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Topical Questions

Volume 699: debated on Monday 12 July 2021

I know that the whole House will join me in condemning the sickening racist abuse directed last night at our heroic England football team on social media. These young men represented our nation with pride and dignity, and we are proud of them and the fortitude they showed the country last night. Racist abuse is utterly unacceptable and illegal, whether or not it takes place in front of people—online or offline. Individuals who commit racist offences should rightly face the full force of the law. Social media companies in particular have a clear responsibility for the content they host on their platforms, and they can no longer ignore some of the appalling, vile, racist, violent and hateful content that appears on their platforms. We have been clear that if they do not stamp this out, we will take actions against them in the Online Safety Bill. It will take a determined effort and action by everyone across society, and all institutions, to end the corrosive culture of racism. On that point, the thuggish and violent behaviour we saw last night was utterly disgusting and there is no place in our society for it; these people have no right to be called fans, and they will face serious consequences for their actions. To conclude, let me say that our nation is immensely proud of our three lions, and they showed true grit and determination in their actions last night and their endeavours on the pitch.

I welcome the measures set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill, and the Home Secretary’s ongoing commitment to finally getting a grip of our borders and stemming the flow of illegal immigrants across the channel. Will she confirm that the Bill will include measures for the removal of migrants to offshore centres where they can be housed while their claims and appeals are being processed?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we have heard in the House this afternoon from many right hon. and hon. Members the absolute challenge this country faces on illegal migration and illegal entry to the UK. The asylum system is broken and it is being exploited by illegal migration issues and the criminal gangs that are exploiting vulnerable individuals. As he will know, the new Bill, which will be discussed on Second Reading next week, covers many aspects and it is right that the Government explore all options to fix our broken asylum system.

I congratulate the England team on its fantastic achievements at the European championships. Those players, led by the inspirational Gareth Southgate, have shown incredible skill and determination on and off the pitch, taking a stand on child poverty, free school meals and so much else. They took the knee to stand against racism—a brave stance that led to their being booed by some. That booing was unacceptable and should have been condemned by all. Sadly, overnight Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka have been subject to the most appalling racist abuse. The Home Secretary spoke a moment ago about potential action in the future; have not the social media companies had long enough to get this right? What immediate action will she take to deal with this issue?

Everyone in the House will absolutely join in not only celebrating our incredible football team and the resilience of all our players but fundamentally calling out the appalling acts and actions that we saw last night. It is absolutely appalling that we have seen this terrible racist abuse. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, he is absolutely right that the social media companies have had far too long, whether it is on racism, hatred, violence or antisemitism—the list goes on and on and quite frankly it is utterly unacceptable. I have pointed rightfully to the online harms Bill, because we do need to legislate. The message needs to go out from this House, very strongly, to all the social media companies that they need to take responsibility. This is content that they host on their platforms. We will legislate against them, and that is on top of the fact that we are absolutely on top of them right now. We are pursuing them, as we do in every single case, but they need to wake up and take action themselves.

But we have had to wait years for the online harms Bill. There has to be a greater urgency to do more now. The awful abuse continues to happen, and it is not contained to football but happens right across society. We still have so far to go. Our footballers have used their platform to help to give voice to the millions of people in this country who are desperate for change, but change is not happening fast enough. The Government and Parliament have to respond. Absolutely all necessary resources must be allocated to tracking down the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the online harms Bill will be brought forward immediately and will contain the toughest of sanctions against social media companies for hosting vile material? It must also include criminal sanctions for senior social media executives.

The online harms Bill, on which the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is also leading, will be brought forward and the Government have been very clear about that. There should be no room whatsoever for either complacency, equivocation or absence when it comes to social media companies taking responsibility. This House has been unequivocal in our determination to drive change directly with these organisations.

The right hon. Gentleman is right: we need the toughest possible sanctions. Social media companies are only one component part of the change that we need to see; we also need the criminal justice system to go after the individuals who perpetrate some of these online harms and the hateful content that is put on these platforms. Of course, there is never any room whatsoever for complacency on this issue, which is why the legislation will be absolutely pivotal in terms of not only bringing forward the societal change that is required but holding the executives and these very significant companies to account.

Last night’s Euro final showed one united England team—young men of many backgrounds with the single aim of securing victory for their country. In sharing my and the entire House’s utter disgust at the racist abuse that was targeted at some of those incredibly talented and dedicated young players, will my right hon. Friend confirm that she has already spoken to the police, and that they will ensure they will do everything that is already in their power to identify and charge the perpetrators of this vile behaviour by people who sicken every decent person in this country? (902566)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the important points that he has aired this afternoon. He is absolutely right: both the Minister for Crime and Policing and I have been on a call this morning with police leads for football issues and the policing of football. As we have all said very clearly, there is absolutely no place for racism or violence whatsoever. Quite frankly, there is clear guidance and legislation: there are laws in place that we absolutely should apply and follow—that applies to the police as well—to go after the perpetrators and the individuals. My hon. Friend will of course be well aware of the Public Order Act 1986, but there is also the Football (Offences) Act 1991 and football banning orders, all of which play an important part in terms of the actions that everyone should be taking.

Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka are incredible players and part of an incredible team that has made us all proud to be English, but, while they are the best of us, they have endured vile racism from the worst of us. On their Instagram profiles right now, there is still vile racist abuse, which has been up there for 15 or 16 hours or more, visible to everyone, including to children and young people who are there to support their heroes. I have spoken to Instagram this afternoon to urge it to take much stronger action. Has the Home Secretary done so, and, if not, will she do so and now speak to the social media companies to urge them to take this action? Will she also take the opportunity to condemn those who stood up in our stadiums and booed our brave players for taking a stand against racism and call on them to show solidarity instead? (902569)

First and foremost, as I have said already, there are no words to describe the appalling acts that have taken place. [Interruption.] Would the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) like to intervene? If she would be prepared to listen, she will hear that everything related to racism and hatred both across society and involving any individual is completely unacceptable. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) is right to point to Instagram, but all social media platforms, not just Instagram, are culpable. They are all responsible and it is right that we all take action against them. As I have already said, we in the Home Office are absolutely on top of those organisations. Of course, legislation is the way that we will go forward on this, but such acts are simply unacceptable. This matter will take determined effort by everyone. There is no place for booing. Individuals have a right to express themselves in whichever way—we live in a free country, and thank God we do—when it comes to tackling hatred, violence and racism. The fact of the matter right now is that what we saw overnight was completely unacceptable. It is right, both from a policing perspective and when it comes to social media companies, that there is no place to hide and that action is taken.

I thank the Home Secretary for fulfilling her pledge on the Floor of the House to meet Aid to the Church in Need and myself tomorrow to discuss the case of Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl who was abducted, kidnapped, and forced into hiding. I do not want the Home Secretary to comment on that case, but does this not make it even more important that we deal with illegal migration? If we do not do so, we cannot deal better with genuine asylum seekers. Indeed, for every illegal we deport, we should accept a genuine asylum seeker. (902568)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and I look forward to the discussion that we will have tomorrow. This is a very harrowing case and I have been following the details of it for some time. Although we will discuss the matter tomorrow, my right hon. Friend is speaking to the fact that our asylum system is completely broken. We are seeing too many abuses of the system and vulnerable people being preyed on, and that scuppers our ability to assist those who are fleeing persecution and having the most appalling and abhorrent acts forced on them or taken against them. That is why the Nationality and Borders Bill is so important. I urge all colleagues in the House to work with us and support the Bill as it comes to Second Reading next week.

What we have just heard is errant nonsense. If a Uyghur fleeing torture, a Syrian fleeing war crimes, or a Christian convert escaping death threats, arrives in the UK seeking protection but without a visa, under the Home Secretary’s outrageous anti-refugee Bill, that would make them guilty of an offence punishable by up to four years in prison. How on earth can she defend criminalising torture victims—victims of war crimes, persecuted Christian converts and other refugees—for seeking our protection?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I am afraid that he has not read the Bill, or the new plan for immigration, or followed the debate and the discussion. I have been absolutely clear that we will support those individuals who, as he says, are fleeing persecution and torture. It is our objective as a Government to support those individuals, but not those who come to our country by paying money to illegal people traffickers and who could have claimed asylum in many of the EU countries through which they have travelled. I am sorry that he fails to realise that flagrant abuses are taking place through the use of people smugglers and people traffickers, and that individuals could claim asylum in other countries, but are simply choosing not to do so.

Prior to the pandemic, UK haulage businesses such as Owens Group in my constituency employed about 600,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers. However, as we come out of covid thousands of HGVs are parked up as the industry simply cannot find drivers; the number of trainee drivers dropped by 63% last year. The industry needs an immediate solution. Will my right hon. Friend consider adding HGV drivers to the UK shortage occupation list? (902578)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight first and foremost crucial skills that are obviously important to our labour market. Our new points-based immigration system does exactly that, not just in supporting key sectors but in giving employers an important role in filling labour market places and supporting jobs.

The Government are working with the haulage sector; the Department for Transport is leading on this right now. It has from today temporarily extended rules on HGV drivers’ hours to allow them to make slightly longer journeys where necessary. It is also providing support directly to the sector to increase the number of available driving tests so that more people can qualify and support important haulage companies across my hon. Friend’s constituency and the country.

How many EU settled status applications have been refused or rejected where the passport holder applicant is a citizen of an EU member state, due the applicant’s not having been born in that country? (902567)

I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about the specifics of his question; I do not have that detail in front of me right now. Throughout the application process, the Home Office has worked with and supported individuals who have issues demonstrating their status through some of the measures that I have already outlined, so that their status can be secured. There are ways in which we have been doing that, and I will write to him with that information.

Changes to the law on abortion are among the most difficult issues that we consider in this place, as the debate last week showed. These will always be matters of conscience, but does my right hon. Friend agree that when four royal colleges and the British Medical Association call for change, as there has been in Northern Ireland, we need to carefully listen to the views of those medical professionals and consider how, as a House, we can consider these important matters in a timely way? (902580)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. First and foremost, it is always important to recognise and understand the strength of feeling around this issue. I pay tribute to colleagues in the House who have discussed this issue over the past week; they have aired many not just concerns but approaches based on evidence and information.

My right hon. Friend is right that these are matters of conscience for all Members, but at the same time it is for Parliament to decide. The debate that she has been leading and much of the evidence that she has just touched on are a matter for consideration, which Governments absolutely approach in the right way, particularly with parliamentary debate at the right time.

May I say that there is a lot of disappointment that we have not gone very far on topicals? I have let them run for longer than I normally would. I am disappointed—we really have to get the Front Benchers working together to speed up those early questions; in the end, it is other Members who miss out.

Sitting suspended.