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Chris Philp Excerpts
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Ministerial Corrections
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The following is an extract from the Second Reading debate on the Nationality and Borders Bill on 20 July 2021.
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Opposition Members should study article 31 of the refugee convention, which makes it clear that it is permitted to impose penalties where someone has not come “directly” from a place of danger and where they did not have a reasonable opportunity to claim asylum somewhere else.

[Official Report, 20 July 2021, Vol. 699, c. 915.]

Letter of correction from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp):

An error has been identified in my speech.

The correct wording should have been:

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Opposition Members should study article 31 of the refugee convention, which makes it clear that it is permitted to impose penalties where someone has not come “directly” from a place of danger and where they had a reasonable opportunity to claim asylum somewhere else.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 20th July 2021

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
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What I would say to them, what the Scottish Government have said to them and what my party says to them is that they are very welcome in Scotland, but unfortunately at the moment we do not have control over that aspect of policy. Until we take the steps to ensure that we do have control over that aspect of policy, we are stuck with trying to persuade this British Government that their policies are wrong.

I fear that the chances of this Government amending the Bill in any meaningful way are absolutely zero, but I know that it matters very much to my constituents, other people in Scotland and many organisations—the Trades Union Congress in Edinburgh passed a motion condemning this Bill just in the last few days—that the Scottish National party stands against the Bill. As I say, I do not think that our stand will work, and I continue to look forward to a future where an independent Scotland will be able to set a better example on refugee policy.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
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I am sorry, but I am coming to an end.

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Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker; thanks for the slight jolt, as I was called a wee bit earlier than I was expecting. I have also forgotten that I can take my mask off while I am speaking. Eid Mubarak to my constituents across Stirling and those elsewhere who are celebrating.

Today’s debate really cuts to matters of deep principle. How we treat the world’s most vulnerable seeking sanctuary here touches deeply held sincere principles on all sides. I detect throughout this debate a real difference in world view between the SNP Benches and the Government Benches. Scotland’s tragedy is that for centuries we exported our people. We are a third of the UK landmass, but we are not full. We need more people, not fewer. Scotland’s challenge for decades has been a declining population. European freedom of movement was helping us with that and then it was ended.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being a little more accommodating than the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). He says that Scotland would like more people. Could I therefore urge the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities to accept dispersed asylum seekers? The only one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities to accept dispersed asylum seekers is Glasgow. Scotland accepts only a small handful of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, each one of whom carries with them £53,000 a year of funding. If the Scottish Government are so keen on having more people, how about they play their part in the way that I have just described?

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith
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The Minister, I presume inadvertently, actually makes my point for me. Scotland, under my party’s philosophy, wants to play a part on the world stage as an independent state of the European Union, playing our part in upholding international law—all of it, not breaching it on a regular basis—however limited or specific that way may be. We want to take our fair share of asylum seekers. We want to be that haven. But the financial mechanisms in the UK, as the Minister well knows, mitigate our ability to do that. That is my answer to him.

I thank the hundreds of my constituents who have been in touch about this Bill—all against it. I thank in particular Forth Valley Welcome, Stirling University Student Action for Refugees, the church groups across the Forth Valley and Start Up Stirling, all of which have done great work to welcome refugees.

I will try for consensus, because this issue is too important for Punch and Judy politics. Let us accept that this is a difficult, sensitive issue for any Parliament, anywhere, to deal with. It is a problem that needs to be addressed; we agree with that. We all want to see the dreadful people traffickers properly penalised for their dreadful actions. Scotland, independent, will have immigration, nationality and asylum laws, and we will control our borders—the UK is not the only country dealing with these issues—but we will not do it like this. The Bill is not all bad, but from our perspective it is assuredly more bad than good. We would contend that the problems of the UK’s complicated, expensive, bureaucratic and slow nationality and refugee policies are entirely made in London and have been made worse by this Government.

The Bill is about issues of deep principle, so let us hear what some of the faith groups think about it. The Very Reverend Dr Susan Brown, the convener of the Faith Impact Forum of the Church of Scotland, says:

“we are urging the Government to think again and listen to asylum seekers and refugees, organisations that support them and people in receiving communities working to provide welcome and friendship.”

How about the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland? It says:

“Creating arbitrary divisions based on people’s method of entry will have profound implications for those who need our support most… many families and individuals have no choice in the route that they take, and to penalise them on this basis dangerously undermines the principle of asylum.”

In the time allowed, I will focus only on clauses 10, 29 and 38, because between them they provide ample grounds for voting against the whole package, although there are parts to which we might be more amenable.

I am particularly grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for its forensic examination of the Bill, on which I will draw heavily.

Clause 10 introduces a two-tier treatment of refugees based on means of entry. The Law Society of Scotland endorses the UNHCR in saying that

“to create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system”

undermines

“the 1951 Refugee Convention and longstanding global cooperation on refugee issues.”

A number of Conservative Members have said that France should somehow solve the UK’s problems for it. If the UK is playing a part in undermining global co-operation, it can hardly expect co-operation back.

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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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I thank all Members who have spoken in this extremely thorough two-day debate.

The public expect this House to protect our borders, they expect us to combat the dinghies crossing the English channel and they expect us to remove those with no right to be here. This Bill will deliver those people’s priorities. The Labour MPs who say those priorities are somehow racist are not only wrong, but they are insulting our fellow citizens who rightly want proper border control. The Bill is fair but firm: fair to those in genuine need, but firm towards those seeking to abuse the system. Let me reiterate the Government’s commitment to supporting those in genuine need. Of course, we cannot help all 80 million displaced people around the world who may wish to come here, but we will play our part.

First, we are continuing our world-leading resettlement programme. We are working with the UNHCR. We resettle the world’s most vulnerable. We have resettled 25,000 people in the last six years—more than any other European country—half of them children. We will be strengthening that arrangement by immediately granting indefinite leave to remain to those entering via the resettlement programme. I am concerned about the poor integration outcomes in the resettlement scheme—fewer than 5% are in work after a year—so we are going to do more on integration. We are also going to draw in a wider range of persecuted people, recognising, for example, that the most persecuted group globally are persecuted Christians, whom we should make an effort to look after as well.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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The Minister talks of what the public expect, but one thing I do not think they would expect is for this Government to create a criminal offence that would see a Uyghur fleeing genocide in China, a Syrian fleeing war crimes or indeed a persecuted Christian who gets here without a visa subject, potentially, to a four-year prison sentence under this Bill.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The hon. Gentleman mentions Syrians fleeing war crimes. Our resettlement programme has principally focused on Syrians fleeing war crimes, who, via the UNHCR working in the region, have been able, safely and legally, to come to this country in greater numbers than are seen in any other European resettlement programme. That is quicker, safer and easier than illegally crossing the channel in a dinghy. We are not just running Europe’s resettlement programme; as we speak, we are bringing locally engaged staff from Afghanistan to the UK, and we have opened up a route for British nationals overseas from Hong Kong to come here, escaping the oppressive regime of the Chinese Communist party. In addition, 29,000 people have come in the past six years as part of refugees family reunions. So when the Opposition claim that we are not offering safe and legal routes, that is simply not true.

The Scottish nationalists have been saying that Scotland would like to do more. I am very disappointed, as I said in my intervention, when I was able to get in, that out of the 32 local authorities in Scotland only one, Glasgow, takes dispersed asylum seekers. If Scotland wants to do more, they have the opportunity to do so. Moreover, when it comes to taking unaccompanied asylum seeking children under the national transfer scheme, Scotland took only a very small handful of the 600 or so who were transferred last year. Scottish National party Members cannot talk about money, because those children have more than £50,000 a year of funding going with them. There are children right now in Dover who need to be looked after, so I call on the Scottish Government to put action behind their words and take some of those children on—tonight. They do not need independence to do that; they can do it now.

Let me be clear: we will always play our part for those in genuine need, but we should choose who deserves our help. Illegal immigration undermines that choice. Instead of the UK being able to choose the children and families most in need, illegal immigration instead allows those who pay people smugglers or who are strong to push their way to the front of the queue.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I will give way in a moment. There is no worse example of that than the small boats crossing the English channel. About 80% of the people on them are young single men, who have paid people smugglers to cheat the system. They are not fleeing war. France is not a war zone. Belgium is not a war zone, and nor is Germany. These are safe European countries with well-functioning asylum systems. These journeys are dangerous and unnecessary, and push to one side those in greatest need, including women and children.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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I am delighted that my hon. Friend has brought us this Bill. He deserves great credit for it, alongside the Home Secretary. But will he go further? Will he fulfil the pledge to actually turn back the boats in the channel that he has just described, using the Royal Navy, if possible? Will he process claims offshore, as has also been pledged? Will he do something to frustrate those lawyers who game the system by claiming all kinds of international obligations taking precedence over our sovereign law and our sovereign Parliament?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his very timely intervention and I agree with what he says. This Bill contains provisions such that people arriving by small boat and other illegal means will be liable to prosecution and a four-year jail term, and people smugglers will face a life sentence. This Bill also gives Border Force the powers it needs to make interceptions at sea. Let me be clear: nothing in this Bill would have made the Kindertransport from the 1930s illegal. That was an authorised and organised programme that would be perfectly legal. Indeed it is rather analogous to the safe and legal route we are at this very moment offering locally engaged staff from Afghanistan. Let me also reassure the House, and in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), that there is no intention in this Bill to criminalise bona fide, genuine rescue operations by the RNLI.

Let me also be clear that nothing in this Bill infringes our international obligations. Opposition Members should study article 31 of the refugee convention, which makes it clear that it is permitted to impose penalties where someone has not come “directly” from a place of danger and where they did not have a reasonable opportunity to claim asylum somewhere else.[Official Report, 22 July 2021, Vol. 699, c. 10MC.] The people coming from France are not coming directly from a place of danger, as required by article 31, and they did have a reasonable chance to claim asylum in France. These measures are wholly consistent with our international obligations.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I must finish soon. I apologise.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) asked about the legal system, which also needs reform as it is open to abuse. People make repeated human rights claims to asylum and modern slavery claims, which are often strung out over many years in an effort to avoid removal. Very often those claims are later found to be without merit. For example, in 2017, 83% of the last-minute claims that were raised in detention to frustrate removal were later found to be without merit. I have seen terrible examples of murderers and rapists making last-minute claims, without merit, to avoid deportation. It is not just me saying that. Let me quote what the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, said in a judgment last October:

“Late claims raised shortly before…removal have been endemic, many fanciful or entirely false…It is a matter of regret that a minority of lawyers have lent their professional…support to vexatious representations and abusive late legal challenges.”

In those remarks, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales is saying that change is needed.

The Bill also contains measures on age assessment. We are the only European country not to use scientific age assessment. Recent evaluations in Kent concerning 92 people claiming to be children later found that half were not. There are obvious and serious safeguarding issues if men who are 23 years old, for example, successfully pretend to be under 18 and get housed or educated with 16-year-old girls. We cannot tolerate that.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The Minister has referred to Glasgow’s dispersal area, but there are also individuals who have come over on false passports because that is what they were given to flee their country of origin. They are children, but their passport says they are adults. What assistance will the Home Office give those individuals?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Where somebody claims to be, or says they are, under 18, if there is any doubt, there is already a system—and in future there will be a better and more rigorous system—for properly assessing someone’s actual age. There are risks in both directions. If we wrongly assess someone to be over 18 there is a risk, but equally there are risks in the other direction, and it is time those risks were recognised.

On modern slavery, I pay tribute to the work done by my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). The Bill will ensure that we identify genuine victims of modern slavery and avoid unmeritorious claims that are designed to delay removal or deportation. Where someone is a genuine victim, we will ensure that they are properly looked after. This policy will make it clear for the first time in legislation that confirmed victims with recovery needs stemming from their exploitation will be entitled to a grant of leave, where that is necessary to assist them in their recovery, or to assist a prosecution. We hope that by encouraging people to bring their claims upfront in one go, asylum claims and matters involving modern slavery and human rights will be identified early and properly, and that we avoid some of the abuses that we have unfortunately seen all too often.

Some Members raised questions about detention, claiming that it was indefinite. That is not the case. We do not have indefinite detention, and 75% of people spend less than a month in detention prior to removal. The Hardial Singh case law principles mean that someone cannot be detained if there is no reasonable prospect of removal. There are frequent opportunities to apply for immigration bail, in addition to the protections afforded by article 5 of the ECHR. On the Dubs amendment that we have seen in the past, we prefer to prioritise, not people who are in safe European countries, but those who are in dangerous places.

The public expect us to look after those in genuine need. We will do so, but the public also expect us to protect our borders from illegal immigration and to promptly remove those with no right to be here. The Bill delivers those objectives. When the Labour party votes against it in a few minutes, it is voting against border control, and against removing dangerous foreign criminals who pose a threat to our constituents. The Labour party may not be prepared to protect our borders, but the Government are. I commend the Bill to the House.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I am anticipating two votes. Even though we have relaxed the regulations, I still urge Members to show due caution in giving safe distancing to their colleagues.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Chris Philp Excerpts
Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds
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I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads clause 48 of the Bill, because he will discover in it a higher bar for people receiving support as victims of human trafficking. That is despite the fact that recent reports show that four out of five rejected trafficking claims are overturned on appeal. These reforms risk leaving greater numbers of victims without support and more gangmasters free to commit further crimes. Human trafficking and modern slavery are vile crimes and those responsible should face the harshest penalty. Yes, there should be a full-term life sentence for those convicted for human trafficking and increased sentences for perpetrators of modern slavery, but such measures will not be effective if we withdraw support from victims.

I come to the issue of safe routes for claiming asylum and helping unaccompanied children. Following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the resulting refugee crisis, the Government agreed to Lord Alf Dubs’ amendment to accept unaccompanied children to the UK. The initial pledge was understood to have committed to provide support to around 3,000 unaccompanied children, but the scheme closed with the number having been capped at 480. It was wrong to close the Dubs scheme after helping just a fraction of the number of children promised help. It has meant that under this Government the UK has looked the other way when unaccompanied children have faced dire consequences, including when the Moria refugee camp was ablaze last summer.

Worse still, clause 9 introduces a new requirement for the registration of a stateless child aged five to 17 as a British citizen or a British overseas territories citizen, and maintains existing requirements in relation to those aged 18 to 22. No wonder there is concern about leaving children stateless, which would run contrary to the UK’s obligations under the 1961 UN convention on the reduction of statelessness.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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The shadow Home Secretary talks about the Dubs amendment and those 480 children. I remind the House that those children were already in safe European countries, and I remind the shadow Home Secretary that the United Kingdom currently has more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—more than 5,000—than any other country in Europe, including Greece and Italy. Finally, on the point about providing protection to those in need in war zones, the resettlement schemes that have operated here since 2015 have seen in excess of 25,000 people being directly resettled not from Europe, which is safe, but from war zones such as Syria. That is more than any other country in Europe. This Government’s record is a proud one and we stand by it.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds
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Well, we will see how proud their record is in a moment when we go through it. Let me just say to the shadow Minister for Immigration Compliance—

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Not shadow.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds
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I certainly stand corrected on that. The point is that there were local authorities that were willing to step up and help beyond that 480 and it was this Government’s absolute failure—[Interruption.] Including my local authority, yes, and I am very proud—

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Torfaen—zero.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds
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Absolute utter nonsense. I have visited the Syrian refugees in Torfaen, so I hope the Minister will take that comment back because it is utter nonsense.

The Government often talk about the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme—I just heard it from the Minister—and I of course pay tribute to local government, including my own local authority of Torfaen, for stepping up to help to deliver safe havens for those fleeing persecution. Those who have come to the country under that scheme have added to the diversity and richness of our communities. The Government have gone quiet on a 2019 commitment to resettle 5,000 further refugees at the conclusion of the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, and they still refuse to make proper commitments on the future of the scheme. Existing safe routes are very limited. The Minister stood up a moment ago to speak about statistics; well, in March 2021 the new UK resettlement scheme began, and in its first month it resettled a grand total of 25 refugees. The lack of safe and legal routes will lead people to continue to attempt dangerous routes to the UK.

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Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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I am afraid that I regard this as a dreadful Bill, and the Refugee Council was absolutely right to characterise it as the “anti-refugee” Bill. There are eight welcome clauses on nationality, but thereafter what we see risks trampling international convention after international convention, and vulnerable children, stateless children and victims of trafficking will all pay a penalty. Nowhere is the retreat from international law, international co-operation and basic human decency more apparent than in the absolute trashing of the refugee convention as it approaches its 70th birthday. A convention that has saved and protected countless millions of people is being undermined by one of its first champion countries.

Refugees and asylum seekers—we have skirted over this so far—will be criminalised, stripped of their rights and offshored. That is true whether they are Uyghurs fleeing atrocities in China, Syrians fleeing war crimes or persecuted Christians seeking refuge here. The Bill does absolutely nothing to stop them getting in boats in France; what it does is punish them when they get here. That is morally reprehensible.

It is not just the Bill’s awful ends that justifies the Scottish National party refusing it a Second Reading and stopping it in its tracks but the means by which it seeks to pursue those ends. We are talking about a unilateral rewriting or reinterpretation of our obligations under international law. That is, once more, a hugely dangerous precedent to set. It will make our international partners query whether this country gives two hoots about international law and keeping its word.

Secondly, to put it directly, what we have here is a deliberate policy decision to inflict harm on people seeking sanctuary by criminalising them, splitting them from their family, forcing them into destitution, putting them in legal limbo and offshoring them. That is not just ineffective and dangerous, but morally outrageous.

Not only is the Bill the opposite of the right solution, but it wrongly identifies the problem that needs solving. The problem in the asylum system is simply down to the incompetent management of it by this Home Office and this Government. We live in a world in which 80 million people have been forcibly displaced, and 30 million of them are outside their country of origin and are therefore refugees. Four million of them are asylum seekers pursuing recognition as refugees. Some 86% of them are hosted in developing countries, 73% in neighbouring countries.

What we are asking of wealthy western countries barely scratches the surface of their share of responsibility. In European terms, what has been asked of the UK is very little at all. I applaud and support everything that has been achieved through the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and other resettlement programmes, but none of it justifies what the Government propose today.

The Government regularly trot out that they have resettled more Syrian refugees than other European countries. In absolute terms that is true but, per head of population, neighbours such as Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland and Ireland have all resettled more. Yes, although the UK resettled a few thousand more Syrians than Germany and France, those two countries have offered sanctuary to more Syrians through their asylum systems by massive margins.

In 2019, the UK received around five applications for asylum per 10,000 people, compared with the European average of 14, putting the UK 17th in the table of member states, just behind Italy, Finland and Ireland. Similarly, the UK granted roughly two applications per 10,000 people, compared with the European average of 13, putting it 16th in the table. Yes, although by international standards the UK has a decent history of offering protection, let us not pretend that it has been bearing an unbearable burden that entitles it to rip up the refugee convention and start trying to pass refugees back up the chain to those that already do much more.

The real problem, as we have heard, is that the Home Office’s handling of asylum cases is abysmal. We have heard the extraordinary figures on how long it is taking, and it is not just the length of time it takes to make a decision but the number of decisions that it gets wrong. We are at record levels of successful appeals—it is almost 50:50.

It is not just statistics that cause grave concern but the regular stories of life inside the Home Office: impossible targets, a culture of fear, ill-treatment of staff, high staff turnover, a shortage of skilled asylum caseworkers and administrative chaos. Asylum decision making is a matter of life and death, and it seems clear to me that it should no longer be entrusted to the Home Office, a Department that has again shown itself to be unfit for that purpose. Such decisions should be removed from political interference and entrusted to an independent body, as they are in Canada. That would be a sensible approach.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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What about democratic oversight?

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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Absolutely, as there is in Canada.

Members from all parties in this House, sitting on the Front Benches and the Back Benches, regularly speak up for some of the most oppressed people on the planet. We have seen brave interventions on Uyghurs fleeing atrocities in China. The plight of Syrians fleeing a decade-long conflict has been championed, and Christians around the world, including Christian converts, have numerous ambassadors in this Chamber, but we have hardly come to terms with what this Bill means for them.

This Bill prompts a question: why speak up against persecution abroad only to say, when they come knocking at our door seeking shelter, “You are not our responsibility. Go somewhere else”? France seems to be the popular answer among Conservative Members. What if France and the rest of Europe say the same thing? We would end up with the system of international protection of refugees breaking down, as the UNHCR points out.

If the Bill passes, that is exactly what it means. Prior to the Bill, we would have sheltered people fleeing persecution. The Bill expressly seeks to discourage them from coming here by making life miserable for those who do. Today, if a Uyghur, Syrian or persecuted Christian convert arrives in the UK to seek asylum, life will be far from plain sailing, precisely because of the outrageous waiting times, the dreadful asylum accommodation, the prohibition on work and the dreadful levels of financial support. They get here and, thanks to our amazing non-governmental organisations and charities, they slowly start to rebuild their lives.

But next year, if this Bill passes, for many of those Uyghurs, Syrians or persecuted Christian converts claiming asylum here, things will be infinitely bleaker, and that will be a deliberate policy choice of this Parliament. Arriving next year, the Uyghur, Syrian or persecuted Christian will be much more likely to be criminalised, regardless of arguments about whether they had come here directly or not.

Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 already punishes illegal entry by those without leave to enter. Sensibly, however, those who claim asylum on arrival are granted immigration bail, which does not count officially as entry. Clause 37 of the Bill changes all that. It would essentially criminalise the very act of arriving to claim asylum, because, as the explanatory notes acknowledge, the majority of asylum seekers will not have the ability to secure entry clearance. Despite the Home Secretary’s protestations last week, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said, this criminal offence will apply to Uyghurs, Syrians, persecuted Christian converts and anybody else, and the penalty is up to four years in prison.

The next problem for the Uyghur, Syrian or persecuted Christian convert is that although they are absolutely obviously in need of international protection, this Government, in their wisdom, are not even going to consider their claim for protection for six months. The Government are trying to pretend that that is some sort of replication of the Dublin regulations that the UK was party to prior to Brexit, but of course it is not, because, as we have heard, there are no returns agreements with any remotely relevant country and little indication at this stage that there will be any time soon. Any such returns agreement would have to be carefully circumscribed so as to be consistent with the convention and to have carefully considered the circumstances of the individual, including any ties to the UK, such as family members here.

By contrast, the powers in the Bill will allow the Home Secretary to remove a Uyghur, persecuted Christian or Syrian to any country at all, even if there is no connection, and with very little by way of restriction. Today, the Uyghur, Syrian or persecuted Christian faces outrageous delays in asylum protection systems, and the Bill simply adds another six months.

Where will the Uyghur, Syrian or persecuted Christian be during that time—during that limbo—while the Home Office goes through the futile motions of seeking to remove them? Just now, for those who seek asylum we have a struggling, privatised, over-concentrated system of dispersed asylum accommodation. Numerous Committees have told the Home Office how it could be improved, only to be ignored. Under this Bill and this plan, that is not where the Home Secretary envisages the Syrian, the Uyghur or the persecuted Christian going. Instead, the grim future for these refugees appears under this Bill and this plan to be the disgraceful, disreputable open prison-like conditions that we have already witnessed at Napier or Penally.

Even worse, as we have heard, they may face being removed to an offshore centre to have their claim resolved. Here is the real asylum shopping: the British Government grubbing around to find a country to palm off their responsibilities on to. Let us think of the outrages and the lack of accountability we have seen in relation to immigration detention and the Napier open prison—the abuses that have been meted out there and the harm done. As we know from the Australian experiment, that will be as nothing compared to the hell that is likely to await at an offshore asylum facility. How on earth have we gone from having a Parliament where there was widespread support for time-limiting and restricting the use of detention, to imposing a form of it that is infinitely worse?

Having endured their limbo period, these three groups of refugees will finally have their case assessed by the Home Office. But instead of working to improve asylum decision making, the Bill seeks to make it harder for them to prove their case. It seeks to alter the long-established test set out in the refugee convention that the standard of proof required is a lower, but far from negligible, standard of real risk. That standard is clearly justified by the possible consequences of getting decisions wrong and the huge challenges of proving circumstances that happened thousands of miles away in a country the person has fled.

The Bill seeks to muddy the waters by applying a higher legal threshold. The claimant now has to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that they do belong to one of the protected convention groups and that they fear persecution based on that characteristic. That not only undermines the cautious approach in the convention, justified by the dangers that exist for asylum seekers, but pays no regard to just how difficult it is to prove events that happened in faraway countries.

In addition, by having two different standards of evidence in the same proceedings, it makes life harder for already struggling caseworkers. The judge or decision maker may be certain that the proselytising Christian convert will face the death penalty or torture on return, but now the “real possibility” that the claimant is such a proselytising Christian convert is not enough. If the judge is only 49% satisfied that the person is a proselytising Christian convert, the claim is going to be rejected, even though the risk of torture or death is absolutely certain if the decision maker has got that assessment wrong. I find that deeply troubling, and it is clearly inconsistent with the refugee convention.

Let us imagine that the persecuted Christian, the Syrian and the Uyghur have survived their limbo period and made it through the asylum system, and the Home Office refusal of their application has been overturned on appeal. Unbelievably, the harms inflicted on them by the Bill have barely started. On the contrary, the repugnant programme of disincentives is ramped up further, even after they navigate that system. Because they have stopped temporarily in a European country, they are to be treated as a second-class refugee. Regardless of what any Minister says, that is absolutely contrary to the refugee convention and, more importantly, it is simply disgraceful. It is not just nasty, but sickening—

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a good point. There are all sorts of problems with provisions in the Bill that penalise late disclosure of information, which can very often be the case in modern slavery or LGBT cases, or even religious conversion cases.

Having established that these people are refugees—and the Government have had to recognise that—the system should allow them to rebuild their lives after the trauma of their persecution, their journeys and their asylum claim, but instead this Government still want to turn the screw. Instead of the stability and permanent residence refugees were once provided with, today they are given five years’ leave, with a review that is fairly light-touch, before settlement. But this Bill and the Government’s plan propose endless 30-month cycles of review and ongoing attempts to remove. Nobody can rebuild their lives in those circumstances—and I do not know how on earth the Home Office is going to cope with having to revisit every single asylum case every 30 months.

These refugees will not be entitled to public funds unless they are destitute. So if, say, the Christian convert finds some part-time, low-paid work—a big ask, given the language and cultural barriers, the enforced years out of work, and the trauma—there will be no universal credit to cover housing or income shortfalls, and if he or she was able to bring a child, there will be no support for that child. Their refugee family reunion rights will be diminished, according to the plan, meaning that they cannot be joined by a spouse or perhaps a child. The detail is not in the Bill, but that is what the plan suggests and the Bill enables.

That inevitably gives the Christian convert a choice: does the family stay apart or do other family members—often the women and children that the Home Secretary professes to be protecting—then have to follow and make their own dangerous journeys? Without the family, without state support and without stability, the Uyghur, the Syrian and the persecuted Christian convert have no hope of rebuilding their lives. That amounts not to a place of sanctuary, but to a place of punishment—and the Home Office has the audacity to claim that it is in their best interests. This is, in short, an outrageous way to treat refugees, and it is why the Bill is rightly being called the anti-refugee Bill.

There is so much that could be said about the undermining of efforts to support trafficking victims, the total absence from the Bill of protection for children, and the undermining of rights of stateless children. We need to know what the placeholder clauses will give rise to. We do not even have the chance to debate them here on Second Reading, and there are six or seven of them. The whole of the dentistry profession is up in arms at the suggestion that the discredited and unethical dental X-rays system could return as an inaccurate method of assessing age.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Just like in any other European country.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Well, the dentistry profession and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees say that it is not accurate and it is entirely unethical.

The Home Secretary is also making it harder to identify victims of modern slavery and cutting their recovery period to the minimum allowed in international law.

There is so much that should be in the Bill that is not. I mention just one thing: the failure to end the disgracefully painful 10-year route to settlement that many essentially British kids face and the outrageous fees that others are charged for registering their entitlement to British citizenship. When will that finally be done? This is an abysmal and, indeed, shameful Bill. It does not remotely deserve a Second Reading.

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Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to be able to follow the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who has worked hard on this issue.

There should be widespread agreement that the UK should do its bit to support those fleeing persecution and torture, that the system should be fair and not be undermined, that there should be a crackdown on the criminal gangs who exploit people’s misery and desperation, and that we should prevent the dangerous journeys across the channel in unsafe boats in which lives are put at risk. That includes encouraging asylum much earlier. In this House, we have debated many different ways to tackle those problems in a calm and common-sense way that avoids stoking division or promoting hostility against those who are most vulnerable, because we know where that leads. However, that is one of the things that troubles me about the debate and the approach Ministers are taking.

I also think that the Bill is counterproductive. It is likely to attract more people into the UK asylum system and drive more people into the arms of criminal gangs. The caseload, the backlog, is not a reflection of an increase in applications. In fact, those have stayed at about 30,000 a year—with a drop recently, during the pandemic—but the number of initial decisions made dropped 27% between 2015 and before the pandemic.

The Bill will make that worse, because there is no serious return agreement to replace the Dublin agreement for people who have travelled through a third country. Under the provisions of the Bill, asylum seekers who have travelled through third countries will have to wait in the system for six months. Those whose claims are unfounded will not be assessed or be returned, and those whose claims are justified and who need support will not be able to get on with their lives, to start working and rebuilding their lives here. Moreover, instead they will be waiting, dependent on the support of the Home Office, dependent on making the system more costly for the taxpayer.

Rightly, the Government say that we should prevent dangerous routes, but the Government have cut the alternative safe legal routes. The resettlement scheme has been halted, with no commitment for how many people will be supported.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

It has not halted.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way to the Minister if he wants to tell me how many places will be included in the resettlement scheme when it restarts.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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It never stopped. When we met the 20,000 commitment in February this year, the UK resettlement scheme continued. Obviously making a precise numerical commitment is difficult, given the coronavirus circumstances, but it has never stopped; it continues to this day.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Everybody understands the pressures of the coronavirus crisis, but what we need is a commitment to the number of places. The UK has been resettling approximately 5,000 a year over the past few years as a result of cross-party consensus to support Syrian refugees, but we have not yet heard a commitment. Will it be 5,000? Will it be 10,000? What will the support be from the Government to ensure that the resettlement scheme continues?

The Dubs scheme has been cancelled, even though we know the need for support for those who are most vulnerable, and the Dublin family reunion system has not been replaced. Safe Passage, which works with young people in need of family reunion, said that last year, under the Dublin scheme, all the young people it worked with on family reunion went through the legal system; they did not try to go with people traffickers or people smugglers through a dangerous route. This year, however, under the new system, a quarter of the children and young people it has worked with had given up in frustration, sought to try illegal routes and ended up in the hands of people smugglers or people traffickers as a result. Those are the dangers that we face: if there are not safe legal routes for family reunion, we end up with more people driven into the hands of dangerous criminal gangs.

Clause 26, on offshore processing, is perhaps most troubling of all. The Government floated a range of impossible proposals: sending asylum seekers to be processed on Ascension Island or disused oil platforms or, most recently, sending them to Rwanda. Of course those proposals are impossible, but it is deeply troubling that the Minister even thinks that it is okay for them to be floated and for him not to deny them. We heard from Australia about how its offshore processing simply did not work in the end. It stopped doing it in 2014 because there were too many humanitarian and practical problems and it was costing approximately 1 billion Australian dollars a year to accommodate just 350 people.

This is not an answer. It is deeply shameful and undermines our international reputation. We need France, Spain, Italy, Greece and countries across the world to work together, but for that we need to show proper international leadership and not undermine our reputation.

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 13th July 2021

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021, which was laid before this House on 12 July, be approved.

This motion would ordinarily have been moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who sadly had to step down from his role as Security Minister a few days ago to assist in his recovery from serious illness. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending him our best wishes for a very speedy recovery.

This Government are committed to taking all necessary steps to protect the people of this country. Tackling terrorism, in all its forms, is a crucial part of that mission. This Government’s concerns regarding extreme right-wing terrorism are well documented.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I reassure the Minister and the Government that my party fully supports the motion, but does he not agree that we must send an appropriate message that those on the extremes, whether on the left or the so-called right, must understand that the huge majority of this UK abhor what they do and will not tolerate it, and that there will be continual proscription of cells such as the one in today’s motion? We should call them out for what they are: despicable terrorist cells.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This House, and the whole country, is united in our disgust for terrorism of all kinds. It is right that we call out these organisations, whatever colour they claim to have, and that we are united in our total condemnation of terrorist acts wherever they may occur.

The use of hateful ideologies to prey on young and vulnerable people is abhorrent and we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to crack down. Terrorist groups can now recruit, radicalise and train individuals from a distance, distributing terrorist material at the click of a button. The use of the internet for these purposes has had a huge impact on the threat and on the way we respond to it.

There are 77 terrorist organisations currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Four are far-right groups; the majority are Islamist groups. Thanks to the dedication, courage and skill of counter-terrorism police and our security and intelligence services, most of those groups have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil. I pay tribute to our security services for the work that they have done.

Proscription is a powerful tool for degrading terrorist organisations; I will explain shortly the impact that it can have. The group that we propose to add to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations by amending schedule 2 to the 2000 Act is called The Base; it is a predominantly US-based militant white supremacist group whose activities include seeking to train members with weapons and explosives.

The proscription power arises under section 3 of the 2000 Act. Under that section, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is currently concerned in terrorism. Where that statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion.

The effect of proscription is to outlaw the listed organisation, ensuring that it cannot operate in the UK. It is designed to degrade a group’s ability to operate by enabling prosecution for various related offences, allowing the removal of online material, underpinning immigration-related measures such as excluding group members from the UK, and making it possible to seize cash associated with the organisation. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or meet a proscribed organisation, and a criminal offence to wear clothing or articles that may arouse reasonable suspicion that that individual is a member of that group. Penalties include a maximum 14-year prison term and an unlimited fine.

The Home Secretary takes decisions on proscription only after great care and consideration of the evidence. Having considered carefully all the evidence in this case, the Home Secretary, informed by analysis by the joint terrorism analysis centre, believes that The Base is concerned in terrorism and that the discretionary factors support proscription. This abhorrent group, as I have said, is a predominantly US-based white supremacist militant group that seeks to radicalise and train people for potentially violent activities. It almost certainly prepares for terrorism. We believe that the training that it provides is highly likely to be paramilitary in nature and is possibly preparatory for offensive action.

We therefore believe that the statutory test is met and that the group should be proscribed. That will aid the police in their work to disrupt the threat that extreme right-wing terrorist groups pose to our national security, and will build on the robust action that the Government have already taken in the area, proscribing groups such as National Action, the Sonnenkrieg Division, the Feuerkrieg Division and Atomwaffen, which the House proscribed just a few months ago. It sends a strong statement of intent that their ideology is unacceptable and that the UK is a hostile environment for terrorism in all its forms.

Our message is clear: we will always take every possible action to counter the threat from those who hate the values that we cherish and who threaten our safety. The safety and security of the public is our No. 1 priority. I commend the draft order to the House.

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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

I thank the Members who have contributed to this evening’s debate. There is clear unanimity throughout the House on the importance of taking action against terrorist threats where they arise, regardless of the ideology that sits behind them. I assure the House that the process for seeking, identifying and reviewing organisations that might be subject to proscription proceedings is ongoing at all times, properly resourced and occurs on a regular and frequent basis. There is eternal vigilance among the counter-terrorism officers associated with the Home Office and the security services more widely. We take the threat of terrorism extremely seriously, as Members would imagine, which is why this is the second time in just a few months that I have come to this Dispatch Box to proscribe another organisation.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the Minister cannot address the issue of the Order of Nine Angles in the Chamber this evening, will he agree to meet me to discuss it further?

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As the hon. Lady said in her speech a few minutes ago, we do not comment on specific organisations for obvious reasons of operational security. In the absence of the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who has very sadly had to stand down owing to ill health, ministerial responsibility sits for the time being with Baroness Williams of Trafford, to whom I shall pass on the hon. Lady’s request.

In conclusion, let me repeat how seriously this Government take action against terrorist organisations, regardless of their ideological motivation. We will leave no stone unturned nor any path untrodden in our ceaseless battle to keep our fellow citizens safe.

Question put and agreed to.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I now suspend the House for just one minute in order that preparations can be made for the next item of business.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Monday 12th July 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps her Department is taking to tackle people smuggling.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

People smuggling is a despicable crime, often leading to tragic deaths such as the 39 we saw in Purfleet. The Government are determined to crack down on organised immigration crime, which is why we last week we introduced a new Nationality and Borders Bill, which will receive its Second Reading next week. It is also why in 2020 the National Crime Agency and immigration enforcement were involved in 750 arrests in relation to organised immigration crime.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following the ridiculous decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute illegal migrants on the grounds that they have

“no choice in how they travel”,

as if they do not voluntarily pay a people smuggler €10,000 or voluntarily get in a dinghy, or the even more absurd reason that we can rely on “administrative removal channels” when corrupt human rights lawyers string such claims out for years and nobody is ever deported, where does that leave the absolutely good Bill of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary? She wants to arrest these people in the channel. Does this decision make it even more urgent that we bring in safe havens for these people in a third country?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend is quite right to point out that countries such as France and Germany are obviously safe and that someone genuinely in need of protection or asylum can claim asylum quite properly and easily in such countries rather than attempting dangerous and unnecessary crossings over the English channel. Notwithstanding the CPS’s recent announcement, we can, do and will prosecute people who organise and pilot dangerous boat crossings across the English channel for gain or with the intention of avoiding immigration controls. The Bill, which will receive its Second Reading next week, critically contains provisions that will close some of the loopholes that may have led to the CPS’s recent decision and will make it clear that any attempt to arrive in the United Kingdom from a safe place, such as France, will be rightly treated as a criminal offence.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Each year, about 5,000 or so family members benefit from refugee family reunion rights, 90% of whom are women and children. Depriving refugees of family reunion rights would drive many of those women and children straight into the arms of despicable people smugglers through desperation to be reunited with their loved ones. Why on earth will the Government provide exactly that massive bonus to people smugglers through their nasty anti-refugee Bill?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is misinformed and misguided on this point. There is no plan to weaken or undermine the refugee family reunion provisions that have been used by 29,000 people in the last six years. In addition, in the last five or six years we have been operating Europe’s largest resettlement programme, which has seen an additional 25,000 people come to the UK directly from places from danger. Because we have these effective and well-used safe and legal routes, it is reasonable—indeed, it is our responsibility—to clamp down on the people smugglers who are exploiting migrants and charging them money to make an unnecessary and dangerous journey, often across the English channel from France, which is patently a safe country. No one needs to leave France to claim asylum. It could be quite easily and properly claimed in France.

Jamie Wallis Portrait Dr Jamie Wallis (Bridgend) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps her Department is taking to tackle violence against women and girls.

Delays in the Asylum System

Chris Philp Excerpts
Wednesday 7th July 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

Thank you, Mr Mundell. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship—I think for the first time, and I hope not for the last.

It is worth mentioning that I am appearing here today on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who is participating in an Opposition day debate at the moment. He has direct responsibility for the area that we are discussing this afternoon.

Let me start by adding my congratulations to the hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) on raising this important issue and on the thoughtful speech he gave in opening the debate.

Let me outline the steps that the United Kingdom has been taking and is taking to discharge our obligations to people who are in need of protection; they are obligations that we stand by and will not resile from. I first point to our resettlement programme, which the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referenced in his speech earlier. The programme has been going for some time, but it really took off in around 2015. Working with the UNHCR, we directly resettle into the United Kingdom people who are most directly in danger. The scheme is particularly focused on people in and around the Syria area, for obvious reasons. Over six years, a total of 25,000 people have been resettled directly into the United Kingdom from places of danger; 20,000 of them under the vulnerable persons resettlementj scheme, which focused particularly on Syria. That 25,000 is more than any other European country, which is something that the Government and we as a nation can be extremely proud of.

We also offer safe and legal routes via refugee family reunion, where people granted refugee status can bring in close family members and, in exceptional circumstances, wider family members. That scheme, over the past five or six years, has seen about 29,000 people come into the UK, about half of whom were children. We can also be proud of our record in that area.

Some comments were made earlier, particularly by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), asking whether we were playing our fair part. I have already pointed out that our resettlement programme is the largest of any European country. He also mentioned asylum numbers. In 2019, the last full year for which the European Union published data, the UK received 44,800 individual applications, according to the European Union’s website. Of the 28 countries covered, including the UK at that time, we came fifth. As far as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under 18 are concerned, in 2019 the UK’s intake was, from memory, 3,775—higher than any other country in Europe. Last year, 2020, only Greece had a higher UASC intake than we did. All of that shows that the UK is committed to meeting its obligations.

When it comes to supporting asylum seekers, referred to by a number of hon. Members, the provisions we make are more generous than many European countries. We provide accommodation and free health care. Council tax and utilities are paid for. There is free education for those under 18, and a cash allowance is paid in addition, which has been endorsed by the courts as adequate to cover essential costs. We are meeting our obligations. That system as a whole is extremely expensive, partly because of the backlog, which I will come to. It costs about £1 billion a year, so we are spending a huge amount of money supporting the asylum-seeking population. Those measures we are taking are more generous than most other European countries.

Hon. Members referred to the “New Plan for Immigration”, a policy statement published a few months ago, and the Nationality and Borders Bill, which was introduced yesterday. Second Reading will be shortly before the summer recess, so we will have the opportunity to debate that more fully in a few weeks’ time. I would like to make a couple of points regarding the policy statement and the Bill. The Bill is intended to be fair to those who are genuinely in need but firm where people are trying to abuse the system. By fair, we mean continuing to commit to that resettlement programme. We have already continued the resettlement programme beyond the 20,000 people I mentioned earlier. The VPRS 20,000 commitment was met in February of this year, a few months than expected because of coronavirus. We are still resettling people under the replacement UK resettlement scheme.

Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the figures that the Minister is quoting. What does he feel about the contribution the German Government made in accepting more than 1 million people from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq? How does he compare that to the UK figures?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

The German scheme was not a resettlement scheme. What Angela Merkel did briefly in 2015 was simply declare that their borders were open. About 1 million people irregularly just crossed into Germany, many of whom were not from Syria or Afghanistan. That was not a resettlement scheme; that was essentially mass illegal migration. With our resettlement scheme, which we do properly in partnership with the UNHCR, we go directly to dangerous places around Syria, although we plan to expand that in future. We identify people in need of protection and bring them to the UK from dangerous places such as Syria, or near Syria, rather than have them make dangerous, illegal journeys across Europe first. That is the right way to do it. We are committing to safe and legal routes and to being fair to people in genuine need via the Bill, but at the same time it is important that we are firm where people abuse the system.

There are problems with our legal system, to which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) referred. The legal system often gets protracted in the most extraordinary way when people make repeated claims often over a period of years, many of which turn out to be without merit, and yet they can do that repeatedly, which does not serve anybody’s interest. Partly as a result of that, there are now for the first time ever more than 10,000 foreign national offenders circulating in the community, which is an unacceptable situation that we intend to act on.

It is worth saying a word about illegal migration. When people come here from France—I am thinking about the small boats—that journey is unnecessary, because somebody coming from France is not directly fleeing a war zone. Calais, and France more generally, is not a dangerous place. They do not need to leave France to claim protection or asylum because France has a well-functioning asylum system, and so does Germany, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Italy and the other European countries that people have passed through. No one needs to cross the English channel in a rubber dinghy to claim asylum. They should claim it ideally in the first safe place that they arrive in, which would include France.

Such journeys are dangerous. People have died. A family of five, including an 18-month-old boy, died trying to cross the channel last October. There have been incidents where ruthless people smugglers who take money to facilitate illegal routes have threatened people with guns, including a family that was separated because the people smuggler they had paid to smuggle them into the country turned on them. We should all seek to shut down those routes. It is not humanitarian to have people smugglers paid to smuggle people across the channel. It is dangerous and unnecessary, and we should stop it. Routes into the country should be safe and legal, not dangerous and illegal, and that is the objective of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which I am sure we will debate at length in a few weeks’ time.

Specifically on delays in the asylum system, it is true to say that the delays are considerably higher now than they were a year ago. A great deal of that is due to the disruption caused to the asylum decision-making system by covid, which has obviously affected many areas of our life. It has affected us here in Parliament. We are still sitting here wearing masks and having remote proceedings. It has affected the NHS, our call system, all of our national life, and the asylum system has been affected in the same way.

For some months last year, asylum interviews stopped entirely because it was considered unsafe to have a face-to-face asylum interview. People who worked in asylum decision-making offices, including in my own borough of Croydon and elsewhere in Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds and other places, were not able to go into the office in the normal way to take asylum decisions and conduct interviews, and that has been enormously disruptive over, roughly speaking, the past year and three months, which means that the number of decisions taken in the past year has been dramatically lower, and we have not yet fully recovered.

We are still sitting here wearing masks, and the asylum decision-making process has not fully recovered either, which means the backlog and delays have built up. I agree with the points made by hon. Members that the delays are not what we want to see at all. For those whose claims will be granted, clearly we do not want to see them kept in limbo for protracted periods of time. If they are going to have their asylum claim granted, it is much better that it is done quickly so that they can move on with their lives. Equally, if the asylum claim is rejected, we should then look to move them to the country of origin quickly, because if someone’s claim is not genuine, it is only right and fair that they are removed. Whether it is accepted or rejected, we need faster decision making. That is a completely fair point.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister and the Government set targets for the reduction in numbers? If targets were set, we could see goals being achieved.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

That is an interesting point. We had a six-month operational guideline previously, but that was moved away from in order to try to focus resources on the cases that most need attention. For example, priority is given to cases involving children. Hon. Members have mentioned that some cases have been waiting a long time. We are now putting a particular focus on trying to resolve those long-standing cases, so a slightly more holistic view has been taken, but I will take away the hon. Gentleman’s point and mention the idea, which I know was offered in a constructive spirit, to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay.

Actions are being taken to address the issue that we have been discussing. First, we have been introducing remote interviewing by video link, like we are using now. We did not really have that at all about a year ago. It has now been introduced and its usage is more widespread. Indeed, for reasons of convenience for applicants and others, it is something that we may well continue with, even after the pandemic, I hope, subsides in the near future. That investment in remote interviewing technology has been made and is being rolled out.

Secondly, we are interviewing on sites outside the Home Office. We are trialling interviews in places such as the Napier barracks in Folkestone, as well as in the hotels where some people are accommodated, to try to speed things up a bit. We have also opened up additional registration centres where people can register their asylum claim, so there are now offices in Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, Leeds, Solihull and Cardiff, in addition to Croydon—it used to be that Lunar House in my borough was principally the place where people went before. Those places are now available, too, which was intended as a covid measure, but continues to this day.

We are also investing in better IT systems. We are trying to make the work rate of the caseworkers more efficient by, for example, shortening the letter to someone who is granted asylum. When someone is granted asylum, they are not going to argue with it, clearly, so rather than writing a great long letter, it has been shortened to make the whole process a little faster. There is some effort to prioritise cases in which we think a quick decision can be made. If particular indicators suggest that the case is likely to receive a positive response, we would like to do that. We are also introducing specialist caseworkers, such as specialists in a particular nationality. If people feel familiar with a particular country and its circumstances, that will facilitate quicker decision making.

My hon. Friend for Torbay intends to increase staffing levels, to which hon. Members have referred. About 550 people are currently engaged in making those casework decisions—550 full-time equivalents—and the objective is, over time, to get that up to 1,000, which is almost double. That investment in people should clearly have a dramatic effect on speeding things up. As someone said earlier in the debate, wherever someone sits on the immigration issue—we believe in proper border control, as well as fairness—it should not be difficult or contentious to say that it serves everybody’s interests to get those decisions made quickly, whether they end up being positive or negative.

I have outlined the steps that my hon. Friend is taking, and I am sure that all hon. Members present will hope and expect that the measures I have outlined will have the desired effect and that waiting times will come down. We are of course somewhat in the hands of the intake. We have had an extremely high intake in the last few weeks because of the dangerous, unnecessary, illegal English channel crossings, and if they continue in large numbers, that will add to the backlog. The intake is somewhat unpredictable—I mention that caveat for completeness. In the interests of giving the hon. Member for Stockport an opportunity to reply, I will conclude my remarks.

Sentencing Regime for 17-year-olds

Chris Philp Excerpts
Monday 5th July 2021

(11 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) for securing this evening’s Adjournment debate. Let me thank him also for the very moving and powerful speech that he has just made, paying very eloquent tribute to his constituent, Richard Day, who was so tragically killed just over a year ago. It was clear from my hon. Friend’s description what a loved character Richard Day was around Ipswich. It is fitting, as my hon. Friend said, that he is recalled so fondly in this Chamber in Parliament.

The case that my hon. Friend has described to the House obviously raises a number of issues, particularly touching on how children or people under the age of 18 get sentenced, the unduly lenient sentence scheme and various other issues that he mentioned. As he said, the way that people are sentenced under the age of 18 is different from the way that adults are sentenced, reflecting the fact that they are less mature when the offence is committed.

Despite that, however, there are a number of options that judges have available to them to make sure that, where appropriate for serious offences, there are a full range of options available that they can use at their discretion. For example, a section 250 sentence can be given for serious or grave offences. There are special sentences of detention for terrorist offenders of particular concern. People under 18 can get extended determinate sentences for serious sexual, violent or terrorist offences where the court considers them to be dangerous. They serve a longer sentence and serve at least two thirds of that in prison, and more if the parole board thinks it is not safe to release them. They can be given a discretionary life sentence where the offender poses a significant risk. And, of course, for murder there is a mandatory life sentence. Judges, in sentencing someone even under the age of 18, have all those options available under current law if they choose to use them.

We have gone further to protect the public against offenders of all kinds in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its Third Reading less than half an hour ago. That contains many measures to protect our constituents, for example ensuring that serious and dangerous offenders spend two thirds of their sentence in prison, not half—exactly as my hon. Friend called for in his speech. In fact, those provisions apply to offenders under the age of 18 as well, where they receive a standard determinate sentence of over seven years for a serious sexual violent offence, to make sure that they are kept off the streets for longer to protect the public and to make sure the sentence served in prison better reflects the sentence handed down by the court. I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome that. Of course, he voted for that just half an hour ago—at least I assume he voted for it half an hour ago.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

indicated assent.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is nodding. He did vote for it.

We have those measures to ensure that serious and violent offenders will spend longer in prison, both adults and, in those circumstances, those under 18. We are also making changes, which my hon. Friend touched on, to the sentences handed down for those under 18 for cases of murder. I know the case was manslaughter, which I will come to in a minute, but for murder, rather than having a standard 12-year starting point for children, we are now going to introduce a sliding scale in the Bill that has just passed Third Reading in the Commons. It will reflect the seriousness of the underlying offence. It will use, as a starting point, the sentence that an adult would have got for the same offence. It will vary, depending on the seriousness of the offence, but it will also have a sliding scale based on age. Instead of someone who was 17 when the offence was committed getting a significant discount, as happens at the moment, it will be only a 10% discount, which addresses some of the issues that my hon. Friend raised. It goes down to 66% of the adult sentence when people are aged 14 to 16, and then to 50% for the lower age ranges. That will ensure that people who are just under the age of 18 will have a longer sentence than is the case at the moment, so that is a very important change.

We are also, in the Bill, reducing the opportunities for people who committed murder as a child to have their minimum term reviewed—it will be less frequently once they cross the age of 18. All the measures that we in this House supported just half an hour ago will serve to stiffen sentences for people under the age of 18 who commit very serious offences, including murder, compared with the situation today. That is moving in the direction that my hon. Friend mentioned because our constituents want to see such very serious offences properly punished with longer custodial sentences and more of those sentences served in prison. That will protect the public and build public confidence in the system.

My hon. Friend asked some specific questions about this case. Obviously there is a limit to what I can say about individual cases. He asked about licence conditions following release. That is a matter for the Probation Service. I can see that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), is with us; he has ministerial responsibility for that area. I think we can ensure that this case is drawn to the attention of the Probation Service. The victim’s family will have the right to make representations to the Probation Service as it considers the conditions it might set. We can certainly ensure that the family have that opportunity in this case so that they can make their views known.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich asked about the possibility that the accused in this case—or, now, the person who has been convicted of this offence—may not have British nationality. He asked whether they might be subject to deportation proceedings if that is the case. Under section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007, anyone who receives a custodial sentence of more than a year is considered for deportation. Therefore if the defendant or accused—the convicted, in this case—is not a British national, because the sentence here was more than one year, they will be eligible for mandatory consideration. That will happen automatically, as a matter of routine, not because I am standing here saying that it will happen. Obviously, we can ensure that that is not overlooked administratively, although I am sure that it will not be in any event.

My hon. Friend correctly observed that this new sliding scale, which we legislated for just half an hour ago, applies to murder but does not apply to manslaughter. He asked whether it is equitable that the sliding scale applies to one offence but not the other. It is an interesting point, although not one that I had considered prior to him raising it just now. I will therefore take that point away and consider whether the sliding scale that we have legislated for regarding murder should also apply to manslaughter. After having looked at it and thought about whether there are any legal or other considerations to take into account, I will get back to my hon. Friend. On the face of it, the point is worthy of proper thought, so I will take it away and look at it properly.

I again thank my hon. Friend for raising this extremely serious case. I extend my condolences to Richard Day’s family. He was taken from them so suddenly and so brutally, and it is fitting that he has received the tribute that he has tonight from his own constituency MP.

This Government are committed to ensuring that serious offenders spend longer in prison. We have been legislating today to ensure that more of the sentence is spent in prison. I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said and there are some points to take away. This Government stand on the side of victims. We stand on the side of those who have suffered as a result of crime. Our commitment is being enshrined in legislation this very day, but where we need to go further, we most certainly will.

Question put and agreed to.

Draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021

Chris Philp Excerpts
Monday 28th June 2021

(1 year ago)

General Committees
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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Before we begin, I remind Members to observe 1 metre-plus social distancing and to sit only in places that are clearly marked. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Committee. Hansard will be most grateful if Members send their speaking notes by email to hansardnotes@parliament.uk.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That the Cttee has considered the draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, for the first time, I think, but hopefully not the last. I will be brief as this is a relatively technical matter.

The draft order was laid in May in exercise of powers conferred by section 141 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. A previous instrument, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) Order 2021, which was debated and passed by both Houses a few months ago, unfortunately contained a couple of technical errors, which the draft order corrects.

The UK operates border controls at certain locations outside the UK. These so-called juxtaposed controls are operated at channel tunnel control points on the other side of the channel, and at the seaports of Calais and Dunkirk. The order passed a couple of months ago made the powers exercisable by Border Force officers at the Calais and Dunkirk seaports the same as the powers exercisable by Border Force officers at the channel tunnel juxtaposed control points. It was a very reasonable order, which is why both Houses passed it, but unfortunately a couple of technical errors in its drafting have come to light. First, the provisions were made as a free-standing provisions, when in fact they should be inserted into the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2003. Secondly, there were two erroneous paragraph numbers in the order we passed a few months ago, which we need to change so that the references make sense.

I trust that this set of drafting changes is relatively uncontentious. We debated the substance of the draft order a couple of months ago. On that basis, I commend the draft order to the Committee.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

The debate can last until 6 pm. I call the shadow Minister.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank the shadow Minister for both his support and his brevity.

Question put and agreed to.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Nineteeth sitting)

Chris Philp Excerpts
Thursday 24th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is, of course, correct: technology is moving so quickly, and so many different things happen in so many different ways. People can even get pictures on their watches these days and talk to their family back home. The fact that that sort of technology exists can be exploited for all the wrong reasons as well. It is important that we act in this space.

During Justice questions last month, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) raised the case of Phillip Leece to illustrate just how horrific a crime this can be. For members of the Committee who may not have heard the question asked by the shadow Secretary of State for Justice in the Chamber, I will quote what he said:

“In 2019…Leece viciously raped a woman on her way home from a night out; she was 26 and soon to be married. Adding insult to injury, he published the name of his victim online”

and made disparaging remarks about her appearance, claiming that she was

“too fat and disgusting to rape.”—[Official Report, 18 May 2021; Vol. 695, c. 522.]

For naming and humiliating his victim online, he received a pathetic and insulting fine of only £120. That in no way reflects the enormous trauma that his action caused the young girl he raped.

During Leece’s trial, his victim read out her impact statement to the court and spoke of the devastating impact that the attack and her subsequent naming had on her. She was once a happy young woman looking forward to getting married, but those events caused her to suffer severe psychological harm, which led to suicide attempts and incidents of self-harm. In her own words, she explained how her naming online changed the way she lived:

“The post made me feel incredibly insecure and sad for the days and weeks afterwards.

It increased my anxiety about leaving the house and it got to the point that I wouldn’t even go into the back garden whilst letting the dog out. I imagined that he would know where I lived and would be able to find me.

The post also led to me eating more and gaining even more weight…with the thought that the bigger I am, the less likely this will happen to me again.”

I am sure that all members of the Committee, regardless of political affiliation, will share my view that a fine in no way reflects the severity of Leece’s actions. I appreciate the Lord Chancellor’s sharing this view. In response to the shadow Justice Secretary’s question about Leece, the Lord Chancellor indicated that he was going to act in this area. Specifically, he said that the Government were

“already making preparations to see what can be done to improve and strengthen the law in this area, because, make no mistake, the naming of victims of sexual abuse—and other types of offending as well where anonymity is an essential part of the process—is not just wrong, it is criminal and we will do whatever it takes to help stamp it out.”—[Official Report, 18 May 2021; Vol. 695, c. 523.]

That view is shared wholeheartedly by the Opposition, and that is why we tabled new clause 31. It is another of those small but significant steps that we are asking the Government to take now, rather than waiting. It is clear to us that the current provisions of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 are simply no longer fit for purpose in the modern world. It is perhaps telling that the last time Parliament reviewed that Act was more than two decades ago, in 1999. I am sure that all of us would accept that since 1999 the world has changed a great deal—that was illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham. Online publishing and social media mean that things written on the internet attract an audience far greater than they would have in 1999. Furthermore, things published on the internet have much greater longevity and potential exposure. For those reasons, we need an urgent review of how the Act is functioning.

New clause 31 is a simple amendment: it would give judges the power to sentence offenders who name complainants of sexual offences to a custodial sentence of up to two years. That would bring this sentence in line with the sentence for contempt of court. Given that the Lord Chancellor has previously expressed sympathy for reforming this area, we look forward to the Minister’s support for the new clause.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe.

I thank the shadow Minister for raising this extremely important issue. The case he mentioned of Phillip Leece and his victim was truly terrible, and the impact on the victim was clearly appalling. As the shadow Minister said, the Lord Chancellor, in answering an oral question a short while ago, expressed the Government’s support for the principles enshrined in the new clause. We think that more needs to be done—we agree with the shadow Minister on that.

However, we would like to make sure that we do this in a thoughtful way, covering all the potentially related offences. The new clause, as drafted, covers the particular offences under the auspices of the 1992 Act. We take the view that some other prohibitions on naming victims and other restrictions would benefit from similarly enhanced penalties. Specifically, the new clause would not cover anonymity for victims of female genital mutilation, nor victims of forced marriage, who we think are equally deserving of protection and support, as I am sure Opposition Members would agree. In addition, other automatic protections apply to participants in youth court proceedings—defendants as well as victims—and discretionary protections can be imposed or handed down by the court to protect the identity of witnesses.

Besides the cases covered by the new clause, there are these other examples—female genital mutilation, forced marriage, youth proceedings and witness protection—that require action. This is an area, as the Lord Chancellor signalled, where the Government want to act in the near future by coming up with proposals that cover all these things. I know there is frustration: we have a Bill before Parliament, so why not do something now? However, other Bills are coming forward in the remainder of this Session that could be used as vehicles to legislate on this. It may be that the Lord Chancellor will say more about that before Report, because it is being worked on actively at the moment.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Minister giving a commitment that this particular offence will be covered by some form of legislation from the Government in this Session?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I am coming close to saying that. I am saying that this is something that the Government are currently looking at. The Government accept the need to act on this, as the Lord Chancellor said, and on those other offences as well. I do not want to say too much before we are in a position to do so properly, but there are intentions to put in place a process to properly review these offences, on an expedited basis, with the intention of legislation then following. That is where the Government are coming from on this. I hope that it will be possible to say more on Report.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that he is probably coming as close as he can—within his pay grade—to making that commitment?

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I thank my right hon. Friend for reminding the Committee and me exactly where I sit in the hierarchy of Government. As a former senior Minister himself, he will know that my authority is limited in these circumstances, and indeed in all circumstances. I hope I have given a pretty clear indication, so far as I am able to, of where the Government will come out on this. We essentially accept the point, but change needs to be done properly, and we need to catch the other offences as well. I hope that gives the Committee a clear sense of where we are on this.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not know what my pay grade is. I do not think I get paid, do I? The Minister talked about the principle of all this, but we get to a point where we have to leave principles behind and take some action. I assure him that I am also approaching the matter in a thoughtful way, with the support of my hon. Friends and of victims. We would not have tabled the new clause if we did not feel so very strongly about it.

I know that in other places, deals around legislation are normally done in tight little groups behind closed doors, but I am prepared to make a deal with the Minister here and now, in public. My deal is this: support our new clause today, and I will deal with the things that he says it excludes by introducing a further amendment on Report. Indeed, if he wants to table amendments at that stage, I will make sure the Opposition support him.
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I appreciate the shadow Minister’s point, but the truth is we will not have had the chance to deal properly with all the other offences by Report, which is in just a week and a half, on 5 July. I wish I could, as he puts it, strike a deal, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby rather cruelly pointed out, I do not have the authority to commit the Government here. I hope I have given a very clear indication of our intention. We will not get all these details worked out in the next week and a half, but we will get this sorted out together.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry to make the Minister uncomfortable about his pay grade, but we need to move forward with this and there is an opportunity to do so. The Minister says that it is only a week and a half until Report, but this new clause has been on the amendment paper for many weeks, and we have been planning for this Committee for many months. I think there has been sufficient time for the Government to do the right thing here, and I intend to push the matter to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Twentieth sitting)

Chris Philp Excerpts
Thursday 24th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Given all the debates that have already taken place on this subject, I hope that it would be hard for the Government not to accept the new clauses. Workers deserve dignity and respect at work. We are ready to work with the Government to improve this legislation, to protect our key workers and ensure that the system can deliver them the justice they deserve.
Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

I thank the shadow Minister, my constituency neighbour, for introducing these new clauses. I join her in paying tribute to the retail workers and others who have kept our country going over the past 12 to 18 months, often in difficult circumstances. I know that we are all very grateful for what they and others have done. I have a great deal of sympathy for retail workers. My first regular paid job was in Sainsbury’s at West Wickham, which the shadow Minister will know is a short distance from the boundary of her constituency.

We take the issue seriously and, as the shadow Minister said, we had a Westminster Hall debate on this topic three or four weeks ago, when a number of Members described various forms of abuse and assault that their constituents had suffered. Most of the assaults given as examples would have been charged not as common assault with a maximum sentence of six months, but as a more serious form of assault—for example, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, which carries a maximum sentence not of a year, as per the new clause, but of five years. Indeed, in more serious cases involving knives and so on where people are convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent to commit grievous bodily harm, the maximum sentence is not a year, as per the new clause, but life.

There are a number of criminal offences on the statute book that cater for the serious offences described graphically in that Westminster Hall debate. In such cases, a charge should be laid and a higher sentence—higher even than that contemplated by the new clause—could and should be given.

There is also the question of whether current law adequately recognises retail workers and other public workers when a sentence is being passed. The law already recognises that such people are to be treated somewhat differently if the victim is, for example, working in a shop, and the sentencing guidelines, which the shadow Minister mentioned and which were updated a few weeks ago, make it clear that if there are aggravating factors the sentence passed will be longer than it otherwise would be. The fourth aggravating factor on the list is an

“offence committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public”.

That would obviously include retail workers, transport workers and others.

Not only do we have offences on the statute book already—many of which have much longer maximum sentences than the maximum called for by the new clause, such as five years for actual bodily harm—but the fact that the victim was providing a service to the public already represents an aggravating factor that leads to a longer sentence.

On particular things that have happened during covid, the case of Belly Mujinga, which the shadow Minister mentioned, occurred at Victoria station. I think Belly Mujinga worked for Southern Railway, which is the company that serves our two constituencies. The new Sentencing Council guidelines published a few weeks ago incorporated some revisions, which I think help. There is a new aggravating factor of deliberate spitting or coughing. A new factor—

“Intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission”—

increases culpability, which increases the sentence.

Therefore, if that person’s action—this would apply to a case such as that of Belly Mujinga—included such an intention, that is taken to increase the culpability of the offender. Those changes were made to the sentencing guidelines a few weeks ago, so we have offences on the statute book with long maximums such as five years, or life for GBH with intent. We have aggravating factors that apply in respect of retail workers, and indeed other people serving the public. We have new sentencing guidelines, which speak to things such as spitting and causing fear of serious harm in relation to transmissible diseases.

Is there a problem? Yes, there is, but I do not think that it is with the sentences; it is with the reporting and the prosecutions. Shockingly, in a survey prepared for the Home Affairs Committee that I think the shadow Minister has seen—I referred to it in our Westminster Hall debate—of the 8,742 shop workers responding who had been victims of this sort of crime, only 53% reported the offence to the police. Half the victims did not even report it, so we need to do a lot more to make sure that victims report this crime.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is making the arguments that I thought he would. They are perfectly reasonable, but I come back to him on the point that one of the problems is the tiny proportion of prosecutions and another is the huge increase in assaults against all these groups of people. He makes the point that a lot of people do not report these crimes, but Parliament and the Government could send a strong message, as the Government did with war memorials: they said that they were not necessarily expecting lots of prosecutions, but they wanted to send a strong message to the public about the importance of memorials.

For Parliament to send a strong message would be a really powerful way of encouraging shop workers to report these crimes. Although sentencing guidance is important, I do not think that the public know about it or would be able to tell us that it was changed a few weeks ago, whereas making it clear that this is something we want to set out in law would send a message to all those people who do not report these crimes. It might help.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I think the sentencing guidelines are important. Addressing coughing, spitting and causing fear of infectious disease transmission is important, as is the recognition that public sector workers and people providing a service to the public get in the sentencing guidelines. The shadow Minister says that they are not important; I think they are, because they are what the judge looks at, day in, day out, when deciding what sentence to hand down.

When it comes to getting more incidents reported, investigated and then prosecuted, we first need to look at why people are not reporting them. Again, the survey sheds light—3,444 people replied to this question. The top reason for not reporting the offence, cited by more than a third of respondents, was

“I did not believe the employer would do anything about it”.

Shockingly, the second was

“I believed it was just part of the job”,

which of course it is not; the third was

“I considered the incident too minor”;

and the fourth was

“I did not believe the police would do anything about it”.

Clearly there is a perception issue around this crime that we need to sort out. The Minister for Crime and Policing is leading a taskforce designed, first, to get employers to better support their employees when it happens. Although 87% of people—almost all—tell their employer, only 53% report it to the police. I infer by subtracting one number from the other that in 34% of cases, employers who know about the crime are not supporting their employees to report it to the police. Employers need to do more. To be honest, I think that the police will be doing more in this area as well, guided and encouraged by the taskforce that the Minister for Crime and Policing is running. We have the laws and we have the aggravating factors, but we need more reporting and more investigation, and there is a taskforce dedicated to doing that.

Let me make a couple of specific comments on new clause 45—the retail worker clause—and new clause 46, which would add health and social care workers and transport workers, who of course are very important but are also protected under the Sentencing Council guidelines because they are both in the public sector and providing a service to the public. Even taken together, the two new clauses arguably have some omissions. For example, teachers—who I would say deserve no less protection than the other groups—are not mentioned at all; nor are people who serve their communities doing refuse collection or work in parks. All kinds of other workers who serve the public or work in the public sector, and who are equally deserving of protection, are not mentioned in the new clauses, but all those people are rightly covered by the Sentencing Council guidelines.

There is more work to do, which the taskforce is doing. We need retail employers to support their staff much more, and we need the taskforce to do its work of increasing reporting and prosecutions, but the offences are on the statute book already, with maximum sentences of five years —or even life, for GBH with intent. The aggravating factors are there, so let us get these crimes reported and get them prosecuted. That is how we will protect retail workers.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Stroud for moving the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling. The hon. Member for Stroud has done the legal bit, and I am going to do the emotional, child abuse bit.

I think all hon. Members know who Tony is, because he is on BBC Breakfast a lot. He is a little lad. I do not know how old he is now—probably about eight. His legs are amputated, but he has been doing a walk around his local park every day to raise money for the NHS. I did not realise until very recently that he was the Tony this law is named after. It was only when I saw him and his adoptive parents on BBC Breakfast making the argument for this that I thought, “This is an obvious legal change that clearly needs to be made.”

Under current law, 10 years is the maximum sentence that judges can impose when someone has been convicted of child cruelty, causing harm or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm. It is just madness! Someone who is guilty of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm to an adult can face a life sentence in the most severe cases, so I do not know why this cap of 10 years is in place. Surely, for offences that result in severe physical harm to children and lifelong harm, which will be much longer than lifelong harm to an adult, courts ought to be able to impose the sentence that they think is most fitting.

The proposed change to the law follows the tireless campaigning by the adoptive parents of Tony Hudgell. As the hon. Lady said about the injuries inflicted on Tony, it is truly unimaginable that someone could consciously do that. A change in the law would give the judges the discretion they need to pass longer sentences, including in the most horrific cases such as Tony’s. We are thankfully talking about a relatively small number of cases. In the past five years, there were an average of 68 child deaths a year caused by assault or undetermined intent. Child homicides are most commonly caused by a parent or step-parent. Children under the age of one are the most likely group to be killed by another person.

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children analysis of police data from across the UK shows that there were 23,529 child cruelty or neglect offences recorded by the police in 2019-20. Although there are significant variations among regions and nations, it is extremely concerning that the police-recorded child cruelty and neglect offences have risen by 53% in the past three years. I am perversely curious to see the data that comes out of this past year, because anecdotally I understand, from my police force and from what we are reading, that the levels of child abuse have escalated under lockdown. That should not come as a surprise, but it is deeply chilling to all of us.



The latest ONS figures available for England and Wales are from 2018: 500 offenders were sentenced for offences of cruelty and neglect of a child; 114 of those offenders received an intermediate custodial sentence; and 220 received a suspended sentence.

Over the past year, the NSPCC has seen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on physical abuse, as I mentioned. Calls to its helpline surged through the pandemic to record numbers. Tony’s case represents the most severe form of physical abuse. However, while extreme, it is not an isolated example. There have been a number of court cases and serious case reviews containing disturbing details of how children have been severely physically abused, often over a prolonged period. Alongside that, it is important that we see wider changes, including greater public awareness, so that adults can spot the signs of abuse and reach out if they have concerns about a child, and additional resources for local authorities, so that early intervention services and children’s social care can respond effectively when they think a child is at risk.

Cuts to funding and the rising demand for support has meant that local authorities are allocating greater proportions of their spending to late intervention services, while investment in early intervention is in many cases just not there. Early intervention is my personal crusade because, surely, prevention at the earliest possible time is what we all ought to strive for. We need to see a child-focused justice system that does not exacerbate the trauma that young victims and witnesses have already experienced. Positive experience of the justice system can help them move forward, but negative experience can be damaging and, for some children, retraumatising.

We need increased capacity and investment in the criminal justice system, so that policy and procedures may progress cases efficiently and delays may be reduced. Children need to have access to specialist assistance measures in court, such as assistance from a registered intermediary who can support a young victim or witness in giving evidence. Therapeutic support for children who have been experiencing abuse and neglect needs to be universal and easily accessible. That is vital to enable children to process the trauma that they have experienced, to begin to heal and to move forward.

I understand and know that the ability to impose a stronger sentence is not the panacea, but it is really important that at the very least, child abuse is on a parity with adult abuse in terms of sentencing. I hope that the Ministers will support the new clause and, by doing so, show their dedication to tackling child abuse and to proportionate sentencing for that horrendous crime.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

The case of Tony Hudgell is truly heart-breaking. The abuse that he suffered at the hands of his birth parents is shocking beyond expression. In fact, I met his adopted mother, Paula, only a few months ago. We discussed the case and what happened at some length. It is something that I have become personally acquainted with not so long ago.

It is worth making it clear that where it is possible to prove who specifically inflicted the abuse, these offences do not need to be charged and instead the more usual offences can be charged, such as grievous bodily harm with intent, which carries a maximum sentence of life. The problem that arises in cases like Tony Hudgell’s is where it is not possible to prove specifically who it was who carried out the offence. He had two birth parents and it could have been either of them.

As I understand it from that case, there was no way that the court, the prosecution or the police could prove which of the two birth parents it was. That means they could not be charged with the regular offence—such as GBH with intent—that would have carried a life sentence. Instead, therefore, they fell back on the other offence, which we are debating now: causing or allowing, in which it cannot be proved that someone actually did it, but we can say they allowed it. If people cause or allow the death of a child or vulnerable adult, the maximum penalty is 14 years or, in the case of causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child or vulnerable person, a maximum of 10 years. That was the offence charged in the Hudgell case.

I have been informed that we have conducted a review of charges under the clause, and my understanding is that the only instance where the judge went all the way up to the maximum of 10 years was in that case. It is clear from the sentencing remarks that the judge would have gone further, but I think it is the only case where the judge has gone to the maximum.

Even though the case is the only one, it is so appalling, and I have discussed it with the Lord Chancellor, who will look at it again. It is a delicate area of law to pick through because it cannot be proved that it was the particular person who has been convicted—it could have been one of two—and it therefore requires a bit of thought.

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Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
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You are only the Minister.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am not Lord Chancellor, though.

We might separate the “cause” part from the “allow” part because “cause” and “allow” are somewhat different.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
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If we separated “cause” and “allow”, would we not be in the same position of not being able to prove which of the parents did the deed?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The “allow” part could conceivably apply to both where there are two parents. It can probably be established that they must have been aware of the abuse because they must have noticed the kind of abuse we are talking about, but it cannot necessarily be proved that they did it or even that they caused it. Currently, it is “cause or allow” in the same offence, with the same maximum penalty. One could make a case that the “cause” bit is more serious than the “allow” bit, so they might have different maximum sentences. I have a commitment from the Lord Chancellor that I can relay to the Committee.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
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I am going to be pedantic now, but if the offences are separated yet the cause cannot be proved, the charge will have to be on the “allow” bit, which is the lower level of offence.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Yes. We could have different maximum penalties for each of those, and even the lower one could be higher than the current penalty, so we could still make progress from where we are today.

I have a commitment from the Lord Chancellor that he will look at this in broadly the way that I described, also looking at the 1933 Act.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I am listening intently to the Minister. Is it his assumption that the Lord Chancellor will look at this before Report?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Honestly, I would not have thought so. That is only a week and a half away, but I will pass that representation on. I know hon. Members want to hear at an early stage, such as Report.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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It is only so that we do not lose the legislative opportunity.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I understand. I will convey the hon. Lady’s point. As I have said two or three times previously, there are several other Bills in this Session that might be suitable for reform. This is not a “one chance and it is gone” situation. My main purpose in speaking today was, first, to pay tribute to Tony’s adoptive parents and to Tony for his bravery, having suffered such appalling abuse, but also to tell the Committee that the Lord Chancellor is actively and seriously considering this important area.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie
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We will follow the matter through, but in view of the Minister’s comments and the Lord Chancellor’s commitment, I shall not press this to a vote today. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am conscious of time, so I will try to respond concisely. On new clause 67, when the offender has crossed a significant age threshold such as the age of 18 between committing the offence and being convicted and sentenced, the sentencing guidelines already say that the sentence that should be adopted as a starting point is that which would have applied at the time of the offence—that is to say, when the offender was younger.

Courts already have a duty under section 59 of the Sentencing Act 2020 to have regard to sentencing guidelines in those cases unless that would be clearly contrary to the interests of justice. The new clause would not make any material difference to the way the system operates because of the sentencing guidelines currently in force.

On the more general points about maturity and how people take until the age of 25 to mature, as the shadow Minister said, we have debated the issue many times—in particular, almost exactly a year ago during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021. Pre-sentencing reports, which are prepared, take into account, and judges then take into account on sentencing, the maturity of the defendant when they are being sentenced.

The shadow Minister made some points about court backlogs, which I am going to address only briefly. Obviously, court backlogs have developed as a consequence of coronavirus, which is the case across the world. Huge extra resources—more than half a billion pounds—have been put into reducing those outstanding case loads, which in the magistrates court are falling consistently, as they have been for quite some time. Of the excess case load caused by coronavirus, about half has been eliminated already. Every week that goes by, the outstanding case load drops by—the last time I checked—about 2,000 cases.

On the Crown court, we have nightingale courts. There are no limitations on sitting days, and I believe the corner has been turned. Looking forward to a time when social distancing is eased in the very near future, I expect the courts will be running even more cases.

As the shadow Minister generously recognised, the Bill significantly reduces rehabilitation periods for children and for adults, which I think we welcome across the Committee. On the starting point, or the rehabilitation point, the regime that applies is calculated from the point of conviction, rather than the point of offence.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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Regardless of the duty on the court to which the Minister refers, it remains a fact that children are receiving sentences under the adult regime. There is no two ways about that. What concerns me most is the rehabilitation period. A child who commits an offence as a 17-year-old who does not appear in court until he is 18 can end up with a rehabilitation period of four years, which takes him to his early 20s. All that time, if he is applying for a job or with respect to other activities, he must declare that. That is a real concern for me.

I am not going to push the new clauses to the vote at this time, but the Government need to do much more thinking in this area and start treating children as children. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 69

Poaching of game

“(1) The Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 2(1), after “committing” insert “or has committed”.

(3) In section 4(1)—

(a) after “section thirty” insert “or section thirty two”, and

(b) at end insert “or any animal, vehicle, or other article belonging to him, or in his possession or under his control at the relevant time.”

(4) In section 4(2), after “gun” in lines 2 and 4 insert “, animal,”.

(5) In section 4, at end insert—

“(6) The court by or before which a person is convicted of an offence under either the Night Poaching Act 1828 or the Game Act 1831 may order the offender to reimburse any expenses incurred by the police in connection with the keeping of any animal seized in connection with the offence.”

(6) In section 4A(1)—

(a) in line 1, after “under” insert “section one or section 9 of the Night Poaching Act 1828 or”,

(b) after “thirty” insert “or section thirty two”, and

(c) omit “as one of five or more persons liable under that section.””.—(Mr Goodwill.)

This new clause is intended to broaden the powers available to the police and the courts for dealing with illegal hare coursers, measures include providing for forfeiture of animals on conviction and permitting the recovery of expenses incurred by the police in housing a seized animal.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am grateful to the shadow Minister for raising this issue. The Government do support the principle behind the amendment. New parents, including those breastfeeding or women who are pregnant, should be able to serve on a jury at a time that is suitable for them. As the shadow Minister has said, we are aware of some of these cases that we have corresponded about in recent months and, as a consequence, have already updated the guidance that Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service uses to ask that a more accommodating and sympathetic approach is taken to somebody who responds to a jury summons by saying that they are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have very significant caring responsibilities in the way that he has described. Where that happens, a deferral is always considered in the first instance.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the application process. Clearly, the summoning bureau will not necessarily know who is pregnant or who is looking after a child, so it is inevitable that there will always be some kind of application process; that cannot be avoided. The thing is that it is done in a way that is sympathetic. As I have said, that guidance has been changed already. We have also updated www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk  to make it clear that these are all legitimate reasons for requesting a deferral. I hope that a combination of that publicity on www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk and the work on updating the internal guidance in response to some of the cases that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have raised addresses the underlying issue. We still think that a case-by-case consideration is appropriate rather than a blanket provision such as this, which perhaps does not capture all of the circumstances that may arise. Allowing discretion to continue is the best way of handling this, but the sentiment—the direction of travel—is exactly the same as that of the hon. Gentleman.

There are, in the way in which this new clause is drafted, some idiosyncrasies. For example, on a technical point, the hon. Gentleman refers to parental leave, but there are other forms of leave that do not count as parental leave. Maternity leave and adoption leave, for example, are considered as a different form of leave. I am sure that this was inadvertent, but, as drafted, some of those groups that one would wish to include have been unfortunately omitted. We are on the same page as the Opposition on this, but the change in the guidance and the publications on www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk'>www.gov.uk  address the issues that have been raised.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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The Minister had an over-complicated response to what I thought was a relatively simple and straightforward matter. He talked about supporting the principle and he talked about sentiment. Surely, we could save the time, expense and, of course, the anguish around this process. Of course, there will have to be some communication between the person called for jury service and the court, but that could be very simple: “Dear court usher, or whoever you are, I am currently pregnant, or currently breastfeeding, please may I have the exception that is granted under Labour’s excellent amendment to this particular Bill.” It is very straightforward, and I cannot understand for the life of me why the Government cannot just say that if somebody in such a situation does not want to do jury service, they should not have to do it. For that reason, I shall press the matter to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

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I thank Dr Imogen Jones of Leeds University, a specialist in this area of law, for her help in drafting the new clauses. I will end by paying tribute to Marie McCourt, who has continued to highlight these issues following her success in changing the law in March 2020. It would surely be a fitting testament to her tireless campaigning to see these new clauses passed into law, and it would also serve as a legacy to daughter’s name.
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank the shadow Minister for his speech and for introducing this new clause so eloquently. He mentioned the tragic case of Helen McCourt, which I am sure is on our minds as we debate this new clause. Along with the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), I have met her mother Marie McCourt, who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue for many years, which led ultimately to the passage, as the shadow Minister said, of Helen’s law a few months ago. It was a privilege to take it through the House of Commons as the Bill Minister.

The Government once again are very sympathetic to the sentiments and the intention behind these new clauses, and I would like to look briefly at new clauses 83 and 84, which combined seek to repeal and replace two common law offences, as the shadow Minister has said. New clause 83 would repeal the common law offence of obstructing a coroner, replacing it with a statutory offence, while new clause 84 seeks to repeal the common law offence of preventing lawful burial.

It is worth just saying that, as with many common law offences, they are quite wide-ranging measures in their scope and cover potentially quite a wide range of behaviour. One of the risks we run when we seek to codify the common law—as we sometimes, or indeed often, do—is that we may inadvertently narrow the scope of the existing common law provisions. Of course, we will also be reducing the maximum sentence, because as common law offences these offences currently have a maximum sentence of life whereas by creating a statutory offence, as these new clauses seek to do, there would be a specified much lower maximum sentence.

It is worth saying that the common law—as, too, the non-common law—does cover the question of concealing a body in various ways. In circumstances where an offender is responsible for a homicide, the fact that they concealed or mutilated the body is already taken, not as a point of common law but as a point of sentencing guidelines, as a clear aggravating factor at sentencing. Therefore, on conviction the sentence will be increased, reflecting the fact that the sort of behaviour the shadow Minister has described has occurred. Where the concealment of a body is part of a course of action that includes the killing, the sentence for murder would again include that as an aggravating factor in deciding the starting point for the sentence. If we have a separate offence, the danger, of course, is that the offences may be served concurrently, so we may not have someone in prison for any longer, whereas if it is an aggravating factor for the main offence, we may well get a longer sentence. We need to be mindful of those technical reasons that might inadvertently have the opposite effect to that intended.

It is also the case, of course, that once someone is convicted of an offence of this kind—this includes refusing to disclose the location of the body—we have legislated via Helen’s law, as the shadow Minister said, that the Parole Board is now obliged as a question of statute to consider the non-disclosure of the whereabouts of the body when making release decisions. That was previously in parole guidelines but is now statutory, which also sends a message to the Parole Board about how strongly Parliament feels about this. Non-disclosure could also lead to a later release point. All those points are important to bear in mind.

On new clause 84, which seeks to deal with the desecration of a body, the meaning of acting with severe disrespect to a corpse could, under the new clause as drafted, include several circumstances such as mutilation, hiding or concealment, unlawful burial or cremation, or otherwise preventing the lawful burial of a body. It could also mean taking photographs of bodies where it is inappropriate or unnecessary to do so. The Government completely understand the thinking behind the new clause, because, of course, the bodies of those who have passed away should be treated with dignity and respect.

A number of existing criminal offences can already be used, such as preventing lawful burial and decent burial, as well as perverting the course of justice if the activities are designed to prevent justice from being done. Those are common law offences with a maximum penalty of life, as I said. There are also statutory offences such as disposing of a child’s body to conceal a pregnancy or burning a body other than in a crematorium, as well as offences that can apply in some circumstances, such as misconduct in public office if such a person—that could even include a police officer—is in public office.

The desecration of a body is likely to be connected to another offence. Therefore, as with the previous new clause, an act of desecration is likely to be an aggravating factor in sentencing the other offence, which might be murder or manslaughter, resulting in a more severe penalty. Again, we come to the question of concurrency: if a separate offence is created, the two sentences might run concurrently, whereas if instead the act aggravates the main offence, there may be a longer sentence. Those points are worth making.

The intention of the new clauses may be to ensure that people who commit such acts would spend longer in prison, and we obviously sympathise with that, but it is possible that, for the reasons I have mentioned, they would not achieve that effect. Such matters can be reflected either through the existing common law offence or as an aggravation to the principal offence. We now have Helen’s law regulating release from custody where that happens.

The Government recognise the campaigning done by Marie McCourt, and I know that the Lord Chancellor has met her as well as the hon. Member for St Helens North. The Lord Chancellor has met her a number of times and I have met her as well. We want to continue discussing these issues with Marie and her family and to think about whether there is anything else we can do to ensure that the awful circumstances we are discussing are fully reflected beyond even what I have already described. We are receptive to ideas in this area and are happy to talk about them and think about what else can be done, but, for the reasons about the precise way in which the new clauses are crafted, we do not think they would take the law as it stands any further forward. However, we are happy to work with Marie, the hon. Member for St Helens North, shadow Ministers and others to see if there are other things that we can do.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous
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On the basis of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.