Nick Thomas-Symonds debates with Home Office

There have been 67 exchanges between Nick Thomas-Symonds and Home Office

Wed 2nd September 2020 Channel Crossings in Small Boats 6 interactions (399 words)
Wed 22nd July 2020 Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report (Urgent Question) 4 interactions (465 words)
Tue 21st July 2020 Windrush Lessons Learned Review 3 interactions (685 words)
Mon 13th July 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (234 words)
Tue 23rd June 2020 Windrush Compensation Scheme 3 interactions (712 words)
Mon 22nd June 2020 Reading Terrorist Attack 3 interactions (713 words)
Mon 15th June 2020 Public Order 3 interactions (596 words)
Mon 8th June 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 5 interactions (228 words)
Mon 8th June 2020 Public Order 3 interactions (581 words)
Wed 3rd June 2020 Covid-19: UK Border Health Measures 3 interactions (662 words)
Mon 18th May 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 3 interactions (2,010 words)
Wed 29th April 2020 Fire Safety Bill 3 interactions (1,929 words)
Mon 23rd March 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 9 interactions (344 words)
Wed 26th February 2020 Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism 3 interactions (911 words)
Tue 11th February 2020 Retail Workers: Protection (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (37 words)
Mon 10th February 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (89 words)
Wed 5th February 2020 Operation Augusta (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (1,180 words)
Tue 5th November 2019 Retail Crime Prevention (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (62 words)
Mon 28th October 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (101 words)
Mon 15th July 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (72 words)
Mon 10th June 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (92 words)
Tue 4th June 2019 Telephone and Online Scams (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (1,367 words)
Tue 9th April 2019 Rwandan Genocide: Alleged Perpetrators 3 interactions (283 words)
Mon 1st April 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (74 words)
Mon 18th March 2019 Far-right Violence and Online Extremism 5 interactions (296 words)
Tue 5th March 2019 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Tenth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 2 interactions (40 words)
Tue 5th March 2019 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Ninth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 7 interactions (92 words)
Thu 28th February 2019 Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Seventh sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 3 interactions (42 words)
Thu 28th February 2019 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Eighth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 10 interactions (911 words)
Tue 26th February 2019 Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism 18 interactions (1,040 words)
Tue 26th February 2019 Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Fifth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 3 interactions (34 words)
Tue 26th February 2019 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Sixth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 3 interactions (46 words)
Mon 25th February 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (73 words)
Mon 18th February 2019 UK Nationals returning from Syria 3 interactions (316 words)
Thu 14th February 2019 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Third sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 3 interactions (499 words)
Thu 14th February 2019 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Fourth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 6 interactions (879 words)
Tue 12th February 2019 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (First sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 15 interactions (1,235 words)
Tue 12th February 2019 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Second sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 4 interactions (140 words)
Wed 30th January 2019 Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill [Lords] 50 interactions (3,275 words)
Tue 22nd January 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill 6 interactions (2,534 words)
Mon 21st January 2019 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (62 words)
Tue 18th December 2018 Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill [ Lords ] (First sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 82 interactions (3,322 words)
Mon 3rd December 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (80 words)
Mon 3rd December 2018 Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill [Lords] 11 interactions (1,753 words)
Mon 29th October 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (67 words)
Wed 12th September 2018 Salisbury Incident 27 interactions (2,730 words)
Tue 11th September 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill 41 interactions (4,321 words)
Mon 16th July 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (98 words)
Tue 10th July 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Seventh sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 32 interactions (2,371 words)
Thu 5th July 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Sixth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 47 interactions (2,752 words)
Tue 3rd July 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Fourth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 34 interactions (2,726 words)
Tue 3rd July 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Fifth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 25 interactions (2,158 words)
Thu 28th June 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Third sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 23 interactions (2,313 words)
Wed 27th June 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill 3 interactions (1,091 words)
Tue 26th June 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (First sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 20 interactions (2,555 words)
Tue 26th June 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Second sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 14 interactions (1,913 words)
Mon 11th June 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill 5 interactions (1,551 words)
Mon 4th June 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (71 words)
Tue 22nd May 2018 Serious Violence Strategy 7 interactions (1,167 words)
Mon 16th April 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (68 words)
Wed 28th March 2018 Kerslake Arena Attack Review 9 interactions (301 words)
Mon 26th February 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (89 words)
Thu 25th January 2018 Proscription of Hezbollah 13 interactions (1,277 words)
Tue 19th December 2017 Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism 3 interactions (645 words)
Mon 20th November 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (69 words)
Mon 16th October 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (74 words)
Mon 3rd July 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (60 words)

Channel Crossings in Small Boats

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) (Urgent Question) - Hansard

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on those crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp) - Hansard
2 Sep 2020, 12:02 a.m.

In recent months, the UK has seen a completely unacceptable increase in illegal migration through small-boat crossings from France to the UK. This Government and the Home Secretary are working relentlessly to stop these crossings. Illegal migration is not a new phenomenon. Every Government over the last 20 years and more have experienced migrants—often economic migrants—attempting to reach the UK through illegal means. The majority of these crossings are facilitated by ruthless criminal gangs that make money from exploiting migrants who are desperate to come here.

We are working with the National Crime Agency to go after those who profit from such misery. Already this year, 24 people have been convicted and jailed for facilitating illegal immigration. In July, I joined a dawn raid on addresses across London, which saw a further 11 people arrested for facilitating illegal immigration, and £150,000 in cash and some luxury cars were seized. Just this morning, we arrested a man under section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971 who had yesterday illegally piloted a boat into this country. Further such arrests are expected.

These crossings are highly dangerous. Tragically, last month a 28-year-old Sudanese man, Abdulfatah Hamdallah, died in the water near Calais attempting this crossing. This morning, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution has been out in the English channel and has had to rescue at least 34 people, and possibly more, who were attempting this dangerous journey.

These criminally facilitated journeys are not just dangerous; they are unnecessary as well. France, where these boats are launched, and other EU countries through which these migrants have travelled on their way to the channel, are manifestly safe countries with fully functioning asylum systems. Genuine refugees seeking only safety can and should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. There is no excuse to refuse to do so and instead travel illegally and dangerously to the UK. Those fleeing persecution have had many opportunities to claim asylum in the European countries they have passed through long before attempting this crossing.

We are working closely with our French colleagues to prevent these crossings. That includes patrols of the beaches by French officers, some of whom we fund, surveillance and intelligence sharing. Over 3,000 crossing attempts were stopped this year alone by the French authorities, and approaching 50% of all crossing attempts are stopped on or near French beaches. This morning alone, French authorities prevented at least 84 people from attempting this crossing, thanks in significant part to the daily intelligence briefings provided by the National Crime Agency here in the United Kingdom.

It serves both French and UK interests to work together to cut this route. If this route is completely ended, migrants wishing to come to the UK will no longer need to travel to northern France in the first place. We are therefore urgently discussing with the French Government how our current plans can be strengthened and made truly comprehensive. We have already in the last two months established a joint intelligence cell to ensure that intelligence about crossings is rapidly acted upon, and this morning’s interceptions on French soil are evidence of the success of that approach.

It is also essential to return people who make the crossings where we can, and we are currently working to return nearly 1,000 cases where migrants had previously claimed asylum in European countries and, under the regulations, legally should be returned there. Last month, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the appointment of former Royal Marine Dan O’Mahoney as clandestine channel threat commander. He will collaborate closely with the French to build on the joint work already under way, urgently exploring tougher action in France, including—

Break in Debate

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp - Hansard

Mr Speaker, I sincerely apologise. In that case, let me conclude by saying that these crossings are dangerous, illegal and unnecessary. They should simply not be happening, and this Government will not rest until we have taken the necessary steps to completely end these crossings.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Hansard
2 Sep 2020, midnight

I am grateful to you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker, and for the Minister’s response. I would first like to send my thoughts to the family of Abdulfatah Hamdallah, who died in the English channel—a powerful reminder of the gravity of this issue.

Over a year ago, the Home Secretary said:

“We’ve been working extremely closely with our French colleagues to tackle the use of small boats but we both agreed more needs to be done.”

Why does the Minister think that that work last year has proved so inadequate? The Minister himself scrambled to France on 11 August and announced the joint action plan, but can he outline when that will be available for scrutiny? We all agree on the need to tackle criminal gangs, but does he also accept the importance of safe routes for those seeking asylum? The Government were warned, including by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, that the collapse of safe routes would lead to growing numbers of people taking to the sea.

The expectation around the Dubs amendment across the House was that 3,000 children would be accepted under the scheme. Does the Minister now agree that it was a profound error and, frankly, lacking in compassion to close down that scheme when only a 10th of that number had been accepted? What provisions have been put in place for the welfare of any children who have been intercepted on the crossing? What safeguards are being put in place to ensure that all accommodation is kept safe and covid-secure, as well as protected from far-right attacks, which have unfortunately been reported in recent days?

What we need now are solutions, not empty headlines trying to sound tough. I have deep concerns that in recent weeks the Government, through talking up the deployment of the Navy and the RAF, have tried to militarise the solution when lives are at risk. Ultimately, the sad truth is that people are fleeing their homes as a result of poverty, war and persecution. Does the Minister accept that abolishing the Department for International Development is a great mistake? Is it not the truth that the Government’s approach to this whole issue has, frankly, been defined by a lack of compassion and a lack of competence?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp - Hansard
2 Sep 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I shall try to be brief in my reply, Mr Speaker.

The shadow Home Secretary asks why numbers are so high. Global migration has been growing strongly, and he will be aware that 40,000 people—a far larger number than have crossed the channel—have crossed the Mediterranean. Moreover, during the coronavirus pandemic we have seen displacement from other illegal entry routes, such as lorries and the use of fake documents on aeroplanes, into the maritime route, and we have been successful at preventing illegal immigration through the juxtaposed controls. The situation has been compounded by unusually benign weather conditions in the English channel over the summer.

The shadow Home Secretary asks about safe routes. Since 2015, the Government have provided almost 20,000 resettlement places—a number that dwarfs the 3,000 that he mentions. Since 2010, some 44,000 children have been offered protection of one form or another by the United Kingdom. He says our approach lacks compassion, but I direct him to those figures. I also remind him that last year, 2019, this country received more applications from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children than any other European country, and all of them have been generously looked after while their claims are processed.

The shadow Home Secretary asks about children. When children arrive, they go straight into social care and are extremely carefully looked after while their claims are processed. This Government certainly need no lessons in compassion. Our asylum system is extremely compassionate and extremely generous, and the numbers speak for themselves.

Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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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.

Windrush Lessons Learned Review

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Priti Patel) - Hansard
21 Jul 2020, 12:01 a.m.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the progress on the Windrush lessons learned review. As I have said in this House on a number of occasions, the Windrush scandal is an ugly stain on the face of our country and on the Home Office. Wendy Williams’ independent report laid bare institutional failings over several decades that let down so many who had given so much to Britain. It was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issues of race and the history of the Windrush generation. As I have told the House previously, that was simply unacceptable, and my response has been swift, strong and uncompromising.

I apologised unreservedly for the injustice, hardship and suffering of members of the Windrush generation at the hands of successive Governments. I promised to listen and act to reform the culture of the Home Office to better represent all the communities we serve. Last month, I announced that I accepted the review’s important findings, and said that I would come back to the House to update all Members on the progress in implementing the recommendations.

After years of injustice and countless warm words, the Windrush generation deserve to know that action is urgently under way. More than £1.5 million has now been offered by the Windrush compensation scheme. Bishop Webley and I launched and hosted the first meeting of a new cross-Government Windrush working group to address the wider inequalities affecting the Windrush generation and their families.

Three sub-groups have now been established to look at how we implement the recommendations, how to design the new community fund and how best to work with the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. That group is also advising on our new communications campaign to encourage more people who were affected to come forward. I put on record my thanks to Bishop Webley and to everyone involved for their ongoing support not only as we implement the findings from the lessons learned review but as we come together to improve our engagement, our communication and our outreach to the communities affected. This is just the beginning.

Urgent and extensive work is taking place across the Home Office and beyond on all the recommendations. Together, the permanent secretary and I are reviewing every aspect of how the Department operates, its leadership, the culture, policies and practices, and the way it views and treats all parts of the communities it serves. My ambition is for a fair, humane, compassionate and outward-looking Home Office that represents people from every corner of our diverse society, which makes our country great. That means confronting Wendy Williams’ findings head-on to deliver lasting change.

To deliver that change, we have divided the recommendations into five parts. Our approach, which Wendy Williams has welcomed, will ensure sweeping reforms to our culture, policies, systems and working practices, reaching across the entire Department. We are consulting external experts, community organisations and the very people the Home Office has failed in the past in an extensive programme of engagement to ensure that officials understand the change that is needed and that the organisation at every level learns the lessons of what went wrong. I have been clear to my officials that it is not a box-ticking exercise. A delivery plan has been drawn up to ensure meaningful and rapid action. We are embracing the need to change our culture across the board, and in many cases we are going further than the recommendations that Wendy has made.

I will now set out just some of the work under way on the recommendations under each of the five themes. The first is righting the wrongs and learning from the past. I have apologised unreservedly to the Windrush generation, but sadly, we know that their faith and trust in those who sit on both sides of the House has been badly damaged over many years. A series of reconciliation events will be held to rebuild the relationship between the Home Office and those who were affected. That is an essential step to enable people whose lives were shattered by Windrush to articulate directly the impact that this scandal has had on their lives.

We must learn from the past. Mandatory training is being introduced for new and existing members of Home Office staff to ensure that everyone working in the Department understands and appreciates the history of migration and race in this country. Every single existing or new member of Home Office staff will be required to undertake that learning. We are going further by introducing a new process to ensure that all new policies are developed in an inclusive way, factoring in the cultural and historical context, and with effective mechanisms to monitor and, where necessary, resolve any concerns.

Secondly, we will create an inclusive workforce in the Home Office. The Home Office must reflect the diverse communities that it serves at every single level. There are simply not enough black, Asian or minority ethnic staff working at the top in senior roles, and there are far too many times when I am the only non-white face in the room. Action must happen now, so I am introducing more diverse shortlists for senior jobs, specialist mentoring and sponsorship programmes to help develop a wider pool of talent and drive cultural change. While it is reassuring that the Home Office is on track to meet its aim of 12% black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in senior roles by 2025, my ambition is to go further, because the Department cannot truly reflect the communities it serves unless it represents the people within them. Protecting, supporting and listening to every single part of the community that the Department serves is a vital lesson to be learned.

Thirdly, I am changing the Home Office’s openness to scrutiny. Policy and decision making must be rigorously examined to ensure that any adverse impact on any corner of our society is identified and acted on quickly. To ensure that we better understand the groups and communities that our policies affect, we are overhauling the way in which we build up our evidence base and engage with stakeholders across the board. I expect my officials to engage with community organisations, civil society and the public, and I will be looking for evidence of that in every piece of advice that Ministers receive.

Wendy Williams was clear that a lack of insight into the community’s experience meant that the Home Office missed opportunities to anticipate the Windrush scandal. She stated that

“Officials could and should have done more”.

She effectively said that we must all do better at walking in other people’s shoes. I will overhaul the Department’s risk management framework so that we can identify problems sooner, understand the unintended consequences of decisions for people and communities and keep protection of the public at the heart of what we do. That will give officials the knowledge, understanding and responsibility to raise risks and concerns, rather than hide them, and ensure that they are listened to and acted on.

Fourthly, there will be inclusive and robust policy making. It is key that we build institutional memory and reflect past learnings and experiences when setting out new approaches. Mandatory training on the public sector equality duty and the impact assessment process is being rolled out across the Department, including for the most senior staff. As well as considering the equalities impact, all impact assessments and submissions to Ministers must address the risks to vulnerable individuals and groups.

The final and most critical theme is a more compassionate approach—people not cases. This is at the heart of ensuring that nothing like the injustices faced by the Windrush generation can ever happen again. The injustices of Windrush happened not because Home Office staff were bad people but because staff themselves were caught up in a system in which they did not feel that they had the permission to bring personal judgment to bear. I have heard from victims directly when they have spoken of decision making as a process—a process that ground people down and lacked compassion towards the very people who should have been supported. I have heard people speak of being dismissed as if they just did not matter and their voices were irrelevant.

Putting people first will be built into the reforms that we make. Everyone making decisions must see a face behind the case. We must feel empowered to use our own discretion and pragmatism in decision making. The overwhelming majority of the British public agree that it is right that those with no legal right to be in this country must not be allowed to exploit the system, but we must protect the law-abiding majority. To build and maintain public confidence in the immigration system, it should not be easy for those here to illegally flout the rules, but we must make sure that we have the right protections in place for those whose status should have been assured. We need a system that is fair.

What happened to the Windrush generation is unspeakable, and no one with a legal right to be here should ever have been penalised. I have tasked my officials to undertake a full evaluation of the compliant environment policy and measures, individually and cumulatively, to make sure that the crucial balance is right. I have asked them to evaluate the changes that were made to immigration and nationality laws over successive Governments to ensure that they are fit for purpose for today’s world. If those changes were not communicated effectively enough, we will act to make them so. Have no doubt that where we find problems, I will seek to fix them, but equally, be under no illusion that if people are here wrongly or illegally, then naturally we will act.

We are determined to get this right. We owe it to the Windrush generation and, of course, their descendants. Wendy Williams has asked that we carefully consider our next steps to deliver both meaningful and lasting change. I will deliver on that commitment and continue to update the House. In September 2021, Wendy Williams will return to the Home Office to review our progress. I am confident that she will find the start of a genuine cultural shift within the Department—a Home Office that is working hard to be more diverse, more compassionate and worthy of the trust of the communities it serves. I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Jul 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. I pay tribute to Wendy Williams and her team for their work and I welcome the further details set out today on changes at the Home Office, but the Windrush scandal must lead to real and lasting change.

The review powerfully exposed some of the terrible situations that people were forced into. Gloria, who had been in this country since she was 10, lost her job as a care worker as she was unable to renew her passport and prove her identity. Pauline, who came to the UK at 12 and qualified as a social worker, went on a two-week holiday to Jamaica that became an 18-month nightmare; she was detained and refused UK re-entry, losing her home and her livelihood. These are just two examples of the lives devastated by this scandal, and it is all the more shocking that just 60 people received compensation from the Windrush compensation scheme in its first year of operation.

Ministers must get a grip of the scheme. The review is clear that the Home Office should be more proactive in identifying people affected and putting right any detriment detected, with a focus on identifying people from elsewhere in the Commonwealth who may have been affected. Will the Home Secretary confirm today how many people the Home Office estimates are eligible for the Windrush compensation scheme? As of today, how many have applied? Of those, how many are from Commonwealth countries or related to them, and how many are from other countries—the category that arrived before 31 December 1988—and are now settled here? Will she explain why the published number of applicants seems so low, given the scale of the injustice? What does she expect the average turnaround time of a claim to be?

The Home Secretary mentioned in her statement that more than £1.5 million had been paid out. It is also the case that some people who were deemed eligible for the scheme early last year still have not received their compensation; for them, every day without that money continues to be a struggle. Will the Home Secretary also tell us which Minister is in charge of the scheme?

I turn to the other recommendations, of which there are 30 in total. Wendy Williams said:

“The department should publish a comprehensive improvement plan within six months of this report”.

The Home Secretary mentioned a delivery plan in her statement, but can she now confirm that, in line with the recommendations, she will publish it immediately? Another recommendation was that the Home Secretary should

“undertake a full review and evaluation of the hostile…environment policy…individually and cumulatively.”

The Home Secretary did mention that review, but can she tell us when she expects it to be completed? Wendy Williams’s review also recommended the creation of a migrants commissioner. What powers will the commissioner have, what budget will they control and when will the recruitment process for that vital post begin?

Nobody disagrees that the Home Office should be fair, humane and outward-looking, but the Home Secretary said at a recent meeting of the Home Affairs Committee that Wendy Williams was only a

“fraction away from calling the Home Office institutionally racist.”

Can I ask the Home Secretary how she felt about that? In view of that, what are her reflections on the decade for which the Conservative party has been in charge of the Home Office? The truth is that the Government are so little trusted in this area that it is vital that we maintain maximum scrutiny. The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted the need not just to recognise the discrimination and racism that black people continue to face, but to demand action.

Given their failure to act on so many previous reviews, the Government are falling woefully short on action. That is why we will be holding them to account for delivering the vital changes outlined in the report with the urgency that is required. Is not the truth that the Windrush generation, who gave so much to rebuilding the country after world war two, deserve nothing less, and future generations deserve so much more?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
21 Jul 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I would like not only to restate my commitment to delivering the compensation for those who became victims of the Windrush scandal itself, but to say that it is absolutely right, and it is my focus, my determination and my resolve, to ensure that the individuals whose lives were blighted and shattered as a result of a series of measures that, to quote Wendy Williams,

“evolved under the Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments”

receive the compensation that they deserve.

It is a fact that the injustices will not be resolved or fixed overnight, and I have levelled with the House on that point on a number of occasions. The mistreatment that the affected individuals endured was simply unacceptable. I will continue to do everything within my power to lead the Home Office in delivering on compensation, and to ensure that through the lessons learned review and Wendy Williams’s work, we right the wrongs and properly compensate those who were affected. That will not happen overnight.

I have already expanded the compensation scheme so that people will be able to apply to it until at least April 2023, but we have to go beyond that, and I would be more than willing to do so. We have made the criteria more generous so that people can receive the maximum compensation that they rightly deserve. I have said that £1.5 million of compensation has been offered to individuals, but of course I want compensation payments to be sped up. The scheme has already received 1,342 applications. Final offers have been made to more than 154 individuals. Urgent and exceptional payments have been made to hundreds of individuals—in fact, more than 1,400 individuals have been supported by the vulnerable persons team—and a significant number of cases have been closed.

As I think I said at the Select Committee just last week, a vast number of cases—I will say it now: 1,000 cases —are not just led by the Home Office, but split across other Departments, including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, in terms of ascertaining information and data. As I have said on previous occasions, outreach and engagement with people across a wide range of communities, including other Commonwealth countries, is vital. We simply, partly due to covid, have not been able to continue direct face-to-face engagement with community organisations and representatives in the way we had planned, but only by doing that can we identify others who have not even applied to the compensation scheme. More work needs to be done—I am very honest and open about that. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) speaks about scrutiny. He is more than welcome to continue asking questions and we will provide answers where we can. At the same time, we are subject to not full data and not full information and I would be more than happy to continue working with colleagues across the House, and all political parties, as I have done, to ensure that more people do come forward. That is something we should all collectively step up to and encourage.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 13th July 2020

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Parliament Live - Hansard

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to those people and commemorate the anniversary of those attacks. In short, we are constantly investing in our security and intelligence services. In particular, we are investing in counter-terrorism policing, which has had an increase this year of £90 million—one of the largest uplifts ever, taking CT policing funding to more than £900 million. Of course, we have to do more to strengthen it and ensure our system is fit, agile and responsive to all sorts of threats.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
8 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to those who died in the 7/7 attacks, and I commend the work of the emergency services that day.

When I read the details of the proposed new immigration system, I was disappointed, if unfortunately not shocked, to see evidence yet again that the Government do not consider carers to be skilled workers, as they have been excluded from the qualifying list for the health and care visa. After the Prime Minister accused care workers of not following the guidance on covid-19, and now this, will the Home Secretary please answer a simple question: what do the Government have against care workers?

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster) - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

We support our care workers. Senior care workers will qualify under the new points-based system. People will look at what has happened over the past few months and surely they will not think that our vision for the social care sector should be to carry on looking abroad to recruit at or near the minimum wage. We need to be prioritising jobs in this country.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

We all want more people training and entering the care sector at a decent wage, but there are more than 100,000 vacancies in England alone today. Some of us in the House do not need reminding of how important and skilled care workers’ jobs are, but that does not always seem to be the case for the Government. I would like to extend an invitation to the Home Secretary. I will convene a meeting of a delegation of care workers, alongside their trade union representatives, to help to provide a better understanding of the incredible jobs they do. Would she care to join me? I am sure she would find meeting frontline care workers incredibly useful when sitting there deciding how skilled people’s jobs are.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Parliament Live - Hansard

Many people listening in Torfaen and Halifax will be wondering whether the hon. Gentleman has been following the sad news about the economic impact of covid-19 and the number of our own UK-based workers who we will need to get back into employment. It is hard to believe that many will believe that there is a labour shortage. We engage regularly with the care sector and we listen to what it says. Our priority is that in future these jobs will be valued, rewarded and trained for, and that immigration should not be an alternative.

Windrush Compensation Scheme

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Priti Patel) - Hansard
23 Jun 2020, midnight

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Windrush compensation scheme.

Yesterday, we celebrated Windrush Day, which marks the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks. The ship carried hundreds of people who had left their homes to build a new life in the United Kingdom, and to help this country rebuild following the destruction of the second world war. These men and women built their lives and went on to build their homes in the United Kingdom. They, alongside with many thousands of others who made similar journeys, and their descendants, have made an immeasurable contribution to the social, economic and cultural life of our country. When Britain was in need, they answered the call.

Yet as we all know, they were the very people who went on to suffer unspeakable injustices and institutional failings spanning successive Governments over several decades. I have apologised for the appalling treatment suffered and, on 19 March, I made a statement after I received the long awaited Windrush lessons learned review from Wendy Williams. I have apologised for the appalling treatment suffered by the Windrush generation.

The review was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the

“institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the…race and the history of the Windrush generation”

by the Department. There are serious and significant lessons for the Home Office to learn in the way it operates. I and the permanent secretary are currently reviewing its leadership, culture and practices, and the way it views and treats all parts of the community it serves.

These reforms are only the start. I was clear that when Wendy Williams published her lessons learned review, I would listen and act. I have heard what she has said, and I will be accepting the recommendations that she has made in full. I am committed to ensuring that the Home Office delivers for each part of the community it serves and I will come back to update the House before the summer recess on how we will be implementing the recommendations. I look forward to discussing the plans further with Wendy this week.

We have been working tirelessly to support the most urgent cases and those most in need. In April 2018, the Home Office set up the Windrush taskforce to ensure that those who needed documentation immediately could get it. A month later, the Windrush scheme was launched, providing free citizenship to those eligible for it.

The Home Office has a dedicated vulnerable persons team in place to provide immediate support to people suffering with a range of vulnerabilities, including the financial hardships and destitutions that have been well documented. The team also administers the urgent and exceptional payments scheme, which provides immediate financial payments. To the end of March this year, the team has made 35 payments, totalling more than £46,000.

Work is continuing unabated to ensure that those who suffered receive the documentation and the compensation that they need. So far, more than 12,000 people have been granted documentation by the Windrush taskforce, including more than 5,900 grants of citizenship, and the compensation scheme continues to make payments to compensate the losses and impacts that individuals suffered as a result of not being able to demonstrate their lawful status. The scheme was set up and designed with the backing of Martin Forde QC, in close consultation with those who were affected by the scandal, and in February I announced that I would extend it until April 2023 to give those who need our help as much time as they need to apply.

We are continuing to process individual claims as quickly as possible. The first payment was made within four months of the scheme launching, and many interim awards are being made where parts of the claim can be resolved more easily and more quickly than others. But let me be clear: it is not a blanket one-size-fits-all scheme. It was deliberately designed with community leaders and Martin Forde QC so that the claimant is at the heart of each and every claim.

Cases deserve to be processed individually with the care and sensitivity that they deserve, so that the maximum payment can be made to every single person. I simply will not call for targets when it comes to dealing with claims. These are incredibly personal cases—individual cases—that must be treated with the care, the dignity and the respect that they deserve.

I want everyone who has been wronged to get the maximum compensation to which they are entitled, and through this bespoke scheme, we are working to achieve that. This compensation covers a very wide range of categories—far more than any comparable compensation scheme. It covers immigration fees; it covers loss of earnings; it covers benefits; it covers homelessness; it covers destitution. Overall, it covers 13 separate categories. Assessing claims in this way is ultimately beneficial to those who are making them, but it takes time to assess them and it takes time to get it right. While claims are being processed in full, many interim and exceptional payments have been made to make sure that people have access to money—to the funds that they need now.

Clearly, I share the desire to see more claims completed. The rate of claims has already increased significantly in the past few months: as of the end of March, more than £360,000 had been awarded, and further offers have been made of approximately £280,000. I can confirm today that more than £1 million has been offered in claims so far, and more payments and offers are being made each week, but we can—and of course we must—do more. My determination to right the wrongs and the injustices suffered by the Windrush generation is undiminished, and I will do all I can to ensure that more people are helped and more people are compensated in full. If additional resources are needed, they will be provided.

Now is the time for more action. We all have a duty to help those affected by this terrible injustice. Individuals will benefit from the compensation scheme only if they are sought out and encouraged to apply. We are working extensively with community groups and leaders to raise awareness of the Windrush taskforce and the compensation scheme, including with vulnerable people through the vulnerable persons team. Anyone who needs help or support to make a claim will receive it. The Home Office has funded Citizens Advice to provide free independent advice and support, and has hosted or attended more than 100 engagement and outreach events throughout the United Kingdom. As Members know, my door is always open, so I urge Members of the House to ensure that their constituents’ cases or concerns are raised immediately with me and my team so that they are progressed and resolved.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, I have made sure that no one is left behind. Working with community leaders, I have launched a digital engagement programme so that outreach can continue despite the current social distancing measures. The first virtual support event was held on 21 May, and on 19 March I announced a dedicated new communications campaign to promote the Windrush schemes, as well as a £500,000 fund for community organisations to run outreach, promotional and support activities to increase awareness.

We know, however, that there are a range of other issues and injustices affecting the Windrush generation and their families. Yesterday, I announced a new Windrush cross-Government working group, which I will co-chair with Bishop Derek Webley. The group brings together community leaders with senior representatives from a number of Government Departments to address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants, spanning programmes on education, work, health and much more. The Prime Minister and I spoke to members of the group yesterday to discuss many of the actions needed and to deliver solutions. The first formal meeting of the group will take place this Thursday. I look forward to taking the work of the group forward, alongside the inspirational co-chair, Bishop Derek Webley.

Northing can ever undo the suffering experienced by members of the Windrush generation. No one should have suffered the uncertainty, complication and hardships brought on by the mistakes of successive Governments. Now is the time for more action across the Government to repay that debt of gratitude and to eliminate the challenges that still exist for them and their descendants. Only then can we build a stronger, fairer and more successful country for the next generation. I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
23 Jun 2020, 2:21 p.m.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it.

I would like to start by celebrating the enormous contribution the Windrush generation and their families have made. The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 was an important moment in our nation’s history: people from the Caribbean answering the call to help to rebuild the nation recovering from the second world war. Since then, the Windrush generation and their families have had a huge impact on every facet of national life: our NHS, our transport system, across public and private sectors, the arts, culture, religion and sports. But we also know that many who made new lives here did not get the welcome they were expecting. Many faced appalling racism, were locked out of jobs and homes, and were subject to terrible abuse in the streets.

We may have hoped that all aspects of that had been consigned to the past, but 70 years later we have seen an incredibly strong reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for change here in the UK and little wonder. Compounded injustices over generations have created deep frustrations and hurt. The brave testimonies black people have shared about the impact racism has on their lives and their family histories has underlined that there is an undeniable case for action. Addressing unfairness and injustice begins at the door of the Home Office, with the appalling mistreatment of the Windrush generation.

The Windrush scandal is a cause of national shame and the Wendy Williams lessons learned review is a damning indictment. It exposes callousness and incompetence that caused deep injustice, while making clear the impact of jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to many individuals and families. The review sets out 30 important and urgent recommendations, a number of which speak to a deeply worrying culture that has been allowed to develop over the past 10 years. Frankly, it is shameful that one of the recommendations called for the Department to develop

“a clear purpose, mission and values statement”

rooted in

“fairness, humanity, openness, diversity and inclusion”,

and that such a statement was not in place already. There are also recommendations which show the work required on issues relating to race and the need for better community outreach and engagement. It is, frankly, shocking that it took a scandal on this scale to bring such core failings to light.

I welcome what the Home Secretary said about accepting all 30 recommendations, but the reality is that we need yet another statement before the summer recess before we even move towards implementation, when this report has been available since March. I welcome the commitment to appointing Bishop Derek Webley as co-chair of a cross-party working group, but that cannot be a substitute for action. The truth is that we have to see far more in the way of action from this Government to give the impression that they actually take this issue seriously. That is why we will be looking very carefully at the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Williams review. As with the Lammy review, I am afraid that the Government too often call for reviews; they are too slow to act and too slow to right the wrongs. The Government’s Windrush compensation scheme managed to compensate just 60 people in its first year of operation. The Home Secretary talked about more progress today, but she must know that that rate of progress is just too slow, given the number of years that have elapsed since the scandal first came to light and the fact that the scheme has already been in operation for over a year.

It is little wonder that the reception was so bad for the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of yet another review on racial inequality, when the case for urgent action and the steps needed are abundantly clear. The reality is that, yet again, the Prime Minister was found wanting; in an important national moment, it is always words, not action. The anniversary of Windrush is an opportunity to celebrate and thank the Windrush generation, but while injustices persist, this is not enough. To ensure that such a national scandal never happens again, surely the Home Secretary must accept that the time for action is now.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
23 Jun 2020, 2:25 p.m.

As I outlined in my statement, I have been unequivocal on the change that is required at the Home Office. When I made my original statement following the publication of the “Windrush lessons learned review”, the hon. Gentleman was not in his current role, so he would not have heard the full statement that I gave then, or the answers that I gave to the many questions. I apologised for the absolutely appalling scandal that took place and I will continue not just to apologise but to ensure that the Home Office in particular learns the lessons and fundamentally changes its culture, the leadership and the way in which it treats people, and becomes far more representative of the communities that it serves. I said that back in March and I will continue to say it until the Home Office fundamentally shifts its own way of working and ultimately learns the lessons.

Of course, that will take time. There is no silver bullet to do this overnight, but the first step that we can take is to ensure that we continue to work together collaboratively across our society and across Government to tackle the injustices that were suffered. That is my mission, that is my aim and that is why I am accepting the recommendations. I think it is right, as I said back in March and as I have said in previous statements, that I continue to speak to Wendy Williams, which I am doing this week, and to work with her and with people in the Home Office to implement the recommendations in the right way. In fact, when the report was published earlier this year, Wendy Williams herself said that we should not just come out and accept the recommendations, but work through them. That is exactly what we are doing. That is the right response. That is the responsible way in which we do this, to understand the delivery.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the compensation scheme, and I agree: the payments and the way payments have been made have been far too slow. I am not apologising for that at all. I have outlined in my statement that it is right that we treat each individual with the respect and dignity they deserve. These are complicated cases. In fact, last week when I was here in the House answering oral questions, the issue came up and I put the offer to many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches to come into the Home Office and to spend some time with our casework team in order to understand the complexities of the various cases, particularly constituency cases that they themselves may have raised. That offer is absolutely open to each constituency Member of Parliament. They should come in and look at the case handling. These are bespoke cases, and each one is handled in a sensitive way.

For the benefit of those Members who are not aware of this, when offers of payments are made to individuals, those individuals have a period to consider the payment they are being offered. If they would like to discuss the payment or if they decline it and want a review, that review is conducted not by the Home Office but by HMRC, an independent body. Again, it takes time for HMRC to do the review, but that is the right approach. It was agreed with Martin Forde and the individual stakeholders who were consulted before the scheme was set up.

My final point in response to the hon. Gentleman is that, although we know that the Windrush generation has faced many, many injustices, recent events have shone a spotlight on a whole range of injustices across many communities in our country. The Prime Minister’s new commission is very much looking at how we can level up and at how we can address and tackle those injustices. We should be doing that collectively as a House, working together in a responsible way to look at how we can support individuals, communities and minority groups of all faiths and backgrounds. That is the right thing to do, and I hope that all Opposition Members, including the hon. Gentleman, will work in a collaborative and constructive way to move forward on these issues.

Reading Terrorist Attack

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 22nd June 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Priti Patel) - Hansard
22 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the senseless terror attack that took place in Reading on Saturday evening. That appalling attack is now subject to an ongoing police investigation, and as such there are limits to what I can say. However, I want to share as much detail as I can with the House this afternoon, on behalf of the police, following my conversations with them over the weekend and my visit to Reading this morning.

Around 7 pm on Saturday evening, a 25-year-old male entered Forbury Gardens in the centre of Reading, and began to viciously attack several groups of people. The outstanding police officers from Thames Valley police responded with great courage and great speed. The armed suspect was tackled to the ground by an unarmed officer and was immediately arrested at the scene. The suspect remains in custody.

After initial investigations, Counter Terrorism Policing declared the attack a terrorist incident and is now leading the investigation. The police have confirmed that the threat is contained, but that, sadly, three innocent members of the public were killed, murdered by a sudden and savage knife attacker as they enjoyed a summer evening with friends. Another three victims were injured and received hospital treatment.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of everyone who was hurt or killed as a result of this sickening attack. The victims of terrorism unit at the Home Office and family liaison officers are supporting them, and I know Members from across the House will join me in sending our heartfelt condolences.

It was truly humbling to visit Thames Valley police this morning. I had the privilege of meeting the officers who first responded to the incident and who were responsible for apprehending the suspect, as well as trying to prevent the loss of further life. Those officers—a few of whom were student officers—ran towards danger to help those in need without a second thought. A young unarmed police officer took down the suspect without hesitation while another performed emergency first aid on those who were injured. These officers are heroes. They showed courage, bravery and selflessness way beyond their years. They are the very best of us. I would also like to pay tribute to the response of every emergency service that attended the scene, as well as members of the public who stepped in to prevent further loss of life.

The United Kingdom has the best security services and police in the world. Since 2017, they have foiled 25 terrorist plots, including eight driven by right-wing ideologies. They serve the country with professionalism and courage, embodying what the British public rightly expect from those on the frontline of the battle against violent extremists and terrorists.

The UK’s counter-terrorism strategy remains one of the most comprehensive approaches to countering terrorism in the world, but over recent decades we have all too often seen the results of poisonous extremist ideology. The terrorist threat that we face is complex, diverse and rapidly changing. It is clear that the threat posed by lone actors is growing. These terrorists are united by the same vile hate that rejects the values our country holds dear: decency, tolerance and respect.

We are united in our mission to tackle terrorism in all its forms. Since day one, the Government have backed our police and security services, who work around the clock to take down terrorists and violent extremists. On any given day, they make a series of calculated judgments and decisions on how best to protect our citizens and country based upon the intelligence that they gather.

In light of the many complexities across the security, intelligence and policing communities, in January this year I announced increased resources for counter-terrorism policing, resulting in a £90 million increase this year alone. That has taken counter-terrorism policing funding to more than £900 million—the highest ever. That is because we live in a complex world and is against a backdrop of evolving threats and dynamic threats—threats that when they do materialise are worse than shocking when they result, as we have seen again this weekend, in the tragic loss of life.

Bolstering our security and policing network and frontline capability is part of our ambitious programme to strengthen the joint working between the police and security services to leave terrorists with no place to hide. It is also why we are committed to developing a new “protect duty”, so that businesses and owners of public places must take into account the threat of terrorism. It is also why, following the shocking attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall and in Streatham, we took strong and decisive action. That action included the introduction of the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, the emergency legislation that retrospectively ended the automatic early release of terrorist offenders serving standard determinate sentences, forcing them to spend a minimum of two thirds of their time behind bars before being considered for release by the Parole Board. Through our Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, which goes into Committee in this House this week, we are introducing much tougher penalties for terrorists to keep the public safe. This is the biggest overhaul of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades, strengthening every stage of the process, from introducing a 14-year minimum jail term for the most dangerous offenders to stricter monitoring measures. Jonathan Hall QC is also looking at how different agencies—including the police, probation services and security services—investigate, monitor and manage terrorist offenders.

I totally understand the desire for details and information to enter the public domain, particularly at this time, as people ask what happened and why. However, as you pointed out, Mr Speaker, I would ask everyone, including the media, to be cautious at this stage about reporting on individuals who have not been charged. We must not do anything that could put at risk the victims or their loved ones achieving justice.

The first duty of any Government is to protect the people they serve, so we continue to pursue every option available to tackle the terrorist threat and take dangerous people off our streets. As the Prime Minister reiterated yesterday, the police and security services will continue in their investigations to better understand the circumstances of this tragic incident, and if further action is needed, we will not hesitate. Our world-class CT police and security services have my unequivocal backing as they hunt down hate-filled terrorists and extremists. My message today is clear, simple and strong: swift justice will be done; victims will be supported; and if further action is needed to stop terrorists in their tracks, this Government will not hesitate to act. I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
22 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement and for her briefing call over the weekend.

Like the whole House, I was shocked and appalled by the scenes we saw in Reading on Saturday evening. While doing no more than visiting a beautiful park, three innocent people were stabbed to death and another three were seriously injured. Today we remember those who have died, and our thoughts and condolences are with their families and friends at this moment of terrible loss. We send best wishes to those who were injured and wish them a swift recovery, and thank our magnificent NHS staff for the care that they are providing.

The incident was one of senseless violence, and, as always, we are indebted to our outstanding police officers and other emergency services personnel for their swift response and work at the scene, helping others by putting themselves in danger. They represent the very best of us. We thank them and the public at the scene who assisted, and recognise their courage and bravery in this most awful of situations.

We now know that this has been declared a terrorist incident, and I know that the whole House will support the police as they carry out the highly detailed and careful investigation that is necessary with an incident such as this. I hope that the Home Secretary can confirm that all necessary resources will be made available to Thames Valley police and to counter-terrorism policing. I am sure she will also agree that although there are, quite understandably, many questions about this specific case, the best thing to do is to give the police the space they need to conduct the investigation and to establish the facts, not to indulge in unhelpful speculation. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) for his calm and measured leadership in such a difficult moment.

It is heartbreaking that we are having this conversation again so soon after the terrible attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in November, which tragically took the lives of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, and the attack in Streatham in February. As you have said, Mr Speaker, this is a live investigation so we have to ensure that there is due process and that the police can do their job, but the country will want answers about these incidents, which have occurred in such quick succession. Although the priority today must be to ensure that there are no further related threats, and that the victims and families are cared for, it is vital that questions are addressed. I hope that the Home Secretary will confirm that she will further update the House on this awful incident and the lessons that need to be learned, but there are some matters that I would like her to deal with today.

The Home Secretary mentioned the piece of emergency legislation in February, and there is another Bill on counter-terrorism going through the House at present with cross-party co-operation. I hope that any further legislation will also be on a cross-party basis. But does she agree that legislation alone is not enough? We need a comprehensive look at deradicalisation in our prisons, at how people who pose a threat are risk assessed and how different agencies can work together to safeguard against tragedies.

Community police are the eyes and ears of our society. The intelligence gathering that they do is vital. Can the Home Secretary assure me that the Government will never again cut the numbers of community police and will instead build the capacity that is required for law enforcement? Can she also assure me that the serious violence taskforce, which has not met since 26 June last year, will meet soon and on a regular basis?

The Home Secretary rightly praised the intelligence and security services, but the Intelligence and Security Committee has not met for over six months. Will she confirm when the Committee will have all its members in place and exactly when it will meet next?

Finally, I know there will be many issues in the weeks ahead, but let the message go out from this House today that we stand alongside the wider community in Reading at this dark moment and say that those who have lost their lives will never be forgotten.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
22 Jun 2020, 3:50 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his thoughtful remarks about Reading as a community. I met the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) and made exactly the same point. We must be united and work at a community and multi-faith level with all organisations. That is really important, both now and going forward, to ensure that people are remembered in the right and appropriate way, and that we support the community at this difficult time, which we all do.

The hon. Gentleman asked some important questions. He is absolutely right that legislation is never the only solution, not just on issues of this nature but on wider safeguarding, community measures and the responses that are put in place. That brings me on to community responders, police officers, backing our police and resourcing those who keep our communities and the people in our country safe. I met the chief constable of Thames Valley police, John Campbell, this morning. Again, that is a conversation I had. I was in touch with him over the weekend and had the assurance that they are well supported in terms of the resources they need. They are dealing with a live investigation. Obviously, the investigation is now a counter-terrorism investigation, but even so they have given me that assurance.

There are a number of other points to make when it comes to violence of every nature, including serious violence. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the serious violence taskforce. We now have the National Policing Board, which has effectively taken over that remit. The National Policing Board has already met several times, including in recent weeks, to discuss not just policing but crime and the Government’s overall crime strategy from a holistic perspective. That also covers the Ministry of Justice side, the end-to-end aspect of the criminal justice system and how offenders are treated.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the work that is required on deradicalisation in prisons. The work that needs to take place builds on Prevent and on safeguards that exist already, but these are evolving issues in terms of the type of skills and resources that are needed, as well as the types of deradicalisation techniques and Prevent work that have to be invested in. That is continuous. There is never one solution for how to deradicalise individuals. A range of tools, techniques and programmes are in place. It is right that we continue to review and work with that. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a great deal of work has taken place around the review of Prevent.

The hon. Gentleman’s final point related to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Appointments to the Committee are taking place and an announcement will be made in due course on when that will be coming forward.

Public Order

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 15th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Priti Patel) - Hansard
15 Jun 2020, 12:07 a.m.

Like all Members of this House, I was saddened and sickened at the far-right thugs who came to London this weekend on a so-called mission to protect the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, claiming to want to protect our country’s heritage, yet failing to understand that our country’s heritage is founded on a set of shared values—tolerance, respect for people and property, and adherence to the rule of law. Those thugs, far from protecting our heritage, did all that they could to destroy and undermine those values. There is no place for their sickening conduct and hate in our society. They were violent, they were aggressive and abusive towards police officers, and they were patently racist. It is right that a good number have been arrested.

I would now like to give the House the latest operational update from the police. In total, more than 210,000 people have attended demonstrations across the country following the death of George Floyd. At least 160 protests took place this weekend, with the vast majority passing peacefully, but counter-demonstrations sparked ugly scenes.

On Saturday, 2,000 people attended counter-protests in Westminster, with eruptions of violence throughout the day. Racists and far-right hooligans clashed with the police and fights broke out. Smoke bombs and glass bottles were lobbed at the police in shameful scenes. Thirty-eight officers were hurt across the country this weekend as they were kicked, punched or pelted with missiles. On Saturday alone, there were 137 arrests for offences including assaults on officers, violent disorder, breaches of the peace, possession of offensive weapons and class A drugs, and drunk and disorderly behaviour. In total, at least 100 officers have now been injured, as well as three police horses and one police dog, and at least 280 arrests have been made.

As that ugly operational picture demonstrates, many of the so-called protesters came with the deliberate intent of causing harm to those around them and to police officers. That hooliganism is utterly indefensible. There can be no excuse for pelting police officers with missiles. Of all the dreadful images to emerge from this weekend, the one of the man desecrating the plaque of PC Keith Palmer was the most abhorrent.

PC Keith Palmer served our country in so many ways, having first served in our armed forces. He then came to this place and made the ultimate sacrifice during a terror attack at the heart of our democracy. I know the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to his family, colleagues and friends. He will never be forgotten.

As I said last week, when I became Home Secretary I vowed to stand with the brave men and women of our police, for law and order and against the terrorists, the thugs and the criminals who threaten people, towns and communities. I am unapologetic for reiterating that pledge today because sadly, backing our world class police has never been more important. The scenes of violence and disorder in recent weeks have only underlined the challenges they face.

We ask our frontline police officers to do the most difficult of jobs. Those courageous men and women run towards danger so that we do not have to. They put their own lives on the line to protect us, to protect the public. They take on the drug dealers, murderers and violent criminals every single day to keep our streets safe. They uphold the rule of law and give us the security and freedom to live our lives as we choose. I remain saddened at the lack of respect shown to our brave officers by a small minority of people.

The senseless violence is taking a huge toll on our police. On Friday, I spoke to officers from forces in England and Wales who had been attacked in the line of duty to hear at first hand the devastating impact on them and their loved ones. Their accounts have only strengthened my resolve to step up the support for our police. An attack on our brave police is an attack on us all. I refuse to allow our outstanding officers to become society’s punchbag or monuments to heroes who served their country to be vandalised and desecrated.

The Government are considering all options to stop those who seek to attack emblems of our national sacrifice and pride, including the proposed desecration of war memorials Bill. I can confirm that my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary will meet my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Bracknell (James Sunderland) this afternoon to take that forward. My message today is simple: actions have consequences. I want vicious individuals held to account for the violence and criminality that they perpetrate. I want to see them arrested and brought to justice.

Finally, I turn to the unprecedented national health crisis we find ourselves in. Coronavirus has tragically taken the lives of more than 40,000 people in our country. To protect us all and to stop the spread of the deadly disease, any large gatherings remain unlawful. The severe public risk forces me again to urge the public not to attend future gatherings or protests: if you do so, you put your loved ones at risk.

It is clear that the far-right thugs who descended on London at the weekend, with the intent to cause harm, shamed themselves with some abusive and violent conduct. They were violent. They were abusive and aggressive towards the police. They were racist, and there are no excuses for this behaviour. So to the quiet, law-abiding majority who continue to be appalled by this violence and who have continued to live their lives within the rules throughout this pandemic, I say that I completely hear their anger at the scenes they have seen on our streets; to the police who continue to be subjected to the most dreadful abuse, I say that they have my full backing as they act proportionately, fairly and courageously to maintain law and order; and to the criminals, I simply reiterate my earlier remarks: “Your behaviour is shameful. No matter who you are, if you have broken the law, you will face justice.” I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
15 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. Like everyone in this House, I was appalled by the scenes in London this weekend. The violence, intimidation and antisocial behaviour were unacceptable, and as I said over the weekend, we condemn these acts absolutely.

It was clear that people, including the far right, had come out with the intention of causing violence, coupled with Nazi salutes and missiles hurled at the police. It was despicable to see a man apparently urinating by the memorial dedicated to PC Keith Palmer—a man who defended this very building to keep us Members safe. For such a disgusting act to occur next to a monument to a man who gave the ultimate service to his country shows how vile the events of Saturday became. PC Palmer’s bravery will never be forgotten.

In these terrible scenes, we were reminded once again of the bravery, dedication and professionalism of our frontline police officers, and we again owe them a debt of gratitude. I understand that 23 officers were injured this weekend, and that is, of course, in addition to officers who were injured in previous incidents. I ask the Home Secretary to update us on their wellbeing. I have been in contact this morning with policing representatives to pass on the thanks of those of us on the Opposition Benches.

On the issue of the law around war memorials, I recognise the importance of local memorials including cenotaphs, and I will scrutinise carefully the proposal on the issue that the law as it stands puts the financial value of repair above the hurt caused to the community. On sentencing, bearing in mind some of the media coverage at the weekend, I should point out that the maximum sentence for criminal damage is already 10 years, and sentencing guidelines for damaging memorials would need to be developed considering sentences already handed out for other serious offences.

The Prime Minister should also be clear that we will not allow him to move the focus from the action to address the discrimination that people face now. Let us be clear: there should be no attempt to draw comparisons between those who were intent on violence this weekend and the legitimate cause of the Black Lives Matter campaigners, who have brought attention to the impact that racism and inequality continue to have both here in the UK and across the world. Now is the time for action. To borrow a phrase from another movement for equality and justice, what is required now are deeds not words.

The Prime Minister’s decision to announce yet another review falls woefully short of what is required, because he could act now. He could implement all the recommendations of the Lammy review that have been sitting there since September 2017. He could bring forward actions on the Wendy Williams lessons learned review now. He could address the fact that just 60 people have been compensated so far in the first year of the Windrush compensation scheme—just 60 out of thousands, which is unacceptable. To use the Prime Minister’s own words, these plans are “oven-ready” and could be done now. The Prime Minister has the information to act now. The Prime Minister has the recommendations in front of him to act now. The Prime Minister has the power to act now. Are we not in the middle of a powerful national moment when more delay is not the answer? Is it not the truth that by failing to act now, the Prime Minister just is not offering the leadership required?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
15 Jun 2020, 4:50 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about police officers and policing, and for the support he has given to our injured officers. What we have seen over recent weeks has been completely appalling.

There are a number of points I would like to make in response to the hon. Gentleman’s comments. It is important to recognise—I said it, in fact, this time last week—that peaceful protest remains an essential and vital part of our democratic society. Of course black lives matter. The movement itself and the response in terms of the points that they have been making, as we discussed last week on the Floor of the House, are absolutely important and essential. It is vital that we look at the ways in which we can address the issues of inequality and social justice across our country and society. That is why the Prime Minister has announced a new cross-Government commission to effectively champion the voice of black and minority ethnic groups in particular. The new commission on race and ethnic disparities will absolutely look at some of the issues the hon. Gentleman touched on. If I may, I will come on to the issue of Windrush separately.

These inequalities are live inequalities, which means, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, we must act now. The aim of the commission, importantly, is to set out something that is forward looking and positive: a positive agenda of change that balances the needs of individuals, communities and society, but maximises opportunities and ensures fairness for all. That is, of course, something that all Members in this House should rightly welcome and work on collectively. Again, I said that last week and I will keep on saying it. We should unite in our core purpose and objective. We are all leaders and we can absolutely drive this agenda forward. It will build on the work of the race disparity unit and go further in terms of understanding why disparities exist and what does not work. It will build on recommendations that have already been made to the Government.

That brings me on to the point the right hon. Gentleman made about Windrush and the Wendy Williams review. I have been clear to the House, and I will say it again on the Floor of the House this afternoon, that I shall be returning to this Chamber to provide a full update on its recommendations and on the way in which the Home Office itself is undergoing much work in terms of a change of culture. It is looking at itself and at the conduct that has taken place, historically, in the Home Office. Those are vital and important issues that have to be addressed, and they have not been addressed previously.

We will be looking at how we implement the Williams review. Work is taking place right now specifically on compensation and increasing that compensation. The hon. Gentleman will understand that every single case is a bespoke case that has to be looked at on an individual basis. These are complicated cases. They cannot just be solved and resolved overnight with payments. We have a team of people working assiduously to look at every single case. If the hon. Gentleman would like an update on the work that has taken place on the compensation scheme, the outreach work and the programmes that have been undertaken and are still forthcoming with our online stakeholder teams, I would be very happy to update him on that work.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 8th June 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. She has highlighted many of the challenges but also the opportunities, in terms of how we can work with partner organisations to provide the right kind of support needed to tackle the root causes of domestic abuse, to protect children and to educate them in terms of their own safeguarding. There are many opportunities through which the Government are doing that, so that we can tackle this heinous crime. The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which began its Committee stage on 4 June, is a significant opportunity to transform our response to domestic abuse, provide critical support to victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard

I know that there will be a statement on the events of the weekend following this session, so I will address those matters then. On domestic abuse, I welcome the fact that the Government responded to the calls of Opposition Members and campaigning charities on the need for a funding package for the sector. Labour called for £75 million for domestic abuse services, with specialist services such as those for migrant women protected. Can the Home Secretary confirm how much of that investment has reached the frontline?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
8 Jun 2020, 2:49 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the funding packages that the Home Office, along with the MHCLG and the Ministry of Justice, put towards the Treasury recently. To date, £1.2 million has been allocated to 13 frontline support organisations running key and vital services, including helplines, chat functions and improving technological capabilities, specifically for the covid-19 response. The funding will help to expand helplines and online capability to provide additional support and guidance so that victims can continue to access the support that they need.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Hansard
8 Jun 2020, 2:51 p.m.

Well, £1.2 million of support for helplines is obviously welcome, but it is a tiny proportion of the overall £75 million, which needs to reach where it is needed as soon as possible. As of 2019, one in six refuges has closed since 2010. In 2017, local authority spending as a consequence of austerity had fallen from £31.2 million to £23.9 million, resulting in 60% of women being turned away from refuges for lack of spaces. That simply is not good enough. Even if the Home Secretary does not know the specific figures today, will she confirm that she will do all that she can to ensure that the money that has been announced actually reaches the frontline? Yes, the Domestic Abuse Bill is coming through Parliament, but we cannot just legislate our way out of this—that money is needed now.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
8 Jun 2020, 2:51 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the money that is required to go to frontline services. As I indicated, the £76 million of funding that has been allocated to domestic abuse is split across three Departments. The Ministry of Justice has received £15 million for work with local domestic abuse charities through the criminal justice system.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about the need for refuge provision, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will be allocating £10 million to domestic abuse safe accommodation services. It is important that we all recognise that that is where the demand is. Throughout this very difficult period where refuges have found it difficult to operate, there has been a wide spread of measures where we as Government, in our engagement with the refuges directly, as well as with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Victims Commissioner, have deliberately sought practical means of support for the frontline throughout this emergency.

Public Order

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 8th June 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Priti Patel) - Hansard
8 Jun 2020, 12:09 a.m.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on public order. Like all Members of this House, I was sickened at George Floyd’s tragic death. His treatment at the hands of the United States police was appalling and speaks to the sense of injustice experienced by minority communities around the world. I fully appreciate the strength of feeling over his senseless killing, the inequality that black people can sadly still face, and the deep-seated desire for change. I know that it is that sense of injustice that has driven people to take to the UK streets to protest.

This Government are clear that racism and discrimination in any form have no place in our society, and we will do whatever is required to eradicate it. Of course there is more we can do. There is more that we should all do to combat inequalities across society, to support those seeking social justice and better life chances and to offer hope, but all too often, too many are confronted by despair. It is right in any democracy, in an open and free society, that we advance these issues in a constructive, sensitive and responsible way.

The Government understand the importance of the right to protest. In normal circumstances, a large and peaceful protest would not be of concern to the authorities, because we live in a great country where our right to protest and to have our voice heard is integral to our fundamental democratic freedoms. The right to come together and express our views peacefully remains one of the cornerstones of our great democracy. Members across the House share an enduring commitment to uphold liberty and freedom of expression, on the basis of respecting the rule of law. As our nation battles coronavirus, however, these are not normal circumstances, so to protect us all and to stop the spread of this deadly disease, any large gatherings of people are currently unlawful. We cannot afford to forget that we are still in the grip of an unprecedented national health emergency that has tragically claimed more than 40,000 lives, so the severe public health risk forces me to continue to urge the public not to attend future protests. The Government’s scientific and medically led advice remains clear and consistent. No matter how important the cause, protesting in large numbers at this exceptional time is illegal, and doing so puts everyone’s lives at risk.

Let me turn to an operational update. Around 200 protests took place across the country over the weekend, attended by over 100,000 people. As many as 137,500 people have now attended Black Lives Matter protests across the UK. While the majority were peaceful, a lawless minority of protesters have regrettably turned to violence. The worst violence flared in London on Saturday evening, with missiles and flares being thrown at police officers outside Downing Street. Officers in protective equipment were deployed to arrest the culprits and to clear the area. At least 35 officers have now been injured during the protests in the capital. I salute their bravery and wish them a swift recovery. The thugs and criminals responsible are already being brought to justice. This is a fluid situation, but as of this morning the total number of arrests stood at 135.

As the ugly tally of officer assaults shows, some protestors, regrettably, turned to violence and abusive behaviour at the weekend. This hooliganism is utterly indefensible; there is no justification for it. There is no excuse for pelting flares at brave officers, throwing bikes at police horses, attempting to disrespect the Cenotaph or vandalising the statue of Winston Churchill, one of the greatest protectors of our freedoms who has ever lived. It is not for mobs to tear down statues and cause criminal damage in our streets, and it is not acceptable for thugs to racially abuse black police officers for doing their jobs. The criminals responsible for these unlawful and reckless acts are betraying the very cause they purport to serve. These protests are about injustice, but by attacking our courageous police they are acting in a wholly unjust way.

When I became Home Secretary, I vowed to back the police. I said that I would stand with the brave men and women of our police and security services, and against the criminals. I stand by that today, proudly and without apology, because, as we saw at the weekend, we ask our frontline police officers to do the most difficult of jobs: to run towards danger to ensure that we are not in danger; to put their own lives on the line to protect the public; and to uphold the rule of law and the rights of individuals against the disorder that we have seen in recent days. By doing that, the police in our country give us all the very security we need to live our lives as we choose.

That is an essential part of our freedom, because violence, disorder and crime blight communities and society as a whole. So the police need to know that they have a Prime Minister, a Home Secretary and a Government who stand with them and will give them the tools, powers and resources they need to keep us safe—and they do. Police funding has had its biggest uplift in a decade, increasing by more than £1 billion, and we are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers to keep our streets and our country safe. They will have my full support in upholding the rule of law, and in tackling violence, vandalism and disorderly criminal behaviour. I could not be clearer: I want to see the violent minority responsible arrested and brought to justice.

I agree with the many peaceful protestors that racism has absolutely no place in our society. Black lives matter, but police brutality in the United States is no excuse for the violence against our brave police officers at home. So to the quiet law-abiding majority who are appalled by this violence and who have continued to live their lives within the rules, I say: “I hear you.” To the police, who have been subject to the most dreadful abuse, I say: “You have my full backing as you act proportionately, fairly and courageously to maintain law and order.” And to the criminal minority who have subverted this cause with their thuggery, I simply say this: “Your behaviour is shameful and you will face justice.” I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
8 Jun 2020, 12:06 a.m.

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. Like everyone in the House, I was appalled by the killing of George Floyd. His fateful words, “I can’t breathe” not only haunt us, but have become a catalyst for people across America and the world to say that the racism that continues to shame everyday life must stop. People in our communities with lived experiences and family legacies of the prejudice that black people in the United Kingdom face have bravely stepped forward. I want to be absolutely clear: I hear you and, not that it should need saying, black lives matter.

Words are important, but we cannot allow this moment of global demand for justice to pass without action: we on the Labour Benches will be at the forefront of calls for change. What is never a solution, though, is violence or vandalism. The vast majority of protestors are peaceful, but some of the actions we have seen from a minority are unacceptable. I condemn those who have attacked the police, and I pay tribute to the police officers who put themselves in harm’s way over the weekend. I hope the Home Secretary will update us on the condition of the 27 injured officers, including one in hospital, and the injured protester. When it comes to the statue of Edward Colston, I do not condone an act of criminal damage to remove it, but I will not miss a public statue of a slave trader. It should have been taken down many years ago.

At a time when politicians and public health experts are rightly stressing the need for caution around protests given the risk of coronavirus—I stress that again today—and the importance of social distancing, the imperative on those in power is all the greater to show that they have listened and that they understand the scale of the anger and the desire for meaningful action. At moments like this, it is for our leaders to unite communities, heal divisions and confront the injustices in our society.

Public Health England recently published its report on the disparities in the risk and outcomes of covid-19, showing that black males are four times more likely than expected to die with covid-19. The recommendations of that report need to be made public now. Coronavirus has shone a light on inequalities that have long existed. The damning findings of the Wendy Williams Windrush review need to be heeded and its recommendations acted upon. The Home Secretary said earlier that she was looking at them, but she urgently needs to come to the House and tell us the action she is taking.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) produced a report in September 2017 on the treatment of and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic people from first point of contact with the police and then throughout the criminal justice system. It showed that black people make up around 3% of the general population but accounted for 12% of adult prisoners and more than 20% of children in custody. Those shameful statistics matter, and the Government should implement the report’s recommendations in full. In recent days, we have heard powerful testimonies from so many people on how racism continues to have an impact on daily lives in our country. Does the Home Secretary agree that now is not the moment for divisive rhetoric? Instead, this is a time for the Government to listen, to learn and to act.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful comments and his considered response not only to my statement but to the appalling events that we have seen, and the violence in particular. He is absolutely right about the processes around the removal of the statue and the violence that was associated with it. We live in an open society and in a democracy. We have the means and mechanisms to bring statues down and to change society in the way we wish.

The hon. Gentleman is right about peaceful protest, which remains an important part of society and the way in which we have our voices heard—the way in which we come together to combat the inequalities across society, to give service to those communities who sometimes feel that they have no voice and to find ways to bring together the aspects that can help to change lives and bring social justice together, rather than causing divisiveness in the way that was alluded to.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a number of points, some of which were aired during oral questions. When it comes to the Windrush review, I could not have been clearer: I will return to this House to talk about the recommendations within the context of inequality and many of the criticisms that were levelled at the Home Office over a substantial period. It is right that we do that.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about health inequalities, life chances and the lack of opportunities—particularly for the black community—as well as violence and the criminal justice system. These are issues that we have to tackle together to understand the root causes and societal causes but also, importantly, to provide the right solutions and the right support to the community across the country.

I echo the hon. Gentleman’s words about our police officers, in particular the injured officers, who have sustained the most appalling injuries. I spoke to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner this morning and heard from her that the officers are recovering. They have sustained some awful, horrendous injuries, including a punctured lung and, where the bike was thrown at the horse, a broken collarbone. I wish all the officers a swift and good recovery. That type of behaviour is thoroughly unacceptable and is exactly what we never want to see again on our streets.

When it comes to coronavirus, our police continue to operate by consent and ensuring community engagement, which is at the heart of policing by consent in the United Kingdom. They have the support of the communities within which they operate and work with the organisers. However, the police and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner have been absolutely clear that, with the protests that we saw over the weekend, there were no community organisers to engage with. I made a plea on Saturday and urged all the community organisers behind the protests to engage with the police, so that people could protest safely and prevent the spread of the virus, and also violence and disorder could be prevented from taking place. Sadly, that did not happen. Going forward, we must work together collectively to prevent acts of violence and thuggery of the kind that we saw at the weekend and ensure that people who want their voices heard can find the right ways of doing that without necessarily coming on to the streets and protesting.

Covid-19: UK Border Health Measures

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd June 2020

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Priti Patel) - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the introduction of public health measures at the border in response to coronavirus. This is another cross-Government measure in our continued collective fight against the virus, to save lives and protect the British public by preventing a second wave of the disease. Our priority has always been to protect people’s health and to keep those in the UK safe from this virus, and introducing this measure now will play an important role in our fight against coronavirus.

The tragic events of recent months have shown that, in a world of serious threats to the UK and to global stability, pandemics have no boundaries. Throughout this national endeavour, the introduction of public health measures has been to protect the public, keep the virus under control and now to protect our hard-won progress as we move in the right direction.

The scientific advice has been consistent and clear, and thanks to the collective determination and the resolve of the British public we are past the peak, but we are now more vulnerable to infections being brought in from abroad. Some have suggested that public health measures at the border should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak. However, at that time, the scientific advice was clear that such measures would have made little difference when domestic transmission was widespread. Now, however, the transmission rate in the United Kingdom continues to decline, and international travel is likely to resume from its record low. Therefore, the scientific advice is that imported cases of the virus pose a more significant threat to our national effort and our recovery. Travellers from overseas could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections in the UK, and therefore increase the spread of the disease. The Government are therefore taking a proportionate and time-limited approach to protect the health of the British public.

I will recap and recall to the House the key points of the public health measures that the Government are putting in place from 8 June. These temporary requirements are set out in full in the Health Protection Regulations laid today. These will apply across England, with the devolved Administrations laying their own regulations to set out their enforcement approaches.

To limit the spread of infection, arrivals must self-isolate for 14 days; this is the incubation period of coronavirus. This follows expert medical advice and is in line with the NHS test and trace service self-isolation period for anyone who has been in contact with the disease.

Working with key industries, the Government have deliberately included a limited number of exemptions to the self-isolation rules, to allow essential services and supply chains to continue, keeping food on our tables, and getting vital medicine and PPE to the frontline. The responsibility for sector-specific exemptions sits with relevant Government Departments.

Arrivals to the UK will be required to fill in a contact locator form, including details of where they will isolate and how they can be contacted. That form will be found on gov.uk and a Government-led working group, with the industry, has developed a process for carriers to inform travellers about the information they need to provide in order to travel to the UK. The form must be completed in advance of travel to provide details of the journey. Border Force will be at the frontline of enforcing this requirement. Passengers will require a receipt, either printed or on their phone electronically, to prove that they have completed the form. Border Force will undertake spot checks at the border and may refuse entry to non-resident nationals who refuse to comply. It will have the power to impose a £100 fixed penalty notice on those who do not comply. Our fantastic frontline Border Force officers are world class and are consistently working to keep our borders safe and secure.

The data collected will be used by Public Health England, which will undertake checks and ensure that people understand and are following the rules. If Public Health England has reason to believe that someone is not following the law as they should be, it will inform the police.

We trust the British people and our visitors to play their part in acting responsibly and following the rules to control the spread of coronavirus, but we will not allow a reckless minority to put our domestic recovery at risk, so there will be penalties and enforcement for those who break them. A breach of self-isolation could result in a £1,000 fixed penalty notice in England, or potential prosecution. This programme will work alongside test and trace to help us further minimise the public health threat of coronavirus.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Secretaries of State for Transport, Business and Health have worked across Government and the devolved Administrations, with science and industry, carefully to develop the policy for this public health action. In line with all Government covid-19 measures, and as I announced on 22 May, the measures will be kept under regular review to ensure that they remain proportionate and necessary. I can inform the House that the first review will take place in the week commencing 28 June, and the measures will be assessed on an ongoing basis thereafter, together with all other measures to fight this disease.

We will publish in due course more information on the criteria that must be satisfied for these health measures to be lifted, but I can update the House on some factors that will be considered. These include the rate of infection and transmission internationally and the credibility of reporting; the measures that international partners have put in place; levels of imported cases in other countries where there are more relaxed border measures, and the degree to which antibody and other methods of testing prove effective in minimising the health risk.

Country-specific reports will be provided to allow us to monitor global progress, but we will consider reviewing these measures only when the evidence shows that it is safe to do so, because public health will always come first. As we have considered for all our cross-Government covid-19 measures, we will take into account the impact on the economy and industry.

The aviation and travel industry is home to some of Britain’s most successful businesses and supports thousands of jobs. Across Government, we understand how tough the public health measures to prevent a second wave of coronavirus are for this sector. The industry has a proud record of making the safety of its passengers and staff its No. 1 priority. It also has a record of dynamism and innovation. Engagement with the industry is crucial, and we are asking it to work with us on these measures.

We are liaising with bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation on this and other covid-19-related issues, and we will continue to work closely with companies and carriers. That is why, with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, we will tomorrow host a roundtable to work across the travel sector and the broader business sector on how we can innovate and move forward together and form a long-term plan for the industry. The Government and the industry share the same aim: to get Britain and our economy moving again in a way that is safe and practical for everyone.

Our priority has always been the safety of our people. That has driven our evidence-led cross-Government approach to this whole crisis. The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel abroad, or against any travel at all to countries where the risk of covid-19 remains unacceptably high. There has been engagement with embassies representing countries around the world to explain our approach. By taking this public health action alongside our other measures, including test and trace and continued social distancing, we will ensure that we can have greater freedom in the longer term. Of course, that includes international travel corridors, a subject that has already been discussed in the House this afternoon.

Currently there should only be essential travel, but we will continue to work across Government and with the sector to explore all options for future safe travel. Any international approaches will be bilateral and agreed with the other countries concerned, and of course we will need to ensure that those countries are deemed to be safe. We are not alone in our fight against this disease or in the measures that we have taken to stop it.

These measures are backed by science and supported by the public, and are essential to save lives. We know that they will present difficulties for the tourism industry, but that is why we have an unprecedented package of support—the most comprehensive in the world—for employees and for business. We will all suffer in the long run if we get this wrong, which is why it is crucial that we introduce these measures now. Let us not throw away our hard-won progress in tackling the virus. First and foremost, we owe it to the thousands of people who have died, as well as to the millions of people across the whole United Kingdom whose sacrifices over the previous months in following social distancing have together helped us to bring this virus under control. I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
3 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for providing us with advance sight of it.

We have been calling for sensible screening measures at the border for months, and will of course study the detail of what has been announced. It is vital that the UK has a plan for minimising the risk of infections coming into the country, but the Home Secretary must also realise that there are fundamental questions that she needs to answer: why these particular measures, and why now? From 1 January to 23 March, when the lockdown was imposed, only 273 people were formally quarantined from four flights—three from Wuhan and one from Tokyo—when over 18 million people enter the country by air. The Home Secretary just said in her statement that this was because domestic transmission was widespread, but the Government’s own chief scientific adviser said that

“a lot of the cases in the UK didn’t come from China and didn’t come from the place you might have expected, they came from European imports and the high level of travel into the UK at that time.”

Ministers saw on their television screens what was happening in Italy and Spain.

On 30 April, I wrote to the Home Secretary to ask her to publish in full the scientific advice that her decisions on measures at the border at that time were based on so that we could learn the lessons going forward. She has not even replied to my letter. Not making all that information public is a mistake. Unfortunately, like too much of the Home Office’s handling of this crisis, the management of arrivals to the United Kingdom has lacked urgency and coherence.

As long ago as 10 May, the Prime Minister gave notice of these quarantining measures. Why have the Government wasted precious weeks talking about possible border restrictions, rather than taking effective actions? If these measures are necessary from 8 June, why have they not been necessary in recent weeks or from when they were first announced by the Home Secretary herself —on 22 May? Can the Home Secretary give me her assurance that the measures that will take effect from Monday next week have been recommended and approved by SAGE? I join her in her praise of what those at Border Force have done, but can she give me further assurance that Border Force staff on the frontline will have all the resources and protection that they need?

The Government’s confusion over arrivals and quarantine has widespread implications for the UK economy, particularly aviation, hospitality and tourism, and related supply chains. Huge numbers of jobs are at risk, yet the crucial package of support for these industries that Labour has argued for has yet to materialise. In her statement, the Home Secretary mentioned a roundtable with the Transport Secretary and businesses tomorrow, but the Government should already have done that. They should be presenting these steps today as part of an all-encompassing approach to travel and the aviation sector, backed up by the published scientific evidence. This is necessary because there has to be reassurance that quarantine has a genuine public health benefit now that, according to the Government, it did not have in past months, and that these measures are not just a three-week fudge to try to spare the Government the embarrassment of failing to grip this issue at the right time.

Given that there is no vaccine at the moment and that test, track and isolate is not fully up and running as the Government promised it would be, will the Home Secretary make a commitment to report back to the House before the end of the initial three-week window on that first review that she mentioned in her statement, outlining her proposed exit strategy from these measures and her plans for any travel corridors? Can the Home Secretary pass on the message to the Government about how urgent it is that the comprehensive package to support jobs is brought forward as soon as possible?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, his questions and his remarks. First of all, I think all Members of the House will recognise the difficulties that the entire country has experienced through coronavirus and throughout this outbreak. Across Government, led by the scientific advice but also by my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, we have had a comprehensive response. Throughout the outbreak we have brought in the right measures at the right time, based on scientific advice. That dates as far back as January and continued throughout February and into March as well.

During the contain phase, the Government had at the borders an enhanced monitoring policy and an approach to identify symptomatic travellers from high-risk areas in the early stages and, importantly, safely triage them through the system. That was applied to those returning from Wuhan on 22 January, and that approach was broadened—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would let me finish, please, and listen to the facts I am providing him with—[Interruption.] They are facts, and they are very specific dates. That approach was broadened in conjunction with the Department for Transport to the whole of China on 25 January and then to Japan on 8 February, Iran on 25 February, northern Italy on 4 March and the whole of Italy on 5 March.

When there was significant transmission within the UK, border restrictions would have been marginal in their impact on the epidemic within the UK. Ministers at the time articulated that across Government comprehensively—this is a cross-Government pandemic and all Government Departments work together. At that point it was recognised that transmission from outside would have been contributing a tiny proportion of the number of new infections in the UK. Now that domestic transmission within the UK is coming under control, it is the right time to prepare for these new measures at the border.

The hon. Gentleman also asked, for the benefit of the House, about the health measures brought in during the very early stages. They were brought in through the general aircraft declaration system in aviation. The measures were in place through my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary’s Department in conjunction with Border Force. When that process concluded, it had covered 13 UK airports, 15 territories and 24 airlines. Some 1,116 flights were monitored, with a 98% compliance rate on the general aircraft declaration. The purpose of those declarations is to provide the details of any illnesses on board and therefore inform public health risk assessments so that the appropriate action can be taken with passengers at that particular time.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about and touched on a number of other factors, including PPE for border staff. Border Force has been exceptional throughout this crisis. It is worth paying tribute to its staff for how they have worked to keep our borders safe and secure. Throughout this, following all the public health guidance from Public Health England, they have had adequate PPE protection. That remains so and will continue.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman rightly asked about a comprehensive approach for the sector—for travel, tourism and aviation. We have world-class industries in the United Kingdom, and I worked with many of those sectors in my previous career as well. A comprehensive approach is being taken. He asked why we are only meeting with them now, but that is not the case at all. The Department of Transport and I have been in touch with many representatives from the industry as well. We work across Government. The hon. Gentleman is nodding his head in response to a comment from the Transport Secretary. The hon. Gentleman would rightly expect a comprehensive approach. That comprehensive approach will be introduced on the Floor of the House not just by me but by my right hon. Friends across Government who lead those Departments, so there is a collective response to this issue.

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(Programme motion: House of Commons)
(Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons)
Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 18th May 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
18 May 2020, 12:02 a.m.

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

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
18 May 2020, 12:03 a.m.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to start by thanking the Home Secretary for our briefings in recent weeks, which have been very important throughout this crisis. I look forward to them continuing in the weeks and months ahead. We meet today during a public health emergency that has shone a light on deep inequality and unfairness in our society, and that has shown the extraordinary value of what so many workers do for our families and our communities.

The Bill fell at the general election and has now been brought back to the House for the second time. Looking at the text of the Bill, we see that little has changed—it now has nine clauses rather than seven—but what has changed dramatically are the circumstances in which we debate it.

On a Thursday evening at 8 o’clock, we clap for our carers. Millions of people come to their doorsteps to say thank you. Quite rightly, we are showing our appreciation for our NHS workers, our care workers and all our frontline workers—police, fire, all our emergency services, those in our shops and those out on our roads driving supplies up and down the country—who are putting themselves in harm’s way day after day to keep us safe. They are making sacrifices in order to help others. We are rightly proud of them and we honour their bravery and courage, yet in the midst of this crisis, the Government are putting forward an immigration system containing a salary threshold of £25,600. That sends a signal and tells people that anyone earning less than that is unskilled and unwelcome in our country.

We on the Opposition Benches know that people are not being paid the value of what they do, and that what our frontline workers earn does not reflect what they contribute to our society. Many of us did not need reminding of that, but it seems that the Government do need reminding. Those who clapped on Thursday are only too happy to vote through a Bill today that will send a powerful message to those same people that they are not considered by this Government to be skilled workers. Are our shop workers unskilled? Our refuse collectors? Our local government workers? Our NHS staff? Our care workers? Of course they are not. Government Ministers who were out clapping for the 180,000 EU nationals in the NHS and the care sector on Thursday night are sending a message tonight that they are no longer welcome. That is not fair, and it is not in the national interest.

A labour force survey by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that 69% of EU migrants who currently work in the UK would not be eligible for a visa under the Government’s new immigration system. It found that 66% of EU workers in the whole health and social work sector and 90% of EU workers in transport and storage would be ineligible—the very people who are keeping this country running right now. Four in five EEA employees working full time in social care would be ineligible to work in the UK under the skills and salary threshold the Government want to impose. The average salary for care workers is £19,104, leaving many short of the cap, and there are 115,000 workers in our care system who are EU nationals.

I will give Members an example. This is somebody who did not want her name mentioned, but these are her details. She is an EU migrant, and she is 62. She came to the UK in 2013 and has been working as a live-in carer ever since. She is a 24-hour live-in carer for a 96-year-old lady with dementia. On her earnings last year, she would have no chance of coming to the country under the Government’s new rules. Are we to believe that a 24-hour live-in carer is in low-skilled work? That is what the Government want us to believe.

The care sector in England was not properly prepared going into this crisis and it seems that no lessons are being learnt from that lack of resilience and that lack of proper preparation before the crisis began. One would think the Government would have learned the lesson about not leaving people vulnerable in our care homes, but it seems they have not. Indeed, they want to create conditions where the situation could become even worse. In England alone, 66,000 NHS workers are EU nationals and there are 40,000 nursing vacancies, which will be exacerbated by the income threshold.

The Home Secretary talks about a fast-track visa, but it is not on the face of the Bill and, in any event, it does not include social care. No wonder the Royal College of Nursing says that the Government’s current proposals for the immigration system will exclude some health and care workers from entering the UK, primarily social care staff, and will have a devastating impact on the health and social care sector. No wonder the British Medical Association says:

“Any changes to the UK immigration system, which could deter those who may want to work in the UK, risks having significant implications for the staffing of health and social care services, quality of care and patient safety in the future.”

The truth is that the Government have not won the trust of our most vital service at this crucial time, yet rather than reflect on that they are attempting to rush this through Parliament and ask that we trust they will do the right thing by the health service. We all know that you cannot trust the Conservatives with the NHS. When it comes to the health service, if asked to choose between the RCN, the BMA and Unison on the one hand, and the Conservatives on the other, I know who I would choose every time.

Let us be clear: the Bill allows the Government to create a new system through statutory instrument. Ministers are asking this House for a blank cheque, for the trust of Members to go away and implement a new system, and for an Executive power grab that reduces the role of this House in shaping it. The Lords’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report on the 2017-19 Bill expressed concerns about the wide scope of the powers:

“We are frankly disturbed that the Government should consider it appropriate to include the words ‘in connection with’. This would confer permanent powers on Ministers to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate, provided there was at least some connection with part 1, however tenuous”.

The words “in connection with” are in the new version of the Bill and the situation is unchanged.

In recent weeks, we have seen the confusion and chaos caused when the Government act like they are giving Executive orders outside Parliament without proper scrutiny. The Government should not make the same mistake again when it comes to an issue as important as our future immigration system. Scrutiny makes for better Government decisions and should be welcomed, not shunned.

Let me take this opportunity to say that the 1.2 million British-born people living in the EU27 should be protected and that the 3 million EU citizens living in this country are welcome and are valued here: our families, our friends, our neighbours. They are a central part of our communities and our society. They have brought great benefits and make us a richer, more diverse society. But I am only too aware that warm words are not enough. The deadline for the EU settlement scheme will fast approach. The default position is that anyone who has not applied by the deadline will lose their legal residence status here in the UK unless they have a good reason not to have applied. The Government must act, be open on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the system, and do all they can to ensure that those who are eligible for the scheme apply and have their applications swiftly processed.

The Government plan for the future immigration system was first set out in the White Paper published in December 2018. How different things were then. The Government talk of a points-based system; what they actually propose is an income-based system. Salary is not a proxy for the level of skill and a salary-based system will not work for incentivising high-skilled migration.

The Government have deliberately held down public sector wages for a decade, and if they do so again, the gap between what people are paid and the value of their contribution to our society will only widen. This does not reward work and is unfair. Try telling the careworkers in my constituency or, indeed, any in the land that their work is unskilled.

Fairness will be at the heart of the amendments that the Opposition will press in Committee. We know what happens when a Government lose sight of fairness and the national interest in our immigration system. Wendy Williams’s “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” was published only a short time ago. The Home Secretary referenced the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). That review makes for sobering reading, saying:

“Members of the Windrush generation and their children have been poorly served by this country. They had every right to be here and should never have been caught in the immigration net. The many stories of injustice and hardship are heartbreaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to so many individuals and families.”

Never should we let something like that happen again. Indeed, there is such mistrust that the3million and other campaign groups want physical proof of settled status for EU citizens because they simply do not trust the Government’s assurances about everything being digital.

Where the system is not working as it should, the Government must act. Take, for example, looked-after children in local authority care. Currently, there have to be applications for pre-settled or settled status on behalf of eligible children by hard-pressed local authorities that are dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Given those pressures, the Government should just do that automatically, and I urge the Home Secretary to consider that. On immigration detention, we will be putting forward proposals for fairness, including an all-important time limit of 28 days.

In my first letter to the Home Secretary last month, I raised the issue of the injustice of continuing with the policy of no recourse to public funds during the coronavirus crisis for victims of domestic abuse. The Government must look at the issue of those left with no recourse to public funds. We are in a public health emergency—it is in the interests of all of us that people get the help they need.

There are also issues around NHS charges during this crisis. Nobody should have barriers placed in front of them when their work is essential in helping us all. I was appalled by the revelation over the weekend that, after all, NHS staff will not be exempt from these charges, despite their hopes having been raised by the Home Secretary, who mentioned a review. The issue has been mishandled by this Government from the start of the crisis. Additional fees for NHS staff to access the very healthcare that we are thanking them for providing is no way to mark their extraordinary service throughout this crisis. I ask the Home Secretary to think again about that review.

Having left the EU, and with the transition period coming to an end, we must have an immigration system that is fair and in the national interest. Handing over sweeping powers to the Government to create a system that labels so many of those workers who are keeping our country running day by day as unskilled is the wrong thing to do. If the Government are confident in their arguments, they should not be afraid of parliamentary scrutiny of their proposed new system. If they truly value what our frontline workers do, they will not send out a powerful signal that those who earn below £25,600 are unskilled and unwelcome. Instead, they should think again, and that is why we will vote against the Bill tonight.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

I call Caroline Nokes, who has five minutes.

Fire Safety Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Wednesday 29th April 2020

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office
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.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
29 Apr 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I thank the Security Minister for his speech and his welcome. I shadowed him briefly in a previous role over recent months, and I look forward to working with him on issues of national interest.

In our deliberations today, at the forefront of our minds are the 72 people who lost their lives and the more than 70 who were injured in the terrible tragedy of Grenfell on 14 June 2017. All of us in this House and, indeed, the whole country will remember where we were when we first saw those devastating scenes in west London. It was one of the most heart-wrenching tragedies we can all imagine, and what made it unbearable was the fact that the event that unfolded was wholly preventable. It is and always will remain a stain on our national conscience. For those who escaped, for the emergency services at the scene and for all the family, the friends and the wider community, the events of that awful day will live with them forever.

The fact that such a tragedy could happen in one of the wealthiest boroughs in one of the wealthiest countries in the world shines a piercing light on the inequality in modern Britain and the many ways in which it manifests itself. Over the course of this debate, we will, of course, discuss the legislation, the numbers and the finance, but at the heart of it, we must always remember first and foremost that this is about people, and most strikingly, those who lost their lives and those who managed to escape but will live forever with the memories of that night. That is why people will rightly look to this House for not just words but action.

Getting the Bill right is vital, not just to address the failings so horrifically exposed by Grenfell but to guard against similar incidents—incidents that may appear unlikely or unimaginable today, but could be all too real in future. Labour Members support the Bill, but we urge the Government to go further and faster on fire safety so that there are no more Grenfell Tower tragedies and people are kept safe and secure in their own homes.

In October, we welcomed the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, which addresses the events of the night itself: when the fire began, when the first 999 call was made, at six minutes to one in the morning, and when the first firefighters reached the tower, five minutes later. We await phase 2 of the inquiry and its investigation into the broader causes, but we already know from the first phase report how it happened. The report says:

“Once the fire had escaped from Flat 16, it spread rapidly up the east face of the tower. It then spread around the top of the building in both directions and down the sides until the advancing flame fronts converged on the west face near the south-west corner, enveloping the entire building in under three hours.”

The report also sets out that there is

“compelling evidence that the external walls of the building failed to comply with…the Building Regulations 2010, in that they did not adequately resist the spread of fire having regard to the height, use and position of the building. On the contrary, they actively promoted it.”

It continues:

“It is clear that the use of combustible materials in the external wall of Grenfell Tower, principally in the form of the ACM rainscreen cladding, but also in the form of combustible insulation, was the reason why the fire spread so quickly to the whole of the building.”

Given the particular focus on the actions of the London Fire Brigade at the scene in the first phase report, recommendations made to the fire service should be given the full response that they require. At the same time, while recognising what the first phase report says and learning the lessons, we continue to pay tribute to the heroic actions of firefighters in our country every day, including on the night of the Grenfell Tower fire, when so many put themselves at serious risk to save the Grenfell Tower residents. We will continue to press the Government to give all survivors the support that they need, to bring those culpable to justice, and to put in place every measure needed to prevent a fire such as Grenfell from ever happening again.

As the Security Minister said, the Bill’s provisions clarify that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to external walls, including cladding, balconies and windows, and individual flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. Responsible persons will need to ensure that they have assessed the fire safety risks of the relevant premises and have taken the necessary fire precautions, with fire and rescue authorities having enforcement powers, including the ability to remove cladding and to put in place prohibitions until changes are made. However, we have to be absolutely clear who the responsible persons are and allow nobody—owners or anyone else—to shirk their responsibilities under the Bill.

Although those powers are welcome, they are clearly not enough in themselves to meet the Government’s pledge to prevent another tragedy from happening. Clause 2 gives the Government powers to make further changes through secondary legislation, and the Government have said that that will provide a foundation to take forward recommendations. The Government have said they will launch a consultation on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in spring 2020, and that that will include proposals for implementing the Grenfell Tower phase 1 report recommendations, which will be delivered via secondary legislation.

However, the Government have not given a timetable for when they will deliver those recommendations through secondary legislation. They must do so urgently. There is an urgent need for the fire safety measures recommended, and that urgency must be reflected in the actions of Ministers. Indeed, almost three years after Grenfell, this three-clause Bill is the first and only piece of primary legislation on fire safety that the Government have put before the House.

The Bill does not include provisions for the inquiry’s recommendations. The Government had already promised, in October 2019, to implement the inquiry’s recommendations in full and without delay. The 2019 Conservative manifesto repeated that commitment, but even the simpler recommendations, such as the inspection of fire doors and the testing of lifts, are not in the Bill. Long-overdue reforms of building safety are also not included in the legislation—they are to be in a separate building safety Bill. The Security Minister indicated that the draft version of that Bill would appear before the summer, but that process still needs to be moved forward as quickly as it possibly can be. He should clarify when it will appear in final form.

The House cannot escape the way in which the inquiry report was repeatedly critical of the Government: for the failure to remove ACM cladding from other blocks; for not funding the fire service efficiently to be properly equipped; for failing to publish national guidelines on the evacuation of tall buildings; and for ignoring recommendations to retrofit sprinklers in social housing blocks in the years leading up to the Grenfell tragedy.

The Bill will require a higher level of inspection and enforcement and will increase the workload on fire and rescue services. There has to be clarity about the funding to carry out such work. The Fire Brigades Union has said today that there are 1,100 fire-safety inspectors left; there have to be more to carry out the duties in the Bill. Between 2010 and 2016, the fire and rescue services were cut centrally by 28% in real terms, with a further cut of 15% by 2020. That led to 12,000 fewer firefighters—20% of the whole service.

As Mayor of London, the Prime Minister was responsible for deep cuts. An independent review by Anthony Mayer found that in the eight years of the Prime Minister’s mayoralty, the London Fire Brigade was required to make gross savings of more than £100 million, leading to the cutting of 27 fire appliances, 552 firefighters, 324 support staff, two fire-rescue units and three training appliances, along with the closure of 10 fire stations and a reduction of fire rescue unit crewing levels.

Grenfell was not the first fire in a high-rise block of flats that resulted in loss of life. In 2013, coroners wrote to Ministers about two separate fires: in Camberwell in 2009, in which six people died; and in Southampton in 2010, in which two firefighters died. The coroners’ letters included clear points of criticism and recommendations, important parts of which—including recommendations to retrofit sprinklers in high-rise housing blocks and to urgently overhaul building regulations—were either rejected or ignored. Letters were sent to the then Housing Minister by the all-party group on fire safety and rescue, with the last sent just 26 days before the tragedy.

An issue that must be recognised is the reaction to the Grenfell fire, with the Government not acting swiftly enough to remove Grenfell-style cladding from tower blocks and a failure to support residents with interim safety costs. To give an example, waking watches, when fire wardens patrol residences, can cost residents £10,000 or more for very short periods of time.

Coronavirus is an unprecedented challenge and I recognise what the Security Minister said about action continuing where it can and the crisis that we are currently in. We of course recognise that it absolutely changes working patterns, but it cannot ever be an excuse for failing to take strong and swift action on the removal of cladding, because 60,000 worried residents are still living in buildings wrapped in cladding that needs to be replaced. Almost nine in 10 private sector buildings and half of social sector buildings have not had cladding removed.

The Security Minister will, I am sure, remember setting a deadline of the end of 2019 for social sector blocks to be made safe, and of June 2020 for private sector blocks—a deadline that now looks likely to be missed. In addition, the Government have yet to publish their findings from the audit of how many buildings are covered with dangerous non-ACM cladding, such as high-pressure laminate. I urge the Minister to make that audit’s findings, which I understand were available at the end of March, fully available as soon as possible.

After Grenfell, the Government accepted that there were flaws in the building safety regime and commissioned the Hackitt review, as the Security Minister said. That was published in May 2018. The Government accept that they did not go far enough. That led to the ban on combustible cladding in November 2018 and the restrictions on desktop studies. As I have indicated, the Government have yet to publish that primary legislation. While the draft will be available in the summer, as the Security Minister said, the process must be faster.

Labour will look to improve the Bill during its passage through Parliament. I urge the Government to have an open mind in the short Committee stage they have allocated and to give reassurance on a timetable for the measures they intend to take. Anything less than that would be a breach of promise to those who were lost and every person affected by the terrible tragedy of Grenfell, which none of us wants to see ever happen again.

I will conclude by taking a moment to pay tribute to all those who were impacted by the Grenfell tragedy and the remarkable community efforts that grew up and have been maintained to support people. In this, the most awful of incidents, we also saw the very best in people. I commend the work that they have done campaigning for justice.

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

I am now introducing a time limit of five minutes. I advise Members who are speaking virtually to have a timing device visible.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 23rd March 2020

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard

My hon. Friend asks an important question, and he is right. The police are doing an excellent job when it comes to providing public confidence, as well as protecting the public. This is an incredibly challenging time for our entire country, but also for everyone who works in our emergency services and our public sector. I am here to back the police and make sure that we provide them with the resources and support that they need.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
23 Mar 2020, 2:36 p.m.

I associate the Opposition with the remarks about PC Palmer. I ask this question in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) in order that we can have social distancing in the Chamber.

The challenges for police in tackling covid-19 will be unprecedented. Will the Home Secretary consider relaxing regulations, as the NHS has done, to allow recently retired and leaving police officers to rejoin the force? Will she suspend the tax and pension disincentives to recently retired officers returning to work? Will she include special constables in the emergency volunteer scheme provisions of the Coronavirus Bill, with access to the compensation fund?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
23 Mar 2020, 2:37 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I can categorically say that work is already taking place across Government on suspending the tax and pensions disincentives—because they are disincentives at this time of crisis and national emergency. We want to make sure that retired police officers, for example, can come back and join the service. I have specifically asked Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the taxman to look at that, and they are doing so right now. When it comes to looking at special constables in the emergency volunteer scheme, we are absolutely doing that too.

I would like to take this opportunity to give the House this reassurance on policing. I am working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council every day—as, of course, is the Policing Minister—and engaging with Martin Hewitt, but also with all forces across the country. That is the right thing to do to understand the operational challenges they are facing and to make sure that our officers are supported, but also in terms of looking at all the ways we can make sure that we have flow in the service, bringing back people with the right kind of skills and capability to keep our country safe at this critical time.

Break in Debate

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
23 Mar 2020, midnight

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Through the crime and justice Cabinet Committee that we now have, we look at this from an end-to-end perspective. The Home Office has put in £25 million specifically to target county lines drugs gangs and to roll up county lines. She has highlighted a really important point about the role of the criminal justice system in sentencing and deterrence, and about how we should work together to use intelligence to go after the gang leaders and cut the head off the snake—the people who are fuelling this awful, abhorrent crime.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
23 Mar 2020, 12:01 a.m.

County lines are one aspect of the threat posed by serious and organised crime, in respect of which the coronavirus crisis presents hugely difficult challenges. I should be grateful if the Home Secretary passed my thanks on to the Minister for Security for the discussions that I have had with him on measures on warrants, but can she set out what other measures she will take to ensure that our police can deal with urgent issues, including their having the appropriate protective equipment? Does she agree that we need to ensure that this period in which we will be in emergency measures is not exploited by those who wish us harm?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard
23 Mar 2020, 12:02 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise those matters. I am aware of the discussions that have taken place between him and the Security Minister about the legislation that will be discussed this afternoon on the Floor of the House. He is absolutely right—I restate the points that I made about PPE, in particular, to protect frontline workers.

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are various measures in the Bill on the appointment of temporary judicial commissioners, as well as on biometric data and information—the essential steps that we have to take to make sure that we protect our people, our communities and our country. We cannot have any gaps or loopholes that would allow people who want to come in and do us harm to come in and do us harm right now.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about our collective focus, and I thank him and the Opposition Front-Bench team for the way in which they are working with us to make sure that we have those protective measures, because the duty of Government during this epidemic and crisis is to make sure that we have responsible measures in place to protect our country and our people.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Hansard
23 Mar 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer. Of course, the police are going to be under pressure in the months ahead, and they deserve all our support. We should all say that any abuse directed towards the police is totally and utterly unacceptable. However, there will be people carrying out the role of police officers in the months ahead. Thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the police have the protection of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, allowing courts to take into account the fact that they were on duty when the abuse occurred. Can we look at extending that measure to those who are carrying out the role of police officers in the months ahead?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. I have put on the record in the House my views about the appalling abuse to which our police officers and emergency workers are subject. That is simply unacceptable, and my intention, as he will know from the police powers and protections Bill, is to introduce the right legislation to bring in enhanced powers and measures in the criminal justice system to make sure that the right kinds of penalties are put in place.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. At this particular time, when there are additional pressures and strains on public workers—our public sector, our emergency workers and our police officers—we should do everything possible, and I will absolutely look into that.

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
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.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) - Hansard

I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the reasons for the order, and I join him and the shadow Minister in paying tribute to the emergency workers and members of the public who have stood up to and responded to the recent terrorist attacks. The Scottish National party supports the additions and amendments that the Government have proposed to the list of proscribed organisations.

As the Minister said, the backdrop to this legislation is a rise in far-right activity, and therefore we particularly welcome the proscription of Sonnenkrieg Division and, via the separate order to which he referred, the addition of National Action, alias the System Resistance Network. There seems to be no doubt that those are vulnerable, sick and hateful organisations that are concerned with terrorism.

We have seen recent arrests and convictions of various members of proscribed right-wing terrorist groups. On the one hand, that suggests that the powers to proscribe are assisting police officers to disrupt activity, but on the other hand, it reminds us that proscription is far from a solution in itself—it is just a small first step. The very fact that since National Action was proscribed, we have had to add NS131, Scottish Dawn and System Resistance Network shows that, for these organisations, proscription is not the end in itself but a significant inconvenience. We need to ask ourselves at some point whether we are making it inconvenient enough for them and whether there might be other ways to deal with the process of terror groups morphing into one another.

The other part of the order seems essentially to be a tidying-up exercise in relation to the PKK and its aliases. As the Minister explained, the PKK is an organisation that has engaged in violence over many years, including during periods covered by ceasefires with the Turkish Government. It remains on the proscribed lists of our international allies, so adding appropriate aliases seems logical.

At some point, we need to have a review of the effectiveness of proscription and whether there are ways we can make it more difficult for proscribed organisations. There may also be questions to ask about how we scrutinise these orders in the House, but that is for another day. These are not controversial additions, so we join the shadow Minister in lending our support to the order.

Retail Workers: Protection

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Home Office
Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab) - Hansard
11 Feb 2020, 4:39 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered protection of retail workers.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. The simple reason for calling this debate is that I want to raise the issue of attacks on and threats to retail workers. Although the issue has been given more attention in the House in recent years, we need this opportunity to talk about the violence and threats faced by thousands of constituents in their day-to-day lives and to press the Government to take action.

The retail industry is the single largest private employer in the UK, with 3 million employees and sales of more than £3.8 billion. About one in 10 workers works in the industry. The services they provide up and down the country are invaluable to our communities, but those workers are increasingly under threat from the rising epidemic of violence and abuse from some members of the public. By the end of today, up to 115 retail workers will have been attacked, according to the British Retail Consortium. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—the union representing retail workers—estimates that the figure is even higher; after surveying its members, it believes that around 280 shop workers are assaulted daily. Research by the Association of Convenience Stores suggests that violence has significantly increased in recent years.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that there is a particular problem with lone workers in the retail sector, and that it is something we need to pay attention to?

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury - Hansard
11 Feb 2020, 4:31 p.m.

I agree, and I will come to that. The consistent threat faced by retail workers is despite the fact that retailers spent nearly £1 billion on crime prevention last year alone. The real issue is the human aspect. Staff are being put in danger by simply doing their job. All the organisations and individuals I have spoken to highlight the dramatic impact of assaults and threats at work.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 10th February 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 2:41 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Overall funding for CT policing will grow to £906 million in 2020-21. That is a £90 million year-on-year increase. The money will support and maintain the record high numbers of ongoing counter-terrorism policing investigations, allowing us to respond swiftly and decisively to incidents, no matter where they take place—and we have to be clear that they could happen anywhere in the UK. It is a significant additional investment that builds on the work we are doing to ensure that we are protecting our communities with 20,000 extra police officers around the country, and the work we do in all communities around the country with the Prevent programme to keep people safe and prevent people from being taken into extremism in the first place.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard

The Minister has just referred to the Prevent programme. This week, it is a year since the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 received Royal Assent. Of course, that Act provided for an independent review of the Prevent programme. In the last year, the Government have appointed one reviewer, who has had to resign from post given previous views that he had expressed about Prevent, and we are left today—a year later—without a reviewer in place. The Minister is talking about decisive action. When will that reviewer be appointed?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis - Hansard
10 Feb 2020, 2:43 p.m.

As I have outlined at the Dispatch Box previously, the review will go ahead, and it is still the case that it will be completed in the timeframe that the Government outlined—that is, before the end of August this year. We are also introducing emergency legislation tomorrow.

Operation Augusta

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Wednesday 5th February 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Home Office
James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con) - Hansard

My thoughts are with the victims of these crimes. I hope they have had the help and assistance they require to come to terms with what has happened to them, and that they go on to live positive and fruitful lives. I am sure they will.

In the short time I have, I want to make one point. The report is horrific. For 14 years, men in an area of Greater Manchester were allowed to commit the most horrific offences, and it was known to the authorities. That speaks for itself. In the report, individuals are identified who must be held to account. As a Member of Parliament representing a seat in Greater Manchester where police are investigating similar offences, I ask the Minister what the Government can do to hold to account those officers who have taken decisions and behaved in a way that has put young lives at risk and ruined them? Despite those circumstances, nothing seems to have happened.

The underlying tone of the report is that, for too long, nobody cared and nobody had any interest in these girls. I hope that is going to change. One of the ways we can make that change is by ensuring that those who are responsible for the decisions—or the lack of decisions—to protect their interests are held to account. Putting it bluntly, we cannot allow them to get away with it.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
5 Feb 2020, 10:39 a.m.

It is of course always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in Westminster Hall, Sir Christopher, but today’s debate has been both sobering and searching. I pay credit first to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) for raising these important matters—the events that have flowed from the awful, tragic death of Victoria Agoglia on 29 September 2003 and the extent to which she and many other victims of child sexual exploitation have been let down in the years since.

My hon. Friend put the case for a fresh inquest persuasively, and I am sure that that will be considered in due course by the Attorney General. I think we would all agree that the first duty of Government is to keep the public safe, but there is a particular duty with regard to vulnerable children—particularly those in the care of the state, whether that is under public authorities or, indeed, elsewhere. Clearly there has been a systemic failure in the case we are considering and in others. My hon. Friend made a persuasive point about Home Office research into grooming. I hope the Minister will take that on board and consider it when he makes his remarks.

I am also grateful for the contributions by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who drew on his well-known expertise from his period as the Minister for Children, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and the hon. Members for Cheadle (Mary Robinson), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Bury North (James Daly). They made powerful contributions. Although he did not make a speech, the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) made a powerful and important contribution to the debate in an intervention.

The BBC broadcast in July 2017, “The Betrayed Girls”, was harrowing and seems to have triggered the second phase of investigations. However, serious questions must be raised about why it took so long. Operation Augusta was launched in February 2004, after Victoria Agoglia’s death the previous autumn. Many right hon. and hon. Members have described the report as harrowing, given the talk of abuse in plain sight of officials, and what it says about the death of Victoria Agoglia. As has been said, she died of a suspected overdose, months after telling social workers she had been forcibly injected with heroin and raped. Abusers seem to have been able to pick up girls from care homes in and around Manchester’s curry mile and to abuse them in the city.

However, on 1 July 2005, Operation Augusta was closed down. It had identified 57 girls at risk and 97 suspects. Those 16 months do not seem to have been wasted; they must have been pretty productive to have found that information. That makes it all the more incomprehensible that the operation was closed down. Hon. Members have referred to the review that was made available in January this year. The review team identified 68 individuals known to Operation Augusta who could reasonably be assumed to be part of that group of 97. Instead of the 97 persons of interest being prosecuted, and the victims protected, the operation was closed down. That decision has been described today as scandalous, and I find it incomprehensible why it would be taken, in the circumstances.

The hon. Member for Bury North quoted paragraph 1.18 of the independent assurance review, which said that

“the decision to close down Operation Augusta was driven by the decision by senior officers to remove the resources from the investigation rather than a sound understanding that all lines of enquiry had been successfully completed or exhausted.”

Paragraph 1.16 refers to

“fundamental flaws in how Operation Augusta was resourced”.

However, as the hon. Member for Bolton West pointed out, it was hardly a period that could be described as lacking resources, so it is extraordinary that that should have been the case. Clearly, in considering the matter, there must be a review of how that came to pass in 2005.

The consequences were even more worrying, because the review team examined a sample of 25 children and could offer no assurance at all that appropriate action was taken by Greater Manchester police or even the local authority to assess the risk in relation to 16 children in that sample. That—I remind the House of my opening remarks about the importance of children in the care system—is utterly unacceptable.

The BBC drama that has been referred to, “The Betrayed Girls”, gave rise to the investigation that we have all been quoting from. I understand that the police have accepted their failings in relation to Operation Augusta, and referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. There is also the new investigation, Operation Green Jacket. I understand that, to date, the investigation has resulted in one man being arrested and another interviewed under caution, in September 2019, in connection with the abuse of Victoria Agoglia. The men have been released under investigation. I will obviously be careful about commenting on an ongoing investigation, but I think I can make the general point that it is far easier to investigate these things closer to the time than it is to do it 14 years later or, in the case of Victoria Agoglia, 16 years later.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has said that there is the same problematic institutional mindset in public authorities elsewhere. He is absolutely correct about that, and it is something we now need to tackle. As we consider the matter today, so many years after the event, there are three things to raise with the Minister. First, can he guarantee that full funding, including special grant resource if necessary, will be provided to Greater Manchester police to ensure that they have all the resources necessary to bring perpetrators to justice, even after the time that has elapsed?

Secondly, there needs to be a reassurance that lessons are being learned. It is all very well saying, “Never again”, but that has to mean something. I would like the Minister to give some assurances. There should never be an expectation that vulnerable children and young people can provide protection for themselves. Also, as has clearly come out in the debate, we must listen to what child victims say, but in considering standard investigative practice, there is also the question of whistleblowers. We have heard today about the powerful testimony of those who have been willing to take risks in coming forward to expose shocking abuse.

Thirdly, and on the broader issue of the exploitation that has occurred, it is still extraordinarily worrying to see the number of children in care who have either been abused or ended up in prison. In the light of Operation Augusta and all the other failings, what consideration will the Government give to an independent review of whether authorities up and down the country, of whatever political stripe, are meeting their statutory responsibility to carry out that most important of tasks—the safeguarding of children in care?

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster) - Hansard
5 Feb 2020, 10:48 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I want to thank the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) for securing this debate on the independent assurance review on child sexual exploitation in Manchester, and particularly for the serious and effective tone he set for the debate. The subject is clearly important not only to Members for Greater Manchester constituencies, but to Members representing places across the country, given what the review uncovered.

The report of the first phase of the review, focusing on Operation Augusta, was shocking. It told a story that has sadly become far too familiar, of vulnerable young people let down by those whose job it was to protect them. The Government welcome the publication of the report. While it is distressing to read, we must bear in mind that reviews such as the independent review in Manchester are critical. If we do not confront the failures of the past, we risk repeating them. Reviews such as this give a voice to the survivors of abuse and allow their stories to be heard—stories that previously were too often ignored.

I turn to one or two of the points raised during the debate by hon. Members. Regarding the query from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson), we expect the review later this year. However, we as the Government cannot commit to a specific date, because the report is an independent one and therefore the exact date of publication is in the hands of the reviewer. There were particular queries in relation to the coroner’s report; I understand that there has been correspondence between the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Attorney General, and that the Attorney General is considering the request to look at reopening that particular inquiry.

There were also some comments, not surprisingly, about what is being done to hold to account those who failed so visibly in this investigation. My understanding is that the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which is rightly independent of the Government, has been in discussions with the Greater Manchester authority and is scoping a potential investigation. I hope hon. Members will realise why the Home Office cannot go much further than that at this stage in commenting on particular individuals.

There was also commentary about the iOPS system in relation to Greater Manchester Police. I understand that the Mayor has commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to undertake an inspection, and we are awaiting the written report. We expect it to be published shortly and will, of course, closely consider any recommendations that it brings forward.

It was partly because of cases such as this that, in 2015, the Government established the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse to get to the truth, expose what has gone wrong and learn lessons for the future. The inquiry is investigating institutional responses to child sexual exploitation by organised networks, with public hearings scheduled to take place from 20 April this year. There was some talk in the debate about commissioning research; I understand the inquiry has already announced it has commissioned research into the motivation and behaviour of perpetrators who operate as part of organised networks. Given that, we do not believe it would be appropriate for the Government to set about duplicating the work while it is under way. We will wait for the findings and are ready to commission further research if necessary. I feel I might be about to get some comments on this from the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who I will happily give way to.

Retail Crime Prevention

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Tuesday 5th November 2019

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Home Office
David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab) Hansard
5 Nov 2019, 9:31 a.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered prevention of retail crime.

Welcome to the Chair, Mr Betts, for the final day of activity in this Parliament. I wanted to raise the issue of retail crime today because it is still an important one that the House needs to consider. I shall discuss a number of matters that I hope will give the Minister food for thought but also provoke responses on some of the key issues that hon. Members collectively have raised in the House during the past couple of years.

I am raising retail crime because it is an important issue—indeed, a key issue—and sadly is often overlooked. The British Retail Consortium, one of the major organisations representing retailers, estimates that the cost of spending by retailers on crime prevention and of losses to the industry as a result of crime is a staggering £1.9 billion each year. That £1.9 billion cost is passed on to us as consumers and is having a major impact on the ability of retailers, at a challenging time on high streets, to make a profit and ensure that they have a profitable and valued business.

Let us consider crime as a whole. More than £700 million has been lost through shoplifting—customer theft—an issue to which I shall return. That represents a 31% rise in shoplifting on the previous year.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
5 Nov 2019, 9:32 a.m.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend both on securing this debate and on all his campaigning on this issue. He is rightly highlighting the economic cost of retail crime. Does he agree that there is also a human cost to retail crime and that we must do all we can to protect those who work in shops from threats of physical violence?

David Hanson Hansard
5 Nov 2019, 9:32 a.m.

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. I am starting with the financial cost of crime, but I will come in a moment to the key issue, of which the Minister will be aware, of the consultation regarding attacks on shop staff.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 28th October 2019

(11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis - Hansard

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He was instrumental in the introduction and delivery of the Prevent duty, to the benefit of everybody. There is obviously work for us to do on extremism, including the unwanted growth in right-wing extremism, which we want to bring down. We are therefore always reviewing how the programmes work, to ensure that everybody is kept as safe as possible.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard

International action is, of course, required to tackle terrorism. Paragraph 78 of the political declaration, as it stands, refers to a “balanced security partnership” after Brexit. But the reality is that, three years on, the Government are no further forward in agreeing the security treaty promised by the former Prime Minister and have not put forward any ideas about how to reconcile the UK’s position as an EU third country with the level of security co-operation that we have now. Given the continuing risk of no deal, is not the Government’s attitude to our future security arrangements little short of negligent?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis - Hansard

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did not vote for the programme motion the other day, so that we could actually have got on with the withdrawal agreement Bill, to get towards delivering on a deal with the EU and ensure that we get a good outcome. The Government’s work to prepare for no deal has continued, with meetings on a daily basis, to ensure that we are ready for when we leave. We have excellent agencies and good working across Europe—and, indeed, globally: the work we do for Interpol also plays an important part as we go forward.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 15th July 2019

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jul 2019, 2:41 p.m.

Transparency is the best disinfectant in such cases, and the Government are working hard to improve the operation of Companies House to ensure that we get to the bottom of some of these spurious companies. We are also fully committed to the establishment of a public register of property ownership in the UK, and are working with overseas territories to ensure that similar registers are established to cover ownership there.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jul 2019, 2:41 p.m.

As capital moves ever more easily, it is imperative that we look again at the very limited circumstances in which large financial actors can at present be held accountable before the law. The Minister mentioned corporations a moment ago, but the Government’s economic crime plan totally fails to take on the issue of corporate criminal liability, which we must consider. Here is a very simple question: what are the Government afraid of?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have been talking about that issue for a long time, and we have been working hard on it. “Failure to prevent” in relation to tax evasion is now being rolled out, and the National Security Council discussed the issue more than a year ago. The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, wait to see what happens, but we are determined to try to deal with it.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 10th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mr Hurd Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 2:51 p.m.

I will not get drawn into that. It is our responsibility as a Government and a Parliament to support the police in pushing the frontiers of what technology can do in law enforcement, but I come back to this fundamental point: we have to take the public with us, and that means the regulatory environment has to be fit for purpose.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
10 Jun 2019, 2:51 p.m.

The Minister will be aware of the comments of the new independent reviewer of our counter-terror laws at the weekend about our police and security services using artificial intelligence and algorithms in detecting suspicious behaviour. He was speaking of a future like that in the film “Minority Report” where predictive technology drives everything. Is not the only way to establish the appropriate balance between liberty and security to create a new durable legislative framework that can be properly considered by this House? Why can he not commit to bringing that forward today?

Mr Hurd Parliament Live - Hansard

I repeat that I am extremely aware of the need, as technology develops in this area and others, for there to be public confidence and trust in it, underpinned by a legislative and regulatory framework in which people have confidence. We feel that that legal framework is in place, but we are reviewing the oversight and regulatory framework in which this all sits, and that is a work of some urgency for me.

Telephone and Online Scams

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Tuesday 4th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP) - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 12:08 p.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for securing the debate and for his comprehensive exposition of the matter.

The cost of scamming in our society is undoubtedly huge and cannot be counted only in pounds, shillings and pence, although the financial cost is significant. As we have heard, scamming affects all sections of our communities, but the elderly and other vulnerable members of our communities are at particular risk. The Office for National Statistics predicts that by 2030, the number of elderly people living in our communities will increase by 34% from 11.6 million to 15.7 million, and the number of people living with dementia is set to increase from 850,000 to 2.1 million across the UK.

We should not forget that the impact of dementia and other impairments makes vulnerability much more pronounced and the ability to target an individual repeatedly much more possible. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) discussed the impact of scams, and it is worth noting that victims of scams are nearly two and a half times more likely to require increased care provision or to die within two years of being scammed. It has also been reported that victims often experience a rapid drop in their physical health after realising that they have been scammed.

Those who perpetrate scams use increasingly sophisticated techniques to scam their victims, in some cases repeatedly. Trading standards, although already hard-pressed, is working on the frontline to do all that it can to safeguard the vulnerable. The most sinister, cynical and cruel aspect of scamming is that it is a criminal activity that targets the most vulnerable in their own homes. The one place where any of us should feel safe becomes the setting for people being conned out of their money, via sales scripts, data collection and sometimes even targeted mail.

The most common telephone scams are cold calls. I am delighted that, despite an unnecessary two-year delay, the Government have finally implemented my ten-minute rule Bill on nuisance calls in full, because there is a huge overlap between cold calls and nuisance scams. The adoption of that Bill is a very good start, but more needs to be done.

As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale set out, the impact of scams goes far beyond the financial loss. It is emotional and psychological, and has been shown to have an impact on our wellbeing. The hon. Member for Ogmore pointed out that scams can ruin lives and split up families, with the consequences lasting long beyond the initial trauma of financial loss. Moreover, even when financial losses are comparatively low, scams lead to a breakdown in consumer confidence.

The full effects of the harm caused are difficult to estimate, as—alarmingly—only around 5% of victims report that they have lost money. The average age of a victim is 74 years old and the losses average about £1,000, but many lose hundreds of thousands of pounds. Victims of scams often feel embarrassed and are afraid that their families will judge them to be no longer capable of living alone. For that reason, scams may not be reported, which leaves the victims open and vulnerable to repeat scams. Some people find it extremely difficult even to admit that they have been the victim of a crime.

The scale of the problem and its associated costs are huge. Alongside that, we know that trading standards is struggling to cope, although the work it does is worthy of high praise and demands our respect. I also want to highlight the excellent work carried out by the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System, which works to prevent fraud and financial crime through the sharing of confirmed fraud data. Last year, CIFAS prevented more than £1 billion in fraud loss by sharing data across sectors. Its data shows that in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran, 278 frauds took place last year and there were 103 victims of fraud. That is a mere snapshot of the true level of fraud, which is likely to be much higher because of under-reporting.

Scams do more than rob people of their money. They rob them of their confidence; their belief in themselves and in their judgment; their self-esteem; their willingness to trust people; and the help others may be able to offer them. Ultimately, they rob them of their ability to live full, happy, independent lives. Research carried out by Which? shows that what makes us vulnerable to scams it that we are all overconfident about our ability to spot one. Ironically, that overconfidence makes us all the more vulnerable. The gap between confidence and ability is dangerous.

What can we do? I absolutely agree with the suggestion put forward by trading standards that financial institutions should recognise that clients with dementia are by definition more at risk of being scammed and that measures need to be taken to protect that group as a duty of care—I would argue that it should be a legal duty of care. Those who are diagnosed with dementia live with a cognitive impairment, and that must be recognised as we seek to protect them.

The sharing of personal details and information with other organisations should of course require a clear opt-in, as opposed to an opt-out, which is an important tool in the fight against scamming. The normal default position of charities and other organisations should be that personal details are not passed on or shared. Although there is legislation in place, I am not convinced from the evidence I have seen that it is being as rigorously adhered to as it should be.

It is worth noting that about 850,000 people in the UK currently live with dementia and the figure is expected to rise to more than 1 million by 2025. Sadly, the scammer does not see people who need help and are vulnerable; they simply see rich pickings. It is the duty of society to do all it can to protect these vulnerable, elderly people.

Customers should be able to formally notify their bank in writing if they feel at risk and request that all transactions over a certain amount to new payees have a 24-hour delay before being processed. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) discussed his experience of that, and it is time that all banks had a legal duty to do the same. It would give time for the proposed transaction to be challenged and would potentially stop scammed money from leaving a scam victim’s account.

Of course, it is not just the elderly who can be rich pickings for scamming. In 2015, almost 24,000 people aged under 30 were victims of identity fraud, up from 15,766 in 2014 and more than double the 11,000 victims in that age bracket in 2010. Fraudsters get hold of their victim’s personal information—such as name, date of birth, address, their bank and who they hold accounts with—in a variety of ways, including through hacking and data loss, as well as by using social media to put the pieces of someone’s identity together.

Some 86% of all identity frauds in 2015 were perpetrated online, and that figure is rising. Interesting emerging evidence suggests that younger people report losing money to fraud more often than older people, as scams move online. Older people are more reluctant to report being scammed, but when older people are victims of scams, their losses tend to be much greater.

Society, the Government and industry all have a role in preventing fraud. Our concern is that the lack of awareness about identity fraud is making it even easier for fraudsters to obtain the information they need from social media sites. It is important that we all check our privacy settings today and think twice about what we share on social media.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale talked about the closure of bank branches, which is an important point. There is no doubt that banks are trying to force those of us who have chosen not to bank online—I include myself—to do so, not because it is convenient for us but because it is convenient for the banks. I for one will not bank online and I urge those who are not comfortable doing so to similarly resist that pressure.

We have heard today about some eminently sensible and straightforward measures that could be taken by having a more strategic approach. Banks having safeguards for vulnerable people could do much to protect those who are most at risk of scamming—the elderly and vulnerable in our communities. We should also reach out to those of all ages who use social media but do not have the information they need to protect themselves from identity fraud. We could do more to give people information, with education campaigns to better inform people how they can take some responsibility and some simple steps to protect themselves, as the hon. Member for Strangford suggested.

I urge the Minister to reflect on the suggestions that have been put forward to tackle this problem and to confront the situation whereby people are robbed in their own homes—an experience that they subsequently find deeply scarring. The effects are far-reaching. Let us do more to protect the victims of scams—we can do more. The scammers and fraudsters are very creative; we have heard some examples of that today. They are evolving their techniques. We need to be creative and evolve our measures to deal with them. In the end, we are all at risk, so we need to work together to protect our communities. I am very interested to hear what ideas the Minister is going to take forward.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 12:19 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone, in the first debate back after the short recess. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for raising this crucial issue and for his thoughtful and powerful speech, which made a compelling case for greater action by the Government on telephone and other types of scamming.

The scale of this problem is truly breathtaking. Age UK has estimated that up to 5 million people over the age of 65 believe they have been targeted by a scam. South Wales, the part of the country that my hon. Friend and I represent, is a hotspot for these issues. He was right to speak of his local trading standards team and South Wales police. I entirely concur with his comments and support what he says in respect not only of his local authority, but my local authority in Torfaen and Gwent police. There is no doubt that trading standards and other law enforcement agencies would be in a better position to tackle this issue if they had not been subjected to nine years of austerity and spending cuts.

I welcome the work of the joint fraud taskforce, which I look forward to hearing more about from the Minister in due course, and the ban on pension cold-calling that came into effect in January. However, I note that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said there was a “disjointed and ineffective” national strategy. Therein lies an enormous challenge for the Government in pulling together so many different aspects of a strategy and enforcing it around the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) spoke powerfully about the cases he has seen in his constituency office, and about a crucial issue that should not be missed in this debate: the future of bank branches. At the last general election, my hon. Friends and I stood on a manifesto that sought to change the framework of legal obligations to be considered when closure decisions come to the fore. Nobody is saying that there are not business cases. Footfall is of course important—nobody is denying that—but there are two things to consider. First, the wider social impact of closing branches is often missed. Secondly, if the current rate of branches disappearing from the high street continues, we will end up with deserts in different parts of the country because there are no branches nearby. The hon. Gentleman represents a very rural constituency where I am sure that would be a particular issue, but it applies across all parts of the country and is something that we really need to tackle.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke movingly about his constituent, a schoolteacher who clearly fell victim to a fraudster who was extremely credible, as I am afraid they too often are. The hon. Gentleman also highlighted a further issue, which I will come back to in a moment: once someone has fallen victim to a scam, what awareness is there of the remedy and the compensation that can subsequently be recovered? In some cases, it is sadly not.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) was absolutely right to highlight the increasing risk to vulnerable people. When we talk about some of the statistics on scams affecting people over 75—I will do so in a moment—we must not forget that anyone of any age can fall victim to such scams. She was right to point out the risk to young people from different types of online scams, including identity fraud, and the importance of being cautious about what is shared on social media and knowing how that information can be used by people who wish us harm.

In its most recent statistics on crime in England and Wales, the Office for National Statistics identifies a worrying trend in these types of cases. The number of fraud incidents, 3.6 million, was up 12% on the previous survey year, driven in part by a 27% rise in consumer and retail fraud. It is vulnerable people who are targeted. Age UK has identified that single older people are more likely to respond than married people, and half of all people over 75 live alone. In addition to that vulnerability, the people who perpetrate such crimes are becoming more menacing and sophisticated in how they set out to defraud people.

A number of aspects of this issue demonstrate the need for a laser-like focus from the Government. There is the classic lottery scam, where people are told that they have won something when they have not. There are Government scams, where groups essentially pretend to be the Government and use that badge of credibility to carry out their crime. There are also security scams, which were mentioned in earlier speeches, whereby people are contacted by someone pretending to be their bank or some other trusted source.

What are we to do? We have to raise awareness, but it has to be done in a robust, targeted and smart way. People who are victims of scams need to report them, and a number of the speeches picked out that it is often difficult. People perhaps feel embarrassed and do not want to say they have been a victim of this particular type of confidence trick. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore pointed out, that relates to how people are treated when they do speak up, and it is important that best practice on being sensitive to the relevant issues is spread among our police forces.

There are other, practical things that people can do. For example, the Royal Mail can stop unaddressed mailings in the post if people register for that service. There is also the issue of data protection, which is covered by both the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation. The Information Commissioner’s Office, to which I often direct constituents who are worried about what has happened to their data, is an oversight body. If people are concerned about the retention of their data, they should be encouraged to go to that scrutiny body.

The hon. Member for Strangford raised the question of what remedies there are when someone falls victim to one of these confidence tricks. There is the Consumer Credit Act 1974, and people often forget that credit companies are jointly and severally liable even if the breach or misrepresentation is by the person doing the selling. The Act applies only to sums between £100 and £30,000, but that is none the less one remedy. There is debit card chargeback and the authorised push payment voluntary code, to which the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred. I praise the work of consumer groups on raising awareness of those remedies. It is something that we really need to focus on, so that people are aware that should they fall victim and lose substantial amounts of money—one of the cases mentioned in the debate involved around £50,000, which is a huge amount of money—there are routes they can go down to try to recoup at least some of their losses.

There was an excellent Library briefing for this debate, and I pay tribute to the Library staff who produced it. The Government really need to look at how they collect statistics in this area. Where they do collect statistics, is there a way of breaking them down into types of scams? Are they online or telephone scams? I have raised this point with Ministers before, and I appreciate that there is always a balance. They cannot collect every single statistic, but if statistics were collected on what the fastest-growing risk was, the Minister would be more able to target Government policy to reduce it.

It is crucial that we bring together a robust strategy all over the country. We need more resources for our law enforcement agencies, but they also need a consistent strategy that pushes back against the fraudsters who target our constituents. To use the words quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, the victims might not “bang, bleed or shout,” but great misery is certainly caused to them by this crime. The Government have to rise to the challenge.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 12:29 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for securing this debate. He and other hon. Members have campaigned consistently on this extremely important subject. I thank all hon. Members who made contributions. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, this issue affects each and every constituency, and we all know someone, whether personally or professionally, who has been a victim of a scam or an attempted scam.

The examples that hon. Members gave show the range of scams that criminals can pursue and the range of people who can be victims. We rightly tend to focus on the most vulnerable—particularly the elderly, who are exploited by fraudsters because of their age and, the fraudsters assume, their frailties—but as the hon. Members for Strangford and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) highlighted, these scams are not restricted to the most vulnerable. They are now so sophisticated that they can take in people who would ordinarily think that they are able to withstand such efforts. The methods that fraudsters use include playing a recording of a call centre in the background so it sounds like they are calling from a large call centre, which reassures the victim that the call is legitimate. There are huge challenges, not just for law enforcement, which must respond robustly, but for us as individuals. We must ensure that we are as knowledgeable as possible about these scams to protect ourselves, those we care for and those we think may be vulnerable. I will go into that in a bit more detail in due course.

The Government take this harm extremely seriously. Fraud is the second most prevalent crime in England and Wales. The crime survey estimates that there were 3.6 million frauds in 2018. Victims can suffer serious financial and emotional harm, and the money that fraudsters make can fund other serious organised crime. Although we have made substantial progress, the Government’s efforts to tackle scams and fraud in general are focusing on three areas: the policing response to fraud, reducing vulnerabilities, and the care and service that victims receive.

We are clear that the law enforcement response to fraud must improve. The previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), requested that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services conduct an inspection of the police response to fraud because we wanted a much clearer view of how fraud is being investigated and what improvements are needed. The inspectorate’s recent report highlighted key weaknesses in the police response, suggesting that significant improvements are required to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the current fraud policing model. In practice, that means local and, increasingly, regional investigations, supported by national functions.

The hon. Member for Strangford rightly said that fraudsters do not recognise geographical boundaries. On his point about the UK-wide response, we very much recognise the need to develop a national policing strategy for fraud, which will address, for example, how the Police Service of Northern Ireland can link with the overall national strategy. The City of London police is the national lead force for fraud and serves as a national centre for the collection and sharing of intelligence across the four regions of the United Kingdom. We very much take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point about the cross-border implications for the internal borders in the United Kingdom.

The inspectorate’s report and 16 recommendations demonstrate that the policing response to fraud must improve. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime, who apologises for not being able to be present today, takes this matter extremely seriously. He expects that the report will be taken seriously by chief constables and police and crime commissioners alike. We are working with the police and other law enforcement agencies to take forward those recommendations and challenge fraud at a national, regional and local level. The shadow Minister rightly asked about the statistics. I will take that point back to the Minister for Security and Economic Crime.

Let me turn to reducing vulnerabilities. In addition to improving the police response to fraud, we must also address the vulnerabilities in systems that fraudsters exploit if we are to make the UK a harder target for fraudsters. The hon. Member for Ogmore gave the example of a fraudster citing the DWP in a scam that one of his constituents suffered. We recognise that the Government and law enforcement must work closely with the private sector, as well as with each other. Agencies such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are leading the way in the fight against online and phone fraudsters and are working relentlessly to close tax scams and raise awareness.

In the previous financial year, HMRC reported more than 12,000 malicious websites for takedown, recovered hundreds of misleading HMRC-branded domains, initiated the removal of hundreds of phone numbers used to perpetrate HMRC-related phone scams, and increased education efforts to ensure that the general public are aware that people may use HMRC’s or other agencies’ branding to try to extract their much-needed and carefully saved savings and income. Those education campaigns are being run by the media, television and newspapers. In 2016, HMRC identified a significant increase in the number of customers receiving malicious HMRC-branded texts. With the phone industry, it piloted award-winning controls that resulted in a 90% reduction in reports of such scams. The lessons learned from that are being scaled into a solution for the whole of the United Kingdom. As was reported at the weekend—hon. Members mentioned this—HMRC is deploying new controls to put an end to fraudsters spoofing the tax authorities’ most recognisable helpline numbers.

Nuisance calls are a source of extreme irritation for many, but for the most vulnerable they can also be incredibly stressful and harmful. We have taken a range of actions to reduce the number of nuisance calls. We have banned cold calls from personal injury firms and pension providers, as hon. Members noted. The hon. Member for Ogmore asked for an update. I will ask the Minister for Security and Economic Crime to write to him about that. It is very early days, but hopefully we can provide some information to him.

We have also introduced director liability for nuisance calls, and we are supporting national trading standards in rolling out call-blocking devices to vulnerable people. Members of Parliament have a real opportunity to help our constituents to understand the ways in which scams can operate and what we can do to protect ourselves against them. I recommend the Take Five to Stop Fraud scheme—a joint awareness campaign run by the Government and UK Finance, which provides simple advice to prevent people from falling victim to scams. The key message is that people should take their time when making a new payment, because fraudsters will try to rush them, as some of the very sad examples highlighted in this debate show.

The response to scams and fraud in general requires a collaborative, innovative response, because as we catch up with criminals, they will find other ways of exploiting technology to present new challenges and find new ways to steal people’s money. That is why the Government created the joint fraud taskforce: to better protect the public and businesses from fraud, reduce the impact of fraud on victims, and increase the disruption and prosecution of fraudsters. We continue to work with the taskforce to build on successful initiatives, such as the banking protocol—it has been discussed today—which is a code of practice to help banks to identify victims and alert law enforcement. It has prevented more than £48 million from falling into the hands of fraudsters and has led to more than 400 arrests.

We also welcome the publication of the voluntary industry code. It marks a significant step forward in the fight against authorised push payment frauds, which involve tricking customers into sending money to fraudsters via a payment service provider. To give an idea of the scale of the task, in the first half of 2018, consumer losses from APP scams amounted to around £145.4 million, of which just under £31 million was repaid to customers. The code will ensure that sending and receiving payment service providers will take steps to protect their customers, including with procedures to detect, prevent and respond to APP scams, with greater protection for customers who are considered vulnerable to that type of fraud.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale asked about the retrospectivity of the code. Again, I will raise that with the Minister for Security and Economic Crime. There are no plans to force banks to apply the code retrospectively, but there are certainly no rules or laws in place that prevent banks from making good-will payments. We also encourage victims of APP scams who have not been compensated by their bank to lodge a complaint with the financial ombudsman.

As the hon. Member for Strangford said, the code is voluntary, but to reassure hon. Members, the current signatories of the code cover approximately 85% of APP scams, and the Payments Systems Regulator, which leads the development of the code, actively encourages banks to sign up, as does UK Finance. In addition, the Financial Ombudsman Service will take the code into consideration when determining cases, regardless of whether the bank in dispute has signed up to the code.

On the other work that the payments industry does to prevent APP scams from occurring in the first place, the confirmation of payee service is the industry-agreed way of ensuring that names of recipients are checked before payments are made. Essentially, it is an account name checking service that can help to avoid the misdirection of payments. The industries developing the service say that it can be implemented by payment providers during the course of this year.

Regulators and industry are taking further action to increase payment security and reduce fraud via stronger customer authentication. From 14 September this year, rules supplementary to the second payment services directive will apply, meaning that payment service providers such as banks will be required to apply more security measures to large transactions, and customers may be asked to provide more credentials. That could reduce some types of fraud by up to 30%.

It is also right that we look at the service provided to victims of scams and fraud. Two economic crime victim care units have been established to better identify vulnerable victims of fraud and ensure that they are provided with the right level of support. That includes practical advice, support and guidance to help victims to cope and to prevent them from again falling victim in future. The units have been trialled in the Greater Manchester and West Midlands Police force areas, and an assessment will be completed this year to help to measure the impact of the scheme.

With funding from the Home Office, National Trading Standards has piloted local multi-agency hubs to ensure that victims of fraud receive support from the local agency best able to provide it, whether that be the police, social services or charities. At the risk of boasting about my own county, in Lincolnshire—one of the pilot areas—the local police, National Trading Standards and a health trust have worked in partnership to train 1,000 health and social care professionals to identify and support older people who have been, or may be, the victims of doorstep crime and scams.

A strategic action plan has been developed by Victim Support and National Trading Standards, with Home Office support, to ensure that the service received by fraud victims is rapid, appropriate and consistent, and takes into account any specific needs that they may have that might make them particularly vulnerable or susceptible to fraud. The joint fraud taskforce is working on a technical and regulatory framework to ensure that more fraud losses can be returned to victims. Work is also being undertaken to test the technology that can trace the movement of funds back to their source. The next step will be for banks to agree ways of operating that allow for the freezing of funds, a system of dealing with disputes and, ultimately, the return of stolen funds.

We all take this threat very seriously. The responsibility is shared by all concerned agencies, both in the public and private sectors, which is supported by civil society. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore for providing the opportunity to discuss this fraud, innovative ways of tackling it, and ways to ensure that the Government’s steps are monitored and have the impact that we wish them to have. This is a piece of work that, I am delighted to say, many colleagues across the House, not all of them here today, have shared in common to ensure that the financial and social damage that such invasive crime inflicts on some of our most vulnerable citizens is tackled and stopped.

Rwandan Genocide: Alleged Perpetrators

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Tuesday 9th April 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 12:46 p.m.

My right hon. Friend is a strong supporter of Rwanda and knows the country incredibly well. I respect many of his views on the country and on the need for action, but I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with his last point. The United Kingdom has not shielded these people. He will know that on 28 July 2017 the High Court ruled that they could not be extradited, for fear of not facing a fair trial. He will know and respect the difference between the Government, the police and the judiciary. He will know that we have to follow the rule of law and that ruling.

This Government, and previous Governments, have been committed to bringing people to trial, which is why he has raised this issue. We have spent £3 million trying to get the right outcome, but when the Court ruled that these individuals could not be extradited, the United Kingdom, under its genocide convention obligations and after requests from the Rwandan Government, took on the investigation itself. We went out to meet officials in Rwanda and to gather evidence there, and there is a live police investigation into a number of individuals in relation to potential war crimes. My right hon. Friend will also understand that, as this is a live police investigation, there is no more I can say on this matter, for fear of prejudicing a fair trial here or anywhere else, and that is where we have to leave it. Those are the facts we find before us.

The Government are not shielding any war criminals, and nor should we. We would not do that. We are doing our best. I have raised the issue with the counter-terrorism police, and they say that the timescale for these investigations is not 10 years but more like between three and five years. I can assure my right hon. Friend that if the police require more resource or if they come up against an obstacle relating to international relations, the Government are standing by to help, to expedite and to ensure that those suspected of war crimes face full justice, but there is absolutely no case that this Government or any previous Government have shielded them from any war crimes trials that they might face.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 12:49 p.m.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for applying for this urgent question on such an important matter, and I am grateful to you for granting it, Mr Speaker. The Rwandan genocide took place in 1994, and its recent 25-year anniversary was a haunting reminder of what happened. It was an atrocious act of violence, with hundreds of thousands of people being killed in just 100 days. That such a heinous act took place while the world stood by is a stain on the international community.

Allegations have been made against five individuals whose extradition to Rwanda was not granted by the High Court in 2017. I will not comment specifically on the individuals themselves. It has, however, been reported in the past couple of days that Scotland Yard received a referral from the Rwandan authorities in January 2018, and that Scotland Yard officers were sent to help with the investigation regarding those individuals, as the Minister has confirmed today.

It is right that these allegations are investigated in this country. We believe in a rules-based international order. If that is to mean anything, a crime against humanity must be considered as a crime against us all; no matter where in the world it takes place, all efforts must be made to pursue justice for victims. Although the Minister must be circumspect about what he says with an investigation ongoing, can he reassure the House that all necessary resources will be put at the disposal of the investigation, that all possible efforts to gather evidence will be made and that, although it will of course be complex, the investigation will be carried out carefully and as speedily as possible?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 12:51 p.m.

I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. At the beginning of this year, I got an update from the counter-terrorism police about the conduct of any investigations relating to people from Rwanda. In fact, I briefed my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on that at about the same time to make sure he realised we are not forgetting this. We are not going to forget the genocide, and nor are we going to forget bringing those people to justice. I am very happy to keep the House posted, as we are allowed to. Nevertheless, with respect, we have to remember that this is a live police investigation and therefore all the safeguards apply.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 1st April 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard

I am afraid that is simply not the case. I speak regularly to all the leaders of the regional counter-terrorism response and the serious organised crime response. The part of policing that currently gets increased funding around that speciality is organised crime and counter-terrorism. I am happy to visit with the hon. Gentleman the counter-terrorist unit in his part of the country, which does a first-class job. The problem is not access to that speciality but making sure that we cut off the future demand and threats. I urge him to come with me to visit his local unit, and we can discuss the Prevent programme together.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 3:18 p.m.

May I add the congratulations of Members on the Opposition Benches to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray)?

The Minister has spoken about having more money for counter-terrorism, but when an appalling terrorist attack occurs it draws in officers and resources from mainstream policing as well as specialist counter-terror officers. Surely he must accept that cutting more than 21,000 police officers since 2010 has diminished the Government’s capacity to keep people safe.

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 3:20 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman will know that when police forces come under pressure—such as when they respond to a terrorist incident, to an incident such as Salisbury or, indeed, as in my constituency, to a process such as fracking—there is an extra grant for those police forces. We have refunded extra money to police forces in Dorset, London and Manchester, and we will continue to do so. That is why we have this pot in the Home Office: to make sure that we can flex as something happens. Police respond, and they then get back the money that they need.

Far-right Violence and Online Extremism

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Monday 18th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Mar 2019, 4:53 p.m.

My hon. Friend, as a New Zealander and a Brit, makes a valid point about the strength of the New Zealand nation. He makes the correct observation that the gun laws in this country make it much harder for people to acquire weapons that could wreak mass murder very quickly, as we have seen following the use of semi-automatic assault rifles in places such as New Zealand and the United States. That does not mean that we should ever stop ensuring that when such threats present themselves we put all our resource and, if necessary, our legislation behind making the restrictions that are needed.

Although many people have considered such attacks, they have been unsuccessful in this country because they have simply not been able to get their hands on the type of weapon system that we saw being deployed in New Zealand. Our law enforcement agencies will continue to target both the legal acquisition of weapons by unsuitable people and illegal acquisitions through smuggling, so that we can ensure that our places are safer.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Mar 2019, 4:55 p.m.

Mr Speaker, thank you for granting this urgent question, and it is a credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) that she applied for it. I join all Members in passing on condolences to the families and friends of those murdered in this heinous act of terror against people for no other reason than that they were Muslims. We send sympathies to the people of New Zealand, and to those affected by the incident in Surrey and the ongoing situation in Utrecht.

As the Leader of the Opposition has said, an attack on anyone at worship is an attack on all peoples of faith and non-believers too, as they go about their lawful, peaceful business. The harrowing live streaming of events in Christchurch, on the other side of the world, raises questions about the role of social media platforms in facilitating a growing extremism. Although a White Paper on online harm is of course welcome, does the Minister accept that asking online platforms to act is not enough and that we need a new regulator with strong powers to penalise them if they do not curb harmful content?

We must also ensure that our laws and policies are robust and up to date. Will the Minister clarify when the new Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation will be appointed and in post? Will he also confirm that lessons will be learned from both domestic and international experience in the forthcoming independent review of the Prevent programme?

I am not suggesting that any political perspective has a monopoly on virtue. Does the Minister agree that such vile acts of hatred show that we must all redouble our efforts to argue for a society of tolerance and respect?

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Hansard
18 Mar 2019, 4:55 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes many points with which I agree. Tolerance, respect and the underpinning of the British values of democracy and the rule of law are vital in our society, and the more we teach our children about that and the more we clamp down on those who do not believe in that, the better a place we will be.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s questions about the to-be-appointed Prevent reviewer, I cannot speak for that person—

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Hansard
18 Mar 2019, 4:55 p.m.

I referred to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.

Mr Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Mar 2019, 4:58 p.m.

I will get to that, but the hon. Gentleman did mention the Prevent review. I want the person reviewing Prevent to be as free as possible to examine people’s views, perceptions and evidence, and I would like those who criticise Prevent the most to produce evidence rather than anecdotes. The Government will, of course, listen to whatever the review produces.

I turn to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. Hopefully, the appointment will happen in a matter of days or weeks. We are at an advanced stage in the selection process. Like the hon. Gentleman, I would like an appointment as soon as possible, because no Government benefit without an Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.

On new regulations regarding online harm, I know that Opposition Members will be impatient, but they will have to wait for the publication of the online harms White Paper. The document will obviously examine regulation versus voluntary action, but I have said on the record several times that a voluntary system is not enough and that regulation or other methods of encouragement should be explored.

I have also been clear that many online companies are hugely profitable and global, so whatever regulation we explore will have to be deliverable. That is why I met representatives of the G7 in Toronto last year to discuss what the G7 can do collectively; why the Home Secretary attended the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, as did his predecessor, to ensure that countries around the world can get to grips with the problem; and why the European Union is taking forward plans to seek regulations in certain areas, especially the time in which content should be taken down.

If we are to deal with the problem, we must take a layered international approach to regulation—otherwise, companies will simply move their servers to escape their obligations. It is one thing to deal with the big companies that have a nexus here, but there are many tiny companies spreading hate around the world that may have servers in jurisdictions that we cannot reach. That is why we need an international consensus to deal with the challenge.

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Tenth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons)
Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:19 p.m.

My hon. Friend mentions that further evidence is being demanded. Is that not precisely what started to happen with the Windrush scandal, causing so many problems? Is that not why we need as many safeguards as possible in the scheme?

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 2:19 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. With the history of the Windrush experience being so close, one would imagine that we would not yet have forgotten its lessons and would seek to apply them in this situation. We tabled the new clauses precisely because of that concern.

It is well known that other problems with the process include its inaccessibility to iPhone users. The Government talked about how easy this process would be—people would be able to do it on their phones—but that is not the case for half of the UK’s adults, who happen to use an iPhone. The inability to develop an app for use on an iPhone does not create a great deal of confidence in the rest of the process or the Home Office’s ability to handle it. People who already have proof of permanent residence are being asked to provide evidence of it, even though they were promised a simple swap to settled status. We need to have local support centres where people can apply offline, but they are not available.

The new clauses would remove the category of pre-settled status. This distinction, whereby an individual must be resident for five years to qualify for settled status, seems to be the result of a copy-and-paste exercise from the rules for permanent residence. A number of the stakeholders from whom the Committee took evidence do not see the rationale for it and believe that it serves no clear purpose. In fact, it creates more bureaucracy for individuals and the Home Office—this morning we discussed how difficult the Home Office sometimes finds it to deal with complicated or even simple procedures.

The Government have already admitted that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish easily between EU citizens who arrive before and after 29 March, which adds another layer of uncertainty. We can easily foresee the confusion for employers and landlords, who will wonder what different rights apply to the different categories, with detrimental effects for the holders of pre-settled status. I would welcome clarification from the Minister. If it is not simply to mirror the rules on permanent residence, can she explain the rationale for pre-settled status?

New clause 15 sets out other requirements, such as ensuring that applicants are issued with physical documentation of their proof of status. I acknowledge that this replicates new clause 35, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. It is another area where the Home Office will inevitably have to move. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Professor Smismans vividly illustrated not only the administrative hassle of a digital system, but the potential implications for the treatment by what they describe as “private actors” and for

“equal access to work and housing.”

No other immigration status in this country operates exclusively digitally. The Government have said that they want this system to be more user-friendly than the current application process, but members of the3million group have made it absolutely clear that physical proof of their status would improve their experience of the system and provide some much-needed reassurance. I really do not understand why the Government are so resistant to that, and I urge the Minister to take the opportunity on this issue to work with, rather than against, EEA nationals and the people who speak for them. I imagine that this is an area that the Government will have to move on, as they did on the fee—many of us argued for it for a long time before the change was made.

New clause 15 would put on the face of the Bill the Government’s commitment not to levy a fee. For a long time, the Government were insistent on the need to charge £65 for an application. I am sure the Minister will embarrassingly recall that—in a written answer to me—she was not prepared to rule out the £65 fee for victims of modern slavery and trafficking at that stage. I am delighted that the Government moved on the issue. It might have been because of the embarrassment that, at one stage, the European Parliament was even considering covering the cost of the fees on behalf of EU nationals in this country. After campaigning by Opposition Members and other parties, along with the3million and trade unions, it was a good step that the Prime Minister conceded that the application should be free; therefore, the Government should have no issue putting that into the legislation.

New clause 16 details the rights of family members of EEA nationals who are eligible for settled status. New clause 18 would make it explicit that article 8 of schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998—the right to respect for private and family life—applied to holders of settled status and of the work visa for EEA and Swiss nationals dealt with in new clause 21.

On new clause 17, the Government have repeatedly stated that there would be only three criteria for settled status: nationality of a relevant country or a family member, residence in the UK and a criminality check. The rules in the appendix of the Immigration Rules go beyond that; they leave a loophole where someone who is not a serious criminal and otherwise eligible could be denied settled status on the basis of non-exercise of treaty rights. New clause 17 seeks to address this issue. Following legal action from the JCWI, from whom we took evidence, the Government narrowed the rules, but the power still remains. In written answers to me, the Minister has stated:

“the UK has decided, as a matter of domestic policy, to be more generous than the draft Withdrawal Agreement in certain respects. In particular, those applying under the scheme will not be required to show that they meet all the requirements of current free movement rules, such as any requirement to have held comprehensive sickness insurance or generally to detail the exercise of specific rights under EU law, such as the right to work.”

The new clause would enshrine that policy in law.

If the Government do not accept new clause 17, could the Minister explain why they are so intent on wishing to retain a power that they never intend to use?

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Ninth sitting)

Nick Thomas-Symonds Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 9:46 a.m.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and I will make sure to see the film.

The point was driven home by a detainee who said to us:

“The uncertainty is hard to bear. Your life is in limbo. No one tells you anything about how long you will stay or if you are going to get deported.”

Medical experts told us that that sense of being in limbo—of hopelessness and despair—leads to deteriorating mental health. One expert from the Helen Bamber Foundation told us that those who are detained for more than 30 days, which is relevant to the limit we are looking for, had significantly higher levels of mental health problems.

New clause 1 would have an impact beyond those who are detained. A team leader from the prisons inspectorate told us that the lack of time limit encourages poor caseworking in the Home Office. He said that a quarter of the cases of prolonged detention it had considered were a result of inefficient caseworking.

Prolonged detention does not happen because it is inappropriate for people to be released. Despite these places being called immigration removal centres, we have found—everybody needs to focus on this fact—that most people are released from detention for reasons other than being removed from the UK. They are released back into the community.

The system is not only bad for those who are involved, but expensive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton pointed out. The recommendation in new clause 1 for a maximum time limit to be set in statute is about not simply righting the wrong of indefinite detention, but changing the culture that is endemic in the system.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 9:48 a.m.

I commend my hon. Friend on his speech; he is demolishing the case for indefinite detention. Does he agree that it is not just about the welfare of the individuals involved—although, clearly, the limbo they have been left in is unacceptable—but about improving the way that the Home Office works?

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 9:48 a.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Although that was not the reason why we conducted the inquiry, it became clear through the inquiry that there would be significant benefits in terms of the Home Office’s operation, as well as cost and compliance, which I will come to. Those benefits underlined the recommendation, which had initially been driven by common humanity and the way the system operates.

In trying to change the culture that is endemic in the system, we are trying to meet the aims of the Home Office’s own guidance, with detention used more sparingly and only as a genuine last resort. The proposed time limit is 28 days, which reflects best practice in other countries and is workable for the Home Office. Home Office guidance describes detention as being for imminent removal and defines “imminent” as four weeks—that is, 28 days. That is the recommendation of the report and the principle behind new clause 1.

Deprivation of liberty should not be a decision taken lightly or arbitrarily. Currently, decisions are taken by relatively junior Home Office officials, with no automatic judicial oversight. Without a time limit, it simply becomes too easy for people to be detained for months on end with no meaningful way of challenging continued detention.

The introduction of a time limit and the reduction in reliance on detention would be a significant change because, to detain fewer people for shorter periods, the Government would need to introduce a wider range of community-based alternatives. It was interesting to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe talk about Australia, which is often seen as a hard-line country on immigration. Some of the detention practices there are abhorrent, but there is wider use of community-based alternatives to detention than in the UK. I appreciate that the Home Office is running a pilot about that—as I said earlier, I met the right hon. Member for Meriden and the Minister, and we had a really useful discussion—and I am certainly convinced that it is putting genuine effort into developing community-based alternatives in a thoughtful way.

There is a precedent in the UK. When the coalition Government committed to reducing the number of children detained, they introduced a family returns process, which the House of Commons Library described as intended

“to encourage refused families to comply with instructions to depart from the UK at an earlier stage, such as by giving them more control over the circumstances of their departure.”

It worked; there was a dramatic fall in the number of children detained, and the Home Office’s own evaluation of the scheme found that most families complied with the process, with no increase in absconding.

In conclusion, I quote Nick Hardwick, who was Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons at the time of our inquiry. After he made an unannounced inspection of Yarl's Wood, he said that

“well-respected bodies have recently called for time limits on administrative detention…In my view, the rigorously evidenced concerns we have identified in this inspection provide strong support for these calls, and a strict time limit must now be introduced on the length of time that anyone can be administratively detained.”

In supporting new clause 1, we are not proposing to end indefinite administrative detention simply because that would be the just and humane thing to do—although, for goodness’ sake, that is a good enough reason—but because it would be less expensive, improve procedures in the Home Office and be more effective in securing compliance.

Break in Debate

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 10:10 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I suspect that she is correct that, ultimately, we might decide this matter on the Floor of the House. It is important that we reflect carefully on the evidence and weigh our own practical and legal considerations. While I am as one with Stephen Shaw when he makes his commentary on 28 days, I have heard representations from Members in this Committee and more widely as well. We have heard reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, who has been forceful on this issue, and to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who had me before her Committee towards the tail end of last year. We had a useful and constructive conversation around detention.

It is well documented and reported in the media how much I enjoy a Select Committee appearance—that one I actually did. I felt it was constructive, Members had given the issue significant thought, and we had a constructive conversation. I am aware of the amendment tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham that has been supported by many Members from this side of the House with much enthusiasm and determination.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Hansard
5 Mar 2019, 10:11 a.m.

The argument the Minister is using is about the length of time and the limit. Can we take it from her that she is not opposed to the principle of having a limit, even though there may be debate about its length?

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes -