House of Commons
Wednesday 12 February 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Government are committed to tackling poverty so that we can make a lasting difference to long-term outcomes. This Government have lifted 400,000 people out of absolute poverty since 2010, and income inequality has fallen. While the Scottish Government have powers to tackle poverty through the devolution of skills, education, health and employment programmes, it is important that Scotland’s two Governments work together to address this critical issue.
It is estimated that one in four children in Scotland —230,000 of them—are living in poverty, and that is substantially higher than in many other European countries. Like poor children everywhere, these children are likely to achieve less in school and more likely to suffer chronic illness and poor mental health. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that child poverty could rise to about 37% by 2021. Does the Minister not agree that this Tory Government’s welfare policies, such as the two-child benefit cap, zero-hours contracts and the dreaded universal credit, are contributing to the increasing rate of child poverty in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I disagree with him. Since 2010 there are over 3.8 million more people in work and 730,000 fewer children growing up in workless households. Over three quarters of this employment growth has been in full-time work, which can be proven substantially to reduce the risk of poverty. But I know how passionate the hon. Gentleman is on this issue, and I would be very happy to meet him to hear his concerns.
The Minister has got to reflect on his answer. Yes, of course he is right about the growth of employment, but the majority of children in poverty in Scotland—230,000 of them—are living in families with parents in work. That is a disgrace. What are this Government going to do about it?
We do not want to see one individual family or child in poverty. The hon. Gentleman talks about in-work poverty. We are taking action, as a Government, to tackle in-work poverty. Real wages have risen for over a year—22 months in a row—and total wages rose by 3.2%. The national living wage rises to £8.72 in April, and we want to go further. That is why the Chancellor has announced that the national living wage will rise to £10.50 by 2024. We also have a focus, through a network of jobcentres, on in-work progression.
We know that children living in poverty experience poor physical and mental health, employment difficulties, stigma, and chronic low self-esteem. This creates problems not just for the individual but for government further down the line, so would the Minister surprise us all and welcome the Scottish Government’s introduction of the Scottish child payment later this year?
I am looking very closely at that measure and its impact. I gently suggest to the hon. Lady that this is in fact evidence of devolution working. There is no monopoly on good ideas, and where the evidence suggests that a measure works, we should of course explore it, and I will. I stress that I am committed to working with the Scottish Government to improve the life chances of people across Scotland, as I am across our whole United Kingdom.
If this is evidence of devolution working, I would like to remind the Minister that that is why we want all the welfare powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Once rolled out, this new payment will help roughly 30,000 children out of poverty. So if it is a good measure for the Scottish Government, why are his Government not following suit?
I think I have already answered that question—I will look at it very closely. If the Scottish Government are serious about addressing child poverty more broadly, they should be making full use of the powers to reduce housing costs, improve earnings, and enhance social security. As I said, the Scottish Government have powers to tackle poverty through the devolution of skills, education, health and employment programmes. In fact, the UK Government do welcome the Scottish Government’s child poverty strategy. I look forward to working very closely with my counterpart in the Scottish Government to ensure that we cover these devolved areas.
The child poverty payment is welcome, but does the Minister share my concerns that the vast number of welfare powers that the SNP Scottish Government argued for, which were transferred in the Scotland Act 2016, have not been taken forward? In fact, some of them are now delayed until 2024. Is welfare not just another victim of the Scottish Government’s obsession with the constitution, rather than focusing on the day job?
I thank my right hon. Friend and recognise his huge expertise in this area. The Scottish Government, and indeed this Government, want to address these issues, and I am committed to working with my counterparts in the Scottish Government to tackle child poverty and poverty in all its forms.
My Department has regular engagement with colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a range of issues relevant to Scotland, including the renewable energy sector.
Scotland has a huge geographical advantage when it comes to wave and tidal energy, with reports suggesting that up to 40,000 jobs could be created in the sector if it had Government support. What work is being done in Government to explore wave and tidal technology?
The hon. Lady is right; we have an advantage with that and with our wind speeds, mountains and hydro schemes. The Government are supporting technology. Wave and tidal technology is being investigated in universities, and we are completely behind that, should it prove to work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) is right about the geographical advantage. What infrastructure work are the Government undertaking—for example, interconnectors and storage—so that the clean green energy that Scotland is able to generate can be shared with the rest of the United Kingdom?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, interconnectors are a devolved matter, but we are looking at upgrading the schemes so that we can transfer our power across the United Kingdom and the advantage that we have in Scotland with renewables and our growing renewable industry can benefit the whole UK.
The Secretary of State will recall that, when EDF was given a licence to develop the wind farm at Neart na Gaoithe, 10 miles off the Fife coast, there was a commitment that 1,000 jobs would be created in making the jackets for the wind turbines. Can he tell the House how many jobs have been created?
I will tell the Secretary of State how many jobs were created: 1,000—in Indonesia. Is the GMB union right in saying that the transportation of those wind turbines from Indonesia to the Fife coast will be the equivalent of 35 million cars on the road? How does that fit our commitment to greening the economy, and what confidence can people have in Scotland that jobs in a wind farm 10 miles off the Fife coast will be created for people in Scotland, not people in Indonesia?
That is the market economy, and we need to be better at pricing and better at producing our turbines—that is the straight answer. We will discuss this issue and many others at COP 26 in Glasgow later this year, when we discuss the climate emergency, but I do not dispute the fact that bringing turbines from Indonesia is not the answer; we need to find a better way of efficiently delivering them in the UK.
We are 13 minutes in, and I am tempted to ask the Secretary of State—and it is to do with wind, because Saturday was a windy day—about us winning the Calcutta cup. [Interruption.] Come on! You have to be happy with that.
We have had a balance of payments deficit, with lots of wind farms in Scotland being paid not to produce any electricity. Is that likely to take place later this year?
Obviously I disagree with my hon. Friend on the Calcutta cup; that goes without saying. It was a wet, windy and miserable day at Murrayfield for me.
We are trying to improve the way in which wind works for Scotland. Contracts for difference provide certainty for investors over the longevity and protect consumers. In October 2019, at the last round of contracts for difference, six of the 12 awarded went to projects in Scotland.
Offshore wind and contracts for difference entry was cost-free to both the Government and the consumer as the strike price was below the typical wholesale price, but 240 MW of that remains stranded because Ofgem demands that the island of Lewis has at least 369 MW to build an interconnector cable. Another 180 MW could have been consented to, and that would have been cost-free, but they were not consented to due to Government caps. Can we have some joined-up thinking in the Government between the interconnector and the contracts for difference to ensure we are not billowing out fossil fuels when we could instead have 600 MW of wind being produced?
Busy day—[Hon. Members: “Ah.”] It appears I have woken a few people up.
Scottish exports to the rest of the UK increased in 2018 by £1.2 billion to £51.2 billion. As a result, the rest of the UK continues to be Scotland’s largest market for exports, accounting for three times the value of exports to the European Union.
Given the Secretary of State’s assessment, will he confirm that Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is worth more than three times that with the EU, and this is only one of the benefits on offer of being part of the United Kingdom, not least for British firms?
The Scottish Government’s own figures show that Scotland’s most important trading partner is the rest of the UK and, as my hon. Friend said, that is worth more than three times the trade with the other 27 EU countries combined. In other words, the Scottish Government’s figures show that over 60% of Scotland’s exports go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Indeed, I would argue that this is just one of the many benefits that Scotland has from being part of the United Kingdom.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that Nicola Sturgeon’s separatist agenda is a real threat to Scotland’s jobs, businesses and the economy, and that is why I am against the First Minister’s demand for another independence referendum. We want 2020 to be a year of growth, stability and opportunity for Scotland and for the whole of the United Kingdom, whereas the SNP wants 2020 to be a year of more political wrangling and wasteful debate.
Labour MSP Monica Lennon has introduced the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament to give free provision to women in Scotland, but it is opposed by the SNP Government because of “tampon raids” by the English into Scotland to steal the products. If that is the case, what kind of border does the Secretary of State think will be required in the event of an independent Scotland, with a separate currency, a different regulatory environment and different provisions on trade?
The hon. Gentleman makes an exceptionally good point. That is a border we need to avoid, and it makes no sense to have any sort of border between Gretna and Berwick. As for the SNP opposing that, and the opportunity to reduce VAT rates and other things that would help people on the poorest incomes, I simply do not understand what it is thinking.
If the Secretary of State truly values the trade between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, why is he prepared to countenance a situation in which we would lose frictionless trade between Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The Scottish Secretary and I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Defence to discuss a range of issues of importance to Scotland, including maritime security.
Not least because of the Minister’s own constituency, he will understand that there is an obvious breach point in the high north of Scotland for adversaries to come into, as has happened before. Can he assure the House that the Scotland Office will be engaging fully with the upcoming integrated defence review, and will he agree to meet me to discuss some of the issues that are important to him and to the rest of Scotland?
I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman, and we can continue that discussion about the great investment by the UK Government into Scotland, and into Moray. Last week we welcomed the first of nine P-8A aircraft, the “Pride of Moray”, which touched down at Kinloss. That is a huge investment by the UK Government and Boeing, and I also put on the record the outstanding work done by local firm Robertson, in building the Poseidon facility.
That is a devolved issue, and I know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and other Departments, are in continued dialogue about that with the Scottish Government, and others. My hon. Friend’s longstanding commitment to the fishing industry has again been raised in the House, and he continues to stand up for his constituents in Banff and Buchan on that subject, and on many others.
UK Government Ministers and officials have regular discussions with the Scottish Government on matters of importance, including the Scottish fiscal framework. That historic arrangement delivers one of the most powerful and accountable devolved Parliaments in the world, and it is up to the Scottish Government to use those powers wisely further to increase the economic prosperity of Scotland.
It goes without saying that I agree with my hon. Friend, and it is disappointing that Scottish taxpayers who earn more than £27,000 will pay more tax in Scotland than they would in the rest of the UK. Furthermore, taxpayers in Scotland will pay 41% income tax on earnings between £43,500 and £50,000, compared with just 20% in the rest of the UK. That means that a police officer with 10 years’ experience—mid thirties; bringing up a family—will pay 21% more tax on earnings between £43,500 and £50,000 in Scotland than they would pay in the rest of the UK.
Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that for the third consecutive year more than half of Scottish income tax payers will pay less tax than taxpayers in the UK? Will he explain to those UK taxpayers why his Government is ripping them off?
Leaving the EU
Now that we have left the European Union, we are free to determine our own future. We want 2020 to be a year of economic and social growth for Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The Secretary of State has stated in the Chamber that the UK internal market represents the majority of Scotland’s total export market, and it is therefore vital that he makes provision to develop and strengthen that market. Will he confirm that the Government will prioritise the UK’s internal market over any future US-UK trade deal that the Prime Minister wants with Donald Trump?
I absolutely can because the UK internal market is so important for this country and Scotland. The Secretary of State has mentioned some figures today, and Scotland does 1.5 times more in trade with the rest of the UK than it does with the EU and the rest of the world combined.
Absolutely. The future of Scotland’s economy and the UK economy will be buoyant, and as we leave the European Union we want to ensure that all our sectors continue to thrive. I assure my hon. Friend that we in the Scotland Office will do everything possible to facilitate those discussions.
The response we have heard from the Government Front Bench today might explain why the Minister has lost half of his Scottish colleagues, why the SNP is at 51% in the polls and why the majority of the Scottish people now want independence. In the real world, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster says that border checks are now inevitable for almost everybody because of the Government’s disastrous Brexit. How will this help Scottish business?
The hon. Gentleman mentions the real world, so let us look at the real world in Scotland where the SNP is in power: we have bridges that people cannot get across; we have hospitals that it cannot open; and we have an education system that is failing. That is the record that the Scottish Government and the SNP will have to go to the people in a little over 15 months’ time. I look forward to that election, when what the Scottish Government and the SNP have done to Scotland since 2007 will have an impact on the result.
Thank you very much. I am busy today, Mr Speaker.
At the end of 2020, we automatically take control of our waters. This opens up a sea of opportunity for our fishing industry in Scotland, and across the UK. As I have said before, this Government will work tirelessly with our fishermen and coastal communities across Scotland.
I can confirm that we will no longer be bound by the EU’s outdated and unfair method for sharing fishing opportunities. We will set our own fishing quotas, based on science, and decide who can fish in our waters. I have to say that I share my hon. Friend’s optimism for the future of our industry, and it is an optimism that I have heard time and time again from fishermen and fishing communities the length and breadth of Scotland.
Can the Secretary of State reveal whether the UK Government’s stated intention of agreeing a mechanism of co-operation within the EU on fishing will include an extended agreement on access to waters as part of an EU trade deal?
Clearly we are in discussions about this, but we have a positive vision for our fishing industry in Scotland now that we have left the European Union. How does that reflect on the SNP’s vision for fishing in Scotland, which is to take us back into the European Union, to be shackled once again by the common fisheries policy? That is something that many Scots and many fishermen voted comprehensively to leave, but the SNP wants to put us right back in.
I have regular discussions with all my Cabinet colleagues on issues important to Scotland’s economy, including the forthcoming Budget in March. The Government will deliver a Budget for Scotland’s businesses and Scotland’s people. We will set out ambitious plans to unleash Britain’s potential, and level up across the nations and regions of the UK.
Given the close economic relationship between the south of Scotland and the north of England, particularly within the borderlands region, will the Minister make representations to the Chancellor on and give his support to a freeport at the Carlisle Lake District airport?
I welcome the recent freeports announcement, and I have no doubt that freeports will unleash the potential of our proud historic ports, boosting and regenerating communities across the UK. I and other Ministers on the Front Bench—the Chancellor is here—have heard my hon. Friend’s early representations on behalf of his airport and his area. Not only is he a great champion for the borderlands, but he is a great champion for the Carlisle Lake District airport.
Page 64 of the 2015 statement of funding policy document confirms that HS2 should have 100% Barnett consequentials for Scotland. Will the Secretary of State ask for those Barnett consequentials, roughly £750 million in relation to what is being spent on HS2, to be delivered in the Budget?
Over the weekend, Kingsbarns distillery in my constituency won the “Best Lowlands Scotch, 12 years and Under” award at the world whisky awards. However, the impact of US tariffs continues to impede the growth of the Scotch whisky industry in my constituency and across Scotland. Will the forthcoming Budget include provisions to help our distilleries to compete internationally, despite those stifling tariffs?
I know that the hon. Lady has a lot of experience of this, having formerly worked for Diageo. The 25% tariffs on malt whisky are a consequence of the Boeing-Airbus dispute between the EU and the USA. In the next carousel, by having useful negotiations on a US trade deal, we want to get those tariffs removed.
The Prime Minister was asked—
The whole House will want to join me in sending our deepest sympathies to all those affected by the weekend’s flooding. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced the activation of the Government’s emergency Bellwin scheme to provide financial support for qualifying affected areas in the north of England, and we continue to work closely with our partners to help those affected and, above all, to keep people safe.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall hold further such meetings later today.
Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review
I am grateful for that reply. May I urge the Prime Minister to recall what happened to the last combined security and defence review, which was done within a straitjacket of fiscal neutrality? It meant that every extra pound spent on cyber or security was a pound to be cut from the conventional armed forces. Therefore, will he try to ensure that the next attempt at a combined security and defence review will not face such a straitjacket and will be concluded before rather than after the comprehensive spending review?
I understand very well the point that my right hon. Friend makes. I can assure him that the integrated review will be the deepest review of Britain’s security, defence and foreign policy since the cold war. I can also assure him that by transforming this country’s economy and by raising productivity, we will ensure that both defence and security are amply provided for.
I join the Prime Minister in expressing sympathy and support to the victims of flooding and thank the Environment Agency and all the emergency services that are doing their best to help people.
Our thoughts are also with those who suffer from the coronavirus and with the Chinese community in this country, who are, I am sorry to say, facing increasingly alarming levels of racism within our country. As this virus spreads, I also thank public health workers who are helping those affected and raising awareness of the danger of the virus.
Does the Prime Minister think that someone who came to this country at the age of five, was the victim of county lines grooming and compelled to carry drugs, was released five years ago and has never reoffended deserves to be deported?
The Government have learned absolutely nothing from the Windrush scandal. This cruel and callous Government are trying to mislead the British people into thinking that they are solely deporting foreign nationals who are guilty of murder, rape and other very serious offences. This is clearly not the case. Take the example of a young black boy who came to the UK aged five and is now being deported after serving time for a drugs offence. If there was a case of a young white boy with blond hair who later dabbled in class A drugs and conspired with a friend to beat up a journalist, would the Prime Minister deport that boy; or is it one rule for young black boys from the Caribbean and another for white boys from the United States?
Quite frankly, I think the right hon. Gentleman demeans himself and besmirches the reputation of the Windrush generation, who came to this country to work in our public services, to teach our children and to make lives better for the people of this country. He has no right to conflate them with the foreign national offenders we are deporting today.
The Windrush generation have been disgracefully treated by a Government who deliberately created a hostile environment. While the Government were fighting to deport people who legally came to this country as children, the Foreign Secretary refused to tell the family of Harry Dunn the reason the US is blocking the extradition of the woman who is alleged to have killed him. I now ask the Prime Minister straight: is Anne Sacoolas being shielded from justice because she is a former CIA officer?
It is widely reported that Anne Sacoolas is in fact a CIA operative. Now we know that the Foreign Secretary misled the Dunn family, who are being denied justice by the US Government, will the Prime Minister commit to his removal from office tomorrow in his reshuffle?
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Foreign Office has been told that Anne Sacoolas was notified to the UK Government as a spouse with no official role. We will continue, without fear or favour, to seek justice for Harry Dunn and his family, and we will continue to seek the extradition of Anne Sacoolas from the United States.
This morning Charlotte Charles, Harry’s mum, said: “We thought we had bridged the gap with the Government. But they have not been honest with us”. This is only the latest case of our country’s one-sided extradition treaty with the USA. This lopsided treaty means the US can request extradition in circumstances that Britain cannot. While the US continues to deny justice to Harry Dunn, will the Prime Minister commit today to seeking an equal and balanced extradition relationship with the United States?
To be frank, I think the right hon. Gentleman has a point in his characterisation of our extradition arrangements with the United States. I do think that elements of that relationships are unbalanced, and it is certainly worth looking at, but that is totally different from the case of Harry Dunn and Anne Sacoolas. We continue to seek the extradition of Anne Sacoolas to face justice in this country.
It has everything to do with the relationship with the USA that Anne Sacoolas has not been extradited back to Britain, because the US refuses to do it because of this lopsided treaty. I am glad the Prime Minister at least acknowledges that point about the treaty. This deep disparity with the US is about to be laid bare, when the courts decide whether the WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange will be extradited to the US on charges of espionage and for exposing war crimes, including the murder of civilians and large-scale corruption. Does the Prime Minister agree with the parliamentary report that is going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers upheld for the good of us all?
In northern Syria, displaced women and their children are literally freezing to death. There are reports of babies dying as a result of the extreme conditions, and 45,000 people remain stranded with nowhere to go. The Syrian war is considered to have caused the biggest wave of displacement since the second world war. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what responsibility his Government have taken for this humanitarian crisis?
My question was about the children who are literally freezing to death. That was not an answer from the Prime Minister.
In 2017, as Foreign Secretary, this Prime Minister enacted a policy of accepting the Syrian dictator Assad’s rule over the country. Assad has delivered death and destruction to his people—a man who has gassed his own civilians. The humanitarian situation has reached crisis point, and there are now fears of all-out war. Is the message that the Prime Minister wants to send from the House today that the UK Government are washing their hands of the Syrian people, and that he is content for Assad’s regime to continue enacting these atrocities?
I really think the right hon. Gentleman needs to consult his memory better. He would find that this country and this Government have persistently called for the end of the Assad regime, and indeed have led the world in denouncing the cruelty of the regime towards Assad’s own people. That has continuously been the policy of the British Government.
I think the hon. Lady is right: we have to do both, which is why we are putting £200 million into the Youth Endowment Fund as well as supporting violence reduction units. We are also putting 20,000 police on the streets of this country, and giving them the powers, which the Leader of the Opposition opposes, to take knives off the streets with stop and search.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign for the restoration of the Burscough curves. That sounds to me like a great idea. What he needs to do is put forward a costed business plan, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will look at it very carefully.
I certainly will make that undertaking to the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that he has raised this matter. We should not tolerate crimes of violence against shopworkers or indeed anybody else. I therefore find it paradoxical that the leader of his party is soft on the deportation of serious violent offenders.
Our new Office for Veterans Affairs is helping veterans to transition to new jobs and to secure homes. A discount railcard will be rolled out by Armistice day, and veterans will get guaranteed interviews for civil service jobs so that we have more veterans bringing their talents to government.
My hon. Friend is, I am afraid, entirely right. We know that there are concerns about this system, and that is why I have asked the Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), to ask Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary for an independent review of the operation of the system. We will ensure that my hon. Friend is kept informed.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but as he will know, the highest-ever number of people attended A&E in this country last month—2 million people. The demand is exceptional, and I pay tribute to the work of NHS staff. As he knows, we in this Government are responding with a record investment in the NHS of £34 billion, and we are recruiting 50,000 more nurses, which will help to deal with that crisis.
In the past week, Storm Ciara has wreaked havoc along West Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, affecting the constituencies of Members across the House. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister seek to find time to visit my constituency? Horbury Bridge, where “Onward Christians Soldiers” was penned, has been acutely affected. Will he see for himself the terrible damage done to people’s homes, lives and businesses? Will he tread where the saints of our communities and emergency services have trod and continue to toil undivided towards recovery?
I pay tribute to the emergency services for what they are doing in my hon. Friend’s constituency and, indeed, in all flood-affected areas. As he knows, we have activated the Bellwin scheme to protect homeowners, and we are putting £4 billion into flood defences. I certainly will do what I can to take up his offer to visit his constituency and see the scene for myself.
As I think the hon. Gentleman knows very well, the report will be published as soon as the Intelligence and Security Committee is reconvened. As I have told the House several times, those of a conspiratorial cast of mind will be disappointed by its findings.
May I commend the Prime Minister for his belief in Britain and the massive boost to infrastructure investment around the country? However, the cost of landing fees at Heathrow airport is £25 per passenger, and those fees will rise with a third runway, leading to Heathrow becoming the least competitive airport on the entire planet. Given the delays and the escalating costs, does the Prime Minister agree that it may well be time to review progress and perhaps to deploy the bulldozers elsewhere in the country?
The House of Commons voted effectively to give outline planning consent to the third runway. It was supported by people across the Chamber—not by me, as it happens. I wait to see the outcome of the various legal processes that are currently under way to see whether the promoters of the third runway can satisfy their legal obligations under air quality and, indeed, noise pollution.
We are, of course, responsible, and we take full responsibility, but overall GP numbers are up and we are now recruiting 6,000 more. We are able to do that because we are running a sound economy and investing massively in our NHS across the whole country.
As the coronavirus hits the headlines every day, will the Prime Minister join me in thanking and paying tribute to the supreme professionalism of those at Public Health England and, in my area, to RAF Brize Norton for bringing home people who have been affected? Their work often goes unremarked, but it has the admiration of all of us.
My hon. Friend puts it beautifully, and I salute everybody involved in bringing home the victims and potential victims of coronavirus for the difficulties and risks they face. Indeed, our NHS has so far done an outstanding job in preparing and informing the country.
When Kevin Simpson’s partner of over 12 years died and his two children lost their mother, the family received no bereavement support payments at all. Because the parents were unmarried, the law denied that support to the two grieving children. The High Court ruled last Friday that this breached the children’s human rights, so when will the Government obey the rule of law and legislate to respond both to that ruling and to the similar ruling by the Supreme Court in the McLaughlin case in 2018? Will there be no further delay so that we can start supporting the thousands of similar children across our country every year who lose their mother or father?
The right hon. Gentleman has raised this with me before, and I have undertaken to meet him on the matter. We will certainly look at the case he mentions to see what exactly our response should be. He is right to draw attention to this injustice, and we will do all we can to remedy it.
On Thursday last week, two people were stabbed in Redcar in broad daylight. Another person was injured in a horrific knife crime on Saturday evening outside a busy nightclub. Figures released by the Ministry of Justice in January show that the Cleveland force area has the highest number of knife and offensive weapon offences per head of population in all of England and Wales. What additional support can my right hon. Friend give to Cleveland police to tackle this problem, and when will we start to see more police on the streets of Teesside?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. Knife crime is intolerable, and its recent rise must be combated. That is why we brought in knife crime prevention orders, which give police the powers, where they suspect a knife crime is about to be committed, to make the interventions that are needed. That is why we are putting 20,000 more police on our streets, with the encouragement and the political support they need to carry out stop and search.
The Oxford-Cambridge so-called expressway is a 20th-century roadbuilding solution to a 21st-century challenge, and at the election Labour rightly pledged to scrap it. I wonder whether the Prime Minister has caught up with us. Will he announce today whether the expressway has finally been put to rest and scrapped?
I support the Prime Minister’s decision yesterday to go ahead with HS2, although I have to tell him there is little enthusiasm among my constituents because it does nothing to improve connectivity to Cleethorpes. To build up enthusiasm among the people of Cleethorpes, may I urge him: to instruct London North Eastern Railway to reintroduce the direct train service from Cleethorpes through to King’s Cross; to make the Gainsborough-Brigg-Cleethorpes service, which at present runs one day a week, into a seven-day service; to manufacture the rails at Scunthorpe; and, of course, to reopen Suggitts Lane level crossing?
The prosperous future of our young people all too often depends on their family wellbeing and their school readiness, which requires investment in early years. Does the Prime Minister regret the Conservative cuts to around 1,000 Sure Start centres, including in my constituency? Will he commit to greater funding and support for early years development, particularly in our most deprived communities?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, and this is why we are putting record sums into early years funding—£14 billion is going into education. It is under this Government that people will see the biggest improvements, because it is under this Government that we have a robust, strong, dynamic economy—the third fastest growing in the G7. We are able to make those investments in early years precisely because of our sensible management of the economy.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the private finance initiative deals signed by the last Labour Government to build hospitals such as King’s Mill in Ashfield, at a cost of £1 million a week, are nothing short of a national scandal? Will he please ensure that this never happens again?
It was one of the many scandals of the last Labour Government. From memory, the PFI deals that they did saddled the taxpayer with £80 billion-worth of debts in exchange for £12 billion-worth of hospital assets. That is how Labour runs government. That is how Labour runs the economy. Let’s not let it happen again.
Will the Prime Minister bring to an end the sickening outrage of a witch hunt against former police officers who served Ulster through the heat of the troubles and who will now face the most odious prosecutions for non-criminal misconduct? That would not be tolerated in this part of the United Kingdom and it should not be tolerated in mine.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has started legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care for its failure to move 2,200 autistic people and people with learning disabilities out of inappropriate in-patient units. Separately, we have the Government’s response to the learning disabilities mortality review, a review that has shockingly found that people with learning disabilities are dying, on average, 25 years earlier than the rest of the population. It seems that improving care for people with learning disabilities and autistic people is not a priority for this Government, who have made no statement in the House on these important issues so far. Have you been given an indication that a Minister plans to make a statement on these important issues?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice on this important matter. It is not a point of order for the Chair; it is for Departments to make statements. I am sure that people will have listened to what she has had to say, but it is for others, certainly not for me, to come forward with a statement.
Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill (Business of the House)
Motion made and Question proposed,
That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill—
(1) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at today’s sitting in accordance with this Order.
(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put
(2) When the Bill has been read a second time:
(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;
(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.
(3) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
(4) If, following proceedings in Committee of the whole House and any proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, a legislative grand committee withholds consent to the Bill or any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill, the House shall proceed to Reconsideration of the Bill without any Question being put, unless a Minister of the Crown nominates a future day for Reconsideration.
(5) If, following Reconsideration of the Bill:
(a) a legislative grand committee withholds consent to any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill (but does not withhold consent to the whole Bill and, accordingly, the Bill is amended in accordance with Standing Order No. 83N(6)), and
(b) a Minister of the Crown indicates his or her intention to move a minor or technical amendment to the Bill, the House shall proceed to consequential Consideration of the Bill without any Question being put.
(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (1), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply:
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;
(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other questions, other than the question on any motion described in paragraph 17(a) of this Order.
(7) On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
(8) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.
(9) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.
Consideration of Lords Amendments
(10) (a) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(b) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.
(11) Paragraphs (2) to (11) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (10) of this Order.
(12) (a) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(b) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.
(13) Paragraphs (2) to (9) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (12) of this Order.
(14) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order.
(15) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on the Bill.
(16) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.
(17) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.
(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.
(c) Such a Motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.
(e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.
(18) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(19) The start of any debate under Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) to be held on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day shall be postponed until the conclusion of any proceedings on that day to which this Order applies.
(20) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(21) (a) Any private business which has been set down for consideration at a time falling after the commencement of proceedings on this Order or on the Bill on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders or by any Order of the House, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on that Bill on that day.
(b) Standing Order 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business so far as necessary for the purpose of securing that the business may be considered for a period of three hours.—(Robert Buckland.)
I beg to move a manuscript amendment, in paragraph (6), after sub-paragraph (b) insert—
“(ba) the question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by the chairman or Speaker for separate decision;”.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the business motion that he has just moved, without any explanation whatsoever, replicates the provisions of Standing Order 83D faithfully in every respect bar one, which is that it omits the contents of Standing Order 83D(2)(c), which provides that at the conclusion of proceedings the Question may be put on
“any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by the chair for separate decision”.
The effect of the omission of that provision from the business motion before the House is that if the debate continues until the conclusion of the time allowed in the business motion, there will be no Division on any amendments moved in Committee.
At the very least, the House is entitled to hear an explanation from those on the Treasury Bench as to why we should see your power restricted in that way, Mr Speaker. It may be that ultimately this is all academic—it may be that we conclude proceedings before the expiry of time, or it may be that there will simply be no amendment that anybody wishes to move at the conclusion of proceedings—but there remains an important point of principle at stake, which is that surely we should hear the debate first before we make decisions of that sort, and that if it is the will of the House at the conclusion of the time allowed, then you, Mr Speaker, should have the power to put any Question from the Chair. It is entirely regrettable that the Secretary of State, in moving the motion, did not offer any explanation to the House as to why the Government, through us, should seek to fetter your power in this way.
It is worth bearing in mind that although what the Government are doing today in bringing forward a Bill and going through all its stages in one day is not by any means unusual, it is still quite extraordinary. The Government rely on co-operation from all parts of the House in order to do that. They have had that co-operation, so why do they now seek to restrict the power that you, Mr Speaker, have to call Divisions at the end of the Committee stage?
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who speaks with years of experience, shall we say, as somebody who had direct responsibility, at least partly, for this issue during his time in coalition. I simply say to him that although I am not accusing him of having an unreasonable approach, we do view the business motion as meeting the test of reasonableness, bearing in mind that these are exceptional circumstances and we would not depart from normal proceedings lightly. We want to make sure that the time we have for debate is maximised, which is important when we bear in mind the issue of Divisions. For those reasons we judge it appropriate on this occasion to depart from normal proceedings.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman will probably not accept the explanation I give him, but at least the very fact that he has moved this manuscript amendment—although I note that we have not heard the same objection from other parts of the House—has made the Government explain their position. These are exceptional circumstances, and for that reason I urge him respectfully to withdraw the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Main Question put and agreed to.
Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Twice in the past few months we have seen appalling and senseless attacks on members of the public by terrorist offenders. At Fishmongers’ Hall on 30 November last year, two bright and promising young lives were cut heartbreakingly short. The perpetrator, Usman Khan, had been released automatically halfway through a 16-year sentence for preparing terrorist acts. That tragedy was made so much more poignant by the fact that the victims were dedicated to the rehabilitation of offenders, and were helping people to get their lives back on track.
The attack in Streatham on 2 February this year came as a stark reminder of the risks when these sorts of offenders are let out automatically before they have served their full sentence in prison.
A number of people may question why we are rushing through this business in one day today, so may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend, if the business were not completed today and the Bill therefore not enabled as an Act, would it result in terrorists being released early in the immediate future?
The simple answer is yes; I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.
I was telling the House about the events in Streatham. Sudesh Amman had been released just one week before the attack, halfway through a sentence of three years and four months for offences related to distributing or promoting material intended to stir up religious hatred. The automatic nature of his release meant that there was no parole oversight and no decision as to whether he posed a risk to the public. No one could prevent his release. It is purely thanks to the swift intervention of our incredible police officers that he did not go on to commit even more harm before he was stopped with necessary force. The reality is that we face an unprecedented threat from terrorist offenders who are willing to commit random violence without any fear of the consequences.
I welcome the work that my right hon. and learned Friend has done in this area over the last few weeks, and that he is bringing the Bill before the House today. Will he concede that this form of jihadi extremism and the threat that it has posed has now been around us for almost 20 years, since the horrible attacks of 9/11 and, of course, Bali in 2002? I absolutely welcome the extra funding for our counter-terrorism police and rehabilitation and probation services—this is all very good news—but ultimately we have to ask ourselves why these people were indoctrinated in the first place. Does he agree that we need to do more to remove the harmful online content that is used so much to attract people to the dark place they go to?
My right hon. Friend speaks with particular personal experience of the Bali atrocity, and he is right to talk about the long-term nature of the threat, but it is a threat that changes and evolves, and this Government will be as fleet of foot as possible in responding to it. He will be glad to note that we are working at pace to deal with and remove inappropriate and hateful online content. The Home Secretary is by my side today to emphasise, in the most eloquent possible way, the joint approach that she and I, and our respective Departments—together with the security services and the police—are taking with regard to the first duty of Government: protecting the public. It is a grave responsibility from which we will not shirk, and we say that enough is enough.
I am very glad about the tone my right hon. and learned Friend is taking. Were this measure to be challenged in our courts and the Government were to lose, that would be merely declaratory. But if it made its way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the Government were to lose there, the ministerial code would require him to abide by treaty law. Would he then entertain the prospect of a derogation from the convention on human rights?
Well, I have not finished developing the point yet, but I will of course give way to my eager hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, in time.
This is a Bill on which I have made the following statement:
“In my view the provisions of the…Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.”
I take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). I am not going to anticipate litigation in domestic courts or in Strasbourg, but I will repeat for the benefit of the record that it is my firm view that this Bill does not engage the provisions of article 7 of the European convention on human rights, because it relates to the way in which the sentence is administered, not a change in the nature of the penalty itself. I am grateful to him for allowing me to say that at this point.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way, because this is an important point. Will he confirm that, in coming to that conclusion and making that certification, he has taken the advice of senior Treasury counsel, and also that the case law has made it quite clear that the administration of a sentence is not part of the penalty? Finally, will he confirm that even were there to be successful litigation—which I do not believe will be the case—it would result only in a declaration of incompatibility, and could not strike down primary legislation?
My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that there is no power to strike down the primary legislation. I am afraid that I will not indulge him in a direct answer as to the nature of advice that may or may not have been tendered, and he knows the reasons why. However, I reassure him that all the proper mechanisms have been employed and engaged in the preparation of the Bill, and that on the basis of all the information received, I was able—with high certainty—to make the declaration on the frontispiece.
My right hon. and learned Friend will remember that we worked together on these matters when I was in the Government. He is right to speak about the metamorphosis of terrorism. Will he confirm—indeed, these provisions underpin this—that we must never let the persistent and perverse advocacy of the rights of murderous individuals compromise either the work of our security services or public faith in the rule of law?
My right hon. Friend speaks with considerable experience, as we worked together on the Bill that became the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which rightly struck the balance between the need to protect the public and the need to make sure that the rule of law was respected.
That gives me a chance to warm to a theme that I make no apology—
I will give way in a moment. I am warming to a theme—let me warm!
The theme is this: in our fight against terrorism—in our determination to protect the public against those who spread hate, division, death and injury, irrespective of what might motivate them, because we know that we have a cohort of different types of terrorist—we are defending something of value. We are defending a democratic, free society. We are defending the rule of law. We are defending the values of this place and, indeed, the values of all the people we have the honour and privilege of representing. That is something worth defending. By using due process, we mark ourselves out as distinct from, better than and different from those who seek to divide us.
Is my right hon. Friend in receipt of advice from the Law Officers on this question? I say that because whatever arguments he may address with regard to compatibility and his statement on the front of the Bill, the reality is that this could easily end up in the courts if they can possibly manufacture an argument. I want to be quite clear that his advice relates to action in the courts and not just to incompatibility.
I can assure my hon. Friend that all the usual processes were followed. I am not going to go into the weeds of what the Law Officers might have said. We know that they have a particular function when it comes to the necessary clearances for the introduction of a Bill. I can assure him that those processes have been followed and that the issues that he rightly outlines—and, indeed, presages through his amendments—are very much uppermost in our considerations.
Recent events have indeed shown the need for a review through this legislation, which I certainly support, and which has the appropriate safeguards and implementation measures that will be debated today.
The Lord Chancellor made a point about the victims. Somebody who had done work experience in my office was a witness on that day as they were working at Fishmongers’ Hall. The impact not just on those who were injured or killed, but on those who were there and their families, has been tremendous, and continues.
The provisions in the Bill change the release point for offenders who have committed a relevant terrorism offence and refer those offenders to the Parole Board at the two-thirds point of the sentence. I think we can understand and acknowledge that the resources available to the police and probation are also a critical part of this. A change in legislation will not be enough. Is the Lord Chancellor also committed to making sure that the resources required through the justice system will be in place to make any change effective on the ground?
Indeed, I pay tribute to everybody who was not only involved with but witnessed those awful events at Fishmongers’ Hall.
The hon. Lady and I served together on the Justice Committee for some time, and I know that she has a long-term interest in these issues. She is right to ask about resources. Some weeks ago, when it was announced that we would be introducing a counter-terrorism Bill, extra resources of £90 million for counter-terrorism activity were announced, additional to the overall package of £900 million of support for counter-terrorism. With regard to what we are doing with probation and the interventions that she referred to, again we announced extra resources, with a doubling in the number of specialist probation officers and the introduction of more expert psychiatric and imam involvement. She can rest assured that whatever resources are needed in order to deal with this issue, we will devote them to this particular line of important, intensive work.
The Staffordshire-born convicted terrorist Usman Khan was let out of prison early on licence. Last November, less than a year after his release, he killed two young people near London Bridge. Does the Secretary of State agree that this illustrates why this Bill is so important to protect the public in my constituency and across the UK, and to ensure that the most dangerous criminals serve the prison time that they deserve?
My hon. Friend rightly points out the sad local connection to that appalling case last year. I know that she shares my—and indeed, I think, the whole House’s—commitment to maximum effort when it comes to protecting the public. It is clear that we must put a stop to the current arrangements whereby a dangerous terrorist can be released from prison by automatic process of law before the end of their sentence, so we must do so as quickly as possible.
I warmly welcome the legislation that has been put before the House today. The Secretary of State is talking about resources. Will he outline any estimates he has made of the number of individuals who might be covered by this legislation so that we can perhaps understand the impact that it could have had on our police forces if those individuals had been released from prison early?
The number of offenders, either terrorist offenders or offenders who have committed offences with a terrorist link, is about 50. That does not sound like a large cohort, but in this particular situation of extreme gravity, we cannot afford to allow any further incidents to happen. I have spoken about the need to minimise risk; that does not mean that we can eliminate risk. That is why this emergency measure is, in my judgment and the judgment of the Government, absolutely necessary if we are to meet the concerns of my right hon. Friend and other hon. and right hon. Members.
My right hon. and learned Friend raises the issue of risk. He and the Government are absolutely right to be addressing the question of the automatic early release of terrorist offenders, but terrorist offenders will still be released at some point. That is why rehabilitation—the work that is done both in prison and when they are out of prison—is so important. There have been many efforts at this over the years, but, as recent incidents have shown, not always with success. Does he agree that we will never deal with the issue of terrorism until we deal with the ideology that drives it? Will he reassure me that the Government are making extra efforts to find new paths to ensure that we can turn people away from the extremism and terrorism that takes other people’s lives?
My right hon. Friend speaks with unparalleled experience of these issues, both as Home Secretary and as Prime Minister. I can assure her—I will develop these issues later in my speech—that there is a constant self-questioning among those responsible for these programmes to make sure that they are properly calibrated, that they understand the particular drivers that compel people to commit these acts, and that the distinctions between the different types of offender are fully understood; from her own case experience she will know of myriad motivations. Rather than taking a blanket approach, a case-by-case analysis is very much at the heart of how we approach these matters.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right that this legislation ending the automatic halfway point of release is the correct thing to do. The Parole Board obviously still has a very important role in this process. What reform of the Parole Board does he envisage to make it more accountable, because that is a key aspect of ensuring that citizens are kept safe from those who would cause them harm?
My hon. Friend will be reassured that a lot of ongoing work continues with regard to the role of the Parole Board. Very recently, reforms were introduced that allow me to ask the Parole Board to reconsider important decisions that it makes with regard to the release, or early release, of offenders. A tailored review is currently being undertaken to make sure that its work is as practically effective as possible.
In our manifesto, we committed to a root-and-branch review, to ensure that victims are aware and as involved as possible from the outset and that the sharing of intelligence and information between the security services, the police and the Parole Board is as thorough and comprehensive as possible, so that the fullest and most appropriate assessment of risk can be made. In the area of counter-terrorism, nothing can be more important than ensuring that that intelligence is shared and that those who handle it have the appropriate clearances and expertise to make the necessary assessment.
The Lord Chancellor rightly mentions the need for resources to support this new legislation, because most of these offenders will eventually be released, albeit later, into the community. The issue is not just one of resources; it is also one of process and expertise, because the recall provisions that are in place now could have been of use in the cases that we have seen in recent months. Can he assure me that the Government are also looking at training and process and that any reforms needed—for example, to recall processes—will be properly put in place to support this legislation?
The hon. Lady, with whom I served on the Justice Committee, is right to talk about risk assessment and the recall process. She knows that the recall process can be triggered on arrest, and certainly on charge, and that is regularly done in the normal course of events. When it comes to multi-agency public protection arrangements, I think she will note with pleasure that, only three weeks ago, the Home Secretary and I ordered a review to be conducted by Jonathan Hall QC, the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. He will look at MAPPA with regard to this high-risk, high-level sector of the cohort, to ensure that we are getting it right and that the appropriate expertise is deployed at the right time in order to make the finest judgment with regard to risk.
If I understand it correctly, there are about 220 people serving time for terrorist offences, 50 of whom will be affected by this legislation. Is that because those 50 are up for imminent release within the next few months? Does this legislation in principle apply to all 220 people in prison for terrorist-related offences?
The cohort of around 50 are due for automatic early release; the rest will be subject to Parole Board assessment. Different types of sentence are available. We are talking about people on standard determinate sentences. Other types of sentence include extended determinate sentences. Some may still be on the historical IPP—imprisonment for public protection—regime, and there are also sentences for offenders of particular concern, or SOPC. Forgive me for the alphabet soup, but I am afraid that criminal justice sentencing legislation has not been the easiest matter for us to deal with, either as legislators or when I was a practitioner in this area.
I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for giving way; he is being hugely generous. Does he accept that, while a lot of these people are terrorists and criminals, a significant number of them are clearly insane? The people who were in jail with the latest perpetrator said that that individual was plainly off his head. He had a history of drug abuse, and mind-altering substances clearly played a role. Why is it that if people are secular and insane, they will be locked up indefinitely, but if they can ascribe this to some sort of religious motive, we feel we have to give them a finite sentence and release them, when they might run amok at any stage?
As ever, my right hon. Friend makes an interesting and thought-provoking point. While I will not go into the individual facts of this case, because it is subject to a police investigation and there is an ongoing inquiry, I will say this. The judgment as to a mental health disorder within the meaning set out in the Mental Health Act 1983 is a matter for two section 12 qualified clinicians—consultant psychiatrists—who will produce clinical evidence that will satisfy a court of the provisions of section 37 of the Act or, indeed, a restriction under section 41, which puts the power of release into my hands. That has to be satisfied on the basis of evidence.
It is important to make a distinction between that clinical approach and the risk assessment that we have to undertake when it comes to those who profess political motivation. It is thought-provoking in the sense that we need to think about a mechanism that would be robust and legally sound but would allow an objective assessment to be made about the risk posed by individuals, even after their sentence has been completed. Public protection has to come to the forefront of our thinking.
I will now describe what we have done operationally since the attack at Streatham. The Prison and Probation Service has taken immediate action to strengthen our operational grip of terrorist offenders and protect the public from any further attacks. The National Probation Service is working closely with counter-terrorism partners. Several offenders on licence have been recalled to prison since the attack, where officers identified concerning behaviour, which relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). We have also instructed prison governors to report any concerns and take any action required. Several terrorist prisoners have subsequently been placed in segregation units as a result of concerns raised by prison staff. The Prison Service is managing the risk of incidents in prisons that may be inspired by, or in response to, the attack at Streatham.
I would like to put on record my thanks to Ian Acheson for his 2016 report on our response to extremism in prisons. In the intervening years, the operating context has changed, and our response has strengthened considerably, but we must go further. We will take all additional steps necessary, including keeping the full list of recommendations in Mr Acheson’s internal report under careful review.
However, we need to take further action urgently to ensure that the public are protected. As we saw in the Streatham attack, we cannot have a situation where an offender—a known risk to the public—is released without any oversight by the Parole Board. The Bill therefore sets out new release arrangements for prisoners serving a sentence for a terrorist offence or an offence with a terrorist connection. There are two main elements to that: first, to standardise the earliest point at which they may be considered for release at two thirds of the sentence imposed; and secondly, to require that the Parole Board assesses whether they are safe to release between that point and the end of their sentence. That will apply to all terrorist and terrorist-related offences where the maximum penalty is above two years, including those offences for which Sudesh Umman was sentenced. Only a very small number of low-level offences, such as failure to comply with a police cordon, are excluded by this threshold, and prosecution and conviction for those offences are rare.
The changes affect those who are serving sentences for a specified offence, whether the sentence was imposed before or after the new section comes into force. Applying this to serving prisoners reflects the unprecedented gravity of the situation we face and the danger posed to the public. The Bill will not achieve its intended effect unless it operates with retrospective effect, and therefore it will necessarily operate on both serving and future prisoners. That does not mean that the Bill will change retrospectively the sentence imposed by the court; release arrangements are part of the administration of a sentence, and the overall penalty remains unchanged. As I outlined earlier, domestic and ECHR case law supports our stance that article 7 is not engaged where the penalty imposed by the court is not altered. The measures in the Bill will also amend the release arrangements for terrorist offenders sentenced in Scotland, which will ensure a consistent approach where possible to the release of terrorist prisoners.
I commend my right hon. and learned Friend for the introduction of this legislation and dealing with the issue of early release. May I come back to him on a point I have raised previously about how we manage the risk of people who have offended once they have left prison, and about using the availability and enforceability of post-release conditions, and indeed the terrorism prevention and investigation measures regime and its potential application, to give a sense of assurance? Can he comment any further on the next steps and how this can be progressed, because this is clearly an issue that will need to be addressed?
I am hugely grateful to my right hon. Friend, who, as the House will know, was a distinguished Security Minister and Northern Ireland Secretary, and had to deal with these issues daily. I will say this to him: he will know that the counter-terrorism Bill, which was announced some weeks ago, will be coming before the House soon. There will be measures in it not only on the minimum term to be served for serious terror offences, but on the way in which licence periods will be applied as part of such a sentence. That is clearly one of the most effective ways to deal with this problem—through the criminal prosecution and conviction process.
My right hon. Friend makes a wider point. He will know from having navigated through the House the TPIMs legislation, which has been subsequently strengthened and amended, that there are other circumstances in which public protection will have to play a function in the absence of a conviction. It is on that particular cohort that the Government are placing a lot of attention and concentration. It would perhaps be idle of me to speculate by outlining what precise forms those will take, but it is a dialogue that I encourage him actively to take part in over the next few months and it is something I would want to develop with support from all parts of this House.
At this stage in the debate, and trying to avoid our having what might otherwise turn into an argument about the law in court, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether the case of del Río Prada has actually been taken into account? Does he know if that has been taken into account, because it was about policy and administration?
My hon. Friend will be glad to know that not only has it been taken into account, but I have read it. It is a 2013 authority from the Strasbourg Court that relates to a particular set of circumstances involving the Kingdom of Spain. There have been subsequent cases both before that court and, indeed, domestically. In summary, we are satisfied, on the basis of all the information we have, that the provisions of article 7 are not engaged in this respect.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a most compelling case for this legislation. For the sake of completeness, I am sure he will also have read and taken into account the subsequent cases in the Strasbourg Court of Abedin in the United Kingdom in 2016 and of the Supreme Court in Docherty in 2017—both subsequent to del Río Prada—which it seems to me support the Government’s contention.
It is very clear that the Lord Chancellor is carrying the House with him this afternoon, and all of us are seized of the necessity of bringing forward this Bill at this time and as quickly as possible. However, it is acknowledged that there are serious concerns and issues about the engagement of article 7—I think he has an entirely justifiable position—and that we are bereft of the detailed pre-legislative scrutiny that we might otherwise have had; that is a consequence of the situation we find ourselves in. Given that, has the Lord Chancellor given any consideration to injecting a review mechanism into the Bill?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In fact, I think it is right to say, in the context of Northern Ireland, that we have given such careful consideration to the engagement of article 7 that we have chosen not to extend the legislation to Northern Ireland. The way in which the sentence is calculated and put together by the Northern Ireland courts does cause potential issues with regard to engagement and therefore potential interference with the nature of the penalty itself. I think that is actually very important in this context: it is real evidence of the fact that the British Government have thought very carefully about the engagement of article 7, and have not sought to take a blanket approach to all the various jurisdictions within the United Kingdom.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about a review mechanism. He will be reassured to know that a counter-terrorism Bill is coming forward that will cover all parts of the United Kingdom. There will be an opportunity on that Bill to debate and analyse further long-term proposals. Inevitably, the status and provisions of this Bill—I hope, by then, an Act of Parliament—will be part of that ongoing debate. I am confident that, through the mechanisms of this House, we will be able to subject these provisions to post-legislative scrutiny in the way that he would expect.
My right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned the effect of this legislation that will keep terrorist prisoners in custody for longer, and he has rightly paid tribute to prison imams, who maintain religious interventions for those whose motivation for their terrorist offending is at least claimed to be religious. Can he reassure us that, given the extra time in custody that many of these prisoners will now serve, such effective and in many cases very brave interventions by prison imams will be given the extra time available to take further effect?
My right hon. and learned Friend the former Attorney General speaks with great experience and knowledge of these matters. He is absolutely right to focus on the specialist intervention of our imams. I think I referred to the fact that we are going to increase resources and increase the number available within our prisons. Both the Home Secretary and I have seen at first hand the partnership working that goes on within the high-security estate when it comes to dealing with these particular challenges. It is precisely that type of specialist intervention that he and others can be confident we will be supporting in the years ahead.
I was going on to explain the extension of parole release to those who serve standard determinate sentences and other transitional cases currently subject to automatic release. In line with the normal arrangements for prisoners released by the Parole Board, the board will set the conditions of an offender’s licence for this cohort when they are released before the end of their sentence. The Parole Board, as I outlined earlier, has the necessary powers and indeed the expertise to make risk-based release decisions for terrorist offenders. The board currently deals with terrorists who serve indeterminate sentences, extended sentences and sentences for offenders of particular concern—the “SPOCs”, as they are colloquially referred to.
There is a cohort of specialist Parole Board members who are trained specifically to deal with terrorist and extremist offenders. They are, in effect, the specialised branch of the board that will be used to handle these additional cases. They include retired High Court judges, retired police officers and other experts in the field, all of whom have extensive experience of dealing with the most sensitive and difficult terrorist cases. Due to the nature of the emergency legislation, I have proposed that the provisions cover England, Wales and Scotland.
The justification for this emergency, retrospective legislation—out of the ordinary though I accept it is—is to prevent the automatic release of terrorist offenders in the coming weeks and months. Given the risk that this cohort has already shown they pose to the public, it is vital that we pass this legislation rapidly before any more terrorists are automatically released from custody at the halfway point. Therefore, we are aiming for this legislation to receive Royal Assent before the end of the month. With the support of this House, I am confident that we can do that. I commend the Bill to the House.
I am grateful to the Justice Secretary for his briefing last week and for his opening remarks, and to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who has been keeping me updated in recent days.
This Bill follows the awful terrorist atrocities first at Fishmongers’ Hall on 30 November and more recently in Streatham. My thoughts, and I am sure those of all Members across the House, go out to the victims of these terrible attacks and to their families and friends, and we thank the emergency services who responded so quickly.
Labour Members support the Parole Board’s involvement in release decisions. If this Bill is not passed and rushed through its stages over the next couple of weeks, terrorist prisoners will be on our streets, without any assessment of risk or dangerousness by the Parole Board. That does not leave the House in the easiest of positions, but it is the reality of the situation before us. For the Bill to be durable and workable, it must not simply amount to a delay in confronting the problem; it will also require a relentless focus on, and investment in, the most effective de-radicalisation programmes in our prisons.
I took part in a long debate on sentencing in the last Parliament with the then Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime, now the Secretary of State for Defence, and a number of sentences were increased. In her intervention on the Justice Secretary, the former Prime Minister pointed out —very fairly, I thought—that there has been an issue with the success of de-radicalisation programmes in recent years. Length of a sentence is one matter, but, whatever the length, the programme must be targeted and effective—I will come on to that point in a moment.
We are here to discuss emergency legislation, but there is also an emergency in resources. The Leader of the House indicated yesterday that the Treasury has approved additional resources for the extra time that prisoners will spend in custody as a consequence of the Bill, as well as for the Parole Board. Clearly, however, there must also be a specific and dramatic increase in resources to tackle extremism in our prisons.
But this is not just about resources—my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) made a point about process and expertise, and she is absolutely right—and a strategic approach from the top will be required.
The Justice Secretary made it clear that there is no need for derogation from the European convention on human rights, and he set out the Government’s legal position on article 7. Labour Members firmly believe that we can tackle terrorism and proudly remain signatories to the European convention on human rights. In our view, to leave that convention and join Belarus as the only European non-signatory would send a terrible signal to the rest of the world. We should never sacrifice the values that we are defending in the fight against terrorism and hatred.
Those who perpetrate hatred and violence are responsible for their actions, but it is for the Government to do everything they can to keep our streets safe and minimise the risk of something like this ever happening again. The House is therefore entitled to ask why we have ended up requiring this Bill to be passed via emergency legislation. Automatic early release is hardly new. It has been part of our system for many years, and could already have been dealt with by a Government who took a more strategic approach.
There have been a number of warning signals over the past decade. In his opening remarks, the Justice Secretary mentioned Ian Acheson, a former prison governor who led a review of Islamist extremism in our prisons, probation and youth justice system, which was published in August 2016. Mr Acheson said:
“What we found was so shockingly bad that I had to agree to the language in the original report being toned down…There were serious deficiencies in almost every aspect of the management of terrorist offenders through the system…It was a shambles.”
Mr Acheson proposed 69 recommendations that, according to the Justice Secretary when speaking to the media over the weekend, have been consolidated into a total of 11, eight of which are being implemented. However, in a newspaper article last Thursday Mr Acheson said:
“As part of my review of prison extremism, I made a great number of recommendations that specifically related to a tactical response to a terrorist incident in prison where staff were targeted. I have no way of knowing if or how many were implemented as none made it into the response published by the Ministry of Justice.”
That was only days ago. I do not know whether the Justice Secretary has met Mr Acheson since last Thursday—[Interruption.] I am happy for him to intervene.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I have not met Mr Acheson since last Thursday, but I have met him. Indeed, I took part in a documentary that he produced for Radio 4 a few weeks ago, before the latest attack. His engagement has been valued. I will not go into the precise circumstances in which the report was consolidated, because in essence it contained some sensitive matters that we all understood could not be published.
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about 2016. We accepted what Mr Acheson said, but things have moved on a long way since then, and the problems that were identified are being tackled directly. We accept that there is still more to be done, but the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that we have moved on in the four years since that report.
I will come on to whether things have moved on in a moment when I explore what the Chief Inspector of Prisons says about that issue. Last Thursday, however—only days ago—Mr Acheson was clearly unsure of the Government’s position. I hear what the Justice Secretary says about what is in the public domain, which is entirely appropriate. One would hope, however, that someone who led a review for the Government would know four years later whether specific recommendations had been acted on. I also accept what the Justice Secretary says about appearing in a documentary, but I strongly suggest that he meet Mr Acheson fairly urgently, to discuss those matters about which Mr Acheson is not sure, so that they can be cleared up.
I am pleased to hear that, and I hope we will never again be in a situation where someone who led a review is not aware of what is going on years later. That simply cannot and should not happen, as I am sure the Justice Secretary would agree.
There are concerns about the Ministry of Justice listening, and the extent to which justice has been a priority for the Government over the past decade. The coalition Government chose not to make the Ministry of Justice a protected Department when they implemented spending cuts That led to 40% cuts over the past decade, including to the prisons that today we expect to play a vital role in offender management. We know that 21,000 police officers disappeared from our streets, and prison officer numbers have been slashed. There are currently 18,912 front-line prison officers, which is not yet back to 2010 levels. That loss of prison officers has not just reduced the capacity of prisons to deal with rehabilitation; it also means that years of experience of working in challenging environments in our prisons have been lost.
In 2019, 35% of prison officers had been in post for less than two years, compared with just 7% in 2010. I do not mean that those officers are not doing their best in difficult circumstances, but the Government needlessly threw away valuable experience in our prisons.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that lack of prison officers, the privatisation of some of our prisons, and having those young officers, has led to problems in Her Majesty’s Prison Birmingham, which has seen a number of riots over the past couple of years? It adds more to the Treasury’s costs if we have to take away people with experience and later bring them back.
My hon. Friend speaks with great authority about HMP Birmingham, and he is right to identify that if prisons are run in such a way there will be consequences because the time available for meaningful activity is reduced.
The Justice Secretary talked in the media at the weekend about improvements in our justice system since Mr Acheson’s report. He repeated that in his speech and he has repeated it in an intervention a moment or two ago. I therefore thought I would compare what the Justice Secretary is saying with the views of the independent chief inspector of prisons. The latest annual report from Peter Clarke states that
“far too many of our jails have been plagued by drugs, violence, appalling living conditions and a lack of access to meaningful rehabilitative activity.”
That should be a wake-up call to the Government. Mr Clarke went on to say that
“levels of self-harm were disturbingly high and self-inflicted deaths tragically increased by nearly one-fifth on the previous year.”
That is no way for the Prison Service to be run and things must change.
There is also, if I may say so, an issue at the Ministry of Justice with the Government failing to provide it with stable leadership. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is the seventh Justice Secretary since 2010. Of those seven, five have served for 18 months or less. The role of Lord Chancellor should have been respected and not been subject to a revolving door. No wonder there is such a lack of direction and no wonder there is no long-term planning. Justice Secretaries are simply not in post long enough. There are even indications from 10 Downing Street that half the Cabinet could be out by Friday.
I say in all sincerity to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I very much hope he survives in this role—I hope I have not jinxed him by saying that; I could have just ruined his Friday—because there is an enormous job to do. There are 224 terrorist prisoners in England and Wales, of whom 173 have been assessed as having extreme Islamist views. We also know that there is a growing threat from far-right terrorism. If we want properly to manage the risk of terrorist offenders, we need the most effective targeted de-radicalisation programmes to be delivered by staff working in the best conditions we can provide for them.
One area has not been mentioned. When I took part in the police service parliamentary scheme and spent some time with the counter-terrorism units, the one area they highlighted was working on the ground with mental health resources in our communities. That risk decision, the decision at community level about someone’s mental capacity and radicalisation, is really important when we look at resources. The cuts to our mental health services are having an impact on this area.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think we sometimes see things in isolation, but cuts to many other services have also had an impact, which the Government need to take into account. Indeed, when we talk about conditions for our prison officers to work in, a third of our prisons were built in the Victoria era. There is a £900 million maintenance backlog and a desperate need for new investment.