HM Passport Office Backlogs

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 27th April 2022

(4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The failings of private contractors suggest that privatisation is not a solution to passport office backlogs, so will the Minister do two things? First, can he confirm that private contractors have penalty clauses in their contracts, and if so, have they been actioned? Secondly, will he update the advice on the Government website, which says that someone will normally get their passport within five weeks? Not one Member of the House can confidently tell their constituents that, so will he update the Government website to reflect today’s reality?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I have already spoken about the involvement of private companies, the exception being the decision that is made, for pretty obvious reasons, by directly employed Home Office staff. In terms of the performance of contractors, there are clauses in particular contracts—certainly, as I say, those for Teleperformance. We do not believe that its performance at the moment is at all acceptable, and that has been made very clear.

We are looking at the information that we give, because there is a balance between telling people the time it roughly takes—for example, saying that 90% of applications were dealt with within six weeks between January and March—and being clear that the standard time to allow is 10 weeks. If there is a particular point on the website that does not make that clear, I will be happy to review it.

Ukraine

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 1st March 2022

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. May I take the opportunity to thank him for all his work, because he was a great support to me while he was the Home Office Whip, and he fully understands the work the Government have been doing. There is a very important point here, which I have touched on already: we need the capacity in the infrastructure. We are a big-hearted nation, and with that we of course need the provision and the accommodation. This is where it is in effect a nationwide effort, with local authorities across the country, the NHS and education coming together to provide the services that people need.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I am assuming from the Secretary of State’s statement that a constituent’s elderly mother, who previously visited on a tourist visa, now expired, would be considered for the Ukrainian family scheme. Could the Secretary of State also clarify whether individuals who have in the past had a successful visa application and are well known to the Home Office will have their applications fast-tracked as a result of applying for the Ukraine family scheme?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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We will have to look at the individuals coming forward, because not everybody who has previously had a visa may want to come, but the family scheme will capture a considerable number of family members. Obviously, those who have been here before will be eligible to come within the family route, and we will make sure that that works.

Asylum Seeker Accommodation: RAF Manston

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 15th December 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. Of course, as is standard practice, budgets are agreed formally with the Treasury in the usual way. I think it is fair to say that, as Ministers, our door is always open to talk to colleagues about concerns they have about particular circumstances in their own constituencies. I think it is fair to say we are facing very considerable pressures at the moment in this space and it is important that all parts of the country do their bit to help to address some of these challenges. I would encourage local authorities that are not currently assisting with that work to look at how they can help, particularly along the lines of the dispersal model. But to be clear to the House, we want to get away from this reliance on hotel accommodation. We are working towards that objective and that is the right approach.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) on securing this urgent question. His point about the lack of consultation with himself, the local authority and health services is frankly appalling. I want to ask the Minister a number of questions. A cross-party report on the all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention called on the Government to end this military-style accommodation for asylum seekers, which it described as “fundamentally unsuitable” for survivors of war, torture or serious violence. So why is the Home Office ignoring these warnings from parliamentary colleagues? The Home Office previously ignored warnings on the use of Napier barracks from the Red Cross and Public Health England, with the inevitable result of a covid outbreak among those being held there. With the pandemic now entering another dangerous phase, will the Government commit to listening to the experts this time and to following their own health guidance?

Can the Minister confirm that parts of the Manston estate are currently condemned as a result of asbestos being found on the site? We know that there has been very little consultation—in fact, none at all—with the local authority and other key partners such as the health services. Will he tell us what consultations have taken place with the non-governmental organisations that work with torture survivors and victims of trafficking and other trauma? Or is there, as with Napier, a lack of proper planning processes? Finally, the Minister mentioned illegal migrants. When will the Department commit to ending this dog-whistle language? There is no such thing as an illegal migrant. Seeking asylum is not illegal, so when will the Government put an end to this language and to pandering to the lowest common denominator?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I am grateful to the hon. Member for his questions. I do not consider that we are ignoring the concerns that are raised. As I have set out to the House, we have consistently been responsive to the reports of the inspectors, for example, and when they make recommendations, we consider them and act appropriately. He will recognise that there is a need for accommodation, and that the system is under acute pressure at the moment, given the number of arrivals. He will also recognise that we are seeking to reform the system. We are bringing forward the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is all about driving reform, processing cases more quickly, providing sanctuary to those who require it and removing those with no right to be here. That is a firm but fair system, and one that I would argue is right.

In response to the hon. Member’s point about there being no consultation with local partners, that is simply not true. As I have described to the House, that engagement is ongoing. He also asked about areas of the site having asbestos. We will of course act entirely appropriately with safety at the forefront. I have made that point several times. Assessments are ongoing in various parts of the site, and it is right that we always act with safety at the forefront of our minds.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support the amendments in the name of my colleagues. I also speak in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention. We have many concerns about the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) mentioned, there is a degree of overlap between what I wish to say today and some of the measures that we addressed yesterday.

The UK Government propose a quasi-detention system for new arrivals. The all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention has taken a great deal of evidence on the harm that such facilities cause. We looked at Napier and Penally barracks, and others such as Tinsley House and Yarl’s wood, which were used for quasi-detention. We found, very much so, that these facilities undermined the health of vulnerable people, dehumanised them and also made vulnerable those who did not consider themselves that vulnerable to begin with.

Those facilities featured: physical and social isolation; prison-like conditions with people feeling under surveillance 24/7; and shared facilities, meaning a lack of dignity and privacy, and, of course, during the period of covid, the risk of covid, which the Government failed to take into account, basically facilitating an outbreak among those unlucky enough to be living there. Due to their very nature, the facilities also ended up being targeted by the far right, further making those who happened to be living there very, very vulnerable.

The evidence that we received in our inquiry found a lack of safeguarding, healthcare and access to legal advice. The Home Office equality impact assessment on the facilities set out that people seeking asylum were not analogous to British citizens and other permanent residents in need of welfare assistance. As we heard yesterday, facilities such as these and offshoring facilities were tried, and failed, in Australia.

The implication of what we are discussing today was discovered by the Jesuit Refugee Service, which in the course of its work encountered residents at Napier barracks whose asylum screening interviews had revealed clear indications of trafficking, yet individuals had been transferred to those sites when they should never have been there in the first place. This happened initially, which could perhaps be accepted as a mistake or oversight, but also as late as June 2021, when such issues should not still have been going on, and people should have been identified as victims of trafficking. Solicitors engaged in the site found similar circumstances, where people who had been trafficked ended up in this inappropriate accommodation.

The provisions are concerning in a number of ways, because such facilities are difficult for people to be in. I had a conversation with somebody earlier in the week who suggested that the UK Government and the Home Office have not thought this through. I disagree with that in some respects, because to me this is a very deliberate policy of removing people from legal support—their opportunity to make the best case of putting themselves before the immigration system—and from communities, where they could build links, settle in, make friends and engage with people who had perhaps come from their own countries. It is a deliberate policy of removing people from the healthcare and support they need to get well and recover from trauma. All those things make it easier for the Government to send these people away—and that is not done in the name of my constituents or my party. We do not agree with the proposals and this ideological pandering to the lowest common denominator, because the people we are speaking about are very vulnerable.

I fully support amendment 6 on late disclosure, because the provisions place people, such as those who ended up in this quasi-detention system, in a trap. I see people in my surgeries week in, week out who are already disbelieved by the Home Office. It puts people at risk to say that if they do not disclose everything at the point where they are being told that they must disclose, the case will be stacked against them.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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Is this provision not of huge concern to constituents in Glasgow South West and Glasgow Central—women, in particular, who have been subjected to sexual violence and would not necessarily disclose that at the first interview?

Nationality and Borders Bill

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 20th July 2021

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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First, I thank the hundreds of constituents who have written to me asking me to oppose the Bill, which I will this evening. I am proud to be here as a Member of Parliament for Glasgow. I praise Glasgow’s role as a dispersal city, and the great work of organisations such as the Govan Community Project and the Govan Home and Education Link Project, which help asylum seekers on a daily basis.

Glasgow is well aware of the reality of asylum seekers’ experiences, which we cannot really contemplate. Victims of torture, sexual violence and persecution—that is the reality of asylum seekers’ experience. As restrictions ease, the Government had an opportunity to introduce some substantial legislation to address the inequalities that the covid pandemic has exposed, such as an unemployment Bill to deal with precarious work or, indeed, to reform the broken social security system. I am afraid that this Bill exposes the Conservative party in all its guises, because it is the politics of the dog whistle—the politics where every person seeking sanctuary is viewed with suspicion.

I read Hansard today and the phrase “economic migrants” was used liberally by Conservative Back Benchers yesterday. Perhaps they could benefit from Show Racism the Red Card coming in here, as they do in classrooms in Glasgow, and explaining the difference between an asylum seeker, a refugee and an economic migrant, because I suspect that some Conservative Back Benchers would fail that simple test. It is the politics where the legal profession is collectively dismissed as Marxist, despite some incredible court rulings. For example, Serco obtained an extraordinary High Court ruling that private sector companies, which the Government use across public services, do not have to comply with basic human rights legislation when providing accommodation to asylum seekers.

It is surprising to hear Government Members say that the legal routes issue is different from those in the Bill. It is not. If the Government close legal routes to seek sanctuary in this country, it cannot be a surprise that people would be so desperate that they choose to try other routes into the UK. There has been a lack of real engagement in the consultation process for the Bill. The Bill was, of course, published before any formal response to the consultation—a consultation in which many organisations that deal and work with asylum seekers on a daily basis raised real concerns that have not been addressed.

Depriving asylum seekers of the chance to obtain competent legal representation and to challenge poor decisions increases the risk of returning people to extremely serious danger. That approach also ignores the numerous reasons why refugees may be unable to provide all the evidence and information regarding their case at an early stage in the procedure. Such reasons include a lack of knowledge of the system. Asylum seekers do not have expertise in the UK’s immigration system when they get here fleeing oppression. They do not know what evidence they have, so it should not be a surprise that people who are survivors of trauma do not immediately disclose information, especially women and survivors of sexual violence.

There are a number of concerns. I mentioned accommodation. It is astonishing that Home Office providers of asylum accommodation do not need to use registered social landlords to provide that accommodation. Even worse, the Government now want to legislate to increase the use of military barracks. That is utterly unacceptable and will do serious harm, I fear, to the mental health of many of those seeking sanctuary in the United Kingdom. By vowing to continue that practice, the Government are ignoring the views of public health experts. It really is astonishing.

The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration described the Home Office’s use of that sort of accommodation as a “serious error of judgment”, while the immigration court ruled earlier that the Home Secretary failed to ensure that deaths in immigration detention centres were properly investigated. A Home Affairs Committee report published in December 2018 described the conditions in which vulnerable people are being housed as “degrading” and called on the Home Office to show “greater urgency”.

My last concern is that we want to follow the Australian model. Centres in Australia saw cases of sexual abuse and the rape of refugees leading to some falling pregnant, and there were instances of staff using unreasonable force, while the remoteness of offshore facilities also caused deaths due to the lack of healthcare facilities.

Glasgow has risen up to the Home Office time and again, as we did in Kenmure Street, and I was very proud to be there exercising my right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The people of Glasgow in opposing the Bill say this: “Say it loud, say it clear: refugees are welcome here”.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Racist Abuse on Social Media

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 14th July 2021

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I am delighted to hear that the football team have received such support in her constituency—I suspect that that is the experience of us all. The racist attitudes that have been displayed by a small number of people and trolls, some of which we know originate from overseas, are very much in the minority. The overwhelming majority of us are incredibly proud of our great team.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my position as co-chair of the all-party group on showing racism the red card. Show Racism the Red Card does fantastic work in tackling racist abuse, online and elsewhere, but the Home Office, in its wisdom, cut its funding to zero 18 months ago. Show Racism the Red Card still gets funding from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, so will the Minister meet me, parliamentary colleagues and Show Racism the Red Card so that we can discuss its funding, to help to tackle this scourge in our society?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very happy to do that. I should point out that a huge programme of work continues, including the online crime hub run by the police, which we help to fund. Campaigns that help to tackle racism are clearly in our country’s interests, so I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss those issues further.

EU Settlement Scheme

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 7th July 2021

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

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

I will come back to that, and I acknowledge there has been significant success with more than 6 million people applying for the scheme, but yesterday I met the3million which, of all organisations, is the one that knows exactly what is happening on the ground and its implications. I will come to all sorts of problems that still exist in the scheme, and the whole purpose of this debate is to try to iron out those problems and to see what we can do to fix them.

The point I was making is that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are in a pretty difficult situation because of the fundamental design of this system. Whether it is tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, it is an extraordinary, painful and awful moment.

On Thursday morning, in contrast to the hon. Gentleman, I received my first email on this subject from somebody who applied late: “My mother is quite distressed, as she needed to apply for settled status by 30 June but did not think it applied to her, maybe in denial. She needed someone to help fill out the online forms and upload the documents. The OTP”—one-time PIN—“code did not arrive on her very old phone and, as well as tech issues, she has recently applied to renew her Italian passport. My dad thinks her Italian ID card will be sufficient. I just cannot believe that someone who has been here for 50 years and is married to a UK citizen has to go through this process. Also she is very worried that her cancer drug will be withdrawn.”

I am hopeful that the situation will be resolved, in exactly the way the hon. Gentleman was able to resolve it for his constituent, but what cannot be undone is the stress, anxiety and hurt that this whole process is causing people. That is just one of hundreds of such cases that we can all expect to see in the weeks, months and even years ahead. The vast majority of people will find it appalling, because it is unnecessary.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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An Italian constituent has written to me and is very concerned about the lack of physical evidence, which they think will be problematic for future mortgage applications, banking, work and the rest of it. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to look at this and make sure that people have physical evidence of their settled status?

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

That is a good point, and it is not something I will speak too much about today, although I have spoken about it previously. I know other hon. Members will make that case, and they have my full support.

The scheme did not need to operate like this. There were different options available to the Government that would have prevented this disastrous cliff edge, or at least alleviated its worst impacts, and for which hon. Members on both sides of the House have advocated. My party passionately supported continued free movement. Alternatively, along with many Members on both sides of the House, we advocated a declaratory system in which an Act of Parliament would simply have declared that EU citizens resident at the required date retained the same rights as before, which would have provided far greater security and peace of mind. That, of course, is essentially what was promised during the EU referendum.

The now Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster all signed a pledge:

“There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”

Tell that to my constituent and the many others currently without their rights. That promise was simply reneged upon, despite its three authors occupying all the roles in Government required to deliver it. One of them should be at the Dispatch Box to explain exactly why the promise was not kept.

Protection of Retail Workers

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to see a fellow Glaswegian in the Chair, Mr Gray—our city is the centre of the universe, as you are aware. I thank the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) for presenting this debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee. I pay tribute to my colleagues for their fine speeches. This has been an excellent debate, and I commend my hon. Friends the Members for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for their excellent contributions.

I should declare—other hon. Members have mentioned their careers—that my first job when I was at school was working for the then supermarket chain Presto. I was still at school, but I worked for Presto two evenings a week, and I was assigned to the paperware department. For those watching these proceedings who do not know what the paperware department is, it is the toilet rolls. My responsibility was to stack the shelves of toilet rolls where I lived—obviously, I moved up in my career to soup tins and the rest. But some of the issues then apply now.

We should start from the basic principle that no one should have to experience violence and abuse while doing their job. The Scottish National party supports the effective legal protection of retail workers and is urging the UK Government to take action on this issue and strengthen other workers’ rights. As many hon. Members have said, retail workers carry out an important role in serving the needs of our communities, and it is only right that they receive effective legal protection. As many colleagues have said, that is going to exist very shortly in Scotland.

The Scottish Government not only supported the Bill that gives greater protections in law to retail workers, but are assisting with a new awareness-raising campaign to highlight the impact of the abuse, threats and violence on retail staff. The campaign is being delivered by Crimestoppers, Fearless and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation and is backed by £50,000 of Scottish Government funding.

The British Retail Consortium and more than 65 chief executive officers wrote to the Prime Minister in February calling for legislation to make assaulting shop workers a separate offence in England and Wales. I really am staggered to see that the Government’s first response to the petition on 15 September 2020 was to say that that they were not persuaded that a specific offence was needed as a wide range of offences already exist covering assaults against any worker, including shop workers. I hope the Minister will perhaps give us an indication of why that is the case, because it is certainly not what is being said by many Members in this debate.

Verbal abuse and violence against all staff has been increasing for some time. A British Retail Consortium survey finds that that has accelerated as a result of covid safety measures and is now up to 455 incidents a day. Major triggers for these incidents, as we have heard from many colleagues in this debate, include challenging customers for identification and encountering shoplifters. The Scottish Grocers’ Federation crime survey last year indicated an increase in verbal or physical abuse in 2020 in the retail sector. Such appalling behaviour is completely unacceptable. Like everyone else, shop workers are fully entitled to work free from the threat of violence or abuse.

I have read the USDAW briefing and I think that some of the evidence presented to us by the trade union should be read out. I will read out extracts from the presentation given to us about what has happened in Scotland; I think that will show why the legislation was needed in Scotland and why it is needed in the rest of the United Kingdom.

A worker in central Scotland said:

“I challenged a customer under Think 25. He threw his shopping at me and tried to grab me.”

Another worker was punched in the back by a customer when they were filling shelves,

“just to ask me if I am busy”.

There is verbal abuse. An USDAW member in Glasgow said:

“A customer swore at me and hit me with a sandwich. The abuse I receive varies from comments”—

I will not say some of the words used, but again it is verbal abuse. There is finger-pointing in the face and being poked at with a finger. Another worker said:

“Customers tried to punch me on the body.”

USDAW members in the highlands and islands who asked people politely to keep a two-metre distance were met with verbal abuse and told to get on with their work. People have thrown money at retail workers. There is verbal abuse, mainly from people influenced by drugs and alcohol.

USDAW members in Lothian say:

“People get stroppy about wearing face coverings. Customers have called me an idiot for asking for identification.”

There has been sexual assault of workers in the retail sector. USDAW members in mid-Scotland and Fife say:

“Customers take their frustration out on staff, being verbally abusive for no reason and treating us like dirt. Threats, coughing in my face and rants at having to wait in a queue.”

USDAW members in the north-east of Scotland talk about

“Shoplifters angry at being challenged. An attempted armed robbery. Verbal abuse from shoplifters, verbal abuse from intoxicated customers and verbal abuse from people who have been asked for ID.”

USDAW members in the south of Scotland talk about

“Covid-related abuse about social distancing and queues at checkouts…Get verbal abuse asking for ID, customers being nasty, shouting in front of the rest of the queue and shouting abuse when we carry out Challenge 25.”

Finally, this is from USDAW members in the west of Scotland:

“Drunk people unable to accept service refusal, usually verbal, being spat at and threats. When we are politely explaining our refund policy, some people get very abusive when they find out they cannot exchange without a receipt.”

If people think that this law should only be law in Scotland and that what I have just read out—testimonies from USDAW workers in Scotland—does not apply in the rest of the United Kingdom, then I have magic beans to sell them, because it is quite clear that this legislation should be introduced across the United Kingdom. I hope that the Government will do that.

However, there is a thread here that is of concern to me—the UK Government’s failure to deliver. As the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), I think, quite rightly asked, where are the protections for workers since covid and as a result of covid? Where is the Employment Bill that was in the last two Queen’s Speeches as a result of the Taylor review, which should deal with exploitative contracts and short-term shift changes—both features of the retail sector? Where is the Bill to ban fire and rehire, as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands)—which, again, is a feature in the retail sector? It is not there. I have a real concern, as the hon. Member for Easington rightly pointed out, that this Government give platitudes with one hand but do not deliver protections and legislation with the other.

If we are to build a fairer society, it needs to enhance and protect the workers’ rights that were hard-fought for. Frankly, if the UK Government will not provide those employment rights, they should devolve the responsibility to the Scottish Parliament—the Scottish Parliament will ensure that it does provide them.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is vital that more people report such offences and that we support the retail community to take steps to detect such terrible crimes that are being committed. The national retail crime steering group—of which the Policing Minister is a co-chair or leading member—is doing exactly that kind of work. The Home Office has also invested £40,000 in the ShopKind campaign, which aims to move in the direction mentioned by the hon. Member for Easington.

On the reasons why people do not report incidents—and why only half of victims report them to the police—there is some data in the Home Affairs Committee survey. By the way, I commend the Select Committee for putting that together. It found 3,444 people who did not report their incidents. That is a lot of people. Of the reasons given—people clearly gave more than one—the top one, cited by 35% of those victims who did not report, was:

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

That is terrible. The first thing we need to do is to say to employers, “If your employee is assaulted in any way, it is your duty as an employer to make sure that it gets reported to the police.”

Secondly, 32% said:

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

Clearly, it is not. That is obviously a terrible perception, so we need to send out a clear message that assault of anyone is unacceptable. Others said:

“I considered the incident too minor to report”,

so we need to make sure that such assaults are criminal offences and that they are aggravated when the victim is providing a service to the public. Another reason, given by 28% of respondents, was:

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

The Policing Minister is working on that. Of course, every time one of those incidents gets reported, the police should take action.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

I do not usually make much of a case for employers, but the British Retail Consortium and 65 CEOs in the United Kingdom are asking the UK Government for a specific law for retail workers. Why does the Minister believe that to be the case?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I laid out in the first half of my comments, the laws exist already. The law criminalises every example of the behaviour—terrible behaviour—that Members have laid out this afternoon. They are criminal offences already, each and every single one. Most of them, including the two examples given by the shadow Minister, would not be prosecuted under the new Scottish law; they would be prosecuted as more serious assaults. The criminal offences exist and they are, in the Sentencing Council guidelines, already aggravated where the victim is a retail worker or, indeed, a transport worker. In any case, if we passed a measure focusing only on retail workers, it would obviously neglect train and bus drivers and everyone else. However, they are already covered by those aggravating factors.

What is clearly needed is not to criminalise the behaviour; it is criminal already. It is not to elevate the penalty given to those people who are convicted; it is elevated already. What we need to do is to get more convictions, and that starts with reporting. That is the work that the national retail crime steering group is doing. I have participated in this debate from the Ministry of Justice point of view, while the steering group and policing sit with my hon. Friend the Policing Minister, so I will take away a clear message for him and the national retail crime steering group: these terrible offences, which have an enormous impact on retail workers, need to have a significantly elevated focus, in terms of getting more reporting, as we have just talked about, and making sure the police follow them up in every case. The Government obviously agree that these are serious offences and that they need to be investigated and prosecuted. I can give a firm undertaking to hon. Members that I will take that message back to the Policing Minister.

Domestic Abuse and Hidden Harms during Lockdown

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Thursday 14th January 2021

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was a pleasure to serve on the Bill Committee with my hon. Friend, and I know her personal commitment to helping her constituents in this regard. I am pleased that she has brought up that aspect, because it enables me to reiterate to hon. Members that we are running a call for evidence at the moment on producing a new violence against women and girls strategy. I do not want to pre-guess what the public, victims, survivors and charities may say in the course of that call for evidence, but I, for one, am very aware of the offence of which she speaks. I very much want those sorts of 21st century online crimes to be dealt with not just in the VAWG strategy, but in the DA strategy and by making sure our laws are up to date—we have asked the Law Commission to ensure that. I thank her for her question and encourage her to publicise the call for evidence with her constituents.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) [V]
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I thank the Minister for her statement. The Prime Minister indicated to the Liaison Committee yesterday that the Government do not have any specific policies in place for survivors of domestic abuse among what the Home Office describes as those with “insecure immigration status”. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case? Will she look at additional protections for those seeking refuge in the United Kingdom?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can help the hon. Gentleman with news of a specific pilot project, for which we launched the bidding process just before Christmas, to help support migrant victims of domestic abuse. He will know that there is already support available for some migrant victims, namely those who have a legitimate expectation of indefinite leave to remain because they come to this country on a spousal visa and they are eligible under the domestic violence concession scheme. We are very conscious that there is a cohort of victims who do not fall within those criteria, so this pilot scheme has been created very much in consultation with specialist charities that help such victims. We are in the middle of the bid process, and I am very much hoping we will be able to make some progress in the next couple of months so that we can help those victims first and foremost as victims of domestic abuse, and ensure that their abusers cannot continue their abuse.

Immigration Rules: Supported Accommodation

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 16th December 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend is right in the sense that the system does not work currently in the way that it should. People are able to make repeated, unmeritorious and sometimes vexatious claims to frustrate the system and prevent removal. For that reason, we will legislate in the first half of next year to make sure that the system is fundamentally fixed and fundamentally reformed in a way that will give his constituents the confidence they have every right to expect.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The Minister will be aware that Glasgow has housed and accommodated asylum seekers for almost 20 years—something of which we are very proud. Can he say a bit more about how those who may be considered to be inadmissible under the new rules will be supported and accommodated? Will they, for example, be placed in detention centres, camps, barracks and hotels—he will be aware that a group of doctors has written to the Department with concerns about the conditions for asylum seekers in these sorts of accommodation—or is he going to rule out those sorts of accommodation going forward?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Glasgow does accommodate a large number of asylum seekers. We work very closely with Glasgow City Council and the Communities and Local Government Secretary in the Scottish Government on that topic. Glasgow is the only Scottish authority to receive asylum seekers. It would ease the pressure on Glasgow, and indeed across the United Kingdom, if other Scottish local authorities were able to accommodate asylum seekers as well. In terms of the type of accommodation provided, the inadmissible cohort, although inadmissible, will be entitled to accommodation, as I have said, and the support that goes with that. We will make sure that the support they receive fully complies with all our legal and moral obligations.