James Brokenshire debates with Home Office

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)

Oral Answers to Questions

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Monday 28th September 2020

(3 days, 5 hours ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne (Jarrow) (Lab) - Hansard

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling online hate speech and extremism. [906742]

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire) - Hansard

As a Government, we are committed to vigorously countering extremist ideology by making sure that every part of government is taking action. That includes ongoing conversations between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office on the implementation of the online harms framework to tackle hateful content. We will continue to work across government to challenge extremism in all its forms.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman highlights an important point about the exploitation of the online world to attract the unwary and what that can lead to, which is why we are working with the companies concerned to see that content is removed. I highlight the online harms work, which will lead to a new regime to put new responsibilities on those companies to provide support in respect of the challenge of extremism and content that might not be illegal but profoundly is harmful.

Julie Elliott Portrait Julie Elliott - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

As I indicated in response to the previous question, we are in discussion with the DCMS about these issues. It troubles me that sometimes this disinformation and these conspiracy theories can be used to galvanise more extremist behaviour. We are very alive to that in terms of working with our colleagues at the DCMS and in terms of our broader work in the Prevent space where this issue can move into terrorism. The issue of the extreme right-wing and far-right extremists seeking to exploit the online world and trap some quite young people is something we are very focused on and conscious of.

Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I highlight to the hon. Lady the work that is being led by the DCMS, with which we are working on the cross-Whitehall counter-disinformation unit, which has been stood up during this time of acute disinformation to challenge some of the conspiracy theories and false information. I assure her that there is extensive work across government to analyse and then work with the companies to take false or misleading information down. Clearly, it is an ongoing challenge, but we are determined to take firm action where false narratives are being perpetrated.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

The 2015 strategy was the first of its kind in the world in having a unit dedicated to countering extremism. I pay tribute to the work of the commissioner, and I read very carefully her words to the Select Committee last week. We will work with the commissioner—indeed, the Home Secretary met her last week—and we are working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Ofcom to consider the appropriate design for the regulatory framework. We will continue to develop this as we prepare to introduce the legislation, and we will consider the commissioner’s proposals as part of that work.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con) - Hansard

What steps her Department is taking to protect victims of domestic abuse. [906707]

Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords]

(Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
James Brokenshire Excerpts
Tuesday 8th September 2020

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn - Hansard
8 Sep 2020, 4:19 p.m.

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.

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire) - Hansard
8 Sep 2020, 4:26 p.m.

It is a privilege and pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Rosie. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members across the House for their contributions during the course of this thoughtful debate, and I recognise and appreciate the support for the principles that are enunciated within a short Bill with a defined purpose.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), and I will come to his amendments and his important points in relation to Hong Kong. I will also address the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis)—my long-standing friend—on extradition. Indeed, he and I have debated such points over many years, and he will remember the changes that were brought about on things such as forum bars and where the right forum actually is. I can certainly say to him that we will always keep our extradition arrangements under review.

I thank the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for her challenges, and I will come to them during my contribution. Turning to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), there are obviously issues around the EU and how we negotiate and how we use the freedoms that we now hold as an independent state. I hope to explain further the negotiations in relation to the EU, which are very much extant. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) for his support and for so clearly setting out the purpose of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made several wide-ranging points, underlining why we have extradition to hold up our justice system and to ensure that those who need to be brought to justice are, including in significant cases that touch so many of our constituents. On that note, I appreciate the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). We are clearly aware of the constituency case she highlighted, and we are working with our colleagues at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in connection with the case. It is important in that context to highlight how we approach such matters, ensuring that appropriate standards are met and applied, and she sought to underline certain issues. I will not comment on the detail of the individual case she raises on behalf of her constituent Jonathan Taylor, but I say to her that this Bill does not change the role of the court or the Secretary of State in relation to a person’s extradition or any of the existing safeguards in the Extradition Act 2003. No individual will be extradited if the request is politically motivated—that touches on the broader point she was seeking to highlight, and I can give her that assurance.

Break in Debate

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) - Hansard

When the police make one of these immediate arrests, how long do they have before they have to allow the suspect to go?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
8 Sep 2020, midnight

My hon. Friend makes an important point about safeguards. He will see that the arrested individual will need to be before a judge as soon as practicable after arrest. That is one of the safeguards that I wanted to highlight, as it underpins this Bill. The new arrest power, in the prescribed circumstances, is the only change—this is another important point to stress—to current extradition law and practice that is introduced. It is designed to bring a wanted person into extradition proceedings under part 2 of the Extradition Act in an expedited way, without changing the likelihood of successful extradition. It does not change the current legislative framework, nor any of the process for the extradition proceedings themselves. The Bill is purely about shifting the point at which the police can intervene and arrest a wanted person. It in no way reduces the safeguards that must apply to any subsequent extradition proceedings considered by the court or the Home Secretary. Judicial oversight will continue as it does now after any arrest. The courts will continue to assess extradition requests as they do now, to determine, for example, whether extradition would be compatible with the individual’s human rights or whether the person would receive a fair trial. If they would not, extradition would be barred.

The Bill includes five main safeguards. It applies only to certain specified countries. Countries with a poor human rights record or those that have abused Interpol systems could not be considered suitable for this provision. The addition of any countries would require the consent of both Houses, and it only applies to sufficiently serious offences; the power will only be available in relation to offences that would be criminal in the UK for which an offender would receive a prison sentence of at least three years and which is a sufficiently serious form of that offence to justify arrest.

The designated authority must be satisfied that arrangements are in place to ensure that requests made by the country concerned are made on the basis of an underlying warrant or a conviction. Also, as I have indicated, the arrested individual will need to be brought before a judge as soon as practicable after arrest, and the power does not alter extradition proceedings in any other way and does not interfere with the court or the Secretary of State’s role in extradition proceedings.

I hope that that sets out quite clearly the importance of the safeguards. I know that some Members raised the issue of Interpol. I stress that the UK continues to work with Interpol to ensure that its rules are robust, effective and complied with. It is notable that the former chief constable of Essex was recently made the executive director of policing services for Interpol—the most senior operational role in that organisation—and a UK Government lawyer has also been seconded to Interpol’s notices and diffusion taskforce to work to ensure Interpol rules are properly and robustly adhered to by Interpol member states.

I turn to Government amendments 11 and 15, which provide a contingency to keep an important current law enforcement protection for the UK public in place after the end of the transition period, whatever the outcome of the current negotiations. As the House knows, the negotiated outcome we are seeking with the EU would create a warrant-based system based on the EU’s surrender agreement with Norway and Iceland. The purpose of amending the Bill in this way at this time is to ensure the continuation of relevant arrest powers, should that prove necessary. Amendment 11 is a consequential amendment that will ensure that amendment 15 will be commenced only if we do not have in place new extradition arrangements with the EU at the end of the transition period. If an agreement is reached, these provisions will not need to come into effect. This is simply a contingency, and the provisions also provide a contingency in the event that we do not agree new extradition arrangements with Norway and Iceland to maintain the arrest power currently available by virtue of the EU-Norway-Iceland surrender agreement.

Opposition amendment 17 covers similar ground, although framing it in EEA terms. I hope the hon. Member for St Helens North will appreciate that we should approve participants on a state-by-state basis, which he would probably acknowledge, and that is therefore why we think the better approach is to name countries individually.

On the progress of the negotiations on law enforcement and criminal justice, I think there is a good degree of convergence in what the UK and the EU are seeking to negotiate in terms of operational capabilities. We will keep working to bridge the gap where differences remain. There is still an agreement to be had and we will continue to work hard to achieve it.

Government amendment 12 specifies the National Crime Agency is to be the designated authority for this legislation. The designated authority is the agency that will have the task of certifying that the international arrest alerts conform to the right criteria for them to carry the new power of provisional arrest. The drafting is future-proofed, as it allows for the designated authority to be changed by regulation should the need arise. We have taken that approach as the direct alternative to using secondary legislation on this occasion, to ensure the best use of parliamentary time. The amendment therefore represents a change of process rather than policy and is reflected by Opposition amendment 16. I hope that the Opposition will recognise, because of the future-proofing arrangements, that this is an improvement to the technical approach they would take.

Government amendment 13 will overturn one of the two changes made in the other place. Statutory requirements are added for the Government to consult on the merits of adding, removing or varying a territory from the Bill with the devolved Administrations and relevant interested stakeholders. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have been clear in our commitment to ensuring that Parliament can scrutinise any decision to bring a new country in scope of this power in exactly the same way as Parliament does in relation to the Extradition Act. To that end, the Bill mandates that the addition or removal of any territory is by the affirmative resolution procedure. This gives Parliament the right to scrutinise in detail such proposals and to accept them or, indeed, reject them.

It is important to stress that while extradition is a reserved matter, relevant officials are engaged in regular discussions with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations and law enforcement agencies who operate right across the UK to collaborate on operational policy and ensure the effectiveness of our extradition system. Indeed, such discussion and consultation has already taken place in relation to the Bill and the amendments. Of course, given that any countries being added would be subject to the affirmative procedure, there will be opportunities for Parliament to probe the extent to which the views of the devolved Administrations and other organisations have been sought. Therefore, we believe that there is no need to add this provision to the Bill.

Amendment 14 would overturn the second provision altered in the other place, which provides that the removal or addition of a country must use a single statutory instrument. Any additions will be dictated by the will of Parliament, not by an unusual process such that this would impose. If a country is proposed that Parliament does not agree should be specified, then the regulations will be voted down in the normal way. We judge that that remains the rightful process.

Turning to amendments 1 and 2 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, I am grateful to him for the way in which he has approached this and for the important points that he and other Members have made. It might be useful to set out the measures the Government have taken in dealing with the situation in Hong Kong since the amendments were tabled. As the Committee will be aware, because of the new national security legislation in Hong Kong, the Government have indefinitely suspended the 1998 UK-Hong Kong agreement on the surrender of fugitive offenders—our extradition treaty. As a result, the Government will not deal with extradition requests sent by Hong Kong to the UK under that treaty. We are also creating a new bespoke immigration route for citizens from Hong Kong to come to the UK, reflecting the unique and unprecedented circumstances in Hong Kong and the UK’s historical and moral commitment to British nationals overseas citizens.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and Members across the House who have brought this issue to the House in ensuring that we stand with the people of Hong Kong. This Government have demonstrated our absolute commitment to the people of Hong Kong. Any changes to the Bill in the form of these amendments would not change our extradition relationship with Hong Kong, as I think my right hon. Friend has recognised. However, the points that he has made are very powerful, and I know that colleagues in the Foreign Office will equally have recognised them. We will certainly keep this issue under careful review.

In relation to the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden, I would reiterate that the purpose of this Bill is to rectify a policing capability gap, to better protect the public. I recognise that he perhaps makes his points within a broader purview and that his amendments were probing and there are other issues that he might like to return to on another day. The US is just one of the UK’s extradition partners, and the legal processes in each of those jurisdictions will be different. He has been a champion of the important liberties that this Government seek to protect in relation to each and every extradition case that goes to the UK courts. I recognise and respect the approach that he takes. While we take a different view on these issues of imbalance, he will recognise some of the previous reviews that have looked at these issues in seeing whether that imbalance does exist. As I have indicated, we keep all our extradition arrangements under review, and I look forward to continuing this conversation with him in the weeks and months ahead.

I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend for rightly drawing attention to the case of Anne Sacoolas. Harry Dunn’s death was a terrible tragedy. We have every sympathy with his family for their tragic loss and share their desire to ensure that justice is done—a point that the Prime Minister himself has reaffirmed in the last few days.

Finally, I turn to new clauses 1 and 2. Throughout the passage of the Bill, there has been considerable cross-party consensus on its aims and measures, alongside the robust scrutiny that I have come to rightly expect from this House. New clause 1 would require the publication of an annual statement on arrests. The National Crime Agency already keeps data and publishes statistics on arrest volumes in relation to part 1 of the Extradition Act. It does that without having been required to do so by primary legislation. We have no doubt that it will similarly do so in respect of arrests under this new arrest power, as this is sensible operational practice. While I have some sympathy for the new clause, I am not persuaded of the necessity of a statutory obligation at this time. I hope that we will be able to review this as that information is published.

Break in Debate

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
8 Sep 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank hon. and right hon. Members from all parts of the House for their scrutiny of the Bill, and I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to the debate in Committee today and on Second Reading before the recess. Bills that relate to extradition are not always the easiest, and I thank all Members for their really informed and stimulating interventions and amendments that have helped to shape and inform the Bill.

There is no doubt that important contributions were made by many and, as ever, the scrutiny that this House provides continues to test and improve the legislative programme that the Government seek to pass into law. All of us on these Benches benefit from the work of officials from the Home Office. I also pay tribute to the officials in the Public Bill Office and all those who have supported the Bill’s passage.

The Bill is designed to bring a wanted person into extradition proceedings in an expedited way without in any way changing the likelihood of successful extradition or the legal process itself. It is about ensuring that our police have the right powers to keep the public safe and bring those who may flee justice before justice as appropriate. The extension of police powers in limited circumstances specifically to protect the public does not in any way interfere with the ensuing extradition process. It is about how suspects enter that process and minimising the risk that a wanted person evades justice. There are powerful public policy reasons and benefits to ensuring that those wanted for extradition for serious criminal offences enter the extradition process as quickly as possible, and that UK laws do not create the possibility of impunity for those accused or convicted of such offences.

I thank Members from across the House for their support of the principles of this Bill today and for making amendments and proposals that will ensure that we can continue to keep UK citizens safe. Throughout its passage, the Bill has not lost sight of our ultimate aim, which is to provide UK police officers with the arrest powers that they need to keep up with the challenges of trans-national crime—crime that is often organised and that often has more than one victim in more than one country. This law will prevent fugitives responsible for such crime continuing to evade justice through an operational loophole, which puts the public at risk. This Bill closes that gap. I am pleased that we have been able to reach a position of broad consensus on all the Bill’s provisions, and I very much appreciate not only the support, but the scrutiny that has been applied through its passage today and previously, and therefore commend the Bill to the House and commend the positive effect that I believe it will have to protect the public.

Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn - Hansard
8 Sep 2020, 12:06 a.m.

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.

Fire Safety Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
James Brokenshire Excerpts
Monday 7th September 2020

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard
7 Sep 2020, 12:05 a.m.

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.

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire) - Parliament Live - Hansard
7 Sep 2020, 12:05 a.m.

It is a privilege to respond to this debate. It is the first time I have had the chance to speak physically in this Chamber since March, so it is a great pleasure to be here tonight to respond to what has been a passionate, well-informed and very serious debate on issues that touch on concerns that we share across this Chamber. Like others, I very much underline our recognition of the context of the Bill: the Grenfell Tower fire and the need to ensure that people feel safe and are safe in their homes. I pay tribute to the community of Grenfell—Grenfell United and more broadly—on their determination to seek justice and change, and I recognise the responsibilities we hold to them in following through on that.

Break in Debate

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I was coming on to precisely that point. In her review, Dame Judith Hackitt recognised that residents themselves have a role to play and recommended clearer rights and obligations for residents to maintain the fire safety of individual dwellings, working in partnership with the duty holder. There are provisions on this within the draft Building Safety Bill, published in July, setting out a clear duty.

A number of different measures are in place, but I take the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West made very seriously. The Government are committed to ensuring that the electrical products that people buy are safe. I recognise the concerns, and we will look across Government at whether there are any gaps in the current regime and proposals to strengthen accountability in this area. I give that assurance to my hon. Friend to work with him. I would like to pay tribute, as he did, to Electrical Safety First for its important work in this arena. I hope to work with my hon. Friend and colleagues across the House to identify gaps, and if there are still gaps, we, like so many Members, want to see those filled effectively. With that assurance, I hope my hon. Friend will be willing to withdraw his amendment.

I turn to the new clauses, which were tabled in Committee, as the hon. Member for Croydon Central highlighted. On new clause 2, I agree that there is a clear need for reform in relation to fire risk assessors, to improve capacity and competency standards. That includes the role for the industry-led competency steering group under the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s building safety programme and its sub working group on fire risk assessors. That group is looking at ways to increase competence and capacity in the sector. The competency steering group will publish a final report shortly, including proposals in relation to creating a register of fire risk assessors, third party accreditation and a competence framework for fire risk assessors. The Government will give detailed consideration to the report’s recommendations.

The Government are also working with the National Fire Chiefs Council, the fire risk assessor sector and the wider fire sector to take forward plans for addressing both the short-term and long-term capability and capacity issues within the sector. The fire safety consultation will also bring forward proposals on issues relating to competence. Members are understandably keen for this work to be brought forward, but it is vital that we get this right and that the Government listen to the advice in order to frame this effectively and appropriately. Once the fire safety consultation responses have been considered—as I said, it closes on 12 October—the Government will be able to determine the most appropriate route to implement changes.

New clause 3 seeks to impose a new duty on inspectors to prioritise their inspections of multi-occupied residential buildings by risk. I would like to underline some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime and Policing in Committee. As he said, the Government’s position is that adequate and established arrangements are in place to ensure that enforcement authorities target their resources appropriately and are accountable for their decisions without the need to make it a statutory requirement. The fire and rescue national framework for England requires fire and rescue authorities to have a locally determined risk-based inspection programme in place for enforcing compliance with the fire safety order. The framework sets out the expectation that fire and rescue authorities will target their resources on those individuals or households who are at greater risk from fire in the home and on those non-domestic premises where the life safety risk is greatest. The national framework for Wales includes similar provisions.

In parallel, the regulators’ code states that all regulators should base their regulatory activities on risk, take an evidence-based approach to determine the priority risks in their area of responsibility and allocate resources where they would be most effective in addressing those priority risks. The building risk review programme, which will see all high-rise residential buildings reviewed or inspected by fire and rescue authorities by the end of 2021, is a key part of this.

The programme will enable building fire risk to be reviewed and data to be collected to ensure that local resources are targeted at the buildings most at risk. The Government have provided £10 million of funding to support that work, not only to facilitate the review of all buildings, but to strengthen the National Fire Chiefs Council’s central strategic function to drive improvements in fire protection. That is in addition to a further £10 million grant to bolster fire protection capacity and capability within local fire and rescue services. The allocation of funding is based on the proportion of higher-risk buildings, further demonstrating the need to target resources at risk. I remind the House that we have also established the task and finish group that will be responsible for providing a recommendation on how the Bill should be commenced before the end of this month—obviously I have commented on that work and how the group is expected to report.

Break in Debate

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
7 Sep 2020, 12:08 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Grenfell Tower fire was a national tragedy that shook confidence in the building safety system to the core. As a Government, we remain fully committed to fixing that system, to reforming fire and building safety and to ensuring that the events of 14 June 2017 are never repeated. People have a right to be safe and feel safe in their homes.

On the day of publication of the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister accepted in principle all 12 recommendations that were addressed to the Government directly, 11 of which will require implementation in law. The Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005—the fire safety order— is an important first step towards enacting these recommendations.

In that context, I thank the Minister for Crime and Policing, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who led the Bill in Committee on 25 June, all the Members who served on that Committee and applied scrutiny to the Bill, and indeed all right hon. and hon. Members who participated in the debate earlier today.

As Members are aware, this is a short and technical Bill to clarify that the scope of the fire safety order applies to the structure, external walls and flat entrance doors of multi-occupied residential buildings. This provides a firm foundation to implement the Grenfell Tower phase 1 legislative recommendations that focus primarily on inspection of high-rise residential buildings by building owners and managers and information sharing with fire and rescue services.

I want to take a moment to underline that this is part of a bigger picture. The Government have published the draft Building Safety Bill, which will shortly be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. The Building Safety Bill takes forward the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations and fire safety, and will put in place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and ensure that residents have a stronger voice in the system. Alongside the Building Safety Bill, the Government published a fire safety consultation, which includes proposals to strengthen the fire safety order, improve compliance with the order, implement the Grenfell Tower phase one recommendations, and progress arrangements for consultation between building control bodies and fire and rescue authorities in relation to building work.

Our programme of work is not limited to legislation and includes having established a remediation programme, supported by £1.6 billion of Government funding, to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise residential buildings. For those who register for the fund, they are now able to submit their funding applications. We are also undertaking, in conjunction with the fire service, a building risk review programme for all high-rise residential buildings in England by December 2021, supported by £10 million of new funding.

The Building Safety Bill is a very detailed piece of legislation that aims to create significant changes to improve building and fire safety. Moreover, our fire safety consultation contains proposals to strengthen a number of areas of the fire safety order. Together, the Fire Safety Bill, the draft Building Safety Bill and the fire safety consultation will create fundamental improvements to building safety standards and ensure that residents are safe and feel safe in their homes.

During the passage of the Fire Safety Bill, we have had good and robust debates in this House which have benefited the Bill in airing and showing the issues that are at stake. Hon. and right hon. Members have underlined why this matters to their constituents, why this matters for safety and why this matters for people feeling confident in their homes. That is a message and an objective that the Government absolutely will follow through on. It is why we believe the Bill is important in setting good and solid foundations upon which we can now proceed. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab) - Hansard
7 Sep 2020, 8:42 p.m.

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.

Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard

(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.

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire) [V] - Hansard

This Government will not tolerate any foreign interference in the running of our sovereign state. We have long recognised the threat posed by the Russian state, including from conventional military capabilities, espionage, cyber-attacks, covert interference and illicit finance. We have been clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK and our allies, and we have been resolute in defending our country, our democracy and our values. We categorically reject any suggestion that the UK actively avoided investigating Russia.

The UK has a record of taking strong action against Russian wrongdoing. This is demonstrated by our responses to the Salisbury attack, the ongoing illegal annexation of Crimea and, just last week, cyber-attacks on research and development facilities in the US, the UK and Canada. Our world-class intelligence and security agencies continue to produce regular assessments of the threats posed by hostile state activity, including any potential interference in past or current UK democratic processes. Our 30-year Russia strategy is designed to move us to a point where Russia chooses to work alongside the international community.

Since the Committee took evidence in January 2019, much more has been done. We have established the Defending Democracy programme and strengthened our cross-Government counter-disinformation capability. In March, we formally avowed the existence of the joint state threats assessment team. Earlier this month, we launched the UK global human rights sanctions regime to target serious human rights abuses, with 25 Russian Government officials already sanctioned.

We have committed to bring forward legislation to counter hostile state activity and espionage. This will modernise existing offences to deal more effectively with the espionage threat, and consider what new offences and powers are needed. This includes reviewing the Official Secrets Acts and considering whether to follow our allies in adopting a form of foreign agent registration.

We are taking action at every level. We have stepped up our response to illicit finance through the introduction of new powers by the Criminal Finances Act 2017, including unexplained wealth orders, and the establishment of the multi-agency national economic crime centre within the National Crime Agency. The rules on investment visas have already been tightened, but we will continue to consider whether any further changes are required to ensure that they cannot be abused. Let there be no doubt: we are unafraid to act wherever necessary to protect the UK and our allies from any state threat.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

The one thing I agree with in what the hon. Gentleman said is the threat we face from Russia, as I made clear in my opening statement in terms of all the different varieties in which that threat presents itself. We recognise and have always recognised the enduring and significant threat posed by Russia and Russia remains a top national security priority for this country. However, in terms of the other assertions that he makes, I reject them. It is a bit rich for those on the Labour Front Bench to lecture this Government on our stance in relation to Russia, given that the shadow Foreign Secretary herself even said at the weekend that the Labour party had got its position wrong.

The hon. Gentleman highlighted the issue of strategy and again I point to the Russia strategy that was implemented in 2017. Indeed, a cross-Government Russia unit is focused on all this and brings things together across Government with accountability through the National Security Council. He highlights the issue of the protection of our democracy. Unlike the Labour party, I am proud that we stood on a Conservative manifesto that committed to defend our democracy, highlighting that we will protect the integrity of our democracy by introducing identification to vote at the polling station and stopping postal vote harvesting, and through measures to prevent any foreign interference in elections. I look forward to the Labour party supporting those measures, which it did not in its own manifesto at the last general election.

Our approach to the threat Russia poses is clear-eyed. That is why we have taken the steps that we have, and, as I outlined, all the different measures we have implemented over the last months and years. Indeed, we have set out the message to Russia that, while we want to maintain a dialogue with it, there can be no normalisation of our bilateral relationship until Russia ends the destabilising activity that threatens the UK and our allies and undermines the safety of our citizens and our collective security.

We take the issue of our national security incredibly seriously. As I have said, I will take no lectures from the Opposition on putting the interests of this country first.

Dr Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Ind) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire [V] - Hansard

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments on the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. He will recall that he and I served on the Bill Committee establishing the ISC so he will know the weight and consideration I give to it, and indeed to the work of its officials and those who work to support its activities, inquiries and investigations. He can certainly have my assurances on the weight and support I give to his Committee.

I commend the work of the previous Committee, which produced the report that is the subject of this urgent question. I also commend all members of the Committee on the robust and rigorous work that I know they will do in the course of this Parliament.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

We have produced our response to the Committee’s report, and I commend it to him. He highlights the issue about an inquiry, which underlines the fact that it is the work of the intelligence and security agencies to assess any new evidence as it emerges. Given that long-standing approach, we do not believe that it is necessary to hold a specific retrospective inquiry. If evidence were available to be found, it would emerge through our existing processes. We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the way that has been described by some. Indeed, that leads many people to think that it is more about re-arguing some of the issues of the Brexit referendum, not respecting and reflecting the outcome of that referendum. We are working at pace on the legislation and I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunities in the House to debate that, as well as other issues related to the report.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

We keep all of our response under review, which is why I have highlighted all the different measures and steps that are in place to guard against the risk from action, interference or espionage by any hostile state or hostile state activity and what that requires. That is why, for example, in 2017, we established the NSC-endorsed Russia strategy. My hon. Friend has my assurance on the steps that we have taken and will continue to take to guard our national security. We will ensure that it is absolutely at the forefront.

Mr Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I was clear about the weight and importance of the independent scrutiny that the ISC provides and why, from my perspective and the Government’s perspective, we will always examine and reflect carefully on its incredibly important work. I was also clear about the importance of that being conducted in the independent way in which it has always fulfilled its role and responsibility. I am quite clear that that will continue into the future.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

My hon. Friend has made her point clearly and firmly. We wait to see how the SNP responds to the various points that have been flagged. Obviously, our priority is the national security of our whole United Kingdom, and the Government firmly continue to do that work.

Mr Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab) - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

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.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, midnight

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about legislation. He will note that in the Queen’s Speech, we committed to introduce legislation to counter hostile state activity and espionage. It is right that we put in place steps that reflect things like the foreign agent registration-type processes that exist in other countries, as well as receiving the Law Commission report on the Official Secrets Act. I can say to the hon. Gentleman that the commitment of this Government is to act at pace and speed to get this right, to ensure that we do our utmost to strengthen powers where they need to be strengthened and, in the interim, to take all necessary action to call out and highlight Russian activity and take further action as appropriate.

Mr Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con) - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:02 a.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I commend the ISC and his Committee for their work, for their reports, and for the way in which they have put this into focus. I hope to assure him that offensive cyber capabilities are now a critical part of our work, and we will ensure that we integrate that within our military and in some of our broader response to the issues as well—appropriately bounded, obviously, by legal and policy oversight. He is right to highlight the changing nature of conflict and activities against states, and that is why, through our National Cyber Security Centre and other initiatives, we continue to enhance and be vigilant against the threat outlined.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:03 a.m.

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.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I recognise the work of the hon. Gentleman over a number of years on Magnitsky sanction-type regimes, as he rightly pointed out, and I hope that he will recognise and welcome the steps that have been taken in that regard. Equally, I highlight our work to tighten tier 1 visas and the retrospective examination that continues into visas granted before 2015. I assure him of our continued review of and vigilance about the abuse of our immigration system and, if further action is required, we will carry it out. I also assure him of the transparency of the workings of support for politics, which the Government underlined with their manifesto commitment.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con) - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

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.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We have been examining the laws in different countries that govern foreign agent registration. We are drawing that together into something that will be effective from a UK standpoint, learning whether that has been effective and applying that to our law as we prepare for the introduction of legislation countering espionage and hostile state activity. I look forward to continuing that discussion with him.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

Members will have heard what I said in my opening statement about the various steps that have been taken, including on countering illicit finance, dealing with the potential abuse of visas and investing through our national cyber-security strategy to counter cyber being exploited against us in so many different ways. That work continues. We also continue to work with those involved in the internet and social media on our online harms legislation, which we remain committed to. That underlines the breadth of our response.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his work. Russia seeks to advance the sense of a state that supports the rules-based order, yet through all its other actions, we can see that there is a fundamentally different approach. I would underline his focus on the fact that we need to be clear-eyed about the threats and risks posed through multilateral organisations. I look forward to working with him and others as we continue to call that out and ensure that our interests are best reflected through those organisations in upholding the rules-based order.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I am happy to say that I do not have any knowledge of what the hon. Gentleman is saying; I do not recognise that at all. From my standpoint, it is important that the ISC is able to conduct its work and present its report to the House, given the mandate that this House provided it with through the legislation establishing it.

Mrs Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the work of our world-leading and incredible intelligence and security agencies and the steps they take day in, day out to assure our security. We should all be proud and supportive of their actions. My hon. Friend will know that an integrated review and a spending review are ongoing and can be assured of the importance and emphasis we give to our national security. That will be reflected in this process. We will protect and guard our future against the range of threats out there from those looking to undermine this country. We stand firm against that.

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) [V] - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

Our work is informed by regular assessments by our security and intelligence agencies to ensure that dynamic response, hence the reason we are not persuaded by this call for a separate inquiry. We have seen the ISC report and responded to it, but in defending our democracy, we are vigilant against the threats and challenges. Indeed, we have a defending democracy programme looking at further steps and legislation to underpin that. The hon. Member certainly has the Government’s commitment to standing firm on those issues and to the security work that continues to inform all our actions.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I can give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I recognise very clearly the importance of NATO, especially its work on cyber and other support. In that context, I would cite the example of the steps we continue to take to support our allies in the Baltic with the challenges that remain there. The strength of NATO and how that guards our security remain so important to our future policy.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

It seems as if again the issue is about trying to rerun the Brexit referendum, but I would say on the hon. Member’s broader point that through the defending democracy programme, we are taking further steps to safeguard our voting system and democracy. I hope that she supports that and all the measures I identified earlier—for example, on individual voter ID. She will also know how transparent we are. We do not accept foreign donations and are stepping up our response to illicit finance through the National Crime Agency.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

My hon. Friend makes several relevant points on the role of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the need for social media companies to do more. They need to step up, which is why we are introducing legislation on online harms and looking into the further role required of them.

I recognise the point about disinformation. I am sure that the important work of the cross-Whitehall counter-disinformation unit is reflected in the report that my hon. Friend references, which I will certainly look at. The important message we need to send from this House in respect of the ISC report is about that sense of vigilance and being clear-eyed about the threats posed by Russia, but equally that we are not picking an issue with the Russian people. This is about the Russian state and the Russian Government, so we are looking to them to shift their position, which is what our strategy is all about.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard

In order to get everybody in, it would be helpful if we could speed up the questions and the answers.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC) [V] - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

On the tier 1 investor visa, to which I think the hon. Gentleman refers, work is ongoing to review past visas and, indeed, to look at further changes as needs be. If that is required in our national interest, that is what we will do.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

My right hon. Friend has, in his customary and very powerful way, set out the position on Russia Today and those who have supported it and those who have been engaged in it. We all have firm questions, doubts and real concerns about the objectivity of Russia Today. It is right that we have Ofcom and other agencies that are there and the independence of Ofcom on its regulation and therefore the need to step up and make sure that that sense of—

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard


Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman wrapped a few questions into that contribution. The point is that we are taking this issue forward in relation to our legislation on online harms and working with social media and other companies to ensure that information is valid and we do not have that sense of disinformation. We are being vigilant against the threats that are posed.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con) - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard

I absolutely endorse what my hon. Friend has said so succinctly and so clearly. It is in the interests of our United Kingdom to stand together and be united in that way, and we very firmly are better together.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab) [V] - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 1:14 p.m.

Dirty money—money obtained through criminality or corruption—has no place in this country, and there should be no doubt that we will ensure that the full weight of the law enforcement regime bears down on those who look to use, move or hide the proceeds of crime. Our National Crime Agency is vigilant. We have introduced unexplained wealth orders. We will continue to enhance our legislation to ensure that corruption is rooted out, and that where dirty money is identified and seized, action is very firmly taken.

Mr Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 1:15 p.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 1:16 p.m.

The disinformation point is a very relevant one. Our counter-disinformation unit is led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, bringing all this action together across Government to highlight and call out work with the social media companies over this important time. It does incredibly important work to guard against disinformation now, as it has done before. It will continue to do that, as well as leaning towards the online harms legislation that I have already spoken of.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 1:16 p.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 1:16 p.m.

I will take no lectures from the Labour party, or indeed the Whips’ question that the hon. Gentleman has asked me. This Government and my party are vigilant on issues of national security, and we will remain so. We will be clear-eyed as to the threat that Russia poses, and where further action needs to be taken, as I have said, we will do so.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP) [V] - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 1:17 p.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard

No. I am very comfortable in underlining the Government’s commitment to defending our national security. As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about structure, this is about having a whole-Government approach, ensuring that each part of Government is engaged and working, with the concept of fusion in drawing this together. That is what we do, with our National Security Council and the accountability through that to deliver.

Stuart Anderson Portrait Stuart Anderson (Wolverhampton South West) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 1:18 p.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 1:19 p.m.

I can tell my hon. Friend of the support and resourcing that is given to our intelligence and security agencies and how we have such world-leading capabilities. We can be proud of the work they do for us—and therefore for his constituents in Wolverhampton, and indeed for constituents across the country—as we give them that support in defending our security.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab) [V] - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point, because our cyber-defences are something in which this Government have very clearly invested. He highlights the National Cyber Security Centre, and I know the work that it does with local government and the devolved Administrations in ensuring that they are vigilant against the threats. Indeed, only last week, it called out Russian activity against pharmaceutical companies and others to ensure that our knowledge remains here and that we guard it against attack.

Ms Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard

There is strong join-up between our security and intelligence agencies as well as our police. Indeed, when looking at the work that I do each week, I see that join up and see that work, so she can absolutely have my assurance in that regard.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op) [V] - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard

Again, we are certainly hearing some questions that are about trying to refight the referendum. Actually, we should respect the referendum, and that is what this Government have done, and we have been elected on a mandate to deliver on the Brexit referendum. None the less, the hon. Lady certainly has my assurance that we are vigilant against that sense of intrusion and disinformation and I have outlined the steps that we are taking to guard against that.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard

My hon. Friend, with all of his experience, has highlighted a very important point about the need for offensive cyber-capabilities. We were the first NATO ally to offer offensive cyber-capabilities to the alliance. I am quite sure that this is an issue that will be of core interest and focus as we look at the integrated review. He sets out a compelling argument for further investment. I am quite sure that that will be reflected on very carefully.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard

I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation at all. I welcome the fact that, speedily after its creation, the ISC report was published, shining a light on the issue of Russia and the need for vigilance, which this Government continue to demonstrate. It is that approach that we take through from this rather than the political characterisation that he sought to proffer.

Mr Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, midnight

I commend Legatum and all those who have sought to assemble evidence of the impact and the effect. I think it has added to the report the ISC has produced. I look forward to that continuing as the ISC gets into its stride in this Session and I look forward to the contribution that so many people have to offer to help ensure that the ISC does its job well and can work to ensure that our response to these national security issues is as well-informed as possible.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP) [V] - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I agree that the transparency of information about political donations is incredibly important. I should say to the hon. Lady that the relevant code is the responsibility of the House itself and it is kept under review by the House of Lords Conduct Committee. I am confident that the Conduct Committee will give due consideration to the clear recommendations made in the ISC report.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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?

Break in Debate

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I am very clear, as I have been in response to previous questions, on the need for independence by the ISC. I do not want to see its independence questioned or drawn into any doubt. It is important that the ISC is independent and rigorous. The right hon. Lady can have my assurance on the steps that I take to uphold that.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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?

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Parliament Live - Hansard

I absolutely recognise the different threats and challenges. That is why we have the Government Russia unit, which brings together the diplomatic, intelligence and military capabilities to maximum effect. There is a specific lead official at the Foreign Office who is responsible for our work on Russia. Therefore, the important point my hon. Friend makes about vigilance and the need to draw that information together is absolutely in place. We will continue to ensure that the interests of this country are, through that work, at the forefront and that we defend our nation’s security.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Parliament Live - Hansard

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Local Government

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Tuesday 5th May 2020

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Mr Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans) - Hansard

The Minister is asked to speak for no more than 20 minutes.

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire) [V] - Hansard

I beg to move,

That the draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 9 March, be approved.

The purpose of this order is to improve the delivery of public services in Greater Manchester by driving greater collaboration and bolstering the accountability of how those functions are exercised. The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 allows, in certain areas of the UK, the devolution of a number of municipal functions. In 2017, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) Order conferred responsibility for the management of the Greater Manchester fire and rescue authority on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Fire and rescue services therefore came under the authority of the directly elected Greater Manchester Mayor, and arrangements were introduced to oversee the operational discharge of functions, with the scrutiny of fire and rescue functions being added to the remit of the corporate issues and reform overview and scrutiny committee.

In 2017, police and crime commissioner functions were transferred to the Mayor, and the role of deputy Mayor for policing and crime was established. The exercise of police and crime commissioner functions is scrutinised by the police and crime panel. Devolution of the exercise of fire functions to the Mayor, in parallel with the devolution of the police and crime commissioner functions, has provided for greater direct accountability of both functions under one individual, and has allowed opportunities for strategic and joined-up thinking in the blue light sector in Greater Manchester.

In July 2018, the Mayor of Greater Manchester wrote to the Home Secretary to request further changes to the governance arrangements for fire and rescue functions within the GMCA. He sought authority to delegate the exercise of the majority of those functions to the deputy Mayor for policing and crime, and to amend the scrutiny functions of the existing police and crime panel to include scrutiny of fire and rescue functions. The then Home Secretary approved the Mayor’s request in September 2018.

The order before the House today gives effect to the Mayor’s request by amending the 2017 order. It brings the exercise of police and fire functions closer together by allowing for the exercise of all delegable fire and rescue functions by the deputy Mayor for crime and policing. Some non-delegable functions—namely, those listed under article 6 of the 2017 order—remain the sole responsibility of the Mayor. These include the hiring and firing of the chief fire officer, signing off the local risk plan, and approving the annual declaration of compliance with the fire and rescue national framework.

To ensure that there are appropriate scrutiny arrangements of the exercise of delegated functions, the order also extends the remit of the Greater Manchester police and crime panel to include scrutiny of the exercise of fire and rescue functions, whether they are exercised by the Mayor or by the deputy Mayor for policing and crime. To reflect its wider role, the panel will become known as the police, fire and crime panel. The order will provide a clearer line of sight for the exercise of fire and rescue functions, with delegable functions being exercised by the deputy Mayor for policing and crime rather than by a committee. This will make it clearer to the public who is responsible for which decisions and bring further clarity to the governance process. It will also ensure that police and fire matters are scrutinised in the round by extending the role of the police and crime panel.

This brings similar scrutiny arrangements to fire as already exist for policing. Crucially, by bringing together oversight of policing and fire under the Deputy Mayor for policing and crime, it will also help to maximise the opportunities for innovative collaboration, foster the sharing of best practice, and ensure that strategic risks are reviewed across both services. The Kerslake report on the tragic Manchester Arena attack emphasised the need for greater collaboration between fire services and other public bodies. This order takes important steps to do just that.

Finally, I want to comment on the fantastic collaboration efforts taking place in Greater Manchester as part of the response to the covid-19 pandemic. I thank the incredible fire and policing personnel for everything they are doing in Greater Manchester and beyond. They have stepped up to volunteer to assist and protect their communities. It is right that we recognise the critical role they are playing in supporting the country’s response to covid-19, and I pay tribute to them for the difference they are making at this time of need. They are a credit to themselves and to the services they work within.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab) - Hansard
5 May 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra (Stockport) (Lab) [V] - Hansard

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.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire [V] - Hansard
5 May 2020, 12:07 a.m.

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will respond to the debate. I appreciate the comments and contributions of Members from all parts of the House on the order and the broad support it has secured through all the contributions we have heard. It is right that so many people underlined the huge contribution, the service and the sacrifice that firefighters provide in Greater Manchester and across the country day in, day out, especially in the context of international Firefighters Memorial Day.

It is also worth again underlining the contribution that firefighters have made in the covid response. In Greater Manchester, more than 500 serving and retired fire service personnel are volunteering to assist the wider covid-19 response. That ranges from supporting wider frontline staff with the provision of PPE through to patient transfers and support for some of the most vulnerable. I take this opportunity to again thank Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service staff for the incredible work they are doing across the area and the difference that that is making.

A number of the contributions focused on the issue of funding, and I should highlight that overall fire and rescue authorities will receive around £2.3 billion in 2020-21. Fire and rescue services received an additional £20 million in the Budget, which will enable them to increase fire inspection and enforcement capability and to build capacity to respond precisely to the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s findings. In 2020-21 Greater Manchester Combined Authority has a core spending power of £98.7 million, an increase of £2.9 million, or 3.1%, on 2019-20. Greater Manchester fire and rescue authority also held £42 million in total useable reserves when it transferred to the governance of the mayoral combined authority in 2017.

I also want to respond to the challenges and issues that have been highlighted on some of the real pressures arising from the current coronavirus pandemic. The Government have provided over £3.2 billion to local authorities to support their response to the pandemic; £1.6 billion was paid at the end of March, with a further £1.6 billion to be provided shortly, of which fire and rescue services will receive a 3% share.

Stand-alone fire and rescue authorities, including Greater Manchester fire, received £6.5 million of the £1.6 billion provided in March and will receive a further £28.5 million share of the additional £1.6 billion announced this month. County councils or unitary authorities with fire responsibilities have also received a share of the fire element of the £1.6 billion, but they will receive this as part of the wider allocation, reflecting the totality of their responsibilities. In addition, the Home Office has secured £6 million for a fire covid-19 contingency fund to support fire and rescue authorities that incur significant costs as a result of taking on additional duties during the coronavirus outbreak. We are working through the detail of how this will operate and are consulting the sector on it.

I turn now to points made in the contributions to the debate, first by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who I wish well in his new role on the Back Benches. I know that he will be a firm champion for his constituents, and although we did not always agree in our often robust exchanges, I wish him well. They highlighted the Lord Kerslake review, and this order is important in taking that forward. Lord Kerslake’s report into the tragic Manchester Arena attack emphasised the need for greater collaboration between the fire service and other public bodies. The review demonstrated the benefits of investing in collaborative partnership and emergency planning, and by bringing together the oversight of both fire and police services, this order will help to maximise the opportunities for innovative collaboration between policing and fire, and ensure that best practice is shared.

The hon. Members for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) and for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) highlighted the issue of combustible cladding, and after London, Manchester has the most buildings affected by unsafe cladding. We do understand the concerns of many leaseholders and building owners over the costs of remediation of this cladding. As we have heard, Greater Manchester has taken a proactive approach. It has established a high-rise taskforce to co-ordinate work across the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and all boroughs in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. In practice the taskforce is led by the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.

I want to highlight that nationally, we have made available in the Budget £1 billion to fund the removal of unsafe non-aluminium composite material cladding in 2020-21. This is in addition to the £600 million already made available to ensure the remediation of unsafe ACM cladding, but this Government funding does not absolve building owners of responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe. As I highlighted in the debate on the Fire Safety Bill last week, we want to underline the fact that remediation work can and should continue where it is safe to do, despite the current restrictions and challenges that we face. Building owners should consider all routes to meet costs, protecting leaseholders where they can, for example through warranties and recovering costs from contractors for incorrect or poor work. Colleagues at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have been driving forward this work and will continue to do so.

In the context of the governance issues and some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), today’s order will provide a clearer line of sight for the exercise of fire and rescue functions. It will make it clear to the public who was responsible for which decisions and help them to understand the Government’s process. Importantly, it will also help to ensure that collaboration is implemented more efficiently and effectively by bringing those functions together, but that does not dilute the accountability of the Mayor, who remains subject to the scrutiny of the police and crime panel and is ultimately responsible for the functions. The panel has the power to scrutinise the Mayor. For instance, it may require the Mayor to attend a meeting, at reasonable notice, to answer any questions that appear to the panel to be necessary for it to be able to carry out its duties. Ultimately, too, it is the Mayor who remains accountable at the ballot box for both the actions that he has taken and the actions of the deputy Mayor for policing and crime.

Today’s order confirms the request of the democratically elected Mayor of Greater Manchester as part of the devolution of powers and serves to clarify and improve governance arrangements for fire and rescue services in that great city. I firmly believe that the order serves the interests of the people of Greater Manchester. I welcome the support for the order, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 9 March, be approved.

Fire Safety Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
James Brokenshire Excerpts
Wednesday 29th April 2020

(5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard

I call Minister James Brokenshire to move Second Reading. He is asked to speak for no more than 20 minutes.

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister for Security (James Brokenshire) [V] - Hansard
29 Apr 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Almost three years have passed since the tragic events on the night of 14 June 2017. It was the greatest loss of life following a residential fire since the second world war. None of us will ever forget the events of that terrible night, and the Government are resolute in their commitment to ensure that they are never repeated. Those 72 people should never have lost their lives. Our thoughts today are very much with the victims’ families, survivors and fellow residents, who have had to rebuild their lives over the past three years.

I know from my time as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government the profound effect the events have had on the Grenfell community, but also that community’s sense of purpose and its clear demands for justice and change. I have had the privilege to meet survivors and their families, as well as those in the local community who joined together to support them. Those discussions have been humbling and harrowing. They have underlined the responsibility—indeed, the duty—on us to act. The Government will continue to provide support to the affected families and support the creation of a memorial on the site of the tower, a process that is rightly being led by the bereaved and the local community.

The House has had the opportunity to debate the tragic events at Grenfell Tower on a number of occasions. Despite the unusual circumstances we are operating under today, I have no doubt that we will hear once again many powerful and impactful contributions. There is considerable experience across the House, and we will continue to listen to views from all interested colleagues, as well as working with the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue. I welcome the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) to his new role as shadow Home Secretary. We will continue to engage constructively with him and his team.

Our home should be a place of safety and security. At a time when we are asking the people of this country to stay at home—indeed, many of us will contribute to this debate from our homes—we are reminded of the overriding importance of people being safe and feeling safe at home, especially in high-rise properties.

In the days following the terrible tragedy, the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), announced that there would be a full independent inquiry, led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to get to the bottom of what happened on that night and to understand why the building was so dangerously exposed to the risk of fire. Alongside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Home Office commissioned an independent review of building regulations and safety, which was led by Dame Judith Hackitt. Dame Judith’s findings have underpinned our unprecedented programme of building and fire safety reform. We are resolute in our commitment to delivering on them, and significant steps have already been taken to address building safety and fire safety risks.

Where a fire and rescue service has been advised of a high-rise residential building with aluminium composite material cladding, the National Fire Chiefs Council is confident that that building has been checked by the local fire and rescue service and, where appropriate, additional interim measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of residents. The Government have established a fire protection board, chaired by the National Fire Chiefs Council, to provide oversight of the programme to ensure that all high-rise residential buildings are inspected or reviewed by the end of 2021; £10 million has been allocated to support the fire and rescue service in this endeavour.

In December 2018, the use of combustible materials on new high-rise homes was banned, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in this year’s Budget that the Government will provide £1 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems for both the social and private residential sectors on buildings of 18 metres and above. The prospectus for this new building safety fund will be published in May and open for registrations soon after. The funding is an addition to the £600 million we have already made available to ensure the remediation of the highest-risk ACM cladding of the type that was in place on Grenfell Tower.

In January, MHCLG issued specific advice for building owners on assurance and assessment and how to ensure fire doors meet appropriate fire safety standards. We have pushed owners and local authorities hard to identify and remediate unsafe buildings. We work closely with local fire authorities and fire and rescue services to ensure that interim safety measures are in place in all buildings until the cladding is replaced, but there is an urgent need for remediation to progress, even at this challenging time, recognising the continuing risks and the financial burdens on leaseholders in maintaining waking watches. I therefore want to be clear that remediation work can and should continue wherever it can be done safely—wherever it can, whenever it can.

It is critical that this work continue, and to help support that we have published information for industry and stakeholders on the gov.uk website on how to ensure sites can operate appropriately under the current restrictions. We have also appointed a firm of construction consultants to provide specific advice for those carrying out cladding remediation work.

While the focus of much of our activity has been high-rise residential buildings, it is important to stress that our work rightly goes far beyond that. To support the protection work targeting other high-risk buildings. the Home Office will be providing fire and rescue services with a further £10 million to help deliver protection work within their communities.

While talking about essential work within communities, at this time of incredible national challenge I want to use this opportunity to recognise, and pay tribute to, the essential role fire and rescue services are playing in our response to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to their core duties, fire and rescue services have around 4,000 volunteers working to support ambulance services, coroners and local communities, as well as helping the vulnerable and those isolated at this incredibly difficult time. I want to thank firefighters and staff up and down the country for their incredible service, their dedication to duty and their desire to help others where they can, and for the incredible difference that is making.

The Queen’s Speech committed the Government to bringing forward two Bills on fire and building safety. The first is this short, technical, Home Office-led Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The second, the building safety Bill, led by MHCLG, will put in place an enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Dame Judith’s review. The purpose of the Bill before the House today is to clarify that the fire safety order applies to the external walls, including cladding and balconies, and individual flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. The fire safety order requires responsible persons, often building owners or managers, to assess the risk from fire, to put in place fire precautions so far as reasonably practicable to keep premises safe, and otherwise to comply with the requirements of the order. The order does not apply to domestic premises, except in limited circumstances.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report found compelling evidence that the external walls of the tower were not compliant with building regulations. In January this year, the independent expert advisory panel on building safety set up by the Government shortly after the Grenfell fire published its consolidated advice. That includes advice on measures that building owners should take to review ACM and other cladding systems to assess and assure their fire safety and the potential risks to residents of the spread of external fire.

We have established that there are differing interpretations of the provisions in the order as to whether external walls and, to a lesser extent, individual flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings are in scope of the order. For that reason, we submit that the Bill is a clarification of the fire safety order. It will apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings regulated by the order. The current ambiguity is leading to inconsistency in operational practice. That is unhelpful at best and, at worst, it means that the full identification and management of fire safety risks is compromised, which can put the lives of people at risk.

Twenty flats in Barking were destroyed in June 2019 when a fire spread from a wooden balcony. Richmond House was a four-storey timber-framed block of flats in Worcester Park that burnt down in September. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) highlighted a further significant fire in her constituency. Such fires are stark reminders of how a conflagration can spread on the external envelope of a building, and why those risks need to be identified or mitigated.

The Bill will therefore ensure that, when the responsible person makes a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks, it takes account of the structure, external walls, balconies and flat entrance doors in complying with the fire safety order, and allows enforcement action to be taken confidently by fire and rescue authorities. That will complement existing powers that local authorities have under the Housing Act 2004.

The Grenfell inquiry’s phase 1 report, published last October, provided a comprehensive picture of what happened on the night of 14 June 2017. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear at the time of publication, the Government accepted in principle all of the 14 recommendations addressed to the Government directly.

For high-rise residential buildings, the inquiry’s recommendations included new duties on building owners and managers: to issue information to the fire and rescue services; to ensure that there are premises information boxes; to carry out regular inspections of lifts; and to ensure that building floor numbers are clearly marked. For all multi-occupied residential buildings, the inquiry also called for new duties for regular checks of fire doors.

The objective is to ensure that fire and rescue services can plan for and respond to a fire in a high-rise residential building, alongside overall fire safety benefits for residents. As we said in our initial response to the report, we are committed to working closely with other organisations to ensure that the right changes are brought about to protect the public.

The Bill will also provide the firm foundation on which the Government will bring forward secondary legislation to enact those recommendations. Our proposals will be the subject of public consultation, to be published in the coming months. The consultation will also set out proposals to ensure that the fire safety order continues to regulate fire safety effectively in all the premises it covers, as part of the ongoing improvements to building safety following our 2019 call for evidence on the order.

The Bill will give the Secretary of State a regulation-making power to amend or clarify the list of premises that fall within scope of the fire safety order. That will enable us to respond quickly to any further developments in the design and construction of buildings and our understanding of the combustibility and fire risk of construction products.

As the order and therefore the Bill relate to matters within the legislative competence of the Welsh Assembly, the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government in the Welsh Assembly has confirmed that she will put the matter before the Assembly for a legislative consent motion.

I am aware that the provisions of the Bill will require potentially significant numbers of responsible persons to review and update their fire risk assessments. For many, that will require specialist knowledge and the expertise of the fire risk assessor. We are working with representatives of the sector to understand the particular challenges in delivery. That will inform our approach to the implementation of the Bill, while maintaining a clear and consistent approach to fire risk assessments. In any event, and in line with the independent expert advisory panel’s consolidated advice, I would none the less encourage those with responsibilities to carry out a fire risk assessment under the order as a matter of good practice and to consider flat entrance doors and external wall systems as part of their fire risk assessment for multi-occupied residential blocks as soon as possible, if they have not already done so.

As I have highlighted, there is further legislation to follow. Following the 2019 consultation, the building safety Bill will put in place an enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings. It will establish a new system to oversee the performance of building control functions, with stronger enforcement and sanctions, and give residents a stronger voice in the system, ensuring that their concerns are never ignored. That Bill will be published in draft form before the summer recess.

We will also establish a new national building safety regulator within the Health and Safety Executive. The new regulator will be responsible for implementing and enforcing a more stringent regulatory regime for high-rise residential buildings, as well as providing wider oversight of safety and performance.

The Fire Safety Bill complements all the actions that we have taken to date. It demonstrates that we are applying the lessons from the Grenfell tragedy and will continue to do everything within our power to ensure the safety of people in their homes. While legislation alone can never provide all the answers, I believe that it will make a significant and lasting contribution to the safety of residents. It will provide a catalyst to drive the culture change that is needed within our building and construction sector to put safety and security at the forefront and provide responsibility and accountability where people fall short. Above all, it will help to provide the legal foundations to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again. I commend the Bill to the House.

Dame Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton) - Hansard

I call the shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, who is asked to speak for no more than 15 minutes.

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

James Brokenshire Excerpts
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker - Hansard

I thank the hon. Lady for that information; the House can now proceed with good ease.

James Brokenshire Portrait The Minister of State, Home Department (James Brokenshire) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 7:09 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 24 February, be approved.

The people of the United Kingdom continue to live under the threat of terrorist violence. None of us has forgotten the terrible tragedy at London Bridge last November or the attack in Streatham less than four weeks ago. I would like once again to pay tribute to the police, emergency services and members of the public, whose swift action and selfless bravery prevented further loss of life. Those are only the most recent incidents in a string of attacks that have repeatedly shocked the country in recent years, but the fortitude of the British people and their refusal to be cowed or intimidated has made it clear to those responsible that they can never win.

The most recent attackers in this country had been radicalised and motivated by a dangerous perversion of the Islamic faith, but as the appalling murder of nine innocent people in the German city of Hanau has shown, no ideology has a monopoly on hatred. The visceral racism of the extreme right is just as likely to inspire terrorism as any religious fanaticism. We have a duty to our allies, as well as to our own people, to tackle those groups that inspire and co-ordinate international terror.

Some 75 international terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Thanks to our security and intelligence services, most of those groups have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil. Proscription is a vital tool to disrupt terrorist networks and bring those who support them to justice. Once proscribed, an organisation is outlawed and unable to operate in the UK. It becomes a criminal offence to be a member, to support them or to encourage the support of others. Proscription makes it harder for banned groups to fundraise and recruit members. Their assets can become subject to seizure as terrorist property, and those linked to them may be excluded from the UK using immigration powers.

Today’s order makes certain changes to the list of proscribed groups under the Terrorism Act 2000. First, it adds a new group, Sonnenkrieg Division or SKD. This is a white supremacist group formed in March 2018 as a splinter group of System Resistance Network, itself an alias of the proscribed group National Action. Members of SKD were convicted of encouraging terrorism and possession of documents useful to a terrorist in June 2019. The group has encouraged and glorified acts of terrorism via its online posts and images. It has also issued home-made propaganda using Nazi imagery, calling for attacks on minorities. The images can reasonably be taken as implying that these acts should be emulated, and therefore amount to the unlawful glorification of terrorism. SKD is the second right-wing group to be proscribed in the United Kingdom.

This order also seeks to add two more names to the list, as aliases of the PKK, an armed separatist group that advocates an independent Kurdish state in south- east Turkey. The TAK—from the Kurdish for Kurdistan Freedom Hawks—has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation in its own right since July 2006. Although it presents itself as a breakaway faction of the PKK, the Government now understand it to be an alias of that group. The same goes for the HPG, another PKK alias that is not currently recognised as such in the UK. Amending the PKK listing to include both TAK and HPG as its aliases will send a clear message that the UK recognises the ongoing threat that the PKK poses, and that we will never be a haven for international terrorism.

By way of separate order under the negative resolution procedure, we have also updated the Act to include System Resistance Network or SRN as an alias of the proscribed group National Action. National Action is a neo-Nazi group that was established in 2013. It has a number of branches across the UK that conduct provocative street demonstrations and stunts aimed at intimidating minority communities. Its activities and propaganda materials are particularly aimed at recruiting and indoctrinating young people. The group is virulently racist, antisemitic and homophobic. Its ideology promotes the idea that Britain will inevitably see a violent race war, of which the group claims it will be an active part. The group rejects democracy, is hostile to the British state and seeks to divide society.

In 2016, National Action was assessed to be concerned in terrorism, and became the first right-wing terrorist group to be proscribed in the UK. The group’s online propaganda material, disseminated via social media, frequently features extremely violent imagery and language. National Action also promoted and encouraged acts of terrorism following the tragic murder of our colleague Jo Cox, condoning and glorifying those who have used extreme violence for political or ideological ends.

It is right that we take the threat of the extreme far right seriously. That is why the 2011 Prevent strategy explicitly discusses the threat of extreme right-wing terrorism and our 2015 counter-extremism strategy sets out how we will challenge extremism in all its forms, including from far-right racist beliefs. Since the proscription of National Action and its aliases, 27 individuals have been arrested on suspicion of being a member of the group, 15 of whom have been charged with terrorism offences. Since March 2017, our security and intelligence services have disrupted no fewer than eight major right-wing terrorist plots and our Channel programme seeks to safeguard people who are vulnerable to radicalisation from the far right. Of the 561 individuals who were adopted to a local Channel panel last year, 45% were referred for concerns related to right-wing terrorism. Of course, our police forces are making full use of public order powers to disrupt far-right demonstrations and organised intimidations.

The proscriptions that have been laid before the House are a key part of our strategy. Terrorist organisations are seeking to change their names, hiding behind aliases to avoid detection and prosecution. They seek to circumvent our robust anti-terror laws so that they can continue to spread hatred and inspire violence. It is vital that the Government’s counter-extremism strategy challenges extremism in all its forms—violent and non-violent, Islamist and neo-Nazi—and it does, and will continue to do so. We will not tolerate any groups who spread hate by demonising those of other faiths or ethnicities, and who deliberately raise community fears and tensions by bringing disorder and violence to our communities. As the threat posed by these groups continues to evolve, so will our response to them. These proscriptions are part of that evolution, and I urge hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House to join me in supporting them today.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 7:09 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 7:18 p.m.

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.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 7:19 p.m.

I look forward to maintaining the contact with the PSNI that I enjoyed while holding other responsibilities, and I know the importance of focusing on security in Northern Ireland. Equally, I will take this opportunity to underline, in relation to the prevention work for those involved in terrorism, that we are committed to the independent review of Prevent, and this important work will go ahead. We will be running a full and open recruitment process to appoint the next reviewer, and further details will be announced shortly.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 7:19 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 7:20 p.m.

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.

James Brokenshire Portrait James Brokenshire - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 7:22 p.m.

I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman reassurance on the issue of tracking terrorists’ finance and assets. Proscription actually aids this, which is why we have brought this order before the House today.

I just want to assure the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) that my door is open to all Members across the House on issues relating to how we can brief and give updates. I very much remain open to all colleagues who wish to come and talk to me and, if they have concerns, to draw them to my attention.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon -