All 39 Parliamentary debates on 27th Jun 2023

Tue 27th Jun 2023
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Tue 27th Jun 2023
Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 27th Jun 2023
Financial Services and Markets Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments

House of Commons

Tuesday 27th June 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tuesday 27 June 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 27th June 2023

(1 year 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

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 27th June 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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1. Whether he plans to meet the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales to discuss overcrowding in prisons.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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I regularly meet the senior judiciary, including the Lord Chief Justice, to discuss priority issues across the justice system, including prisons. We are delivering 20,000 additional modern prison places, the largest prison build programme since the Victorian era, ensuring the right conditions are in place to rehabilitate prisoners, cut crime and protect the public. We have already delivered 5,200 of these places, including at the brand new HMP Fosse Way, which opened last month and which I look forward to visiting later this week.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
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The Secretary of State, for whom I have great respect, surely knows that there is enormous unhappiness in the prison estate. Recent polls show how low morale is and how many people working in our prisons doing that difficult job are fearful for their safety. Will he meet me and perhaps even the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), to talk about how we can find a way forward for the young people—there are perhaps 1,000 of them—in prison under joint enterprise? That would help him with prison overcrowding and bring justice to so many young lives.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and will be happy to meet him to discuss that. I am glad that he paid tribute to prison officers, who do spectacularly important work. One thing I am proud of delivering is body-worn video cameras for all of them, because that is so important for de-escalating volatile situations and potentially gathering evidence so that they can see justice done.

Joint enterprise is a sensitive issue. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a proper interest in it, but it is the legal doctrine that ensures that the getaway driver does not avoid culpability, that the lookout of the armed robbery is also culpable, and that the person who supplies the murder weapon, knowing that it will be used in that offence, also cannot escape liability. The Court of Appeal has considered this at some length in the case of Jogee, and we have to be very careful before seeking to recalibrate it. However, I am happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman at a time of his choosing.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Justice Committee.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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I am sure that the Lord Chancellor, as well as thanking the current Lord Chief Justice for his work, will welcome the appointment of Dame Sue Carr as the first woman Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and look forward to working with her, too. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that one of the real areas of concern and pressure on prisons is the growth in the remand population? In January, before he was appointed to office, the Justice Committee produced a report on remand, from which some recommendations were accepted and some were not. Will he revisit some of those recommendations and see what more we can do to bear down in particular on the growth in remand for people who after all have not yet been convicted?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Those are excellent points. Let me begin by joining my hon. Friend in welcoming Dame Sue Carr, whose appointment has been hugely welcomed across the political spectrum, across the legal sector and beyond. I also pay tribute to Lord Burnett. I think I speak on behalf of everyone in the House in saying that there is nothing but regard and respect for the contribution that he has made.

On remand, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is worth reflecting that, compared with the pre-pandemic period, there are between 4,500 and 5,000 more of those people in custody. As he rightly pointed out, they have not been convicted of any crime. Technology, such as electronically monitored tags, can be of assistance. It is for the bench or the Crown Court judge to decide whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that, if released on bail, that person would commit further offences or fail to surrender, but I know that the courts will want to bear the technological options in mind.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We come to the shadow Minister.

Ellie Reeves Portrait Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
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Over the past 10 years, more than 3,000 prison places have closed and community sentences have halved, and the three new prisons planned will not open before 2027 at the earliest. No wonder we have a prison capacity crisis, with the Government having to commandeer police cells and judges being told to jail fewer people. How can the public have faith that they will be protected and that crime will be punished when that is the Government’s record?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is worth reflecting that the second biggest programme in Government after High Speed 2 is in prison building. I invite her to go and look at Five Wells or Fosse Way, or at the work taking place at Millsike. Those are modern, safe, rehabilitative, productive prisons. We make no apology for investing in our prison estate because, if we can bear down on the things that prevent individuals from getting back on the right side and putting crime behind them, that is good for society, good for the individual and good for the taxpayer.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. We are 10 minutes in and still on question 1. I want to make sure that we get everyone in.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)
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2. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the legal aid means test review on access to legal aid for victims of domestic abuse.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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We are determined to ensure that domestic abuse victims secure access to justice and the protection of the law. The changes we are making to the legal aid means test mean that more than 2 million more people in England and Wales will be eligible for civil legal aid each year. Domestic abuse victims in receipt of universal credit will not be means-tested when applying for protective orders, effectively fast-tracking access to legal support and the protection of the courts.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes
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I welcome the new policy, which means that domestic abuse victims who cannot access joint assets controlled by their abuser will no longer have those disputed assets counted towards their eligibility for legal aid. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that this will help to secure access to justice for survivors when their abusers try to continue to control them after they have split?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I agree wholeheartedly. My hon. Friend puts it well. Disputed assets such as the family home are by their nature illiquid and inaccessible. Worse still, they may be controlled by the abuser. By ensuring that those assets are not taken into account when deciding whether to grant legal aid, we are helping to ensure that victims of DA can access that vital legal support and, with it, the essential protection of the courts.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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Extending legal aid eligibility to 2 million extra people is great, but eligibility is not the same as access to legal aid services, which have been collapsing in the last 18 months. We have seen a 20% reduction in housing legal aid providers, 21% less mental health support, 27% less welfare support and 30% less immigration and asylum support. There is a crisis in access to fair justice. What is the Secretary of State doing about that?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I am delighted to say that we are expanding access to legal aid to more than 6 million more people in total. Let me pay tribute to legal aid lawyers, who have an exceptionally important role in ensuring that individuals have access to justice. What we will not do on the Government Benches is demonise legal aid lawyers. I was in practice as a legal aid lawyer. Charlie Falconer has admitted that he regrets that the Labour Government demonised “fat cat” lawyers. It was not true then, and it is not true now. We will support legal aid lawyers.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Lab)
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3. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the level of rape charge rates.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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13. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the level of rape charge rates.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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Through the rape review, we are making strong progress in our ambitions to increase the number of referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service, CPS charges and Crown court receipts for adult rape cases back to 2016 levels. Incidentally, 2016 levels are ambitious, given convictions in that year were 30% higher than in 2010. According to the latest quarter of data, we are on track not just to meet but to beat each ambition. Adult rape prosecutions continue to rise, up 44% in the last year, meaning that more people are being put on trial for this devastating crime than in 2010. There is further to go, but it is important and welcome progress.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford
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Is it any wonder that women do not come forward when they have been raped? Not only is there a 1% chance of the perpetrator being charged, but women have to wait nearly three years for a result. Recent figures from Rape Crisis show that victims and survivors of rape and other serious sexual offences wait the longest to have their experiences heard in court, with an average wait of 839 days from report to completion in court. The delays are having a devastating impact on victims and survivors, leading to deteriorating mental health and wellbeing and survivors attempting to end their life as a result. The Government have given up on protecting women and girls, have they not?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I regret that language. As a matter of fact, convictions are at or around the 2010 level. If the hon. Gentleman wants to suggest that rape was decriminalised in 2010, he is welcome to, but it is completely untrue. The number of prosecutions is higher this year than it was in 2010. Of course we must continue to invest in supporting victims—that is why we have 800 independent sexual violence advisers to accompany those victims on what can be a difficult and traumatic journey. How many were there in 2010? There were a handful.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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There were 580 rapes recorded by Gwent police for the year ending March 2022. Given that, as we have heard, across England and Wales only 1.3% of rape cases result in a charge, will the Secretary of State tell me how many Gwent cases resulted in a successful prosecution and what is being done to increase prosecution rates?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The statistic that the hon. Lady just cited is completely wrong. Let me make a couple of points. The number of rape convictions is at or around the level it was in 2010. The number of cases passed by the police to the CPS for charge is up 130%. The number of cases charged is up more than 90%. The number of cases received in the Crown court is up more than 120%. Of course there is more to do. Of course work needs to take place, but the system is recovering very well. People are getting justice and those rapists are being convicted, punished and disgraced. Finally, the sentences they receive are around a third longer than the sentence they received in 2010. That is just deserts for wicked rapists.

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right that support for victims has been essential in increasing the number of cases taken to court. As he said, the numbers have risen significantly in the last 12 months. Could he outline what more he is doing to speed up the time taken to get a case to court, because that time waiting can leave victims not only distressed but potentially walking away from a case that would otherwise come to court?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to make those balanced and fair observations. To try to assist victims, there are a few really important things. Rolling out section 28s ensures that individuals can get their account recorded on tape; that is done whatever then happens in the court process. The independent sexual violence advisers and the independent domestic violence advisers, whom I have talked about, make an enormous difference. Through the victims code, we want to ensure that individuals get the support they need from victims’ services, have the opportunity to go on court familiarisation visits, make victim personal statements and are kept updated by the officer on the case as it proceeds. All those things are critical to ensuring that victims are not spectators of the criminal justice system, but participants in it.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
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The section 28 achieving best evidence video interviews to which my right hon. and learned Friend refers are there to support vulnerable witnesses and to help to secure not only a charge but a conviction. However, yesterday, during a Justice Committee evidence session, we heard from senior King’s Counsel that there were incidents where such cases were being de-prioritised because of the backlog in the criminal courts, on the basis that in essence the evidence-in-chief had already been taken. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of that issue? If not, will he look into it further and report back to the Committee?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for raising that important point. As he knows, listing—prioritisation; which case gets called first—is a matter for the independent judiciary, but he raises important issues. I would be happy to look at them and to discuss them with him, if appropriate, in due course.

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling (Clacton) (Con)
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4. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of arrangements on prisoner transfers agreed with Albania.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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7. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of arrangements on prisoner transfers agreed with Albania.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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22. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of arrangements on prisoner transfers agreed with Albania.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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Our prisoner transfer agreement with Albania came into force in May 2022. Between January 2021 and December 2022, 1,441 Albanian foreign national offenders were returned to their home country from custody and the community. To build on that, we announced a new arrangement with the Albanian Government in May 2023 to speed up prisoner transfers, with an additional 200 of the most serious offenders able to be sent back to serve their sentences in Albania—good news for the rule of law and good news for the British taxpayer.

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling
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I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his work on Albania, illegal migrants and returning offenders. We pay £40,000 a year to maintain a prisoner in their cell and we do that for foreign prisoners, too. Will my right hon. and learned Friend seek to make more arrangements with other countries to return their offenders, thus saving the taxpayer money?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is an expensive business to incarcerate people. The UK has over 100 prisoner transfer agreements. We are working hard to ensure that existing PTAs work as effectively as possible and deliver value for money for the taxpayer by removing FNOs to their home countries. My Department also has ambitions to secure PTAs with new countries. We are engaging with our counterparts in target countries to advance that. I will update the House in due course.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi
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May I, too, thank the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for the difference the agreement with Albania is making in reducing arrivals? Germany, a member of the ECHR, refuses to even allow claims from Albanians. Will the Secretary of State therefore consider derogating from the ECHR, as German appears to have done and as we did over prisoner voting, to further build on that success?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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My hon. Friend has raised an important point. In the five months to the end of May, Albanian small boat arrivals were down by 90% on last year, and we have returned 1,800 illegal migrants and foreign criminals to Albania. Thanks to changes in our asylum system, we have gone from accepting one in five Albanian asylum claims to accepting just one in 50, in line with other European countries such as Germany.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
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I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for the progress that he is making in the removal of Albanian prisoners from our jails. I know from my time in his Department that they make up a sizeable proportion of the foreign national offenders whom we have in custody here. Does he agree that, at a time when our prisons are so close to capacity, the return of foreign prisoners to their own countries is important to ensuring that our hard-working and skilled prison officers can focus their work on the rehabilitation of offenders who will eventually be released into their local communities here in the UK?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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My hon. Friend is entirely right. I am glad that he has raised the issue of rehabilitation because, as he says, when prisons can run a full regime, the opportunities for rehabilitation are optimised. I recently visited HMP High Down to see prisoners being trained in a brand new, purpose-built warehouse. They are learning the skills that they need for life on the outside and that work is bearing fruit. The percentage of prisoners in work six months after release has doubled in the last year, and that means a better chance for them to go straight and a better chance for the community not to have to suffer from crime.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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If the Secretary of State were doing a good job of returning foreign prisoners, we would expect to see overcrowding coming down, but on a recent visit to Wormwood Scrubs prison I found, increasingly, that two people were occupying a one-person cell without a shielded toilet, and that time out of cell was between one and two hours a day. If the Secretary of State is proud of his record, will he collect and publish those statistics? At the moment, his Department is refusing even to collect the time out of cell figures.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Those statistics are not published, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for going to HMP Wormwood Scrubs, because I think it is important for Members to visit prisons.

When it comes to the additional numbers in custody, the key element is the number of people on remand, which, as I have said, has risen by between 4,500 and 5,000 since the period before the pandemic. That is important, not only because those people have not necessarily been convicted of any crime and all Members should have some concerns about people being in custody for a long period, but because some have been recalled. Of course we will work to drive down the number of foreign national offenders, but, as I have said, the principal issue that we are facing at present is that of remand prisoners.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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As always, I thank the Secretary of State for his answers. I know that our Ministers and our Government always maintain the highest human rights standards, and the highest standards in respect of prison conditions. Can the Secretary of State assure me that, when it comes to the transfer of Albanian prisoners, those high standards will be maintained in respect of both prison conditions and human rights?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this matter. Yes, we will be robust, but we will also be fair, and being fair means ensuring that basic standards relating to human behaviour and the way we treat our fellow human beings are upheld. When, as part of our robust arrangements with Albania, 200 of the most serious offenders—each costing us about £40,000 a year—are transferred there, that will happen in a dignified and appropriate way, and they will be serving in conditions with which both the hon. Gentleman and I will feel comfortable.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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The UK Government are reportedly paying jailed Albanian offenders £1,500 to return to their country of origin as part of an early release scheme. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many of those whom he has sent back have been eligible for that money, and how—given that one of them has told the BBC that he plans to come back to the UK within days or weeks of his release—he can be sure that this scheme is an effective deterrent?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Let me begin by saying that I know the hon. Lady is standing in for the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), and we wish him an early recovery. I will write to her about specific numbers but, on the issue of early removal, it is absolutely right that, if individuals who have served a requisite period in our jails can be sent back to their home countries, we should send them there, because of the cost to the British taxpayer but also because the capacity is needed to run a full rehabilitative regime. This policy is not controversial across parties and we are committed to upholding it.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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5. What assessment he has made of the impact of imprisonment for public protection sentences on the criminal justice system.

Damian Hinds Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)
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The number of IPP offenders in custody has fallen from 6,000 in 2012 to 2,916 at the end of March this year. That includes 1,561 who had been released but were then recalled. The Government are committed to helping IPP offenders to progress through their sentences, under the revised IPP action plan published in April, and towards safe release.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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At age 17, my constituent Danny Weatherson was convicted of shoplifting, with a recommended term of 15 months. Seventeen years later, he has only just been granted parole, in a justice system that seems too under-resourced to progress his case. Imprisonment for public protection is a complex area, and many who serve such sentences undoubtedly do present a threat to the public, but does the Minister agree that discussions on reform should take place on a cross-party basis, with the voices of victims and justice campaigners heard, and that a functioning probation system is a prerequisite?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the tone in which she asks about this issue. Obviously, the role of the Parole Board and the probation service is vital, and the Parole Board is regularly looking at cases. I welcome what she said about continuing to look at this matter, and the Government welcome the Justice Committee’s recent report, which was an important opportunity to take stock. The Lord Chancellor will speak further on this matter in due course.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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6. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the backlog of criminal court cases.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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16. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the backlog of criminal court cases.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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The Government remain committed to reducing the outstanding case load in the Crown court and are working with partners across the criminal justice system to do so. For two years in a row we have removed the cap on the number of days the Crown court can sit, in order to increase capacity. We are recruiting up to 1,000 judges across all jurisdictions this year, on top of the 1,000 we recruited last year. We have also extended the use of 16 Nightingale courtrooms and opened two permanent super-courtrooms in Manchester and Loughborough so that there are more courtrooms available across the court estate.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes
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Will the Minister give the figures for the backlog in north Wales, where my constituency of Clwyd South is located, and for Wales overall? Will he also comment on any particular factors that are affecting those figures in Wales?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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As of December 2022, the outstanding case load in north Wales was 337 and the outstanding case load in Wales was 2,106—a 34% increase from pre-pandemic levels. As with every region, the outstanding case load in Wales has been impacted by the pandemic and the disruptive action by the Criminal Bar Association. As I have said, the Government remain committed to reducing the outstanding case load in the Crown courts, working with partners across the system.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey
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The Government have introduced the use of pre-recorded evidence in rape trials and are trialling an extension for other cases to allow parties to provide information while memories are fresh. My attention has been drawn to a case that predates the roll-out, in which those involved had to wait three years to give evidence. What assessment does the Minister have of the effectiveness of pre-recorded evidence in speeding up the justice process?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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My hon. Friend raises a good point. On the roll-out of pre-recorded cross-examination—known as section 28—to victims of sexual and modern slavery offences in all Crown courts in England and Wales, this has been available to children and vulnerable adults since November 2020. It is particularly important with those vulnerable witnesses to ensure that their evidence is taken while it is fresh. The impact of that on speeding up cases is important. Rolling it out across the whole estate may mean that the impact of that evidence is diminished. That is why it is part of a programme—not just section 28 video recording, but the work we are doing on capacity and judicial recruitment. It is a package.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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I wonder whether the Minister has considered the Magistrates Association report “Inaccessible courts: a barrier to inclusive justice”, which shows that magistrates courts in England and Wales have serious accessibility failings. It says that impacts on the efficiency and fairness of the justice system and undermines efforts to recruit a more diverse magistracy. One in five magistrates courts do not have level access. In 30% of courts, magistrates with a disability cannot sit in some or all of the courts in the complex. A third of courts do not have accessible toilets for them, and half do not have hearing loop systems installed or operating. Just what has happened to all that cash the Government claim to be investing? It certainly is not addressing the basics.

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The Government are committed to improving the whole court estate, not just magistrates courts. On diversity, we are investing £1 million. On the accessibility of our physical estate, I have taken a particular interest in ensuring that those magistrates who have specific needs are supported. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that investment in our court estate will continue to address all the issues that we face.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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8. What steps he is taking to ensure that there is an adequate number of prison officers.

Damian Hinds Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)
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We are committed to recruiting 5,000 additional prison officers across the public and private estate by the mid-2020s. We have seen recent improvements in recruitment, with 655 additional full-time equivalent officers appointed between December 2022 and March 2023 alone.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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At risk of being potted, kettled or attacked with toothbrushes that have razors fastened to the end, the work of a prison officer is not for the faint-hearted, yet their role is essential to keeping us free. We have just celebrated Armed Forces Week, and rightly so—I say that as a former veteran—but it troubles me that we do not have a similar week to celebrate the work of prison officers. We do not do enough to recognise their service to keep us all safe and free, across society. Can we change that, please, and urgently?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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My hon. Friend is right about the paramountcy of safety for our brave staff, which is why we have been investing in security, body-worn cameras, PAVA spray and so on. He is also right that prison officers are often hidden heroes in our society, and they do not always get the recognition they deserve. As it happens, this evening is His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service staff awards, which I am looking forward to attending, and I am keen to find more ways to publicly recognise these incredible people for what they do. His suggestion of a Prison Officers Week is interesting. More generally, I hope all colleagues will take the opportunity to visit their local prisons and to speak directly to prison officers.

John Cryer Portrait John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
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According to the Prison Officers Association, the turnover rate among officers is still very high. What discussions has the Minister had with the POA about not only recruitment but retention?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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I have spoken to the POA about recruitment and retention, as the hon. Gentleman would expect. We have recently seen about a 1 percentage point improvement in the resignation rate, which is significant, but we have to make sure that all aspects of the job are right. Of course it is about pay and conditions, but it is also about things such as safety and making sure prison officers have the right support for what can be, mentally, a very difficult and straining job.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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9. What steps his Department is taking to support victims of sexual assault and rape in the court process.

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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In the rape review action plan, we committed to expanding our victim support provision throughout the court process for victims of these dreadful crimes. We are more than quadrupling funding for victim and witness support services from 2009-10 levels, increasing the number of independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers to 1,000. We completed the roll-out of section 28 measures in September 2022, and we continue to deliver our enhanced specialist sexual violence support programme in selected Crown courts.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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Can my right hon. Friend confirm what measures are taken for sexual assault and rape victims in remote, rural or coastal communities, where trials may take place a long way from their home?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a champion for rural and coastal communities in all aspects. The Government take seriously the experience of victims across the country, no matter where they live. In addition to the measures I have just set out, the Crown Prosecution Service supports victims of crime from remote and rural areas, with victims being able to claim back travel expenses when they need to travel far to attend court. We recognise the challenges of rurality, which is why the MOJ’s sexual violence service design and delivery team has regular engagement with the National Rural Crime Network and is a member of the NRCN’s domestic violence working group.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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This week, it has been three years since the harm panel’s report found a serious risk of harm to victims of domestic abuse and their children in the family courts, yet we have seen that nothing has changed. Heartbreakingly, the experiences of victims in the family courts all read the same: the mother criminalised, the children ignored, the father excused. One 10-year-old girl disclosed to the guardian assigned to her case that her father had sexually abused and assaulted her. The guardian dismissed this and, instead, read a book to her, saying that her mother had made it up and her father had done nothing wrong. With no definition of rape or consent in statute in the family courts, when will the Government put a stop to this national scandal?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her question. She will be aware that Lord Bellamy, whose portfolio covers the family courts, is looking at this issue carefully. Although it is not in my portfolio, I understand that two of the three limbs of the report she mentioned have already been implemented, and we anticipate implementing the final element later this year.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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10. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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12. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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20. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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Tackling violence against women and girls is a driving mission of this Government, and we are delivering on it in three ways. First, we have created and are creating new offences, such as revenge porn, and coercive and controlling behaviour, so that abusers have no place to hide. Secondly, we are increasing penalties so that offenders are not just convicted and disgraced, but punished in a way that fits the crime and protects victims. Thirdly, we are supporting victims by quadrupling the funding for victim and witness support services.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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Today, tragically, 300 women in Britain will be raped. Under this Government’s watch, in three of those cases there will be a charge. Under this Government’s watch, charging numbers have plummeted. What are the Government going to do about it?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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What we are not going to do is come up with statistics that are completely untrue. This is incredibly important, because people listen to what the hon. Lady has to say and it is simply wrong to send a message out that people are not being prosecuted. Let me make one thing crystal clear: more people have been prosecuted for rape in the last year for which statistics are available than was the case in the last year of a Labour Government. That is an important point. If I may, I will read out something so that she understands this, because people are getting justice all the time. It relates to one of the new Nightingale courts that we have set up, in Cirencester. Let me tell her what happened when two victims spoke out as their rapist had been sent to prison for 25 years recently. Victim B said:

“I would just like to say how happy I am with the whole criminal justice system. I wasn’t sure whether to go”—

to the police—

“due to being scared and thinking nobody would believe me. If there is anyone out there with the same situation I encourage them go forward as soon as possible”.

Of course there is more to do, but people are being convicted, people are being put on trial and rapists are being punished.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is vital. It finally introduced a full statutory definition of domestic abuse and banned the horrendous cross-examination of victims by their abusers. However, the Act also rolled out controversial polygraph lie detector testing of high-risk domestic abuse perpetrators. Will the Secretary of State meet me and other members of the all-party parliamentary group on perpetrators of domestic abuse to discuss our concerns that polygraphs are pure pseudoscience and have no place in otherwise vital legislation?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The hon. Lady raises an important and sensitive issue. She is right to say that polygraph results have to be handled with care. That said, that testing has been shown to be one of a number of important risk management tools in monitoring the compliance of high-risk sexual offenders with their licence conditions. In the way it is used by the probation service, polygraph is 80% to 90% reliable when indicating deception. However, she raises this important point and of course I would be happy to meet her to discuss it further.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist
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It is two years since the Government’s rape review, which the Secretary of State referred to earlier, but too many rape victims are still being failed by the criminal justice system, at every stage of the process. Although it is good to hear those positive reviews, too many women are not experiencing this. So what more are the Government going to do to step up the work to ensure that dealing with rape is a priority?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about this issue, as indeed are all right hon. and hon. Members. All I respectfully plea for is some balance in the way we discuss this sensitive issue. Let me say something on the recovery that has taken place. The number of cases passed by the police, after having investigated the matter, to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration of charge is up by more than 130%; the number of cases where the CPS decides to charge is up by more than 90%; and the number of cases that come to the Crown court is up by more than 120%. I am not suggesting that the job is done—of course it is not, and we need to support victims. That is why we invest in independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers; why we ensure that section 28 is rolled out; and why we have the specialist sexual violence support services in court. That is why we do all these things, and will do more: it is because we want to ensure justice for victims of this appalling crime.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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11. What recent assessment he has made of trends in average waiting times for employment tribunals.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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Following a merger of IT systems, there is no current data on average waiting times, but the outstanding caseload has reduced from 48,000 in February to 41,000 in March this year because of an increase in the number of sitting days. As well as the increased sitting day allocation, we continue to support and reform the employment tribunals process and to make progress in reducing the backlog.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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Members of my trade union, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, who submitted claims for a protective award in 2020, after being made redundant without consultation, are still waiting for the employment tribunal to hear their claim. They are owed thousands of pounds in respect of failure to consult before redundancy and it cannot be just that, three years on, they are still no closer to receiving compensation. Will the Minister look into the case, to ensure that their collective claim can be dealt with by the Tribunals Service as soon as possible, because it is not acceptable that it has not been dealt with three years on?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The tribunals are operationally independent, of course, but I would be more than happy to investigate the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions and see whether there are any issues causing the delay.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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14. If he will take steps to negotiate prisoner transfer arrangements similar to those agreed with Albania with other countries.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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Our prisoner transfer agreement with Albania came into force in May 2022. To build on that, as I have mentioned before, we announced a new arrangement with the Albanian Government in May this year to speed up prisoner transfers to Albania of the most serious offenders. The Government will energetically pursue bilateral agreements with EU partners and wider-world partners wherever possible.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Hollobone
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Will the Secretary of State confirm that out of a prison population of 85,000, about 10,000 prisoners—12%—are foreign national offenders? He said earlier that we have over 100 prisoner transfer agreements, but only a handful of them are compulsory, where we send prisoners back whether they want to go back or not. Can we have more compulsory prisoner transfer agreements with countries that have a large number of nationals in our jails?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue consistently—he was raising it when I first came to the House in 2015, and he is absolutely right to do so. Yes, we will continue to work on the issue. At the risk of stating the obvious, those agreements have to be agreed to by the other nation, but I can assure him that those matters are getting very close focus and attention.

Ian Byrne Portrait Ian Byrne (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
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15. If he will bring forward legislative proposals to require offenders to be present for their sentencing hearing.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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I am pleased to be able to say that we are committed to bringing forward legislation to enable offenders to be compelled to attend their sentencing hearing. Offenders who rob innocence, betray lives and shatter families should be required to face the consequences of their actions and hear society’s condemnation expressed through the sentencing remarks of the judge.

Ian Byrne Portrait Ian Byrne
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I have recently tabled an early-day motion to put it on record in the House formally the pain that the wilful absence of an offender at a sentencing hearing causes bereaved families. Will the Secretary of State explain why provisions cannot be included in the Victims and Prisoners Bill to change that? Will he meet me and Cheryl Korbel to discuss when legislation will be brought forward and how bereaved families can be at the heart of shaping a change in the law, to ensure that no bereaved family who has to suffer in the fight for justice will face that situation at sentencing ever again?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this case and for rightly identifying the anguish, pain and insult that families feel when a cowardly defendant refuses to attend court. On his specific question, he will understand that there are issues of scope and all sorts of things as to whether legislative measures can be included within certain Bills, but of course I will be happy to discuss that with him. The central point, however, is that there is a cross-party belief that there needs to be some legislative progress—we are committed to that as well.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Ellie Reeves Portrait Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
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I have listened to what the Secretary of State has said, but the Government have had 13 years to compel criminals to attend courts to hear their sentences. The Government’s failure to do that has meant that in the last year alone the killers of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa have all avoided hearing their sentences, and avoided hearing the impact that their callous crimes have had on the families left behind. Will the Government urgently make this simple change, and stop cowardly offenders from evading their sentencing hearings?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The hon. Lady raises an important point by referring to those three cases. What concerns me is that one defendant’s actions could be copied by others, who take the view that that is somehow a way of getting away from the consequences of their actions. She makes it a political point—we are in the House of Commons, so I totally understand that—but I could equally make the point that the legislation was not changed pre-2010 either. We have seen the anguish caused by these actions, so let me make the point that I want to know that when an offender is sitting in a cell, trying to get to sleep when the rest of the world is getting to sleep, the judge’s words of condemnation are ringing in their ears. There are victims who find it hard to ever recover, so why should that defendant ever be able to sleep soundly in their bed?

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
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17. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of the Illegal Migration Bill on access to justice for asylum seekers.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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The Illegal Migration Bill will break the business model of people-smuggling gangs, deter migrants from making dangerous channel crossings and restore fairness to our asylum system. The Bill will provide a robust but fair legal framework to remove illegal migrants swiftly while ensuring that proper opportunity to appeal remains. I am working closely and regularly with Cabinet colleagues on the implementation of the Bill.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows
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I thank the Minister for his answer. The Illegal Migration Bill would prevent UK courts from granting an interim remedy to delay the removal of an individual while their judicial review claim is heard. Is that not a fundamental attack on the rights of an individual to access the courts? Does he really believe that an asylum seeker will be able to participate effectively in a judicial review if they are already in Rwanda?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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This is a fair country and we will always take what proper steps we should to ensure that individuals’ rights are upheld. I respectfully say this: as well as considering those migrants who come across the channel, the hon. Lady needs to think about those migrants on the north coast of France who are thinking about whether to put their lives into the hands of people traffickers. We need to send a clear message that they should not do so. I also say respectfully that she should think about the rights of the British people who are having to fund a great deal of this. We will be fair, but we will also be firm and make no apology for either.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Alex Chalk Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk)
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Since the last oral questions, I have brought forward measures in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill to tackle strategic lawsuits against public participation—so-called SLAPPs—to give courts the power to dismiss lawsuits aimed at gagging campaigners and journalists who oppose financial misconduct. In the past week I have met victims and their families, including Georgia Harrison, to discuss new measures to tackle intimate image abuse, and Farah Naz, the aunt of tragically murdered Zara Aleena, to discuss compelling offenders to attend their sentencing hearing. I visited Snaresbrook Crown court, and HMP High Down where I opened a brand new DHL logistics workshop, which is supporting prisoners to learn the skills they need to turn their lives around.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth
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According to the Government’s own statistics, 18% of knife possession offences involve juveniles, which is of great concern to my constituents in Southend West. What consideration is being given to increasing the sentence for those supplying a knife to an under-18, which is currently only six months? Should that not be the same as possession of a knife, which is currently four years?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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We keep all these matters under review and my hon. Friend will know well that the role of a knife in the commission of criminal offences is already reflected in the criminal justice sentencing rules. For example, the starting point for a murder that is committed with a knife that is brought to a scene is considerably higher than it is in other circumstances. We also wish to ensure that knives do not get into prisons, which is why, as part of our £100 million security investment programme, we have funded enhanced gate security in 42 high-risk prison sites. On the issue of sentencing, we keep all matters under review, and I would be happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Steve Reed Portrait Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab/Co-op)
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May I add my congratulations to Dame Sue Carr on her historic appointment?

When he was Chancellor, the current Prime Minister let the murderous boss of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, bypass sanctions so that he could abuse our courts to silence a British journalist who was exposing his crimes. Why did the British Government side with this Russian war criminal over the British press?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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No, no, no—that is to completely misrepresent the situation. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have one of the most robust systems of sanctions; whether in an individual case money can be released is at the discretion of an arm’s length body. Of course the Chancellor was not seeking to do that, and to suggest that, I am afraid, is discreditable.

Steve Reed Portrait Steve Reed
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What is disappointing is that the Government’s proposed reforms in the economic crime Bill would still allow warlords to use these tactics to silence journalists in the British courts, but there is another area of concern as well. Will the Secretary of State confirm—because this is an area of doubt—whether the reforms he is proposing would prevent wealthy tax dodgers from silencing journalists in court, as the right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) threatened to do when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming the measures on SLAPPs, because it is very important to ensure that those people do not use their financial advantage to try to snuff out freedom of speech, legitimate investigative journalism and all the things we want to see in a free and fair society. By common consent, the measures we are introducing will make a very significant difference. We remain open to going further and to considering further matters, but we need to take it in stages. We are looking to manage the balance between freedom of speech and people’s right to access justice. These are important steps and have been widely welcomed, so it is right to see how they bed in.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
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T3. What measures is my right hon. Friend taking to protect children and young people from vile internet trolls who seek to encourage them to self-harm?

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this issue. We yesterday tabled an amendment to the Online Safety Bill that would create a new offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm, whether by verbal or electronic communications, publication or correspondence. That fills a gap in the law and, together with the broader regulatory measures in the Bill, it will help to protect people from such content. It remains our intention, however, when parliamentary time allows, to expand the offence to cover encouragement or assistance given by means other than such communications, which are currently out of scope of the Bill.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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Anyone’s Child has a mass lobby of Parliament today, calling for reform of the UK’s failed and outdated drugs laws. Will a Justice Minister be meeting anybody from Anyone’s Child to hear their case for supporting, not punishing, those who take drugs and their families?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I do not have plans to do so, I confess, but if the hon. Lady is to have those conversations, I invite her to consider writing to me afterwards; if there are matters we can take up, I would be happy to do so.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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T5. And so another migration Bill winds its way slowly out of the House of Lords, and when it becomes law, an army of human rights lawyers will try to frustrate it. Will the Government reflect that, if only we had had the courage to get out with a derogation from the European convention on human rights and the refugee convention, we might have solved the small boats crisis two years ago? Now my constituents are victims of that, because the Government want to put 2,000 migrants in RAF Scampton, and the same human rights lawyers in the Refugee Council will oppose it on the grounds that it is inhumane to put them next to hangars ridden with asbestos. Why do we not just get out of the convention?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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No one is a more doughty defender of the people in his constituency who are concerned about matters relating to Scampton than my right hon. Friend. This is principally a Home Office matter, as he knows, but the points he has made will have reverberated not just in this Chamber but, I am sure, all the way down the road to Marsham Street.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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T2. One way of reducing reoffending is to ensure that returning citizens can get into employment when they leave prison. Given that a number of former prisoners experience employment discrimination, is it not time to ban the box?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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We have already taken important steps to recalibrate disclosures so that they have to take place only when absolutely necessary, but the hon. Gentleman is right about employment. A prisoner who gets into employment is 10% less likely to commit an offence. I am delighted to see, through the huge efforts of employment advisory boards, employment advisers and employment hubs in custody, that the proportion of offenders in employment six months after release has doubled in the past year. A lot of work has been done, but of course there is further to go.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)
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Earlier, the Minister was asked about the backlog of criminal court cases and answered at length regarding Crown courts. On behalf of magistrates and magistrates court staff, can we have an update on the situation with magistrates courts, please?

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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The magistrates have continued to make good progress in reducing the backlog, and that is a testament to the work they do on our behalf.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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T4. According to probation unions, recent restructure and staff shortages are making it extremely difficult to keep tabs on some of the most dangerous individuals in our society. That is adding to the already endemic workforce retention issues. Probation workers are struggling under the pressure, as many leave the profession, leaving newly qualified and less experienced staff to take the reins. Why are calls for immediate Government intervention being ignored by the Department, and will the Minister sit down with probation unions this week as they launch their campaign, Operation Protect?

Damian Hinds Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)
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The work that our probation service does is incredibly important and, like the work of prison officers, it often goes unseen. There have been recruitment challenges throughout society, as the hon. Lady will know, but we have been focusing particularly on recruiting into probation. I am pleased to report that, over the past couple of years, we have exceeded our target, which was already stretching to 4,000. In regions such as London, where recruitment has been particularly difficult, we have had encouraging signs, including, for example, 144 new trainee probation officers starting in London in 2022-23. Their ongoing training and professional development will be incredibly important over the next few years.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
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I wonder what conversations the Lord Chancellor can have with the Chief Coroner about the poor performance of the Somerset coroner’s office, where the waiting time went up from 23 weeks to 31 weeks in 2022 against a decrease in the rest of the country. That involves worse things for individual constituents. Mrs Deborah Cox has been waiting nearly four years for the coroner to get on with the job of providing an answer. That is deeply distressing for families, and I wonder what can be done.

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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My right hon. Friend has shown great interest in the work of coroners. They have judicial independence, but I am more than happy to raise his concerns with the Chief Coroner to see if any specific issues in Somerset are causing concern to his constituents.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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T6. People who are released from prison into homelessness are much more likely to reoffend, but MOJ data shows that the community accommodation service tier 3 programme has had no meaningful impact on reducing the proportion of people leaving prison who are homeless on release or three months after release. Why does the Minister think the scheme is failing, and what will the Government do to fix it?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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What the hon. Gentleman said is just not the case. He is absolutely right that securing accommodation on release is incredibly important—we have just had a similar conversation about employment, but accommodation underpins so much else, including the ability to get into work—but the tier 3 accommodation that he mentions had, by February of this year, already supported more than 5,000 people who would otherwise have left prison without a home to go to.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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Further to the Minister’s comments about the progress made in magistrates courts, may I thank him for recently meeting members of the Cheshire bench who came to Parliament? Will he update the House on the decision to pause the additional sentencing powers granted to magistrates in 2022? Does he agree with me and members of the Magistrates Association that restoring those powers could free up about 1,700 extra Crown court sitting days each year?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The change in sentencing powers was no reflection on the magistrates, whose work is highly valued. The Department continues to keep the sentencing powers under review. I give my hon. Friend the commitment that the issues raised in that meeting with his local bench are being progressed through the Department

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)
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T7. A constituent who is a victim of domestic abuse recently attended court for the trial of her abuser. An officer from the Crown Prosecution Service told her that they did not know whether the case would be called that day; that if it was not, they did not know when it would be called; and that if she dropped the charges, the CPS would arrange a lifetime injunction preventing her abuser from contacting her. An injunction might afford my constituent some protection, but it would not deliver justice or prevent other women from being attacked by the same abuser. Will the Secretary of State investigate such unacceptable practices, which seek to reduce backlogs by persuading victims to withdraw from their right to the justice that they deserve?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right that people should have the opportunity to see justice done, and justice is done not simply by getting an injunction—important though that may be—but by ensuring that an abuser hears the clang of the prison gate in appropriate circumstances and if that is what the court orders. I do not know specifically what happened in that case, but I can say that, under the victims code, individuals have the opportunity to raise issues with the CPS. Supposing that they were seeking to drop a case, there is now a victim’s right to review—to say to the CPS, “Look again at this.” Equally, there is the opportunity for court familiarisation visits or special measures applications. That is all about ensuring that, where they want to, victims have their day in court and see justice done.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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My understanding of the law presently is that if someone is driving a motor vehicle and they kill an individual, their blood can be taken without their consent, but the blood cannot be tested unless the defendant gives their consent, and if the defendant refuses to give consent, that is accepted as guilt in the eyes of the law. That meant that Claire, the mother of six-year-old Sharlotte-Sky, who tragically lost her life in Norton Green due to John Owen, who was on drink and drugs, waited over a year before she got her day in court and justice. Will the Lord Chancellor back my campaign for Sharlotte’s law to be introduced?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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My hon. Friend has been a doughty champion on this issue and he continues to raise it. I suggest that he and I have a conversation in due course.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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When my constituent reported her rape to the police 14 months ago, she also revealed that the rape had been videoed by the perpetrator. The police are now in possession of the mobile phone that this has been recorded on, but she is still waiting for her justice and her day in court. Could the Minister say how long my constituent might expect to wait to get justice?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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The hon. Lady will appreciate that I am unable to comment on the specifics of a case, and it would probably be inappropriate to do so in the Chamber, but if she would like to write to me with the details that she cannot share on the Floor of the House, I am happy to look at them.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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Waitrose is based in my constituency, and in recent meetings with the partners and with other supermarkets, it has raised with me the scourge of shoplifting. Organised gangs operating with impunity across the UK are engaging in retail crime. They are often inflicting violence against workers using weapons, and they are costing supermarkets a fortune. Can we do more work on the deterrent effect of greater sentencing, and may I urge the Minister to look at whether the provisions of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021 could be rolled out in England too?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Let me make a couple of points. First, increasing the number of police officers means that there is more resource to try to ensure that the people who commit this crime—and it is not a victimless crime, by the way—are brought to book. Secondly, I am proud of the fact that we have doubled the maximum sentence for assault on an emergency worker, so that defendants can be properly punished where they have assaulted police officers, ambulance staff or potentially people who work in supermarkets, though I would query whether they are in scope.

Sarah Green Portrait Sarah Green (Chesham and Amersham) (LD)
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One of the concerns raised with me by several victims of domestic abuse has been their experience of victim blaming in the criminal justice system. Can the Secretary of State outline what steps his Department is taking to tackle victim blaming and provide better support to survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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Significant work is under way across the system to tackle victim blaming and disproportionate attention on victim credibility. As part of that, we developed Operation Soteria, which ensures that officers and prosecutors are focusing their investigations on the behaviour and offending pattern of suspects, rather than on subjective judgments of victims’ credibility. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady if she would like to discuss this further.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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Will the Lord Chancellor confirm that it remains the Government’s intention to update and modernise our human rights law as necessary, but to do so while firmly remaining in adherence to the convention on human rights?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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Yes, that is correct. Having carefully considered the Government’s legislative programme in the round, I can inform the House that we have decided not to proceed with the Bill of Rights, but the Government remain committed to a human rights framework that is up to date, fit for purpose and works for the British people. We have taken and are taking action to address specific issues with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention, including through the Illegal Migration Bill, the Victims and Prisoners Bill, the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021 and the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, the last of which addressed vexatious claims against veterans and the armed forces. It is right that we recalibrate and rebalance our constitution over time, and that process continues.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
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Rhianon Bragg, who was held hostage by her ex-partner, has faced multiple errors and omissions in her treatment as a victim. Given the catastrophic failings she has experienced in the criminal justice system, and with a parole hearing on 12 July, will the Secretary of State now review this case in full and support Rhianon’s call for an entire audit of the process from the victim’s perspective?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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I am afraid that I did not get the first part of the right hon. Lady’s question, but if she writes to me, I will come back to her.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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I recently visited Aylesbury Prison, where I was very impressed with the excellent work that is being done at the establishment as it has transformed from being a young offenders institution to a category C adult jail. One particular challenge, though, is the prevalence of psychoactive drugs such as spice. What progress is my right hon. Friend making on combating this appalling and deadly substance?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, both for the particular interest he takes in his local prison and for using his much broader experience across the system. He is right to identify the issue with keeping drugs out of prisons. Different substances come and go to some extent, but particularly for spice, the investment we have made in drug trace machines for post—I think there are now over 100 of those—has been very important.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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The Ministry of Justice has been trying to sell Reading jail to a commercial developer for some time, but our community hopes that it can instead be turned into an arts hub. Can the Minister update me on that sale, and will he meet with me and constituents on this important matter?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He and I have met, along with the other MP for Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma). As he is aware, a sale is progressing, and of course there is commercial sensitivity attached to that, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that assurances for purchase will be required by solicitors and all required due diligence will be undertaken. I will be happy to talk with him further.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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Louise and her family are facing unnecessary and quite challenging delays in the local coroner’s service in Cheshire. This seems to be happening far too often at the moment. What more can Ministers do to speed up that process?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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As the coroners are independent judicial office holders, we can continue to raise particular cases to find out what specific issues are holding back those cases. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me with the details of that case, I will ask the Chief Coroner to investigate.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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Today, Inquest and 40 other justice organisations launch a campaign for a national oversight mechanism to systematically learn the lessons of inquests, inquiries and investigations from Grenfell to deaths in custody. Do the Government support that initiative?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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I am more than happy to look at any specific proposals to see how we can improve the process of inquests and inquiries. Of course, my door is open if the hon. Gentleman wishes to have a more detailed discussion.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Mr Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I am never one to miss an opportunity—thank you very much.

Does the Minister believe that there is a greater role for youth justice agencies to be involved at early stages, eliminating the need for repeated court dates if arrangements can be made with victims of crime and the offender support network to agree a mechanism of reparation and rehabilitation to reduce small offence cases in court? Do it simply—that is really what I am asking.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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As always, the hon. Gentleman raises a really important issue. There can be some cases where reparation is exactly the right way to proceed, but it is case-specific. For some victims, peace and closure comes from meeting the defendant and understanding more about what prompted the crime, but other victims simply do not want that at all. It has to be taken on a case-by-case basis, but I will just make this point: one of the unnoticed things that has happened over the past 10 years is that the number of children in custody has gone down. We are diverting people from custody wherever possible so that they can have a crack at a decent future.

Illegal Migration Bill: Economic Impact Assessment

Tuesday 27th June 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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12:37
Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the publication of the impact assessment on the Illegal Migration Bill.

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Minister for Immigration (Robert Jenrick)
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The Illegal Migration Bill is critical to stopping the boats. Its intent is clear: if someone comes to the UK illegally, they should be detained and swiftly returned to their home country if safe, or relocated to a safe third country such as Rwanda. The impact assessment published yesterday makes clear that inaction is simply not an option. The volumes and costs associated with illegal migration have risen exponentially, driven by small boat arrivals. Unless we act decisively to stop the boats, the cost to the taxpayer and the damage to society will continue to grow.

The asylum system currently costs £3.6 billion a year and £6 million a day in hotel accommodation, but that is not the true cost of doing nothing. As this impact assessment shows, the cost of accommodating illegal migrants has increased dramatically since 2020. If these trends continued, the Home Office would be spending over £11 billion a year, or £32 million a day, on asylum support by the end of 2026. In such a scenario, the Bill would only need to deliver a 2% deterrence in arrivals to enable cost savings.

The figure of £11 billion is an extraordinary amount of money—nearly 10 times the amount of money the taxpayer spent on the asylum system as recently as 2021—and anyone opposing this Bill needs to explain how they would pay those costs. Given the Labour party’s opposition to this Bill, it represents another £11 billion black hole in its fiscal plans.

The impact assessment suggests that passing this Bill could directly save the UK taxpayer over £100,000 for every illegal migrant deterred from making a small boat crossing. It also finds that the Bill could lead to a much wider set of benefits—including reducing pressures on local authorities, public services and the housing market—that could not be monetised, meaning that the savings will in fact be much greater.

The British public are clear that they want to stop the boats. That is why we must keep using every tool at our disposal to do just that and to secure our borders, and why this Bill must become law.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
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I was going to ask if the Immigration Minister had seriously signed off this garbage of an impact assessment, which no self-respecting Minister could possibly think was serious, but actually the nonsense he has just said is even worse and even less coherent. This is not an impact assessment. According to the Government’s own guidance, it is supposed to include the

“costs, benefits and risks...and a consideration of a range of options.”

However, we have something that does not even include some of the most basic options to assess, such as speeding up the asylum system and making savings that way. Instead, it says that this impact assessment

“does not attempt to estimate any costs of implementing the Bill…or estimate the volumes of individuals that will be impacted by the Bill.”

Really, what is the point of it, given that the document itself admits that people “may not be deterred” by any of this, and it cannot answer the most basic questions? I have never seen anything more clueless and chaotic.

The impact assessment does provide evidence of the scale of Conservative failure. The cost for one person in the asylum system for just one night has gone up fivefold in four years. That is just the cost of Tory mismanagement. It has gone up faster than mortgages or energy bills, and it has even gone up faster than the price of cheese. It is all Tory Home Office mismanagement. It shows the shocking fact that people are now staying in the asylum system for four years, and there is no alternative to try to speed up the system or to look at that.

The Government do say that it will cost £169,000 per person to pay another country to take asylum decisions for us. So far, the Government have sent more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers to Rwanda, but how many people are they actually budgeting for? The Prime Minister says he wants to send everyone, so can the Minister tell us where the billions of pounds it would cost to send everyone to Rwanda this year will come from, and if not, can he tell us how many he is really budgeting for and what in fact is going to happen to everyone else instead?

The impact assessment says it costs £7,000 per person to keep someone in detention for 40 days. That is more than double the current average cost of keeping people elsewhere in the asylum system, so where are the hundreds of millions of pounds for the detention plan going to come from, and where are these detention facilities going to come from? The Minister has not attempted to cost speeding up the system and he has not attempted to cost what we really think will happen, which is that tens of thousands more people will be in indefinite detention or indefinite asylum accommodation. The Treasury bailed out the Home Office by £2.4 billion last year. How much is it going to be this year?

The Government have crashed the economy, and now they have crashed the asylum system too. We have an impact assessment that shows the Home Office does not have a clue and the Treasury does not have a grip, and the Prime Minister who claims to be Mr Fix-It is instead Mr Muck-It-Up. The country deserves better than this.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The right hon. Lady misses the point entirely. The impact assessment bears out the cost of the current broken system and makes it clear that there is no option but to completely overhaul our asylum system and make it fit for the decades ahead. The reality, as those of us on the Government Benches see it, is straightforward: if people continue to cross in small boats, the cost to the taxpayer in one form or another will continue to increase and that is a completely unacceptable outcome—but it is the one that can be expected with Labour’s recklessly naive approach to border security.

When the right hon. Lady said that this document was “garbage” and “clueless”, I thought she was referring to her own five-point plan to tackle illegal migration, because we cannot grant our way out of the problem, we cannot simply arrest our way out of this and do nothing to dismember and dismantle the business model of the gangs. We cannot provide a safe and legal route to every single person eligible for refugee status or every economic migrant who views this country as a better place, and we certainly cannot reheat the tired old policies like the Dublin convention that she looks back on through her rose-tinted spectacles. Even members of the European Union have moved on from that, but not the Labour party. She cannot even bring herself to call these unnecessary and dangerous journeys what they are under British law: illegal.

The truth is that Labour’s do-nothing approach to stopping the boats is the fastest route to more crossings, greater taxpayer spending and more pressure on our communities. Left unchecked, the cost will spiral to £11 billion by 2026. That is the cost of a Labour Home Secretary; that is the cost of Cooper. Only the Conservative party will truly tackle the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. We are determined to secure our borders and stop the boats, and the British public can rely on us to do so.

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
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The Opposition seem to think that the Rwanda scheme is purely about displacing people who have entered illegally from Kent to Rwanda. In fact, it is about deterring them from coming in the first place and instead encouraging them to use the safe and legal routes that are now in the Illegal Migration Bill, because it will become a lottery whether someone ends up on a plane to Rwanda or in a hotel in Kent. Given that the French authorities admitted to the Select Committee on Home Affairs that when the Rwanda scheme was first announced there was a surge in migrants approaching the French authorities about regularising their position in France rather than hazarding the channel crossing, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the French and Germans, who have expressed interest in a Rwanda-type scheme, about having a joint multinational scheme to get this thing up and running?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a view expressed by some, mainly on the left, that the UK is somehow an outlier in pursuing a policy like Rwanda. I can tell him, having spoken to our European counterparts and Home Affairs and Interior Ministers in north Africa and beyond, that leaders across the world are looking to the UK not as an outlier but as a leader in this field. They are looking to the Rwanda policy as one of the most innovative and comprehensive approaches to a problem that everyone is facing. In an age of mass migration, with millions of people on the move, it is right that the UK leads. We will invest in border security, and that is the difference between us and the Labour party. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) does not want to invest in border security; we do. We will pursue the Rwanda policy, we will secure our borders, and other countries will follow our lead.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call Scottish National party spokesperson.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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The Tory Illegal Migration Bill has almost completed its journey through Parliament and only yesterday did the Home Office deign to publish this ludicrous economic impact assessment, which is as revealing in what it omits as what it includes. There is nothing about the backlog they have created; it is all about the boats.

We know the cost of this cruel Tory ideology is £169,000 per soul deported, costing more than if people were allowed to stay. We know the figures for asylum processing claims, which are estimated to take four years, but we do not know the set-up costs for the wildly expanding detention estate or those left in immigration limbo or the staffing in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to deal with this.

The Government say that this will save money, because victims of modern slavery will no longer be entitled to support. How despicable. This is an egregious waste of public money in a cost of living crisis, and it fails to recognise the value of human potential. We have just celebrated the Refugee Festival in Scotland—an incredible experience that celebrates the contribution of those who come to our shores for sanctuary. It is increasingly evident that the only way that Scotland can uphold our humanitarian values is by regaining our independence. As Winnie Ewing would have it, stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I am delighted that the hon. Lady celebrated Refugee Week. I do not know if any refugees came to it, because the SNP does not house refugees in Scotland. The point is that we are proud of our record as a country. Since 2015, under a Conservative Government we have welcomed into the United Kingdom more than half a million people seeking genuine sanctuary from war and persecution—individuals coming from Hong Kong, Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan. SNP Members continuously pose as humanitarians, but we all know the truth is that at every single opportunity, they fail to live up to their fine words. If they cared about this issue, they would welcome asylum seekers into their own part of the UK, but they do not.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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When it works, it will be a bargain, won’t it?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I agree with my right hon. Friend. Border security is the first priority of any Government. We understand that, and that is why we are investing in it and ensuring that we can stop the boats. I am only surprised that the Opposition care so little about our national security.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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Two weeks ago, when the Home Secretary gave evidence at the Home Affairs Committee, I asked her when the impact assessment for the Illegal Migration Bill would be published. While I welcome the fact that it has been published today, or last night, it is after the Bill has completed all its stages in the House of Commons and is three quarters of the way through the House of Lords. That is wholly unsatisfactory for Parliament to undertake its role of scrutinising Government legislation. At that Select Committee sitting, the Home Secretary also said:

However, I would also say that to my mind it is pretty obvious what the economic impact of the Bill will be. We will stop spending £3 billion a year on our asylum cost. It is a Bill that will lead to the cessation of 45,000 people in hotels and £6 million a day. To my mind, those are savings that we cannot ignore.”

The Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee that those savings would happen. Can the Minister help me by pointing to where those savings are in the impact assessment? I am struggling to find those figures in the document that the Government have produced.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The document makes it abundantly clear that, were costs to continue to rise on the current trajectory—we are in an age of mass migration and the numbers of individuals looking to cross, for example from north Africa to Europe, are extremely high so there is reason to believe that numbers will remain high for a sustained period—by 2026, which is just a few years away, the system would be costing an additional £11 billion. We cannot countenance such waste of taxpayers’ money. As we have seen in other parts of the world such as Australia, where systems of this kind have been implemented, by delivering this system and ensuring a genuine deterrent effect, we will ensure that we save the taxpayer that money. But, more important than merely saving money, we will save the British public the stress and the strain on public services, housing, integration and community cohesion that tens of thousands of illegal migrants bring to our country. That is a prize worth fighting for, and that is why we are delivering this Bill.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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May I just say to my right hon. Friend that in the past week we have seen arrests and convictions in Essex? One example was over the tragedy that befell the Vietnamese a few years ago, but another was a new gang that has been identified that is trafficking people to work in modern slavery locally, in Grays. Although the British public want us to stop the boats, the British public are also generous in spirit, and what they really want is to make sure that this country is not being taken advantage of. The responsibility to tackle that lies with the machinery of Departments, our criminal justice system and our law enforcement agencies. If they can all get a grip, will that not be a better solution than sending people to Rwanda?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Our policy with respect to Rwanda is not the totality of our approach; we are also, as my hon. Friend has just noted, investing significantly in law enforcement at home and abroad. We have increased the number of illegal working raids by 50% just this year alone. We have signed two landmark deals with France and a memorandum of understanding with Italy. We have signed a returns agreement with Georgia. I have recently travelled to Belgium and met my counterparts there, where we spoke about that horrific incident with the Vietnamese individuals who died in the back of an HGV. We agreed to further deepen our collaboration and law enforcement co-operation. She has my assurance that we are working around the clock and tackling this issue from each and every dimension, and that is why I believe that the UK has the most comprehensive plan to tackle illegal migration of any country in the western world.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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The Minister is proposing, according to the document, to spend eye-wateringly large sums—£169,000 per person—to process claims in Rwanda. He wants to spend that money to treat people with great cruelty. How can that possibly be justified?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I usually have the utmost respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but he is wrong in each respect of that question. First, the figure that he quoted is a gross figure, not a net figure. Secondly, that figure does not relate to the Rwandan partnership, but is an indicative figure based on the Syrian resettlement scheme. We chose not to publish the commercially sensitive nature of our relationship with Rwanda for good reason, because countries and partners working together in good faith should not publish details that we said we would not. His last point, that individuals will be treated with great cruelty in Rwanda, is categorically untrue. I wonder whether he has been to Rwanda—I certainly have. It is a country that is safe and where we have a good working relationship. The High Court exhaustively analysed Rwanda’s safety and the treatment that it would propose to give to those coming from the United Kingdom, and the High Court concluded that the scheme was appropriate and in accordance with our legal obligations. We will shortly hear from the Court of Appeal, but I very much hope it will uphold the High Court’s judgment.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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What is nonsense is to deny that it makes economic sense to offshore. Nobody is going to spend thousands of pounds to a people smuggler just to be detained and sent back to Rwanda. In terms of deterrence, will the Minister accept that if someone is fleeing chaos in Syria or Iraq, they will not be deterred to come if they are going to be put up in a cosy, warm, former airman’s bedroom in RAF Scampton, rather than a hotel in bracing, cold Skegness? Is not the solution to get the Bill through and pass it into law and for the House of Lords to stop its silly games?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, although not necessarily his comments about Skegness. The point is that we have to look at each and every one of the pull factors to the United Kingdom. The approach that we are now taking to accommodating asylum seekers is not an outlier within Europe. I have spoken to my counterparts in almost every European country in recent weeks, and they are all considering options such as barges and sites such as former military bases. Many are considering tents. Many are bailing people to no fixed abode with vouchers and essentially leaving them to sleep on the streets. We have to ensure that the UK is not perceived to be a soft touch, and I will never allow that to happen.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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Who would have thought that a policy designed for shallow political purposes would turn out to be an expensive embarrassment? It is not about what is in this assessment; it is about what is not. Where is the estimate of the savings if the Government chose competence over posturing and efficiently cleared the 160,000 backlog of asylum seekers? Where is the impact assessment for the effect of these proposals on the victims of modern slavery? Has the Minister made any assessment at all of the likelihood that people will still come to our shores by small boats but simply not claim asylum, slipping underneath the radar and ending up in slavery and criminality? Where is the comprehensive assessment of this ridiculous policy?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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On the hon. Member’s penultimate point, we have gone to great lengths to ensure that individuals do not arrive on our shores without our knowledge. That happens in only a tiny number of cases because of the good work of our small boats operational command. We meet individuals and ensure that they are properly security checked before they flow into the system. That is the right thing to do.

The costs to the UK taxpayer of the current levels of asylum seekers are extremely high. Then, as the impact assessment says, there are non-monetised costs such as the effect on the housing shortage and public services, and the challenge to community cohesion and integration. It is for all those reasons and others that we must get a grip on this challenge. I do believe that border security is worth investing in. The hon. Member may not, but I do, and I think that the British public do as well. They want us to secure our borders and they are willing to see us invest in that.

William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
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May I again caution my right hon. Friend against the Gerald Ratner approach to Government policy? Will he answer this direct question: how long did it take on average to process an asylum seeker’s claim five years ago, how long does it take today, and why?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The last time my hon. Friend asked me a question, he said that we would not be able to produce a barge to house asylum seekers. Actually, days later we signed the agreement to do that, and that will be coming forward, so he knows that when we say things, we mean them and we will deliver.

With respect to the time it takes to process asylum claims, it is too long. However, that is the product not just of management within Government and the Home Office, but the sheer number of people crossing every year. I have spoken to my opposite numbers in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, and every one of those countries is struggling with backlogs of cases as much as we are—more so in some cases—because the asylum systems across Europe are being placed under intolerable pressure by the number of people making these dangerous and unnecessary journeys. That is why we have to instil deterrence, and the Rwanda policy gives us the ability to reduce the numbers and restore sustainability to the system.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
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Instead of effective measures to tackle the people smugglers and speed up the processing of asylum claims to reduce the backlog, the Bill means that the Minister’s Department will need to requisition more and more accommodation, as it is doing with the Stradey Park Hotel in my constituency. In spite of promises of job opportunities from Clearsprings, his Home Office contractor, all 100 staff have had the devastating news today that they face redundancy. What will the Department do to help those staff and those who are in similar circumstances because of the Bill?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The best thing that the hon. Member could do is support the Bill when it returns from the House of Lords to enable us to get the flights off to Rwanda so that we imbue the system with the deterrence that it requires. The impact assessment that we laid yesterday makes it clear that if we do nothing, the costs to the system will spiral by £11 billion a year. She, like other Labour Members of Parliament, writes to me day in, day out complaining that the way in which we accommodate asylum seekers is too rudimentary. They say it is not specialist enough, that we should be spending more money on asylum support, not less, and that a hotel is not good enough and needs to be more luxurious. We have the Labour leader of Westminster City Council saying that individuals being housed in a hotel in Pimlico were being poorly looked after and that they should have their own single ensuite bedrooms. How out of touch with the British public can they get?

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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Local residents in the Kettering constituency are appalled that two local hotels—the Rothwell House Hotel in Rothwell and the Royal Hotel in Kettering—are being used as asylum seeker accommodation. I am convinced that the answer is to get the Illegal Migration Bill through and to stop people crossing the channel in small boats. Is it not the case that we are spending £3.6 billion a year and that that will rise to £11 billion in just three years? Is it not the case that doing nothing is simply not an option?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and his constituents see every day the harm that doing nothing could cause, with the loss of more than one valued hotel in his constituency. We want to stop this once and for all, and the dividing line is between those who want to deal with the symptoms of the problem by tweaking the system and managing failure and those of us who want to transform the system, stop the boats, secure our borders and ensure that we have a sustainable system for an age of mass migration.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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We can tell that we are in the dying days of the Government ahead of a general election, because they always resort to dog-whistle rhetoric. Nobody on either side of the House wants open borders. We want a secure border around the United Kingdom, but what we do not want is more unworkable propositions from the Government. They have brought forward Bill after Bill after Bill, and none of it has worked. The impact assessment shows that this Bill will not work either. There is no attempt to estimate the total costs or benefits of the proposals. It uses the word “uncertain” 24 times in 40 pages and does not cover the costs that we need to know. Will the Minister tell us how much this will cost and where the money will come from?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The difference here is that if we do nothing, we will see the British taxpayer spend billions of pounds. [Interruption.] That is not on us; that is on the Labour party. We are not doing nothing; we are taking forward the Rwanda partnership, which is one of the most innovative and novel approaches to tackling this issue of any country in the world.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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May I extend my most sincere thanks to the Minister for his words today in response to the urgent question? I have been very loud about exactly this matter in the Chamber since I was first elected, and this is without question what the British people voted for back in 2019. Does he agree that the Labour and the Lib Dem response of simply saying, “Oh, speed up the asylum system,” equates to saying, “Just let them all in”?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I could not agree more strongly with my hon. Friend. There is a naivety to the Labour party’s position. If Labour Members think that they can solve the problem just by granting people asylum quicker, doing a few more arrests and trying to reinvent the Dublin convention, which even European leaders have moved on from, they do not know what we are dealing with. Just the other day, the shadow Immigration Minister, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), supported a proposal to loan Ukraine the small boats that we have seized to help its citizens deal with the recent floods. Does he have any idea what these boats are like? They are the most unseaworthy craft that I have ever seen, produced by the most evil and ruthless people smugglers and human traffickers. That suggests that Labour Members do not understand the problem. If we are to beat the people smugglers, we need to take robust measures, and that is what we are doing.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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The Minister is claiming that, without the Bill, the cost of the current system will rise to £11 billion—by the way, that figure is not in the impact assessment. Will he confirm that his calculation is based on the idea that per-person accommodation costs will keep rising at the same pace as they have over the last few years as a result of his Department’s failure to get a grip both on the asylum system backlog and, as I have said before, on the rip-off merchants who are scamming the Home Office for billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on dodgy contracts?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I will always hold the providers to account for the quality of the service they provide for the taxpayer. I take that very seriously, as I have said to the hon. Lady in the past, but I am afraid that, like the shadow Home Secretary, she is missing the point. The more illegal migrants who come to the country, the greater the cost to the taxpayer. If we want to tackle the problem, we need to break the business model of the people smugglers. Tinkering around at the edges and trying to manage the system better, which seems to be the Labour party’s approach, will never work.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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Residents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are rightly outraged to see hotels used, people losing their jobs, levelling-up projects undermined and the hospitality and retail sectors destroyed. This is the right scheme because, like the successful Australian scheme, it will act as a deterrent to people coming to this country, therefore bringing down the need for hotels and the burden on the Home Office.

Sadly, the only plan we hear from the shadow Home Secretary is to process people quicker. That is amnesty in another name. We are currently accepting 70% of them, and the right hon. Lady will not even commit to getting down to France’s level of 18%. Is the truth not that the shadow Home Secretary may belittle the scheme but she does not say whether she would scrap it if she were Home Secretary? Ultimately, Labour is getting ready for another embarrassing flip-flopping U-turn.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I do not know whether the shadow Home Secretary would scrap the scheme—I have heard all sorts of conflicting reports in that regard—but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that this a world-leading partnership. Time and again, I speak to Interior Ministers throughout Europe who look to it as an innovative approach. I would not be surprised if other countries follow us once we have operationalised it.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
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For the Minister’s information, Motherwell and Wishaw has been welcoming refugees for more than 100 years—Lithuanians, Vietnamese, Congolese and Syrians. Please do not make that mistake again.

The economic assessment says:

“By setting an annual cap this should reduce the inflow of people entering the UK and therefore reduce the cost associated with processing asylum claims”,

with secondary benefits—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not feel well.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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If it is okay with the hon. Lady, I will move on and I will come back to her if she wishes me to.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend apologise for the delay in producing this impact assessment? Will he also explain to the House why the four countries of Scandinavia have been able to reduce the number of asylum applications from 239,000 in 2015 to 28,000 last year? Why have they been able to do that when we cannot? Why is our asylum process still taking longer than it ought to? The rate at which asylum applications are being dealt with is currently at its slowest ever.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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First, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) is feeling unwell, and I hope she recovers quickly.

With respect to my hon. Friend’s question, I can report good news: we are making good progress on the pledge we made at the end of last year to eliminate the legacy asylum backlog. The number of caseworkers is rising rapidly and we are on course to achieve our ambition to double them. Productivity is increasing. We will see those results flow through very rapidly. That is the right thing to do, although it is not the totality of the response to this challenge, because the reason we have a backlog in cases is the sheer number of people crossing. We published the impact assessment yesterday. I hope my hon. Friend will read it and it will inform any further discussions we have in this House following their lordships’ deliberations.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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The impact assessment illustrates the cost of the Government’s decisions. Nobody else is to blame. The Government have had 13 and a half years, but we are in this mess. On 25 May, when I asked the Minister about dealing with asylum claims, he told me that increasing the pace of dealing with asylum claims would likely increase the number of people coming across on small boats. He also said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck):

“the faster the process, the more pull factor”.—[Official Report, 25 May 2023; Vol. 733, c. 439.]

Where are those statements borne out in the impact assessment?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The point I made then and have made again today is that the Labour Party’s policy is merely focused on the symptoms of the problem. It is saying that, if we can grant the decisions faster, everything will be fine. That will not resolve the problem; in fact, it is dangerously naive. We are dealing with the most evil people smugglers and human traffickers, and highly determined economic migrants. That is why we need a much broader approach. At the heart of it has to be deterrence. The Rwanda policy is part of that. That is why we have brought forward the Illegal Migration Bill. The sooner we get it on the statute book, the sooner we can implement it.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is clearly right that this is a multifaceted approach. We need to break the business model of the evil people smugglers, but also speed up the process of dealing with those people who have genuine asylum cases, and then remove those who do not. Will he join me in sending this signal: if someone enters this country illegally, we will remove them to Rwanda where their case will be considered and, if they have a case, they can return.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to build a system whereby the UK is a generous and welcoming country to those in genuine need of sanctuary. That is why we have pursued the resettlement schemes that we have in recent years, and we want to do more in future. The Illegal Migration Bill envisages that through its clause on safe and legal routes. For those who come here in breach of our laws, breaking into our country in an irregular manner, we will pursue the most robust approach. They will be returned home if it is safe to do so, or to a safe third country such as Rwanda. That is a sensible and robust approach that will help us to create a sustainable migration system.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
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The Minister was correct when he said that the system was broken—broken by this Government, which is why we are paying £6 million a day to house people fleeing conflict and persecution. Liverpool, as a city of sanctuary, has extended its support to people fleeing persecution, not illegal migrants, to the sum of 2,800. Will the Minister agree that it is unacceptable for the Government to expect us to rehouse 237 people from Afghan hotels with five months’ notice? Will he agree to meet me and other Liverpool MPs to discuss this matter and solve it urgently?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I am happy to discuss that with the hon. Lady, or she can speak to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), who is leading on the resettlement of Afghans. I respectfully disagree with her. Those individuals who came across in Operation Pitting under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, have in some cases been in hotels for approaching two years. That is not right for them or for the country. We need to help them now into sustainable forms of accommodation. That is why we have established a generous new scheme. We are working with local authorities, with dedicated triaging teams going into the hotels and helping those individuals into vacant service family accommodation, the private rental sector and social housing. I strongly encourage her to work with her local authority to do the same in Liverpool.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
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The Immigration Minister is right that the current level of illegal migration is unsustainable, due to not only the billions of taxpayers’ money being spent but the pressure on public services and housing and, therefore, on our environment. Will he assure me that, in addition to the Illegal Migration Bill, we will always uphold the decisions of this Parliament and the British courts above those of the European Court of Human Rights?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for the action that we are taking. This Conservative Government brought forward the Illegal Migration Bill, a robust measure that is probably the most significant change to our immigration legislative framework since the second world war. We believe that it is in accordance with our international law obligations. We are determined to tackle this challenge, and we will do whatever it takes to do that.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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I hope the Minister is prepared to correct some of his earlier claims, because Glasgow remains the local authority with the most dispersed asylum seekers per head of population; it has more than any other local authority in the country. If he does not believe me, he would be very welcome to come and meet some of the asylum seekers and refugees at the Maryhill Integration Network, people who trained as accountants, nurses and teachers. They do not want to cost the taxpayer money; they want to become taxpayers. But his failed immigration processing means they are not having their claims processed in time. Will he come and hear some of their genuine stories about why they had to flee their home countries in the first place, and the contribution that they could and want to make now?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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First, I agree that Glasgow is taking in a large number of asylum seekers. It is just a pity that nowhere else in Scotland is. That is the approach the SNP Government have established. Only last week, we approached the SNP Government to suggest that the vessel that has been housing Ukrainians in Leith be used to house asylum seekers. The SNP Government said that they did not think that that was a good idea—Ukrainians were welcome, but asylum seekers were not welcome. That is emblematic of an approach that is rhetorical and never backed up by reality. I would be happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, but the truth is that the SNP is letting them down.

Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
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Much of the media reporting this morning focused on the £169,000 cost of transporting an individual and processing them in Rwanda, but what are the alternative costs of ongoing open illegal migration, leading to problems with accommodation, access to public services, lack of infrastructure, increasing house prices and social integration? Could the Minister tell us more about the costs of those, please?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Not only is maintaining a system without taking robust further steps like the Rwanda policy likely to be extremely expensive—that is detailed in the impact assessment—but there are non-monetised costs as well, which are hard to calculate with certainty, such as the impact on scant social housing and housing more broadly, the cost to public services and the fact that many of these individuals come to the UK speaking poor English. Many require great support by the British state to help them to integrate and build successful lives in this country. That is a very challenging situation. We have to be honest with ourselves about that. We need to take action to stop the boats, so we can ensure that the finite resources we have as a country are not directed at young men who are in a place of safety such as France, but can go to the people who really need it most in and around conflict zones: families and those people we would want to resettle in the United Kingdom.

Marie Rimmer Portrait Ms Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)
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The Prime Minister claims he is ready to take tough financial decisions, such as not giving our NHS heroes a pay rise, leaving them struggling to pay ever-increasing mortgages and the cost of living caused by those on the Government Benches voting measures through and crashing our economy just a few months ago. The Rwanda scheme is set to cost even more billions than the already crashed asylum system, delivered by those on the Government Benches over there. So how can the Minister truly sit there and justify spending £169,000 to send one single asylum seeker to Rwanda? I accept that the Government are working with local authorities on housing in the private sector—deregulated housing in the private sector that cannot be given to any of our people. That is what he is doing. You cannot justify what is going on here. You’ve crashed it and you go on to—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. The hon. Lady is experienced enough to know that she does not address the Minister directly like that, but through the Chair.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The hon. Lady is wrong on a number of counts. First, the impact assessment does not say that it costs £169,000 to send somebody to Rwanda. The figure is an indicative one based on the Syrian resettlement scheme, as I said in answer to a previous question. The partnership with Rwanda is rightly commercially sensitive, so she is wrong to draw the inference that she does. With respect to accommodating asylum seekers, we want to ensure we bring those costs down and we want the best possible relationships with local government to do just that. But the truth is that the driver of those costs is the sheer number of people crossing the channel every year. Unless we take decisive action, I am afraid that will continue to rise. That is why she should support us when the Bill returns to the Commons.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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Clearly, the best way to reduce the costs of illegal migration is to increase deterrence, in particular with the Rwanda plan. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is doing everything possible to ensure that once the Court of Appeal has made its decision we can get on with the flights to Rwanda immediately?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Deterrence has to be at the heart of our approach, whether domestically in terms of making it harder to live and work illegally in the United Kingdom, or internationally with the work we are doing upstream. The Rwanda policy is a critical part of that. The Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and I meet every week to ensure we are ready to operationalise the policy as soon as we have the ability to do so. We will await the judgment of the court. Of course, we hope it will uphold the very strong judgment we received from the High Court earlier in the year.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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The Government’s failing asylum seeker policy also impacts on local areas in the UK where large numbers of asylum seekers are accommodated. The Government promised not to increase the number of asylum seekers in the north-east, but the Minister told me in a letter this week that that would not stop a large barge being sited on the Tees. Is Teesside getting hundreds or thousands more asylum seekers, yes or no?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s approach because he voted against every measure we brought forward to tackle this challenge. As a result, more people will come to the United Kingdom illegally on small boats. I suspect he cannot even bring himself to call these individuals illegal migrants. We are taking the tough steps we need to tackle this issue. We are also looking at new ways to accommodate people. Barges and vessels are options being pursued by the Irish, the Belgians, the Dutch and the SNP in Scotland.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
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The Minister spoke earlier about investing in border security, but it was only in April that Border Force were on strike over pay and conditions. He also spoke earlier about humanitarian approaches to migration, yet I still have constituents in Ilford South whose families are in Afghanistan fleeing the Taliban and facing every day being murdered by the Taliban. The Government have failed to bring those people safely to this country. We then turn to the impact assessment on the Bill, which exposes what it is: an absolute dog’s breakfast. It is designed for one thing only: to try to win an election. It is nothing to do with serious migration policy. It is not properly costed. It is total nonsense. Mark my words, Madam Deputy Speaker, I doubt a single flight will go to Rwanda. It will be an incoming Labour Government who will, yet again, have to clean up this Government’s incompetent mess.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Let’s see about that, shall we? I think we have the right policy. It is one we are pursuing. As soon as we have the ability to do so through the courts, we will get those flights off to Rwanda. On the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the UK is cruel or inhumane, I could not disagree with him more strongly. The facts bear that out. The fact that we brought more than 500,000 people to this country, including from places such as Afghanistan, on humanitarian visas shows that we are one of the world’s leading countries in that regard. One of the challenges we have, to be frank with him, about helping some people we would like to help from Afghanistan, or those who fled to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan to come to the UK, is the fact that so many people have come across on small boats from a place of safety such as France that they are putting intolerable pressure on our system. The sooner we stop the small boats, the more we can do for people who really deserve our help.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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The impact assessment confirms that the Government’s Rwanda scheme, which I have criticised previously in this House for its senseless cruelty, will also come at huge expense to the British taxpayer. Does the Minister accept that there is both a more humane and financially prudent alternative to the Government’s plans, and that should begin by allowing asylum seekers to seek paid work, which the Lift the Ban coalition estimates would lead to the Government receiving more than £366 million in tax and national insurance alone?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I do not support allowing asylum seekers to work in this country. The approach that we are taking under the Illegal Migration Bill means that individuals who come here will be processed swiftly—in days and weeks, not months and years—and then either returned home or sent to a safe third country such as Rwanda, so that issue will not be relevant. Let me also point out that the hon. Gentleman recently opposed the proposal for a number of asylum seekers to stay in his constituency, despite having said that it was a place of sanctuary.

Neil Coyle Portrait Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)
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Excessive cost for nil result—does not that assessment sum up not just the Minister’s flawed Home Office plans, but the incompetence at the heart of the whole sinking Government?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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No. As I have said on many occasions, the approach we are taking is to introduce one of the most creative and robust systems of any country in the western world.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I recognise that the Minister and the Government have a big illegal migration issue to sort out, but the economic impact assessment does not paint an accurate picture. Without foreign staff our NHS would collapse, and without the support of grandparents to help with children our workforce would collapse. The assessment does not do justice to the fact that we as a nation are infinitely richer thanks to those who choose to come here to work and raise their families, and who make the choice to be the best of British alongside those of us who were born here.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The difference is that the people to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred come here legally. We welcome people who come here legally—as visitors on tourist visas, as workers on work visas, as NHS workers on NHS and social care visas—but it is very different if people break into our country, flagrantly breaching our laws. No other country in the world would tolerate that, and neither should we.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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That brings us to the end of the urgent question.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Immigration Minister told me earlier:

“I do not know if any refugees came to it”

—Refugee Week—

“because the SNP does not house refugees in Scotland.”

That statement seems to me to be as insulting as it is inaccurate, and I would like some clarification of it.

Let me say first that it is up to the Home Office, not the Scottish Government, to decide where people are dispersed. Glasgow supports about 5,000 asylum seekers, Scotland took well over its population share of Ukrainians, and every single local authority in Scotland took people as part of the Syrian resettlement scheme. The Minister also mentioned the luxury cruise ship in Leith that was contracted by the Scottish Government to house Ukrainians. The Ukrainians on that ship were afforded comprehensive wraparound support. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether he would offer refugees the same comprehensive wraparound support on that basis, because if he would not, I would understand why the Scottish Government would be nervous about it.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps it would be helpful if I sent the hon. Lady a copy of the letter that I wrote to the Scottish Government recently, which debunks many of the points that they had raised with regard to the vessel in Leith. If there is still time, the hon. Lady could ask them to change their mind, because if they are willing to accommodate Ukrainians, surely, given how strongly they feel about asylum seekers, they would want to do the same in this instance.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I am not entirely sure—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Order. Let me speak.

I am not entirely sure that anyone is asking me to do anything. It seems to me that we are slightly prolonging the exchanges on the urgent question, and I have to say that it is not for the Chair to adjudicate on two different points of view. I hope that if the hon. Lady wants to come back to this, there will not simply be a further exchange of views on what has already been said. A point of order should be directed at me, to ask me to do something, but the hon. Lady clearly wanted to put some points on the record. She has done that, the Minister has responded, and I think the House will now want to move on. I urge the hon. Lady, if she has something further to add, to ensure that it is relevant to the Chair. Otherwise, she might consider that she has put her points on the record.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thank you for what you have said, and I will be brief. The Minister implied, at the Dispatch Box, that Scotland does not take refugees. This is clearly a point of accuracy, because that comment was inaccurate, and I ask, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether the Minister could withdraw it.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Again, that is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Lady has made her point. If the Minister felt that he had said anything inaccurate, or had inadvertently misled the House, he would be expected to correct the record at the first opportunity. I think we will leave it at that, because this has been quite a long extension of the previous exchanges.

Schools (Gender and Parental Rights)

Tuesday 27th June 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
13:35
Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Reclaim)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the promotion of social transition practices in schools; to require schools to inform parents if their child has indicated an intention to pursue, or has commenced, social transition; to provide for a right for parents to access information about lessons in schools; to make provision about the teaching of the concept of gender identity in schools; and for connected purposes.

The issue that I bring to the House today needs a Bill, the very necessity of which is both grotesque and revealing of an absurdity: the turning of a blind eye to the real-world effects that seemingly good-faith legislation has had on our education system, on schools and on society as a whole.

So that we can all be clear about what the proposed Bill refers to, let me start by defining the terms that it mentions. “Gender identity” is the theory that, although we may be biologically male or female, the more important characteristic is what we actually feel like on the inside. “Social transitioning” is the conscious act of self-rejection of our biological reality.

Cases of that happening used to be one of the clearest examples we had ever seen of an exception that proves the rule, but I am sickened to say that, under all our noses, members of society who are either politically or educationally tasked with helping to bring up our children have turned raising the next generation into a science experiment, with consequences that break my heart.

In schools today, it is rapidly becoming taught that it is a normal and common experience not to feel at home in our own bodies, and that the reason we feel like that is likely to be because we, as a person, are simply trapped in the body of the opposite sex. In some schools, one in 15 children now identify as something different from their actual biological sex.

The exceptions that proved the rule are now becoming the rule. We have started to blur the lines of basic reality, and have turned what was already an extremely complex world for children to get to grips with into a more complex one. To paraphrase Douglas Murray, there is just about nothing more formative to our grip on reality than the realities of sex. The first, most basic, most instinctive thing we become aware of when we are growing up or even meeting someone new is simply that there are boys and there are girls. In dismantling that, we dismantle the world and pull out a foundational block of society. Who knows where the Jenga tower may fall? But one thing is certain: the tower will fall, and we should all be ashamed that we would doom our children to such a fate.

Social transition practices in schools have now become the norm in every classroom in the country. They are promoted as a normal and healthy response to natural feelings that children experience during the difficult period that we used just to call “growing up.” There is not a single child in our schools today who has not been exposed to these practices. They include the policing of language by mandating the use of a child’s preferred pronouns—referring to a boy as “she” or “her” instead of “he” or “him”, or vice versa—and the use of body alterations to reflect a transition to the opposite sex, which primarily take the form of surgical castration for boys, double mastectomies for girls, Frankenstein-esque genitalia being created from grafts of skin, and drugs to pause or halt puberty. Teachers, students or even parents who do not oblige are punished and ostracised. In Canada, calling a child by their “wrong pronoun” is already a crime.

The common consensus is that this gender-based ideology came from adolescents who are more inclined to adopt so-called progressive and liberal values, but that could not be further from the truth. The origins of gender ideology came from rogue academics in the 20th century who have since been discredited, laying the groundwork for future socialist thinkers to start making more and more wild claims about the nature of our societies.

George Bernard Shaw was one of those who opened Pandora’s box by coining anti-family rhetoric and promoting the rejection of societal gender norms. In 1928, Shaw wrote:

“The social creed must be imposed on us when we are children… It is quite easy to give people a second nature, however unnatural, if you catch them early enough.”

Those are chilling words, yet here we are, voluntarily following his playbook.

This did not come from our children spending more and more time in the echo chamber of social media; it has been clinically and systematically imposed on them from the top down. Gender ideology is a political ideology—one that is being, effectively, promoted in schools, and that therefore constitutes political indoctrination, which, under section 406 of the Education Act 1996, is strictly prohibited.

Any who would argue that gender identity is protected by the Equality Act 2010, and can therefore be discussed in schools, would have grossly misinterpreted the Equality Act, as gender identity is not a protected characteristic. There is a reason why we are careful what topics we broach with children and teach them at young ages. Why have we forgotten that?

If it were at all possible, it gets much worse. The public are rightly shocked when they learn just how graphic and extensive sex education lessons have become in our schools. Five-year-olds are being taught to identify different genitalia in class. Nowhere in the guidance on sex education lessons does the Department for Education discuss nine-year-old children being taught about masturbation or witnessing dolls simulate sex acts, or 11 to 12-year-olds being taught that they can feel pleasure from anal or oral sex. Does this depravity know no bounds?

Not only are these topics being broached, but pre-pubescent children are being encouraged to explore their own bodies in this manner. It borders on criminality when adults are suggesting that children as young as eight should engage in adult activities. We have a duty to safeguard our children, preserve their innocence and protect them from the complexities of adult life until they reach an appropriate age, when they are mature enough to engage with topics and fully understand them.

What is happening in our schools is unacceptable, and there is a need for immediate action. Classrooms should be a safe harbour. Inclusivity has become a double-edged sword, cutting through the very fabric of childhood. Every child has the right to innocence and immunity from the sexual perversions of adults.

When teaching sex education—a topic where a bridge should stand between parents and teachers—a barricade has formed. Parents have been left in the dark and even actively blocked from seeing the material taught to their own children. We must act now and hope that the damage already done will not be too long-lasting.

The Bill I propose today will prop up existing legislation aimed at protecting our children and put an end to this dark chapter. Social transition in children will be forbidden. The promotion of social transitioning and the discussion of social transitioning practices will be prohibited from appearing in any aspect of a school curriculum. Local authorities, governing bodies or headteachers shall immediately inform parents or carers of any child who indicates intent to socially transition or who has commenced the process of socially transitioning. Moreover, when the parents of a child who has considered socially transitioning have been informed, the relevant safeguarding policies shall be adhered to and the relevant safeguarding leads shall be notified.

Parents will be entitled to the right to consultation, the right to withdraw their children from sex education and the right to have access to the materials used as part of that sexual education. Schools will only be allowed to use published, citeable resources that are reliably available for public and regulatory scrutiny. The Bill will uphold and reinforce the provisions laid out in the Education Act 1996 and will forbid the promotion of gender identity. Where gender identity is taught, it will be taught alongside opposing views to allow for a fair presentation of political beliefs.

Relationships and sex education lessons and personal, social, health and economic education lessons were brought in to sensibly and safely inform our children about topics necessary to keep them safe from harm. Let us get a grip of the legislation and deliver on the original intended purpose. Our children are not guinea pigs; it is high time that this House took charge and stopped allowing ideologies passed down from mad scientists that treat them as such. My proposed Bill will protect children, reassure parents and offer certainty to teachers. I wish with all my heart that it was not necessary, but it is needed—and it is desperately needed.

13:45
Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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I would like to make it clear to the House that I was not intending to speak in this debate when I came to work today, but I and a number of colleagues were so appalled by the Bill’s contents—as we were by that speech—that we felt it was important to send a clear message from this place, particularly to young LGBT people and their families, that this nasty Bill does not rep