There have been 8 exchanges between James Brokenshire and Home Office
|Mon 28th September 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||11 interactions (443 words)|
|Tue 8th September 2020||Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords]||8 interactions (2,881 words)|
|Mon 7th September 2020||Fire Safety Bill||8 interactions (1,649 words)|
|Wed 22nd July 2020||Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report (Urgent Question)||79 interactions (3,689 words)|
|Tue 5th May 2020||Local Government||6 interactions (1,944 words)|
|Wed 29th April 2020||Fire Safety Bill||3 interactions (2,324 words)|
|Wed 26th February 2020||Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism||13 interactions (1,342 words)|
|Wed 28th March 2018||Kerslake Arena Attack Review||3 interactions (102 words)|
What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling online hate speech and extremism. 
At a Home Affairs Committee session last week, the national lead for counter-terrorism, Neil Basu, warned of growing numbers of young people being drawn towards right-wing terrorism. During this pandemic, social media have done much to amplify hateful extremism. What steps will the Minister take to prevent young people from being drawn into extremism?
A recent Home Affairs Committee session heard that Facebook had deleted 9.6 million posts about hate speech in the first quarter of this year. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-Committee on which I serve has considered online disinformation during covid. What assessment has the Minister made of the links between hate speech and disinformation? Is there discussion between his Department and the DCMS?
For two weeks running, we have seen anti-lockdown conspiracy theorists clashing with police throughout the country, with four people having been arrested in Newcastle over the weekend. This behaviour is being fuelled online by far-right opportunists and some high-profile individuals, such as Ian Brown of the Stone Roses. Will the Minister outline what his Department is doing to build trust in Government information and in respect of scepticism and concern about vaccination?
The scale and accessibility of hateful extremist content online is deeply worrying and causing serious damage to society, and it needs to be identified speedily and dealt with. Last week, in her evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the commissioner for countering extremism called for a more rigorous classification system for assessing hateful extremist material in the online harms Bill to get to grips with the vast spread of extremism online. Does the Minister support this call, and does he agree with the commission’s report last year that the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, drawn up in 2015, is insufficient, too broad and out of date?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I will come to the European arrest warrant and that point very shortly.
I hope the Minister recognises the importance of these new clauses to the effectiveness of the Bill, and responds accordingly.
On Government amendments 12 and 16, which define the designated authority as the National Crime Agency, we recognise that and are pleased to see that the Government have tabled an amendment to that effect. I have no doubt that this will give an important sense of clarity and purpose to those brave men and women working in the National Crime Agency and their operational partners, whose efforts, let us not forget—right at this moment, in fact—do a great deal to keep the public safe and secure. The role of the designated authority is fundamental to the success of the legislation, given that it will be carrying out the functions of certifying requests. However, can I ask the Minister to confirm to the House that powers of redesignation, if ever necessary, will be open to scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament, because I think he will appreciate that that is an important issue for future oversight?
We feel that Government amendment 13 seeks to undo the valuable amendment made in the other place by my hon. Friend the noble Lord Kennedy of Southwark. It received support from all sides in the other place, and it requires certain key conditions to be satisfied before the Secretary of State can add, remove or vary reference to a territory. That amendment was reasonable, proportionate and practical, and it should present no problem for the Government, so I am not quite clear why the Minister is seeking to undo the good work done by the noble Lords in the other place.
Nothing in the Lords amendment stops the Government doing what they want to do; it simply ensures a proper process of consultation and assessment, which any major changes to a framework of this significance should undergo. Where the proposal is to add a territory, it requires a statement confirming that the territory does not abuse the Interpol red notice system. The first part of the amendment places a requirement on the Secretary of State to consult on the merit of the change, and there are two groups in the consultation proposed here: first, the devolved institutions; and secondly, NGOs and civic society. As the Bill currently stands, after consultation an assessment has to be laid before Parliament outlining the risks of the proposed changes and confirming that where the proposal is to add a territory, it does not abuse the Interpol red notice system. It is my contention that that should remain in the Bill.
In a similar vein, we will also be defending the amendment made in the other place by Baroness Hamwee, which the Government are attempting to remove by means of their amendment 14. The Bill as it now stands requires each order to add, vary or remove a territory under new schedule A1 to contain no more than one territory. There is of course nothing to prevent the Government from laying several instruments, each relating to one territory, at the same time, so there should not be any delay to process. Each country will have differing characteristics and varying degrees of compliance, so grouping them could result in the waving through of some territories with questionable human rights records purely because to fail to do so would jeopardise a potentially urgent extradition agreement with another country. Each country will have varying levels of compliance and different approaches to issues of human rights and criminal justice, and this is important because while we agree with legislating on the basis of those currently specified as trusted partners in this Bill, we should not leave the door open. We intend to defend the inclusion of this clause as a safeguard for the effective application of this legislation.
We have tabled amendment 17 to allow all European economic area member states to be inserted in new schedule A1, and we note that the Minister has made a similar proposal in Government amendment 15, but, frankly, the lack of progress on the justice and security talks with the European Union gives us a great deal of concern, and 31 December is approaching with no positive signs of agreement on these hugely important issues. I ask the Minister: is he concerned about our losing access to the capabilities afforded by the European arrest warrant? We on this side of the House are clear that any loss of capability, regardless of whether it is mutual, would have disastrous implications for UK law enforcement’s ability to identify and question suspected criminals and thus keep our country secure.
I refer the Minister to comments made in February 2019 by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Martin, the UK law enforcement lead for Brexit and international criminality, in relation to the loss of the European arrest warrant and the Schengen Information System, and the potential implications for policing of no deal. He said:
“Every fallback we have is more bureaucratic, it is slower”.
He said that while policing was “not going to stop” and would still meet the threat,
“we will be much more limited than we currently are”.
He went on to say:
“If something takes two or three times as long as when you were doing it before, that’s probably another couple of hours maybe you are not back on the streets”
and not being visible doing your core role. Such an outcome would be not only undesirable but unacceptable.
Specifically on extradition, we know that the UK and EU falling back on prior arrangements in the 1957 Council of Europe convention would complicate proceedings and add needless delay. That is not my assessment but that of the previous Conservative Government and their former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). We entirely accept that the Bill’s scope relates solely to the powers conferred on UK law enforcement, so I would like to ask the Minister exactly what the Government are doing to ensure adequate levels of reciprocity in future extradition arrangements, particularly if we lose the powers we presently enjoy under the European arrest warrant and other such mechanisms.
I will turn briefly to the amendments tabled in the names of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and other colleagues. I listened carefully to the powerful speech the right hon. Gentleman made today about the admirable work he has been doing on this issue over previous months, which is wholeheartedly supported by those of us on this side of the House. We welcomed the Government’s decision to suspend the extradition treaty with Hong Kong, which will offer much needed assurance to the Hong Kong diaspora and pro-democracy activists. It is important that the UK works with democratic partners around the world to ensure a co-ordinated international response that enables holders of the British national overseas passport, pro-democracy activists and the people of Hong Kong to travel without fear of arrest and extradition. The Government must not waver in their commitment to the people of Hong Kong, and we will support them in their endeavours if that is the case. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s assurances.
I also acknowledge the work of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden and his amendments. I stressed before that we acknowledge that the Bill’s scope relates predominantly to powers of arrest conferred on UK law enforcement, not the extradition process itself, but we need to do all we can to ensure levels of reciprocity when it comes to our extradition agreements, not least with our most trusted partners. It is not acceptable that we are not able to bring those wanted for serious offences to justice here in the UK because they are elsewhere when the reverse would be perfectly possible. That is all too often the case, because for an extradition agreement to have any value—this goes to the heart of the right hon. Gentleman’s point—British citizens must believe that their Government will support and stand up for them and uphold the integrity and equivalence of any agreement. I hope the Minister will take those arguments seriously.
In conclusion, we have, as always, sought to be a constructive Opposition during the progress of this Bill, and our amendments today serve only to strengthen and improve the legislation, building on the cross-party work done in the other place.
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When the police make one of these immediate arrests, how long do they have before they have to allow the suspect to go?
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I echo what the right hon. Gentleman said in thanking his departmental officials who, alongside the Minister himself, have been courteous and helpful in providing us with information and briefings throughout. I also thank the officials in the Public Bill Office for their diligent work and assistance in helping the official Opposition and our colleagues across the House to scrutinise the Bill.
I do not intend to detain the House long. We had a good and wide-ranging debate on Second Reading and the Bill has had good scrutiny in Committee on the Floor of the House today. We are disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the Government did not accept our amendments, but we will not be opposing the Bill on Third Reading.
We have always said that we accept the need for comprehensive legislation to address the gap that currently exists for UK law enforcement prior to extradition proceedings. We hope that the Bill will assist in closing that and help to keep the British people safe. We are determined to ensure that serious criminals who make their way to our country or commit offences in other countries cannot rest easy on our streets and evade the full force of law, and we believe that the Bill will help to achieve that.
In conclusion, we discussed in Committee the need for an extradition agreement to have integrity and that for it to have value, British citizens must believe that their Government will support and stand up for them and uphold the said integrity of any agreement. We have talked a lot about reciprocity, but I also want to talk about credibility. I say gently to the Minister that the credibility around international agreements and international law is not given in isolation, and it ill behoves the Government, on something as sensitive as this, to talk about wilfully breaking international law. I hope that he and his colleagues will consider that in relation to other matters. However, on the substantive matter of this Bill, we will not divide the House this evening.
Thank you for calling me to speak on this matter, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is a little more frightening than a raging fire, as it is then that we truly understand the little we are able to do in our human state. We are so thankful for those in the fire service, who use their expertise and training, yet, ultimately, lay their lives on the line every time they answer the call. Others have said it, but I want to put on record my thanks to them for all they do and have done.
The Grenfell tragedy had repercussions for all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so although it happened on the mainland, and although this legislation is for England and Wales, I wanted to make a brief contribution to ask that the lessons learned are shared with Northern Ireland. When the Grenfell tragedy took place, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the bodies with responsibility for this area right away checked all their high-rise flats to see whether the danger that there was on the mainland was or was not apparent in Northern Ireland. Some steps were taken right away. I know it is a devolved matter, but I wish to mention something at the end that the Minister might take on board, and it relates to what we have learned in Northern Ireland.
This Bill is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland, so my comments will be brief. It is clear that the improvements in this Bill to create greater fire safety must be considered UK-wide. My colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly have taken seriously the lessons that we have learned from the absolute tragedy at Grenfell. I take this opportunity once again to remind all the families involved that our thoughts remain with them as they try to rebuild their lives. I do not think there is anybody anywhere in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or further afield who was not touched by what happened, as we watched the tragedy unfold.
I echo other hon. Members’ comments about the danger of electric goods, and in particular about the need to have them checked so that they meet the standards that we have in the United Kingdom, which are some of the highest in the world. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who represents that great city of Southend, has been an excellent, outstanding spokesperson on this matter, along with our former colleague and friend, Jim Fitzpatrick. I remember him fondly; he, I and the hon. Member for Southend West shared many debates in that other great place, Westminster Hall, on electrical safety and other things. We had some very good and enjoyable times. One thing that was outlined was the opportunity for people to buy online goods that may not meet the standards. I am sure the Minister will say how the Government are addressing those issues for online purchases, which I believe need to be checked.
I welcome the remediation programme, supported by £1.6 billion of Government funding, to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise residential buildings, and the commitment of £20 million of funding to enable fire and rescue services to review or inspect all high-rise multi-occupied residential buildings by the end of 2021, but it is clear that more needs to be done. Right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House have said that, and hopefully the Minister will be able to say what other steps the Government are looking at to try to make improvements.
I do not want to be alarmist, but the Northern Ireland Assembly’s inquiries into safety standards raised not just the issue of cladding—the Northern Ireland Housing Executive carried out those risk assessments, because cladding is its responsibility—but concerns about reports that 63% of Northern Ireland Housing Executive wall cavity insulation may be defective. There was some concern that the cavity wall insulation could in some way lead to worse fires and could be a conduit, allowing fires to go through buildings. I do not expect an answer from the Minister today if he has not got one, but I know that he always follows up, and we thank him for that, so perhaps that could be looked at. We are awaiting more information, but that raises a pertinent issue. I believe that it must be absolutely clear in any legislation that it is the building owner’s responsibility to make safe not simply the outside of the walls but the inner cavities. I would appreciate it if the Minister could clarify how that is legislated for in this Bill.
Has the Minister had any discussions with other regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland about a UK-wide approach to this issue? I often say in this House that lessons learned in England and Wales can and must be shared with the devolved Administrations—the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. This debate is not about that, but none the less it is important that we share things. We can learn from each other in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If things are learned in Northern Ireland, they should be shared with the rest of the United Kingdom. If they are learned in England and Wales, they should be shared with us in Northern Ireland, and with Scotland. An improvement can be made UK-wide so that all the people of this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can benefit.
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In Grenfell Tower, there will have been secure tenants,
leaseholders and private tenants. Why should regulations apply to some of those groups and not others just on the basis of tenure?
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On Third Reading, I reiterate that the Opposition support the Fire Safety Bill, but we are desperately disappointed that the Government have not gone much further and much faster on improving fire safety.
I regret that the Government did not choose to support Labour’s new clause 1, which would have implemented the key recommendations of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Grenfell Tower inquiry phase one report, published in October. It is difficult to understand why the Government, who promised to implement the recommendations in full and without delay, have not chosen to make the concessions to include provision for them in the Bill. It is difficult to understand why responsible owners should not have to share evacuation plans with residents or undertake regular inspections of flat doors or lifts. It is difficult to understand why the Government are content with a situation where a fire risk assessor needs no qualifications whatever. It is difficult to understand why we cannot define the responsible owner in such a way to avoid leaseholders, who are already paying so much, footing the bill for things that are not their fault.
Endless promises of action, statements, consultations, taskforces and roundtables without any real change have tied the entire building safety world in knots, with hundreds of thousands of people paying the consequences, living in unsafe homes or unable to sell their flat because there is such confusion over which buildings are safe and what pieces of paper are needed to prove they are safe and who is liable. At every stage, the Opposition have sought to be constructive and to help the Government to improve the Bill. There is a lot more work to be done and we hope that as much of it as possible will be achieved now through secondary legislation.
Having debated our amendments on Report, I want to raise an important point about the implications of the Bill for our fire and rescue services. We welcome the high level of inspection and enforcement that the Bill requires, but we need clarity about the funding and resources provided to carry out such work. Over the past decade, we have seen devastating cuts to firefighter numbers, amounting to 20% of the service. Fire inspectors have seen some of the largest cuts, yet the Bill requires much more of them, and many more of them. I would like the Minister to set out what additional funding will be provided to the fire and rescue services to undertake this work.
I pay tribute to our fire and rescue services, as the Minister did, who go above and beyond to keep us safe and have worked tirelessly to protect us throughout the covid pandemic. I am grateful to the Ministers, the officials and the House staff who have worked with us on the Bill, and I give particular thanks to Yohanna Sallberg and Kenneth Fox, who have brilliantly supported me through the passage of the Bill. I also pay tribute to the hon. Members who have made such important contributions today and at previous stages of the Bill. There is much expertise in this House—either built over years of work in this place or personal experience in jobs that people have done before coming to this place—that the Government should listen to with more urgency.
In July 2017, I made my maiden speech during the first full debate in this Chamber on the Grenfell tragedy. I never would have thought that three years later, I would be facing a Government that are still yet to pass a single Act of Parliament to deliver on the clear promises made in the wake of that tragedy. The most important aim of the Bill is to clarify fire safety rules to prevent loss of life or damage to buildings from fire. It is to ensure that our constituents can live safely in their homes. I want to say to all those stuck living in unsafe blocks, but in particular to the Grenfell survivors and the victims’ families, that Opposition Members will not rest until every measure necessary is in place to prevent a fire like Grenfell from ever happening again.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will make a statement on the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Russia.
I thank the ISC past and present and all involved in producing the Russia report:
“until recently, the Government had badly underestimated the Russian threat and the response it required.”
Not my words, but the damning indictment of deep systemic failings in the Government’s approach to security that the Russia report sets out. It is not so much that the Government studied what was happening and missed the signs. The truth is that they took a conscious decision not to look at all, as in the case of the 2016 referendum. If there is any doubt about the failure of Ministers to look, let me tell the House what the report says:
“The written evidence provided to us appeared to suggest that HMG had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes”.
Who provided the written evidence? If we check the footnote, it was the Government themselves. No wonder the Government were so desperate to delay the publication of the report. Sitting on it for months and blocking its publication before a general election was a dereliction of duty.
We have no issue with the Russian people. It is the Russian state that is involved in a litany of hostile activity, cyber-warfare, interference in democratic processes, illicit finance and acts of violence on UK soil. The report finds a failure of security departments to engage with this issue to the extent that the UK now faces a threat from Russia within its own borders. Does the Minister accept that that is in a situation when the UK is, as the report says, a top target for the Russian regime? Does he also accept, on defending the UK’s democratic processes and discourse, that no single organisation was offering leadership in government? Instead, it was, in the words of the report, “a hot potato” passed from one to another, with no body taking overall responsibility.
I thank our security services for the work they do, but they need help, and the report makes it clear that they have not received the strategic support, the legislative tools or the resources necessary to defend our interests. The report concludes that
“recent changes in resourcing to counter Russian Hostile State Activity are not (or not only) due to a continuing escalation of the threat—but appear to be an indicator of playing catch-up.”
When will the Government stop playing catch up? Anyone who saw the Prime Minister’s failure to engage on this at Prime Minister’s questions will be extremely worried. When will the Government treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves, act on the findings of the report and put the security of our country first?
Given that the Minister has so much to say on this subject, it is really rather sad that it is having to be said in the context of an urgent question rather than a voluntary statement by the Government.
The Russia report could not have been produced to this high standard without the dedication, the expertise and, above all, the objectivity of the ISC’s brilliant staff, some of whom I have worked with previously, yet according to the journalist, Tim Walker, some people within Government tried to sack the secretariat and make political appointments. Will my right hon. Friend, as I still regard him, resist the temptation to fob us off with clichés about not believing everything we read in the media and give this House now a categorical commitment that no party political special advisers will be allowed anywhere near the ISC?
Unlike the Minister, I will at least have the grace to congratulate the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) on his election to the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and he will have our backing in making sure he stays there because he is an independent-minded person and the right person to chair that Committee. Like him, I thank the Committee for publication of the report.
There is a lot of stuff in the report; this is a cow that is going to give us a lot of milk for quite some time, and it deserves to be taken seriously and considered objectively. The issues it raises in relation to actively looking the other way on interference in the Brexit referendum needs to be addressed objectively by both Government and the Opposition.
That also applies to what the report has to say about the Scottish referendum. I have banged on more about this than any other MP or politician in Scotland; in fact in Scotland, my party has a stronger record on this than any other political party. So let us have the inquiry into Brexit and the 2014 referendum campaign; let us bring that forward, and be clear that that is something only the United Kingdom Government can do—and if they do, the Minister will have my support in that.
When do the Government intend to bring forward the legislation that the Minister mentioned, for example on foreign agents, and can he clarify that there will be ample time to debate the rather confused and obscure effort across Government to counter this threat seriously?
The report highlights concerning aspects of Russian interference in UK affairs with a sinister combination of 21st-century technology and tactics that are reminiscent of the cold war. Much of the report is redacted for obvious reasons, but can the Minister assure the House that he is satisfied that, where mistakes were made or threats were underestimated, they are already being put right to ensure that our democracy and economy are protected from nefarious influence, now and in future?
It was not lost on the House that the Minister did not answer the question of the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Will he do so now, please?
The ISC report suggests that the SNP has questions to answer about Russian interference. Does the Minister agree that, given that Scotland and the independence referendum are at the centre of the allegations, it is right that the SNP explains what it knew about the issue and when?
I wish that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), or the special adviser who wrote that question, had actually read the report, because clearly she has not.
One of the Committee’s main recommendations was the need for a Bill to reform the Official Secrets Act and for an espionage Act. I welcome what the Minister has announced today and, more broadly and more informatively, what was in The Times this morning. The former director of MI5 and the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) when he gave evidence to the Committee supported that.
In 2017, the Law Commissioners set off a consultation process about that, which is yet to report. I ask the Minister when it will report. I also urge him to make sure that we get the legislation in place, because it is needed. Let us hope that it is not just some spin to take the headlines the day after the report was announced. Let us get it into action.
As a Select Committee Chair, may I welcome this report? Scrutiny is good. It helps to raise the bar and it is healthy for democracy. However, for those who follow such events, it has long been recognised that Russia poses a national security threat. It regularly buzzes our airspace with its MiGs, and the Foreign Affairs Committee “Moscow’s Gold” report highlighted many of the same issues as this report. Does the Security Minister agree that Russia’s cyber and disinformation actions are a reflection of the changing character of conflict, with calibrated state-sponsored attacks designed to interfere with our politics and economy, but beneath the threshold of any military response? Does he agree that we need to adapt quickly to that new form of political competition?
I have been warning about Putin’s Russia for 19 years now, and calling for the Magnitsky sanctions for 10 years. What mystifies me is that Government Ministers still give out golden visas to dodgy Russian oligarchs, that Government Ministers still grant exemptions to dodgy Russian oligarchs so that they can hide their ownership of businesses in this country, and that Government Ministers still take millions of pounds from dodgy Russian oligarchs. We have to clean up our act, and it has to start with the Government.
I fully accept what the Minister says about this Government acting, and I give credit where credit is due. I have met folks in the Russia unit, and I thank them for their work. However, from 2007 to at least 2014, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said so eloquently, we were hugely complacent and it damaged us. My question is about a foreign agent registration process, because I am unclear about it. Is the Minister talking about spies—making it illegal for the GRU to have people here—or is he talking about foreign lobbying? I have been calling for a foreign lobbying Act for two years now, and the foreign agent registration process in the US is about foreign lobbying, on which we badly need new and updated laws.
I declare my interest as the chair of the new all-party group on technology and national security and as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. The remarkable insight from this report was the lack of horizon scanning, understanding, mitigation and response to modern threats in the technological frontier from hostile states. On the assumption that the Minister agrees that we need to invest in and enhance our capabilities in this technological frontier, when does he intend to come to the House with the Government’s strategy to secure our national security?
My right hon. Friend may be aware that I have done more than most to try to stop the return of Russia to the Council of Europe, so I recognise the enduring threat that it poses. Does he share my belief that the Russia report largely underplays the bigger picture and that there is a distinct risk to the UK through the international institutions to which we jointly belong?
The Minister still has not answered the question posed by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who alleged that there was a political attempt to remove the secretariat of the ISC and replace it with political placemen or women. Was the Minister aware of that—yes or no?
I pay tribute to all those working in the British intelligence and security services who are putting their lives at risk here and abroad, including my father, who spent 45 years working for the Government, facing the Soviet Union as the enemy during the cold war. This report highlights that, as we have always done, we need to adjust and adapt to a new battlefield. Can the Minister assure me that the intelligence services and the armed forces will get every resource and piece of legislation they need to be effective?
For years, when I was campaigning for an infected blood inquiry, I was familiar with the “nothing to see here” response from Whitehall, until it was decided that there was something to see. If a chief constable played down a spate of local muggings because police chose not to investigate, any MP worth their salt would not accept that. It should not be any different when it comes to properly investigating and taking action to protect our national security and democratic institutions from those who wish to subvert those institutions, weaken or divide our country and break up our alliances. Should not any welcome measures taken to strengthen national security be taken in the full knowledge of what those weaknesses are by having an inquiry into Russian interference in 2016?
I want to pick up on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). Russia poses a serious threat to this country and is changing that threat, so can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will continue to work with NATO and our other international allies to tackle this threat and that we will be resolute in defending our country, our democracy and our values from a hostile state?
The Committee said that Ministers did not want to know or ask about Russian interference in elections and referendums. It seems they did not want to ask either about dark money funnelled into the Brexit referendum through the Democratic Unionist party by a former Scottish Tory vice-chair, Richard Cook. How will the right hon. Member stop foreign donations polluting our elections?
I recommend to my right hon. Friend the report published yesterday by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee into misinformation during the pandemic. It makes clear that state campaigns, including those from Russia, lay at the heart of it. Does he agree that social media companies hold great power yet have been left unaccountable for their inaction, and does he have any general reflections on the ISC report generally, which has caused great interest in the House and certain parts of the country? Does he think it might be welcomed by President Putin in Russia?
In order to get everybody in, it would be helpful if we could speed up the questions and the answers.
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), and for absolute clarity for people watching at home, Russians who invest £2 million or more in the UK can get a visa and in five years can convert that visa into citizenship. Does that not mean that restricting political donations to British citizens makes no real defence?
In the context of this report, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely shameful that Alex Salmond, the former First Minister of Scotland, remains in the pay of the Kremlin as an apparatchik of Russia Today, and that so few nationalists condemn him for it?
The Minister will be familiar with the four horsemen of the apocalypse; I believe that Russia is one of those horsemen and a real danger to the free world. Will the Minister further outline what lessons we have learned from the report that will help us to counteract the very real presence of Russian interference, especially in social media? How do we balance safety with our inalienable right to hold and express our political opinions?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Mr Putin sees the potential weakening of our United Kingdom as a win for Russian interests and that our country is better defended, better protected and better together?
The ISC’s report states that Russian influence in the UK has become the new normal. Individuals with close links to Putin are now well integrated into the UK’s business and social scene and accepted because of their wealth. Surrounding these oligarchs is an industry of enablers who, wittingly or unwittingly, help to extend Russian influence and the nefarious interests of the Russian state in the UK. What steps will the Minister now take to tackle the growth of this industry and the ability of wealthy individuals to influence British politicians and parties and our democracy?
As a former special adviser at the Ministry of Defence during both the Syrian and the Ukrainian conflicts, I am well aware of the threat that Russia continues to pose to the UK and our allies. Will my right hon. Friend clarify what immediate next steps the Government will be taking to counter the disinformation and cyber-attacks—including, at the moment, against the vital work on a coronavirus vaccine?
Let’s park the lines from Mr Cummings, shall we? The Conservative party takes money from the Russians, No. 10 suppressed the report, and the Prime Minister forgot that his first duty is the security of the British people. So will the Minister go away and tell the Prime Minister to investigate the Kremlin’s role in undermining our democracy?
The report said that it was surprisingly difficult to establish who has responsibility for what. That conclusion is supported by the Government’s response, which alludes to the responsibilities of the Paymaster General, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, DCMS, the Home Office, the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, and the PM. At 10 am this morning, we still did not know who had drawn the short straw and would come to the House to defend the indefensible. Is not this report, the Government’s delay in publishing it and their reaction to it just further examples of the incompetence and arrogance that we have come to expect of this Conservative and Unionist Government?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm for the people of Wolverhampton that our intelligence and security agencies are capable of identifying and dealing with any threat in this evolving battle space?
The ISC stressed the need to ensure that our response to the threat from Russia is not solely focused on national events and organisations. So what does the Minister intend to do to protect our public sector—our NHS and local government services, which he knows all about—from malicious Russian cyber-intrusion once funding for the national cyber-security programme comes to an end in March next year?
This morning, on the radio, Commissioner Cressida Dick said that people should be concerned about “the threat from Russia”. Will the Minister assure me that our security services will work with our police services to make sure that they have the data, the information and the resources to deal with any local threats?
The Minister has told us today that he is confident that there is no need for an investigation into any potential Russian interference in the EU referendum, because if there had been, it would have been detected by existing processes. Given that this report sets out that there was Russian interference in other referendums and that the Russians continue to be involved in British politics, why does he think that the Russians chose to sit that one out?
It comes as no surprise to me that the Russian state seeks to infiltrate and influence so many aspects of our society, but I am particularly worried by Russian cyber-activity, especially attempts to steal our secrets, intellectual property and new technologies. I know that, in recent years, more resources have been given to the security and intelligence services, particularly GCHQ and the Army’s 77th Brigade, but does my right hon. Friend agree that our offensive cyber-capabilities may well have to be enhanced further given the persistent and increasing threats from Russia?
Despite repeated requests and reminders from hon. and right hon. Members, this Government have dithered and delayed for 10 long months and tried their very best to suppress the Russia report, and now we all know why. Given the threat to our national security and the fact that it was about preserving and protecting our very democracy itself, how could this Government have been so incompetent, so asleep at the wheel, and not even asked the bare minimum obvious questions?
The ISC report rightly thanks five Russia experts from outside the intelligence community, two of whom have done some great work with the Legatum Institute. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking those individuals, the institute and, indeed, its visionary founder, Christopher Chandler, for having the courage and the commitment to expend the resources and take the risks to oppose Russian wrongdoing from the private sector?
As if it was not bad enough that we have unelected peers making major decisions for Scotland, the report raises serious questions about several Members of the House of Lords, their links to business interests in Russia and the potential for those relationships to be exploited by the Russian state. Will the Government urgently support measures to enhance scrutiny of the incomes of the Lords to the same level as the rules for registering MPs’ interests?
The people of Darlington voted to leave the EU in 2016. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the referendum accurately recorded the genuine will of the people, and that the Government were right to deliver on that mandate and take us out of the EU?
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I served on the ISC in the late ’90s. We had a big Labour majority in Parliament and a Conservative Chair, the much-respected Tom King. There is a long tradition of Members of both Houses putting aside party politics to engage in independent scrutiny of the vital work that our intelligence agencies do and, crucially, to work in support of the national interest. The Government put that at risk at their peril, so can the Minister answer the question put by the current ISC Chair, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)? Will he now rule out any attempt at Government interference in the work of the ISC, any political appointments to its secretariat and any special advisers to be appointed by him? Will he rule that out now, yes or no?
Yes, Russia is attacking our democratic structures, and internationally Russia and others are also undermining our greatest assets, our alliances and multilaterals. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a unit at the Foreign Office specifically focused on protecting our interests and upholding the democratic nature of elections of presidents and chairs of multilateral organisations?
The Minister is asked to speak for no more than 20 minutes.
We are living through extraordinary times. Covid-19 has dealt a great blow to our country—its health, its economy and its way of life—and we are mourning the loved ones we have lost. But in the midst of this crisis, we have seen countless acts of extraordinary resilience and bravery.
As usual, as the Minister just said, the fire service has been front and centre in this battle, answering our calls for help, driving ambulances, delivering personal protective equipment, helping to distribute food and even, I hear, delivering babies. The fire service is the most trusted of all our emergency services because it is always there when we need it, so it would not be right to begin this debate without paying tribute to the work of our firefighters across the UK. Yesterday was Firefighters Memorial Day. The minute’s silence at midday was a moment to reflect on the more than 2,300 UK firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Each one of those tragic lives lost paints a stark picture of the realities faced by firefighters. They risk their lives every day to ensure the safety of each and every one of us.
We are here to debate the draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) (Amendment) Order 2020. The Labour party supports the order. It is nearly two years since the Greater Manchester Combined Authority asked to bring responsibility of fire and rescue services into the hands of the deputy mayor for policing and crime, with no particular reason for the delay, as far as I can see, and there is precedent elsewhere in England for this model.
This relatively straightforward order represents the gentle evolution of devolution. As Donald Dewar said at the opening of the Scottish Parliament, devolution is not an end, but a “means to greater ends.” We should be constantly open to change, to better serve our local populations.
The order allows the Mayor to make arrangements for fire and rescue functions to be exercised by the deputy mayor for policing and crime, and amends the remit of the Greater Manchester police and crime panel to include scrutiny of the exercise of those fire and rescue functions in addition to their existing remit of police and crime commissioner functions. That allows the Greater Manchester police and crime panel to scrutinise the delivery of all the main functions of the deputy mayor for policing, fire and crime.
The order will build on the success of devolution that we have already seen in Greater Manchester. Under Andy Burnham, we have seen real action to tackle rough sleeping, real support for young people and the biggest investment in cycling and walking outside London. Devolution enables good local, joined-up and effective policy making.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the efforts of the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, his deputy mayor and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority for their recent work on fire and rescue services. Following the tragic fire at Grenfell, where 72 people lost their lives, they set up the Greater Manchester high-rise taskforce, chaired by Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett, to provide fire safety reassurance. They carried out proactive inspections of all high-rise residential premises to ensure that all buildings comply with fire safety regulations.
Greater Manchester has 78 high-rise buildings that have had to adapt interim safety measures because of serious fire safety deficiencies and slow Government action to support remediation. In late February, I watched Andy Burnham, City Mayor Dennett and other civic leaders and MPs from across the country join residents caught up in the cladding crisis at a rally on Parliament Square, calling for urgent action from the Government in the Budget. The Government listened, and the Chancellor announced the £1 billion building safety fund for the removal of dangerous cladding of all forms from high-rise buildings.
With thousands of leaseholders across the country still living in buildings wrapped in unsafe cladding, the focus must now be on completing remediation works as quickly as possible. We only need to briefly read the accounts of the Manchester Cladiators to know the dire situations they face on a daily basis.
From blocks like Imperial Point in Salford Quays to Albion Works in central Manchester, the stories are painfully similar: lives put on hold as residents are trapped in unsafe buildings, unable to sell their properties, and living in constant emotional and financial distress. I do not want to rehearse all the arguments from last week’s Fire Safety Bill, but we know that there is much more to be done by the Government and that we must move faster. I press the Minister again to provide an update on the progress of the review and the costs that residents are incurring while paying for waking watches. Is this review looking into the whole costs of interim fire safety measures?
As the Fire Brigades Union said yesterday, each time a firefighter dies at work, we need to understand what led to their death and what could have been done to prevent it. Yesterday we remembered the 2,300 firefighters who have died in service, but we must never accept their loss as inevitable. It is our duty to learn from every firefighter death and to fight for the improvements to operational practices that could save lives into the future. But that job has been immeasurably harder over the last decade, as we have seen brutal funding cuts.
After a decade of austerity, we have 11,000 fewer fire- fighters, so when fires sadly do occur, fire engines may answer the call without enough firefighters to tackle the blaze. That is not only dangerous for the public, but potentially deadly for firefighters too. We could not debate this order without considering the heavy hand of 10 years of cuts to our fire services in Greater Manchester and across the country. The landscape of complexity post Grenfell, with the enormous fire risk of so many buildings across the country, compounds an already difficult situation. Given the extent of the crisis in recent years and the number of individuals who live in unsafe buildings, we need a strong fire service to be ready to deal with what can perhaps be described as a ticking time bomb for as long as the cladding remains in place. Central Government funding for fire and rescue services in Greater Manchester has been decimated over the past decade; it has fallen by almost a third from £75.2 million in 2010 to £52.9 million now. Across the UK, between 2010 and 2016, the Government cut central funding to fire and rescue services by 28% in real terms, followed by a further cut of 15% by 2020. These cuts have led to a cut of 20% in the number of firefighters.
When a Grenfell Tower resident first called 999 just before 1 am on 14 June 2017, it was five minutes before a fire engine was at the scene and 13 minutes before the first firefighters entered the building. Equally, it was only a matter of minutes after the first call was made that fire services were on the scene of the fire at the student accommodation in Bolton in November last year. Clearly, when operating on such fine margins as the hazard of fire presents, fire services rely on rapid turnaround to be effective. It is shocking, then, to see that fire response times across Greater Manchester since 2010 have risen from seven minutes and 14 seconds to seven minutes and 20 seconds, with a rise of over 40 seconds across England. It may seem like only a matter of seconds, but with the fine margins that exist in fire and rescue situations, a rise in fire response times is unacceptable.
But this is no damning indictment of the fire service across central Manchester or anywhere else. No—it is far more a wrong that stems from a decade of successive Conservative Governments’ neglect of fire and rescue services. While funding has been cut, the number of firefighters across Greater Manchester has fallen by 29% since 2010—down from 1,923, to 1,368 in 2019. The number of operational appliances has fallen by 14% over the same period. The Mayor and deputy Mayor in Greater Manchester, and their teams, are doing their best in these circumstances—namely, with their pledge to bring in 108 new firefighters—but, despite their best efforts, there remains a gaping hole left by increasingly scarce central Government funds.
On Friday, we will celebrate VE day, marking the end of world war two. In the first 22 nights of air raids during the blitz, firefighters fought nearly 10,000 fires. According to Winston Churchill, the fire service
“were a grand lot and their work must never be forgotten.”
Well, the Opposition—and I am sure the Government—agree. With such extensive cuts across the past decade in provisions for fire and rescue services, and with a far more precarious environment facing those services in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, will the Minister tell us when the Government are going to begin to make fire and rescue services in Greater Manchester and across the rest of the country a priority? With firefighters risking their lives to save our lives, the bare minimum they can expect is a properly funded service. After a decade of cuts and a covid crisis where our firefighters have gone above and beyond, we must now see real change.
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As it was the fourth annual Firefighters Memorial Day yesterday, I wish to pay tribute to the life-saving work of all those who are part of our fire service and put their lives on the line for all of us on a daily basis. I also wish to thank Mayor Andy Burnham and the deputy mayor for the important work they have done on fire safety. It is now almost three years since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people lost their lives due to a combination of dangerous cladding and inadequate fire safety strategy. Despite the ongoing inquiry and the steps many councils have taken to improve fire safety, Greater Manchester continues to have 78 high-rise buildings that have had to adopt interim safety measures because of serious fire safety deficiencies and the Government’s failure to act quickly enough, more than 1,000 days since the Grenfell tragedy. With people rightly concerned about the situation, many have taken matters into their own hands, by organising to demand immediate action by the Government. For example, the Manchester Cladiators are a group of residents who formed last year to represent those in Greater Manchester who have been impacted by the cladding scandal, including by having the flammable aluminium composite material cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower. They have been campaigning tirelessly to make their voice heard amid continuing Government delays and indecision, and I take this opportunity to applaud them for the work they have done to keep this issue at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
As for the Government, there is a reason they have been slow to act. Quite simply, it comes down to a decade of austerity. They have ravaged central funding to fire and rescue services across the UK. For example, between 2010 and 2016 alone, the Conservative Government slashed funding by 28% in real terms, and that was compounded by a further cut of 15% by 2020. That has had a crippling effect, resulting in 11,000 fewer fire service personnel, reducing the fire service’s capacity by a staggering 20% and putting people’s lives in further jeopardy. In Greater Manchester alone, in the past five years critical funding has fallen by more than 15%. In cash terms, that amounts to a cut of about £10 million that our service has had to absorb. Since 2010, there has been a one-third reduction.
It is not just reducing bureaucracy and red tape that is cutting the firefighters who battle blazes and save lives on a daily basis. In Greater Manchester, there are now 29% fewer firefighters, combined with a 14% reduction in life-saving fire equipment. The picture is truly bleak. Is it any wonder, therefore, that in 2018 the UK faced the highest number of fire-related fatalities in almost a decade, which directly correlated with the increasing cuts that the fire service has faced? Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has attempted to mitigate that by committing to the recruitment of 108 firefighters, but even that only goes part of the way to redressing the balance and does not bring the levels up to what they were in 2010. In addition, central Government cuts have left Greater Manchester Combined Authority facing a situation where there is no escaping the fact that response times will be longer, putting more lives at risk.
At a time like this, we need to make sure that the past decade of austerity is reversed. It is completely unacceptable that in 2020, residents continue to live in housing that cannot protect them, while their fire services continue to face cuts that put them further at risk. The situation needs to be urgently addressed. As we have seen with the coronavirus crisis, underfunding key services leaves them vulnerable and ill equipped to handle further challenges. I call on the Government to do all they can immediately to reverse the year-on-year cuts, to provide adequate funding so that our fire service is fit for purpose and to ensure that all housing, including high-rise towers, is safe to live in.
I thank the hon. Lady for that information; the House can now proceed with good ease.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his remarks and for his briefing me earlier today. I welcome him back to the role that he used to occupy when the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) was Home Secretary. Of course, I wish him every success in this very, very important role in Government.
I join the Minister in his remarks about the extraordinary bravery and heroism of those who acted to save life both at London Bridge and at Streatham. But as he set out, they are only two in a long line of incidents, so while that threat is evolving, so too must our response. I entirely share his view that those who peddle hatred will never divide us across this House.
I ask the Minister to pass on my thanks to the Home Secretary for the letter that she sent to the shadow Home Secretary setting out the logic behind this decision. I make it absolutely clear that the Opposition support the measure before the House. We support the decision to proscribe Sonnenkrieg Division and the merging and amending in relation to PKK, and the decision taken in relation to SRN. The first duty of any Government is the protection of the public. These are, of course, difficult decisions where a balance has to be found in proscription decisions as per section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
I turn first to Sonnenkrieg Division. As the Minister set out, it is a white supremacist group—a splinter group of System Resistance Network, which is an alias of the already-proscribed National Action. Members of SKD were jailed in June 2019 for terrorism offences, including encouraging terrorism and possession of documents useful to a terrorist attack. It encouraged an attack on the Duke of Sussex because of his marriage to the Duchess of Sussex. The Home Secretary’s letter on this stated that the group has
“encouraged and glorified acts of terrorism via its posts and images, including home-made propaganda using Nazi imagery calling for attacks on minorities.”
SKD is the second right-wing organisation to be proscribed, and rightly so. National Action was proscribed in December 2016 when it was found to be publicising its online material via social media, frequently featuring extreme violent images, including promoting and encouraging acts of terrorism in the wake of the murder of our dear friend and colleague Jo Cox. That is why, as I indicated, I join with the Minister in his action with regard to SRN.
It is a sad fact that far-right extremism is increasing. Last week we saw the awful tragedy in Germany to which the Minister referred, with the killing of nine people and the wounding of six others in two late night cafés before the individual concerned went home and killed himself and his mother. Before that rampage, he released what can only be described as a letter of hate to the German nation.
Earlier this week, The Times interviewed Dave Thompson, the chief constable of West Midlands police and vice-chairman of the National Police Chiefs Council, who also outlined the fact that the far-right threat is rising. He said:
“There is a greater prevalence of extremist far-right activity, and we’ve got to police that very carefully because people are not just talking about a shared ideology, they do talk about doing things…It isn’t just promoting an ideology, it is a very much fixated approach to attacking people.”
As of September 2019, on the latest available Home Office statistics, there were 38 individuals in custody who expressed extreme right-wing views; by comparison, in 2013 there were only six. On that basis and in this context, this proscription is a welcome move to tackle the threat that is before us.
I move on to the amendment and merging of PKK and TAK in the list of proscribed organisations, and adding HPG as an alias of PKK. It is worth noting that PKK was proscribed and listed back in 2001. TAK had been proscribed since 2006, and the assessment has been made that HPG is an alias of PKK. Looking at that history, it is important that as the organisation evolves, the law evolves with it. On that basis, the changes that the Minister is suggesting are sensible.
As I said, the recent attacks in London Bridge and Streatham highlight the need for a continuing focus on this area. Proscription, as the Minister will be aware, is only one part of doing that. He mentioned the Prevent programme. Could he confirm when an independent reviewer of the Prevent programme will be appointed? I am sure he is aware of the statutory obligation that requires the report to be laid before the House before August this year. It is, of course, important to have the right person in place, but time is also of the essence. More widely, can he confirm the importance of maintaining the strength of our existing security tools in our negotiations with the EU this year? The European arrest warrant, Europol and the other databases are crucial in the fight against terrorism, which recognises no borders.
Terror attacks are a reminder—a terrible reminder—of the atrocities that can happen, but they also show the tremendous efforts of our emergency services, police and security services and the resolve and strength of our communities. While these occasions are always sombre, we should derive great optimism from the strength of our communities and the resilience they show in the face of a threat of hatred that will never divide us in this House.
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First, I thank the Minister for bringing this order to the House, which is really important. There is rightly a focus on ISIS terrorism here in the United Kingdom, on the mainland, but there is also a rise in right-wing terrorism. He mentioned the attacks in Germany, but here on the UK mainland, there are indications of a rise in right-wing extremism. These groups may masquerade as different organisations and try to transform or transmute into something else, and the proscription of the SKD is very important. Has the Minister, or perhaps the Minister for Crime and Policing, had an opportunity to have talks with the Police Service of Northern Ireland? It is a yes/no question; we do not need the detail.
I thank the Minister for that, which is very positive. I always expect positivity from the Minister whenever the opportunity arises, and it very clearly has tonight.
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Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. I think there probably is a method in place for doing that already. I believe there is—I know it is done in different ways in this House and outside this House—and I know that the Minister’s role as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gives him a real insight into what happens in Northern Ireland.
I wanted to ask that question because my understanding is that there is a growth in right-wing extremism in the Province, probably masquerading under the proscribed organisations already there. I know it is very important, so could I, for the record, gently refer to the IRA dissident threat? It is still very clearly there for police officers and prison officers, with booby-traps under their cars. A large bomb, destined for the Larne ferry, was found and thwarted by the police and intelligence officers—and a real biggie that would have been for the IRA. Again, however, it shows that police forces are on top of that. It is very clear to me that this is a salient reminder that IRA terrorists and IRA dissidents in particular are just as dangerous in the United Kingdom, as indeed are ISIS terrorists.
The Minister referred to going for the assets. I welcome his comment, but could we have a bit more detail, if possible, for the record? It is so important that the assets of such organisations are targeted and focused on in order to take away the money and the opportunity that they quite clearly have. In Northern Ireland, paramilitary groups are involved in drug dealing, trafficking, protection rackets and all of those things. Again, I understand that the close contacts between paramilitary and right-wing organisations in Northern Ireland and those on the mainland involve all the spheres of fundraising that they are trying to use.