All 26 Parliamentary debates in the Commons on 29th Mar 2023

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House of Commons

Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Wednesday 29 March 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Order, 27 March, and Standing Order No. 3).

Oral Answers to Questions

Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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1. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the operation of the devolution settlement.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
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6. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the operation of the devolution settlement.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
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7. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the operation of the devolution settlement.

Alister Jack Portrait The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alister Jack)
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I take this opportunity to congratulate Humza Yousaf on becoming Scotland’s new First Minister. I look forward to working with him. I heard him say that he wanted to put the independence drive into “fifth gear”; I would gently remind him that most Scots actually want him to put it into reverse and to work with the United Kingdom to tackle the issues that really matter to them, such as cost of living pressures and growing our economy.

The devolution settlement gives Scotland the best of both worlds. Scotland benefits from the wide influence and economic strength of the UK, while also enjoying considerable devolved powers in vital areas such as health, education and justice to tailor policies to meet the needs of people in Scotland.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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In his response to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on 22 February, the Secretary of State claimed that the Scottish Government had not asked for an exemption from the UK Internal Market Act 2020 for the Scottish deposit return scheme. The Scottish Government have since published the timeline to show that that is incorrect and that the proposal has been under detailed discussion within the resources and waste common framework since last October, with the final detailed case for exclusion presented on 13 February. In the light of that, will he correct the record and apologise for inadvertently misleading Parliament?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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This is an important point and has had a lot of airtime in the media in Scotland. I can say to the hon. Lady that, while officials and civil servants spoke to one another over a period of time, the official request to Ministers came in the inter-ministerial group meeting, which the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) was at, on 6 March. That is all minuted. It is a fact, it is on the record and there is no question. The UK Government have published it. The official request was on 6 March. I would also say that the Scottish Government proceeded with a deposit return scheme that small businesses, consumers and others are very concerned about. Even the chief executive of Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, said yesterday that it is not the right scheme and it is not fit for purpose. They are concerned about it and they are right to be concerned about it. The Scottish Government asked for their UKIM exemption after they put their scheme together. If I were building a house, I would get planning permission and then build my house, not do it the other way around.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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The Secretary of State knows that the process for gaining an exemption to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act is through developing the appropriate common framework. He also stated that there had been no request by letter from the Scottish Government, yet the Deputy First Minister wrote to the UK Government on 31 January and even received a positive reply on 10 February. Is the problem here that the Secretary of State just has a very selective memory, or is it that he is so busy preparing for his seat in the House of Lords that his office does not bother keeping him in the loop any more?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Let us be absolutely clear about this: the letter the hon. Gentleman refers to was a letter to the Chancellor about value added tax treatment of the deposit return scheme. The letter mentioned that an exemption request would be coming forward, but the official request was made on 6 March—there is no question about that—and the detailed arguments were laid out on 6 March at the ministerial meeting.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law
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It is not going too well for the Secretary of State, is it? Environmental charities across these islands have written to him, calling on him not to block the Scottish deposit return scheme. We know there are successful schemes across many other countries, and the British Soft Drinks Association, whose members include Coca-Cola and Irn-Bru maker A.G. Barr, called for it to go ahead as planned. What on earth is the future Baron von Jack thinking of when he ignores those calls and threatens to block the scheme—particularly when his own Government and other UK nations will follow Scotland’s lead and introduce their own scheme from 2025?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I am not sure that there has been much joined-up thinking on the questions here. Again, I have suggested that the deposit return scheme should be paused. I think a UK-wide solution is right; I think recycling is absolutely right. But I agree with the chief executive of Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer, when he says that this is not the right scheme—it will be inflationary. As I have said before at this Dispatch Box, 12 bottles of Scottish water currently cost £1.59 in Aldi, but under the scheme, that would become £3.99 or even higher if a price is put on top. Although £2.40 of that could be reclaimed, the consumer will also pay an extra cost that is put on by the producer—producers have been clear about that.

We met Coca-Cola, which said that 2p on a can and 5p on a bottle would be passed on to the consumer and could not be reclaimed. There are higher figures from other companies, including one small brewer that said it would have to add £1.40 to a bottle of beer on top of the 20 pence. The scheme is inflationary and very bad for the consumer’s shopping basket. That is why I think we need to pause it and get a scheme that works for the whole United Kingdom.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)
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What a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair for Scottish questions, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I add my congratulations to Humza Yousaf on becoming First Minister of Scotland, and I recognise the inclusive and historic nature of his appointment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, based on the experience of our constituents, Mr Yousaf will have to up his game considerably in his new role? As Transport Minister, he came to Dumfries in 2016 to hold a transport summit, and seven years later, precisely zero of the commitments given that day have been delivered.

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Not only did Humza Yousaf fail in the transport brief but, as we know from his opponent, who took almost half the vote—48%—he also failed in his other briefs of justice and health.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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I join others in congratulating the new First Minister. The Barnett formula by which money is devolved to Scotland has existed for more than 40 years. Has the Secretary of State received any representations from the Scottish Government about reviewing that formula?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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At the moment, we are in discussions with the Scottish Government about a review of the fiscal framework. That review has been in train for some time, and the conclusions will be coming shortly.

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)
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I, too, congratulate Mr Yousaf on his appointment as First Minister of Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that the effectiveness of devolution arrangements was demonstrated in the use of the Scotland Act 1998—section 35 in particular—to block the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, specifically because it impacted on the effective operation of UK law across the UK?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Yes. I have heard the new First Minister say that it was anti-devolution to block a Bill that had been passed by the Scottish Parliament, but section 35 exists for that very reason. When a Bill is passed by the Scottish Parliament—if it did not pass it, we could not block it—that has adverse effects on GB-wide legislation, section 35 exists to stop the Bill going for Royal Assent so that those adverse effects can be dealt with.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab)
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It is great to see you back in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Welcome back, particularly to Scottish questions.

There has been a seismic victory—an historic victory—this week: the Scotland football team beat Spain at Hampden last night, so we all send our congratulations to them. May I echo the Secretary of State’s congratulations to Humza Yousaf, the new First Minister of Scotland? The Secretary of State rightly challenged Mr Yousaf to engage reverse gear on independence, but I think he may already have crashed that car. The new First Minister of course inherits a divided party and the SNP’s dreadful record on public services, but he does not inherit Nicola Sturgeon’s mandate—at the Holyrood election, the ballot paper said

“Nicola Sturgeon for First Minister”,

not “Humza Yousaf”. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and with Humza Yousaf himself, who rightly called for a UK general election after there was twice a change in Prime Minister last year? Does the Secretary of State agree that a new First Minister with no mandate means that there should now be not only a general election, but a Scottish election?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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There is a precedent for political parties voting in new leaders who then assume office: Henry McLeish replaced Donald Dewar, Jack McConnell replaced Henry McLeish, Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair, and even Nicola Sturgeon replaced her at-the-time great friend and mentor—her words, not mine—Alex Salmond. It would be hypocritical of me to say otherwise, because last year, of course, I defended the change of Prime Ministers, and it is hypocritical that Humza Yousaf suggested then that we should have an election and there is now deafening silence.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray
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That answer shows that both the Conservative party and the SNP are democracy deniers. In January—[Interruption.] In January, Madam Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] They don’t like it up ’em! In January, the UK Government announced that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with BioNTech and Moderna to conduct trials of vaccines that can attack cancer cells. Such innovative treatments could be a lifeline for those with terminal cancers, such as David Williamson from Glasgow, who contacted me and others to plead to be accepted on to those trials. However, David lives in Scotland, and as it stands the trials are due to take place in England only. He has written to both the UK and Scottish Health Secretaries but has failed to receive a response. David does not want to die knowing that there could be a treatment that could help him. Does the Secretary of State agree that potentially life-saving treatments should be available throughout the UK? Will he work to resolve this matter urgently for David and thousands of others?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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This is a very serious issue and my sympathies are with David and his family. I know that he has written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. I am a great believer in our NHS being reciprocal across the United Kingdom and will organisation a meeting for the hon. Gentleman with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care at the earliest opportunity.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I call the SNP spokesperson, Dr Philippa Whitford.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
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I, too, welcome you to the Chair for Scottish questions, Madam Deputy Speaker, and join Labour’s shadow Secretary of State in celebrating Scotland’s win. It is just a pity that people could not watch it on Scottish terrestrial television.

The devolved Governments have led on many innovative policies, such as the carrier bag charge in Wales and the smoking ban and minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland, with the UK Government following years later, if at all. The attacks on the latter policy at the time show that, had it existed then, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 would inevitably have been used to block minimum unit pricing, which has recently been credited with a 13% drop in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland. Even the EU single market allows policy divergence to improve public health and the environment, so why are there no such derogations in the internal market Act?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Let me pick up the hon. Lady’s first point, because we do not want the grievance factory to say, as I have seen on social media today, that the English Government blocked people in Scotland watching the game against Spain last night in which we were so victorious—[Interruption.] I said “on social media”. The Scottish Football Association sold the rights to the football match. It was the Scottish FA’s decision.

On the hon. Lady’s second point, there are opportunities for derogations and exemptions within the UK internal market. We did it in the case of plastic cutlery because the same proposal was coming forward in the rest of the UK six months after it was introduced by the Scottish Government. The schemes worked together and a derogation for six months worked. But derogations do not work when there are different schemes in different parts of the United Kingdom, some of which include glass and some of which do not, and when producers have to sign up to different schemes that have a huge cost implication. We do not think that is the right way forward.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
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It is funny how differences in the different nations worked fine before Brexit. One has to wonder why the UK market does not seem able to cope right now. Is the Secretary of State planning to hold back the devolved Governments repeatedly to avoid making his Government look bad? Or is he just going to seek every single chance to attack devolution and enforce Westminster rule?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I quoted earlier the chief executive of Tesco, the largest retailer in the United Kingdom. In the paper yesterday he made the very good point that there is one drinks industry across the United Kingdom and we should have one solution to the recycling problem.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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2. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the Union.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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3. Whether he has made a recent assessment of public support for the Union in Scotland.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
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9. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the Union.

Alister Jack Portrait The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alister Jack)
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My assessment is that the Union is strong, as is support for the Union. [Interruption.] Oh yes, strong—very, very strong. People want to see their Governments delivering, and that is what we are doing, from levelling up to tackling the cost of living and working with the Scottish Government on delivering freeports, investment zones and city and region growth deals.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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Opinion polls clearly show that the people of Scotland want the UK and Scottish Governments to work together to take Scotland forward, rather than going back to the divisions of the past. Does the Secretary of State agree that the new SNP leader should focus on Scotland’s economy, the NHS, schools and creating jobs, rather than going back to another divisive independence referendum?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I would call on the new First Minister to seize this opportunity to do things differently. Rather than confrontation, let us have collaboration for a change.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I am delighted to hear the Secretary of State’s assessment. Does he agree that growing support for the Union shows that people across Scotland are seeing the advantages of working together as we face challenges such as the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis, rather than following the separatists’ path of division?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Indeed. As we have seen with freeports, as we will see with investment zones and as we have seen with city and region growth deals, when we work together, we are truly better together.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that by extending our cost of living support and taking measures to deliver long-term sustainable growth while reducing inflation, the Chancellor’s Budget strengthened the Union by delivering for all parts of it?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Yes. The cost of living support package has been a total of £94 billion, an average of £3,300 for every household in the United Kingdom.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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We go to the Chair of the Select Committee.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and it is great to see you in the Chair once again. May I say to the Secretary of State that the Union is in trouble because there is no longer a case for the Union? We know that because a significant number of under-50s now support independence. Could he tell us what the Union’s greatest achievement has been in the past few years? Is it a Brexit that Scotland does not support; is it high-rise energy prices in energy-rich Scotland; or is it being run by a bunch of Tories that most of Scotland rejected?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not quote any opinion polls to me this time. Nor, as he mentions Brexit, did he call for another—[Interruption.] The result was 52% to 48%—[Interruption.]

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Order. Scottish questions are very important. There is too much chatting going on, and there are subtleties in the questions and the answers that people are missing.

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Madam Deputy Speaker, I was trying to give the very subtle answer that when the Brexit referendum was 52% to 48%, the hon. Gentleman wanted another referendum. The result of the leadership election was 52% to 48%, and suddenly he is very happy with it. He loves to quote opinion polls to me, but he did not quote any today—I cannot think why. All I would say is that the people of Scotland are seeing the strength of this United Kingdom, whether that is through freeports, investment zones, or city and region growth deals. The desire to stay in the United Kingdom gets stronger and stronger.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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It is a delight to see you back, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I hope you enjoyed the football last night and that you are not too hoarse.

I also welcome the First Minister and congratulate him on his elevation to the post, but 13 of the last 15 opinion polls in Scotland have favoured no over yes; the most recent, in The Scotsman, puts support for independence at only 39%; and in a council by-election in my constituency of Edinburgh West, my own party won 57% of the vote and yes parties could barely get 20%. Given those facts, does the Secretary of State think that the new First Minister should focus on the issues that are important to the people of Scotland—the NHS, education and inflation—rather than independence?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Absolutely. We know from the judgment in November of the UK Supreme Court that the constitution is entirely reserved to the United Kingdom Government, and I therefore ask the new Scottish Government to do the day job: to focus on crime, to focus on drug deaths, to focus on the health service, and to focus on education. That is what devolution is about.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
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4. Whether he has made a comparative assessment of the level of additional rail funding provided to Scotland and Wales as a Barnett consequential of HS2.

John Lamont Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (John Lamont)
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May I also start by congratulating the Scotland team on their triumph last night and the new First Minister of Scotland?

The United Kingdom Government are responsible for heavy rail infrastructure in Wales. Conversely, it is a devolved responsibility in Scotland, so the Scottish Government receive Barnett-based funding. That is consistent with the funding arrangements for all other policy areas that are reserved in Wales but devolved in Scotland.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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In other words, Wales has only had 1.5% of rail enhancement investment for the UK for 5% of the population, while Scotland gets 8% for its 8% of the population. That is why wages in Wales are something like 73% of the UK average, compared with 92% in Scotland. Will the Minister give an undertaking that Wales should get its fair 5% share of HS2— £5 billion—in the same way that Scotland will get its 8%, or £8 billion? Will he raise that with his colleagues in the Cabinet?

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
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The Welsh Government have actually received a significant uplift in their Barnett-based funding due to UK Government spending on HS2. I also point out that the UK Government have committed £2 billion for the period 2019 to 2024—more than double the £900 million invested between 2014 and 2019.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
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It is fantastic to see you in the Chair for Scotland questions, Madam Deputy Speaker. I echo the comments from across the House congratulating the new First Minister on his election.

With regard to rail funding, cross-border rail links, such as extending the Borders railway down to Carlisle, are vital to people and businesses in the north of England and Scotland. Does my hon. Friend agree that implementation of the Union connectivity review recommendations is vital in that regard, and can he give an update on that?

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his hard work with the other cross-border MPs, including me, to deliver the extension of the Borders railway to Hawick and Newcastleton and on to Carlisle. I was delighted to see the funding for the feasibility study in the borderlands growth deal, and we hope that work on it will be under way very soon.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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5. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the cost of living in Scotland.

John Lamont Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (John Lamont)
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Scotland Office Ministers have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues regarding cost of living support. At the recent Budget, the Chancellor announced additional support measures for households and families across Scotland, and indeed all parts of the United Kingdom. That included maintaining the energy price guarantee until June this year, which is in addition to the previously announced energy bills discount scheme. We have also made changes to universal credit to help people get back to work.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Dhesi
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It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I offer congratulations to Humza Yousaf on becoming First Minister.

Many of my Slough constituents are struggling, and likewise in Scotland, where more than a quarter of households—613,000—are struggling to pay their energy bills and are living in fuel poverty. The situation is likely to worsen with increasing inflation and further potential energy price hikes. Does the Minister accept that the Scottish people deserve much better? Rather than stoking culture wars, more sleaze or obsessing about another independence referendum, we need the UK and Scottish Governments to work together and focus on tackling the continued cost of living crisis.

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
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This Government continue to do everything we possibly can to support the most vulnerable in society. Taken together with all the Government’s efforts to help families and households with higher costs, the total support for an average household is £3,300 over the current year. It is right that the Government continue to provide cost of living support, while sticking to our plan to avoid added unnecessary inflationary pressures.

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
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It is so good to see you back in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the deposit return scheme that the Scottish Government plan to introduce later this year will have a significant impact in costs for brewers, pubs and distilleries? Whereas we strongly support the objectives of the scheme, does he support the calls for the Scottish Government to rethink the implementation in order to reduce the ultimate costs to consumers?

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
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My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme does not work, and it is very important we find a solution that works across all parts of the United Kingdom. We should reflect on the comments of Tesco’s chief executive yesterday, who said that the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme was not fit for purpose and risks driving up prices, and that there should be a UK-wide scheme.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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Across Scotland, just like in my constituency, the cost of living crisis continues to make life difficult for so many families. Inflation is now at 10.4%, with the British Retail Consortium reporting that food inflation is above 15%, and interest rates have been increased for the 11th consecutive time. The Chancellor’s Budget was yet another missed opportunity for the Government to take the action needed to tackle the cost of living. Does the Minister agree with me that the Government should have implemented a proper windfall tax and used the money raised to help struggling families?

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
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No, I do not agree. This Government have taken the measures necessary to support households, families and businesses across Scotland and in all parts of the United Kingdom, and the additional windfall tax that the hon. Member proposes is not something that we support.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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That concludes Scottish questions.

Before we commence Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out, as ever, that live subtitles and a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings are available to watch on parliamentlive.tv. [Hon. Members: “Shh!”] That is very kind of Members to say, “Shh”, and to be a little bit quiet. I am aware that only those watching the British Sign Language interpretation will have been able to understand what I was saying.

The Prime Minister was asked—
Bill Wiggin Portrait Sir Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)
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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 29 March.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister (Dominic Raab)
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Madam Deputy Speaker, I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is attending the funeral of Baroness Betty Boothroyd. I am sure the whole House would want to join me in paying tribute to Baroness Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the House. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I am sure the whole House does join in sending our thoughts and prayers about Baroness Boothroyd, whom we all held in very high esteem.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Sir Bill Wiggin
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Phosphates leaching into the River Wye could be stopped by proven phosphate-stripping technology attached to anaerobic digesters, but Herefordshire Council’s bypass-hating Green and independent group will not support or engage, despite a moratorium on house building. What can the Deputy Prime Minister do to save our river and remove from the council such a vital strategic and environmental responsibility?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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The River Wye is obviously of huge importance to nature. We are taking action to tackle pollution and raise farming standards. My hon. Friend will know about the Environment Agency’s farm inspection capacity and catchment-sensitive farming advice programme; I defer to his technical knowledge in this area. I am sure he will want to make submissions to the local authority.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I call the deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and welcome back to the Chair. I share the Deputy Prime Minister’s words on our Baroness, and our thoughts are with her family today. I am sure the whole House will join me also in paying tribute to Paul O’Grady, whose sad death was announced today. He was a national treasure and a true northern star, and he will be greatly missed.

This week, the Government announced their so-called antisocial behaviour policy. It has only taken 13 years. Look, I will give him some credit: the Deputy Prime Minister knows first-hand the misery caused by thugs and their intimidating behaviour, lurking with menace, exploding in fits of rage, creating a culture of fear, and maybe even—I do not know—throwing things. So I ask him: under his new antisocial behaviour policy, does he think more bullies will be brought to justice?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I can reassure the House that I have never called anyone scum. [Hon. Members: “More!”] If the right hon. Lady was serious about standing up for communities and people who suffer from the scourge of antisocial behaviour, she would back our plan to deal more swiftly with these issues, make sure we ban drugs beyond the conventional ones and give police the powers they need. If Labour really wants to protect the public, it will back our plans for parole reform to make sure that murderers, terrorists and child killers are not allowed out free to threaten other people, and reintroduce the ministerial veto that Labour took away.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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I would like to see the ministerial code introduced and adhered to on the Government Benches, because it is not just the right hon. Gentleman’s Department where antisocial behaviour is running out of control. It is happening across the country: police officers disappearing from our streets, replaced by criminals plaguing our towns and leaving people feeling unsafe. The truth is that the Conservatives are missing in action in the fight against crime. Can he tell his constituents and the public why, after 13 years of his party in government, there are now 6,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers on Britain’s streets?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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The right hon. Lady really does have a brass neck, because Labour voted against our funding of police recruitment and the 20,000 extra police officers. What I will tell her and the whole House is that crime is lower than it was under the last Labour Government, violent crime has halved and reoffending is seven percentage points lower. If she really wants to stand up for the public and the victims of crime, Labour should back our Bill to protect victims and protect the most vulnerable from serious killers, rapists and terrorists.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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No one believes that there are more police on the streets and no one feels safer. Neighbourhood policing has gone down, not up. Let us talk about crime. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that neighbourhood police can help to prevent antisocial behaviour and knife crime, but trusted local police are also crucial to protecting women. Women feel unsafe on Britain’s streets, always looking over our shoulder as we hurry to our front door. Can he tell me, under his watch as Justice Secretary, what is the charge rate for rape?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I will address all those elements and first of all say that the issue of rape and serious sexual violence against women is one of our top priorities. The right hon. Lady asks what we are doing about it. Since 2019, police referrals of cases have doubled and Crime Prosecution Service charges have doubled. She asks what has happened on my watch. The volume of convictions in rape cases has increased by two thirds. If she really wants to protect vulnerable women, whether from rapists or other serious crimes, she will back our parole reforms, which will mean Ministers are able to prevent people from being released into the public and causing more threats.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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The right hon. Gentleman says that rape conviction has gone up. What he really means is that 300 women will be raped today while he boasts about an increase of 0.5%. He has not answered my question, because he is too ashamed of the answer: 1.6% of rapists face being charged for their crime—1.6%. Let that sink in. A woman goes through the worst experience of her life. She summons up the courage to relive that horrendous experience to tell the police in detail about her assault, but she only has a 1.6% chance of action being taken. Over 98% of rapists will never see the inside of a courtroom, let alone a prison. And the rest of those brave women? They keep looking over their shoulders and hope the perpetrator does not choose tonight to take their revenge for reporting the incident to the police.

In the last 13 years of the Tory Government, more than half a million cases of rape have been recorded by the police, but the charge rate for those attacks has collapsed. He has served under five Tory Prime Ministers and had three years as Justice Minister, and on his watch rapists are left to roam the streets. Will he apologise to those victims who will never get justice because of his failures?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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First of all, the conviction rate measured by the Crown Prosecution Service—the leader of the Labour party used to be in charge of the CPS, so he might want to point this out—has gone up. It is now at 69%. We are doing much more to support victims of rape when they come forward. [Interruption.] They are talking a good game but, in fact, we have quadrupled funding for victims since 2010. If the right hon. Lady looks at the latest data, she will see that the time it has taken from charge to completion of a rape case has come down by 10 weeks, or 70%, in the last three months alone. She should get her facts straight, particularly when talking about such a sensitive issue.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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The right hon. Member will not apologise for the Government’s failure on charge rates. Sixty-nine per cent of 1.6%—is that really something to boast about?

Let me ask him about an issue that is directly his responsibility. On his watch, rape survivors are waiting on average more than three years for their cases to come to court. The right hon. Member talked about a 10-week reduction. From three years, 10 weeks is not anything to boast about—three years from the day of the assault to the final day of court. Is it any wonder that from April to September last year, 175 trials for rape and other serious sexual offences had to be dropped because the victim could no longer cope with the delay? When will he apologise to all those women denied justice because of his failure to sort the court backlog?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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The right hon. Lady ignores the impact on the court backlog of the pandemic or, indeed, the Criminal Bar Association strike. Let me tell her what we are doing. We have quadrupled funding for victims since 2010—quadrupled the funding provided by the last Labour Government. We launched the 24/7 support line, so that when those victims of that appalling crime come forward, they get the support they need. We have increased the number of independent sexual violence advisers to more than 1,000, and we are making sure that women who suffer this appalling crime can give pre-recorded evidence in court. We are doing everything that we can. As I said, the rates are coming down and we will keep taking action. If the Labour party were really serious about this, they would not have voted against longer sentences for dangerous, violent and sexual offenders in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, and she would get behind our Victims and Prisoners Bill today.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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Not a word of apology, no sense of responsibility and not even a shred of shame. The reality is that while people in Britain feel more and more unsafe, the right hon. Member seems to spend all his time trying to save his own job and none of his time on his actual job. It is not just me who thinks so—the Prime Minister clearly does not trust him to deal with antisocial behaviour, because he has given that job to the Levelling-up Secretary. The way that things are going, and if reports are to be believed, this might be his last Prime Minister’s questions, so let us look at the highlights: criminal justice on its knees; the largest court backlog on record; rape victims waiting for justice; and through it all, he managed to rack up 24 formal complaints from his own civil servants. Can he say today: will he walk before he is pushed?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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One thing never changes: the right hon. Lady always comes with her usual bluster and political opportunism. Let me tell her what I have been doing this week. We have delivered new legislation to support the victims of crime, including rape, and to protect the public. We have delivered a plan to stamp out antisocial behaviour and we have supported families with their energy bills. What has she done? What have Labour Front Benchers done? They tried to block our small boats Bill. That is the difference between them and us. We deliver for Britain; she likes to play her political games.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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Q4. It is wonderful to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Thames freeport was recently given the final go-ahead to become fully operational, creating thousands of jobs and attracting millions in inward investment. Will he join me in congratulating the team behind the bid, and encourage businesses and investors from across the south-east—indeed, across the world—to take a closer look at the fantastic opportunities in Thurrock? Will he work with local education providers to ensure that my constituents have the skills needed to take up these fantastic opportunities?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I thank my hon. Friend. I certainly do support and pay tribute to all those who have made the new Thames freeport possible, with its potential to deliver over 12,000 new jobs. I look forward to seeing the local community, and wider communities, benefit from the tax benefits and custom zones. We will see how these plans progress. Again, I think it is good news to see the communities in Basildon and Thurrock taking full advantage of the Brexit opportunities.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I call the deputy leader of the Scottish National party.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
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I also wish to send my warm regards to the family of Paul O’Grady, the legendary drag queen, for all he has done for my community.

I congratulate Humza Yousaf as he becomes First Minister of Scotland. He is the first Scots-Asian and Muslim to hold such an office, and I am sure the whole House will send him warm regards.

In recent days, video footage has emerged of the former Chancellor and the former chair of the 1922 committee offering their services for £60,000, on top of their salaries as MPs. The former Health Secretary offered his wisdom for £10,000 a day. When the Deputy Prime Minister is inevitably booted out of office, what will his going rate be?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I welcome the hon. Lady to the Chamber. The system of declarations is there to ensure transparency and accountability. Of course, the Conservatives backed tightening up those rules to make sure there could not be any lobbying.

I also join the hon. Lady in her tribute to the new First Minister of Scotland. The Prime Minister spoke to him last night and we welcome him to his place. The Government want to work constructively with him in the best interests of the people of Scotland.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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During a cost of living crisis, as the Deputy Prime Minister’s colleagues eye up barrels of cash from fake companies, it is the people across these isles who have been led by donkeys—and they are sitting on those Government Benches. The former Health Secretary also said that he would impart his wisdom for £1,500 an hour. Most nurses earn little above £15 an hour. Who does the Deputy Prime Minister think is best value for money and for the public?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I am delighted that the majority of the health unions have accepted the pay settlement. We think that is absolutely right.

The hon. Lady raises this issue, and of course we have worked on a cross-party basis to curb the limits on second earnings. I notice that those on the Labour Benches are curiously quiet. Is that because there are 10 shadow Cabinet members who are taking additional earnings? In particular, the shadow Foreign Secretary looks like he certainly does not want to be under the limelight—he has second earnings from 40 different sources, so I do not think they can talk about it. In response to the hon. Lady’s question, we have done everything we can to make sure there is transparency and accountability.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton  (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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Q6.   It is very good to see you back in this place, Madam Deputy Speaker.It has been announced that Stoke-on-Trent will be one of the levelling-up partnerships, on top of the investment we have already received through programmes such as the levelling-up fund. That has been delivered thanks to Conservatives working together in Government and on the city council, led by the formidable Councillor Abi Brown. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if people want to continue to see the levelling up of opportunities in Stoke-on-Trent, they should vote Conservative in the local elections in May?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. After years of neglect under Labour, it is now the Conservatives—thanks in no small part to my hon. Friend—who have been levelling up in Stoke-on-Trent, with £11 million from the shared prosperity fund, £12 million from the levelling-up fund and £4 million from the regional growth fund, supporting over 500 jobs, along with £28 million of private investment. That is the difference for the people of Stoke under a Conservative Government.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
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Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told us that the Security Service, MI5, had increased the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland to “severe”. Responsibility for dealing with terrorism and national security rests with the Government of the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland. Will the Deputy Prime Minister assure me and the people of Northern Ireland that the Government will provide the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Security Service with the resources that they need to counter this serious terrorist threat?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course the threat level is kept under constant review and we take into account a range of factors—he will be very familiar with them. It is disappointing that the threat level has gone up, but I think it is worth saying that it has been in significant decline, in terms of the number of Northern Ireland-related terrorist attacks and attempted attacks, since the peak of the violence in 2009 and 2010. None the less, we will of course make sure that all the resource is available to the PSNI. The public are reminded to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour or activity.

James Grundy Portrait James Grundy (Leigh) (Con)
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Q7.   My recent local survey as to whether Leigh should break away from Wigan Council shows, I am very pleased to say, that so far 90% are in favour, with only 3% opposed—[Interruption.] Please: before calling for a second referendum, let me finish the question. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this, the 50th year of our campaign for our town’s independence, is the year to get Lexit done?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend campaigns with typical gusto. I think he knows that changing the boundaries at local authority level is subject to an independent process, but I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the Minister for Local Government so that he can further discuss the aspirations for Leigh.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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Q2. Despite Royal Mail posting record profits, management are threatening to put it into administration. What conversations are the Government having with Royal Mail? What are they doing to protect the universal postal service?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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It is an incredibly difficult time, and I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Obviously the pandemic has had a particular impact, but we are working very closely to make sure that we can continue the service. I will make sure that she gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss her concerns further.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood  (Dewsbury) (Con)
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Q8.   On behalf of the people of Dewsbury, I would like to pay tribute to Dewsbury’s greatest daughter, Betty Boothroyd. She will be sorely missed.This week, I visited Ravenshall School in Dewsbury and Hollybank School in Mirfield, which both do amazing work teaching children with special educational needs and disabilities. However, there is a disparity in SEND standards in mainstream schools in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the teachers and staff at Ravenshall and Hollybank for everything they do? Will he outline how we can ensure that all our children are given the best chance in life, regardless of which school they go to?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I pay tribute to the teachers and staff at both schools, Ravenshall and Hollybank, for the amazing work they do. It is a very difficult and challenging job and it is incredibly important for the life chances of the children affected. My hon. Friend will know that in March we published the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan, with new national standards. That is backed up by increased specialist provision locally, with £2.6 billion going into it. That includes opening 33 new special schools, with a further 49 in the pipeline.

Douglas Chapman Portrait Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP)
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Q3. Although the Prime Minister is absent, I hope he later gets the chance to watch the BBC’s dramatisation of the Brink’s-Mat robbery in the 1980s, when the police team assigned to recover the stolen gold got back only half. That sum pales into insignificance compared with the measly 1% recovered from the £1 billion in business grants lost to fraud under the Prime Minister’s watch as Chancellor. The fingerprints show that this massive fraud now lies at No. 10 Downing Street. To quote the Government’s former fraud Minister, Lord Agnew of Oulton, when will this Government “get their acts together” and step up the recovery efforts on behalf of the taxpayer?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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Tackling fraud has become more complex because of the online incidence, but the hon. Gentleman will have noted the massive increase in funding for tackling it in the recent Budget, and we are confident that will give us the resources we need to deal with this often invisible but very damaging crime.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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Q10. As the Deputy Prime Minister will know, stroke is the greatest cause of adult disability in the country and costs our economy some £26 billion a year, let alone destroying lives. Last year I met Dr John Stephens, who was unable even to sit up unaided after a stroke but who, following an emergency thrombectomy, is now back at work as an NHS GP. Sadly, however, only 30% of eligible patients actually have this surgery. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that we need greatly to increase the roll-out of thrombectomies, and will he join me, in the run-up to World Thrombectomy Day next month, in visiting a thrombectomy centre to see at first hand the difference that the procedure can make to lives, returning people to meaningful and productive work and enjoyment?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend has been a dedicated champion for stroke survivors. I know from my own constituency how debilitating strokes can be, and also the impact that they can have on the wider family. NHS England is committed to increasing the delivery of mechanical thrombectomies through, for instance, the expansion of local services and local capital investment. I am sure that we can arrange for a Health Minister to join my hon. Friend on the visit he has requested.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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Q5. In a shocking article in Surrey Live last year, it was reported that staff at a GP practice in Walton were left in tears and “crumbling under pressure” owing to the increased workload caused by staff shortages. Is that any wonder, when there are 850 fewer GPs in the country than there were in 2019? What does the Deputy Prime Minister say to patients left in pain and staff left in tears—including some in his own constituency—as a result of the Government’s failed promise to recruit more GPs?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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Any abuse against any GP in any practice anywhere in the country is absolutely wrong, and we must demonstrate zero tolerance of it. I can tell the hon. Lady that there has been a large increase in the number of GP appointments, with 29 million since the start of the year. We are improving access to general practice, with more support staff, and also improving the technology, with more state-of-the-art telephone systems. A record number of GPs are being trained, and we are investing £1.5 billion to create 50 million more appointments a year by 2024.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. If we go a bit faster, we will get everybody in.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
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Q11.   Since 2019, this Government have provided well over £300 million in extra funding for projects in Blackpool. However, there is always room for more. The Bond Street and Revoe areas in my constituency are among the most deprived in the country, and have been long forgotten by the Labour-led council. The Government have already provided £600,000 in funding for a feasibility project, with a view to delivering a £30 million regeneration package for those areas. Will they look closely at the business case to see how this transformational project can be delivered to the local communities?

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Order. Before the Deputy Prime Minister answers that question, will everyone else with a prepared question cut it in half? Just ask the question.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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There is no more tenacious a campaigner for Blackpool than my hon. Friend. I saw that at first hand when I visited his constituency with him. I am pleased that we delivered, with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the £40 million of funding to relocate the magistrates court and allow the county court complex to be moved, and I know that the Secretary of State will want to work with my hon. Friend on regeneration aspirations for the future.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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Q9. A little girl in my constituency, only nine years old, developed a bacterial infection just before Christmas. Thereafter, very distressing symptoms occurred, such as obsessive compulsive disorder and intrusive thoughts. She has not washed, dressed or properly eaten since Christmas. We believe this to be PANS and PANDA—paediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome and paediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcus. Although health is devolved and I am seeking support for her, part of the reason for the lottery and the antipsychotic medication that is often given for this condition—despite the fact that broad-based antibiotics have been proven to work—is that no part of the UK has implemented the World Health Organisation’s ICD 11. Will the Government commit to looking at this, so that other children across the UK do not need to suffer in such a way?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I thank the hon. Lady for raising what seems like an awful case. My heart goes out to the family involved. If she would like to write to me about it, I will make sure that she gets a full answer and a meeting with a Minister if that is required.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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Q12. Georgia Harrison is an incredibly brave young woman who only got justice when she was a victim of revenge porn because she could prove that the perpetrator intended to cause her distress. Most victims cannot prove that, and perpetrators are using platforms to use revenge porn for financial gain. That is not covered in the legislation. Will my right hon. Friend commit to looking at the case studies Georgia has compiled and to reviewing the legislation to strengthen it and make it more effective?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I thank my right hon. Friend for all that she has done in this area. There have been a considerable number of changes to the Online Safety Bill, not least because of her forensic attention to detail. They will include the creation of a new base offence of sharing intimate images without consent that does not require proof of an intention to cause distress. The Government also support the revenge porn helpline, which offers free and confidential advice. If there are any further changes that she thinks need to be made, I would be happy to look at them with her.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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I do not know whether the Deputy Prime Minister ever met Lily Savage or whether he has ever spent a night out at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. I can take him sometime if he wants to go—[Interruption.] I think that was a yes, actually. Lily was performing there at the height of the AIDS crisis in 1987 when police officers raided the pub and arrested her, among others. They were wearing rubber gloves because, supposedly, they were protecting themselves from contracting HIV by touching gay men. Lily, amazingly, said at the time, “Oh, lads, you’ve come to do the washing up! That’s great!” Her alter ego, Paul O’Grady, campaigned acerbically and hilariously for elderly people and care workers and against oppression of every kind. Is it not time that we in this country celebrated our naughty, hilarious drag queens and comics of every kind who inspire us to be a better and more generous nation?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I totally agree with him. Paul Grayson was an incredible comic, but he also—[Hon. Members: “Paul O’Grady!”] Yes, Paul O’Grady. In terms of Lily Savage, some of that comedy broke glass ceilings and boundaries in a way that politicians would struggle to do, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. I also think it shows how we need greater, more rambunctious free speech and how we need to avoid the wokery and the limitations on comedy, which, I am afraid, both of them would have had no time for.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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Q13. I would like to associate myself with the words of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant). Paul O’Grady was a great champion of animal welfare as well. The biggest cause of death for children under the age of 14 in this country is cancer, and I have been calling for a childhood cancer mission to radically change how we detect, treat and care for children with cancer, covering everything from genome science for detection right the way through to seven-day-a-week play facilities in children’s wards. The Health Secretary has been brilliant—he has met me and been really positive about this—but will the Deputy Prime Minister restate the Government’s support for a childhood cancer mission?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I certainly will. The suffering that any child must go through when they get a condition such as cancer at such an early age is difficult to believe, and the pressure on the families is incredible. I thank my hon. Friend for her work on this. The Department of Health and Social Care will publish a major conditions strategy to look at improving outcomes and experiences for all cancer patients, including children in particular. I cannot pre-empt that, but I know that it will draw on previous work, including submissions from the various childhood cancer charities, and I pay tribute to the work that they do.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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My six-year-old constituent Daniel has cerebral palsy and mitochondrial disease. He has received palliative care from the Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, which was forced to close temporarily last year due to staffing pressures. It also has ongoing concerns about rising bills. Will the Deputy Prime Minister reassure Daniel’s family that he will receive the palliative care he requires, as and when he needs it?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important case. I do not know all the facts, but if she writes to me I would be happy to look at it. We will make sure that the resourcing and the care are there. As I say, if she writes to me, I am sure we can arrange for a meeting with the relevant Minister.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
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Q14. The inclusion of the west midlands as a hotspot trailblazer police force area in the antisocial behaviour action plan is really good news. Will my right hon. Friend outline how communities on the periphery of the west midlands, such as those in my constituency, will see and feel the positive difference this will bring, so that we do not simply see the Labour police and crime commissioner redirecting our valuable resources into other parts of the west midlands?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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My right hon. Friend raises an important point. The antisocial behaviour action plan will help us to crack down on antisocial behaviour and to make sure that those who are responsible for antisocial behaviour undertake repairs within 48 hours by, for example, cleaning up litter and graffiti. I am delighted that the west midlands enhanced hotspot will get additional funding. She is right that it is for PCCs to determine the precise allocation of funding, but I am sure she will make representations in her usual powerful way.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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After announcing her retirement, North Tyneside-born Sarah Hunter MBE played her final game of rugby at the opening women’s Six Nations match at Kingston Park last Saturday. Sarah is the most capped international rugby player in the world, a true professional, a great ambassador for her sport and an inspiration to many. Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me, the whole of North Tyneside and this House in thanking Sarah for all she has achieved for the country and for her beloved sport of rugby?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I pay tribute to Sarah’s trailblazing record. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch the England female rugby team, and I was blown away. We look forward to Sarah and England going on to bigger and better things.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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Q15. Will the Government require that East West Rail publishes a full business case before the allocation of any more taxpayers’ money to the project?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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This is a hugely important project with all sorts of opportunities, such as jobs and education, and with a projected increase in economic output of over £100 billion by 2050. My hon. Friend is right that the project needs transparency and scrutiny, and the first stage is already under construction on time and under budget. I am told that the subsequent stages will go through full and transparent scrutiny as part of the planning process.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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The Prime Minister has previously said on camera that he does not have any working-class friends. When the Prime Minister is not taking luxury helicopter rides and splashing about in his private pool, will the Deputy Prime Minister recommend that he befriends somebody from the working class?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I am not sure I got the full extent of the question. The reality, as the hon. Gentleman can see with the energy price guarantee, the free childcare and the national living wage, is that we are supporting everyone in this country, particularly those in the lowest paid jobs.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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This week, Rutlander Andrew Osborne solo-sailed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean, taking 78 days and raising £142,000 for Cardiac Risk in the Young, after his daughter Amy died in her sleep aged 25, being discovered by her sister the next morning. Twelve young people a week die of an undiagnosed heart condition. What are we doing to increase the diagnosis of heart conditions in children and young people?

Dominic Raab Portrait The Deputy Prime Minister
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this question. Our heartfelt condolences go to Amy’s family. Likewise, our congratulations go to Andrew on his incredible feat. We all want to see an end to 12 young people a week dying of undiagnosed heart conditions. There is more resource and research going in, and I will arrange for a meeting between my hon. Friend and the relevant Minister.

Illegal Migration Update

Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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12:39
Robert Jenrick Portrait The Minister for Immigration (Robert Jenrick)
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With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on illegal migration.

Three months ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out a comprehensive plan to tackle illegal migration. We said we would act, and we have. We have increased immigration enforcement visits to their highest levels in recent years: since December, more than 3,500 enforcement visits have been carried out and more than 4,000 people with no right to be here have been removed. Anglo-French co-operation is now closer than ever before and will be deepened because of the deal struck by the Prime Minister earlier this month. We have expanded our partnership with Rwanda to include the relocation of all those who pass through safe countries to make illegal and dangerous journeys to the United Kingdom. Our modern slavery reforms, introduced in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 to prevent those who seek to abuse our generosity from doing so, are bearing fruit. We are tackling the backlog in our asylum system by cutting unnecessary paperwork and simplifying country guidance. As a result, productivity has increased and we are on track to process the backlog of initial asylum decisions by the end of this year.

We must ensure that our laws enable us to deal with the global migration crisis, which is why we have brought forward the Illegal Migration Bill. The Bill goes further than any previous immigration legislation to fix the problem of small boats, while remaining within the boundaries of our treaty obligations. Of course, as we reform the asylum system, we will continue to honour our country-specific and global safe and legal commitments.

But we cannot and will not stop here, because illegal migration continues to impact the British public in their day-to-day lives. The sheer number of small boat arrivals has overwhelmed our asylum system and forced the Government to place asylum seekers in hotels. These hotels take valuable assets away from communities and place pressures on local public services. Seaside towns have lost tourist trade, weddings have been cancelled and local councils have had their resources diverted to manage them. The hard-working British taxpayer has been left to foot the eye-watering £2.3 billion a year bill. We must not elevate the wellbeing of illegal migrants above that of the British people; it is in their interests that we are sent here.

The enduring solution to stop the boats is to take the actions outlined in our Bill, but in the meantime it is right that we act to correct the injustice of the current situation. I have heard time and again of councils up and down the country struggling to accommodate arrivals. This is no easy task; the Government recognise that placing asylum seekers into local areas comes at a cost, and so central Government will provide further financial support. Today, we are announcing a new funding package, which includes generous additional per-bed payments and continuation of the funding for every new dispersal bed available. We will also pilot an additional incentive payment where properties are made available faster.

However, faced with the scale of the challenge, we must fundamentally alter our posture towards those who enter our country illegally. This Government remain committed to meeting our legal obligations to those who would otherwise be destitute, but we are not prepared to go further. Accommodation for migrants should meet their essential living needs and nothing more, because we cannot risk becoming a magnet for the millions of people who are displaced and seeking better economic prospects. Many of our European partners are struggling with the same issue: Belgium, Ireland, Germany and France are having to take similar steps, and the UK must adapt to this changing context.

I have said before that we have to suffuse our entire system with deterrence, and this must include how we house illegal migrants. So today the Government are announcing the first tranche of sites we will set up to provide basic accommodation at scale. The Government will use military sites being disposed of in Essex and Lincolnshire and a separate site in East Sussex. These will be scaled up over the coming months and will collectively provide accommodation to several thousand asylum seekers through repurposed barrack blocks and portakabins. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is showing leadership on this issue by bringing forward proposals to provide accommodation at the Catterick garrison barracks in his constituency. We also continue to explore the possibility of accommodating migrants in vessels, as they are in Scotland and in the Netherlands.

I want to be clear: these sites on their own will not end the use of hotels overnight. But alongside local dispersal and other forms of accommodation, which we will bring forward in due course, they will relieve pressure on our communities, and manage asylum seekers in a more appropriate and cost-effective way. Of course, we recognise the concerns of local residents and we are acutely aware of the need to minimise the impact of these sites on communities. Basic healthcare will be available, around-the-clock security will be provided on site and our providers will work closely with local police and other partners. Funding will be provided to local authorities in which these sites are located.

These sites are undoubtedly in the national interest. We have to deliver them if we are to stop the use of hotels. We have to deliver them to save the British public from spending eye-watering amounts on accommodating illegal migrants. And we have to deliver them to prevent a pull factor for economic migrants on the continent from taking hold. Inaction is not an option. The British people rightly want us to tackle illegal migration. As I have set out today, we are doing exactly that and I commend this statement to the House.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

12:46
Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
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Today’s statement is an admission of failure—perhaps that is why the Home Secretary has asked the Immigration Minister to make it instead. Four years ago, the Cabinet said that they would halve channel crossings; they have gone up twentyfold since then. A year ago, they said they would end hotel use; they have opened more than ever. They keep making new announcements, but it just keeps getting worse. People want to see strong border security, and properly managed asylum and refugee systems, so that the UK does its bit to help those fleeing persecution and conflict, alongside other countries, but we have got neither of those at the moment.

There is no point in the Government blaming everyone else, because they are in charge. The asylum system is broken because they broke it; they have let criminal gangs rip along the channel; people smuggler convictions have halved in the past four years, even though more boats and more gangs have been crossing—and yet Tory MPs yesterday voted against Labour’s plan for cross-border police units to go after the gangs; and they have let asylum decision making collapse—we have had a big increase in staff, but 40% fewer cases being decided. So they have failed to take basic decisions and they are still not doing Labour’s plan to fast-track last year’s arrivals from Albania and other safe countries.

As for today’s announcements, we need to end costly and inappropriate hotel use, but these plans do not do that. The Minister has had to admit that, contrary to all the briefing in the papers this morning, they will not end hotel use—instead, these sites are additional. Ministers should have been finding cheaper sites and properly managing costs years ago.

Today’s damning report from the Government’s own independent watchdog, which strangely the Minister did not mention today, says that there has been no cost control; that the Home Office contracts are highly inefficient; that there is no cross-Government transparency and oversight; and that officials did not have financial information on the contracts they were signing and did not compare costs. Most ludicrously of all, it says that

“different parts of the Home Office operating different schemes…at times, found themselves competing for the same hotel contracts, driving prices up.”

This is totally chaotic.

Basically, the Government have written a whole load of cheques in a panic. If they had put that money into clearing the backlog instead, we would not be in this mess now. They should have been working with councils to do that, but they did not. Yesterday, Tory MPs again voted against Labour’s plans for a legal requirement for councils to be consulted. Instead, the Minister has Conservative councils, backed by Conservative MPs, taking action against him. So can he confirm that the Foreign Secretary is backing legal action against the Home Secretary? Frankly, that is a first, even for this chaotic Government.

The Bill makes things worse. There are no returns agreements with France or Europe. The Prime Minister has just said that the Home Secretary was wrong: the Rwanda flights will not start this summer. The Government have nowhere to send people to and, instead of speeding up asylum decisions, they are just going to cancel them, which means more people in asylum accommodation and hotels and more flimflam headlines that just do not stack up. Today, it was barges and it turns out that there are not any. Desperate to distract everyone from the damage that they might want to do to the Dambusters heritage, they instead start talking about ferries and barges. Three years ago, they said the same thing. Last summer, the Prime Minister said that it would be cruise liners. The Home Office civil servant said that ferries would end up costing more than the hotels on which they are already spending so much money. So, instead, the Immigration Minister has been sent around the country with a copy of “Waterways Weekly”, trying to find barges, and he still has not found any.

Can the Minister tell us: are these sites going to be additional and not instead of hotel use? Will he still be using more hotels, or fewer for asylum seekers in six months’ time? On the 45,000 boat arrivals last year, can he confirm that more than 90% of decisions have not been taken because the backlog is still the Government’s failure?

Will the Minister apologise for the Government’s failure on cost control? They failed to support Labour’s plan to go after the gangs, to get a new agreement with France and to fast-track decisions and returns. They are flailing around in a panic, chasing headlines—barges, oil rigs, Rwanda flights, even wave machines—instead of doing the hard graft. They have lost control of our border security, lost control of the asylum system, lost control of their budget and lost control of themselves. Will he answer my questions and will he get a grip?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Is it not abundantly clear that Labour does not have the faintest clue how to tackle this issue? It has absolutely no plan. What we have laid out today is three months of intense work, which is seeing the backlog coming down; productivity rising; more sustainable forms of accommodation; a harder approach to make it difficult to live and work in the UK illegally; illegal working raids and visits rising by 50%; and greater control over the channel—all improvements as a result of the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary set out.

The right hon. Lady looks back to a mythical time when Labour was last in office— when the Home Office, according to their own Home Secretary, was deemed to be not fit for purpose. Labour calls for more safe and legal routes, even though we are second only to Sweden in Europe for resettlement schemes. It calls for more money for law enforcement, even though we have doubled the funding of the National Crime Agency, and our people are out there upstream tackling organised immigration criminals every day of the week.

Is it not extraordinary that the Home Secretary—[Interruption]the shadow Home Secretary cannot bring herself to condemn those illegal immigrants who are breaking into our country in flagrant breach of our laws? That is weak. The truth is that the Labour party is too weak to take the kind of tough decisions that we are taking today. In its weakness, it would make the United Kingdom a magnet: there would be open doors, an open cheque book and open season for abuse. The British public know that the Conservative party understands their legitimate concerns. We do not sneer at people for wanting basic border controls. We are taking the tough decisions. We will stop the boats. We will secure the borders.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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Although the Minister did not mention RAF Scampton by name, we assume that that is the base in Lincolnshire to which he is referring. I can inform him that the moment that this is confirmed, the local authority of West Lindsey will issue an immediate judicial review and injunction against this thoroughly bad decision, which is based not on good governance, but on the politics of trying to do something. How can he guarantee that we will not lose £300 million-worth of regeneration, already agreed and signed, between West Lindsey and Scampton Holdings? How will he preserve the listed buildings and the heritage centre? How will he preserve the heritage of the Dambusters and of the Red Arrows? How can he guarantee that there is no contamination from the fuel bay of the Red Arrows? How will he protect the safety of 1,000 people living right next door to 1,500 migrants and a primary school? He cannot guarantee anything. Will he work with West Lindsey and Lincolnshire now to try to find an alternative site? We are prepared to do it, but we do not want to lose £300 million of regeneration. Lincolnshire will fight and Lincolnshire will be proved right.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I can only pay tribute to my right hon. Friend—my friend and constituency neighbour. He is representing his constituents forcefully, in the way that he has always done in this place, and he is absolutely right to do so. I can say to him that, while this policy is, without question, in the national interest, we understand the impact and concern that there will be within local communities. All parts of Government want to work closely with him and his local authorities to mitigate the issues that will arise as a result of this site. There will be a significant package of support for his constituents. There will be specific protections for the unique heritage on the site. We do not intend to make any use of the historic buildings. In our temporary use of the site, we intend to ensure that those heritage assets are enhanced and preserved. We see this as a short-term arrangement. We would like to enter into an agreement, as he knows, with West Lindsey District Council, so that it can take possession of the site at a later date, and its regeneration plans, which are extremely important for Lincolnshire and the east midlands more generally, can be realised in due course.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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Well, Britain has historical form on the use of internment camps and it is despicable that this Government are intent on bringing them back in 2023. The Minister’s pathetic attempt to draw comparisons with the use of cruise ships to accommodate Ukrainians is as offensive as it is misleading. In fact, yesterday, the Ukrainian Speaker, Ruslan Stefanchuk, thanked Scotland for saving the lives of his fellow citizens.

Scotland is standing down that emergency humanitarian response. Glasgow has closed it and Edinburgh has an end date in sight. Furthermore, the Scottish Government provided wraparound support for those cruise ships, with local government, NHS, schools and community integration. The Minister’s plan is a prison ship designed as a deterrent.

Alex Wickham from Bloomberg reports that the Home Office rejected a similar plan last year as it would be even more expensive than the eye-wateringly expensive hotels plan, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds per hour. What has changed since that advice last year?

Private providers are making a fortune out of this. The Minister is now spending, scandalously, one third of the UK’s international aid budget on domestic asylum costs, so what impact has this raid on crucial aid had on the push factors bringing people to these shores? When this idea was previously proposed last year, Ministers were advised that security would be a nightmare, the project would be expensive and it would amount to arbitrary detention—a breach of the UN refugee convention. What has changed since that advice was given last year? Does he understand that housing unaccompanied minors or traumatised people who have fled a warzone in military-style accommodation, considered unfit for the Ministry of Defence, would be gravely inappropriate, and will he give assurances that such individuals would be exempt from such measures?

The real problem is the backlog—we all know that—and the Home Office’s inability to tackle it. The Minister knows that I have constituents waiting six months, 10 months, 14 months, 18 months, 20 months and more for a decision from the Home Office. When will he stop wasting money on headlines and instead tackle the real crisis and fix the backlog?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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On the hon. Lady’s question regarding the use of overseas development aid to pay for the accommodation of asylum seekers here in the UK, we entirely agree. It is a gross waste of taxpayers’ money and we want to see that money being put to better usage. That is exactly why we need to stop the boats—so that the finite resources of the United Kingdom can be applied to resettlement schemes where we bring people from places of grave danger such as conflict zones directly; or we use our resources to support people in some of the most hard-pressed places in the world. That is obviously the best and most moral way forward, rather than having open borders for predominantly young men who are in a place of safety in France.

As I said in my statement, we do see merits in using vessels. They have been used successfully in Scotland. It is surprising that the SNP seeks to denigrate one of its own policies, since it does not have very many successful policies—and particularly when it comes to ferries, let us be honest, the SNP is on shaky ground.

With respect to families, we do not intend to put minors or families on these sites, but they are the right way forward for single adult males. We are making significant progress on the backlog—[Interruption.] We are, actually; we know the hon. Lady does not like to deal in facts, but I can give her our internal figures, unpublished as yet, which show that over 11,000 cases in the backlog have been processed in the last three months as a result of the new processes we have put in place.

The broader point with SNP Members, as we all know, is that they have become humanitarian nimbys. The hon. Lady takes a kind of St Augustine approach: “Lord, let us welcome refugees, but not in our constituencies.” She would have more credibility if she stood up and welcomed refugees and matched her fine words with good deeds.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
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You’re blasphemous, you are.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. Now, now. We will just calm down before we go any further, thank you. I expect better from Members.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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If I may respectfully make a few points to my right hon. Friend the Minister, we need to tackle this entire debate and discussion with a degree of maturity, because it is a difficult and sensitive subject. The points I would like to make refer to previous policy, the new plan for immigration and Greek-style reception centres. Had we had those in place, as I think he would recognise, we would not be in this situation.

I am an Essex MP and the other MP for the Braintree district. Wethersfield is not in my constituency—in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—but it is no different in rurality and village size from a former site, Linton-on-Ouse, which is not in Essex and which was cancelled by the current Government. Why is it deemed appropriate for asylum seeker accommodation for single men to be placed in a rural village in Essex, where there is no infrastructure and no amenities, when it was not appropriate for somewhere like Linton-on-Ouse?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who began this good work with her new plan for immigration—an incredibly important step forward. Among other points, it recognised that it is critical that, when individuals cross the channel illegally, they are moved either to detained accommodation, which we want to bring forward as a result of our Illegal Migration Bill, or, in the absence of that, to specific sites where they can be housed appropriately, where their cases can be processed swiftly and where they have minimal impact on the broader society.

I know my right hon. Friend pursued a very similar prospect in north Yorkshire, and she will have sympathy with the work we have done in recent months to take forward these proposals. We do not have a current plan to proceed with the Linton-on-Ouse proposition, but the sites I have announced today are just the first set that we would like to take forward, because we want to remove people from hotels as quickly as possible and move to this more rudimentary form of accommodation, which will reduce pull factors to the UK and defend the interests of the taxpayer.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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I think the House should be more generous to the Minister and acknowledge the true genius of this announcement. Only this Home Office team could think that the answer to the problem of growing numbers of people in small boats was to bring them all together and put them into one big boat. Armando Iannucci himself could not improve on that. But if the Minister is confident in his projections about what is going to happen to the backlog of asylum applications, why is the extra capacity going to be necessary?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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To answer the second point first, we want to see anyone crossing the channel moved into this rudimentary accommodation immediately. That is why it is critical that we build national capacity so that we can clear the hotels, consign that policy to the history books and put people into larger sites. That is why we need them. I have affection for the right hon. Gentleman, but he is being naive in this regard. I speak every day, as does the Home Secretary, to our northern European counterparts in Ireland, Belgium, Denmark and France, all of whom are pursuing options such as this, because there is a European migration crisis. We have to ensure that the UK is not a magnet for individuals who are either economic migrants or essentially asylum shoppers. I will not allow the UK to be a soft touch.

Conor Burns Portrait Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con)
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The Government’s determination to accelerate the processing of claims is to be welcomed. My right hon. Friend would agree that it is unacceptable, wrong and immoral that people have their lives put on hold, unable to make a new future for themselves or to be returned to their countries of origin. We have a number of hotels in my Bournemouth West constituency full of such people, who are constantly in touch with my hard-working casework team and want their cases resolved. So too do those involved in the hospitality and leisure sector in Bournemouth, on which our economy depends, and local residents who want to see those hotels brought back into the purpose of serving that thriving sector. Can he assure me that the proposals he is announcing will bring into sight the day when those hotels will be returned to that purpose?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My right hon. Friend raises exactly the concerns that have motivated us to bring forward these proposals. We want to make sure that the interest of his constituency and his constituents are put above those of illegal immigrants coming into our country. This is the necessary first step to build national capacity in these new forms of accommodation, so that we can begin to close the hotels and move forwards.

George Howarth Portrait Sir George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab)
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the discussions he held recently with the leader and chief executive of Knowsley Council and me to discuss the problem we have with a hotel in my constituency. He is aware that, in my view, the use of hotels is not fair on the taxpayer or on local communities, nor is it suitable for the refugees themselves. Will he, though, give me some indication of what criteria will be used to determine which hotels close and in what sequence?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The conversations I had with the right hon. Gentleman and his local authority leaders informed the decisions we have taken, because it was clear from his constituency that that hotel was inflaming community tensions, that many people thought it was wrong that illegal migrants were being housed in a much-regarded facility, a hotel used for weddings and social events, and that we need to bring that to a close. When we have the capacity to begin closing hotels at pace, we will look at that through a number of lenses. Obviously we will close the most egregious cases first, where the cost to local communities is highest, as well as those in locations that were clearly unsuitable to begin with, such as seaside towns and so on, and those where the contracts are coming to an end and we would not want to renew them for value for money purposes.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)
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Land-based reception camps in the right place have to be the solution. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we look at what has happened in hotel so far with illegal migrants, we have had issues with local residents, disappearing children, sexual assaults and so on, and that putting these people on boats or barges, where the problem will be exacerbated tenfold, is totally and utterly out of the question?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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There are no easy answers; these are among the most difficult decisions in government. Placing asylum seekers on well-run large sites and providing specific facilities, with minimal impact on local communities, is the right approach. Taking hotels on a relatively ad hoc fashion, in town centres and on high streets, is not the right way forward. In respect of vessels such as barges or ferries, I do see merit in that approach, which has been pursued in Scotland and, in particular, in the Netherlands, which is using them effectively. That approach provides good value for money and decent accommodation.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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The Big Help Out app encourages people to volunteer for a good cause over the coronation weekend, and a number of opportunities listed on it are with organisations that help refugees and asylum seekers, including the British Red Cross. Does the Minister agree that it is appropriate that people spend the coronation weekend supporting the people who he says have broken into this country?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The hon. Gentleman and I may disagree on the fundamental point here, but I believe in borders, in national security and in national sovereignty, and those people who choose to enter our country in flagrant abuse of our laws, and who, in many cases, throw their documents into the channel, are breaking the law, and it is right that we take action against them and, where possible, remove them from our country.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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May I welcome you back to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker? It has been a while.

Does the Minister agree that while the Government accelerate assessment, enforcement and removal, it is quite right that we look at suitable and sustainable accommodation for illegal immigrants? Does he also agree, then, that if armed forces bases are suitable for our brave, they are certainly suitable for illegal immigrants?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a peculiarity in that those on the left of politics seem to be happy to house our brave armed forces personnel on those sites but not to see illegal immigrants temporarily housed there while we process their claims. Of course, we will always be motivated by decency and legality. Those sites will be well run and appropriate, but we must not allow a further pull factor to the UK to emerge.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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The right hon. Gentleman told the House a little earlier that the three sites, which we presume are RAF Scampton, RAF Wethersfield and a site in East Sussex—perhaps he would care to name it—will

“provide accommodation for several thousand asylum seekers”.

Can he tell the House how many thousands, and in doing so, can he remind us of the total number of people who are being placed in hotels currently?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The number of individuals who will be housed on the sites will step up. Obviously, we want to ensure that the sites are well managed, so initially there will be smaller numbers, but within a very short time, there will be several thousand on those sites.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I am not going to give those details to the right hon. Gentleman now, because it is right that we engage with the local authorities and that they be the first to know the full details of our plans, but there will be a very significant addition to our capacity. The point he is making is that, in addition to that, there is a very large number of people currently accommodated in hotels, but this is the first step—the first step on the road to clearing those hotels and moving forward.

I would just make one further point: it is abundantly clear to me, having spent four months in this role now, that there is no way in which I or the British Government can build our way out of this issue. There are tens of thousands of people entering our country in an irregular manner every year. Of course, we have to get our own processes and management processes in place, but we have to stop people coming here in the first place. That is why we are bringing forward the Bill.

Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con)
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I welcome today’s update and commend my right hon. Friend the Minister for his efforts in getting us to this stage. Further to the repeated assurances that I have received from him and the Prime Minister, will the Minister now commit to publishing a clear timetable—in weeks, not months—for the closure of the two migrant hotels that are within touching distance of each other in Erewash, and will he guarantee that that will be the end of their use for such purposes?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I know that my hon. Friend has been tenacious in campaigning on behalf of her constituents, who, as I said more broadly in my statement, are extremely concerned about the impact that those hotels are having and about a loss of amenity, including business, tourism and social events. It is for that reason that we are taking this difficult but correct decision to produce these sites, and I hope that we will start to see the use of hotels come to close in the months ahead. I would be delighted to work with her as we do that.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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The British taxpayer is shelling out more than £6 million a day to house migrants, but asylum decisions have collapsed by 40% since 2015. That is what is to blame for the chaos with hotels. Furthermore, a damning watchdog report found that the Home Office did not have the financial information even to test whether those contracts were value for money, and did not even follow the correct procedure as was laid out. After 13 years, is there anything that this Government can manage to do properly?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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We all know what state the last Labour Government left the Home Office in. We have only to refer, as I did the other day, to the report of John Vine—the inspector at the time—which painted a picture of complete chaos and dysfunction at the Home Office when the Labour party was last in power.

It is important that we get the backlog down. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can see from what I have said that I have put in place a robust plan and that we have a high degree of confidence that we will succeed in getting the backlog down over the course of this year. But the real issue is the number of people crossing the channel; the people smugglers, the human traffickers. Clearing the backlog and processing people’s claims even faster will not stop the boats—that is a fantasy. Stopping the boats requires tougher measures than that, such as those set out in the Illegal Migration Bill.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
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Are there any circumstances in which my right hon. Friend would envisage children being placed in any of the sites that he has announced? To ensure that they can be moved as swiftly as possible into local authority care, may I encourage him to use the welcome additional funding that has been announced for local councils to cope with accommodation, so that they have an incentive to ensure that accommodation is available to children as a priority?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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It is not my intention to house minors on those sites. It is right that we ensure that minors and families are properly supported. Those sites will be used for single adult males, and will act as a serious deterrent to those people coming to this country.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
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These proposals are highly reminiscent of the internment camps for refugees in the BBC series “Years and Years”, which was on during lockdown. In case you did not see it, Madam Deputy Speaker, it was really about the decline of modern Britain and ended with the election of a fascist populist Prime Minister.

Ukrainian refugees in Scotland have been temporarily accommodated in high-quality former ferry accommodation at Leith docks, which are adjacent to my constituency. I have visited that temporary accommodation and suggest that if the Minister were to visit, he would see that it is extremely different from the industrial barges that he is proposing. Does he appreciate that if the UK Government dump refugees from other countries into the sort of poor-quality accommodation that he is describing, the United Kingdom may face a claim of racial discrimination under article 14 of the European convention on human rights?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I refer the hon. and learned Lady to the comments that I made earlier. We know that the Scottish Government used ferries. I pass no criticism of the Scottish Government for their choice in doing so; it appears to have worked relatively successfully in the circumstances, so I think it is an option worthy of consideration. Of course, we intend to meet our domestic and international law obligations, and any accommodation that we bring forward will be decent and legal.

Natalie Elphicke Portrait Mrs Natalie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)
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Conservative-led Dover District Council has been working hard to provide affordable and other housing for local people. Likewise, Kent County Council has been working hard to provide local services. But that excellent work is put under immense pressure by having to deal with the sheer number and volume of migrants in Kent. This has been supported by the Labour party, which does not want to stop the small boats and cares more about channel migrants than it does the residents of Dover and Deal, and Kent as a whole. Despite the pressures on services and schools, we are being asked to do more and take more, and today’s announcement will not ease those pressures on Kent. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and Kent colleagues to see what more can be done to ease the immense pressures faced in Kent, particularly in Dover and Deal?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I would be pleased to meet my hon. Friend and her colleagues. Again, I am acutely aware of the pressures that face Kent and the local authorities there. This policy will not only reduce the dependence on hotels but ensure that significantly increased funding is made available to local authorities such as my hon. Friend’s to alleviate some of the burdens they face.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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The Minister knows that while asylum seekers are living in often very difficult conditions in the hotels, a large proportion of taxpayers’ funding is not even going to the hotels or the food providers but is haemorrhaging out into the pockets of a network of often dodgy contractors and subcontractors. What is he doing to address this mismanagement of Government funds?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I now meet very regularly with exactly those firms, our Home Office providers. The hon. Lady can be assured—in fact, I think I have said this to her privately—that I have been very clear with those companies that they have a job to do and we need them to find suitable accommodation, but the accommodation must be of good quality, must meet our contractual terms, and there must be value for money. They have been left in absolutely no doubt about my views and if the hon. Lady or any other Member of this House has concerns or criticisms, they should bring them to me and I will ensure that they are heard.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con)
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It is nice to see you back in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his hard work—he has shown me the strength of the work he has been doing over the months he has been in his role to try to tackle the problem—and I very much encourage his determination to stop the boats. I am pleased to see more enforcement work and the funding that is coming forward for local authorities. That funding is key for any local authorities that deal with asylum seekers. I wish to make a plea about the dispersal accommodation element: when the Home Office makes decisions about where to put such accommodation, if agencies agree that a place is inappropriate, the Home Office should really take note of that information and look for alternative sites.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My right hon. Friend has been vociferous in raising legitimate concerns about one particular location in her constituency. She is right to say that there should be appropriate engagement between the local authority and the Home Office before any decisions are made, and that the police and other stakeholders should be informed. Where there are serious concerns, of course we should not proceed with those properties.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Minister was right when he said that we need to stop people coming here by boat. Last night, Labour voted for the establishment of a cross-border police unit in the National Crime Agency to target the criminal gangs smuggling people across the channel. That measure would make a huge difference, in the short term and the long term, to the protection of our borders and to the welfare of migrants, so why on earth did the Government’s MPs vote against it?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Because we have already done it.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)
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I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, whom I know to be a compassionate, fair-minded Minister. He is having to take extremely difficult decisions in balancing help for people who are the most vulnerable and the interests of the people who elect us to represent them in this place—UK taxpayers. Does he agree that the failure of Opposition parties to recognise that during such a migration crisis there has to be a sensible limit on numbers, and their refusal to admit that resources are limited and UK taxpayers’ money is limited, make them unfit for office?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend raises an important—indeed, fundamental—point: of course we want the United Kingdom to be a generous and compassionate country that is renowned around the world for how we treat those seeking sanctuary, but we also have to appreciate the finite resources we have and deploy them in the most effective manner. I feel profoundly that we are sent here not to grandstand or virtue signal but to put the wellbeing and interests of our own constituents first.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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The Minister has made vague statements about all asylum seekers being moved out of hotels, but he does not have a plan for how to do it, does he? [Interruption.] Well, let us see it. As the Minister for Security announced yesterday, the only fall-back is to pass responsibility back to local authorities. Did the Minister see the Local Government Association’s response to that plan yesterday? It said that most councils have no social housing to offer, and in most areas the local housing allowance is not sufficient to pay for the cost of accommodation. What does the Minister expect local authorities to do when thousands of asylum seekers are simply passed back to them from the hotels they are currently in?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman always campaigns against the building of new homes. That might have been the easiest way to fix the housing crisis. We are going to work carefully and productively with local authorities to address this issue. That has always been my approach: when I was Local Government Secretary I engaged constantly—religiously—with local authority leaders, and we continue to do so. We are going to provide significantly enhanced resources to local authorities so that we better meet the true cost of handling this difficult challenge.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
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Clearly, basic and cheap accommodation for those who have illegally entered our country is far better than four-star hotels at the heart of communities. The Minister will know how strongly I feel about the use of the Novotel in Ipswich, which the vast majority of my constituents are against. It is interesting that the Labour party has said today that it opposes the use of hotel accommodation, because only recently a protest in favour of the use of that hotel was attended by the Labour parliamentary candidate and half the local Labour party. Can the Minister give some timescales with regard to when we can move those who are currently in hotels into more appropriate accommodation? The sooner we get them out of the Novotel, the better, and the more support the Minister will get from my constituents.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I share my hon. Friend’s desire to close that hotel as soon as possible; I know how hard he has been representing his constituents in that regard. Today is the critical first step. Once we have the sites up and running, a combination of new arrivals and those currently in hotels will be moved on to those sites, and the backlog clearance will of course free up places in hotels and enable us to close them, but the fundamental point is that the only sustainable answer is to stop the boats coming in the first place.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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What assessment has the Department made of the increased risk of self-harm, and indeed suicide, among vulnerable asylum seekers placed in precisely the type of institutional accommodation for which the Minister is advocating today? Has the policy been subject to a risk assessment—perhaps even one that MPs are allowed to see?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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We of course take the wellbeing of the illegal immigrants—the residents of these new sites—seriously. I think they will be better cared for in this bespoke accommodation than in an ad hoc network of hotels that have been taken in emergency circumstances. The new sites will be run by well-trained individuals and have their own healthcare facilities, and we will be able to have Home Office personnel on site to process their claims swiftly so that they can either be granted asylum, remain in the UK and begin to pay taxes and make a contribution to our country, or be removed.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his update and his hard work in this policy area. Will he reassure the House that the treatment of women, children and families throughout this whole process will be compassionate, and that this Conservative Government are committed to supporting and bolstering safe and legal routes to help vulnerable people fleeing persecution and seeking sanctuary?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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First, my hon. Friend has my total assurance that although this policy is tough, it will also be decent and legal. The work I did in the autumn in making reforms to the Manston site in Kent is evidence of the way in which I will approach this work. On my hon. Friend’s second point, this Government absolutely believe in the UK’s being a world leader for resettlement schemes and safe and legal routes. We are already: 500,000 people have come to our country for humanitarian purposes since 2015. That is something we should be proud of and it is something that a Conservative Government will continue.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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The Minister referenced and misquoted St Augustine of Hippo earlier. He was from north Africa, and the Minister would have put him in a camp as a consequence.

The Minister talked in his statement about fundamentally altering our posture. I wonder if he might consider altering his posture to that of someone who is good at his job. We have asylum seekers in hotels and hostels who do not want to be in those hotels and hostels. Why? It is because of the colossal backlog for which this Government are responsible. Rather than wasting money on this gimmick today—one that many of the Minister’s Back Benchers clearly disagree with, for a variety of reasons—why does he not invest in making sure that appeals are heard quickly and hearings are done quickly, so that people can either be given the right to remain or be removed, as his Government are failing to do? Does he agree that there is one thing worse than his and his Government’s incompetence on this issue, and that is blaming the consequences of that incompetence on the most vulnerable people in the world?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Fault here lies with the people smugglers and the human traffickers. We should never blame ourselves in this country for the actions of organised immigration criminals—that is completely wrong. We are taking robust action to stop the boats and arrest the trade that is bringing tens of thousands of people illegally into our country and putting people’s lives on the line every day. The hon. Gentleman does not want that—of course he does not. That is why he should support our Bill and help us to stop the boats.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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As the Minister knows, Stoke-on-Trent has contributed significantly to accommodating both asylum seekers and refugees. Today’s announcements of additional funding for local areas will be very welcome to help cope with some of those pressures, but my constituents want to know whether the Minister will be prioritising emptying those hotels in Stoke-on-Trent.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I acknowledge that Stoke-on-Trent has stepped up and provided a significant amount of accommodation, which is creating challenges for the city. It has been a pleasure to work with my hon. Friend and the excellent leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council. We want to ensure that hotels that are the most egregious cases are closed first—I think in particular of the North Stafford Hotel in the centre of Stoke. That is exactly the sort of important business asset that I would like to see closed swiftly.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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In the past few weeks, asylum seekers have been placed in hotels in my constituency that the Home Office has then deemed unfit for occupation, and those asylum seekers have been dispersed to undisclosed locations at no notice. Children have been taken out of school in the middle of exams, and I am told that last night asylum seekers were dumped outside a hotel in Shepherd’s Bush and told to share rooms and beds with complete strangers. Is it the Government’s policy to punish and humiliate asylum seekers in these ways as a means of discouraging further migrants, even though on past experience the majority are likely to be granted status in the UK?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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We will always treat people with decency and compassion, but it is correct that we have to address the very significant pull factor to the United Kingdom. This approach is being followed by most of our north European neighbours, such as the Belgians, the Dutch, the Danes, the French and the Irish, because the pressures are so great. The hon. Gentleman does not want to stop the boats; he does not back our Bill, or indeed any prior measures. We want to do so, and we will take the steps that are necessary.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for all his work in this area. I think most of us recognise that this is a multifaceted problem and that there is no silver bullet solution. Does today’s announcement mean that there will not be further requests by contractors to find hotel accommodation or similar? I am aware of challenging conversations in my own constituency at this time. Also, where we are looking to empty hotels, we have a community that is very willing to welcome people into their homes, so might we look towards a scheme where there is additional ministerial resource, as we did when welcoming Ukrainian refugees—I am not being disrespectful of my right hon. Friend’s experience in this matter—so that we can bridge that gap with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities? We have a housing crisis of our own; we have thousands of our own population unable to secure accommodation, but we are keen to work to find a solution. Might there be an opportunity to bridge the housing and the immigration situations?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are trying to work as closely as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) is working closely with us on the operation of schemes such as Homes for Ukraine, the Ukraine family scheme, the Afghan schemes, Syria and so on—that is very important. We also have officials who are working jointly between the two Departments, so I hope my hon. Friend will see that all of Government are working closely together to address this complex, multifaceted challenge.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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The Minister has told us that newly arrived migrants are going to be taken to this new form of accommodation, so they will be competing for places with the people he wants to move out of hotels. It seems to me that he is planning for the failure of his attempts to stop the boats through the Illegal Immigration Bill, because he is increasing capacity with the spaces that he is planning. Can he tell us how many more people he is planning to accommodate, in addition to those who are already accommodated by the Home Office?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I am confused by the hon. Gentleman’s question, because he does not support the Bill in the first place. However, it is our intention once we have secured the passage of our Bill through Parliament—its Committee stage over the past two days showed the strength of support for the Bill on the Government side of the House, although there was not quite the same reaction on the Opposition Benches—to bring forward the Rwanda proposal. Once that is operationalised, people will be detained, their cases will be heard in a limited fashion, and then they will be removed from the country swiftly. In the meantime, we need some capacity, and that is going to be provided by these new large sites.

William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is one of the abler Ministers in the Home Office, so it makes sense for him to give this statement this afternoon. Is he, though, as concerned as I am about a Gerald Ratner approach to the Government’s immigration policy, whereby they simply spend their time highlighting the problems rather than some of the work they are undertaking? Is he aware that the primary concern of most people is to ensure that the backlog of asylum applications is dealt with, and more importantly that decisions are made, as they were in 2015? Could I also caution him that even worse than a Gerald Ratner approach to Government policy on this issue is a “something must be seen to be done” policy, which might bring forward this Rosie and Jim idea of barges all over the place?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend raises an important point that the public do not want to see performative or declaratory policies in this space: they want to see us acting, taking difficult decisions, and that is what is within this statement. He is correct to say that this requires an approach across many different avenues. Again, he can see that from the fact that we are rapidly reducing the backlog; that we have increased immigration enforcement visits by 50%; that we have established the small boats operational command in the channel and are recruiting hundreds of officers to staff it; and that we have signed deals with France and Albania. This shows the Government acting on every approach. My hon. Friend can be in no doubt that we will solve this problem, and if we fail, it will not be for want of trying.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
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The Minister talked about only meeting the basic needs of the residents. However, mental health is a basic need to many people, and I do not see how isolation is going to help in that regard.

Following on from that, I invite the Minister to join me in condemning the racist protesters who are appearing outside hotels, including one in my own constituency. In particular, I invite him to directly challenge the tropes that are being used: that asylum seekers are sexual predators. The same tactic has been used down through the centuries to attack marginalised people.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I have been very clear that those far-right and other elements who are inciting violence and intimidation outside hotels or other forms of accommodation are wrong. I have directed the Home Office to work closely with the police through the National Police Coordination Centre and other parts of Government, including the security services, to track that pernicious activity and support local councils and police forces in taking robust action wherever possible. If the hon. Gentleman has particular cases that he wants to bring to my attention, I would be pleased to look into them.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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Could I just probe my right hon. Friend with regard to his proposals for housing migrants on barges and ferries? Specifically, could he advise on whether he expects those vessels to have access to the quay or to be moored offshore? If they are to have access to the quay, which I would expect, what conversations has he had with port operators about the operational challenges to their business from hosting what is essentially a residential community long-term?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I am not going to comment on press speculation. Obviously, I will make further statements should we proceed with any significant developments in this regard. I have pointed to examples in Scotland and in the Netherlands where the use of vessels has been successful. As my hon. Friend knows, we do not currently have the powers to detain individuals for prolonged periods of time, so any form of accommodation would be non-detained.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
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In response to an earlier question, the Minister talked about people “breaking into our country”. The Home Secretary has talked about an “invasion”. Those words, like this statement, are designed for the headlines, but can I ask him genuinely whether he recognises that using that kind of language to describe people, many of whom are seeking refuge from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, is inflammatory, divisive and adds to the sort of tensions that other Members have talked about? Will he reflect on his use of language and agree that the priority is to tackle the people smugglers, not to criminalise and demonise their victims?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I believe that all of us have a responsibility to choose our words with care, and to accept the occasions where we choose the wrong language. This is an area of public policy where it would be better to de-escalate the current language and tensions. I do not think it is wrong to describe individuals as illegal immigrants or to say that individuals are breaking into our country, because we have borders and they have to be enforced. If the hon. Gentleman or I crossed a national border into another country, we would expect to be met by law enforcement and a robust response.

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson (Workington) (Con)
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I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work on this matter, as well as to that of the Home Secretary and the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). Their diligence and co-operation with me has been welcome over the past 12 months. Last summer, I successfully managed to stop the introduction of a hotel in a wholly unsuitable place in my constituency, although unfortunately it fell on me to prove to the Home Office that it was wholly unsuitable. The threat remains, not only of additional hotels, but of companies such as Serco hoovering up family homes while we have a housing waiting list in my constituency. Can my right hon. Friend set out for me what today’s announcement means for that threat and when we can safely say that that threat has been removed?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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First, I thank my hon. Friend for his generous words about me and my colleagues at the Home Office. He is right to say that the sheer number of people crossing the channel illegally, coupled with the generosity of our country in recent years in welcoming 500,000 people on humanitarian grounds and the high levels of legal migration we have, is posing a serious challenge to communities and councils with respect to housing and social housing. We are working through those challenges with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and one additional element we are introducing today is a substantially enhanced package for local authorities so that they have more funding to pay for the kinds of accommodation they will need and any displacement activity that might occur.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP)
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Rather than treat those seeking sanctuary on these shores as criminals and wasting vast sums of money to build internment camps to house them, would it not be more sensible simply to issue them with temporary work permits, so that they can contribute to the community, earn their own money to cover their own housing costs and pay tax into the Exchequer, rather than being a drain upon it?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I understand and acknowledge that that is a legitimate point of view. It is not one I agree with, because I believe that we have to suffuse our approach with deterrence, and if we allow a further pull factor to the United Kingdom in the form of enabling people to work soon after their arrival, I suspect we will just find even more people coming to this country.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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First, I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his engagement, which has been robust between us at times. He will understand that in Stoke-on-Trent we have around 1,300 asylum seekers and illegal economic migrants, of whom 31% are in hotels. Residents and constituents are outraged to see the city used and abused in this way. He wholly and accurately reflects the situation with the North Stafford Hotel, which is right by a levelling-up project and a £40 million transforming cities fund project. It is right opposite our railway station, which is a gateway to 6 million visitors a year. It is wholly unacceptable. Can my right hon. Friend the Minister reconfirm what he said in answer to my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton)—that Stoke-on-Trent will be one of the priority areas that will see young single men moved out of hotels and into the new accommodation he has outlined today?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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As my hon. Friend knows, I love the Potteries and will always want to further the best interests of Stoke-on-Trent and its wider region. The hotel by the station is a particularly egregious one in my opinion, because it is holding back regeneration in that part of the city. I would like to see it closed at the earliest opportunity. The other point I make on Stoke-on-Trent is that it has stepped up and taken a large number of individuals through dispersal accommodation, which I hope other local authorities will do with the added support we are providing today.

Simon Lightwood Portrait Simon Lightwood (Wakefield) (Lab/Co-op)
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Yesterday, Labour offered a reasonable amendment to the Illegal Migration Bill that would have forced the Home Office to consult with councils over asylum hotels. That would have been welcome in my constituency where, despite the Minister’s announcement, he is planning to force a third hotel on my community. Wakefield Council has already had £300 million cut from its budget. It has done its best to provide support, but it lacks the community capacity and the funding to do more. Why did the Government run scared last night and vote down our amendment to give local councils a say?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The hon. Gentleman should go back to his constituents and explain why, in his short tenure in this House, he has already started voting against exactly the kinds of measures that would stop the boats. I rather suspect that he is not on the same side as his constituents on this issue.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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I can understand the Minister’s trepidation coming to the Dispatch Box for today’s statement, having had to make similar statements myself over the years, but he is outlining the right approach today. We can see comparisons, particularly on continental Europe and particularly in Greece, where large-scale accommodation centres have been used as part of a transformation of the asylum system, providing humane and decent accommodation while assisting the process of making decisions. To deal with some of the issues that we have had thrown at us, first, I assume that he will view this accommodation as part of national infrastructure and therefore take it through that planning process. Secondly, I assume that this is all, as he has touched on already, non-detained accommodation. Finally, what sort of timeline is he looking at to get some of these centres up and running, because people will only see this approach making a difference when they see hotels closing down in their local area?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend and predecessor knows how difficult these decisions can be. Like him, I did not come into politics to deal with clandestine entry or organised immigration crime, but I did come into politics to provide security and stability to the public and to put the interests of my constituents above those of anyone else. That is why we are taking these decisions in the national interest. We will ensure that these sites are non-detained and legally compliant. They will be provided at pace. We will make use of the planning powers that the Government have at our disposal. I am confident that we will be able to get individuals on these sites in the coming weeks.

Tahir Ali Portrait Tahir Ali (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)
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Thirteen years of Tory mismanagement, an asylum system in crisis, backlogs out of control, and claims not being decided for years on end—this statement does nothing but scaremongering and headline-grabbing just before the local elections. A Member of the Minister’s own party has summarised this statement correctly as

“the politics of trying to do something.”

Does he agree that this statement, which is no more than headline-grabbing scaremongering, does very little to target human traffickers and the illegal gangs, but makes illegal traffickers the heroes, while making victims the real targets?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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It is a darn sight better than the politics of doing nothing, which is what the Opposition are proposing. We are taking action to tackle the people smugglers and the human traffickers. I do not doubt the motivations of the hon. Gentleman, but every day in this job I see these people and the work they do. They are some of the most evil and pernicious people in society, and we have to match them. We cannot behave in a way that is weak and naïve; we have to respond with tough policies. That is what we are doing here. We will not allow the UK to be a soft touch. By ensuring that we now have this new form of accommodation, not only will we clear the hotels, but we will also ensure that there is not a pull factor to the UK.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement this afternoon, and I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) for her excellent work as Home Secretary previously. Could my right hon. Friend comment in more detail on the similar approach being taken to asylum accommodation by Belgium, Ireland, France and Germany, and it would seem by the Scottish Government as well?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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It is true, as I have said on a number of occasions, that our northern European neighbours are looking to take similar robust approaches. Ireland is considering bailing individuals to no fixed abode with vouchers to pay for their immediate needs, as I understand it. Belgium has seen tented communities arise and is using hostels akin to homeless shelters. The Danes have said, I think publicly, that the Rwanda policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) is an interesting and valuable one at which they are looking with interest. So we are not alone and we are not unique. We are working together because there is a European migration crisis, and we have to take serious and robust decisions and make difficult choices, or I am afraid the UK will be very exposed.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister for his statement. He knows that there is a difference between economic migrants who are abusing the system if they are fit and independent—their circumstances will dictate the final report—and, alongside them, asylum seekers, many fleeing religious persecution, who, whether they be women, children or families, need help urgently. Will the Minister make it abundantly clear that those who come here illegally due to extenuating circumstances will have scope for compassion in their treatment?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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We want to ensure that human dignity is at the heart of the system we are creating, which is why the UK has a fantastic record in recent years for resettlement schemes of the kind I know the hon. Gentleman is a champion of, such as the schemes for those from Ukraine, Hong Kong, Syria and Afghanistan. By bringing an end to illegal migration across the channel or reducing it as far as one can, we can deploy our finite resources as a country to help those people who need it most—those people who are in conflict zones, the victims of religious persecution whom he cares passionately about—rather than those people, predominantly young men, who are fit, able and in a safe place such as France.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I will take the points of order in a moment. I thank the Minister for his statement and for responding to questions for well over an hour, but could I ask him to remain seated for the first point of order, which I think relates directly to something he may have said?

Points of Order

Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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13:50
Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In the Minister’s response to the question I asked him, he said that I had always opposed house building. I think the Minister knows that in this House—as the Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, as well as individually—I have argued very strongly for more house building, including hitting the 300,000 target. Only this week, I have been working with officers in Sheffield to try to get a scheme to build 800 homes at Attercliffe Waterside in my constituency, which I have worked on for many years. In the past I have known the Minister to be a fair and reasonable man, even when I have disagreed with them. On reflection, would he not accept that what he said was unfair and inaccurate, and maybe he would like to correct the record?

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Minister for Immigration (Robert Jenrick)
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Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have worked alongside the hon. Gentleman for some time, and I know him to be an excellent Chair of the Select Committee, so I mean him no disrespect. He and I did disagree on reforms to the planning system, including about building more homes in Sheffield, but I know that he is a champion of good-quality housing and of increasing the quantity of it across the country.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Could you please advise on the description by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) of protesters outside the Indian high commission as “terrorists” during business questions last week? We condemn the violent behaviour outside India House—violence is never acceptable—but language is important, and to describe protesters as terrorists is inappropriate. Many of them would have been justifiably concerned about what was happening in Punjab and about how to contact their families while mobile, internet and SMS were shut down. Sikhs and Hindus have lived peacefully alongside one another in the United Kingdom for decades, and the current situation in Punjab does not require this kind of inflammatory language. As Members, we need to set an example. Can I ask that the Member correct the record?

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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I thank the hon. Member for her point of order and for forward notice of it. I assume that she has informed the Member concerned.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill
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indicated assent.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Good. Members have freedom of speech in this Chamber and they, not the Chair, are responsible for their comments. That said, Mr Speaker has repeatedly reminded the House of the need for “Good temper and moderation”, as “Erskine May” puts it. I would encourage all Members to follow that advice, particularly on sensitive issues.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wrote to the Home Secretary on 15 March, in my capacity as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to invite her to appear before the Committee as part of our inquiry into the Illegal Migration Bill. On that Bill, the Home Secretary has made a declaration, as required under section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998, that she is unable to certify that the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the European convention on human rights. The Committee has asked the Home Secretary to give evidence to us on the human rights consequences of her legislation, and to interrogate the legal arguments put forward in the ECHR memo that accompanied the Bill. Given the pace with which the Bill is passing through Parliament, we asked her to respond by 22 March. It is now 29 March and we have today heard that she will not be available to attend, despite our giving her more than one date, but the Government are considering whether the Minister for Immigration is available instead.

Mr Deputy Speaker, can you advise me on what steps are available to my Committee to ensure that we can carry out—and we are going to be the only Committee that will carry it out—effective legislative scrutiny of the Government’s proposals in the Illegal Migration Bill, by hearing from the very person whose name appears on the section 19 statement saying that the Bill does not comply with the European convention on human rights and, indeed, the Human Rights Act?

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for her forward notice of her point of order. Mr Speaker has made it repeatedly clear that it is very important that Committees have access to the relevant witnesses, and that of course includes Ministers. Therefore, I very much hope that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard this exchange, and that a Minister will be able to give evidence to the Committee as soon as possible.

Bills Presented

Non-Domestic Rating Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Michael Gove, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Kemi Badenoch, Oliver Dowden, Jeremy Quin, Victoria Atkins and Lee Rowley, presented a Bill to make provision about non-domestic rating.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed (Bill 285) with explanatory notes (Bill 285-EN).

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Dominic Raab, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Suella Braverman, Secretary Mark Harper, the Attorney General, Edward Argar and Miss Sarah Dines, presented a Bill to make provision about victims of criminal conduct and others affected by criminal conduct; about the appointment and functions of individuals to act as independent public advocates for victims of major incidents; about the release of prisoners; about the membership and functions of the Parole Board; to prohibit certain prisoners from forming a marriage or civil partnership; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 286) with explanatory notes (Bill 286-EN).

Elections (Voter Identification Requirements) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Helen Morgan, supported by Layla Moran, Richard Foord, Munira Wilson, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Jamie Stone, Sarah Green, Wera Hobhouse, Sarah Olney, Daisy Cooper, Christine Jardine and Ed Davey, presented a Bill to remove the requirement for voters to show an identity document in order to vote; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 287).

Local Electricity Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

David Johnston, supported by Peter Aldous, Hilary Benn, Sir Graham Brady, Alan Brown, Simon Fell, Wera Hobhouse, Ben Lake, Clive Lewis, Selaine Saxby, Mick Whitley and Sir Jeremy Wright, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to establish an export guarantee scheme for small generators of low carbon electricity; to set a tariff, based on market rates, for the sale of electricity under the export guarantee scheme; to make provision to enable small generators of low carbon electricity to sell electricity directly to local people; to place certain duties on the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority; and for connected purposes

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 288).

Co-Operatives (Permanent Shares)

1st reading
Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Co-operatives (Permanent Shares) Bill 2022-23 View all Co-operatives (Permanent Shares) Bill 2022-23 Debates Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

A Ten Minute Rule Bill is a First Reading of a Private Members Bill, but with the sponsor permitted to make a ten minute speech outlining the reasons for the proposed legislation.

There is little chance of the Bill proceeding further unless there is unanimous consent for the Bill or the Government elects to support the Bill directly.

For more information see: Ten Minute Bills

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
13:58
Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable co-operatives to issue permanent shares; and for connected purposes.

Permanent mutual shares are the rocket fuel that would help the co-operative and mutual movement to double in size. That is an ambition that the Co-op party has long sought, and I am pleased to say that the Labour party now s