House of Commons
Tuesday 9 November 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
BUSINESS BEFORE QUESTIONS
That Mr Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County Constituency of North Shropshire in the room of Owen William Paterson, who since his election for the said County Constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Manor of Northstead in the County of York.—(Mark Spencer.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
As the Minister with responsibility for cross-departmental criminal justice issues, I spend a lot of time talking to myself.
I am sure the Minister is aware that many people in the criminal justice system are deeply worried about the state of forensic science, on which so much depends. I will not play the card that it is all the fault of privatisation; it is much deeper than that. Will he not only have a serious look at the evidence from the recent House of Lords inquiry, but keep in touch with me and with the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), my co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice? This is an urgent matter that goes to the heart of many miscarriages of justice. Will the Minister work with us to get it right again?
I am more than happy to work with the hon. Gentleman on the issues that he raises. He is quite right that forensics are a critical part of a good and functioning criminal justice system. He will know that in the Home Office part of my job, significant work is going into the transforming forensics programme, which has received investment of more than £25 million in each of the past two years, bolstering and reinforcing the Forensic Capability Network. He will also know that the Mackey review, which was completed in April, has been looking at where forensics goes next, and that there is a jointly chaired forensics sub-group of the Criminal Justice Board that looks at the issue across both Departments.
Contrary to the question from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), will the Minister welcome the developments in forensic science that led to last week’s conviction of David Fuller for two murders and multiple counts of sexual abuse in mortuaries? Will he commit to ensuring that with every development in science and technology, the system routinely returns to unsolved cases so that justice can be done?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. She is quite right that as forensic science develops—and it is developing very rapidly indeed—we are able to revisit some quite elderly cases in which evidence is still available and reveal the true perpetrators of some awful crimes. What we saw last week was a brilliant result by Kent police. A matter that I have to confess that I was involved with, where exactly what my hon. Friend describes took place, was the catching of the killers of Stephen Lawrence nearly 20 years after the killing: it was driven specifically by developments in the ability to assess microdots of blood in a way we had not been able to do before. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that all police forces, through the Forensic Capability Network, need to keep all so-called cold cases under review as science leads us towards greater and greater answers.
Road Traffic Offences and Penalties
As part of the Department for Transport’s longer-term and wider work on road safety, road traffic offences are kept under review to ensure that irresponsible driving and the risk it poses to others are appropriately punished. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are increasing the maximum penalties for causing death by dangerous driving and by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, and we are introducing a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
Businessman Hassan Nasser al-Thani, who killed retired railway worker Charles Roberts while driving his Rolls-Royce at nearly twice the speed limit, was given a short driving ban and fined last month because prosecutors accepted that he was driving carelessly, not dangerously. That is just the latest example of a road criminal receiving a ridiculously light sentence while their victim’s loved ones are left grieving for the rest of their lives. It has been nearly eight years since the Conservative then Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), promised
“a full review of all driving offences and penalties”—[Official Report, 6 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 17.]
Where is it?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who I recognise has been very vocal on these issues for a long time. I obviously cannot comment on the specific case; sentencing and decisions of the courts are a matter for our independent judiciary, as he knows. However, we had a review in 2014 that looked at driving offences and penalties, which led to the consultation in 2016 and to the new measures that were debated in the House of Lords yesterday. Those measures significantly strengthen the penalties for the two offences that I mentioned, not least because the maximum penalty will increase from 14 years to life. I think that sends a strong signal about our overall position on these very serious matters.
Drug Smuggling into Prisons
In the 12 months to March 2021, the number of incidents in which drugs were found in prisons decreased by 6% to 20,295.
What steps have been taken to ensure that state-of-the-art X-ray body scanners have been installed throughout the male prison estate, and that we are harnessing the best available technology to help our prisons to become places of rehabilitation rather than addiction to drugs?
My hon. Friend is right to ask that question. Since 2019, the Government have invested more than £100 million in prison security. We have installed 74 X-ray body scanners, which has resulted in more than 10,000 positive scans. I recently visited HMP Highdown and saw the equipment in action. It has stopped 100 smuggling attempts in the last year alone, involving drugs, weapons and mobile phones, and it allows that prison to operate safely.
On top of the investment and the scanners, we have the Prisons (Substance Testing) Act 2021, which gives prison officers the powers to test prisoners for any psychoactive substance. We also now have enhanced gate security at 35 high-priority sites, and fixed and portable mobile phone blocking equipment to give officers all the tools that they need to keep their prisons safe.
I speak as co-chair of the justice unions parliamentary group. Drugs in prisons cause chaos, putting immense strain on prison officers, and such stress is a factor in the prison staffing crisis. This year, 134 band 3 officers left HMP Berwyn. Each officer’s training had cost £13,000; that is £1.74 million of public money wasted. Does the Secretary of State agree that implementing the recommendations of the pay review body is a key part of the solution to the crisis, and that good prison staff deserve proper wages?
The right hon. Lady is right to raise that issue. It is important to consider not just the technology that we have been talking about, which helps to keep prisons safe, but the men and women who—day in, day out, at considerable risk to themselves and under considerable pressure—do such an excellent job. She asked about the independent pay review body; this year we have accepted its recommendations, which is critically important and only right.
In the past, and perhaps even in the present, a great many drugs and other items have been smuggled into prisons by means of drones. Can the Secretary of State give any indication of what has been done to stop that happening, and thereby stop prisoners’ access to those items?
I was up at Glen Parva recently to look at one of the new state-of-the-art prisons. There, and across the prison estate, we are introducing improved cell windows, netting and other physical upgrades, as well as technology, to counter the threat of drones.
UK Human Rights Framework
Under this Prime Minister and before the next election, we will overhaul the Human Rights Act to end its abuse by dangerous criminals and to restore some common sense to our justice system.
Will the Secretary of State listen to calls from the campaign group Liberty, and commit himself to ending what it has described as a cynical use of violence against women and girls as justification for the planned HRA reforms, bearing in mind that the legislation has been instrumental in securing women’s rights?
As a trainee lawyer I worked at Liberty, and I have huge respect for the work that it does. In fact, back then I took a test case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg relating to gender discrimination. However, it is also right that we listen to the wider voices, and we have conducted the independent Human Rights Act review to consider all the issues from all the different angles. We are grateful to Sir Peter Gross for chairing that review and we will carefully consider its recommendations in the round.
The Human Rights Act handed power to unelected judges, both at home and abroad, meaning that Britain remains tied to a foreign court. The creeping power of the courts is directly interfering with the Government’s ability to conduct their business, not least in preventing the Home Secretary from combating the unacceptable numbers of illegal immigrants crossing the channel. In the light of this, does my right hon. Friend agree with many residents of Blackpool in thinking that it is time we scrapped the Act altogether?
We will look at reforming and overhauling the Human Rights Act, and I think my hon. Friend raises a reasonable point. I support continued membership of the European convention on human rights, but a fair challenge has been raised by lawyers and judges past and present about the elasticity of rights and whether, when they are expanded, that decision ought to be taken by elected Members of this House and not by courts and lawyers. That is a fair challenge, and if hon. Members look fairly at the data from successful challenges on seeking the deportation of foreign national offenders, they will see that there is a good argument that there are too many cases of criminals being able to flout the system because of that elastic interpretation of rights.
The victims of the most horrendous crimes wait years for justice in this country, the courts backlog might not be sorted for eight years, rape convictions are at shamefully low levels, and even with strict lockdown conditions, violence, self-harm and drug abuse are still rife across the prison estate, yet the Secretary of State is investing his time and energy in his personal obsession with dismantling the Human Rights Act. What message does he think this sends to victims about the priorities of his Government?
I have visited three prisons in my time as Justice Secretary. We have secured an important settlement for the courts backlog in this spending review, but on top of that, a lot of victims and their families say that it is galling to see foreign national offenders who cannot be deported and who are claiming their right to a family life. I think the hon. Gentleman needs to instil a little bit of balance and perspective, and we are going to reintroduce some common sense to the system.
Crown Court Backlog
We are already seeing the results of our efforts to tackle the impact that the pandemic has had on our justice system, and the number of outstanding cases in magistrates courts has dropped by around 80,000 since its peak in July 2020. I am pleased to say that the spending review provides an extra £477 million for the criminal justice system, which will allow us to reduce Crown court backlogs caused by the pandemic from 60,000 today to an estimated 53,000 by March 2025.
I say to the hon. Lady with the greatest respect that it is quite extraordinary that anybody in this place should try to pretend that the pandemic has nothing to do with the backlog. If she visits a Crown court, she will see extraordinary measures having to be used to ensure that, with a jury present and potentially multiple defendants, a case can be disposed of while upholding the rules that we brought in for public health. It would be very welcome if the Opposition recognised that the best part of £500 million of investment to clear the backlog is a very significant step and a positive way forward.
Last week, the Justice Committee visited the Crown court in Manchester and met the recorder, His Honour Judge Dean QC, and the rest of the judiciary. We also met court staff and practitioners there. I hope my right hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the hard work that they are all doing to try to keep the show of the jury trial on the road in these exceptional circumstances. Does he agree that it is extremely difficult to deal with jury trials when social distancing is required, and that we have to be realistic about that? Will he also note that the magistrates courts are now, as he observed, dealing with cases in a timely fashion? Is it perhaps worth looking again at the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in relation to the powers of magistrates, because a lot of lower-level offences could be disposed of in magistrates courts?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I also had the pleasure of visiting Manchester Crown court and saw the brand-new super court, put in place at a cost of £2.5 million to the Treasury to deal with multi-handed cases. I am pleased to say that today we have opened another in Loughborough. On the matter of magistrates, he will know that in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill that is before the House—in fact, we have just been in Bill Committee—we will increase the number of cases that are remitted from the Crown court to magistrates, saving 400 days in the Crown court to hear serious backlog cases such as rape and other indictable charges.
I will let you get the benefit of the applause, Mr Speaker.
On a recent trip out with officers from the Waterfoot police station in Rawtenstall, one of the challenges they talked about in getting cases to court is that the Crown Prosecution Service insists that full disclosure is done before charge. Will my hon. Friend go away and look at that? It is currently warranted officers doing that disclosure, when it could easily be a civilianised job. Will he agree to speak to the Crown Prosecution Service and his colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that Lancashire constabulary—as you know, Mr Speaker, the finest police officers in our United Kingdom—can be out getting criminals and not doing paperwork?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point and has significant experience as a lawyer himself. I can confirm that there is extra resource for the CPS in the spending review, and the Home Office and our Department work closely together on that question and will be looking at what more we can do to improve those processes.
On 5 October, the Secretary of State said it would take up to 12 months to get the backlog down to pre-pandemic levels. Yet we know now, according to the Ministry of Justice’s own analysis, that the backlog may not return to those levels until 2025. Just this morning, he said it could take up to eight years. Was he mistaken when he said it would only take a year, or has it taken him a little longer to get on top of the Department?
On the contrary, I can confirm that what my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor actually said was that cases would start to stabilise. They are stabilising now, at around a 60,000 backlog, but we accept that that is still significant. I think what matters to our constituents, though, is not the size of the number of cases outstanding—though that is important—but how long their case is going to take. On timeliness, we are seeing a very significant improvement, because we are working at full capacity. In July, the Crown courts in this country sat more days and disposed of more cases in a single month than at any time since November 2018. We are making significant progress, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the additional investment in the spending review, which will ensure we can go even further.
I am glad to see the Minister come to the aid of the Secretary of State, but he has not answered whether it is a year, eight years or 2025. The Secretary of State told Sky News today that he did not recognise that there was a workforce crisis in the criminal justice system. The Lord Chancellor has got to get real. The workforce is beyond crisis: it is in end times. Criminal solicitors and barristers are leaving in droves, cases are up right across the country, they are stalled right across the country and nobody is available to take them. The Criminal Bar Association is threatening to strike. How does the Lord Chancellor expect to reduce the backlog if there is no one available to take on the cases? Holiday time is over. It is time to act, or let the system collapse.
It is quite extraordinary: 43 minutes ago in Bill Committee, the Labour party voted to keep clogging up our courts with immigration and asylum cases with almost no chance of success. Quite extraordinary. Those cases take up 180 days of court time. That means a High Court judge, and that is precious resource. That is why we are taking that measure. It just proves that when it comes to the backlog in the courts, Labour says one thing and does another.
Former Offenders: Employment Support
We will invest £200 million a year by 2024-25 in initiatives to reduce reoffending, including supporting prison leavers into employment.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that prisoners and ex-offenders out on licence should help fill the labour shortage, that on release all prisoners, including some ex-Labour MPs, should be ready for work and that starting work should be a condition of their licence?
One of the first things I did as Secretary of State was host an employers’ summit attended by 600 organisations last month, where we committed to working together to improve employment rates for prison leavers. I have seen how that works at Ford prison and at HMP High Down, whether we are talking about HGV training or call centres. We know that if we give offenders the skills, and if they have the attitude to take a second chance, getting into work significantly reduces the risk of reoffending and that protects the public.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that giving offenders the chance of employment is key in driving down reoffending rates? What additional support is his Department providing to prisons to ensure that offenders are seizing the employment opportunities available to them?
In addition to the spending review settlement and the employers’ summit, we are making sure that we design prisons the right way. I visited Glen Parva, one of the new state-of-the-art prisons that we are building with our £4 billion investment programme. It had in-cell technology to ensure that inmates can learn skills, particularly numeracy and literacy, and state-of-the-art workshops, so that not only can they get skills, but we can get employers in to get inmates into meaningful, purposeful work.
I absolutely welcome the recognition that employment is pivotal to rehabilitation, but why then the obsession with short prison sentences? What is the point of locking somebody up for one or two months, which achieves absolutely nothing but will often cost somebody a job and a chance of rehabilitation?
We think that justice must be served; punishment is important. The short sentences are often for those who have systematically flouted and breached community sentences. To cut crime, the answer is to make sure justice is served. As well as incarceration where that is required for the purposes of punishment, we work on drug rehabilitation, skills and employment so that those offenders who want to take a second chance to turn themselves around—not all of them will—have the opportunity to grasp it.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on helping offenders into employment. Given estimates that more than half of offenders may be dyslexic and given the impact of dyslexia and illiteracy on the ability to work after a sentence, what is he doing to make sure that screening is available to ensure that prisoners can get the right training, especially on literacy if they are dyslexic, to help them into more successful work afterwards?
One issue we have discussed—I will be hosting prison governors at a roundtable shortly—is making sure that there is an immediate diagnosis within days of an offender getting into prison, so that we know two things: their numeracy and literacy levels, which will of course bring in other special educational needs, to which my right hon. Friend rightly refers; and what the next qualification is that they may—or may not—be able to achieve, so that we have a decent plan that gives them the chance to improve their skills, get into work and avoid a life of crime.
Judicial Review and Courts Bill
The Bill had its Second Reading in this House on 26 October. As the hon. Lady knows, it is now in Committee—she is part of that Committee. The Bill fixes inefficient processes that cause delay in our justice system and gives judges more flexibility to resolve judicial reviews in a practical way. The Secretary of State discusses these matters with Cabinet colleagues, and we are confident that the package of reforms in the Bill is proportionate and effective.
Judicial independence is under threat across Europe, so given the Minister’s recent chilling comments that the UK Parliament should correct decisions of the judiciary that Ministers disagree with, can he see the concerns that this raises for the principle of the separation of powers? How can the UK credibly join other countries who threaten the independence of judges?
We have been debating these matters at length. The Bill is a very good one. It strengthens judicial review in relation to quashing orders with the new remedies. Far from what the hon. Lady said, those new remedies—for example, being able to suspend a quashing order—will bring great benefit to our constituents and support better public administration.
The Bill has a whole chapter on coroners yet entirely neglects the key issue of giving bereaved families a fair hearing at inquests. Victims’ families have no right to legal aid, even when many state institutions are represented at public expense. At one inquest, 18 public bodies were represented but families had to fight to be heard. Will the Minister commit, now, to non-means-tested funding for bereaved families when the state is represented, and table amendments to the Bill to achieve that?
I am pleased to confirm to the House that we are currently drafting the measures that will ensure that we remove the means test on exceptional case funding for such matters. Furthermore, I can confirm that the changes should be implemented early next year.
There has been much gnashing of teeth in the past week over MPs who breach standards and their right to appeal—natural justice, I think they call it. Why, then, do the Government propose to remove a vital last line of defence for ordinary people by removing Cart and Eba-type judicial reviews—the type used by the most vulnerable and the least powerful?
We have just debated this issue at great length in the Bill Committee and I understand that the hon. Lady feels strongly about it but, as we have explained, in those cases there are—we keep using this phrase—three bites at the cherry, whereas in almost all other areas of law there are only two, so the Bill is fair in that sense.
I am bound to say that it is incumbent on the Government to look at resource. When we have a backlog like we have, we have to ask whether using up 180 days of court time for cases that have a tiny chance of success is the best use of that resource. We have a backlog of very serious cases to deal with; that is our Government’s priority and where we are focused.
We have just spent a considerable amount of time arguing about that issue in Committee, so let me turn to another part of the Bill. The presumption in favour of prospective quashing orders will mean that this Government will be able to treat ordinary people unlawfully, safe in the knowledge that even if the courts say they have done so, there will be no redress or compensation, and there will even be time for the Government to change the law so that the unlawful thing becomes lawful. I wonder what it is about the wealthy, powerful friends of this Government that makes their right to so-called natural justice so much more compelling than the right of the ordinary man or woman on the street.
Rape and Violence against Women and Girls: Prosecutions and Convictions
The Government are providing £150 million this year for victims and witnesses and the support services relating to all types of crime. Of that, more than £50 million has been ringfenced specifically for rape and domestic abuse victims.
In Bath we are fortunate to have the charity Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support, which empowers survivors to tell their stories. With just 2.4% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction, too many women do not come forward for fear that they will have to relive their trauma, and they do not get justice. Will the Secretary of State commit to mandatory training in the Crown Prosecution Service on understanding the impact of trauma and supporting victims, so that all victims of rape come forward in the knowledge that justice is being served?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue in the forensic way that she does. The funding that I referred to includes funding for 700 independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers, precisely to give victims the support, advice and confidence to see their cases through. We have to bear down on the attrition rate—as it is called in the criminal justice system—of victims falling out of the system because of lack of confidence.
To respond directly to the hon. Lady’s point, before Christmas we will publish criminal justice scorecards not only for general crime but specifically for rape, so we will be able to see the performance at every step in the system. That will help to spur an increase in performance, which will give victims the confidence to come forward and get prosecutions to court.
When it comes to this issue, I would hope that all Members from all parts of the House speak with one voice, but the Secretary of State will know that recorded rape offences have hit the highest number on record at 61,000, with just 1.4% leading to a suspect being charged. There were only 1,333 convictions, and yet the Government could not even agree to the target on improving prosecutions in their own review. Will the Secretary of State, who I know wants to get on top of this issue, commit to getting conviction and prosecution levels back to those last seen in 2016 by the end of this Parliament?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point to this as a problem, a challenge—and a systemic one at that. It is of course good news that a number of victims have been willing to come forward, talk to the police and report that crime, but it cannot stop there. That is why we are publishing the score cards that I mentioned to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin). We are looking at every stage of the system, including improving phone technology and digital disclosure. We are making sure that victims can access an online or telephone device 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He will know about Operation Soteria, which is shifting the focus of investigations from the victim to the suspect so that they are suspect-centric, and that we are also trialling section 28 pre-recorded cross-examinations so that vulnerable types of victim do not have to go through the added trauma of giving evidence in front of an assailant.
Women and girls do not seem to be safe from sexual predators whether they are alive or dead. David Fuller violated 100 bodies at a Kent hospital. Many of my constituents are impacted by these crimes. At present, necrophilia is illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, with a maximum sentence of just two years. Can my right hon. Friend consider reviewing that to ensure that the maximum sentence is extended so that the punishment reflects the gravity of the crime?
I share my hon. Friend’s total disgust at what we have learned about those hospitals in Kent, and, indeed, in relation to the David Fuller case more broadly. Although I have already said this, as has, I think, the Health and Social Care Secretary, I am very happy to repeat that I am willing to look at those sentences again. Incidents of this kind of event are rare, but they are abhorrent and the sentence must match the level of outrage, the trauma and the renewed trauma that it will put the victims’ families through.
Women and girls who are victims of human trafficking suffer extreme violence, yet, last year, there were only 91 prosecutions and 13 convictions for specific modern slavery offences. However, there is some good news: the charity Justice and Care has been working with the Government to provide victim navigators to help in prosecuting these evil gangs. In nine out of 10 instances where the victim navigator is involved, we get the evidence to prosecute. Will the Government look at extending their support for that charity?
I am very happy to look at that. We have a record-breaking amount from the spending review, certainly the largest in the past 10 years, for justice issues, and I will be looking very carefully at the support that we can provide for victims. My hon. Friend referred to the work of the charity in question, and it dovetails with what I have already mentioned to the House about the independent sexual violence advisers. We know that, if the victims who have gone through these awful crimes get the support they need, they are less likely to fall out of the justice system. That is one of the important ways that we will secure more prosecutions.
On the Home Affairs Committee, we recently heard from Sir John Gillen, Baroness Stern and Lady Dorrian, all of whom have conducted independent reviews into rape or serious sexual violence in some part of the United Kingdom recently. They were unanimous in saying that the single most important factor in preventing a rape victim from withdrawing from the criminal process is the ability to give evidence early under section 28 procedures. I know that my right hon. Friend shares my view on this. Will he tell the House when he expects this procedure to be rolled out across the nation?
That is incredibly important not only for the victims of rape, but for other vulnerable victims. The evidence so far from the pilots and the trials needs to be gleaned and carefully evaluated, but I can tell my hon. Friend that this is something that I want to look at very carefully not just because of the ability to secure a more effective prosecution, but to deter defence lawyers from perhaps not the universal practice, but certainly the widespread practice of encouraging the accused to wait until the moment in court before they take the decision on whether to plead guilty.
Whether victims of sinister spiking, rape or sexual assault, women and girls are being retraumatised by the system. They are cross-examined, disbelieved and made to feel like they are on trial, despite having had their own bodies used against them. No wonder 80% of rape victims do not report it. Last night, Channel 4’s “Dispatches” exposed the ugly truth behind women’s experiences and about a system that is letting victims down. As one woman put it:
“It’s soul destroying not to be believed when you’ve been through so much. They discredit and they destroy you.”
Will the Secretary of State tell us who is on trial here, and explain to women and girls what he will do to put this right and restore their faith in a broken justice system?
I totally share the hon. Lady’s sense of frustration on behalf of victims up and down the country. There is no single silver bullet, precisely because it is a system-wide failure. As has already been mentioned, more victims are reporting to police stations than before; that is positive. We have Operation Soteria, the whole purpose of which is to shift the way in which investigations address these crimes to make them suspect-centric, rather than focusing on the behaviour of victims.
There are a number of technical things that we can do: section 28 has been mentioned; and improving phone technology and digital disclosure is another aspect. It will be important when we publish the criminal justice scorecards for rape that we can see not just at a national level, but—in due course, following that—at a local level, which areas are getting it right and why those other places are not following best practice, and that we ensure we can correct the gaps.
Electronic Tagging of Offenders
I am happy to report excellent progress on our electronic monitoring programme. We recently expanded our world-first acquisitive crime project, GPS tagging all those released from prison who were convicted of those crimes, to cover half of England and Wales. Between April and September, more than 1,500 offenders had to wear a sobriety tag.
The Minister will know that it is actually a relatively small number of hardcore, prolific offenders who are responsible for so much of the misery that is inflicted on our constituents. I therefore welcome the progress on tagging and encourage him to think about other offences that we could use it on. What discussions has he had with the police about the resources that they need to bring back in people who may be breaching their tags?
It is typical of my hon. Friend to think about the burden on policing. He is one of the primary supporters of the police in this House; I am grateful to him for that. We hope that the GPS tagging programmes—specifically, as he says, for prolific acquisitive criminals—will actually reduce the burden on policing. As he knows, something approaching 50% of offenders who have been burglars or robbers go on to reoffend. By putting a tag on their ankle so that we know where they are 24 hours a day, we essentially put a probation officer or police officer alongside them. We hope that that will be a huge deterrent. It also means that if there is a breach or somebody is identified as being at the same place that a crime has occurred at the same time, it is much easier for the police to find them because we can track them down through the tag. As we expand the programme further, from six to 19 police forces across the country, we need to monitor the impact on policing, albeit that, thus far, the police are enthusiastic proponents of the scheme.
Newcastle-under-Lyme plays host to the North Staffordshire Justice Centre, so I know that my constituents will welcome what the Minister has said. What steps will he take to invest in the latest technological advances, so that tagging will keep pace with the behaviour of offenders?
That is a brilliant question, not least because my hon. Friend has put his finger on the button of where we need to go next. As part of the £183 million that the Treasury has now invested—with some confidence, I like to think—in the future roll-out of our electronic monitoring programme, we have £19 million to invest in future technology. In particular, I am keen to stimulate the market to find the holy grail of tagging, which would be a drugs tag that we could fit to the ankle of offenders with that kind of problem, and therefore deter them from taking drugs in the first place.
We are investing an extra £93 million over the next three years to recruit 500 additional community payback staff, so that we can increase hours worked to a record-breaking 8 million a year.
Requiring offenders to give back to their communities not only delivers a just punishment but sends out a clear signal to other criminals that crime does not pay. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that where a community sentence is given, the offender actually then serves it?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are investing significant extra resources, time and effort into making sure that community payback is both seen and effective. He is quite right that we want the public to see that justice is done, and we want offenders to know that their punishment is meaningful. There is a third reason why community payback is important, however, which is that offenders need to learn what the rest of us know—that we all have to play our part in building a great community and a safe neighbourhood. By this method we can almost teach them the value of contribution to their local neighbourhood.
We want to make sure that community payback is visible, and that means that there will be more people out there on the street cleaning up, improving the environment and so on. That will enable us to square the circle, with a sense of repaying a debt to society but also an ongoing commitment to it.
HMPPS Staff: Government Pay Policy
I start by thanking all prison and probation officers and staff across the country. They do an absolutely vital job protecting the public and rehabilitating offenders, and they deserve our thanks and our acknowledgment. Pay awards for this financial year across HMPPS are subject to the public sector pay pause, which was imposed due to the covid-19 emergency, but I welcome the Chancellor’s recent Budget announcement on public sector pay and the fact that from 2022, it will return to a normal pay setting process.
I am an honorary life member of the Prison Officers’ Association, with which I have worked for the last 25 years. Morale is at rock bottom among prison staff, and that relates to pay. In response to the chair of the justice unions committee, the Secretary of State said that the Government were accepting the pay review board’s recommendations. The pay review board has made it clear in its report that the remit that the Government have given it precludes it from making a full recommendation on pay awards. It finds that to be incompatible with its independence and in conflict with its role as a compensatory mechanism for the fact that prison staff are not allowed to strike. May I request that the Minister meet a delegation from the justice unions group to talk about morale and the development of a pay strategy?
I am delighted to inform the right hon. Gentleman that I have met not just the POA but the Prison Governors Association and many of the smaller unions that represent the interests of vital members of staff such as chaplains and educationalists, who play a really important role in the prison system. I very much look forward to working with the POA and others not just on matters of pay but on ensuring that we value their role in the prison system. I want prison officers to feel safe in their workplace, for example. That is not up for question. We should be making sure that they feel safe, and that is one of my priorities as Minister with responsibility for prisons.
Over the last month, I have visited HMP High Down, Ford prison and the new state-of-the-art prison at Glen Parva. Today, we opened a new super-court at Loughborough, which will help to reduce the courts backlog, along with a real-terms increase in MOJ funding of 12% by 2024-25.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s work to bring together employers in the offender employment summit, and the significant investment that is to come. One more key element to addressing reoffending is the third sector. Will he join me in paying tribute to Sussex Pathways, which does such tremendous work for offenders pre and post release, so that they can make good on some of the opportunities afforded them in prison? What specific steps is the Department taking to connect women with employment and education opportunities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need a tailored approach to the female prison estate. I can tell her that the number of women in custody has fallen by almost a quarter since 2010. That reflects the Government’s investment in community services and community sentences. Custody should remain the last resort for women, but we need to ensure we have better services that are better tailored. That is why we have 500 new places in the women’s estate—a mixture of open and closed conditions—tailored particularly to mental health challenges, addiction, skills and work. Indeed, there are some trailblazing examples of work in prisons, such as The Clink restaurant in HMP Downview.
Baby A died in Bronzefield women’s prison in 2019. Mum called for help time and time again, and no one came. She had to bite through her umbilical cord as her baby died. Baby A’s mother had not been convicted of any crime; she was there on remand. She and her baby were in a place that should have kept them safe, but the prison system is not keeping our women safe. Self-harm among women prisoners has increased by nearly half in three months. Many are self-harming over and over again. This House knows what needs to be done. The Minister knows what needs to be done. There is even a female offender strategy. When are this Government going to do it?
I thank the hon. Lady for drawing the House’s attention to that tragic case. She will know that we asked the ombudsman to examine it in detail, and we are very grateful to the ombudsman for having gone through it so that the Department, HMPPS and other providers can learn the lessons from that terrible incident. We have set out extensive plans to help women who are pregnant, mums and babies in prison, and that framework has been published and is being very much implemented. On her wider point about supporting women in custody, we have the female offenders strategy. The Government maintain our aim that we should support women outside of custody and give magistrates the confidence to impose community sentences, but we must ensure that when women are in the female prison estate, they are supported, but importantly, rehabilitated. If they leave prison, we want them to be able to re-enter society and we want to protect the public.
May I just say to both sides that this is a very important question, and it should really be dealt with in the main questions? Topicals are meant to be short and punchy. I understand why the answer has to be detailed, because the issue is far, far too important, but please can we put such important questions earlier in the agenda? That way, it will be easier to get through them.
We share my hon. Friend’s abhorrence at this appalling new phenomenon. To reassure him, the Home Secretary and I are in close touch with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which is co-ordinating local and national investigation assets across the country to try to prevent the crime and help protect young women.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Government are firmly committed to the measures set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill that will deter people from making hugely dangerous crossings of the English channel. We need to take action. Public concern on this is profound. We simply cannot have people putting their lives at risk at the hands of dangerous people smugglers. We must put the smugglers out of business.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; these are sensitive matters. We remain clear that allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation must be thoroughly and properly investigated by police. Since Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, significant improvements have been made in how local authorities and the police safeguard children both in Rotherham and across the country. However, we know that there is further to go, and we continue to drive improvement in response to actions set out in the “Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy”. We are also bringing forward measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that will ensure that an additional cohort of serious and sexual offenders will now serve two thirds of their sentence in custody, instead of half.
Two and a half years ago, practitioners were promised that the criminal legal aid review would be published in summer 2020. We are still waiting. The all-party parliamentary group on legal aid conducted an inquiry into the sustainability of legal aid, and the report was published last month. We heard compelling evidence from practitioners about the impact of inadequate legal aid rates. The consequent crisis in recruitment and retention is feeding directly into the courts backlog. Does the Minister agree that there is no route through tackling the courts backlog that does not also deal with the crisis of inadequate legal aid rates?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady in her role as chair of the APPG. It is precisely because I see the importance of legal aid that I went to the meeting at which she launched the report. I very much enjoyed it; colleagues from both sides of the House were there. Key to this is the criminal legal aid independent review under Sir Christopher Bellamy QC. Of course, we are still waiting for him to publish that, but we look forward to seeing it as soon as possible.
My right hon. Friend is right that we have seen a 12% boost to the Department’s budget, which will see £11.5 billion invested by the end of the Parliament. That will help us build prison places and invest in tagging as well as the drugs, skills and work regimes for people in prison and on licence to cut reoffending and protect the public.
The Law Society of Scotland has explained in detail why clause 2 of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill requires the Scottish Parliament’s legislative consent—it is basically because judicial review is a devolved matter. When I raised that with the Minister on Second Reading, he said that he would write to me addressing the Law Society’s detailed arguments. When should I expect to receive that letter?
My right hon. Friend is a long-standing advocate for victims in his community. I hope he will be reassured that we will consult as soon as possible on how we best guarantee victims’ rights in law and the level of support that they can expect. We will want to hear from a wide range of individuals and stakeholders to inform that process and shape policy, getting it right from reporting the crime through to the courtroom experience.
Sarah Child, aged 26, was run down and killed by a driver doing 64 mph on the Walsall Road. Poppy-Arabella Clarke, aged three, was run down and killed on the Walsall Road by a driver who could no longer see and had been warned never to drive again. With RoadPeace, we have campaigned for tougher penalties for those who kill with a car, and some welcome progress has been made. However, does the Minister not understand that changing and strengthening the law is one thing and that helping to enforce the law is something different? With 1,000 police officers cut in the west midlands and huge cuts to Birmingham city council’s budget, they are unable—
I understand the hon. Member’s distress at that case. As he knows, we are busy about the job of increasing police capacity. We are over halfway to the 20,000 extra police officers—we have 11,053—and a significant number of those are heading towards the west midlands.
The main reason for my call for a Rotherham-style inquiry into child sexual exploitation in the Bradford district is to bring justice to the victims of these offences and help ensure the safety of children across my constituency. Will my hon. Friend join me in that call so that we can tackle the issue once and for all?
I absolutely recognise the trauma endured by victims and survivors and their need for answers. The Government continue to be clear that it is for local authorities in individual areas, which are responsible for delivering services, to commission local inquiries. However, we expect Bradford Council to take the most thoroughgoing approach to ensuring that all lessons have been learned and that local partners are doing everything possible to identify offending and protect children from harm.
As a veterinary surgeon I really welcome the fact that the Government have listened to the calls that have been made and are introducing a new pet abduction law. Sadly, in rural areas such as Penrith and The Border, other animals are frequently stolen, including farm animal livestock, horses and ponies. Will my hon. Friend look to expand the legislation from pets to encompass all animal abduction offences, including those involving farm animal livestock and horses, so that we can put an end to the horrific and distressing crime of animal theft?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I do see the point he makes. As he knows, the focus has been on dogs and other pets that we keep in the home, but I am happy to speak to colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to get back to him about what we think of his suggestion.
The Justice Secretary is working with the Law Commission on bringing forward a new corporate offence of failure to prevent economic crime. There are concerns that the offences will be downgraded to regulatory offences, rather than those involving criminal sanctions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there must be criminal sanctions if we are to have a true deterrent against this terrible crime?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. He has been following it for some time, and I have worked with him on it in the past. We will make sure that we have the right combination of toughness and robustness and send a clear message that these are not victimless crimes.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he is right to highlight it. The recent political violence is of significant concern to the UK Government. Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of the presidency, has threatened to withdraw Republika Srpska—the entity—from a range of state institutions. That is an act that the High Representative calls a de facto secession. This is a dangerous and deliberate attempt to distract from a failure to improve standards of living and to tackle corruption. It is unacceptable.
The UK fully supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the devastating conflict of the 1990s, the region has lived in peace for 26 years, and the Dayton political system, which should have been used to deliver progress and development for citizens, has been exploited by politicians who are focused on building and maintaining their own position.
We recognise the important role that the EUFOR peace and stabilisation force has played, and we welcome the renewal of its mandate—an important deterrent against those malign actors who wish to see instability on Europe’s doorstep. We worked hard in the Security Council to ensure that it authorised EUFOR’s mandate for a further 12 months. The UK continues to play an active role. My hon. Friend the Europe Minster was in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the summer to support that work.
The High Representative will visit the UK for meetings in December. The UK is in close contact with him to ensure that we work in co-operation and is giving him vocal support, including on the use of executive powers should the situation require it. That is a further check and balance on the destabilising actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the upcoming NATO Foreign Ministers meeting, the Foreign Secretary will push for more focus and resource on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the need to rebuff Russia’s actions.
The international community also has collective responsibility to ensure that there is no return to the conflict of the 1990s. Along with our international partners, we are ensuring that the High Representative’s position and work are secured, and we will continue to urge Russia to return to productive engagement with the peace implementation council’s steering board. Along with our international partners, we are working to tackle the divisive rhetoric and actions from some politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the threat to re-establish a Republika Srpska army and to pull out of other established state-level institutions.
The UK is committed to helping the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina build a better future in a stable and prosperous state, with strong institutions. We support the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo, including through the secondment of UK staff officers who play an important role in building the capacity of the armed forces. We are providing capacity building and expertise to those actors who demonstrate genuine commitment to progress.
For almost 30 years we have been engaged in the Balkans, and until recently in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In December last year we withdrew from Operation Althea, the international stabilisation force in the country. The decision to withdraw came just as Bosnia was about to be put under the worst possible pressure by Bosnian Serb secessionist leaders. In the words of the High Representative, Christian Schmidt, who reported to the UN Security Council last week:
“Bosnia and Herzegovina faces the greatest existential threat of the post-war period…the prospects for further division and conflict are very real…ignoring or downplaying this state of affairs could have perilous implications for the region and beyond.”
The secessionists are operating with the support of Russia, as we saw at the Security Council meeting last week, and Serbia, as is evident from the joint military exercises held in the past few weeks between Serbia and Bosnian Serb forces. This is a dangerous situation in a country where ethnic cleansing and genocide were perpetrated in the 1990s. With that in mind, will the Minister tell the House that it is still Government policy that the redrawing of borders in the Balkans was finished in the 1990s, and that they will not tolerate any secessionist adventurism? The EUFOR presence on the ground in Bosnia is hardly sufficient to respond to any security challenge, with only 700 troops on the ground and inadequate equipment. What consideration has been given to redeploying UK forces in support of EUFOR and through NATO? What consideration has been given to imposing sanctions on anyone undermining the Dayton peace accords, which is in line with the US but sadly lacking from the EU and UK?
In an article written last week, Baroness Helić quotes the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, commenting on the Bosnian genocide in 2000. He said the most important lesson was that
“we must recognize evil for what it is, and confront it not with expediency and compromise, but with implacable resistance.”
Now is the time for us to act, not to wait. If we fail to do so, we will further weaken the international rules-based order and embolden our enemies, and we will also see death and destruction rage again in our backyard.
I reflect on the passion with which my hon. Friend puts forward the case, and he is completely right. The period of borders being redrawn in that region is behind us. We saw the devastating conflicts of the 1990s, and nobody should be willing to go back to that period. We support EUFOR. I beg my hon. Friend’s indulgence, but I am not going to speculate on what a future stabilisation or military force composition might be like. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will shortly be raising this issue in the strongest terms at the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Riga. We support the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo, and my hon. Friend will know that it is a long-standing policy of the UK Government not to speculate on future sanctions designations, for fear that doing so might undermine their effectiveness. We are determined to ensure that the peace the region has enjoyed for the past quarter of a century is maintained.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing this urgent question. Today the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is extremely serious. I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2013 as part of a delegation with the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I well remember our chaperone in Sarajevo telling me how she had been shot in the leg by a sniper in the 1990s when she was a small child. We do not want those dark days to return.
At the time of my visit in 2013, the situation was precarious, with the Dayton agreement widely seen as a holding operation. It did not really provide a way forward, but it did help keep a lid on the conflict. Now the situation is undoubtedly dangerous. The Dayton agreement is under serious strain, with the very real risk that the country will fragment and conflict will once again erupt. There is the distinct possibility that the President of Republika Srpska, one of the two autonomous elements of Bosnia and Herzegovina, will withdraw from the federal Bosnian army and create a separate force. With the threat of Serb withdrawals from other state institutions, the situation is extremely serious, and not only for Bosnia; as the EU’s High Representative has said, there could be implications throughout the western Balkans if the situation deteriorates in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
My questions to the Minister are these. First, what pressure are the UK Government applying internationally to prevent the Serbs in Republika Srpska from fracturing the Bosnian army and the institutions of the Bosnia and Herzegovina state? Secondly, what representations have the UK Government made to China and Russia for them to adopt a more constructive attitude towards Bosnia and Herzegovina? Every effort must be made to insist that all ethnic groups continue to work together. Thirdly, what co-operation is there between the UK and our EU allies to ensure that the EU’s 700-strong peacekeeping operation, EUFOR, plays an effective role in helping to maintain peace during the coming months?
The hon. Gentleman makes some incredibly important points, and in many respects I echo the concerns that he has raised. With regard to working with our international partners, which goes to the core of his questions, we maintain a close engagement with EUFOR. Having left the European Union, we are no longer formally part of it, but, alongside the United States of America, we pushed for the mandate renewal, and we were very pleased that that was successful. We will continue to support it.
The key institution here is the High Representative, Mr Christian Schmidt, and we will continue to lobby in support of the work that he is doing on the international stage. However, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we have to prevent the fragmentation of this country, because that would almost inevitably be the precursor to further conflict. Many of us in this House have seen the genuine horror that conflict in this region brings, and we must work together with our international partners to do everything we can to deter that from happening.
I call attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests with regard to a recent visit to Bosnia as part of the all-party parliamentary group for the armed forces.
Is it not extraordinary—I am sure the whole House will be amazed—that the trigger for the current instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina was that the High Representative brought in a law outlawing genocide denial? The last place in the world where genocide can be denied is Republika Srpska; all the High Representative did was say that that is now outlawed. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that behind all this lies Russia, and Serbia itself, and that unless we do something very dramatic, serious and urgent about it, we will face a return to the kind of chaos that we saw in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the late ’80s and early ’90s? We really must act seriously on this. We are facing catastrophe—a disaster—in Bosnia, and just saying “we’ll think about it” is no good at all.
My hon. Friend is sadly right that we see the hand of Russia at play here. We need to work with the High Representative and our international partners to ensure that there is not a fragmentation. My hon. Friend is right that it is unacceptable to deny holocaust in whichever arena it occurred, but for many of us, this is the event that was a significant part of our lives, and we have to ensure that it is not repeated.
Remembering Srebrenica tweeted earlier that this day in 1993 saw the destruction of the historic bridge in Mostar, a poignant reminder of the conflict and genocide in living memory. Our thoughts should very much be with the people who live there and who fear a return to the types of horrors they saw in the past.
What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the UK plays its part in securing peacekeeping efforts, as needed? We welcome very much that the UN mandate to EUFOR was renewed last week. It must be seen to be fulfilled. Will he tell us a bit more about the discussions he has had with key regional partners in the EU, the US and leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself? If the situation deteriorates further, we risk a return to the sectarianism of the past and the violence to civilians that that entails, and emboldening Russian influence in the region. Will he tell us more about what steps he will take on a multilateral level to ensure that the UK plays its part alongside regional allies to ensure that existing frameworks are managed in a way that protects the settlement within the country? Lastly, are there any considerations about the nature of the UK’s role in supporting EUFOR specifically? What contingency plans is he making, should we require to be brought into that?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. Specifically on EUFOR, as I said, the UK and the United States of America were vocal in our support of the mandate renewal and we are very pleased that that happened. Although we are not formally a member of EUFOR, we have seconded staff officers to support capability-building work and we have given direct support to the Bosnia and Herzegovina armed forces, which are an essential part of the security framework. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will speak at the upcoming NATO Foreign Ministers meeting and push for more focus and resource on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for the collective need to push back against Russia’s actions in the area. With regard to what we might do next, that will need to be a collective decision by the international community, because working in accord with each other is the only way we will make meaningful progress. However, I can assure the hon. Lady that this is, and will remain, a very clear focus for UK foreign policy in the region.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for securing the urgent question. As someone who spent time in Yugoslavia during the wars of the 1990s, I do not underestimate how unpleasant this could get, and how violent and how quickly. I want to look at Russia. We know it has been selling arms to the ethnic Serbian police. We know it has form in handing out passports to people in conflict areas as a reason for intervention. We also know there is now significant potential for European Union forces to come into direct conflict with Russian proxies. Is the Minister aware of the true danger of that situation, and that it follows a pattern not only in the western Balkans, but in eastern Ukraine and, now, on the Belarus border? We, and NATO and the EU, are being significantly tested. Do we have a policy?
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his points. I recognise the contribution he has made and his understanding of the issues in the region. He is right that those of us who remember the headlines and images that came out of the region not that long ago are horrified at the prospect that it might slip back into that level of violence. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) visited the region extensively earlier this year. She and our officials are well aware—well aware—of the circumstances on the ground. We will, as I say, continue to work with our international partners, both European partners and NATO partners, to do everything we can to prevent the region slipping back into the kind of horrific sectarian bloodshed we saw, sadly, only 26 years ago.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall). We know how quickly the situation can deteriorate in the Balkans. The bloodshed and the flight of refugees we saw in the past will be with us if we see secession by Republika Srpska. I have to put it to the Minister that he said nothing really about what our red lines are. It is not enough to wait for secession. The steps that Prime Minister Dodik is talking about now are steps to secession. We have to make our red lines clear to Russia and Serbia, as well as to Prime Minister Dodik. In that context, EUFOR simply has no peacekeeping capacity if things deteriorate. We now have to have a strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We recognise that EUFOR is there to do a particular role. We would, of course, all collectively much prefer to prevent, rather than have to deal with, a return to violence. If there is an escalation—we will work hand in glove with our international partners to try to prevent that—that would need to be discussed at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting. Any red lines put forward would need to be done in conjunction with our international friends and allies. However, I completely take the hon. Member’s broader point about the need to work collectively to prevent this situation slipping back into violence.
As a Bosnia veteran, I am very familiar with that country. I went there recently and I know for a fact that fears about security are justified. Britain signed the Dayton agreement in 1995, so we are part of the solution. Is it perhaps time for another ministerial visit to Sarajevo?
My hon. and gallant Friend makes an important point about the need for visible support for the institutions that have helped to keep the peace for such a long time. As I said, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, went to the region recently. I am not in a position to commit to exactly when a future ministerial visit will be, but the Foreign Secretary will bring this up at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Riga in the near future. I have no doubt that it will be the location for a ministerial visit in the not-too-distant future.
I thank the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for securing this urgent question. The world cannot make the same mistakes again. In the 1995 genocide, more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in a single day. The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Gabriel Escobar, told Congress last week that the US is working with the EU to
“make sure there are consequences for any illegal or any destabilising actions”
in Bosnia. The hon. Member asked what representations have been made and the Minister answered that they will be made at Riga shortly. Given what happened in Afghanistan when the Government were asleep at the wheel, my concern—I think rightly and fairly—is whether the Government are asleep at the wheel again on this one. Why have we not already made representations? What representations, if any, have we made to the EU, world partners and NATO?
I think the hon. Lady is frankly wrong in her assessment. This is not a question about Afghanistan, but she will know that we started the evacuation process in Afghanistan in spring this year, long before the fall of Kabul. I have already said that in conjunction with our European partners and the United States of America, we made representations at the Security Council to renew the EUFOR mandate. We have done that important and significant piece of work in conjunction with our international partners. We have made public statements and acted in support of the High Representative, Mr Schmidt, and we will continue to do so. As I said, the Foreign Secretary will bring the issue up at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Riga. What else we might do will be defined by the circumstances, but I assure the hon. Lady, you, Mr Speaker, and the House that that will remain a focus for Her Majesty’s Government.
I thank the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary for their time on this issue, as well as colleagues, because there have been many ongoing conversations over the past few weeks. Dodik has one goal: the destruction and failure of the Bosnian state. As chair of the all-party group for Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have invited the High Representative to visit Parliament, and I hope that you will join us, Mr Speaker, when we meet him as parliamentarians from across the House. The time for diplomacy is now, so that we do not have to have this conversation again because we have been able to ride out the crisis. Will the Minister consider activating the conflict centre; review all conflict, stability and security fund programmes to see whether they are fit for purpose; and work with Defence Ministers to increase our deployment to NATO and Sarajevo and consider joint cross-Balkan deployments and missions?
My hon. Friend again speaks with great passion, but perhaps more importantly, with authority and experience on this issue. I pay tribute to the work that she and the other members of the APPG do. I assure her that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is looking seriously at what administrative structures need to be in place for us to respond to an escalation of the situation. Obviously, our priority is to try to prevent an escalation. I am very glad that she has extended an invitation to the High Representative, because public, visible support for his work is incredibly important, both from Government and Parliament. I echo her calls that that should be done internationally and not just here in the UK.
I am sure that many others, like me, regret that the late Paddy Ashdown is not with us here today, because he would have a lot to say as an expert. There has been much talk about the tilt to the Indo-Pacific, and yet, as others have said, Russia and possibly China are not hesitating to get involved in European affairs in our own backyard. So I ask the Minister: first, is our defence poise possibly wrong in terms of the tilt to the Indo-Pacific? Perhaps we should concentrate on our own backyard. Secondly, I have spoken before about defence cuts and the cut in the size of the Army. I wonder whether I can tempt him to agree that this is no time to cut the size of our armed forces.
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the work of the late Lord Ashdown. Indeed, I should have paid tribute to him in my opening statement, because his work was incredibly influential and the whole House should recognise that. I will not be drawn on the size of the armed forces, but I will make the point that the Indo-Pacific tilt, as set out in the integrated review, should be read not as an exclusive focus on that part of the world, but as an additional focus. We absolutely recognise that the security of this region and our peace and security are interwoven—he is right to highlight that—and that is why I can assure him that we will work diplomatically with our international friends and colleagues and through the conversations that we have at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting shortly in Riga to look collectively at what our response might need to be. Ultimately, the win would be to put pressure on Republika Srpska not to go down this separatist path.
As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the western Balkans, I have made two recent visits to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Indeed, I was in Sarajevo on Thursday and Friday last week and there is no doubt that there has been a significant increase in tensions. I pay tribute to our ambassador and his excellent team over there, who are working not only to reduce those tensions, but to develop our economic ties and the economy of the country to the benefit of all the people there, particularly the young people who are leaving the country in enormous numbers. I urge the Minister to continue his work with colleagues in the Department for International Trade so that we can develop our economic ties with not just Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the whole western Balkan region. Will he urge politicians of all descriptions over there to work together and seize the moment now for peace and prosperity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that international trade is a force for good and a force for peace. “When goods cross borders, soldiers do not”—I paraphrase, but I am sure that every Member of the House is familiar with that. Ultimately, we all have an interest in the economic stability and prosperity of the region. The belief that there is a failure in the economic opportunities for people in the region is a big driving force for the actions of Republika Srpska. To directly answer his question, I will continue to push for increased trade with the western Balkans and Bosnia and Herzegovina, because it is to the benefit of both us and them that it continues.
I was in Bosnia a few weeks ago with the all-party parliamentary group for the armed forces. I was genuinely shocked that the segregation of communities felt worse than in the ’80s, with some schools even teaching that the genocide of Bosnian Muslims did not exist. Can the Minister explain why we seem to be shifting our development money away from stability? Can he tell us what he is doing to safeguard the investment that we have already made in that country for peaceful dialogue and tolerance? Will he consider embedding atrocity prevention in all our embassies to prevent this situation from happening in other countries?
The hon. Lady, as always, puts forward thoughtful ideas. I will pay close attention to her final point. It is essential that we never allow the genocide that happened to be forgotten. We must ensure through our diplomatic work that it is not expunged from the curriculum for young people in the country. We will seek to work with our international friends and partners to prevent the situation from slipping into conflict, but if we are successful, we will still have to go further and ensure that our diplomatic efforts are focused on bringing communities together. I recognise that money plays a part, but in this context I think that our diplomatic heft is probably of greater impact than our official development assistance contributions.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing the urgent question. The secessionists, having denied the genocide and tried to discredit the post-war Bosnian state, have created a crisis that could get violent. I know that the Minister has offered a commitment, but as he has heard today from hon. Members, we want the issue dialled up to a priority, whether that is through challenging the EU’s failure, putting pressure on China and Russia, or even making troops available, not just to protect but to collect evidence of any atrocities that may take place.
There is a red line that the Minister can draw right here, right now. Ministers have repeatedly said that we recognise genocide only when it is declared by the UN. The UN has declared a genocide. The Office of the High Representative has said that anyone who denies that genocide was committed will face a sentence. Perhaps the Minister could say that we stand behind that statement.
I appreciate that, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend will know that the UK has zero tolerance for holocaust denial, wherever it comes about. I can assure her that we will continue working with our international friends to ensure that the Republika Srpska understands that its actions are unacceptable and that there will be consequences if they continue.
I worked in Bosnia in the late 1990s with political parties and civil society. Does the Minister recognise that one of the downsides of the Dayton agreement was that it institutionalised political difference and crowded out any multi-ethnic voices from the political space? What more can the Government do today to support civil society, especially on a multi-ethnic basis, to have a more powerful voice to combat the forces of division in Bosnia?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Dayton accords. They serve an important function in underpinning peace; I do not think that they were ever envisaged as a permanent structural solution to the situation. Ultimately, our focus at the moment is on the High Representative and his work in the here and now. The future evolution of a political and social structure in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a subject that we will need to look at once we have resolved the current issue.
The break-up of Bosnia and Herzegovina would create massive instability in the region, which would not be in the best interests of neighbouring countries such as Serbia. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are engaging with Belgrade to encourage leaders in the region to ensure that that wider instability, which would be so damaging, is not borne out?
My hon. Friend makes the incredibly important point that this is not a situation in which countries in the region will be disinterested. We have active bilateral conversations with countries in the region—the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, has been there and is very active—and will continue to do so because the instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not something that anyone, either in the UK or in the region, wishes to see again.
Stephen, from my constituency of Weaver Vale, was a peacekeeper who saw at first hand the genocide in the Balkans, on our doorstep. The Minister referred to close co-operation with EUFOR. What are the details? What does that co-operation involve?
As I have said, the UK is not formally a member of EUFOR, having left the European Union, but we have secondees in the NATO headquarters in Sarajevo and we have been very supportive of the mandate renewal. Exactly what future support may be required is a question that we will have to decide, depending on the circumstances at the time, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we stay very focused on ensuring peace in the region.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing the urgent question. Some years ago, I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina with Stephen Parkinson—now Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay—as part of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy programme. May I ask the Minister to ensure that the UK Government will oppose all attempts to redraw borders? Alongside the sadly necessary consideration of hard power and sanction options, will he do all he can to continue to dial up all the soft power levers at our disposal to pressure those who would seek to damage the fragile peace in Bosnia?
My hon. Friend makes the incredibly important point that we would much prefer to resolve the situation through diplomatic efforts and persuasion rather than force. That will be the focus of our work, and we will do it in conjunction with our international partners.
On 14 October, Dodik said that he would force the Bosnian army to withdraw from Republika Srpska by surrounding its barracks if the west tried to intervene. He said that he had “friends” who had promised to support the Serb cause—a presumed reference to Serbia and Russia, which are both seeking to undermine the role and the authority of the High Representative.
This is a massive test for NATO. Does the Minister agree that it is crucial for us to bolster the Office of the High Representative, get NATO on the same page with a solution and tell Russia in no uncertain terms that we will not accept the break-up of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Speaker. The Minister will know that the situation is very worrying. If it quickly deteriorates into conflict, the inevitable consequence will be a refugee crisis, perhaps—hopefully not—on the scale that we saw a few decades ago. That would put enormous pressure on neighbouring countries. It seems to me that all Governments internationally are between a rock and a hard place, but one thing that we can do is start preparing contingency plans with neighbouring countries for dealing with a potential refugee crisis.
The hon. Gentleman is right that, whatever the ultimate resolution is to the attempted break-up of Bosnia and Herzegovina or to a potential refugee crisis, it will need to be achieved in conjunction with countries in the region. That is why the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, has been—and no doubt will continue to be—active in speaking to all countries in the region.
The Srebrenica massacre in 1995, the worst atrocity on European soil since world war two, was a horrific genocide that cannot be repeated. Dodik has alluded to alliances with China, Russia and Hungary, which could provide support should conflict break out. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the likelihood and impact of those countries intervening in the region?
We are aware of the likely hand of Russia in the matter. We will ensure that we continue with a dynamic assessment of the situation on the ground. Ultimately, we will work with the member states of the European Union, as well as with the United States of America, to do everything we can to ensure that the situation does not escalate once again to the violence that sadly we saw in the 1990s.
Racism in Cricket
I am appearing here this afternoon in place of the Minister for Sport—the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—who is in Geneva having meetings with football officials.
I will start by being very clear about something on which I know the whole House will agree: there is no place for racism in sport. Indeed, there is no place for racism anywhere in society. It must be confronted, it must be eradicated and it should never be written off as just “banter”.
The Government are extremely concerned by the reports of racism at Yorkshire county cricket club. Quite simply, the situation faced by Azeem Rafiq was unacceptable. It should never have been allowed to happen in the first place, and it should have been dealt with properly during the initial investigation. We have made it clear to the England and Wales Cricket Board that this requires a full, transparent investigation, both of the incidents involving Azeem Rafiq and of the wider cultural issues at Yorkshire county cricket club. The ECB is now investigating the matter fully. It took action against the Yorkshire club on Friday, stripping it of the right to host international matches, and has suspended a player.
There have been a number of resignations from the Yorkshire board—quite rightly—including that of its chairman. Lord Patel of Bradford has taken over as chairman, and has set out the approach that he will be taking to tackle the issue at Yorkshire. Crucially, he has started by apologising to Azeem Rafiq, but we know that that will not undo the pain that Azeem feels. More action is needed, and we have called on Lord Patel and the ECB to investigate fully, to eradicate racism where it exists, and to tackle the culture that can support it. In addition, the ECB is now undertaking a regulatory process. It must take strong action where it is necessary, and that action must be transparent and swift, for the benefit of cricket.
The ECB has also launched the independent commission for equity in cricket to look at wider issues that go beyond Yorkshire. It is chaired by Cindy Butts, a highly respected anti-racism campaigner. She is a board member of the Kick It Out campaign in football and is also, as you know, Mr Speaker, a lay member of your Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. I have great confidence in her independence and her phenomenal track record in this area. This terrible case—the awful case of the abuse that Azeem Rafiq should never have suffered, but did suffer—shows how much more needs to be done to stamp out racism in the game, and I urge anyone who has experienced discrimination in cricket to approach Cindy Butts’s commission and report what they have experienced. I understand that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has requested information about this incident. That is quite right, and I encourage the EHRC in its work.
Sport should be for everyone, and it should not take cases such as this to bring that to life. The Government applaud Azeem Rafiq’s courage in speaking out, and encourage anyone who has been similarly affected to do the same. This must be a watershed moment for cricket. The Government will closely scrutinise the actions taken by the ECB—the Minister for Sport met the board last week to discuss this topic—and by Yorkshire county cricket club in response to these damning allegations. The investigations to which I have referred must be thorough, transparent and public. That is necessary to restore the public’s faith in cricket in Yorkshire and beyond. Parliament is watching, the Government are watching and the country is watching. We expect real action, and the Government stand ready to step in and act if those involved do not put their own house in order.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
The leaked racism report from Yorkshire county cricket club has exposed the extent to which serious allegations of discrimination have been mishandled, covered up and sadly, it seems, entirely ignored over a long period. Players and former board members of the club have since come forward expressing their regret, but it is too little, too late. The question of how to address this should not be solely concerned with what to do next; rather, we should ask how the club arrived at such a low point. Why were players not properly investigated, why were no processes in place to address these allegations, and why did it take the leaking of the report to kick the club into action?
Members on both sides of the House have spoken publicly about how appalled they are, so I hope that the Minister will tell us today what concrete action the Government intend to take to tackle racism in sport. I know that my good and hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) wrote to Mr Mark Arthur, but unfortunately he has not received a response to his letter. The news over the past week has focused on cricket because of this report, but we know that it is not in cricket alone that racism and discrimination fester. The Government’s intervention on this particular issue must be a model for the way in which other sports address racism.
I want to express my solidarity with Mr Azeem Rafiq—who has shown great bravery in the face of this injustice—and with all who have been discriminated against in cricket and other sports. Sport should be for everyone. No one should be excluded or belittled because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or disability, and I hope that today will be a landmark in the addressing of these serious issues.
In the light of the leaked racism report—which I hope will be published in full this week—1 hope that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will investigate Yorkshire county cricket club and publish a full set of recommendations for how it will tackle racism in future. We must not forget that it was only when there were financial repercussions and corporate pressure that Yorkshire actually acted; that is simply unacceptable. We also know that, although nearly a third of all cricket players at grassroots level in the UK are from ethnic minority backgrounds, the figure drops to only 4% among cricketers with professional contracts. That too is shocking. I hope that today the Government will set out how they intend to work with the England and Wales Cricket Board to ensure there is independent scrutiny of the sport, so that incidents such as this never happen again and the sport is diversified at all levels.
I shall try to respond briefly to those further questions from the hon. Gentleman.
I entirely agree that the conduct of Yorkshire county cricket club in trying to brush this matter under the carpet and ignore it was completely unacceptable, and it is right that the chairman and others have resigned. The club’s conduct has no justification whatsoever: it is disgraceful, and we condemn it unreservedly. The point about the transparency of these inquiries is important: they need to take place in public, they need to be open, and the country and Parliament need to be able to scrutinise them fully.
I also agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for wider action in cricket. Clause 10 of the ECB’s own county partnership agreement requires it to increase ethnic minority representation, and we need to hold it to account to deliver that. As for the question of independent oversight of what Yorkshire and the ECB are doing, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is obviously independent, and is now rightly asking questions. The Government fully support that process, and, like Members of this House, will be following and scrutinising it extremely carefully.
I stand in solidarity with the hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), and thank him for bringing this issue to the House today. Let me recognise both his constituency and yours, Mr Speaker, by pointing out that the Lancashire league was the first to show that it was possible to have teams that were inclusive and could show an example to the rest of the country.
The issue raised by Matthew Syed in an article in The Times today was “What is the minimum test of credibility?” It is clear that this club has failed that test, but I do not think we should point the finger at just one club. We should be asking where discrimination, inequality and barriers to access exist in other sports and in other parts of life.
I say here, on the Floor of the House, that when we discovered that one of our local councillors in Worthing had posted unacceptable comments on the Patriotic Alternative white supremacist website, we suspended him. There will now be a by-election, and we have a south Asian candidate who is longing to be a Tory councillor. That shows that action can be taken, and whatever our party politics, we need to stand together on this.
The final point that I want to put to my hon. Friend the Minister is this: if we are going to ask the EHRC to take on this particular role in greater depth, it will need extra funding. I suggest that the Government talk to the EHRC to establish how much extra funding it needs and then add it on, so that this does not push aside other parts of the EHRC’s important work.
I associate myself with the characteristically wise words of my hon. Friend the Father of the House. I agree that we need to stand together, across the whole House, in combating and fighting racism wherever it occurs in our society. The local example given by my hon. Friend was a good illustration of that. The EHRC is of course independent and will make its own decisions about what to investigate, but I think it is clear that the House is encouraging it in its work. It did, I believe, receive a funding uplift not long ago, but its funding arrangements remain under continual review.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) for securing the urgent question. I too want to pay tribute to the bravery and persistence of Azeem Rafiq. He has already given others the courage to come forward, and I am sure that more will do so.
Racism destroys lives, and that is why allegations must be properly, fairly and transparently investigated. The handling of this case is a textbook example of what should not happen. A legal investigation team was second-guessed by the club’s panel, there was a failure to apply the legal tests correctly to the evidence gathered, and Yorkshire even changed the inquiry’s terms of reference part-way through, preventing the investigation team from drawing conclusions about institutional racism. One has to wonder whether it was taking lessons from the Prime Minister on that. Yesterday, Lord Patel took the first steps to begin to right these wrongs. The next step must be that the rest of the board leave their posts. Their role in this shameful fiasco gives them no right to continue to hold positions of power in the club. I, too, hope that the EHRC will formally investigate what has occurred.
Racism has no place in cricket or any other sport, and Michael Holding has said of this case:
“Each sport or industry can try to and put their house in order, but the message has to reach society at large or no real meaningful change can take place.”
Society at large includes all of us here, and it of course includes the Prime Minister. His well-publicised comments in the past have helped to enforce a culture where racism is seen as banter, so it was good to hear the strong words from the Minister today about committing to stamping out racism, but the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State need to understand that words alone are not enough. They must lead by example. Failing to do so gives credence and encouragement to racists.
I think we should avoid making party political points on an occasion such as this. We should be standing together, as we have been doing, to resolutely condemn racism and to tackle it wherever it is found. That means ensuring that the ECB investigation is independent and transparent, it means supporting the work of the independent commission chaired by Cindy Butts, and it means supporting the EHRC in any work that it does. I agree with the shadow Secretary of State’s remarks about the board of the cricket club. They bear collective responsibility and I do not see how they can continue.
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) for bringing this urgent question to the House. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Like many cricket lovers in this country, I feel a fool. I thought my sport was more colour-blind than most, but it most certainly is not. At Yorkshire, it is clearly institutionally racist, and Lord Patel has the mother of all jobs in turning that once venerable club around. I would like to chide the club about the report, because, despite publicly promising to issue it to myself and to the Government, it has not yet done so. That report needs to be in our hands today.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is more than a Yorkshire problem, and that it is a national problem within cricket? Although I agree that the likes of the ECB must now have a permanent place on the board at Yorkshire to ensure that it is guided to a better place, I think that we also need substantially better whistleblowing procedures in the sport. We also need the likes of Ebony Rainford-Brent and Michael Holding, who are an inspiration not just to cricket but to wider sports and to our society, to be front and centre in cricket’s battle against racism. It is going to be a tough fight, but I truly believe that the whole House will agree that it is one that must be won, out in the open so that we can all see exactly what is going on.
I wholeheartedly agree with the Select Committee Chairman’s comments. On the question of the report, the Government have also requested to see it. As of about an hour ago, when I was last briefed on this, we had not received it. I would like to make it clear that the Select Committee and the Government should receive copies of the report and that it should be put into the public domain. I want to make it very clear today from the Dispatch Box that Yorkshire County Cricket Club should do that immediately. My hon. Friend made the rest of his remarks with great eloquence and power, and I agree entirely with every word that he said.
I certainly agree with all that has been said thus far, including what you have said from the Chair, Mr Speaker. Racism has no place in cricket, in sport or in society, period. This shocking episode has come out during the T20 world cup at a time when we should be celebrating all that is good in the game. That being said, Scotland might not have had the results we would have liked in the world cup, but the performance in qualifying was exemplary.
Turning to the important matters at hand, Azeem Rafiq must be commended for his bravery in coming forward and speaking out on Yorkshire’s shameful racist treatment of him. Conversely, Yorkshire’s actions have been disgraceful almost from start to finish. As we have just been hearing, their report remains unpublished. They have been forced into publishing a summary and only then sent a heavily redacted version to Mr Rafiq—a further sign that all was not right. The credibility of some of the report’s findings must also be questioned, with a racist term that was used against Mr Rafiq having been deemed to be “friendly and good-natured banter”. It is clear that Yorkshire have a lot of work to do, but does the Minister have confidence that the ECB is the right body to oversee a culture change in cricket, given that it has been repeatedly warned about this issue for years? Moreover, does he agree with the Health Secretary’s suggestion that if the ECB does not take strong action as a result of these events, it is not fit for purpose?
I broadly agree with many of the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed. I agree that racist abuse of the kind suffered by Azeem Rafiq is certainly not banter. It is racist abuse, and it should be called out and action should be taken whenever and wherever it occurs. In relation to the ECB, I have a high level of confidence in the independent commission for equity in cricket, which is being chaired by Cindy Butts. As I have said, she is a highly respected anti-racism campaigner. The eyes of the country and of Parliament are upon these inquiries, and the EHRC is looking into this as well. We expect them to do their duty.
I thank the hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) for bringing forward this important urgent question. As somebody who has played cricket in Yorkshire for the best part of 40 years—sadly not for Yorkshire, but in Yorkshire—I have to say that I have not heard that term expressed on a cricket field or in a dressing room for many decades. Nevertheless, this reflects very badly on the whole of Yorkshire cricket. When we get to the bottom of all this, may I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that those who are responsible for this kind of language are sanctioned, and that the people who have described this language as “banter” also face sanctions?
Can I first join others in condemning the vile language directed at Azeem Rafiq and the blatant culture of racism that has been exposed? It is shocking that, even after all this, this House has requested a copy of the full report and been denied it. The language faced by Azeem was not friendly banter, as has rightly been pointed out. It was racism, plain and simple, and the failure of Yorkshire cricket to recognise it taking place under its nose is just the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem. That problem is the normalisation of racism in so many sports such as cricket and football. You only have to ask any young person in Bradford who has ever picked up a bat or a ball about the obstacles they face on a daily basis because of this normalisation. I have listened to the Minister, but the reality remains that we cannot tackle the racism present in many sports if we change only the boards and not the culture. What the Minister needs to do today is to commit to a top-to-bottom review of professional sporting bodies to directly challenge the normalisation of racism.
I agree that the normalisation of racism is something that we all have to fight. Each and every one of us has a duty and an ability to do that. As far as cricket is concerned, as I have said, I have enormous confidence in Cindy Butts—a highly respected anti-racism campaigner—to lead the independent commission for equity in cricket and sort out the problems that evidently exist there. Across society more widely the Government have a hate crime strategy, we have done a race disparity audit and we have a race disparity unit. We will shortly be bringing forward an online safety Bill, which is designed to clean up the sewer online where so much of that hatred is often spread.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) for securing this question and I thank Azeem Rafiq for his bravery. Not only was he exposed to racism and suffered from that, but he was denied an inquiry, and only yesterday was it acknowledged that what he did was whistleblowing. Much of the racism he faced at Yorkshire county cricket club was blatant racism and Islamophobia, and he has said as much. I recognise that the Minister and other members of the Government have stood in solidarity with colleagues across party in challenging the racism in this specific case, and I welcome the appointment of my fellow Bradfordian Lord Kamlesh Patel, but it cannot be left to him to fix this culture on his own.
I appreciate that the essence of this debate is about cross-party unity, but the truth is that for two and a half years we have been waiting for a definition of Islamophobia. No Government advisers have been appointed in two and a half years and the definition provided by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, which the Muslim community stood behind, has been denied by the Government. Given the collegiate nature of this debate, will the Minister and the Government meet with the all-party parliamentary group so that we can reach a definition of Islamophobia? Without that, how do we understand that Islamophobia is rooted in racism, and what do we do to address it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I repeat my admiration for Azeem Rafiq’s courage in standing up to the appalling racism he suffered at Yorkshire county cricket club. I understand that that is by no means an isolated example. Root and branch change is needed at that club; I hope that the recent appointment of Lord Patel of Bradford is an important first step, but it is only a first step. Root and branch change is needed. Across cricket more widely, the independent commission for equity in cricket, chaired by Cindy Butts, has that mission in mind.
On the more general question, of course we need to create a culture in this country where racism is fought at every step and every stage. That is why we have a race disparity unit. That is why we have a hate crime strategy. That is why we are bringing forward the online safety Bill. In relation to the hon. Lady’s particular question about the definition, the Minister for Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), is working on that. I will convey the question to my hon. Friend and ask her to make contact urgently with the hon. Lady to discuss that issue.
Yorkshire county cricket club is supposed to represent each and every person of our great county, but these reports show that it has failed our entire Yorkshire community and the whole sporting community. It is right that the board members at Yorkshire who turned a blind eye to racist accusations have resigned, but does my hon. Friend agree that the ECB must now take responsibility for neglecting racism in cricket and that individuals there must also consider their positions?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the failings at Yorkshire county cricket club are deep and have been long lasting. Of the people responsible, I think some have resigned already, but there are others who, as the shadow Minister and I said earlier, should now consider their position and do the same. My colleague the sport Minister met the ECB last week to raise exactly those issues, to hold it to account and to make clear that the expectation of Parliament and the public is that it takes responsibility for fixing the problems that it has allowed to occur on its watch. We are scrutinising its actions. The public are watching and Parliament is watching; we now expect them to act.
Let me first congratulate my dear hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) and thank him for securing this urgent question. We are talking about structural racism and institutional inequality in society. Does the Minister agree that community sports projects run in the community, which bring people of different faiths and backgrounds together, are key to breaking racism in sport? Will he agree to meet successful teams in my constituency to understand the challenges they face?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to point to grassroots sport as the place where everything starts and the place where culture is set. I think the person he should meet is the sport Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston); he is in Geneva today, but I will certainly pass on that request and I am certain he will readily agree.
This appalling case follows several high-profile examples of racism in other sports this year. The efforts to address racism in football, for example, through taking the knee have sadly met with a mixed reaction from fans. Although it is clear that we need a new anti-racism strategy across all sports, it is important that that strategy brings everybody with it. What steps have the Government taken to develop such an initiative across all sports?
In relation specifically to football, in response to what happened last summer, the scope of football banning orders was extended to cover not just racist abuse happening in football grounds, but racist abuse perpetrated by fans online. Quick and decisive action was taken there. The online safety Bill is designed to address racist abuse online more widely, and the hate crimes strategy and the race disparity unit are designed to fight racism in sport and across society as a whole.
I associate myself and my party with remarks already made in this place. Racism is absolutely unacceptable anywhere. In Scotland we have a useful expression, “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns,”—we are all John Thomson’s children—meaning that we are all the same. We are all human beings.
I served for 12 years in the Scottish Parliament. For a long time, sectarianism has been a scar on the face of Scottish sport, but I give credit where it is due: the Scottish Government have recognised that and are working hard to tackle it. Some would say perhaps not successfully, some would say successfully, but never mind—the intention is there. May I recommend to Her Majesty’s Government that they talk to the Scottish Government about what has been done north of the border, as it may well help to stamp out the evil of racism in the rest of the UK?
I too am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) for raising the important question of racism in cricket in the House. Just yesterday, I met Cricket Wales and heard about the work it is doing in my constituency with the brilliant Miskin Manor Cricket Club to tackle misogyny and inequality at grassroots level. Racism and discrimination in any form is utterly unacceptable, and it cannot be that cricket is allowed to continue as a sport for only the most privileged communities. I ask the Minister exactly what steps his Department will be taking to break that cycle and encourage true diversity in sport. We need deeds, not words.
Diversity and inclusion run through the entire ethos of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s interaction with sporting bodies and the way it funds sport, from grassroots levels, which the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) mentioned a moment ago, right up to the top. It touches every element of the way we fund and work with sport. On the question of cricket in particular, Cindy Butts’s independent commission for equity in cricket is designed to address exactly the questions the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) rightly just raised.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) on securing this important urgent question. I agree with the remarks that have already been made this afternoon. Racism in all its forms, whether in sport or society, is wrong and needs to be stamped out. We all saw what happened last summer, when the racist attacks on our black England football players took place, and the lack of leadership, as many would describe it, from the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister when they failed to condemn it. To tackle racism requires leadership. If the Minister is going to bring his words to life, he needs to commit today to implementing a proper race equality strategy that will seek to tackle institutional and structural racism across society, including in sport, the labour market and our education system.
When we saw the racist abuse suffered by those footballers in the final of the European championships at Wembley back in the summer, there was universal condemnation of it. It was universal condemnation followed by action, in the form of the extension of those football banning orders to include online racist abuse, which previously was not covered and is a matter that will be further addressed in the Online Safety Bill in the very near future. On the wider questions, we had the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities give its initial report and the Government will be coming forward with a further plan in that area, which my colleague the Minister for Equalities will be leading.
May I strongly associate myself with the praise for the courage of Azeem Rafiq, the condemnation of institutional racism at Yorkshire cricket club more generally and the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) about the lack of a Government-backed definition of Islamophobia? There are two other specific things the Minister should focus on. First, last year Sport England found a 14-point gap between the percentage of white British people participating in sport and of British Asians taking part in sport. So it would be good to know what the Minister is going to do to put a target in place to bring that gap down quickly. Secondly, members of Yorkshire cricket club were raising concerns about what was going on, but the governance structures at Yorkshire clearly did not allow those concerns to get to the very top and have an impact. There is, rightly, a campaign for fans to have a seat on the board of football clubs. Is it not time for consideration to be given to fans having a place on the board of cricket clubs as well?
The question about encouraging participation is a good one. My colleague the sports Minister, who deals with this on a day-to-day basis, in his dealings with various representative sports bodies and in the way he constructs funding arrangements, is resolutely focused on increasing participation in sports across all backgrounds in this country, both ethnic and social; there are other metrics and dimensions besides just ethnicity. That is an important piece of work that he is taking forward. On representation on boards, that is exactly the kind of question Cindy Butts’s review will be addressing. I hope she is listening to today’s proceedings and will take that as an idea for her review to carry forward, because I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there were catastrophic failings of governance over many years at Yorkshire county cricket club. That is why it is right that the chairman resigned and if anyone is left from that regime, they should resign as well.
In my constituency, children are flourishing when playing local, grassroots, community cricket, through excellent programmes led by organisations such as Wicketz, which focuses on community cohesion. It is clear, however, that structural inequalities, particularly associated with race and class—as have been writ large by the issues and allegations at Yorkshire county cricket club—will place huge barriers in their way if they want to pursue their dreams and make it as professionals in cricket. What actions is the Minister taking to stamp out discrimination, in all its forms, within cricket and sport in the UK?
As I set out already, the independent commission for equity in cricket, chaired by a highly respected anti-racism campaigner, is going into exactly those issues and I am sure it will be making concrete recommendations, which the ECB and the Government will be taking very seriously. In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is asking questions, as I have said. If the ECB, in its work, does not do what this House expects, the Government are prepared to act.
More than 50 years ago, Asian cricketers set up their own leagues and tournaments in Yorkshire because they were not getting the recognition in the sport that they deserved for their talent, and they certainly were not being picked up by the head of the sport in their county, which is Yorkshire cricket club. This problem has existed in broad daylight for generations and the ECB has done precious little to deal with it. If we are going to deal with this issue, we cannot look only at Yorkshire cricket club; we need to look beyond it and talk to people about what has been going on in Yorkshire for a very long time—perhaps even look beyond Yorkshire and at other areas where this sort of institutional racism takes place. We need a root-and-branch investigation into what has been going on.