. The right hon. Lady refers to what is technically called refoulement, which is proscribed under international law, and we would most certainly be against any attempt by any state to engage in social engineering, ethnic cleansing or demographic change.
The right hon. Lady referred to the constitutional committee, and she will be aware that Geir Pedersen led on that at the UN General Assembly and that it will be stood up on 30 October in Geneva. It will be three pillared, with the pillars being the opposition, the regime and independence. Our position would be that all citizens in Syria should be fully represented. There is only one way of making progress in Syria, and that is through an inclusive political process.
I rise to support the urgent question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). This is surely an issue on which we should be, in many senses, bolder and more public about our disagreement. In America, as the Minister will know, General Petraeus has made it absolutely clear that this is the wrong move and the Republicans themselves in Congress are absolutely opposed to it, so this is not an issue about Trump versus just the usual political sources. It is a real problem that we could abandon a key ally in the destruction of the caliphate and then release them to the mercies of Turkey. Can we make it clear, publicly, that we disapprove of this—not just to the Americans but, more importantly, to the Turks? Will we also make it clear that if the Turks do carry out their threat, we would consider it to be an aggressive act against ourselves as much as we would one against the Kurds?
I have said in plain terms that we would resist any incursion into Syria, and the reason for that—well, there are many reasons for it—is that it will divert attention away from the principal threat to this country in relation to this conflict, which is Daesh. It would potentially divert efforts by the SDF from its operations along the Euphrates valley to the north-west of the country. That would not be helpful and would destabilise the situation, and I think that that is probably behind a lot of concern that has been expressed in Washington. We will continue to work with our allies to push that agenda, because it is right, and if we are going to restore any sort of equanimity in Syria, we need to be united in this particular fight.
I thank the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) for securing this question and for his comments, and I thank other colleagues for theirs. The SDF has been critical in the defeat of the murderous death cult Daesh. One of my concerns relates to what this move says about our future commitment to allies and about UK foreign policy when we are seeking those boots on the ground. President Trump’s policy is ill-thought-out, with one Pentagon official describing it as a blatant betrayal. What does this mean for UK forces still on the ground? Will he comment on reports that the SDF was compelled to demolish defensive fortifications? Finally, what discussions is he having with his Turkish counterparts, particularly on the humanitarian impact? We know from Save the Children that thousands of children and other refugees need access to food and medicine, so what is he doing to secure that? Is now the time to repatriate the innocent British children who have been stuck in Syria?
The right hon. Lady tempts me, but I am going to resist.
The US, I believe, is talking about seeking to redeploy 50 servicemen at the moment. I have no information on forts, so I cannot answer that question. As for boots on the ground, we need to be careful. The UK does not have regular boots on the ground in Syria; we do not do that. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise international development and Turkey, and he will be aware that we have been a major donor to this particular crisis through the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey. We are also considering at the moment what our response to FRiT 2 will mean, particularly in the context of our imminent departure from the European Union.
My right hon. Friends and the right hon. Lady spoke for the entire House on the important issue raised in this urgent question. Does the Minister understand that Britain must take responsibility for its own nationals and not use some device to evade that responsibility, nor must we leave them swilling around in ungoverned space where they can do ill in countries less well governed than this, but where they are also a danger to the people in this country? Does he understand that we may well be talking about approximately 40 people, of whom maybe as many as 30 are children? Will he raise this matter immediately with the Foreign Secretary and with his colleagues in Government to see whether we can get a change of policy and an urgent resolution of that particular issue?
My right hon. Friend is obviously an expert in such matters. There are two categories of individual: those in detention camps and those in al-Hawl, who are, in the main, the families of detainees. It is important that justice is served as close as possible to any alleged crime, and we are taking that forward with those in the region. As for the minors, it is the Government’s intent that innocents should be protected at all times. He will appreciate the difficulties that that poses in the context of Syria, but we are quite clear that minors need to be handled properly and humanely, and that will be our intent.
I am afraid that the Kurds are being stabbed in the back once again, as they have been so many times in the past. We have a responsibility, and we should stand up. We need to know what is going on day by day. We cannot wait for the Queen’s Speech and all that; we need to know what is happening today and what the Minister will be doing today. Otherwise, the Kurds are going to be left to die, as they have been so often in the past.
I understand the right hon. Lady’s frustration. We must be clear that we cannot act alone and that we have to act with our partners. That is the reality. The Kurds are not being stabbed in the back by the United Kingdom, but US actions are obviously a matter for the US. I hope that my remarks have provided my understanding of the extent and scope of what is in the President’s head, so far as I can, and it seems that some of the more exaggerated claims have probably been overdone. However, the right hon. Lady is right that the situation is highly kinetic and that things change from moment to moment. If things do change further, I rather suspect that I will be back in his place before too long.
The Minister will be aware that one principle of military action is the need for surprise, but we normally try to surprise the enemy, not our friends. Here we find ourselves surprised by the actions of our most important ally, and our allies on the ground have been surprised by the possibility that they may find their homes under serious threat from another of our important military allies—Turkey. Will the Minister please assure me that our other allies in the region are being assured that the UK will not make a pattern of being a fair-weather friend but will commit to our allies seriously and properly?
The only point I would make about surprise is that President Erdoğan has, of course, threatened this on a number of occasions, and he has previous in relation to Afrin. This has not come out of the blue, but I agree that we need to ensure that we do everything we can to understand our colleagues’ thinking on these matters so that we can act in a relatively joined up way, if possible.
As ever, it is innocent civilians who will suffer the consequences of the humanitarian disaster that will follow this decision. May I press the Minister to respond to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry)? It really is time for us to table this at the United Nations Security Council.
There have been ongoing concerns about the safety and welfare of Syrian refugees on or near the Turkish border. There is the prospect of a safe zone being set up, but how can the Minister guarantee that these people will be safe? There are fears about forcible repatriation or relocation from Turkey into Syria, which will be challenged. What representations are being made on their behalf?
My hon. Friend refers to the forcible repatriation of refugees, and clearly we would strongly oppose such a thing. I made it very clear to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) that we would oppose anything that looks like ethnic cleansing or demographic change. All those things are absolutely not appropriate, and we will resist them.
My hon. Friend will be aware of our effort in support of Turkey through the FRiT process, which will endure on our departure from the European Union. Turkey has done a good job in supporting refugees on its territory, and we will continue to support it in doing that. Turkey has a strong tradition of humanitarian assistance and, so far, it has acted well for refugees, and we want to encourage it in that process.
I am chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on north-eastern Syria, and we were in al-Hawl a month ago. I do not want to disagree with the Minister, but this is not primarily an issue of defeating ISIS; it is also about defending an area that has promoted democracy and gender equality, and that has been an ally, too. Will we now suspend the sharing of security and intelligence information with Turkey so that it cannot use that information against one of our allies? Will we bolster support for the SDF to ensure it has the resources it needs? And will we go to NATO to ensure that Turkey cannot invoke article 5 if there is a backlash?
I do not think we are into article 5 territory. We continue to support the SDF and the coalition. The principal intent here is the fight against Daesh, which is a clear and present danger that threatens us all. We will do everything in our power to ensure that fight continues and is unaffected by this latest news. It is important that we keep our eye on the ball in that respect. As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, there is a lot of ongoing work against Daesh along the Euphrates valley, and it is important that that work continues. This latest news risks destabilising that work.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) for raising this question.
Security depends on stability and consistency, and the decision taken by President Trump does not help that. It is a reminder, if any is needed, of the dangers of the United Kingdom pivoting too close to United States foreign policy at a time of inconsistency, rather than staying close to our European allies.
May I ask for further reassurance on the global coalition against Daesh? The communications cell, which does the vital work of dealing with the ideology, is based in the United Kingdom. Anything that might give Daesh supporters a sense that the United States is weakening in its commitment against Daesh could be used against the coalition and will materially affect those who are carrying on the vital communications work here. Can the Minister assure me that the United States realises that that coalition work is essential and that it will remain committed to it, no matter what its decision in this case may be?
My right hon. Friend’s point is well made. I cannot give him that assurance because I am not the US, but I am sure his point will have been heard by our interlocutors. He refers to our allies in the coalition and elsewhere, and he will be aware that we are working very closely with our E3 partners—probably more closely than we have for some considerable time. Some might think that is something of a paradox, given our imminent departure from the European Union, but it remains true nevertheless. Particularly in the region for which I have geographic responsibility, I have been struck by our close working relationship with France and Germany.
Syrian civilians have suffered again and again in this conflict. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), may I ask the Minister what we will do? Will we review all the Government’s policies at this crucial point to see whether we can do a little more to accept more refugees from the region?
I have alluded to our support for the humanitarian situation. I suspect I will be quizzed on this further when I appear before the Select Committee on International Development in a few minutes’ time. I am proud of the contribution made by the British people. We are in the top few countries in our support for the humanitarian situation in Syria.
I am also proud that, by 2020, we will have resettled 20,000 Syrians, including in my constituency. That is a sign of the generosity and big heart of the British people. It is a fair contribution, and it is an indication of the UK punching above its weight on international development.
I was in north-east Syria just three weeks ago with the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) and, at least then, it would have come as news to the leaders in the region that there was any engagement on the justice measures apparently being taken forward on the ground.
I am sure the Minister understands the scale of Kurdish resentment following the operation against Afrin, and therefore the scale of Kurdish resistance that there would be if there were a Turkish incursion. He has just said that we would resist any incursion into Syria and that we support the SDF and the coalition. What will we actually do to deter Turkey from making the profound mistake of this planned intervention in north-east Syria?
Turkey is a major NATO ally, and it is a good friend of this country. We have some leverage with Turkey, as a friend and as a partner, and my hon. Friend will understand that this is currently in the diplomatic space. He is tempting me to make all sorts of contingency preparations, which I certainly will not do at the Dispatch Box. This is clearly a dynamic situation, and we will have to respond to whatever happens, but our message to Turkey is, “Please don’t do this. It will deflect attention from what really matters here: first, defeating Daesh, and secondly, restoring this poor, benighted country to some sort of equanimity.”
The Kurdish diaspora has a sizeable presence in Scotland, with a community centre at Dumbryden in my constituency. I know they would wish me to remind the UK Government of the debt we all owe the Kurds in relation to defeating Daesh, so can the Minister confirm that the United Kingdom Government recognise that they have a moral obligation to help the Kurds, rather than just leaving them to their fate?
Of course, the SDF is part of the coalition against Daesh. I admire our Kurdish friends and partners enormously, and our posture has not changed at all. We are talking here about the possibility of Turkey moving into north-west Syria—we do not know how far that incursion is going to be—and the fact that the US has said that in those circumstances it would withdraw 50 of its people from the immediate area. So we need a sense of proportion on this, but of course we have to react to circumstances.
I am sorry to disagree with my friend the Minister, but saying, “Oh well, it is only a withdrawal of 50 people” is like saying, “Oh, well, it is only the withdrawal of HMS Endurance before the invasion of the Falkland Islands.” Is it not a fact that if the green light is given to Turkey, under its Islamist regime, to attack our allies, it will be an act of treachery and betrayal not dissimilar to what happened in 1944 when Stalin basically gave the green light to Hitler to crush the Warsaw uprising?