House of Commons
Wednesday 8 December 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Northern Ireland’s Place in the UK
In the year of Northern Ireland’s centenary, the Government have delivered the largest funding settlement to Northern Ireland since devolution, record investment in public services and vaccines at a rate possible only because of our great NHS. We are boosting local economies through city and growth deals and providing, along with the Northern Ireland Executive, a UK contribution of more than £730 million to the Peace Plus programme to contribute to a more prosperous and stable Northern Ireland. This is a Government working for Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland is stronger for being part of the UK, just as much as our United Kingdom is stronger for having Northern Ireland as an integral part of it.
Internal trade is one of the key strengths and benefits of being part of our United Kingdom. Irish Government statistics, however, suggest a 60% increase in north-south trade with the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the diversion of trade is clear evidence of the need to invoke article 16?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, highlighting one of the reasons why, when we published our Command Paper in the summer, we said that, as of then, the conditions to trigger article 16 had been met. We are very clear that we do not rule that out. If we have to use article 16, we will, but we are in negotiations with the European Union. The ideal solution for us would be to come to an agreement with the EU, but that has to be one that delivers on the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.
A great strength of being an integral part of the UK is being able to benefit from the excellent trade deals being agreed around the world now that we have left the EU. Clearly, different regions and nations will have different needs from those deals, so what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard in trade negotiations as a means of strengthening its place in the Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: as a Government of the whole United Kingdom, we are committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland’s businesses and consumers have access to and benefit from new trade deals. The Department for International Trade now has an office in Belfast and, just last month, I hosted, with the Secretary of State for International Trade, the Board of Trade in Derry/Londonderry. I look forward to doing more on that. We work with businesses in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive to make sure that we can deliver and involve them in these opportunities.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that every UK citizen and resident should have access to a similar level of healthcare? Will he guarantee that nothing in the negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol will put at risk access to medicines and covid vaccines for residents and citizens of Northern Ireland?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is because of our UK-wide NHS that everyone in our country can expect to receive quality health services, regardless of where they live. Currently, because of unnecessary regulatory and trade barriers in the UK internal market, we have seen difficulty in safeguarding medicine supplies. Unlike the EU, which some in this House will remember attempted to trigger article 16 earlier this year, with the intent of putting a hard border for vaccines on the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland and Ireland, this Government would never do anything that jeopardises access to medicines or covid vaccines for the residents of Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland shares many of the same traits as our great county of Lancashire, Mr Speaker, including world-class expertise in aerospace and cyber-security. Does the Secretary of State agree that we can and should do much more to join up Lancashire and Northern Ireland, so that we can do even more together?
I agree with my hon. Friend. This relates to a range of areas, including the strategic transport network, which will bring people and businesses across the UK closer together and which is helping us to build back better. It is also important to look at the business and general communication links that mean that all parts of the UK and businesses in it can work together to develop the economy for the benefit of people across the United Kingdom, including in his constituency.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: prosperity is an important part of peace and is what has led to the peace that we have seen over the past 23 years. Northern Ireland is benefiting from being part of the fifth largest economy in the world. In addition, it is receiving its largest funding settlement since devolution. We are investing to ensure that we level up in Northern Ireland, with £60 million this year from the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund and the community ownership fund, as well as £400 million from the new deal for Northern Ireland and more than £600 million in city and growth deal investment to drive growth. We will continue to build back better and level up in Northern Ireland through the upcoming UK shared prosperity fund, as well as the global Britain investment fund.
The Downing Street declaration states,
“on the behalf of the British Government, that they have no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland.”
That is a direct quote from the declaration—signed, of course, by a Conservative Prime Minister. Does this British Government still agree with that principle, or are they going to abandon the consent principle that means the people of Ireland, north and south, will decide the constitutional future of our island, not the British Government or anybody else?
We are absolutely clear, as we have been consistently, about our dedication to and determination to continue to deliver on the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, which includes the principle of consent. This Government understand the difference between consent and impartiality and make no apologies, just as I make no apologies for being a Conservative and a unionist who believes in the Union and that the Union is stronger for Northern Ireland’s being in it. That does not detract from the reality that the future of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland.
Much to the Prime Minister’s presumed disappointment, his proposed bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland has been rejected as “impossible to justify” by his own advisers, as it would cost £300 billion, 22 times more than the Prime Minister’s estimates. Does the Secretary of State agree that that flight of fancy is a perfect example of why Westminster should leave devolved matters such as transport to devolved nations? They know what is needed, and it is not impossible projects such as that, based on ideology.
I feel sorry for the hon. Lady; she should think bigger and better and be more optimistic about the future of the United Kingdom. It is absolutely right that we look at the things we can do to improve our country. If we do not look at those things, we will never achieve anything exciting that can drive our economy. It is absolutely right that we look at how we ensure that the connectivity of the whole UK is working for the benefit of the UK. Scotland is able to continue as a strong economy as part of the United Kingdom because it benefits from its links with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Yes, absolutely. An important part of that is looking at how we deliver on areas of the Good Friday agreement that have not yet been delivered on, including things such as integrated education. I think it is still shameful that only 7% of the population benefit from integrated education. There is always more to do, and we can do that working together for the benefit of the whole community of Northern Ireland.
There are many in Northern Ireland, myself included, who believe that the protocol represents the greatest threat to the Union at this time. Recalling the commitment made by the Government in the New Decade, New Approach agreement to protect and strengthen Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market, what urgent steps do the Government intend to take to deliver on that commitment and to safeguard the political institutions in Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I want to be clear: the Northern Ireland protocol is not working for the people of Northern Ireland. Societal and economic difficulties have been faced across both unionist and nationalist communities and by the business community, who are very clear about that. There is also a sense that identity is being eroded and east-west links weakened. That is compounded by the very real issue of trade diversion, which has already been mentioned this morning. The European Union and the Irish Government need to recognise that the lack of movement on the Northern Ireland protocol is leading to a loss of confidence in the institutions established under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
Restoring the balance between east-west and north-south is vital. That is why we continue to press through negotiations for a new balance to the protocol, but we are clear that all options remain on the table. We will do what we need to do to correct the situation for the UK internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it. This Government will not allow the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, of which we are co-guarantors, to be put at risk.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Another commitment made in New Decade, New Approach was the establishment of the Castlereagh Foundation to promote and to undertake proper research into the benefits of the Union to Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State update the House on progress made in establishing the Castlereagh Foundation?
In July, I appointed an advisory committee to provide advice on appropriate delivery partners to establish the Castlereagh Foundation, the legal form it should take, the role of the foundation and the cost to establish it. I thank the committee for its work; it is putting forward a proposal that I expect to have on my desk to look at and consider, to be able to make some decisions on the appropriate next steps, in the imminent future.
Consultations on Addressing Legacy of Northern Ireland's Past: Victims Groups
Since publishing the Command Paper, the Government have engaged with a range of stakeholders, including victims groups, who we have always said must be central to discussions on legacy. Victims groups have provided evidence at sessions that the Government have convened with Northern Ireland parties and in partnership with the Irish Government, in addition to the Government’s own bilateral engagement. The process has been hugely valuable and we are all grateful to those who shared their views on this important and sensitive issue.
The Secretary of State has said that the victims groups are central to all he is doing in this regard, but now that there appears to be total unanimity in opposition to the Government’s amnesty proposals among the people most directly affected in Northern Ireland, how will he reconcile their opinion with his desire to proceed in the face of such opposition?
As I have said before, we are working through the feedback that we received over the summer and autumn following the engagement that we had with a range of parties with an interest in this matter: victims groups, political parties and other stakeholder groups in civic society. We need to be honest about what is achievable, and about the reality that the current system is not working for people. It is not providing the information and it is not getting to the truth. Our focus is on ensuring that we are able to deliver a package that can get to the truth for families who have waited for far too long.
My right hon. Friend is right to say that the current position is not working, and I think we should all congratulate him on trying to grapple once again with an issue that has been left lying there for too long. However, if his proposals are to secure any traction, they will have to be compliant with article 2, and we will have to see a fully fleshed out plan for truth and reconciliation. Can he give me assurances on both points?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the key points that we made in the Command Paper—we will be setting out a lot of the work we are doing on this—was about ensuring that people can see that investigations will continue. There will be an information recovery body that will be able to get to the truth and will have access to information in a way that we have not seen before. We are determined to deliver on that, and we are determined to ensure that what we deliver is article 2 compliant.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Command Paper was published back in July, and since that time there have been two pauses, or perhaps more. That implies quite directly that the Secretary of State’s thinking is evolving. Can he tell the House, with as much precision as possible: what is the difference between his thinking as it currently stands and his thinking in the paper that was published in July?
I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position. I look forward not just to sparring with him at the Dispatch Box, but to working with him for the benefit of Northern Ireland in the period ahead. I am sure we will be able to ensure that, on a range of matters, we are delivering for the people of Northern Ireland, along with his team.
We have not had pauses as such. We said when we published the Command Paper that we wanted to engage with parties, and we agreed at the summer British-Irish intergovernmental conference with the Irish Government to do that in partnership. That work continued over the summer and autumn and just last week we had a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference which is developing that work. This is a very complicated, complex area, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare). We want to bring forward this package of work and legislate for it to ensure that we deliver for people in Northern Ireland—for victims who have waited too long for information. So there have not been pauses; the work continued throughout the summer and autumn.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his kind comments. I am also grateful for the messages and exchanges that we have had in the run-up to today.
In the spirit of constructive relations, let me share with the Secretary of State a bit of advice that comes from my experience. My last job was as the shadow Victims Minister, and when I was drafting the Victims of Crime and Anti-social Behaviour, Etc (Rights, Entitlements and Related Matters) Bill, I learnt that offering support only works when the victims are in the driving seat. According to the proposals that are currently on the table, the victims are not even in the car. Rather than delaying—the Secretary of State did promise it in the autumn and he did promise it before Christmas, and it has not emerged—can he give a clear assurance, on behalf of the victims, that he has gone back to the drawing board and will only return with proposals once victims are front and centre and in the driving seat? That is what they deserve, and that is what Governments should deliver for them.
I appreciate that this is a complex issue, and I will be very clear about this. We want to ensure that we are delivering for the people and the whole of Northern Ireland, for the victims, and obviously for all those who served in Northern Ireland as well. This is a complex area, and our programme and the work we are seeking to deliver will deliver for victims. Victims are consistently saying that they want to get to the truth of what happened. The current system is not delivering that. Our Command Paper sets out a plan for a way to do that. We need to be honest about the current system’s failures and look at a new way forward. The Command Paper sets that out. We will look into the feedback we had over the summer and autumn, and we will do that very soon.
On the weekend, I received another call from the media with a briefing from the Northern Ireland Office saying that legislation and a statement would be coming out this week, and so on. This is the seventh deadline to produce this legislation—self-set by the Secretary of State—that he has missed. Does he have any intention at all of honouring his word?
I do not recognise what my hon. Friend just outlined. I said that I would set out to Parliament our intended direction of travel and what we wanted to do before the summer recess, and we did that with the Command Paper. We did have an ambition to legislate this autumn, and I was determined to do that, but we have to ensure that we are delivering and focusing on the work that we have seen over the summer and autumn in the ongoing conversations with victims groups and veterans groups, the Irish Government and the parties in Northern Ireland. This is a complex area, and we have to make sure that when we deliver legislation on this, it is legislation that works for the people of Northern Ireland and for those who served in Northern Ireland as well.
Northern Ireland Protocol Negotiations
The status quo cannot continue. Nearly six months ago we presented a Command Paper outlining how we thought we could resolve the serious issues within the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU brought forward its own proposals, but these do not have the support of businesses or society and do not remove the need for unnecessary checks on goods that will remain in Northern Ireland and the UK internal market. We want a negotiated solution and we are engaging constructively but the gap between us is still large. We will do what we need to do to deliver for Northern Ireland.
Members of this House have said on the record that the Prime Minister personally told them that the Northern Ireland protocol was being agreed with the specific intention to renege on it in the future, so how can any future trade or negotiating partner trust the UK when it is clearly acting in bad faith?
The UK Government have been very clear and transparent about our intentions all the way through, as we were when we launched the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill last year, as we were when we took action back in March, and as we were when we published the Command Paper. The current situation with the Northern Ireland protocol is not working for the United Kingdom internal market and it is not working for anybody or any business in Northern Ireland. That is not sustainable and it needs to be corrected.
The Secretary of State has said today that the Northern Ireland protocol is not working for the people of Northern Ireland, but it was his Government who negotiated the protocol and voted for the exit from the EU. Is he not embarrassed to stand here as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in a Government who have effectively thrown Northern Ireland under the bus in the name of Brexit?
The objectives the Northern Ireland protocol include ensuring that the everyday lives of people and their communities are not disrupted, that the UK internal market is respected and that all three strands of the Good Friday agreement are respected. The EU’s implementation of the protocol is breaching those issues and we will not tolerate that. It is abhorrent to be in a situation in which members of the Jewish community in Northern Ireland cannot practise their religion under the EU’s requirements. That should not be tolerated by anybody in this House.
I welcome the Government’s dialling down of the rhetoric on the protocol, but may I urge them to speed things up? This issue and these negotiations are affecting our international relationships in steel and other matters, and the very fragile ecology in Northern Ireland. May I also urge the Secretary of State to assist my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) on his need for a negotiated settlement on the Irish sea checks and regulations?
My right hon. Friend is right: we need to see this resolved quickly, but that obviously requires the European Union to recognise the very real issues on the ground in Northern Ireland and the fact that we need to see movement from the EU to get to a resolution that can work for businesses in Great Britain supplying Northern Ireland, and for Northern Ireland’s citizens.
It is almost 12 months since the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed and concluded yet, despite all the talk and all the bluster from Lord Frost, the UK Government have still not reached an agreement on the transporting of medicines to Northern Ireland. This is a matter of life or death. Will the Secretary of State please give a concrete guarantee to the House now that an agreement on medicines will be reached before Christmas?
That is very much at the heart of the discussions that Lord Frost is continuing to have with the EU. The hon. Lady highlights a clear problem. The EU needs to come to the table with proposals to resolve these issues so that people can have confidence in having access to medicines, rather than having that access prohibited by the way in which the EU wants to implement the protocol.
The Secretary of State keeps threatening to invoke article 16, but he never quite gets round to doing it, does he? There is a pattern of behaviour here: the Secretary of State talks a great game but he never plays one. Where is your Bill, Brandon?
My right hon. Friend is right that we have not yet triggered article 16. As we said, the conditions have been met, but article 16 is not the solution in and of itself; it is the start of a process. It is right that we strain every sinew to reach an agreement with the EU, because that is what gives certainty for businesses and citizens in Northern Ireland. It is a reality that if we are not able to secure an agreement with the EU, and if the EU is not able to move in a way that delivers for Northern Ireland, we do not take anything off the table.
The Secretary of State will be aware of recent Office for National Statistics data indicating that Northern Ireland is faring the best of all UK regions due to the protection and dual market access of the protocol. He will also be aware of the BBC “Spotlight” investigation into very murky goings on at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, showing that loyalist threats to the protocol were confected for and by political actors. Will he acknowledge that there has been a year-long campaign of reality distortion to mask the fact that the protocol, which has majority and growing support in Northern Ireland, is required by the people of Northern Ireland?
We have always been clear that we want to ensure the protocol works for people in Northern Ireland, and at the moment it does not. In my engagement with business representative groups across Northern Ireland last week, they were very clear that the status quo does not work for businesses in Northern Ireland and the EU’s offer does not deliver a solution.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government’s legal representatives are now telling the courts that the Northern Ireland protocol represents a temporary suspension of parts of the Act of Union. When will this temporary suspension come to an end?
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission: Core Functions
We value the important work of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in championing human rights in Northern Ireland. We are committed to ensuring the commission has the resources and the ability to carry out its functions, and we remain in close contact with the chief executive and their staff.
One of the many risks of activating article 16 is the chance that human rights safeguards secured under article 2 and relied on by organisations such as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will fall by the wayside. Will the Minister confirm that any negotiations involving the protocol will not lead to the unravelling of article 2 commitments?
Exports to Northern Ireland: Businesses in Great Britain
International trade is vital to boosting prosperity for this country, and trade within the United Kingdom is essential for our sense of connectivity and belonging, which is a priority for this Government.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Despite these measures, east-west trade remains disrupted because of the EU’s application of elements within the protocol. I wholeheartedly support the Minister’s efforts to remedy the situation, but if those efforts are unsuccessful, will he confirm that all measures, including invoking article 16, remain on the table?
The Government have been absolutely clear that we want to find a sustainable and durable solution to the problems created by the protocol. Under the strong leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Lord Frost’s unrivalled grasp of the protocol, we are determined to reach that solution.
That is so 2016, is it not? SNP Members are still not reconciled to the democratic decision that the British people took to control their own destiny and leave the European Union. We are determined to find a sustainable and durable solution to the protocol, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Lord Frost and the Secretary of State are all clear that if that cannot be achieved, we will take whatever actions are necessary to secure the interests of the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
The Irish Times carries a piece that states that the Republic of Ireland now has the highest debt in all of Europe and 20% higher costs of living than Northern Ireland, and it now requires a multibillion-pound bailout from Europe to deal with the consequences of Brexit. Is it not the case that, by contrast, Northern Ireland is part of the fifth largest economy in the world, and that not only is it part of a strong and growing economy, but it requires the friction that exists between businesses in Northern Ireland and GB to be removed? Invoking article 16 will allow that friction to be removed.
Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions—[Interruption.] Mr MacNeil, I do not need any help from you. This is an important message to those people who are watching. Before I come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.
The Prime Minister was asked—
May I begin by saying that I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No. 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures? I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules, because I was also furious to see that clip. I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken. That is what I have been repeatedly assured. But I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible. It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.
Bins left uncollected, council tenants being forced to live in damp and cold homes, £22 million lost on the Providence Place land deal and a £10 million overspend on special educational needs and disability transport contracts that were almost awarded to Labour councillors’ friends—today, our council’s external auditors released a damning report that surprises none of us. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that 47 years of Labour control in Sandwell has done nothing but level down my constituency of West Bromwich East, and that my constituents in West Bromwich, Friar Park and Great Barr deserve better?
Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, because the instinct of Labour councillors up and down this country is, yet again, to level down rather than to level up. I encourage her constituents to install a Labour council there—[Interruption]—a Conservative council there as soon as possible.
I heard what the Prime Minister said at the beginning of this session, but frankly it raises more questions than answers. Last week, I asked the Prime Minister: was there
“a Christmas party…in Downing Street for dozens of people on 18 December?”—[Official Report, 1 December 2021; Vol. 704, c. 909.]
The Prime Minister and the Government spent the week telling the British public that there was no party and that all guidance was followed completely. Millions of people now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools and that they were lied to; they are right, aren’t they?
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman probably missed what I said at the beginning, but I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously. I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken—[Interruption.]
An internal investigation into what happened? The situation is as clear as day. I thought last week was bad enough; surely the Prime Minister is not now going to start pretending that the first he knew about this was last night—surely.
We have all watched the video of the Prime Minister’s staff, including his personal spokesperson. They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they could not admit it and they thought it was funny. It is obvious what happened—Ant and Dec are ahead of the Prime Minister on this. The Prime Minister has been caught red-handed; why does he not end the investigation right now by just admitting it?
Because I have been repeatedly assured that no rules were broken. I understand public anxiety about this and I understand public indignation, but there is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who were, frankly, obeying the rules. That is why the Cabinet Secretary will be conducting an investigation and that is why there will be the requisite disciplinary action if necessary.
This pretence that further information has come to light—give me a break! The Prime Minister is still taking the public for fools.
On the day of the Downing Street party, Trisha Greenhalgh’s mum phoned her; she was “breathless and feverish”—[Interruption.] You might want to listen. Trisha followed the rules and did not visit her mum. Listening? Four days later, on the day the Prime Minister’s staff laughed about covering up the party, Trisha’s mum was admitted to hospital. Trisha followed the rules and did not visit. Trisha’s mum spent Christmas day in hospital; Trisha followed the rules and did not visit. Two days later, Trisha’s mum died. What Trisha wants to know is: why did the Prime Minister expect her to accept that the rules allowed a Downing Street party but did not allow her to visit her dying mother?
The first thing to say is that, in common with everybody in this House, I extend my sympathies to Trisha and her family. I understand the pain of everybody who has suffered throughout this pandemic.
I know the implication that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to draw: that the case that we are now investigating should somehow undermine public confidence in the measures that we are taking. I think that is the point he is trying to make, but I say to him that I think it is a great mistake to try to play politics with this issue, and I think that is what he is doing. I do not think the public do want to see confidence in the measures undermined. We are taking—[Interruption.] I think they can see the difference. We are taking the steps necessary to protect the public, above all by rolling out the vaccinations. Rather than focusing on the events of a year ago, that is what we are focusing on and that is what I think the public will understand.
But it is not just the events of a year ago, is it? We are facing a new variant. We may well be in plan B this afternoon. Even the Prime Minister must understand the damage that he has done to his credibility in enforcing the rules now and in the future. Trisha made an enormous personal sacrifice to do the right thing—to follow the rules and help defeat the virus. That is what she was asked to do. Most people were just like Trisha last Christmas. No one was dreaming of a Zoom Christmas, turkey dinners for one, and gifts exchanged at service stations, but the virus was out of control. Four hundred and eighty nine people died of covid on the day of the Downing Street party. The British people put the health of others above themselves and followed the rules. Is the Prime Minister not ashamed that his Downing Street could not do the same?
I have said what I have said about the events on 18 December. They will be properly investigated, Mr Speaker, and I will place a copy of the Cabinet Secretary’s report in the Library of the House of Commons. What people should not do is lose focus on what we are trying to do now. Of course we will deal with what may or may not have taken place on 18 December last year, but what we need to focus on today is what we are doing to roll out the vaccinations across the country and what we are doing to protect the public. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is indeed right that we now have, in the omicron variant, a variant that is spreading much faster than any that we have seen before, and, with great respect to him, that is what we need to focus on. That is why I ask everybody to go to get their booster jab as soon as they are called to come forward.
The Prime Minister apparently wants us to focus on what is happening today. There were no Government spokespersons on the media this morning—I see that the Health Secretary has made it to the Chamber. That is the point: this virus is not defeated. We will face other tests where the British people may be asked by their leaders to make further sacrifices for the greater good. Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man whom she had been married to for 73 years. Leadership, sacrifice—that is what gives leaders the moral authority to lead. Does the Prime Minister think that he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to stick to the rules?
Yes, Mr Speaker. Throughout this pandemic, the Leader of the Opposition in particular has done nothing but play politics to try to muddy the waters, to confuse the public and to cause needless confusion about the guidance. The public have not been so confused and they have not been fooled. They have got on with implementing the guidance, and, in particular, they have got on with showing great commitment to the health of this country by going forward to get vaccinated—[Interruption.]
At every stage, the Labour leadership and the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), have tried to muddy the waters and play politics, but the people of this country have not been fooled. In particular, they have come forward to get vaccinated faster than any other country in Europe. We have now done 20 million boosters; that is the single best thing that we can do. I encourage everybody to keep going and get their booster jab.
That is so desperate, and even the Prime Minister’s own side can see it. Last week, the Prime Minister told us there was no party. Now he thinks that there is something to investigate. The Justice Secretary thinks that the police do not investigate crimes from a year ago. Well, I ran the Crown Prosecution Service and I can tell him that that is total nonsense. At Westminster magistrates court right now, the CPS is prosecuting more than a dozen breaches of covid restrictions last December—including those, Prime Minister, who hosted parties. The CPS is doing its job, enforcing the law set in Downing Street. Will the Prime Minister support the police and the CPS by handing over everything that the Government know about parties in Downing Street to the Metropolitan police?
Of course we will do that, and we will get on with the investigation by the Cabinet Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman continually wants to play politics with this issue. We want to get on with our job of protecting this country during the pandemic, delivering the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, fighting the drugs gangs when the Labour party wants to decriminalise class A drugs, and backing our Nationality and Borders Bill. The Opposition have an opportunity to focus on that tonight; why not back our borders Bill and have life sentences for people traffickers? That is what the Leader of the Opposition should be doing and that is what I urge him to do, rather than playing politics.
I thank my hon. Friend for everything that she does, particularly as special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. As she rightly says, we have an Afghan citizens resettlement scheme coming. We have already taken 15,000, but it is important that we get that scheme right. Further details, including the eligibility criteria, will be announced by the Home Office in due course.
We are standing on the cliff edge of yet another challenging moment in this pandemic. Omicron cases are rising at a rapid rate, and over the coming weeks tough decisions will again have to be made to save lives and protect our NHS. Trust in leadership is a matter of life and death. Downing Street wilfully broke the rules and mocked the sacrifices that we have all made, shattering the public’s trust. The Prime Minister is responsible for losing the trust of the people. He can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands. The Prime Minister has a duty: the only right and moral choice left to him is his resignation. When can we expect it?
No dignity from a Prime Minister who quite simply just does not get it. People across these islands have followed the rules, even when it meant missing friends and family, missing births, missing funerals, missing the chance to be beside a loved one in their dying moments. People have sacrificed, at times to the point of breaking, while the UK Government have laughed in our faces.
It is clear that the Prime Minister has lost the support of the public and now even his own Benches. This is not a grin-and-bear-it moment; this is a moment of moral reckoning. Every Member on the Conservative Benches must now decide: is this the man to lead these islands when lives are at stake? It is clear that this Prime Minister intends desperately to cling on to power, and I have nothing left to say to a man whose answers we simply cannot trust, so Mr Speaker—[Interruption.]
They are questioning this Parliament and questioning this Prime Minister that we cannot trust.
It is clear that the Prime Minister is desperately clinging on to power, and I have got nothing left to say to a man who we simply cannot trust. It is time for Members in this House to act. If he does not resign, he must be removed.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his vote of confidence, but I can tell him that I am going to get on with the job. I believe that that is the right thing to do. I think it is very, very sad that when the public need to hear clarity from their officials and from politicians, the Opposition parties are trying to muddy the waters about events, or non-events, of a year ago. That is what they are doing today.
Island Deal for Isle of Wight
I thank my hon. Friend, who is an excellent champion for the Isle of Wight. I know there is ongoing discussion between the Isle of Wight and the Department for Levelling Up about the unique circumstances of the Island, including the discussions about the possibility of a county deal.
I thank the Prime Minister for his response. Will the Government accept the findings of the independent study that they themselves commissioned this summer into a long-term fair funding settlement for the Island, the final calculations of which are due imminently? In doing so, will he help me to right a wrong that has now been ongoing for the Island—for my constituents—for some six decades?
I thank my hon. Friend very much. He will understand that it is not easy to break down the costs that apply to the service delivery on the Island, but I know the Department is carefully considering the details of the study he mentions, and I am sure the relevant Minister will keep him updated.
In view of the harm caused to political stability in Northern Ireland and to our economy by the Northern Ireland protocol, noting the lack of progress in removing the Irish Sea border, and recognising that Unionist consent for the protocol is not forthcoming, what urgent steps do the Prime Minister and his Government intend to take to honour his commitment to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market and to safeguard the political institutions in Northern Ireland?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. He and I have discussed this extensively, and he knows that we share a view that the protocol is not working in the way that it needs to in order to guarantee the Belfast-Good Friday agreement. I do not believe things need to be that way. I think it could be worked differently. We want our EU friends and partners to understand that and we will continue to work with them to get them to see things in the way that people on both sides of the Irish sea see them. In the meantime, we do not remove the possibility of invoking article 16 to protect trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this, and I thank the Hindu community for their amazing contribution to this country. I was delighted to visit the Neasden temple last month to hear about all they have done during the pandemic. I wish everybody in that community and all those celebrating all the very best.
No, because we make all those points regularly to the Chinese. Indeed, I did to President Xi when I talked to him recently. As I have said before, we do not support sporting boycotts, but there are certainly no plans for Ministers to attend the winter Olympics.
Health Education England is working extensively in Lincolnshire to improve the recruitment and retention of dentists. I understand that it agrees with her about the uneven distribution of dental schools throughout the country, and I am sure that as it considers its next steps, it will have heard her appeal.
Yes, I can. I can tell the hon. Lady that I was in contact with representatives of the local authorities, of the Army, of Northern Powergrid and others to see what more we could do to assist them in restoring power. I sympathise very much with the families who lost power for an unconscionably long period, and the House will have heard the explanation of the various electricity companies about why that is so. We must learn the lessons from Storms Arwen and Barra and ensure nothing like that happens again.
Among the heroes of the vaccine roll-out are pharmacists up and down the country, as my hon. Friend rightly says. We have 1,500 community pharmacies vaccinating people near where they live. I know that the NHS is considering the need to support more pop-up clinics where there is a need. I am happy to arrange a meeting with him and the vaccines Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), to discuss this further.
I thank my hon. Friend. It is absolutely true that, through our careers strategy, we have so far invested £2 million to support career-related learning in primary schools. As Members of the House will know, we get the most extraordinary questions from primary school children and they are often very ambitious for their futures.
Yes, it does. That is why it is absolutely vital that we should get to the bottom of whatever may or may not have taken place on 18 December last year, but we need to focus on what is happening this year. I urge the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and everybody else to get their booster jab and to look after themselves.
At the moment, indecent exposure or flashing is illegal offline but not online. I welcome the Prime Minister’s support for that to change when he spoke to the Liaison Committee in November. Will he support outlawing cyber-flashing and other forms of sexual image abuse online when the forthcoming Online Safety Bill comes to the House?
The Prime Minister has already been asked about the winter Olympics, but having listened to his answer, I have to say that, sadly, it was not strong enough. I support the request that the UK Government now act against the dictatorial brutal Chinese regime that is persecuting everybody from Christians to Tibetans and terrorising the Uyghurs. Will they follow the suit of the Americans, the Australians and even the Lithuanians and please—I beg of him—give a lead to human rights and make a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympic games?
It is clear from what I said earlier on that the Government have no hesitation in raising these issues with China, as I did with President Xi the last time I talked to him. There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympics in Beijing. No Ministers are expected to attend, and no officials, but what I can tell the House is that I do not think that sporting boycotts are sensible, and that remains the policy of the Government.
There are media reports of a Cabinet meeting and press conference this afternoon to initiate covid winter plan B without reference to this House. Covid passes will not increase uptake of the vaccine but will create a segregated society. Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister aware that very few will be convinced by this diversionary tactic?
This country is angry, and understandably so. Last Christmas, while we were in lockdown, millions of people were unable to be with their families; thousands of people waved through their care home windows at the loved ones wishing them a merry Christmas from the side of the road; people died without that last touch from their daughters, their sons, their wives; working in intensive care, I wept behind my mask as three children talking to their dying mother on an iPad begged her to wake up; and countless children are now growing up without parents—while parties were held at No. 10. This is disgraceful. This is an insult to everyone who followed the rules. It is an insult to everyone who was not allowed to say their final goodbye. This happened on the Prime Minister’s watch, so my question is very simple: how does the Prime Minister sleep at night?
I want first of all to repeat what I said earlier on about what happened a year ago, or what may not have happened. I share and understand the hon. Member’s grief and her feelings. I thank her for her service in the NHS. I know how much this country has been through and I know how difficult it has been. If you ask me how I sleep at night, the answer is that of course I take full responsibility and personal responsibility for everything that this Government have done, but I must say to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House that the way forward for this country now is to focus on the position we are in and, above all, to get our vaccinations as fast as we possibly can. We are in a much better position this year than we were last year, and that is thanks to the vaccination roll-out. I urge every Member of this House to join that campaign and that great British vaccination effort.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have informed the Prime Minister that I would be making a point of order, but I was informed by those on the Government Front Bench that he had to go. My goodness, those of us on the opposite side of the House absolutely agree that he has to go—he has to go as Prime Minister. People throughout these islands have been watching this debate today, and people feel revulsion at the stories that have emerged, in particular the video last night. What is worse is that there are now authoritative reports of not just one, not just two, but three different Downing Street parties during lockdown last Christmas, including one in the Prime Minister’s flat. What do we on this side of the House have to do to make sure that the Prime Minister takes responsibility for his breach of trust and the breach of covid regulations and that he does the right thing on behalf of all the people of these islands and resigns, and resigns now?
Order. [Interruption.] I think I make that decision. [Interruption.] No, I know you are not, and it is not to me, obviously.
This is a very tense moment for the House and I want to try to calm it down. We cannot continue a debate after it has already gone on, but what I would say is that I am not aware of any media attention and it is not for me to rule on something that happens in Downing Street. I also say to the right hon. Member that he has got his point on the record and we can leave it at that.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Committee on Standards has issued its fourth report of this Session, making a number of proposals and recommendations, some of which are open for consultation. As one of the longer-standing MP members of the Committee, I have been approached by some colleagues in the House, cross party, seeking guidance. It has become apparent to me that many colleagues are unaware of the existing practices and processes of the Committee and the code, let alone understand the proposed changes.
The Committee is keen to ensure full consultation and its Chair and team are doing a good job in encouraging Members to take part. With that in mind, I have checked “Erskine May”, spoken to senior colleagues and asked whether it would be appropriate for me to offer a meeting or meetings so that colleagues across the House could take part in the consultation on the proposed recommendations, with a view to sharing my views, listening to colleagues and strongly encouraging them to participate and express their views. The consultation runs until 20 January. I understand that it is entirely in order and permitted, so can you confirm, Mr Speaker, that you would encourage colleagues across the House to take part in this important consultation process?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you been notified by the Government of their intention to make a statement today from the Department of Health and Social Care, because if media reports are to be believed there will be a Cabinet meeting this afternoon followed by a Downing Street press conference to announce the introduction of new restrictions? Mr Speaker, you have made it clear in the past that statements should be heard here first. I want to say that, despite what the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions to the Leader of the Opposition, this party and we on the Labour Benches have always put public health before party politics, which is why we have voted with the Government time and again—do not abuse that trust in the way that the public trust has been abused. We will always put public health first, but we expect that announcement to be made here.
First, I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. I can confirm that I have had no request from the Government to make a statement. Of course, I am open to that, as soon as the Government come forward and say that they wish to make a statement. I say to the Government, as I have repeatedly said—and I will continue to repeat it—that it must be made here so that Back Benchers, whether Government or Opposition, can hear it in this Chamber. This Chamber is where statements are made. Otherwise it goes against the ministerial code. I do not want to fall out with the Prime Minister, but this is not a good way of getting Christmas cards sent between us, because I find it very offensive. There is plenty of time for the Government to come forward and say that they wish to make a statement here. What I do not want is statements to be made outside. I want respect for this House. I expect the Government to make sure that they respect their own Back Benchers, because I do even if he does not. So this is a chance for all to make sure that this House hears it first. I hope that, with my voice, they will be able to hear that in Downing Street, because I will make sure that they do hear it. So please let us not take this House for granted, and I stand firmly behind all Members of this House in saying that it must be heard here first.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 3 November, I raised the tragic case of my constituent’s mother who sadly died by suicide, and the Prime Minister agreed to meet me. Mr Speaker, how best can I get that meeting? Essentially, the Prime Minister is now refusing to meet me.
I will write to the Prime Minister to remind him that he promised to have a meeting with you. I will pass on those remarks, and I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench will have heard them. When people make statements that they will meet, they should honour that. All Members of this House count. All Members matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is further to the point of order raised by the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). Successive Ministers have promised that vaccine passports will not be introduced without the prior approval of this House, yet it is reported today that they are going to do exactly that. What can you do, Mr Speaker, to protect the position of this House and to ensure that Ministers keep the promises they have made to it?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the points made about the need for the Government to come to the House if they have anything to announce today, would you exceptionally permit the use of the urgent question procedure if a statement were not offered, so that we could put down an urgent question this afternoon for answer today?
I would be very willing to look, if it is at all feasible, to see whether we could use a UQ, if there is a way around the rules, because I would be more than willing to accept one if the Government were not willing to come forward with a statement. I totally agree that a statement would be beneficial. As I say, I am sure Downing Street would not let the Members of this House down.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Your advice has been very valuable today; I wonder whether you could extend it to this. I feel that there were some inconsistencies in the reply to my Question 6 in Prime Minister’s questions. Could you please advise me of next steps in managing the matter?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following on from that, with reports swirling in the last few minutes or half hour, would you accommodate and encourage a statement from the Prime Minister on just how many parties they have had in Government buildings, and when, during the covid restrictions?
Community Wealth Fund
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to transfer monies from the Dormant Assets Scheme into a new national endowment called the Community Wealth Fund, to be invested for the purposes of improving the local environments and quality of life of deprived communities, including through building social capital and social infrastructure; and for connected purposes.
As the first Conservative MP for Sedgefield since 1931, I, like so many of my colleagues on the Conservative Benches, was elected with a mandate to level up every community across the UK. In our first two years in office, we have worked tirelessly to level up opportunity. The Prime Minister announced the towns fund; the Chancellor set out a landmark £4 billion levelling-up fund for investment in the infrastructure of everyday life; there is the UK shared prosperity fund, to support communities after Brexit; and now we have a Department focused on delivering our levelling-up mission, so that every community across the country can benefit from the policies of this Government.
Most of the proposals announced so far will help improve economic fortunes across the UK, as we build back better from covid and meet the challenges of net zero. I know how important investment in physical infrastructure is—it can be a significant injection of belief in an area—but as I said earlier this week on Second Reading of the Dormant Assets Bill, levelling up needs to be more than that. It is time to tackle the next frontier of levelling up, and to rebuild the essential social infrastructure that our communities rely on, because both places and people are important. Research and evidence strongly suggest that places need investment in their social fabric as well as in their physical infrastructure. People need support and resources to nurture and develop the type of relationships that underpin the health and wellbeing of our communities and of the country as a whole.
We have seen the benefits of strong social connections over the past year, as local residents stepped up during the pandemic to protect their communities from the virus, forming mutual aid groups to ensure that vulnerable residents were looked after. As we move beyond covid and look to the future and to other challenges, we need to build on that community spirit. The Bill seeks to do just that—to help restore local pride in place, through investment in people, so that they develop the confidence and capacity to build the relationships needed to help them take action in their community.
If our levelling-up ambitions are to reach every part of the country, there must be levelling up in those places where the social fabric is most frayed. We need a “least first” approach to levelling up, with investment targeted first at those areas that have the least. It is for that reason that I am bringing forward this Bill in my role as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for “left behind” neighbourhoods, which is supported by 76 Members from across both Houses.
The 225 left-behind neighbourhoods that we represent and advocate for face severe economic deprivation and are significantly lacking in the social infrastructure that is so important to our way of life, but which many of us sometimes take for granted. That infrastructure includes: essential community places and local spaces where people can meet; the local activity and engagement with civic life that supports a sense of local ownership, and fosters belonging and civic pride; and physical and digital connectivity, which is vital in connecting residents to amenities, services and opportunities. These neighbourhoods are spread across the UK, and include Trimdon, Thornley and Ferryhill in my constituency. As research done for the APPG has found, such neighbourhoods face significantly worse outcomes than all other areas, including those that are equally economically deprived but that at least benefit from a foundation of social infrastructure.
The work of our APPG over the past 18 months has made it clear that these neighbourhoods require investment in the politics of belonging. We need to make these neighbourhoods better places in which to live and grow up; to invest in local talent and opportunities; and to provide these neighbourhoods with the support and resources that they need to flourish. Communities thrive when they enjoy a vibrant local civic life, whether it is built around a shared local history, heritage and experiences, or important local assets and institutions, such as a pub, library, football club or community centre.
These cultural and heritage assets help to create bonds of trust, and to cement the relationships and strengthen the ties that bind us to each other and to the place we call home. They underpin our unwritten social covenant and generate trust between the people who live in a place—a trust that can be relied on in times of difficulty. These are things that local residents understand. Recent polling from Survation found that two thirds of residents in left-behind neighbourhoods felt that their neighbourhood was missing out on community facilities; over half said that their area had fewer resources, such as parks, leisure and sports facilities, and places to meet. As importantly, almost 60% of residents said that they wanted more of a say in how future funding in their area was spent.
When it comes to levelling up an area, the community is best placed to know what needs to be done. We should not only listen to local people, but trust them to take the lead. We need to level up by devolving down, and give communities the confidence and capacity to take action on the issues that matter most to them, as well as the support and resources that they need to improve local outcomes. That is the purpose of the community wealth fund that I propose in the Bill. As we heard in the Chamber on Monday, the expanded dormant assets scheme provides almost £900 million, which could initially be used for this fund, so there would be no drain on the public purse.
I welcome the aim of the Government’s Dormant Assets Bill, which is to broaden the scope of dormant assets. The money will be committed to good causes. My Bill will ensure that that is a reality; it will set up an endowment that supports those places that are most left behind in designing their own future, achieving greater control over their destiny, and building long-term prosperity.
If the community wealth fund is to transform left-behind neighbourhoods in a way that previous schemes have not, the money must be invested in such a way as to build the social capital of residents while delivering visible and tangible benefits to their neighbourhoods. Research by the University of Cambridge looking at the past 40 years of place-based regeneration schemes found that the key determinants for driving lasting change included local decision making, targeting funding at the neighbourhood level, and ensuring long-term funding. Recent research for Onward reflects those findings; it found that while the involvement of communities is essential, many communities require up-front investment in order to participate fully.
The community wealth fund would build on the learning from previous regeneration programmes and support residents in taking the lead on making decisions about how its money is spent in order to achieve lasting change. That would turbo-charge community confidence and capacity, increase the stock of local social capital, and boost civic pride and local quality of life. Over the long term, we expect this investment to pay dividends by increasing residents’ ability to develop longer-term strategies for delivering change and tapping into the opportunities on offer across their wider region.
The decision on how and where to commit funds must be driven by the significance of the local social impact, and not some arbitrary calculation of the financial return on investment. We must try to reinforce this opportunity by making the approach as relational and human as possible, and remove whatever bureaucracy we can. I welcome the fact that the Government confirmed on Second Reading that they are not opposed to considering a community wealth fund, and that the idea is actively being considered in the levelling-up White Paper discussions. I also welcome the warm words of my noble Friend Lord Parkinson, who acknowledged that the core features of a community wealth fund—community decision making at a hyper-local level and investment in social infrastructure—have an important role to play in improving access to opportunities for everyone, particularly those in more deprived communities.
I fully support the objectives of the proposed consultation, and indeed hope that the result will be a community wealth fund, but I urge the Government to listen to the many organisations that have backed the call for a community wealth fund, and to colleagues from across the political parties. At the very least, I hope that the Government will ensure that the proposal for a community wealth fund is included in the consultation. I sound a note of caution: we need to initiate investment in social capital as soon as possible. For much of what we will consult on, we already know what we will find, so I encourage only minimal consultation, to allow for action as early as possible.
A community wealth fund would make a significant contribution to delivering the Government’s levelling-up objectives in many of our most left-behind communities. It is what is needed if we are to realise our ambitions of a new social covenant: a national endowment vesting greater control directly in the hands of local communities. My Bill, supported by my APPG, will set in motion the mechanisms by which we can build trust and achieve genuine and transformational change in left-behind neighbourhoods. It will do this by giving communities the opportunity to take the steps and identify the measures that they need to thrive. I would of course welcome the opportunity to talk to Ministers, together with members of the APPG, about the design and implementation of a community wealth fund. I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Paul Howell, Jo Gideon, Jim Shannon, Dr Kieran Mullan, Dame Diana Johnson, Alexander Stafford, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck and Rosie Cooper present the Bill.
Paul Howell accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March 2022, and to be printed (Bill 215).
Nationality and Borders Bill
[2nd Allocated Day]
[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 17 November 2021, on Channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes through the EU, HC 194; Seventh Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Part 1) – Nationality, HC 764 / HL 90; Ninth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Part 3) – Immigration offences and enforcement, HC 885 / HL 112; Letter from the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to Tom Pursglove MP relating to Part 2 (Asylum) and Part 5 (Modern Slavery) of the Nationality and Borders Bill, HC 588, dated 17 November; Letter from Tom Pursglove MP to the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights relating to Part 2 (Asylum) and Part 5 (Modern Slavery) of the Nationality and Borders Bill, HC 588, dated 25 November.]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 3
Offence of human trafficking for sexual exploitation
‘(1) A person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the travel of another person (“V”) to the United Kingdom with a view to V being sexually exploited in the United Kingdom.
(2) It is irrelevant whether V consents to the travel (whether V is an adult or a child).
(3) A person may in particular arrange or facilitate V‘s travel to the United Kingdom by recruiting V, transporting or transferring V, harbouring or receiving V, or transferring or exchanging control over V.
(4) A person arranges or facilitates V‘s travel to the United Kingdom with a view to V being sexually exploited in the United Kingdom only if—
(a) the person intends to sexually exploit V in the United Kingdom during or after the travel, or
(b) the person knows or ought to know that another person is likely to sexually exploit V in the United Kingdom during or after the travel.
(5) “Travel” means—
(a) arriving in, or entering, the United Kingdom,
(b) departing from any country outside the United Kingdom in circumstances where the person arranging or facilitating V’s travel intends that the destination will be the United Kingdom.
(6) A person who is a UK national commits an offence under this section regardless of—
(a) where the arranging or facilitating takes place, or
(b) where the travel takes place.
(7) A person who is not a UK national commits an offence under this section if—
(a) any part of the arranging or facilitating takes place in the United Kingdom, or
(b) the travel consists of arrival in or entry into, departure from, or travel within, the United Kingdom.
(8) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life;
(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine or both.’—(Dame Diana Johnson.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 6—Exemption for child victims of modern slavery, exploitation or trafficking—
‘(1) The Secretary of State may not serve a slavery or trafficking information notice on a person in respect of an incident or incidents which occurred when the person was aged under 18 years.
(2) Section 61 of this Act does not apply in cases where either of the positive reasonable grounds decisions related to an incident or incidents which occurred when the person was aged under 18 years.
(3) Section 62 of this Act does not apply in cases where the positive reasonable grounds decision related to an incident or incidents which occurred when the person was aged under 18 years.
(4) Sections 64(3) and 64(6) of this Act do not apply in cases where the positive conclusive grounds decision related to an incident or incidents which occurred when the person was aged under 18 years.’
This new clause would exempt victims of modern slavery, exploitation or trafficking from many of the provisions in Part 5 of the Bill if they were under 18 when they became a victim.
New clause 30—Victim Navigators—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act, make provisions for each police force in England and Wales to have one or more Independent Victim Navigators to liaise between the relevant police force and potential victims of slavery or human trafficking and to assist in the procurement of specialist advice for both the police force and the potential victim.
(2) Regulations under this section—
(a) shall be made by statutory instrument, and
(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’
This new clause seeks to introduce provisions for Independent Victim Navigators to be in operation on a national level, acting as a liaison between the police and potential victim of slavery or human trafficking in accessing the appropriate support.
New clause 39—Identified potential victims etc: disqualification from protection—
‘(1) This section applies to the construction and application of Article 13 of the Trafficking Convention.
(2) The competent authority may determine that it is not bound to observe the minimum recovery period under section 60(2) of this Act in respect of a person in relation to whom a positive reasonable grounds decision has been made, if the authority is satisfied that it is prevented from doing so—
(a) as a result of an immediate, genuine, present and serious threat to public order; or
(b) the person is claiming to be a victim of modern slavery improperly.
(3) Any determination made under subsection (2) must only be made—
(a) in exceptional circumstances;
(b) where necessary and proportionate to the threat posed; and
(c) following an assessment of all the circumstances of the case.
(4) A determination made under subsection (2) must not be made where it would breach—
(a) a person’s Human Rights Convention rights;
(b) the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Trafficking Convention; or
(c) the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.
(5) For the purposes of a determination under subsection 2(b), victim status is being claimed improperly if the person knowingly and dishonestly makes a false statement without good reason, and intends by making the false statement to make a gain for themselves.
(6) A good reason for making a false statement includes, but is not limited to, circumstances where—
(a) the false statement is attributable to the person being or having been a victim of modern slavery; or
(b) where any means of trafficking were used to compel the person into making a false statement.
(7) This section does not apply where the person is under 18.
(8) Nothing in this section shall affect the application of section 60(3) of this Act.’
This new clause is an alternative to clause 62. It ensures that the power currently provided for in clause 62 is exercised in line with the UK’s obligations under Article 13 of the Trafficking Convention. This amendment also protects child victims of modern slavery from disqualification from protection.
New clause 43—Civil legal aid under section 9 of LASPO: add-on services in relation to the national referral mechanism—
‘(1) Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (civil legal services qualifying for legal aid) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph 32A (Victims of slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour) insert—
“Pre-National Referral Mechanism advice
32B (1) Civil legal services provided to an individual in relation to referral into the national referral mechanism and connected immigration advice.
(3) Sub-paragraph (1) is subject to the exclusions in Part 2 of this Schedule.
(4) The civil legal services described in sub-paragraph (1) do not include—
(a) advocacy, or
(b) attendance at an interview conducted by the competent authority under the national referral mechanism for the purposes of a reasonable grounds decision or a conclusive grounds decision.
(5) In regulation 5(1) of the Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 (S.I. 2013/480) (exceptions from requirement to make a determination in respect of an individual’s financial resources), after paragraph (l), insert—
“(m) civil legal services described in paragraph 32B of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Act (Civil legal services provided to an individual in relation to referral into the national referral mechanism).”’
New clause 47—Support and leave to remain for confirmed victims of slavery or human trafficking—
‘This section applies if a positive conclusive grounds decision is made in respect of a person.
(1) This subsection applies if the person has received support under section 50A of the Modern Slavery Act 2015—
(a) assistance and support must be provided for at least 12 months beginning on the day on which support provided under section 50A ends,
(b) where assistance and support is provided to a person under this subsection the Secretary of State must consider whether it is necessary for the victim’s physical, psychological and social recovery or to prevent re-trafficking to provide assistance and support after the end of the period in subsection (2)(a) for as long as they think appropriate,
(c) a decision whether to provide assistance and support in accordance with subsection (2)(b) must be made at least four weeks before the end of the assistance and support provided under subsection (2)(a),
(d) a reference in this subsection to assistance and support has the same meaning as in section 50A(7) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
(2) This subsection applies if the person is not a British citizen—
(a) the Secretary of State must give the person leave to remain in the United Kingdom if subsection (2) or (4) or (5) applies,
(b) leave to remain provided under this subsection shall be provided from the day on which the positive conclusive grounds decision is communicated to a person for either—
(i) the amount of time support and assistance will be provided under either subsection (2) or one of the measures listed in subsection (4), or
(ii) at least 12 months if the person meets one or more of the criteria in subsection (5).
(3) This subsection applies if the person receives support and assistance under one of the following—
(a) section 18(9) of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 (c. 2 (N.I.)),
(b) section 9(3)(c) of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 (asp 12), or
(c) regulation 3(4)(c) of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 (Support for Victims) Regulations 2018 (S.S.I 2018/90).
(4) This subsection applies if the person meets one or more of the following criteria—
(a) leave is necessary due to the person’s circumstances, including but not restricted to—
(i) the needs of that person for safety and protection from harm including protection from re-trafficking,
(ii) the needs of that person for medical and psychological treatment,
(b) the person is participating as a witness in criminal proceedings,
(c) the person is bringing any civil proceedings including pursuing compensation.
(5) Where the person is receiving assistance from a support worker the recommendations of the support worker must be considered in assessing that person’s circumstances under subsection (5)(a).
(6) The Secretary of State must provide for persons granted leave to remain in accordance with this section to have recourse to public funds for the duration of the period of leave.
(7) The Secretary of State must allow a grant of leave to remain under subsection (3) to be extended subject to the requirements of subsection (9).
(8) In determining whether to extend a grant of leave to remain under subsection (8), and the period of time for which such extended leave should be provided, the person’s individual circumstances must be considered, and whether that person—
(a) is receiving on-going support and assistance under the measures set out in either subsection (2) or subsection (4), or
(b) meets one or more of the criteria in subsection (5).
(9) If the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person is a threat to public order—
(a) the Secretary of State is not required to give the person leave under this section, and
(b) if such leave has already been given to the person, it may be revoked.
(10) In this section, if the person is aged below 18 years of age, the best interests of the child must be taken into consideration in accordance with section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
(11) In this section—
“positive conclusive grounds decision” means a decision made by a competent authority that a person is a victim of slavery or human trafficking;
“threat to public order” has the same meaning as subsections (3) to (7) of section 62.
(12) This section is to be treated for the purposes of section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 as if it were provision made by that Act.’
This new clause would provide new statutory support for victims in England and Wales after a conclusive grounds decisions. It would provide leave to remain for all victims with a positive conclusive grounds decision for at least 12 months to receive support, assist police with their enquiries or seek compensation.
Amendment 127, page 57, line 3 leave out clause 57.
Amendment 128, page 57, line 25 leave out clause 58.
Amendment 5, in clause 58, page 57, line 41, at end insert—
‘(5) The provision of relevant status information identifying a person as a likely victim of human trafficking for sexual services shall constitute a “good reason” for the purposes of this section.’
This amendment would mean that the credibility of victims of human trafficking for sexual services would not be called into question by reason of the late provision of information relating to that fact.
Amendment 6, in clause 58, page 57, line 41, at end insert—
‘(5) Subsection (2) does not apply where the person is a victim of trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution.
(6) For the purposes of subsection (5) the person may be considered a victim of trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution if there is evidence that the person—
(a) has been transported from one location to another on a daily basis;
(b) bears signs of physical abuse including but not limited to—
(iv) burns; or
(v) tattoos indicating gang membership;
(c) lacks access to their own earnings, such as by having no bank account in their own name;
(d) has limited to no English language skills, or only such language skills as pertain to sexualised acts;
(e) lives or stays at the same address as person(s) meeting the criteria in paragraphs (a) to (d);
(f) sleeps in the premises in which they work.’
Under this amendment, late provision of relevant status information would not be taken as damaging the credibility of the person providing the information if that person were a victim of trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution.
Amendment 7, in clause 59, page 58, line 5, at end insert—
‘(za) at the end of paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) the sorts of things which indicate that a person may be a victim of human trafficking for sexual services;”.’
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to issue specific guidance on the sorts of things which indicate that a person may be a victim of human trafficking for sexual services.
Government amendments 64 to 69.
Amendment 3, page 59, line 39, leave out clause 62.
This amendment would remove clause 62, which excludes potential modern slavery victims from protection in certain circumstances.
Government amendments 70 to 75.
Amendment 149, page 62, line 18, leave out clause 64.
This amendment is consequential on NC47.
Government amendments 78, 76, 77 and 79 to 83.
Amendment 130, page 63, line 26, leave out clause 65.
This amendment is consequential on NC43.
Amendment 131, page 66, line 1, leave out clause 66.
This amendment is contingent on NC43, Clause 66 would no longer be required if NC43 is agreed to.
Amendment 148, page 66, line 33, leave out clause 67.
Government amendment 84.
Amendment 129, in clause 81, page 79, line 15, at end insert—
‘(6) Part 4 (age assessments) and part 5 (modern slavery) only extend to Scotland to the extent that a motion has been approved by the Scottish Parliament, bringing them into force in Scotland.’
Under this amendment, Parts 4 and 5 of the Bill would not enter into force in Scotland until the Scottish Parliament had given its consent.
Government amendments 85 to 90.
Amendment 16, in clause 82, page 80, line 3, at end insert—
‘(5) Sections [Time limit on immigration detention], [Initial detention: criteria and duration] and [Bail hearings] come into force six months after the day on which this Act is passed.’
This amendment would bring NC15-NC17 into force six months after the day on which the Bill is passed.
I rise to speak to new clause 3, which would put into law a specific offence for trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. We know that serious organised crime networks are deeply involved in this trade in human misery. I thank Kat Banyard at UK Feminista and Tom Farr at CEASE—the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation—UK, who have helped to draft new clause 3, and the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership at the Wilberforce Institute in Hull for all its help.
Although the Modern Slavery Act 2015 covers exploitation broadly, the catastrophically high number of women and girls trafficked into the UK for the sex industry means that it merits a specific offence. The latest figures from the national referral mechanism show that 60% of women and girls who were identified as potential victims in the past year were trafficked for purposes including sexual exploitation. In 2020, 94 women and 624 girls were trafficked and sexually exploited. These women need specific and targeted protection.
New clause 3 would ensure that the link between human trafficking and sexual exploitation is acknowledged. It would aid efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking and broader violence against women and girls by providing a framework that would ensure that the authorities respond to individuals who may have been previously viewed as criminals as though they are, in fact, victims of sexual exploitation.
I also want to speak to amendments 5 to 7, which focus on stopping late disclosure affecting credibility and providing guidance to help the relevant authorities to identify victims. Andrew Smith of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, an experienced practitioner, told me:
“We know there are various reasons why we might see late disclosure by victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Victims may not identify as victims first and foremost, it can be only when a person is removed from the exploitative environment that they understand they were in fact being abused and exploited.”
And yet, the Bill proposes a time limit on disclosure.
The Modern Slavery Policy Unit, co-led by Justice and Care UK and the Centre for Social Justice, stated:
“Presuming late disclosure of modern slavery damages credibility will create barriers to effective identification and engagement with victims.”
The Bill, as it stands, will make identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking more difficult.
Amendment 5 would stop late disclosure affecting the credibility of a claim of being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The Home Office’s modern slavery statutory guidance states:
“Victims’ early accounts may be affected by the impact of trauma. This can result in delayed disclosure, difficulty recalling facts, or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims may also be reluctant to self-identify for a number of other reasons that can make understanding their experiences challenging.”
This amendment acknowledges Home Office guidance by ensuring that late disclosure does not damage credibility.
Amendment 6 sets out how a person who makes a late disclosure might be better identified by any relevant authority.
I am very interested in what the right hon. Lady is saying. If we are to stop modern slavery, we must ensure that we catch the perpetrators, which requires victims to be able to come forward with evidence. She is outlining certain elements of the Bill that she fears will restrict victims’ ability to come forward, and I am concerned that the public order disqualification threshold and the time period on slavery and trafficking information notices will also have that effect. Does she share my concerns about those aspects and hope that the Minister will address them specifically today?
I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention and pay tribute to her for, as Home Secretary, bringing in the Modern Slavery Act. I sat on the Bill Committee for that Act and I remember well the debates that we had. She should be very proud of her work on this issue, and I absolutely agree with her comments on what the Bill will lead to.
To return to amendment 6, I want to make it clear that putting these guiding factors in the Bill would provide a deeper understanding for the authorities of what they should be aware of and how to identify victims.
Amendment 7 would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the specific factors that may indicate that somebody is a victim of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. That would provide a framework for the relevant authorities to refer to when trying to discern the type of exploitation that has taken place.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), argued against these amendments in the Bill Committee, stating that the Government did not want to create a “two-tiered system” based on the exploitation that a victim had faced. I think that is simply wrong. Acknowledging the distinct features of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, as opposed to, for example, forced labour, would improve the authorities’ response and the ability to prosecute and find the perpetrators. Recognising and identifying difference would not create a hierarchy; rather, it would make the system more effective and accurate. The Minister also stated that delineating between trafficking for sexual exploitation and trafficking for other purposes would motivate individuals to put forward falsified referrals. However, all the evidence shows that victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation need more encouragement to come forward, not less.
Finally, I want to speak in support of new clause 47 and the supporting amendment 149, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). He has worked assiduously on protections for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery for many years. The new clause would provide all victims who receive a conclusive grounds decision with 12 months’ leave to remain to either recover, claim compensation or assist the police. The Government need to do more to protect people who have suffered from these horrendous crimes.
I am grateful to be called so early in the debate. Mr Speaker. I will speak to my new clause 47, which has been signed by Members on both sides of the House. The aims of the new clause, which the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) kindly referred to, are very simple. It is not a soft option, but a decent and reasonable one that does two things.
First, it deals with the issue of giving people who have gone through the national referral mechanism, who are therefore rightly in the system, longer to be able to settle and to be properly helped and supported. That is a humanitarian position, having already decided that such people have suffered as a result of modern-day slavery. That was the purpose of the Modern Slavery Act, which was brought in by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and this proposal will make that even better as we go forward and learn from it.
The second aspect is very important. The police keep telling us that, if they had more time to help those people to give testimony, we would get many more prosecutions and we would, ironically, shut down more of the ghastly criminal channels that are bringing these people in. This is about being strong in both prosecution and humanitarian terms, and that is the purpose of the new clause. I remind everybody that when the Centre for Social Justice wrote the first big paper about modern-day slavery, my right hon. Friend—we were both in Government at the time—was moved and decent enough to be able to push this point in government and put the legislation through, which meant that we were the first country in the world to acknowledge modern-day slavery and legislate for it. We should be proud of that. It is one of those things on which the British Parliament historically will be spotted for having led the way worldwide. Other Parliaments have followed suit—not all of them, but many have—with their own versions of that legislation.
We should be proud that a Parliament can work to do right by people who have too often been abused. I also remind those here today, and others who may or may not be watching, that the National Crime Agency figures now show that between 6,000 and 8,000 modern slavery offenders are in the UK, but there were just 331 prosecutions in 2020 under the Modern Slavery Act and only 49 convictions. Does that not tell us a story? It tells us that, good as we think we are, we are not winning this battle, and the police know it.
I agree, in principle, that if we are to get more prosecutions it is vital that those who are pursuing these characters should be well-funded. Although that is not part of this particular new clause, it is certainly within the wider scope of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very strong point. Is it not one of the problems that victims of any kind of slavery are inevitably isolated, frightened and often unable even to leave the property, factory or home where they are working? They do not necessarily know where to go and, if the local police are not attuned to the problem, they get no help there. They are then completely stuck and in a very dangerous and vulnerable situation. Is there not an issue of both police training and convincing local authorities and all other public services that they have to be attuned to the desperation these people face, rather than the danger of prosecution for what could be—
I am grateful to you for clarifying, Mr Speaker.
I will just say to the right hon. Gentleman that of course he is right, and it is important for us to understand that this is an issue not of asylum or migration but decency. He will know—even if he does not, I am going to say it to the House—that a significant chunk of those who are now part of the modern-day slavery ghastliness emanate from the UK. It is important that local authorities and others understand that they are looking not just for people who are trafficked in, but for those being trafficked within the UK. That is an important point. I agree with him, and the point of today’s debate is to try to raise that issue.
The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) makes a pertinent point, but is not Justice and Care—and its navigators who help victims of trafficking with the criminal justice system—one of the success stories? We get more prosecutions because of that charity and the work it does.
I thank my hon. Friend for signing the new clause, and he is absolutely right. Justice and Care has done a phenomenal amount of work; I am enormously grateful for its guidance and we have worked together on this matter. He is quite right to congratulate the organisation; without it, I suspect this would have been very difficult.
Let me bring in two examples that illustrate the problem. First, a Home Office local authority pilot found that all 62 adult survivors receiving support through the project in 2018-19 supported a criminal investigation, which makes my point that, with the right support, people do the right thing. They lose their fear, they understand that they are protected and they will give evidence. Secondly, Justice and Care found that 89% of victims supported by victim navigator support workers chose subsequently to engage with the police.
I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench that it is important that we understand and separate this question out from all the other arguments that go on about migration and asylum. This is ultimately about helping ourselves and helping the victims. The two go together, and that is the important issue.
It is also worth reminding ourselves of the cost of modern slavery right now, without the resolution that we require and that this new clause would bring. The Home Office estimates the cost at £328,000 per modern slavery victim—a total of £32 billion using 2020 estimates of 100,000 victims from the Centre for Social Justice. I will just repeat that figure: £32 billion is the overall cost. That does not include court, prison and probation costs, or the costs of failed or aborted prosecutions due to insufficient evidence. So the case becomes stronger and stronger that this Bill offers the opportunity to do the right thing here.
Some objections have been raised by my friends on the Government Bench. They have talked about foreign criminals making fraudulent claims to avoid immigration removal. I want to deal with that issue here. I am clear that in this clause we want help and support, but we also want a minimum of 12 months leave to remain after victims clear the NRM. That is vital.
There are issues. People say, “Oh, hang on, that’s a pull factor.” They say that more people will immediately claim “on the steps of the aircraft”—I think that is the phrase used—that they are modern slavery victims and therefore they will get into the system. No, is the answer. No one will claim that because they have heard that they will get more than six months if they get through and they might get 12 months.
People might claim, if they are not modern slavery victims, to get into the process at the gateway of the NRM. If we think there is a pull factor, that if anywhere is where it would be. Giving people who are through the NRM longer is a genuinely decent thing to do and a powerful thing to do in prosecutions. If there is a problem and the Government perceive there to be a problem, I suggest with all humility that they need to look at the gateway, which is the NRM, not at what we do to the people who have got through.
Sure, if every now and then somebody who is completely messing around with the system gets through—no system is perfect—the Government can reserve the right to deal with them separately; but please, please let us understand that we should not be in the business of cracking down on those we believe have got through justifiably. We should be in the business of supporting and helping them for their own sake, with the by-product that they will help us in due course to crack down on those gangs. I would have thought that must be a priority for any Government. The new clause allows victims to be excluded if they pose a threat to public order, and it has no significant impact, I believe, on immigration levels.
The problem right now is that clause 64 as it stands is too narrow; it is narrower even than the existing policy, which is a problem. I think the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North also raised that point. Linking leave to remain to needs arising from exploitation leaves victims unsure whether they will qualify. That is a major problem for them and will leave them even less likely to co-operate in due course.
It is almost impossible to separate needs that arise directly from exploitation from those arising from pre-existing vulnerabilities. It is really difficult—all the evidence makes that very clear. The criteria do not consider the risk of re-exploitation, another important point. What is the fear someone has if they have been exploited and they go into the system? It is that they will be out and they will be back into the hands of the very same people—only now those people will believe they were ready to give evidence against them, so the exploitation will be even worse.
On leave conditional on engagement with the police, there would be a problem if the Government were to say, “No, no, we can in guidance make it clear that they could have 12 months, or even more, if they were co-operating with the police.” I will just say that if I were a human rights lawyer, I would bring a judicial review against the Government every single day on that one. That is now coercion. They are saying, “You might have rights and we might want to help you, but, first of all, where’s the money? Let’s see what you’re doing before we act decently and give you anything.”
I simply say to my colleagues on the Front Bench that that would be a wrong move. If they start down that road, they will end up in court on almost every single case, justifying whether they gave someone three months, 12 months or 14 months. It will end up in court. As all Members will know, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, the last thing Governments want is to do is give themselves an opportunity to be in court under a judicial review. I see my right hon. Friend smiling at that one. Anyone who has served as Home Secretary will know that every day you come into the office someone tells you how many times you are about to be “JRd”. So being decent and straight and doing what we have asked in new clause 47 will help the Government as well, because they will not have to end up spending vast sums on defending—sometimes—the indefensible in the courts.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very good point, which illustrates the importance of the availability of judicial review. Looking towards what might be coming down the line in this regard, should I make an assumption about having his support on that occasion?
You would call me out straightaway, Mr Speaker, if I went so far as to enter into another debate. Tempting though the offer is from my right hon. Friend—I call him that because of the time we spent in government together, and because we agree on so many issues—he will, I am sure, forgive me if I say that I am not yet aware of any Bill that is due to come before us. I will leave it there.
The Government have recognised victims’ need for stability and consistency in the support that they receive. That is a good move, and I thank them for it. I welcome the intention to provide a guaranteed 12-month minimum period of tailored support for all confirmed victims; that is particularly important. I ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), to bear in mind, when she rises to sum up the debate, that—as I have already said to you, Mr Speaker—I intend to press the new clause to a Division unless the Government make it clear that they have listened very carefully to this and other debates on the subject. The minimum guarantee will serve as a major stabiliser. If the Government are prepared to accept that, and perhaps table an amendment in another place, I shall be prepared to wait and see what happens.
I also welcome the Government’s commitment to considering how best to support victims through the criminal justice process. They need to be serious about that, and I hope to hear a clear statement that modification and improvement are required. There remain concerns about the current restriction of support to
“needs arising from exploitation criteria”,
and the Government will need to deal with that as well.
Let me end by saying that we must separate the concept of modern day slavery from the rows about asylum seeking. Many people come over here with good cause; I personally do not blame those who are fleeing for economic reasons when things are desperate. I accept that we must have rules and restrictions, but I ask the Government to consider those who have been trafficked, those who are being persecuted, and those who are being used for the purpose of sexual or any other exploitation.
When I was at the Department for Work and Pensions, we knew that gangs were getting women in particular over here, giving in their names to claim benefit, and then pushing them into brothels and other places. That is what we want to stop. We want to stamp out the exploitation of women, and men, against their will, both at home and as a result of their being trafficked into the UK. If the Minister can give me, and the House, an assurance that she gets this, and that the Government—my Government—are prepared to make the 12 months a de minimis and to look carefully at how the support can be given and how people can be protected through this process after they go through the NRM, I may feel inclined not to press the new clause.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow the powerful contribution from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). I will come to the merits of his new clause, but let me start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) not just on the new clause and amendments that she has tabled, but on receiving her damehood at Windsor Castle yesterday. There could be no more fitting tribute in recognition of her services to politics and her community, and I was delighted to see her collect that recognition yesterday.
We have grave concerns about part 5 of the Bill, which would introduce detrimental changes in modern slavery provisions and the national referral mechanism. New clause 3, tabled by my right hon. Friend, has our backing for all the reasons that she outlined. I would struggle to find a more heinous crime than moving another human being across borders, or across the country, in order to force them to have sex and for their abuser to make a profit. Given the utterly depressing rises in this type of criminality and exploitation, my right hon. Friend will have our full support if she is minded to press the new clause to a vote.
Provisions in part 5 will make it harder to identify, safeguard and support victims of modern slavery in securing prosecutions against their abusers. Our new clause 6 will ensure that no child victim of trafficking or modern slavery is denied protection because of those provisions. The new clause follows the many battles that we had in Committee in calling on the Government to hear the pleas of organisations such as The Children’s Society and Every Child Protected Against Trafficking, and those of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, and to recognise the vulnerability of child victims of trafficking and modern slavery, something that they have failed to do throughout the Bill’s passage so far.
The Government have sought to suggest that a fear of the national referral mechanism being abused warrants the introduction of barriers to accessing it. I remind them that the Home Office’s own statistics show that, of the 10,613 potential victims of modern slavery referred to the NRM last year, 47% were children. There was a 10% increase in the number of child referrals last year, and the single biggest type of exploitation was criminal exploitation. The Home Office’s own publication states:
“For those exploited as children, an increase in the identification of ‘county lines’ cases has partially driven the rise in the number of cases categorised within the ‘criminal exploitation’ category, with 40% of all child referrals for criminal exploitation being flagged as county lines.”
It is clear that children who are the victims of vicious county lines gangs will be among those most detrimentally affected by these changes. Just this week, we heard that the Government were getting tough on county lines gangs, but if they pass these proposals today unamended, child victims trapped by those gangs will be met with unnecessary barriers to both freedom and justice.
The hon. Lady is talking about an exceptionally important issue, the trafficking of children. While we in this country probably lead the world in looking after adult victims, we fail our child victims. Do the hon. Lady and her party support a revision of that situation, so we can protect children in the same way that we protect adults?
As the Minister will recall, we pushed for that time and again in Committee. The Bill makes no distinction between adults and children who are victims of trafficking and slavery. That failure to recognise the age-related vulnerability of a child constitutes a glaring omission, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for seeing what else we can do to press the issue during the Bill’s subsequent stages.
If the Government require any further persuading, the legislation in its current form contravenes their own existing statutory guidance, which states:
“Whatever form it takes, modern slavery and child trafficking is child abuse and relevant child protection procedures must be followed if modern slavery or trafficking is suspected.”
The changes introduced in the Bill mean that a child can only access protection from abuse if they disclose details of their trauma, against a Home Office-mandated timeline, or else have their credibility as a victim discredited, and can only access NRM support if they are not deemed to be a threat to public order as outlined in clause 62. The Government’s own guidance rightly says that a child who has been trafficked must be protected—no ifs, no buts, which means no clause 57, no clause 58 and no clause 62. I urge the Government to rethink all the modern slavery provisions, but as a minimum, in order merely to deliver on their own commitment to the general public this week, to adopt our new clause to prevent changes that would leave children more vulnerable to criminals and traffickers.
I want to make clear our support for independent victim navigators, who have already been mentioned by other Members. New clause 30 seeks to build upon the successful pilot programme launched by Justice and Care in 2018, which has now been extended, with eight victim navigators currently in post in five different police forces. I recently had the opportunity to visit the modern slavery team at West Yorkshire police with Justice and Care to gain a better understanding of the incredibly impressive work undertaken by those navigators in providing vital support to victims to rebuild their lives, which is what then facilitates prosecutions. An interim report has shown that, up to June 2021, the programme has provided strategic advice to 392 modern slavery investigations and given intensive support to 202 victims. Significantly, 89% of the victims supported by those navigators have chosen to engage with police investigations, compared with just 33% nationally, and 120 suspected exploiters have been arrested in cases supported by victim navigators. I know this is something we can all celebrate.
The most recent data from the Crown Prosecution Service shows that completed prosecutions for offences flagged as modern slavery have decreased from 349 in 2019 to 267 in 2020, which is a fall of 23%. This was despite the fact that the number of cases referred by the police to the CPS increased from 275 to 331, so it is clear that this programme represents some of the best practice in supporting victims and securing prosecutions—something that the current stats tell us needs to improve. We are aware that the Government are looking at this programme, and I very much hope that the Minister will provide confirmation of their support for this approach. Areas of consensus on this Bill have been sparse, but we can all agree that securing prosecutions against the perpetrators of trafficking and modern slavery has to be a priority, and this new clause would help us to make that a reality.
In the time I have left I want to speak in support of new clause 39, tabled in the name of the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), which reflects the concerns raised by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, particularly regarding clause 62. I know that it has support across this House and in the other place. Similarly, we very much welcome the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green’s new clause 47. I know that this is an issue he cares deeply about, and that he has done valued work with Justice and Care and others on the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill with Lord McColl in the other place. The right hon. Gentleman raised concerns about this section of the Bill on Second Reading, and we echo the need for support for victims in relation to their care and their immigration status to be extended and enhanced, not only because that is the right thing to do in light of the exploitation they have had to endure but in order to bring abusers before the courts. The proposals are in line with the Work and Pensions Committee’s 2017 recommendations, and have once again won support from across Parliament.
We are very supportive of amendments 127 and 128, tabled by the Scottish National party to remove clauses 57 and 58, having voted against those clauses standing part of the Bill in Committee. The clauses introduce trafficking information notices that would force victims to provide details about the abuse and trauma that they had been subjected to, before a Home Office deadline. Otherwise, their credibility as a victim would be damaged due to late disclosure. As we have already argued, that delayed disclosure would be almost inevitable for those who had been subjected to the worst possible trauma.
Clause 57 seeks to mandate, rather than encourage, early disclosure by survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery, with the Minister confirming in Committee that information notices could be used prior to a reasonable grounds decision being made. Such a decision needs to be made within hours of a referral being made. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North has pointed out, the Home Office’s statutory guidance states:
“Victims’ early accounts may be affected by the impact of trauma. This can result in delayed disclosure, difficulty recalling facts, or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is vital for decision makers to have an understanding of the mitigating reasons why a potential victim of modern slavery is incoherent, inconsistent or delays giving details of material facts. Throughout this process it is important to remember that victims of modern slavery have been through trauma”.
That is the Government’s own statutory guidance, so if that guidance is to mean anything, these clauses should have no place in the Bill.
Government amendment 80 makes provisions for a survivor of trafficking to be removed to a country that is not a signatory to the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, if the UK has made an agreement with that country. This is one of around 80 amendments tabled after the line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill in Committee and days before Report that have potentially massive implications. This is quite frankly an outrage. I have written to the Procedure Committee to express my concern at the disregard for parliamentary scrutiny we have seen with this Bill. I simply ask the Minister to outline what, if any, agreements have been made, and with which countries. What are the details of those agreements? We should have had this detail on Second Reading and in Committee, and we wish to put strongly on record our opposition to this amendment, as I suspect the Minister cannot begin to answer my questions.
The fact that by far the greatest number of referrals to the NRM last year were of British nationals raises the question of why these provisions are in a Bill about immigration at all. The way part 5 has been drafted means that some of the most vulnerable people, who have been subject to the worst possible trauma, will face the greatest barriers to support, protection and justice, and I hope that hon. Members have heard our concerns and will support our amendments.
I rise to speak to new clause 39, standing in my name and the names of the Chairs of the Procedure Committee, the International Development Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. For a variety of reasons, none of those colleagues can be with us today, and I feel that I am a poor substitute for them in making these points—
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. One other aspect of this is that it has given me the opportunity to have a fresh look at an area of legislation that I have not been as deeply involved in as he has. I might therefore raise some concerns that the Minister might not get from other quarters, with a keen focus on the legislation dealing with modern-day slavery.
I wish also speak in support of amendment 3, tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). I will be pleased to hear him later expressing his support for my new clause, as I also hope the SNP will. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for her indication of support. The reason I say that is that my new clause has not been selected for separate Division, and it is therefore important that this House sends a clear and unequivocal cross-party message to the other House, where this issue can perhaps be looked at anew.
I am very pleased to be off those tenterhooks, although I am never very sure what tenterhooks are. They do not sound very comfortable.
New clause 39 provides the Government with an opportunity to achieve their objectives but on a more considerably secure legal footing than their current proposals would permit. The new clause has been informed by the concerns raised by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton. Clause 62 currently seeks to disqualify potential victims of trafficking from the protections afforded under the national referral mechanism. Those protections are important not just as a manifestation of the mercy of our country towards those whose lives have been made wretched by the exploitations of others but to enable more effective prosecution of the perpetrators of such trafficking. Consideration of exclusion from these protections therefore requires careful assessment of the consequences for both those factors. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) mentioned, it should be considered in the context of our country’s leading position in international law on human trafficking. That is a position that we should not give up at all lightly.
My first concern with clause 62 as proposed is to ask: where is the evidence? Where is the evidence that access to the national referral mechanism is being abused, and where is the evidence from the Government on the impact of their proposal? My second concern with clause 62 is that it does not appear to address vexatious or unwarranted claims regarding access to the national referral mechanism. That point was also made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green when he was speaking to his new clause. This is the wrong piece of legislation to do what the Government hope is the right thing, but which many of us fear will make the situation worse rather than better. In the absence of evidence for why this is a logical measure to adopt, I am perplexed as to why clause 62 has been drafted in this way.
My concern is also that subsections (3)(b) and (3)(f) provide a very low bar for disqualification based on criminal sentencing. For those, like me, who are not familiar with modern slavery, it may sound odd that there is public interest in supporting people who have committed crimes either here or, more likely, overseas that carry a 12-month sentence—that is the bar—but that public interest is the same public interest as we have in trying to reach the main perpetrators in county lines drug gangs or serious fraud cases.
The public interest is in enabling sufficient evidence to be collated to bring successful prosecutions against the co-ordinators of those crimes, which is where I fear this clause falls short in subsections (3)(b) and (3)(f). I see good reasons in the other subsections and paragraphs for why clause 62 makes sense, but subsections (3)(b) and (3)(f) are clearly very different. I am interested in understanding the Minister’s logic.
Although this is an immigration Bill, clause 62 will largely apply to people already here, including British citizens, who currently make up the majority of victims. Because it refers to the national referral mechanism, most British victims will fall foul of this clause. The data suggests that the vast majority of British victims would fail under the Bill’s disqualifying remit, as the majority of cases involving British victims involve criminal exploitation. Even those who fall under labour or sexual exploitation often participate in criminal activities as part of their exploitation and so may end up being “unworthy” of support. I fear that is not what we are trying to do, and it should not be in an immigration Bill.
Another concern that has been raised with me is that there are currently significant difficulties in bringing prosecutions for modern slavery. As previous speakers have mentioned, with approximately 10,000 potential victims of modern slavery identified in the UK last year and only 238 convictions, it is clear that the process is at risk of being overloaded.
How does it help for there to be new additional legal requirements to investigate the criminal history of each and every potential victim who is seeking access to the national referral mechanism? How on earth will that help? Have we not been here before, more than a decade ago? I do not like to refer back to the bad old days of immigration under Labour, but what a complete mess Labour made of it. The lives of many of my former constituents in Bedford, and the constituents of many hon. and right hon. Members here, were ruined by the Home Office’s processes, and those processes are still not where they need to be. With this new provision on access to the national referral mechanism, the Home Office is at it again, making it more complicated, making it more difficult and, ultimately, making a rod for its own back.
New clause 39 would remove children from the scope of clause 62, which is important. We do not want children to fall foul of other rules and regulations, certainly when it comes to their criminal record or otherwise. Will the Minister address that directly?
The new clause preserves the Government’s power to remove individuals from the UK who pose
“an immediate, genuine, present and serious threat to public order”.
We understand the Government want to make these changes, and there may be good reason for doing so, but let us set the bar higher and let us make it more pertinent so that we do not block the whole system and unduly use immigration law to address modern slavery. That seems a sensible change to make.
New clause 39 would change the wording of the Bill so that a person who claims to have been trafficked improperly will not be treated as having acted in bad faith, which is more in line with the trafficking convention. When a Government seek to conflate effective modern slavery legislation a little too much with immigration law, it is important that we refer to the founding principles of that first set of legislation. Let us not be wishy-washy by saying we can make it up as we go along. Let us not import one schedule from one Act and say it will work fine in this Bill, which seems sloppy. It seems much better to place it more firmly and resolutely in international conventions and other aspects of international law.
New clause 39 will ensure that the most vulnerable victims of modern slavery, including children, are able to come forward without fear of punishment to be identified, to access safeguarding and support, and to have the opportunity to engage and support criminal justice processes—that is the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) earlier in the debate.
Coming at this anew, I fear the Government have tried too closely to conflate effective legislation on human trafficking with legislation on immigration. New clause 39 seeks to help them by securing their objectives more solidly in the law on modern slavery, rather than on the more perilous aspects of immigration law that they are currently pursuing. It seeks to avoid some of the unfair excesses, particularly regarding children, that will cause upset to many. Ultimately, it seeks to be more effective in the prosecution of the Government’s immigration aims by avoiding the Home Office building up huge backlogs and chasing its tail on pieces of information that have no due regard in our law.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller).
Yesterday we badly damaged the UK’s reputation for upholding the refugee convention and the rights of refugees, and today’s clauses risk undermining the protection offered to victims of trafficking and modern slavery. That is particularly frustrating because a lot of good work has been undertaken in Stormont, Westminster and Holyrood to put in place legislative frameworks for tackling trafficking and modern slavery.
Just as yesterday’s clauses failed to address the real failings in the asylum system, the clauses we are debating today do not address the real and significant problems we all face in our efforts to tackle trafficking. They will not lay a glove on traffickers and, in some cases, they will give traffickers extra power and ammunition over their victims and will discourage victims from reaching out for support and assisting prosecutions.
The problems we all face include: the fact we almost certainly identify only a small fraction of trafficking victims and prosecute only a small number of traffickers; the massive delays in the national referral mechanism that see victims sitting in limbo for months and years as they wait for a decision; and the failure to give so many people the stability of the decent period of leave to remain that they need to recover. None of that is addressed in part 5. Instead, it reinforces the impression that efforts to protect victims of trafficking play second fiddle to immigration enforcement, just as decent treatment of asylum seekers and refugees played second fiddle yesterday.
On that note, although I absolutely agree that what we are debating today is distinct and separate from what we debated yesterday—in fact, they should be in separate Bills—it is important that we recognise there is an overlap. Importantly, some of the provisions this House approved yesterday will apply to certain victims of trafficking, including the new criminal offences in relation to arrival in the UK and the discriminatory two-tier asylum system that many trafficking victims will now enter. If I correctly recall our debates in Committee, the offence we put into law yesterday of entering or arriving without permission could result in trafficking victims being excluded from protection.
In particular, I spoke yesterday about this place’s awful habit of passing legislation that tells decision makers how to assess the evidence that they will obviously have in front of them but which we do not have in front of us and that we will never know anything about. Instructing decision makers to make adverse credibility findings in relation to trafficking victims because the evidence or information was provided late is especially pernicious and dangerous. As Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, both today and on Second Reading, it takes time for many victims of modern slavery to identify themselves as a victim, let alone to present the evidence required to establish that fact. As we have heard, there are numerous reasons for that: fear of reprisals, shame, instructions or coaching from traffickers, the impact of trauma and mental health issues, as the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) set out earlier. All the clauses that we debated yesterday requiring negative credibility findings to be made will impact on trafficking survivors who enter the asylum system, and clauses 57 and 58, which we are debating today, will impact on all who seek support as trafficking survivors.
As we argued in Committee, such a trafficking notice might serve a useful purpose if it was just that—a notice that information should be provided. Speaking from personal experience, it could focus the mind of solicitors who might be reasonably well practised in making claims on behalf of clients in relation to the refugee convention, or for immigration status, but who might have had significantly less experience of identifying and taking forward trafficking cases. I am sure lots of colleagues in the legal profession would identify with that.
In Committee, we argued to keep the notices but ditch the threat of sanctions. That approach was rejected by the Government, so we have tabled amendments 127 and 128, which would ditch the scheme altogether. In short, we cannot support a statutory scheme that threatens to punish trafficking victims for late provision of information. Most fundamentally, there can be no doubt that with such a scheme, there is a risk that survivors of trafficking who miss a mandatory deadline will simply withdraw from the whole process. The Bill requires that their credibility be treated as damaged, and all the talk of good reasons as an excuse will make a limited difference. In fact, the whole process risks becoming a vicious circle. I could provide evidence that was late because of the trauma of trafficking, but I would not be able to establish that I had been trafficked because my credibility would be damaged by providing that information late. That is a mess of a provision.
Going further, the scope of the provision is also bizarre, covering as it does not just statements made by the trafficking victim but statements made on their behalf. That could include evidence from their doctor, a counsellor or a social worker. Such reports should be considered on their own merits, not automatically discredited by utterly misguided provisions such as those we are discussing. A victim of trafficking could be in a position of needing to submit more evidence to strengthen their case, but by providing that evidence after a deadline set by the Home Office, they risk having their credibility damaged. They can be disbelieved either for providing not enough evidence, or for providing evidence late. What a Hobson’s choice that is for incredibly vulnerable people. The shadow Minister posed practical questions about the timing. We say, “Let’s take out the punishment through amendment 128,” or, at the very least, support the shadow Minister’s bid to disapply these dangerous provisions to children.
Our third amendment is 148, which probes the Government on the vague and broad provisions in clause 67 to disapply retained EU law deriving from the trafficking directive. In their modern slavery strategy of 2014, the then Conservative Government said that opting into that directive
“demonstrated our commitment to working with other countries in Europe to drive up standards across the continent in tackling trafficking”
“the UK’s commitment to tackling human trafficking and providing support to victims.”
The Government said that the directive
“paves the way for further engagement with EU-wide organisations and governments to share our prosecution and investigation expertise.”
Clause 67 disapplies that directive, in so far as it would be incompatible with the Bill and any subordinate legislation made under it. Given that the directive is so crucial to prevention, victim identification, protection and support, this proposal is concerning. We should be fully implementing the directive, not moving away from it.
Nothing is said about that provision in the equality impact assessment or the human rights memorandum, so we have no information about which parts of the directive the Home Office considers to be incompatible with this Bill, or which parts would cease to apply. How are anti-trafficking organisations and those who provide support and advice to survivors supposed to know what the law is? Can the Minister spell some of that out today? What other provisions of the directive might the Government want to ditch through subordinate legislation?
Before I address our last amendment, let me express support for amendment 3, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), to remove the disqualification provisions of clause 62. As all Opposition Members argued in Committee, those provisions are far too wide. For the same reasons, we support the alternative new clause 39, in the name of the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, to secure compliance with the trafficking convention and protect children from disqualification. Rather than fixing the clause, the Government seem intent on making it worse through amendment 71, meaning that survivors who are identified as needing leave to remain to seek compensation, or to co-operate with investigations and prosecutions, will not get it.
We give our support to new clause 47, tabled by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), and in particular to the provisions requiring a grant of leave for 12 months, or longer if required because of personal circumstances.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent humanitarian case against aspects of the Bill. Does he agree that when the Government reject that argument, it will fuel the case for Scotland to become a politically independent country so that it can build a different immigration system on the basis of fairness and international solidarity, rather than prejudice and paranoia?
I fully endorse what my hon. Friend says. We will continue to make the case against this Bill, although we all know that that case will be rejected. People who are watching will see our alternative proposals, and they are a strong argument for independence indeed.
In addition to saying yes to new clause 47, we support new clause 3 from the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North. I mentioned at the start of my speech that Stormont, Westminster and Holyrood had all passed important legislation in this area, and that brings me to the key point that we have just touched on. Large parts of this issue are a devolved matter, and that is only partially recognised in the Bill. The same is true of the age assessment provisions in part 4. There are very good arguments for saying that legislative consent motions should be required from the Scottish Parliament for various provisions in parts 4 and 5, and that is why we have tabled amendment 129.
The whole disreputable scheme of trafficking notices, plus most law in relation to the recovery period, is surely within devolved competence, but clause 49 also sees the Secretary of State interfering in how local authorities go about discharging their duties in relation to devolved children’s legislation. I would be happy to share with the Minister a legal opinion by Christine O’Neill QC that has been published by the Scottish Refugee Council and JustRight Scotland, and that makes similar points. I am sure that devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales will also want to look closely at these points.
Our view is that this is a disaster of a Bill and, as the shadow Minister said, the whole legislative process leading up to it has been a disaster as well. The consequences for many vulnerable people will also be disastrous. That is as true of the provisions in relation to trafficking survivors as it is for asylum seekers and refugees. Although we have tried to ameliorate the worst aspects of the Bill, the whole rotten lot of it needs to be canned.