Chris Stephens debates involving the Home Office during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 8th Dec 2021
Mon 19th Oct 2020
Thu 15th Oct 2020
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Committee stage & Report stage & 3rd reading

Asylum Seeker Accommodation: RAF Manston

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 15th December 2021

(1 month, 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.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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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

(6 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
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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.

Racist Abuse on Social Media

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 14th July 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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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
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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

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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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
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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

(7 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
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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 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]
- Hansard - -

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, 1 month 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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Immigration

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 19th October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir David. I very much enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I agreed with most of it, apart from his final paragraph, but I have to say that that is where the consensus ends in this debate—and it is a debate. I certainly was struck by the fact that a number of contributions talked about illegal immigration, but not one Member actually articulated what that means and gave their definition of illegal immigration, so let us move on to the facts, rather than the rhetoric.

The facts are these. The number of people claiming asylum substantially reduced in 2020. This year, there has been a 40% drop, according to the Government’s own statistics. It is the route that has changed. It is because other routes are no longer available that there are the crossings that we are discussing.

It is not illegal to enter the UK for the purpose of making an asylum claim, and the most recent evidence set out by the Home Office’s clandestine channel threat commander suggests that 100% of the people crossing the English channel in small boats are doing so to claim asylum. That was clear evidence that was given by the commander to the Home Affairs Committee. They are doing so to seek international protection. None is trying to enter the country unobserved or for criminal reasons. That was the evidence that was presented. And as I said, there has been a 40% drop, according to the immigration statistics published in August of this year, and that is compared with the last quarter of 2019.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument that the route has changed—it has indeed—but does he not see that the route is now much more unsafe? Any other route by which an asylum claim can be made is intrinsically safer than going out to sea in a dinghy that is not meant for the number of people whom it is carrying.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

The UK Government have a responsibility to provide safe legal routes for people claiming asylum. I will come to that later in my contribution.

What is the legal position for people seeking asylum in the UK after arriving from France? Those arriving in the UK and making a claim for asylum are subject to international refugee law, and their rights are not affected by the mode of arrival or means of entry. The UK is a signatory to the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and the 1967 protocol.

How does the legal system intervene to help people who are being removed? I was staggered to hear that the legal profession in the UK has been overrun by these Trotskyite and Marxist lawyers who are stopping people being deported. What absolute, utter nonsense. That is certainly not the case. I will explain, for those watching this debate, how the legal system actually stops people being removed, because the claim that the legal system sometimes unfairly prevents people from being removed is nonsense and misrepresents how our asylum and human rights law functions and its purpose

There are established processes for the removal of people in certain circumstances where their asylum claim has been fully heard by the UK or should be held elsewhere. I have no problem with that. I have seen individuals come to my office who have had to be deported because of the way in which they went through the system. Some of that included criminal activity. I have no problem with that at all. However, removals are stopped for a wide range of reasons, such as on health grounds, concerns about trafficking, or appeals relating to protecting the rights of individuals. Where those removals are halted, it is because the Home Office and the Home Secretary are not adhering to the law.

Removals cannot be prevented by lawyers themselves. We have heard in this debate that it is the lawyers who are stopping deportations. That is nonsense. The legal assistance is provided to ensure that the law is upheld and, if necessary, a court of law determines whether a removal is stopped. Such processes have to be undertaken quickly, as applicants will not usually be given much notice of removal proceedings. That is a fact, as my constituency casework shows, given that Glasgow is the only place in Scotland that takes on asylum seekers.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman says that Glasgow takes on asylum seekers. He will be fully aware that, a few years ago, one of my co-religionists was murdered in his shop by somebody of Pakistani origin simply for being an Ahmadi Muslim who wished his Christian neighbours a happy Easter. As somebody who is particularly familiar with the issue of asylum, I also know of abuses of the system and of people who genuinely do need safe avenues for asylum. I can tell the hon. Gentleman categorically that people can apply for asylum in this country through legal mechanisms. Since the 1980s, the Ahmadi community has banned and refused people the right of entering this or any other country through illegal means. That is why we have no—

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that evidence shows that people abuse the asylum system? Do we not want those who come here to live and work among us and to become part of the fabric—the silver and golden threads—of the national tapestry to obey the rules? That is one of the characteristics of our country, and if we allow those who are coming in to break the rules from the get-go, are they going to fit?

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his second speech. I must say to him—I will be quick, for time purposes—that there is a great Ahmadi community in Glasgow, of which we are very proud. All I can say to him, based on my experience of dealing with asylum claims, is that asylum claim abuses are few and far between compared with those seeking genuine asylum.

Touching on the hon. Gentleman’s point, I would want asylum seekers to be given, after a certain point, the right to work so that they are embedded in the community. That must be looked at. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) has a private Member’s Bill on that matter, and there must be serious discussion about allowing asylum seekers the right to work.

I am proud to have an office manager who is a refugee, who had family members murdered by Saddam Hussein’s regime. When she came to this country, her father was working. Far from the rhetoric that we heard about the Labour party being left wing, it was the Labour party that took my office manager’s father’s national insurance from him. The then Labour Government changed the law to stop asylum seekers having the right to work. I hope the hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) will seriously consider that in his Bill and consider that asylum seekers, after a certain period, should have the right to work so that they can make the contribution that he wants them to make.

As a party, we believe that the Home Office’s response to the recent channel crossings displays a complete disregard for human suffering that is both shocking and shameful. Responding to the crossings in a dystopian, quasi-militaristic way, with surveillance technology, appointing a clandestine channel threat commander and positing the idea of bringing in the Royal Navy—later condemned by the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organisation for Migration—only reinforces the headlines that liken that failure of leadership to an invasion.

Contrary to the Department’s remarks, the reality is far from being the crisis the newspapers suggest it is. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in the UK said recently:

“The UK is far from the epicentre of the real challenge.”

Asylum claims in the UK—as I have said, and I will say it again—have fallen in 2020, as confirmed by Abi Tierney, the director general of UK Visas and Immigration, to the Select Committee on Home Affairs in September.

The response to the petition describes channel crossings as “unacceptable behaviour”. The Department seems unable to understand—or perhaps fails to mention—that it has already closed and is closing more safe legal routes for refugees to reach the United Kingdom. That is leaving extremely vulnerable individuals who are often fleeing unimaginable conditions, as the hon. Member for Strangford rightly pointed out, with little choice but to place their fate in the hands of criminal gangs. Furthermore, a report last year by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which the Home Secretary was a member at the time, said:

“In the absence of robust and accessible legal routes for seeking asylum in the UK, those with a claim are left with little choice but to make dangerous journeys by land and sea.”

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

I assume the Minister is seeking to make an intervention, because there was a lot of noise there as I was making those remarks. I am happy to give way to him.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He said that migrants are compelled to cross the English channel to claim asylum. I respectfully point out that they are in France, typically northern France. France is a civilised and safe country with a well-functioning asylum system, and should anyone in northern France feel they need to claim asylum, they are perfectly able to do so there. They do not need to make one of those dangerous crossings.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

That may very well be the Minister’s view. He will have an opportunity to say that, and I will perhaps make an intervention—[Interruption.] The Minister is harrumphing from a sedentary position. I am concerned for his welfare. He seems rather excitable, Sir David. Perhaps you can pass him a note and have a word just to calm him down. Thank you, Sir David.

The staggering leaked UK Government documents only prove that the Tory hostile environment towards immigration and immigrants is still alive and kicking. In response to the petition, the Home Office said:

“The UK has long been a sanctuary for those in need of international protection”.

Leaked documents provided evidence that the Home Office was considering wave machines to deter boats, nets to clog boats’ propellers and the transportation of asylum seekers more than 4,000 miles away to Ascension Island for processing. Those are preposterous suggestions and show how far the Government will go to drive home and engender the Brexit ideology that has already poisoned some of the political discourse in this country.

The Refugees Council policy manager, Judith Dennis, said that the UK must treat refugees and asylum seekers with dignity. Instead, those ridiculous proposals set an unsettling precedent, firing the starting gun of a race to the bottom in terms of treating refugees and asylum seekers with any humanity and compassion.

I believe that the asylum system must be fair and compassionate, but it must also be professional. I hope the Minister answers the question for which I have been trying to seek debates—unfortunately, I seem to be missing out on the ballots for either Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate—about why a private company has been called in to process asylum claim interviews in the last couple of weeks. In secret, with no statement, either written or verbal, provided to hon. Members, a private company has been called in by the Home Office to carry out asylum claim interviews.

Is it Serco? It would not surprise us, let us be honest, if it was Serco, a company that has certainly been mentioned as carrying out these asylum claim interviews. What training and expertise does it have to carry them out? It really is, I suggest, quite ludicrous that a private company, be it Serco or any other, is being asked to carry out a quasi-legal process, which asylum claim interviews should be, under the aegis of a pilot programme. I hope the Minister will address the concerns that I and many Members of the House have on that issue.

I am conscious of time, and I want to allow the two other Front Benchers to speak. We keep being told that the asylum system is broken, yet the Government have had 10 years—over a decade. Does that mean that they have broken the system, and what are they going to do to fix it? I respectfully disagree with those who have signed the petition, and with all due respect to the hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken, I disagree with most of their remarks as well.

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

It is a great pleasure to serve, once again, under your chairmanship, Sir David, which is, as the shadow Minister said, always infallible. I thank the shadow Minister for his balanced remarks in summing up. It is fair to say no one would ever accuse him of being a Trotskyite, sadly something that one cannot say about every Member of his parliamentary party.

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) on securing the debate and presenting it on behalf of more than 100,000 petitioners, a majority of whom, we discovered, come from Redcar and Cleveland. My hon. Friend laid out a compelling, passionate and well-articulated description of why illegal immigration is a huge problem for our country. It undermines the rule of law, it undermines legal and safe routes, and it renders purposeless the routes that we, as a Parliament, have developed to decide who comes into the country and who does not. All those are undermined.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) powerfully and passionately pointed out that immigration can be an enormous force for good, when done within the rule of law. His own family story, which he set out, is a moving and powerful illustration of the enormous contribution that legal migration can make to our society, strengthening and contributing to it, as his father and his whole family have done. Our country is better, stronger and richer, in every sense, for the contribution made by my hon. Friend’s family and millions like them, who have made their home here legally.

Illegal migration undermines all of that. It undermines public confidence in the system, it puts immigration in a negative rather than positive light, and it makes it much harder to allow legal immigration if the whole system is undermined. In all honesty, we must admit that the small-boats crisis that has unfolded this summer is a sad and appalling example of illegal immigration undermining confidence in our system. The Government find it completely unacceptable and we are determined to stop it. We make no apology at all for saying that.

Illegal immigration is unacceptable for three reasons: it is dangerous, illegal and unnecessary. That it is dangerous is powerfully demonstrated by the tragic death earlier today, or yesterday, of a man believed to be aged between 20 and 40, and the sad death a few weeks ago of a Sudanese gentlemen aged 26. Those sad deaths in the channel demonstrate how dangerous the crossings are. We have a moral and a compassionate duty to prevent those crossings.

Secondly, these crossings are illegal. The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) suggested the contrary, but let me say clearly that it is illegal to enter the country without leave under section 24(1)(a) of the Immigration Act 1971. The hon. Gentleman referred to provisions in article 31 of the refugee convention that say an entry to a country for the purposes of claiming asylum should not be a criminalised if someone has come “directly” from a dangerous territory. I submit that France is not a dangerous territory, and therefore the prohibition in article 31 of the refugee convention 1951, renewed by the 1967 protocol, does not apply. France is not dangerous and these crossings are categorically illegal.

They are not only dangerous and illegal, but unnecessary. Anyone wishing to claim asylum, or genuinely wishing to seek protection, can do so in one of the safe countries previously passed through. Clearly, there is France—everybody who crosses on a small boat has been in France—and typically people will have travelled through other countries, often including Germany, Italy, Spain and others. There will have been ample opportunities to claim asylum and protection previously. There may be reasons why people might prefer to claim asylum in the United Kingdom, such as the language, but those are not reasons of protection. Those are choices rather than a necessity. We should be clear: these journeys are not necessary for the purpose of securing protection.

I will come to the compassionate and safe routes in a moment. Before I do, let me briefly talk about some of the things that we are doing to prevent these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings. We are working with our colleagues in France on developing ever-increasing tactics to try to prevent the crossings. The French have been deploying larger numbers of gendarmes, police aux frontiers, brigades mobiles de recherche and others in northern France, and that is yielding fruit. This weekend, large numbers of interceptions have been made to prevent embarkations. On Saturday, just two days ago, the French police intercepted 220 people who were attempting a crossing. Yesterday, on Sunday, the French authorities intercepted 211 people. Only 62 got across, so the French successfully intercepted about 70% to 80% of the people who attempted a crossing. I pay tribute to them for the law enforcement work that they have been doing.

We have appointed a clandestine channel threat commander to co-ordinate United Kingdom activities—Dan O’Mahoney, a former Royal Marine, entered his post in August—and we are doing huge amounts of law enforcement work. We have so far this year made 89 arrests of people who committed offences in that regard, and we have disrupted 24 organised immigration crime groups that have been facilitating cross-channel traffic. A huge amount of work has been going on, and let me say that we intend to intensify and increase that activity. We intend to legislate next year to tighten up our system, but the legislation will have two elements to it. It will be firm, because it will take tough action against illegal immigration, but it will also be fair, in the sense that it will provide safe legal routes for genuine refugees.

Let me say a few words about the work that the United Kingdom has done so far on those safe legal routes. Since 2015, we have run a resettlement programme whereby we have taken people from conflict areas—for example, around Syria—and brought them directly to the United Kingdom. Rather than seeing people come from France, Italy or Greece, which are safe European countries—that is what the Dubs amendment did, by the way—we have gone directly to conflict zones, where people are in genuine danger, and brought them here. In that five-year period, 25,000 people have been brought directly to the United Kingdom. Over the five years, our resettlement programme is larger than any other European country’s resettlement programme.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised some points about that. I must say that I agree with him, in the sense that the resettlement programme focused, as Members will understand, largely on people of Syrian nationality. It did not reflect the pre-conflict population of Syria, because Christians were severely underrepresented. The hon. Member for Strangford and I led a debate back in July 2019 on the persecution that Christians suffer around the world. Indeed, Christians are the most persecuted group of any, globally, and I would like to see our future resettlement activity better reflect the persecution that Christians suffer around the world.

We offer many other legal and safe routes. We offer family reunion routes, which I think the hon. Member for Glasgow South West referred to. Even as we most likely leave the Dublin regulations in two and half months, the United Kingdom’s immigration rules provide for the family reunion of children joining their parents and, where compassionate and compelling circumstances exist and where the child’s best interest is served, reunion with aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings. That safe and legal family reunion route does exist, can be used and is used.

Last year, we received roughly 3,700 applications from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this country. We are currently looking after more than 5,000 UASCs. Both those numbers are higher than the equivalent figures for any other European country, including Greece. People talk about the Dubs amendment and bringing UASCs from Italy to the UK, but we already look after more UASCs than either Italy or Greece does. We do it very well—we look after them extremely well.

The shadow Minister mentioned overseas aid. We have not abolished overseas aid; we have merged it with the Foreign Office so that better co-ordination is possible. Since he mentions overseas aid, it is worth putting on record that we are the only G8 country to meet 0.7% of gross national income as spending on overseas aid. That amounted last year to some £14 billion. Not only do we have the top direct resettlement numbers of any European country and not only do we welcome more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children than any other European country; we are also the only European country to meet that 0.7% of GNI target. So anyone who suggests that the United Kingdom is not a generous and welcoming country is clearly not apprised of those facts.

However, with the compassion and fairness for which this country is famous, and which it will continue to demonstrate, comes an obligation to be firm on illegal immigration, for the reasons that my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich, for Wakefield, for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) and for Redcar (Jacob Young) outlined so persuasively. I am afraid there is a lot more work to do, because our system is in many respects broken. It is possible for people who should not be in this country, including dangerous foreign national offenders, to submit very late claims that are essentially vexatious, with the purpose of preventing their removal. I have become painfully aware in my six months, so far, as one of the two Immigration Ministers, of a number of cases in which very dangerous foreign national offenders have repeatedly—five, six or seven times—over a number of years, at the last minute before the moment of removal or deportation, lodged claims that are subsequently found by the court to be wholly without merit. None the less they succeeded in frustrating the removal. We need to legislate to prevent that kind of abuse, because it brings our system into disrepute.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich mentioned a recent flight that was due to return to Spain, as required by the Dublin regulation—the European Union’s own regulation—people who had tried to claim asylum here having claimed asylum there previously, when a slew of last-minute legal claims, many of which subsequently proved to be without merit, caused the flight to be cancelled. Such abuse of the legal process—and I will be direct; it is, frankly, abuse—is not something that the Government are prepared to countenance any more. Therefore we shall legislate next year to fix that problem and other problems.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

I want to take the Minister back to the subject of foreign nationals—particularly the criminal aspect of the matter. He makes a fair point, but does he agree that it is not the fault of so-called do-gooders and lawyers? Does he agree that the Government need to roll back on the rhetoric that we have heard from them against lawyers who represent asylum seekers?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Lawyers are clearly entitled—indeed, obliged—to represent their clients to the best of their ability, but there have been examples, including what was reported by The Times last week, of immigration lawyers encouraging their clients to make vexatious claims. In the example reported by The Times last week the Solicitors Regulation Authority quite properly took disciplinary action against those solicitors. We sometimes hear lawyers talking about pursuing politics through the courts, and that is not helpful.

Of course I accept that barristers, solicitors and other representatives are obliged and entitled to represent their clients to the best of their ability within the law, but last-minute meritless claims that are designed to frustrate the process do not help the system at all, and we need to put things on a better legislative footing to prevent the legal abuse that there has been. However, I of course do not dispute, as I have said, the right of lawyers to represent their clients to the best of their ability. Indeed, they are obliged to do so.

I do not wish to detain Members longer, given that the main event is happening on the Floor of the House as we speak. Let me reiterate that the Government are determined to protect our borders, determined to end these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings, and determined to end illegal immigration, but at the same time we are determined to ensure that we are fair and compassionate, and that those who genuinely need our protection around the world receive it.

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

Chris Stephens Excerpts
3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Committee stage
Thursday 15th October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 - Government Bill Page View all Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text
Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to speak to amendments 25, 23 and 22, and new clause 7 in the name of the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). She has asked me to do so because she is operating on a proxy vote at the moment. She has asked me to remind the Committee that these amendments, as well as having her support and cross-party support, also reflect concerns on the part of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which she and I are both members. I will run through them quickly and not address them in detail because we have heard a lot of good speeches and I want to make a couple of points that have not been made.

Amendment 25 and new clause 7 relate to judicial oversight of the grant of authorisations. They would not be effective until there was judicial authorisation from a judicial commissioner and there would be a test of reasonable grounds. Amendment 23 relates to the grounds for granting authority. As with amendments tabled by other hon. Members, we wish to take out references to preventing disorder and to economic wellbeing. Amendment 22 deals with imposing clear and specific limits on the types of crimes that could be authorised, which is done by other Five Eyes countries. I will come to that in a moment.

I also wish to speak to new clause 6 in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), which also has cross-party support. It reflects concerns of the National Union of Journalists in relation to matters that we discussed previously when the Investigatory Powers Act was going through the House and there was a successful campaign to require prior judicial authorisation when any application was made to identify confidential journalistic sources. Currently, those applications must be given prior authorisation by a judicial commissioner. Our fear is that this Bill, as currently framed, would give back-door access to identifying sources, so new clause 6 attempts to deal with that.

I wish to give my support and that of the Scottish National party to amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) in relation to trade union protection; I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West has worked hard on those matters. I also support amendments 20 and 16 in the name of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and new clause 8 in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy).

Like others, I am extremely concerned about the fact that the Bill is being railroaded through. The indication that not even the modest amendment put forward by the Intelligence and Security Committee will be taken on board by the Government suggests that they are not giving the time of day to amendments lodged by others as we hoped for on Second Reading.

I mentioned what other Five Eyes countries do. The approach that the UK Government want to railroad through in the Bill stands in stark contrast with that of two of our closest allies: the United States of America and Canada, which are two of our closest Five Eyes intelligence partners. The Canadian Parliament prohibits serious offences from these sorts of authorisation, including murder, torture and violating the sexual integrity of an individual. Canada’s intelligence service can only use its authorisation process to give agents a defence to prosecution, rather than any blanket immunity. In America, the FBI has for many years run agents using guidelines that expressly ban certain criminal conduct. According to guidelines issued by the US Attorney General, the FBI may never authorise an informant to

“participate in any act of violence except in self-defense”.

The approach of the United Kingdom Government is without precedent. That is why my colleagues and I in the SNP will not be taking any lectures from Government Front Benchers or Back Benchers about our commitment to the security of these nations or the prosecution of serious crime.

The Bill has some implications for devolved powers, because in Scotland the prosecution of serious crime is a devolved matter. I regret to say that, while there has been regular engagement with the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Lord Advocate in relation to aspects that will impinge upon the investigation and prosecution of serious crime in Scotland, the expectations of the Scottish Government and our chief Law Officer have not been met so far by the Government, particularly in respect of independent judicial oversight and prosecutorial independence. As the Bill stands, in so far as it impinges on the prosecution of serious crime in Scotland, the Scottish Government will not be able to recommend a legislative consent motion.

My colleagues in the Scottish Government, like others in this House, recognise that, because of recent litigation, there is a need to provide a statutory footing for the security services and law enforcement agents to sanction some lawbreaking when serious crime is being investigated by covert human intelligence sources. But we think that the Bill goes far too far, and we are frankly exasperated by the lack of time given for scrutiny of the Bill and the Government’s attitude towards the many and varied amendments lodged, which is typified by the fact that they do not even seem prepared to accept the modest amendment tabled by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

I want to say something about the human rights aspect. On Second Reading and during this debate, there have been claims that the Human Rights Act is a sufficient safeguard, so we do not need to delimit the offences that can be authorised. That is wrong, and it is close to a disingenuous claim by the Government. The Government themselves, in the third direction case before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, argued that the Human Rights Act does not apply to crimes committed by CHIS. They said:

“the state, in tasking the CHIS… is not the instigator of that activity and cannot be treated as somehow responsible for it… it would be unreal to hold the state responsible.”

That position is repeated in the human rights memorandum published with the Bill, which claims that

“there would not be State responsibility under the Convention”—

the European convention on human rights—

“for conduct where the intention is to disrupt and prevent that conduct, or more serious conduct… and/or where the conduct would take place in any event.”

Based on that analysis, an informant could be authorised to actively participate in shooting on grounds that the perpetrator intended to disrupt crime or that the shooting would take place in any event. I just think that is frankly wrong, and I think we are being given false reassurance by reference to the Human Rights Act. I will not push my amendment to a vote, or any of the amendments in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, but the Scottish National party will support any other amendments that would ameliorate the Bill.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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On human rights, there is a very real concern about the practice of blacklisting. Obviously the construction industry found its blacklist, but other sectors of the economy have still to find theirs. Is my hon. and learned Friend concerned, as I am, that in years to come someone will find themselves on a blacklist because of this legislation, and because there is no legal protection in this legislation?

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
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I do share that concern. I really do not understand—others have eloquently made this point—why organisations indulging in lawful activity, such as trade unions and, indeed, other green activists, are required to be infiltrated by these sorts of covert human intelligence sources.

It is all very well to say that there is guidance. I listened carefully and with respect to those who are members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, because I know that they have information that the rest of us do not, but guidance is not good enough; it needs to be in the Bill. We are dealing with a Government who recently made commitments in an international agreement that they now evince the intention to break, so I will not apologise for saying that I do not have much trust in them. I want to see proper protections for civil liberties in the Bill. Without them, the Scottish National party will vote against it.