All 33 Parliamentary debates on 26th Feb 2024

Mon 26th Feb 2024
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Mon 26th Feb 2024

House of Commons

Monday 26th February 2024

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Monday 26 February 2024
The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

Monday 26th February 2024

(4 months, 4 weeks 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

Monday 26th February 2024

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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1. What steps he is taking to tackle knife crime in Greater Manchester.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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2. What steps he is taking to tackle knife crime in Bournemouth.

Chris Philp Portrait The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire (Chris Philp)
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As we have said often in debates this House, knife crime is a terrible crime; it tears families apart and all too often takes young people from us. As the House will know, violent crime overall has reduced by 51% since 2010, but there is more we can do. That includes funding violence reduction units—Manchester’s VRU has £20 million of funding for the coming financial year—and running hotspot policing in areas where serious violence and antisocial behaviour are a problem. The £66 million of funding for that across England and Wales is in addition to the existing police funding settlement.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan
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In September 2021, my constituent Rhamero West was chased across Manchester, stabbed and killed—he was just 16. His mum, Kelly, has worked tirelessly to make sure that no other families have to face the suffering she and her family have faced, including by raising money to fund a network of bleed kits across Greater Manchester and a youth project in Fallowfield. She wants to tell Rhamero’s story to help save other young lives, so will the Minister agree to meet her?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Yes, of course. It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is campaigning bravely, as so many parents do, to try to bring some good out of a terrible personal tragedy, so I would be delighted to meet him and his constituent.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
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May I quickly put on record my thanks to the Security Minister and the Policing Minister for their efforts in upgrading MPs’ security?

Across the UK, ever more young people are choosing to carry knives. Sadly, that is the case in Bournemouth as well. Violence reduction units are dedicated police units that have a proven track record of reducing knife crime in town centres in other parts of the country, not just through increased policing, but by working in the community, including at schools, to educate youngsters on the dangers of carrying a knife. I am grateful for the increase in police numbers in Dorset, but will the Minister ask the Chancellor to see whether extra funds can be provided specifically for a VRU for Bournemouth?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I will convey my right hon. Friend’s request to the Chancellor, and I put on record my thanks for his tireless campaigning and that of other Dorset MPs for resources for that county and its police force. Dorset police will receive about £11 million more next year than it received the previous year. Thanks to the campaigning of my right hon. Friend and other Dorset MPs, it also received an exceptional special grant last year of £600,000 to help campaign against violence.

My right hon. Friend is right to say that violence reduction units have a very positive effect. In the next financial year, £55 million will be spent on them for the 20 police force areas judged to have the most significant violence problems. Dorset is not among those 20, but I will pass his message to the Chancellor and I know that through our work with the police and crime commissioner, Dorset police and the PCC will do everything they can to combat knife crime not just in Bournemouth, but in Dorset as a whole.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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With incidents up by 70% since 2015, the public are looking for leadership on knife crime. Earlier this month, the Government would not support our plan, which includes broadening the ban on zombie knives to include ninja swords; an end-to-end review of online sales; and criminal penalties for tech execs who allow their platform to be used for illicit sales. The Government rejected our plan, but what they have in place simply is not working, so we will push again during the remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill. Will they accept it then?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The shadow Minister should be aware that according to the crime survey of England and Wales —the only reliable long-term indicator for volume crime trends, according to the Office for National Statistics—violent crime is down by 51% since 2010. He asked about online knife sales. He should be aware that when the Online Safety Act 2023 is fully in force, very strong action will be taken, for example against online marketplaces, and the illegal sale of knives online will become a priority offence under schedule 7. He will also know that we are bringing forward legislation to ban a range of machetes and zombie-style knives. We define them in relation to the features they have. For example, knives over 7 inches in length with two cutting edges and serrations will be banned. Those are just some of the measures we are taking, all of which have helped to bring down violent crime by 51% since 2010.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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3. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Criminal Justice Bill on policing homelessness and rough sleeping.

Chris Philp Portrait The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire (Chris Philp)
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The Government are committed to ending rough sleeping. Huge amounts of money are being invested in getting people off the streets. Rough sleeping levels in England are 35% lower than they were in 2017. Criminal sanctions where rough sleeping is causing a problem, for example for businesses, are very much the last resort in the Criminal Justice Bill. The first resort is giving people the support they need to find accommodation.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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As I walked here today, I passed several rough sleepers in doorways and in tents. The police already have the ability to move rough sleepers on under a number of different pieces of legislation, including the Public Order Act 1986, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and the Highways Act 1980. Does the Minister understand my concern that what is suggested in the Criminal Justice Bill criminalises rough sleepers and does nothing to help them? The police already have the powers but are failing to use them.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The powers in the pieces of legislation my hon. Friend lists are not precisely the same as those in the Criminal Justice Bill. The Bill does not criminalise rough sleeping in general; it criminalises particular types of rough sleeping when it causes a nuisance. That said, as I have signalled privately to various hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), the Government are willing to look at the way those provisions are drafted, to ensure that they are tightly and narrowly drawn, because out intention is that the first stop will always be to offer support. Criminal sanctions are appropriate only as a last resort if rough sleeping causes a serious problem, for example for businesses.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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As drafted, the Bill is a new vagrancy Act with bells on. Rough sleeping is up 75% since 2010. Rather than criminalise people who happen to be rough sleeping, should we not provide support and build the houses they need?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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As I said, my colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are providing extremely comprehensive packages of support. Rough sleeping is down by 35% since 2017 and by 28% since before the pandemic in 2019. The Government are willing to look at changes to make these provisions tightly defined and narrow. The intention is to use criminal sanctions only as a last resort where rough sleeping is disrupting a business, for example, and preventing it from operating. It is a last resort—the first resort will always be offering help and support.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
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4. What steps he is taking to reduce levels of legal migration.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Sarah Dines (Derbyshire Dales) (Con)
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7. What steps he is taking to reduce levels of legal migration.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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On 4 December, the Government announced a package of new measures to further reduce net migration, including but not limited to stopping overseas care workers bringing family dependants, increasing the salary threshold for skilled worker visas to £38,700 and raising the minimum income requirement for family visas in stages to £38,700. The changes are being introduced gradually from early 2024 and are not retrospective.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
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I welcome the measures taken to reduce abuses of the immigration system, but I also recognise the need to exempt critical occupations where we have a specific shortage from the new minimum salary, for example health and care workers. However, in the Migration Advisory Committee’s interim review of the immigration salary list, published on Friday, several occupations have been removed because a discounted salary of around £31,000 is well above the going rate for such occupations. Given the vital and growing importance of food security across the country, will my hon. Friend commit to a review of those occupations which, although not the highest tech or highest paid jobs in our economy, are none the less critical for our food sector and our rural and coastal communities?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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There is no stronger advocate for the fishing industry in this House than my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that we have received that return from the MAC. We will look very carefully at its recommendations, but my hon. Friend knows that as a Government we have been consistently flexible in responding to the needs of the fishing sector. I would argue that there is more we can do to promote domestic employment, but let me take this matter away and consider his representations.

Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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A key issue often raised by my constituents is the desire to see a dramatic reduction in legal migration. Bearing in mind that the Opposition appear to have no plan in that regard, can my hon. Friend reassure me that he will look at new ways to stop this migration, that he will make sure that everybody has the right to work in this country and that we will not decrease wages by bringing in cheap labour from abroad?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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My hon. Friend is very supportive of the holistic approach that the Government are taking on this issue. The measures that we have announced and are taking forward will reduce the inflows by 300,000. It is important to consider this against the back to work plan that the Department for Work and Pensions is delivering to encourage more people to take on these roles domestically. She should be absolutely certain that we as a Government will deliver on these measures and will continue to keep them under review to see whether we can go further. That stands in stark contrast to those on the Opposition Front Bench, who have no plan at all.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) (Lab)
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To cut a long story short, a constituent’s skilled work visa application was mistakenly withdrawn by the Home Office. The error has resulted in him no longer having the right to work in the UK, forcing him and his wife to leave their jobs. His wife is five months pregnant and, although they pay their NHS surcharge, the Home Office error means that they are again getting healthcare bills. The situation is increasingly desperate, so I ask the Minister to meet me to look into this case and ensure that this Home Office error does not do any more harm than it already has for this young couple.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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The hon. Lady will appreciate that I do not have the specifics of the case to hand, but if she kindly shares them with me, I will look into the case as a matter of urgency.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to recognise that the right to claim asylum is allowed under international law and that, therefore, there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. On that basis, perhaps he can tell us whether he or any Minister has met people with lived experience of the system and whether he will meet the people at the Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow North to discuss these issues.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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The hon. Member will recognise that, in an answer to one of his hon. Friends, I said that I would be willing to meet him and his Glasgow colleagues to discuss some of the challenges. I have made an undertaking to him that that meeting will happen, and I will make sure that it happens at the earliest possible opportunity. I am keen to understand what the challenges are and to make sure that the support that we are providing to help facilitate move-ons, for example, is meeting the needs that exist.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
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Since our last Home Office questions, the list of Government failures on immigration has continued to grow relentlessly: 30,000 asylum seekers stuck in limbo, unable to be processed due to the Prime Minister’s legislative fiasco; 250 visas awarded to a care home that does not actually exist; net migration trebled; and criminals free to fly into our country undetected on private jets. Having just sacked the independent inspector of borders and immigration, is the Home Secretary sitting on 15 different reports by the inspector because he is checking for typos, or is it because he is utterly terrified of what those reports will tell us about this Government’s shambolic and failing immigration system?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Let me answer that point very directly: having given proper consideration to those reports, we will be responding to them. As I said in the House last week, we will do so very soon. The shadow Minister mentioned the Government trying to dodge scrutiny. When it comes to the general aviation report, for example, it was our officials who asked the inspector to take it forward. Far from dodging scrutiny, we have invited it in that area. We will respond properly and thoroughly to that report in exactly the way that I undertook to do last week.

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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People who come here to work, study and live make a significant impact on Scotland’s economy and society, so reducing their number is entirely self-defeating. Reunite Families UK has highlighted the disproportionate impact that Tory changes to visa income thresholds will have on women. I have asked the Minister this before, and I have yet to have an answer: when will he publish the full equality impact assessment on this damaging policy?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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We will publish the equality impact assessment associated with the policy in due course. The hon. Lady will appreciate that the Government’s position is clear that the current levels of net migration are not sustainable. We need to take forward a set of policy measures that deal with that and that promote domestic employment wherever possible. There is a strong moral case for the approach that we are taking. None of the measures being applied is retrospective, but we are convinced that this is the right thing to do. The British people think that action is needed, and action is what they are getting.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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I spent a lot of time this weekend with members of the Glasgow branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, which put on a major demonstration and a service in Glasgow cathedral at the weekend to mark two years since the escalation of Russian aggression in Ukraine. The Government’s changes to the Ukraine scheme came with very little notice and caused a great deal of uncertainty and distress in that community. Will the Minister tell me whether, for example, a wife whose husband has been injured fighting on the frontline against Putin’s war machine will be able to sponsor her husband to come here under these restricted rules?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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As we said when we debated this issue in the House last week, the Government are very proud of the amazing response from people across this country who have opened their homes to Ukrainian refugees. There will continue to be an out-of-country route through the Homes for Ukraine scheme to facilitate people being able to come here from Ukraine. Ukrainian refugees here in the UK will be able to extend their visas. We gave that certainty way ahead of the curve, when compared with our international partners. Ukrainian nationals who would have qualified under the Ukraine family scheme will still be able to apply under Homes for Ukraine.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
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5. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of steps taken by his Department to tackle transnational repression by hostile states.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait The Minister for Security (Tom Tugendhat)
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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is aware that the Government are continually assessing the potential threats to individual rights and freedoms and to safety across the United Kingdom. I thank her for the efforts she made to represent her views to me in a different forum.

Whenever we identify such threats, we will always use every measure at our disposal, including our intelligence services, to mitigate any threat to individuals. In the first instance, I urge anyone concerned for their safety to contact the police. The hon. Lady will no doubt be aware that the National Security Act 2023 includes measures to tackle foreign interference, including transnational repression. The defending democracy taskforce is reviewing the UK’s response to develop our understanding of the issue and ensure a system-wide response.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill
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Transnational repression to silence dissent in democracies is extremely serious. In recent months, Five Eyes nations have raised concerns about the actions of agents with links to India targeting Sikh activists in the United Kingdom. Most disturbingly, there have been alleged assassinations and foiled assassination plots. The US and Canadian authorities have taken the lead at senior levels to publicly call out this challenge to their sovereignty, the rule of law and their democratic values. Given the reports of British Sikhs facing similar threats, what steps are the Government taking to secure their safety? Will the Minister show the same strength as our partners do in publicly defending their democratic rights?

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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Let me be completely clear: if there are any specific threats against any British citizen by any foreign power, we will take immediate action. The Sikh community should be as safe as every other community in the United Kingdom. All British citizens are equal, whatever their colour, creed, faith or political allegiance. The reality is that we have taken all the action we believe is appropriate at this stage. We of course maintain a very close relationship with our Five Eyes partners, and we are absolutely clear that if the situation changes and we need to take action, we will do so.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
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Russia’s deadly poison attack in Salisbury, Iran’s intimidation of Iran International journalists and China’s secret police stations have long showed the need for a robust strategy to counter transnational repression on British soil. The Minister mentioned that a review is under way into the UK’s approach to transnational repression. When will it be published, and will it be part of a wider strategy to counter hostile state activity in this country?

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The review is under way, and it includes many different elements from communities from around the world who are now settled happily in the United Kingdom. He will understand why I will not go into individual details. Certain communities have been targeted, such as the Hong Kong Chinese community, which is now very welcome in the United Kingdom under a policy that this Government introduced—I am very proud of the number who have claimed asylum and taken the opportunity as British nationals overseas to settle here—and we are looking at others. We are open to any reports of transnational repression, and we are listening.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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8. What steps his Department is taking to identify young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime.

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)
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19. What steps his Department is taking to identify young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime.

Laura Farris Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Laura Farris)
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Since 2019, we have invested £160 million in 20 violence reduction units across England and Wales, and a further £55 million has been committed this year. Violence reduction units have reached more than 270,000 young people. They bring together specialists from health, the police, local government and community organisations not just to tackle violent crime, but to identify the young people who are most at risk of being drawn into it and provide evidence-based interventions to support them.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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I am grateful for that answer. Children as young as 12 are being recruited by local drug dealers in the central wards of Stockton, and are provided with pocket money—huge sums for them—to carry and deliver class A and class B drugs. Many of them are in thrall to their balaclava-wearing controllers, who largely act with impunity. Although the police and other agencies work hard to combat such organised crime, Cleveland has the highest crime rate in the country, and police and councils do not have the fair funding needed to deal with criminals or provide good diversionary activities for those vulnerable young people. What will the Minister do to sort that out?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, under our tackling organised exploitation programme, we are keenly aware of the difference between victims and criminals, and that children are being drawn into criminal enterprises and gangs at ever-younger ages. I want to provide reassurance that where we have evidence of that happening, the child should be referred through the national referral mechanism—the framework for identifying victims of exploitation by county lines groups and equivalents. That can be done with or without the child’s consent, and it provides the police with a vital tool not just to protect the child but to disrupt the criminal activity in which they are being enlisted.

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen
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Last week, Bedfordshire police reported that two drug dealers who had trafficked a vulnerable 15-year-old child from Luton to sell drugs were sentenced under modern slavery laws. Although that conviction is of course welcome, I think we can all agree that this is not just slavery; it is the despicable act of grooming children into a life of drugs, gangs and violence. Why do not the Government back our plans for a new specific offence to lock up such criminals for exactly what they are doing and stop them exploiting children and young people for a life of crime?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I agree with much of what the hon. Lady says. The Prime Minister implemented new measures to deal with child sexual exploitation in April of last year, but part of that deals with organised exploitation, which goes wider. I am glad to hear that those two criminals were convicted under modern slavery laws. I want to reassure her that, under our Criminal Justice Bill, which is making its way through the House, grooming gangs will receive enhanced sentences.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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It is deeply disturbing when children and young people are involved in violent crime. Experience from around the world shows that a whole-of-Government approach is crucial in tackling the problem, as has been acknowledged in successive Government strategies. Will the Minister give us an update on how the Government are ensuring that that is delivered?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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If I have understood my right hon. Friend’s question correctly, I can tell her that we are doing a huge amount on child exploitation. Only last week, we implemented the No. 1 recommendation of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, for mandatory reporting, and we have more to come. This remains a Government priority.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Feryal Clark Portrait Feryal Clark (Enfield North) (Lab)
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The Minister says that the Government are doing loads, but since 2018 there has been a huge increase in the number of weapons seized in schools in some areas of the country, with knives and Tasers found in some instances. Our young people continue to bear the brunt of the Tories’ decision to hollow out youth services and prevention work in our communities. Meanwhile, ninja swords and other weapons remain just a google search away. Parents should not fear for their children’s safety at school. When will the Government match Labour’s ambition for a Young Futures programme and prioritise the safety and opportunities of our young people?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I make no apology for the success of our violence reduction units and the difference that they have made to young people’s lives since 2019. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire made the point that the crime survey for England and Wales shows that there has been a 51% fall in violent crime since 2010. More than that, our violence reduction units, working in conjunction with our Grip hotspot policing, have delivered a statistically significant fall in violent injuries. Hospital admissions for knife crime and equivalent have fallen by 25% since 2019, and overall knife crime has fallen nationally by 5% since 2019, all in the life in this Parliament. We have banned zombie knives and cyclone knives, and our Criminal Justice Bill will give the police more powers to make pre-emptive seizures.

James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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9. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of levels of compliance with post-charge police bail curfew conditions.

Chris Philp Portrait The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire (Chris Philp)
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Decisions on bail conditions are set, enforced and monitored locally, but it is very important that where police bail conditions are set down, they are adhered to, in order to protect the public.

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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Three members of my constituent’s family were killed in an appalling dangerous driving case. The offender was on police bail at the time, with curfew conditions, for a separate offence. Given that legislation does not allow for tagging in such cases to enforce those curfew conditions, will my right hon. Friend consider bringing forward changes to the law so that electronic monitoring can be used for offenders released on post-charge police bail?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend raises a very important point, informed by a tragic case in his own constituency. He is right that, as it stands, the legislation does not allow for tagging of people who are simply on police bail—that is to say, before their first appearance in court. There are some considerations to do with whether tagging constitutes a form of punishment and whether that is appropriate prior to a court hearing. However, my hon. Friend raises a reasonable point informed by a constituency case, and I am happy to take it away and look at it with him.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister very much for that response. Obviously, with a renewed and reinvigorated Northern Ireland Assembly and a Minister in place, we in Northern Ireland are very keen to work alongside the Minister on some of the suggestions he has referred to. Will he contact the policing and justice Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that what is going to happen here can happen to us in Northern Ireland, and that we can all gain the advantage?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank the hon. Member for his question. It is, of course, very good news that the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have been restored. Policing is devolved, so the Assembly and Executive can set their own policy. However, if they would like any information about the policies we are pursuing in the England and Wales jurisdiction, I would be very happy to share that information and work constructively and collaboratively with all the devolved Administrations, including in Northern Ireland.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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10. What recent discussions he has had with chief constables on delivering policing at a local level.

Chris Philp Portrait The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire (Chris Philp)
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We have very regular discussions with chief constables across the country about local policing—in fact, just this morning I had a discussion with the chief constable of Staffordshire Police about some local policing issues in that county. It is a dialogue that happens on a regular and ongoing basis. Police chief constables are, of course, operationally independent, but we work very closely in partnership with them.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Houghton Regis are the third, fourth and fifth largest towns in Bedfordshire, yet they have a fraction of the police officers that are based in Luton and Bedford. Will the Minister speak to the chief constable to ensure that we get a fairer allocation of the record number of police officers we have in Bedfordshire, spread across the county and with a 24/7 first responder presence?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his part of Bedfordshire. He is quite right to say that Bedfordshire, in common with many other parts of the country—and indeed with England and Wales as a whole —has a record number of police officers. In the case of Bedfordshire, the number is 1,456, and across England and Wales as a whole we now have over 149,000 officers: that is more than we have ever had before, and over 3,000 more than we had under the last Labour Government.

I speak regularly to Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst and the excellent police and crime commissioner in Bedfordshire, Festus Akinbusoye. Of course, how they deploy their record headcount is a matter for them, rather than for Government, but I will certainly mention the issues that my hon. Friend has raised when I next speak to them—I think we are having a meeting quite shortly—and I know that my hon. Friend will mention these issues as well.

Dawn Butler Portrait Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab)
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At the weekend I had to seek extra police support, due to the far-right abuse that I have suffered, which has been inspired and unleashed in part by the conspiracy theories and racist, Islamophobic, anti-Muslim hate peddled by the Members for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), for Fareham (Suella Braverman) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). [Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. You cannot name Members.

Dawn Butler Portrait Dawn Butler
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It was peddled by Members of the Government party. Does the Minister agree that there is no place in this House or society for such divisive language? One Member has had the Whip removed. Does the Minister agree that other Members should also have the Whip removed, or does he agree with the points that were made?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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This House as a whole should be clear that hatred based on religion or race has no part in a civilised country, whether it is directed towards the Jewish community, who have suffered a surge in antisemitism, or the Muslim community. The Conservative party is prepared to act extremely quickly, as we did at the weekend—a great deal faster than the Labour party when it had an issue in Rochdale.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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I am pleased that the Minister made reference to his meeting with the chief constable of Staffordshire Police after a disgusting hate mob appeared outside a Stoke-on-Trent Conservative fundraiser on Friday. It appears that a police officer allowed members of the public, who were spewing their hatred, into the venue’s private function room, where they sought to intimidate, harass and bully members old and young—some as young as 11 years old. One individual involved used to be a member of the now proscribed terrorist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir. Is it not about time that we in this House stood up— because, I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but the actions of last week emboldened these individuals to take such action—and said with a clear voice that democracy will not be subdued in this way?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Yes, that is important. We make it clear in this House that Members of Parliament, elected councillors or anyone engaging in political activity, including attending political events, should be able to do so without intimidation and without harassment. No one in this House should feel that they have to change their vote, or change procedure, as a result of external pressure.

What happened in Stoke city on Friday evening was completely unacceptable. A political meeting was disrupted, and indeed closed down by protest. That is unacceptable. This morning, I met the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner of Staffordshire to make that clear. I also spoke this morning to the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Chief Constable Gavin Stephens, to make the same point. I am pleased to report to the House that four people have now been arrested in relation to the incident in Stoke city—[Interruption.]—on charges under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 and section 68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Sorry, Minister, but we cannot both be standing at the same time.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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Has the Minister had a chance recently to talk to the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall Police, which has been in special measures since 2022, and is now being sued by seven former and serving women police officers for failing to deal with rapes, emotional abuse and beatings over a number of years? What can he do to reassure the public in Devon and Cornwall that these allegations will be thoroughly independently investigated and any wrongdoing acted on?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Of course, we have the Independent Office for Police Conduct to make sure that there is an independent body available to investigate serious allegations about police forces or their conduct of particular investigations. On the Engage process, the chief inspector of constabulary chairs regular meetings of the policing performance oversight group, where forces in Engage are looked at and overseen. Devon and Cornwall is one of those forces, along with the West Midlands and London.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
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Local policing is really important. I have had some good news from my police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, which is that Liskeard is to have a new police inquiry office. Would my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming this, and will he look at what further funding is available for this to happen in other towns?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I pay tribute to the excellent police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, for the work that she has done to get the Liskeard centre open, and of course I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her tireless work campaigning on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police. Devon and Cornwall Police now has 3,718 officers, which is a record, and next year it will be receiving £28 million more funding compared with the current financial year, providing plenty of money to invest in services, as my hon. Friend quite rightly requests.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for everything you do to keep Members of Parliament safe. I know that so much of it goes unseen.

I know, from talking to residents in Hull West and Hessle, that they are deeply concerned about the rise in antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour is not trivial; it has a huge impact on neighbourhoods and on the mental health of the people subjected to it. So why are the Government failing to take it seriously?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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With great respect, that is complete nonsense. The Government published an antisocial behaviour action plan just last year. From April of this year, in just a couple of months’ time, every single police area in England and Wales will have funding—£66 million in total—to run hotspot patrols in areas where there is antisocial behaviour or serious violence problems. We have 10 force areas running pilots for immediate justice, where people committing ASB have to do immediate reparations, and we banned nitrous oxide on 8 November last year. So an action plan is being implemented, and every single police force is having money to run hotspot patrols to combat ASB.

Olivia Blake Portrait Olivia Blake (Sheffield, Hallam) (Lab)
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11. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers in asylum accommodation. [R]

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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We continue to provide safe, habitable and fit-for-purpose accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. The Home Office has established procedures to hold contracted accommodation providers responsible for the provision of the safety, security and wellbeing of asylum seekers. In addition, asylum seekers have access to a 24/7 helpline to raise concerns and make formal complaints.

Olivia Blake Portrait Olivia Blake
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Recent tragic events demonstrate that even those who are at risk of suicide are ignored after repeatedly raising concerns about their mental health in asylum accommodation. Why have Ministers changed the allocation of asylum accommodation policy to make it harder for people to prove that they are at risk of harm at a particular site? Will they learn the lessons from December’s tragic incident?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I do not accept the depiction that the hon. Lady paints of the situation. We of course make appropriate case-by-case decisions about accommodation arrangements for individuals, reflecting the needs they have and with proper referrals made, as one would rightly expect, to any other agencies that may be required to ensure somebody’s health or wellbeing, and that any safeguarding issues are properly addressed. Migrant Help support is of course available for people to access 24/7 and raise any issues.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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12. What recent progress he has made with his French counterparts on tackling illegal migration.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Countering Illegal Migration (Michael Tomlinson)
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Joint working with our French partners is crucial to stopping the boats. Thanks in no small part to that joint working, small boat crossings were down by 46% last year.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
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My spies tell me that my hon. and learned Friend was in France just nine days ago. Were there any lessons to be learned from the French authorities about more co-operation that can go on to stop the boats even further?

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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My hon. Friend is right: I was in France nine days ago. Even while I was there, a boat was seized, but he is right to say that more needs to be done. Personnel, equipment and technology are key to breaking the business model of the criminal gangs. Having met the new Préfet du Nord, I am in no doubt that this is a joint mission.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
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Will the Minister update the House on the number of illegal migrants who have crossed the channel and are currently being accommodated in hotels at the expense of the public purse? How does that compare with the number of UK nationals who are currently homeless or sleeping rough?

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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I can confirm that the Government have beaten our target of closing 50 hotels by the end of January, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to welcome.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
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13. What progress his Department has made on closing asylum hotels.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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The Home Office has been clear that the use of hotels was a temporary and short-term measure to ensure that we met our statutory obligation to accommodate destitute asylum seekers during a period of unprecedented numbers of small boat arrivals. We are making significant progress in closing hotels, with more than 64 closed by the end of January.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski
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I thank the Minister for that answer. Shrewsbury has more listed buildings than any other town in England, and we benefit from beautiful architecture that attracts a huge amount of tourism from across the United Kingdom and overseas. Our top hotel in the centre of Shrewsbury is being used to house illegal migrants. We were given an assurance that the hotel would be taken out of that use, yet we have heard nothing further from the Minister or his Department. When will the Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury revert back to its normal use, which is housing tourists?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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It is certainly the case that I have not given an assurance to that effect, but I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we are tracking ahead of profile when it comes to closing hotels, and the number of people accommodated in hotels is going down. We will continue to make progress in order to allow more closures. I hear his representations about the hotel in his constituency. We are committed to this. We are making progress and we will see it through.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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Obviously the overwhelming majority of those seeking asylum here and who are in residential accommodation desperately do not want to be in that accommodation. They want their application to be heard and processed quickly. The Minister knows that around three quarters of those people will be granted asylum in this country. Does he agree that part of the process, while a person is waiting for their hearing and for their decision to be made, surely should be looking at integration? Given that, is not time to give asylum seekers the right to work in this country? That would be good for them morally, but also good for the Government and the taxpayer, because they would contribute to their own upkeep.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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It is fair to say that such an approach would make a mockery of our legal migration system and people playing by the rules, lodging applications and paying the appropriate fees. It is right that where people are granted asylum, we support them to be able to move on as quickly as possible. Work is a key part of that. I just wish the hon. Gentleman had the same energy to try to help more of our people domestically to be able to take on these roles, rather than saying that we should resort to migrant labour all the time.

Sarah Edwards Portrait Sarah Edwards (Tamworth) (Lab)
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14. What recent assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of neighbourhood policing levels.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Figures for local policing started to be published in 2015, with 61,083 roles at the time. The most recent figures for March last year show that the number had increased by 6,000 to 67,785.

Sarah Edwards Portrait Sarah Edwards
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With a growing number of my constituents not even reporting crimes because they do not have access to a public police station, will the Minister reconsider additional funds to ensure that local police stations, such as Tamworth’s, are reopening public-facing police desks?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Staffordshire constabulary will receive an extra £16 million next year compared with the current financial year, which is a significant increase. They now have more than 2,000 police officers due to our uplift programme, which has seen record police numbers across England and Wales.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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One of the most commonly reported crimes in Rother Valley is burglary, either to rob homes or to break into homes and steal car keys. Does the Minister agree that every area, especially South Yorkshire, should have a dedicated burglary police team to deal with those particular issues and ensure we clamp down on those awful crimes?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The previous Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) was successful in securing a commitment from police to ensure that every residential burglary has a visit from the police, but my hon. Friend’s idea for a dedicated burglary taskforce is excellent, and I commend it to all police and crime commissioners.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait The Minister for Security (Tom Tugendhat)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a brief statement. Over the past few weeks, we have seen disgraceful attempts to intimidate this House, to undermine the democratic process and to spread fear among those who have been elected to represent our country. That is unacceptable. It must end.

To this House, I want to say clearly that the Government will defend our democracy. We are working with the police and with Parliament to ensure that disagreements are resolved in this House through debate, not outside with threats of violence. To those who seek to threaten this House, I say this: we will not be cowed; we will not be intimidated; and we will not be silenced. We will do whatever is necessary to protect those elected to represent us, to safeguard our freedoms and to protect our rights. I know I speak for colleagues across the whole House when I say we will always act in the interests of our constituents and our country.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I thank the Minister for that answer. He will be aware that there has been a 335% increase in Islamophobic hate cases in the UK since 7 October, and a 589% rise in antisemitic incidents compared with 2022. That is affecting our most marginalised and vulnerable groups. What steps is the Minister taking to protect worshippers and faith schools and to reduce unprecedented levels of hate across these islands?

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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Over the past year this Government have increased the funding to the Community Security Trust by around £3 million, taking the total to around £18 million. We have spent a similar amount on other places of worship—only last week I approved spending on security measures to mosques and churches around the country, exactly to counter the kind of hate crimes that the hon. Member described. We have engaged with not just the Community Security Trust but organisations such as Tell MAMA, which do a fantastic job of engaging with us on anti-Muslim hatred. It is extremely important that we all work together, not just to support and protect every religion and community in our country but to ensure that we lower the tension so that we can all be free to express our views.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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T2. Stealing from small convenience stories is causing concern because of both the financial impact on owners and the threat of violence towards staff. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting colleagues and me to discuss this last week. I pay tribute to the Thames Valley police and crime commissioner Matthew Barber for his excellent retail crime strategy. Will my right hon. Friend set out how the Government plan to tackle those thefts and threats?

Chris Philp Portrait The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire (Chris Philp)
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This is a very serious issue. The Government have a retail crime action plan agreed with police, which includes making sure that the police always attend when a suspect is detained, when police attendance is needed to secure evidence or when there has been an assault. It also includes always following up every single line of inquiry when retail crime occurs, including running footage of the offender through the facial recognition database, and identifying and going after the criminal gangs that often are behind shoplifting.

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

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
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Last week, Tell MAMA reported that anti-Muslim hate incidents have trebled. That follows recent reports that antisemitic incidents have hit a record high. We all must challenge all forms of threat, prejudice, racism and hate. Having heard the words from the former deputy chair of the Conservative party of a Muslim Mayor, who said that his “mates” are Islamist extremists and that he has been taken over by “Islamists”, is any Home Office Minister now prepared to stand up and say not only that those words about the London Mayor are wrong, but that they believe they were Islamophobic and should be condemned as such?

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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Within 24 hours of those words being used, this Prime Minister took immediate action by removing the Whip from that individual. If only all leaders of every political party were as quick to remove the Whip from those who spread hatred in our community. As Rochdale sadly demonstrates, they are not.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
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I am sorry that the Minister, who I know takes issues seriously, chose not to respond to my question. Rightly, on all sides of the House we have called out and condemned antisemitism, and we must continue to do so. If Government Ministers cannot openly challenge Islamophobia, they play into the hands of extremists—both far right and Islamist. The Minister will know that hate crime fuels extremism. If the Government took any of this seriously, they would not have just ditched plans for a new hate crime strategy or left it nine years to update the countering extremism strategy. Does he agree that it is not just their inability to say the words but their failure to act that is leaving our communities exposed?

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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I am sorry that the right hon. Lady does not see the action as clearly as others in this House. The Whip was removed immediately because anti-Muslim hatred is wrong. There is no hierarchy in hatred or racism. It is all wrong. Anti-Muslim hatred is wrong. The support that some have given to Islamist communities in our country is tragic and this Government will work against it. That is exactly why we have proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir—because we will work against hatred from whichever community, in whatever way it comes.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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T4. I understand that the Government are looking to further restrict the ability of sex offenders to change their name. Should we not impose at least the same restrictions, or perhaps an outright ban, on those convicted of murder, because they can continue to be a threat to the families of those they murdered?

Laura Farris Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Laura Farris)
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The Home Office explored whether a name-change ban should be extended to murderers and determined that the operational need did not exist. Anyone convicted of murder automatically receives a life sentence. If they are released from prison, they are managed by probation for the remainder of their life and they remain under an obligation to notify probation within 72 hours of any change of their name. Should they fail to do so, they face immediate recall to prison and up to an extra five years behind bars. So far, we feel that that is working adequately.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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T3. Next month, it will be four years since the publication of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission report, which recommended violence reduction units. However, knife crime and serious violence are soaring across the country. Does the Minister accept that his Government’s severe cuts to police numbers, which mean we are at the bottom of international ranking tables, is leaving our young people and communities without the protection they need?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Perhaps I have not said often enough in this Chamber that we now have record numbers of police officers across England and Wales, including in the Metropolitan police area, which has the highest number of police officers per capita of any police force in the country. Despite that, I was disappointed to see in the recent figures published that, while across the rest of the country excluding London knife crime went down, on Sadiq Khan’s watch in London it went up.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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T5. In 2010, the period of service to be eligible for a police long service medal changed from 22 years to 20 years. Sadly, no decision was made to award it retrospectively, meaning that people such as Sedgley resident Guy Hewlett, who served with distinction for 20 years, were excluded. This seems to be fundamentally unfair. Will the Home Secretary agree to look into that unfairness, as a simple remedy could be found to recognise officers who served for the minimum 20 years pre 2010?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Changes of this nature are generally not applied retrospectively. I will look at that matter again. Normally, when a length-of-service period has changed it applies prospectively rather than retrospectively, but I will look at the issue.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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T6. Last month, tragically, a young man was stabbed to death at Strawberry Hill station in my constituency. The Minister will know that the key to tackling violent crime is intelligence-led community policing, but despite his previous answer we have seen police officers cut by a third since 2015 and regular abstractions from my constituency into central London. When will the Minister ensure that my constituents have a visible policing presence again so they feel safe?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am sure that is a question the hon. Lady will be posing to London’s police and crime commissioner, Sadiq Khan, in the course of the upcoming mayoral election. Thanks to Government funding, the Metropolitan police, in common with England and Wales, now has record police numbers. In the case of the Met there are about 35,000, and in the rest of the country there are about 149,000. In fact, not only does London have the highest per capita funding of any force in the country, it has the highest number of officers per capita of any force in the country, so Sadiq Khan really has no excuse at all.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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Under the new changes, the minimum income threshold for family visas is being raised incrementally over the next year. However, the only date we have been given so far for that threshold increase is 11 April 2024. For people like my constituents who are planning to get married and are making wedding plans, will the Minister set out when we will have further clarity and an update on the timetable for announcing the future thresholds?

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I recognise his desire for certainty. What I can say is that we expect to complete the reform in early 2025, with further staging posts to come. We are, of course, carefully monitoring the implementation through the period of delivering the initial increase. It is right that we go about it in that incremental way to give certainty to people.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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T7. In Bristol, we have sadly seen a number of young people killed by knife crime in the last few weeks. We have a Conservative police and crime commissioner, but unlike the Minister I have no desire to party politicise this. What is he doing to work with the Department for Education to ensure schools are involved in trying to lead the fight against knife crime and young people getting involved, whether as victims or perpetrators?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The Youth Endowment Fund, led by Jon Yates, has received a £200 million endowment. Its mission is to work with young people—and that includes working with schools in the way that the hon. Lady has described —to identify the most effective interventions that could stop young people getting on to the wrong track, a track that can often have tragic consequences. The youth endowment fund is working with violence reduction units in the 20 police force areas most affected, which are spending £55 million a year, to make the necessary interventions, for instance in schools, to keep our young people safe.

Sarah Atherton Portrait Sarah Atherton (Wrexham) (Con)
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During a recent night out in Wrexham, where I am known as a nurse as well as the Member of Parliament, I was asked to help police with a man who had collapsed. As I was beginning cardiac resuscitation, the emergency call handler said that the first responder would be with us in an hour and 15 minutes. Fortunately the man was stabilised, but then came the wait. We are well used to the level of service provided by the Welsh Labour Government, but has the Minister made any assessment of how much time is lost by the police attending emergency services?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank my hon. Friend for her work in helping the community: her service has been exemplary. The police will of course help when there is a threat to life or safety or when criminality is involved, but when the emergency is purely medical, for instance when someone is undergoing a mental health crisis, it is for the NHS to respond, and the nationwide roll-out of the Right Care, Right Person model across England—and soon, I hope, across Wales as well—will ensure that a medical response comes when it is needed.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
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T8. Yew Lodge hotel in the north-west Leicestershire village of Kegworth continues to accommodate 230 male illegal migrants. How much longer will this blight be inflicted on my constituents by the Government?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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The hon. Gentleman makes no mention of the fact that one of the hotels in his constituency is being closed, but he might like to welcome that. He should actually be backing the Government, because we are getting on with closing these hotels. We are tracking ahead of profile in that regard, and we also have a credible plan to reduce the inflow of people crossing the channel by illegal means.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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In respect of the projection of an antisemitic, terrorist-originating slogan on to the Big Ben tower last week, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner claims that he is powerless. That is utter nonsense, Among other options, the police could use section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, which refers to the use of

“threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour”

with

“intent to cause…harassment, alarm or distress”.

It was behaviour, and it was insulting to Jews and many others. The police could also have reasonably feared a breach of the peace, ordered the removal of the projection machine, and, if there was non-compliance, arrested the individual for obstructing a constable under the Police Act 1996. I have personally prosecuted people for these offences. Police who fail to do their duty can be disciplined for neglect of that duty. Will the Minister act?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am sure that all Members were horrified when those political statements, one of which, by implication, called for the destruction of Israel, were beamed on to the Big Ben tower. It was totally unacceptable, and, incidentally, it was also a breach of planning law. I do expect the police to take action; my right hon. and learned Friend, a former Attorney General, has set out a number of grounds on which it could have been taken, and he can rest assured that I have forcefully communicated that to the commissioner already.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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T9. One of my constituents has been waiting for his asylum substantive interview for well over 18 months. He sat for four hours waiting for an interview to start, but it was then cancelled with no explanation. There are clearly systemic issues, but can the Department look at this particular case so that it can be resolved?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I know that the hon. Lady will welcome the improvements that we are making in the processing of asylum claims, which are reflected in the way in which the legacy backlog has been dealt with, but if she can give me some specific details, I will certainly ask the team to have a look at it as soon as possible.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con)
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May I thank my hon. Friend for not only closing the four-star Newton Park asylum hotel at the beginning of February, but doing so 26 days early? The villagers and the people who use the V3 bus service are extremely grateful for this exceptionally good practice.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work in representing the views of her constituents on this issue. She firmly backs the Government’s plan, which is allowing us to get on with closing hotels such as the one in her constituency, and we will continue to make progress to deliver on our commitments.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
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Banking protocols clearly state that banks should contact the police when they detect fraud. HSBC rightly prevented a vulnerable constituent of mine from conducting a bank transfer to fraudsters in South Africa. However, owing to a failure to notify the police, the fraud continued, and as a result my constituent lost more than £32,000, transferred with the use of Apple gift cards. What advice can the Minister give? What recourse has my constituent to recover the money from HSBC? If it had followed the protocols laid down, appropriate safeguards would have been put in place.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. Fraud is a blight on our society and leaves many people feeling vulnerable and extremely nervous about using online services and the wider economy. I am delighted to say that fraud is already down by 13%, and there is more we are doing on this issue. I urge his constituent to follow the advice of the advertising campaign we are launching, which is Stop! Think Fraud. This is a huge issue on which we are working with police forces around the country, which is why we have 400 new police officers in the national fraud service and the national fraud intelligence unit.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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Last September my private Member’s Bill, which made public sexual harassment a criminal offence, received Royal Assent. Will the Minister say when that Act of Parliament will be commenced and when guidance to police forces will be issued?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. It was a pleasure to support his Bill as it went through the House. I cannot say exactly when it will be commenced, but I hope he will be reassured to hear that I had a meeting with officials about commencement earlier this month.

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

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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Last week, the Home Secretary fired the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration after losing confidence in him when he went public with his concerns. As the Home Office failed to publish 15 reports from the inspector despite an agreement that it would publish them within eight weeks of receipt, and with matters of border security at stake, is Mr David Neal actually a whistleblower?

Michael Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Countering Illegal Migration (Michael Tomlinson)
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As the right hon. Lady knows, Mr Neal’s appointment was terminated after he breached the terms of his appointment and lost the trust of the Home Secretary in relation to the reports that she mentions. As she would expect, reports and recommendations are always considered carefully by Ministers, and they will be published in due course.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean (Redditch) (Con)
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The slogan that was projected on to Big Ben last Wednesday was extreme and antisemitic. To many, it calls for the destruction of Israel and is seen as a genocidal statement. Decent people around the country—not just Jews—find that appalling. Does the Minister agree that there are criminal offences that could be used for prosecutions, and will he reiterate his calls for the police to prosecute those responsible?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I share my hon. Friend’s view. As the former Attorney General my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North (Sir Michael Ellis) pointed out a few minutes ago, there were a number of bases on which the police could have acted to prevent that projection. Big Ben is not a canvas for political campaigning, particularly where the slogans are deeply offensive in nature, and that is a view I have made very clear to the commissioner.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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Last week, I raised on a point of order the case of my constituent Marte Prenga and her two-year-old daughter, who are stuck overseas, and I was assured that those on the Treasury Bench would pass on to Home Office Ministers the details of their plight. Can I please have a meeting with an Immigration Minister, as this issue is still unresolved?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I think the hon. Gentleman knows that we Ministers are always approachable and accessible, and I would be happy to speak to him about that matter.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Thames Valley police have consistently set the pace on combating rural crime, and next year’s budget includes provisions to effectively double our rural crime taskforce. Will the Policing Minister join me in congratulating Thames Valley police on all they are doing and, more importantly, ensure that the Home Office learns from their best practice so that it can be applied across the country?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I pay tribute to Thames Valley’s excellent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Barber, for the work he is doing in combating rural crime and crime more widely. We have funded a rural crime unit within the National Police Chiefs’ Council, but I am happy to look at the excellent work in Thames Valley to ensure that lessons are learned across the country.

Point of Order

Monday 26th February 2024

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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15:38
Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Members from across the Chamber probably do not need reminding of events last week. On SNP Opposition day, we brought forward a motion seeking to ensure that this House spoke with one voice in favour of ensuring the release of the hostages currently under the control of Hamas, and to ensure that an immediate ceasefire took place to protect civilian life in Gaza. That SNP Opposition day turned into a Labour Opposition day. In that regard, Mr Speaker, you apologised to the SNP and this House. You said:

“I made a mistake: we do make mistakes and I own up to mine. We can have an SO24 to get an immediate debate because the debate is so important to the House.”—[Official Report, 22 February 2024; Vol. 745, c. 872.]

Those were your words, Mr Speaker.

In good faith, my colleagues and I sought to bring forward an SO24 debate, which, among other things, would have sought to end the sale of arms to Israel and call on the Government to use their voice at the United Nations to exercise our view in favour of an immediate ceasefire. It is my understanding that that SO24 application has not been accepted. Can you please advise me on when it will be accepted?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. The Standing Order says that I should not give the reasons for any decision regarding a Standing Order No. 24 application. Indeed, properly, we should not be discussing what is a private application to the Speaker. However, given the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in today, my view is that I ought none the less to explain my reasoning.

In determining whether a matter is proper to be discussed under the Standing Order, I must have regard to two criteria. The first is the extent to which it concerns the administrative responsibilities of Ministers of the Crown or could come within the scope of ministerial action. I am satisfied that the matter does relate to areas of ministerial responsibility and falls within the scope of ministerial action. Secondly, in determining whether a matter is urgent, I must have regard to the probability of the matter being brought before the House in time by other means. The House came to a resolution on this matter on Wednesday last week. Further, I understand that the Government are ready to make a relevant statement tomorrow, so there is a very imminent opportunity for this important matter to come before the House.

That is why I decided that the application for an emergency debate should not proceed. That decision of course does not mean that Members cannot apply for a debate at a later stage, when circumstances might have changed. While the decision is mine to take, I have consulted my Deputies and the Clerks on this matter and we have agreed on this approach.

Situation in the Red Sea

Monday 26th February 2024

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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15:41
Grant Shapps Portrait The Secretary of State for Defence (Grant Shapps)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the recent response to Houthi aggression in the Red sea. Thirty years ago, the United Nations convention on the law of the sea came into force. That agreement was ratified by 168 nations and it states explicitly in article 17 that

“ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea”.

Since 19 October the Houthis, aided and abetted by Iran, have launched a ruthless and reckless campaign of attacks against commercial shipping. These attacks are not solely limited to commerce; our military vessels are also in the Houthi crosshairs. The Royal Navy, the US Navy and most recently the French Navy have also been targets. Vessels owned by Chinese and Bulgarian companies and crews from India, Sri Lanka and Syria have been targeted indiscriminately, making a mockery of Houthi claims that this is all about Israel.

From the outset we have been clear that this cannot carry on. Freedom of navigation underpins not only our security but our prosperity. Around 80% of traded goods are carried over the seas, as are about 90% of the goods arriving in the United Kingdom. These necessities on which we depend arrive through a small number of critical waterways, so upholding these precious freedoms is essential for the preservation of life. This Government are determined to help restore the tranquillity of the Red sea. That is why the UK was one of the first members to join the US-led taskforce, Operation Prosperity Guardian, with HMS Richmond now taking over from HMS Diamond to patrol in the Red sea to help protect commercial shipping. It is why we are working in tandem with the US and other allies to reduce the Houthis’ capacity to harm our security and economic interest, to limit their impact on the flow of humanitarian aid, to prevent further regional escalation, and to show Iran in no uncertain terms that we will push back against its destabilising behaviour.

On occasion, in response to specific threats and in line with international law and the principle of self-defence, we have tackled the Houthi threat head-on. Since 11 January, we have conducted a number of precision strikes against Houthi targets. In these previous rounds of strikes, RAF aircraft successfully struck some 32 targets at six different locations, including drone ground control stations as well as other facilities directly involved in the Houthis’ drone and missile attacks on shipping. I am pleased to say that it remains the case that, to date, we have seen no evidence at all to indicate that the RAF strikes caused civilian casualties, and the UN has noted that it has observed no civilian impact arising from the RAF strikes.

Although we have eroded the Houthis’ capacity, their intent to prosecute indiscriminate attacks against innocent vessels remains undiminished. Just last week, MV Rubymar—a Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo vessel—was targeted in the gulf of Aden near the Bab al-Mandab strait. Hit by missiles, the crew were forced to abandon ship. An oil slick, caused entirely by damage sustained in the Houthi attack, now stretches many miles from the vessel. On Thursday, the British-registered MV Islander was similarly targeted. It was struck by two missiles, resulting in a fire on board. Fortunately, there was no loss of life.

This all comes not long after two US-registered bulk carriers, MV Navis Fortuna and MV Sea Champion, suffered minor damage from Houthi strikes. The attack on Sea Champion highlights the Houthis’ recklessness and near-sightedness, considering that Sea Champion has delivered humanitarian aid to Yemen 11 times in the past five years and was due to unload thousands of tonnes of much needed aid to the Yemeni people through the ports of Aden and Hodeidah. The Houthis’ attack was, quite simply, callous. As near-sighted as these attacks are, they continue to have serious and potentially long-term consequences across the region, as they cut off vital aid to civilians in Yemen and Syria, restrict crucial food imports to Djibouti and threaten significant impacts in Egypt.

Last time I spoke on this issue, I told the House that we will not hesitate to act again in self-defence. We have given the Houthis ample opportunity to de-escalate, but once again, the Houthi zealots have ignored our repeated warnings. As a result, we have once again taken action to defend ourselves against these intolerable attacks. On Saturday night, a Royal Air Force package of four Typhoons, supported by two Voyager tankers, joined US forces in a deliberate strike against Houthi military facilities in Yemen that have been conducting missile and drone attacks on commercial shipping and coalition naval forces in the Bab al-Mandab strait, the southern Red sea and the gulf of Aden. As the House knows, it was the fourth such operation to degrade the Houthi capabilities that are being used to threaten global trade in the Red sea.

Intelligence analysis indicates that the strikes were successful, and that the sites we attacked were being used by the long-range drones that the Houthis use for both reconnaissance and attack missions, including at a former surface-to-air missile battery site several miles north-east of Sana’a. Our aircraft used Paveway IV precision-guided munitions against the drones and their launchers. Assessment continues at this still early stage, but the analysis so far indicates that all eight RAF targets were successfully struck. Three buildings were hit at the Bani military site, and five one-way attack drones are assessed to have been destroyed at the Sana’a military site.

On planning these strikes, as is normal practice for the RAF, operations were carried out meticulously, and consideration was given to minimising any risk of causing civilian casualties. Assessments so far indicate that across the four sets of airstrikes, some 40 military targets have been hit, at seven different Houthi facilities. I pay tribute to the immense skill and tireless dedication of the men and women who made that possible.

Once again, I would like to make it clear that military action is only one aspect of our approach to the crisis in the Red sea. The whole international community has an interest in stopping these attacks, and we continue to work with it to turn that intent into action. The Prime Minister has engaged regional leaders, including the Sultan of Oman, as well as G7 partners. The Foreign Secretary and I have travelled repeatedly to the region in recent weeks to discuss regional security. We are determined to end the illegal flow of arms to the Houthis, using whatever levers are available, including enduring diplomatic engagement, and determined to continue to intercept illegal weapons and the shipping that helps to feed that supply. We are cutting off the Houthis’ financial resources, to further degrade their capacity to conduct attacks; for example, jointly with the US, we are sanctioning four Houthi leaders, and we will continue to work with the US to cut the flow of Houthi funds.

Despite the best efforts of the Houthis, we also continue to provide humanitarian help to people in the middle east. This year, we will send some £88 million of humanitarian support to Yemen, which will feed 100,000 Yeminis every month. The UK has recently worked closely with our Jordanian partners to airdrop life-saving supplies directly to the Tal al-Hawa Hospital in northern Gaza.

The Houthis could stop this barbaric behaviour any time they want. Instead, they callously choose to continue their reckless acts of aggression, causing harm not just to innocents, but to their own people in Yemen. Until they stop, we will continue to act, but consensus continues to grow that the Houthis’ violations simply cannot continue. That is why, recently, the European Union officially launched its Operation Aspides; Members will know that aspides meant “shield” in ancient Greek. We very much welcome the commitment of our EU partners to joining in the work that has been going on, because no nation should ever be able to threaten the arteries of global commerce.

Thirty years ago, nations of the world all came together to protect innocent passage on our high seas. Thirty years on, the House should be in no doubt whatsoever that we will continue to stand up for those rights, and do all that we can to defend life and limb of sailors everywhere, and to preserve their precious trading routes, on which we all depend. I commend this statement to the House.

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

15:53
John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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I thank the Defence Secretary for advance sight of his statement. We accept that the weekend’s airstrikes were legal, limited, and targeted to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. We pay tribute to the total professionalism of all forces personnel involved in the operations, which were conducted to protect shipping in the Red sea and uphold freedom of navigation for all nations. As the Defence Secretary said, the Houthis have been attacking ships of all nations: Chinese, Bulgarian and French ships have been targeted; Danish, Greek and UK ships have been hit; and even aid vessels destined for Yemen have been in the firing line. The UK and US Navies have been forced to shoot down drones in self-defence.

Today, the British Chambers of Commerce reports that more than half of British exporters are being hit by higher costs and delays because of the Houthi attacks. The Houthis are threatening international trade and maritime security, and putting civilian and military lives in serious danger. That is why the UN Security Council last month passed a resolution condemning the Houthis’ actions “in the strongest terms”, and demanding that their attacks cease.

We accept that the military action over the weekend was justified, but was it effective? What were the objectives for these latest strikes? Were they fully met? Were the targets at both Sana’a and Bani destroyed? Ministers have said that the aims of earlier strikes were, first, to deter Houthi attacks and, secondly, to degrade their capabilities, but deterrence does not feature in the weekend’s eight-nation joint statement in support of the strikes, and the Defence Secretary said this afternoon that “Houthi intent remains undiminished”. Has deterring attacks been dropped as one of the Government’s objectives for this military action?

As the Defence Secretary says, this was “the fourth such operation” since 11 January. When will the Government judge this to be a sustained campaign? At what stage do the Government think that Parliament needs a say? It is the Prime Minister’s responsibility to authorise UK military action and account for it to the public in this House. When will we hear from him?

Any military action against the Houthis must be reinforced by a diplomatic drive in the region aimed at stopping the flow of Iranian weapons, cutting off Houthi finances and settling the civil war in Yemen. What more can the Defence Secretary say about the Government’s wider action? We continue to back the Royal Navy’s role in defence of shipping from all nations through Operation Prosperity Guardian. How is that US-led taskforce co-ordinating with Operation Aspides, the European Union’s new naval presence in the Red sea?

Finally, I totally reject Houthi claims that firing missiles and drones at ships from around the world is somehow linked to the conflict in Gaza. Those attacks do absolutely nothing for the Palestinians, whose agonies are extreme. Last week, Parliament passed Labour’s motion calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. We all want: an end to the fighting, now; no ground offensive in Rafah; all hostages released; and aid to Gaza ramped up greatly. Let us come together this week to work for a ceasefire that is observed by all sides, and that can build into the political process that is needed if we are to secure lasting peace, through a two-state solution, for both Palestine and Israel.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. He asked a series of questions, and I will respond directly.

On effectiveness, we believe that this set of attacks was effective, and early reconnaissance shows as much, as I outlined in my statement. As ever, it will take a few days to get a full picture, but we have no reason to think that the action was not entirely successful.

We very much intend our attacks on Houthi infrastructure to be a deterrent. The Houthis think that they can continue their actions; our strikes will ensure that they understand the consequences of those actions and the price to pay for them, but perhaps other people, controlling other waterways, will also understand that the world will not simply stand back and allow those actions to take place.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the Prime Minister coming to the House. I gently point out to him that, technically, he is wrong; the Defence Secretary has the legal authority to sign off actions, as part of royal prerogative. Legally, I have responsibility for the attacks, although, as he rightly points out, the Prime Minister came to the House to give the first two statements on them. As the message in each of those statements is similar and I have legal responsibility, it seems proper and right for me to come to the House and respond to questions. We have had very full statements after each round of attacks.

The shadow Defence Secretary is quite right to say that this sits within a much wider diplomatic context. I went into some detail in my comments, but I am happy to talk more about the wider work that is going on in the region to try to bring to a successful conclusion the wider conflict, which is, in my view—and I think I heard him say in his view—nothing to do with why the Houthis are attacking shipping in the Red sea.

Finally, I would just gently say—although many of the SNP are not here—that to claim that the House passed in full agreement a particular resolution last week is a little bit rich given the circumstances.

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

Jeremy Quin Portrait Sir Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con)
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Open source information suggests that the strikes are diminishing the capability of the Houthis to attack international shipping. As that is both welcome and important, will the Secretary of State concur that that is also his assessment? It is welcome that Aspides and Prosperity Guardian are co-ordinating, but does that also include on the interdiction of weapons being smuggled from Iran into Yemen?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My right hon. Friend is right that we are degrading—attrited, as they say in military terms—that capability. However, it is still the case that the Houthis are capable of launching attacks. To what extent? Well, the House will come to its own conclusions, but it will note that the gap between the first three rounds of attacks was relatively short, and that the gap between that and this fourth round has been longer. Again, we will wait to see what the response is.

On interdictions: yes, we will certainly continue to try to ensure that Iran is not resupplying. The single best message to go out from this House is that Iran should stop that activity. It is worth noting that it has been only Britain and the US that have been doing interdictions in the past few years—and, of course, we will continue to do so.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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First, let me thank the Secretary of State for due sight of his statement. I think that, as an opposition party, we would give it our tentative support. What the shadow Defence Secretary said about possible mission creep does give us concern, but I am sure that it is the role of the Opposition to keep asking those questions.

The Secretary of State knows that my last question regarding this issue was on the position of the People’s Republic of China. Until recently, exports between Europe and China were in excess of £400 billion a year, and there is no doubt that they will suffer as a result of the extended time that it takes to travel between China and Europe, but what beggars belief is China’s utter silence in relation to what is going on—notably, given that it has a military naval capacity in Djibouti.

The Secretary of State and I will disagree on the issue of Gaza. If we had secured a real vote last week, we would probably have seen that recorded formally in the House. Gerald M. Feierstein, the former US diplomat, has said that

“the Houthis’ effort to insert themselves into the Gaza conflict”

is aimed at

“strengthening their support base in the country and cementing their movement more firmly in the… ‘axis of resistance’”.

I wonder whether, like me, the Secretary of State is concerned that we are not only strengthening that axis of resistance but, with illicit Chinese and Russian support, now broadening it in the Red sea.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I thank the hon. Member for his—as he has described it—tentative support. I have noted that the House has been largely unified on this issue during the past four statements, following previous attacks. He asks about the mission creep situation. I hope he feels reassured by the concept that we have waited longer, in part because the Houthis’ capabilities have been damaged, so that there is a longer gap and we do not see this thing speeding up. We have no intention or desire to see it increase, but we will act if there continue to be attacks on commercial and naval shipping.

The hon. Member asks about China and Russia and I have to say that I agree; it is important that countries that are impacted by this—the entire world, but perhaps China in particular—do speak up. We would welcome China being more vocal about the situation. As I mentioned in my comments, a Chinese vessel has been attacked, so this is of direct concern to the country. I call on China and, of course, Russia—for what it is worth—to be more vocal on these issues.

Lastly, I just do not accept this Gaza-Houthi connection. I remind the House that the Houthis were against Hamas until 2015, and now they arrive on the scene and pretend to support them. They are opportunist thugs taking advantage of the situation and of people’s lives and misery—not just in Gaza but in Yemen—and they should stop and desist immediately.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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The Secretary of State will recall that, in handling this topic on 5 February, he strongly endorsed the suggestion that a lot of this trouble in the middle east was linked to tactics to divert from the war in Ukraine. Given that the route from what is happening in Ukraine to what is happening in the middle east is via Russia and Iran, is he satisfied that there is no inconsistency between the tough line being taken by the Ministry of Defence against the Houthis and the soft line being taken by the Foreign Office against their Iranian sponsors?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I somewhat reject that characterisation. To be absolutely clear, we are very much of the view that Iran is responsible; it funds, trains and provides equipment to the Houthis and many other Iranian-sponsored proxies in the region. It is also the case that it has probably lost control of some of them. It is important that we deliver those messages in many different ways to the Iranians. I have seen the read-outs of the ways they have been delivered, including directly, by the Foreign Secretary—and they were anything but weak.

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab)
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I put to the Secretary of State a similar question to the one that I put to the Prime Minister on 23 January: of course we want a diplomatic solution—any ramping up of a military solution has its consequences—but for how many more months are the Secretary of State and the Government going to allow this to continue? Do the Government and the allies have a plan B?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Of course, the whole world is working on the overall context of the middle east. I know the hon. Gentleman will have seen the reports over the weekend about the discussions taking place in relation to the hostages. We want a comprehensive settlement; the Government’s policy is, of course, a two-state solution. The middle east could be normalised in many ways, including through Saudi normalisation with Israel, as part of that broader package; the Government are working proactively on this. As I said, I am conscious that we should not link these thuggish pirates—

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg
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indicated dissent.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I am not saying the hon. Gentleman does that, but I am keen that we do not see the two issues as inextricably linked. I accept that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to do that. We are working very hard on the wider solution.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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I welcome this statement and the Defence Secretary’s leadership. It is clear that the Houthi threat may last months, and it is right that Britain plays our role in protecting international shipping, but Typhoons are tasked from Cyprus only because our surface fleet cannot hit targets at range on land. I know the Defence Secretary is looking at a new vertical launch system to rectify that, but does he agree that an urgent operational requirement to introduce guided multiple launch rocket systems with the new precision-strike missile would allow our Royal Navy, already tasked to the Red sea, to help eliminate the Houthi threat?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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There are always good reasons to introduce new capabilities. In fact, I was recently down on HMS Somerset at Devonport, where a system is being fitted and trialled. It is not the case, as it is sometimes characterised, that we are using Typhoons because we do not have another option; our first preference is to work in this way for a range of reasons that I cannot enter into at the Dispatch Box. It is worth noting that when the US carried out actions in Iraq and Syria, its planes flew all the way from the United States, and I am not aware of anybody saying that that was because it did not have facilities closer to hand. We are using the correct facilities for the particular operation, notwithstanding the fact that it is always nice to have new facilities.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
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I agree with the Secretary of State that we must always think about our servicemen and women who carry out these tasks. As a former Defence Minister, it is news to me that it is up to the Defence Secretary to agree to any strikes, but perhaps this Defence Secretary has more power than his predecessors.

What is the policy and strategy behind this set of circumstances? I and a number of other Defence Committee members met the Defence Minister of Italy a few weeks ago in Rome. Italy is deploying to the region. How is it that this is now a US and UK-led operation? What are we doing to build alliances with Italy and other European nations that have an interest in doing so? As my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) asked, what ultimately is plan B and the long-term endgame?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I will avoid getting into the constitutional position of how that authority runs. It would be inconceivable to do that without the Prime Minister, but it is technically the case that the royal prerogative runs to the Defence Secretary, for what it is worth.

I am very familiar with my friend Minister Crosetto, whom the right hon. Gentleman met in Rome. The Italians have, as he knows, opted to join Aspides, the EU operation. We will work closely with our European friends and allies to ensure that that interacts properly with the wider Prosperity Guardian and the direct actions that we are taking. Of course, we welcome action from other friends and allies in that regard.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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I was very interested to hear the Secretary of State say that it is just the United Kingdom and the United States doing the interdiction to ensure that there is no rearmament of the Houthis, but what assessment has he made of the sources of that rearmament? What percentage does he think comes from Iran, through Syria, or through other agents?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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We are pretty certain that it all originates in Iran—[Interruption.] Actually, I have just been informed by my Parliamentary Private Secretary that actually there was also a French interdiction of some weapons in 2023, so let me put that correction on the record. To answer the question, I believe that it all originates from Iran. Which routes it takes in is another matter, but much of it comes ultimately by sea, and we continue to work proactively to ensure that we prevent those shipments whenever we can.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State answer the question asked by the shadow Defence Secretary, which he avoided earlier: now that this appears to be sustained operation, might a vote in this House be appropriate?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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We will continue to gauge the view of the House on these matters. I have noted that each party’s representative has—from tentatively to fully—supported these measured responses. If the rapidity or severity of the attacks increased, for example, my judgment at the moment would be that it is possible to read the mood of the House, but we will keep that under review and ensure that we continually come back to the House to provide defence intelligence briefings to Members who require them.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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According to a survey released by the British Chambers of Commerce, over half of British retailers and exporters have been impacted by the disruption in the Red sea, which is causing logistics delays, pushing up costs, and risking higher prices and fewer choices in British shops and elsewhere. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our military action is consistent with the UK’s overarching aim of de-escalating tensions and restoring stability in the Red sea?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Yes, I can absolutely provide that reassurance. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that the situation is already having a cost for British consumers. As I mentioned in my comments, globally about 80% of goods move by sea; for the United Kingdom, it is about 90%, given that we are an island. It is very important therefore to show, both for the purposes of deterrence and to weaken the Houthis’ ability to attack shipping, that we mean business when we say that this cannot carry on.

Apsana Begum Portrait Apsana Begum (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)
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After four separate strikes in seven weeks, this appears to be a prolonged military campaign, so I ask the Minister again, as I did on 5 February: what is the long-term strategy, and how does this relate to the ongoing precarious situation in Yemen itself? If the Government’s plan is to sustain military action, will he speak to the Prime Minister to ensure that Parliament accordingly has a vote or a say, which is only right?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I hope the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming action against the Houthis, who have attacked a ship that—as I mentioned—has provided aid to the people of Yemen on multiple occasions. I know that she does not make this mistake, but some people think that the Houthis are somehow the Yemeni authorities. They are not; they are not the Government. They are destroying that country through their actions, and are actually preventing aid from getting to the people of Yemen, so it is absolutely right that we take this action.

To assure the hon. Lady, the previous three attacks were seven days apart or so; it has been a longer period this time. We have been able to wait longer, perhaps because the Houthis have fewer options to attack shipping, but I stress that we will continue if they carry on attacking shipping. The simplest thing for all of us to do is to send a clear, united message to the Houthis that they must stop attacking innocent shipping.

James Morris Portrait James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)
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The Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that military action is necessary but not sufficient to deal with the long-term problem of the Houthis. He has mentioned the necessity of tackling financing and the illegal shipping of weapons, but global shipping is peculiarly vulnerable to cyber-attack. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that the UK’s cyber-capabilities are shared with our international partners to protect our global shipping interests?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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There are essentially two forms of warfare that my hon. Friend is pointing to: one is direct cyber-attack and the other is the use of electronic warfare to cause particular outcomes. I am afraid that we have seen a lot of that, particularly in the theatre in Ukraine, and we are very conscious of the way it is being used in the Red sea region as well. We will continue to do all we can to help through the Prosperity Guardian element of this operation, and to make sure that we are a step ahead of those who would, through preference, destroy the ability for world trade and good passage through open seas to take place.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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I assure the Minister that he has the full—not tentative—support of DUP Members for the actions he has taken, because as he has pointed out, what is happening will affect businesses and consumers in the UK through inflation and the inability to get supplies. However, those effects are not limited to the UK; almost every European nation relies on those shipping lanes being kept open. Why is it that we are doing the heavy lifting when it comes to attacking the Houthis, and other nations are not joining in?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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First, I am very grateful for the support of the right hon. Gentleman’s party. Secondly, two factors have to be in play in order to take action: the will to do it and the capability to do it. Quite a large number of nations are involved, either through Prosperity Guardian or direct support for the military action, which includes intelligence officers and other means of assistance—we are receiving support from a whole range of people. We now also have Operation Aspides, which the Europeans are launching. We look forward to seeing what they bring to this action, but I stress that it is our capability and willingness combined that means that the United Kingdom is able and willing to act when perhaps others are not.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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Has my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary considered engaging with the currently unrecognised country of Somaliland? I visited it recently, as the Register of Members’ Financial Interests will show. As it has a border with the gulf of Aden, its port at Berbera might be useful to His Majesty’s Government.

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is a big fan of Somaliland. I have visited it myself in the past, and I know that in a difficult environment, they do a very good job—administratively and otherwise —of trying to run their Government. I will take his comments away and confer with the Foreign Secretary.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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I appreciate that the Secretary of State has come to the House on several occasions to give an update on this situation, and that further actions continue to be taken to avoid the Houthis disrupting Red sea shipping. The difficulty is that they appear not to be deterred by what the Government are throwing at them, following on from many years of being undeterred by attacks on them from the Saudi Government. In fact, they are using this as part of their propaganda machine against the west. So can I ask the Secretary of State: how does he see this ending?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I would say two things to the hon. Lady. First, as I have tried to stress before, I do think that this operation is having an impact. We have seen longer periods between attacks, and we have seen the Houthis’ abilities attrited, so they have fewer capabilities. That is certainly the case.

The second thing I would say—perhaps I should have said it sooner—in answer to what might bring this to an end is that the Houthis do want to get the peace deal they have in place with the Saudis ratified by the United Nations, which clearly will not ratify a peace deal between the two parties until they stop shooting at international shipping. I do think that there is an endgame in the Saudi-Houthi peace deal being signed off by the United Nations, but the onus remains on the Houthis to stop shooting at international shipping and disrupting its flow before they can get that and, indeed, the financial improvement to their own situation that will come from the deal being signed.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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Al-Jazeera has reported that, according to its numbers, 37,000 Houthis have been recruited since the start of the airstrikes, and they are using the airstrikes as a recruiting tool. Al-Jazeera believes that this is for a push on Ma’rib, which is full of natural resources. As we know, Ma’rib became a world heritage site in 2023. It is home to the ancient kingdom of Sheba, or Saba’, and also of the famous dam, which is mentioned in the Koran. What steps are the Government taking to make sure that that world heritage site is protected, and if the Houthis were to move into that area, would they step in to stop them destroying these essential historical and religious sites?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and if he does not mind, I will confer with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on this issue. On the membership point, the Houthis are made up of a ragtag of people who are often quite desperate and those who are led into a particular way of life with the Houthis. We want to dismantle that, and the best way to do it is through the peace deal that has been agreed, but that cannot be enacted by the UN until they stop firing on commercial shipping. We would like to see that situation unwound. I will take his other point away and come back to him.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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On 6 February —20 days ago—I tabled written question 13372, asking

“for what reason Israeli military planes have used UK airports on each occasion since 7 October 2023.”

That may or may not be relevant to this statement, but I do not know, because I have not yet received an answer. Can the Secretary of State either answer the question now, or tell me when I will receive a written answer?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I will certainly look into that for the hon. Member, but I would have thought that Israel uses UK airports for the purposes of flying El Al and other airlines to this country.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and I support the necessary actions of self-defence to secure freedom of navigation in the Red sea. However, to keep the whole country on the same page and to understand the importance of this, I note that while the purpose of the actions is first and foremost to protect the people—the seafarers and the military personnel—on those vessels, the economic impact globally is huge, as has been referenced. Businesses are reporting to me a threefold or fourfold increase in shipping costs, which of course we will all pay for at the tills. In conjunction with the Treasury and the Department for Business and Trade, has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of the magnitude of the figure that the challenge to freedom of navigation in the Red sea is causing to our economy and the global economy?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this has a cost not just to business or industry, but to households in this country. It will come straight through to the bill for the weekly shop, which is why it is so important that we do not allow these attacks to go unchallenged and that we make sure we degrade the ability for them take place. He asked about the ongoing assessments by the Department for Business and Trade and the Treasury, and provided some data from his own knowledge about the increased shipping costs. Shipping is typically not an enormous part of the cost of each individual item people buy in the supermarket, but of course over a period time, that will have a negative impact, which is why it is important to make it clear that freedom of navigation is sacrosanct and that we will always take action if it is affected in any way, shape or form.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I very much support what he is doing and his strength of character and purpose, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said, we are very much on the same page. With joint strikes with our allies ongoing, it is clear that support for the Houthis is still making its way from the axis of evil to enable them to carry on with persistent threats and attacks. The Houthis continue their attacks, so what discussions have taken place with our allies to ascertain what the next steps to secure the route will be? How quickly can those steps be taken to secure the sea routes and trade for all countries across the world?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his party’s support on this. He will be interested to hear that I had extensive discussions last week both at NATO in Brussels and at the Munich security conference on exactly the issues he has raised. A broad range of international discussion is going on, and we all want to see the Houthis stop and to have a wider settlement with Saudi. There is no excuse that is plausible for the action being taken, and common sense would say that China, and even Russia, would be piling on the pressure to do that. We will carry on working internationally with our partners, and with those in the P5, to try to ensure that happens.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The written question I referred to was about Israeli military aircraft—I think the Secretary of State might have misunderstood, or I might not have spoken clearly. I would appreciate an answer to that written question as soon as he can give it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Secretary of State?

Grant Shapps Portrait Grant Shapps
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I shall ensure that that answer is forthcoming.

Post Office Horizon: Compensation and Legislation

Monday 26th February 2024

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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16:26
Kevin Hollinrake Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade (Kevin Hollinrake)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement to update the House on the progress that has been made to support victims of the Horizon scandal.

Since this terrible miscarriage of justice was first exposed, the Government have been working tirelessly to put matters right for postmasters. We have set up an independent inquiry and funded various redress schemes that we have continuously improved to speed up compensation for all affected. That work has been taking place for many months, and long before ITV aired the excellent programme “Mr Bates vs The Post Office”. The work included our announcement last autumn of the optional £600,000 fixed-sum award for those who have been wrongfully convicted. We continue to develop our response to the scandal, and on Thursday I made a written statement detailing the way that we plan to legislate to overturn Horizon-related convictions en masse. We expect to introduce that legislation as soon as possible next month.

My statement set out that the new legislation will quash all convictions that are identified as being in scope, using clear and objective criteria on the face of the Bill. Convictions will be quashed at the point of commencement, without the need for people to apply to have their convictions overturned. The criteria will cover the prosecutors, extending to prosecutions undertaken by Post Office Ltd and the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as offence types, ensuring that those align with offences known to have been prosecuted by the Post Office. That means that only relevant offences such as theft and false accounting will be in scope. On offence dates, a set timeframe will ensure that convictions are quashed only where the offence took place during the period when the Horizon system and its pilots were in operation. The criteria will also cover the contractual or other relationship of the convicted individual to Post Office Ltd, so that only sub-postmasters, their employees, officers or family members, or direct employees of the Post Office will be within the defined class of convictions to be quashed. On the use of the Horizon system at the date of the offence, the convicted person will need to have been working, including in a voluntary capacity, in a post office that was using Horizon system software—including any relevant pilot schemes—at the time that the behaviour constituting the offence occurred.

Such legislation is unprecedented and constitutionally sensitive, but this scandal is unprecedented too. I am clear that this legislation does not set a precedent for the future, and nor is it a reflection on the actions of the courts and the judiciary, who have dealt swiftly with the cases before them. However, we are clear that the scale and circumstances of the miscarriage of justice demand an exceptional response. We are also receiving invaluable support from the Horizon compensation advisory board in this effort. Once again, I thank the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and his colleagues on the board, including Lord Arbuthnot. The board met on Thursday. We were joined by Sir Gary Hickinbottom and Sir Ross Cranston, who will be the final arbiters of claims in the overturned convictions and GLO schemes respectively. At the meeting, the board strongly supported the proposals in my written statement for legislating to overturn convictions. They also proposed sensible measures to accelerate compensation for those impacted.

One of the biggest constraints on the speed of redress for those who choose to take the full assessment route is that it takes time for claimants and their representatives to gather evidence and develop their claims. To encourage early submission of claims, once the Post Office receives a full claim from someone with an overturned conviction, it will forthwith top up their interim redress to £450,000. Of course, if they have opted for our £600,000 fixed-sum award, they will get that instead. Similarly, on the GLO scheme, where claims are typically smaller, we have implemented fixed-sum award offers of £75,000, helping claimants to move on with their lives. Those who are not satisfied with this fixed offer can continue to submit larger claims, and they will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. We have committed to provide offers on a fully completed claim within 40 working days in 90% of cases. If initial GLO offers are not accepted and independent facilitation is then entered, we shall forthwith pay postmasters 80% of our initial offer, to help ensure that they do not face hardship while those discussions are completed.

We have always been clear that our first offers of compensation should be full and fair. It is early days, but the numbers suggest that in the GLO scheme we are achieving that. More than 70% of our offers in that scheme are accepted by postmasters without reference to the independent panel. We will also ensure that postmasters are kept regularly up to date with the progress of their claims.

The advisory board has made a number of other helpful proposals. Those are set out in the report of the meeting, which my Department is publishing today. I have undertaken to give them serious consideration. I will advise the House when we reach decisions about those proposals, and I will doubtless return again with further updates as part of our unceasing determination to deliver justice for everyone caught up in this long-running and tragic scandal. I commend this statement to the House.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I call the Opposition spokesperson.

16:33
Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
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May I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement? The Horizon scandal has rightly left the public outraged by the scale and shocking details of the injustice that has been committed. The scandal is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history. It has robbed innocent people of their livelihoods, their liberty and, sadly, in numerous cases, their lives. More than 20 years on, the victims and their families are still suffering the consequences of the trauma of all that they have been put through. Until recently, there has been little progress and delays at every turn, which has caused even further distress.

Victims and their families have been trapped in a nightmare for too long. We all want to see the exoneration of all the remaining convictions, and the delivery of rightful compensation to all those affected sub-postmasters as quickly as possible. On the Opposition Benches, the Labour party has made it clear that we want to see a swift and comprehensive resolution to this insidious injustice, and we are committed to working with the Government to ensure that happens.

I recognise the important work that the Minister has done, both on the Back Benches and in his current role. The unprecedented scale of the legal work being carried out will be possible only with cross-party working and cross-party support. I want to take the opportunity to thank the advisory board for its tireless work in supporting the Government in getting this right, as well as hon. Members on both sides of the House and in the other House.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to progressing the legislation. Labour is committed to working with the Government to deliver rightful exonerations, but I know that many Members will have had questions following last Thursday’s written ministerial statement, so I welcome the Minister returning to the House. I have a series of questions to pose to him. First, in the light of what he has said today, what further details can we expect on the legislation being tabled? Will he further clarify why convictions prosecuted by the Department for Work and Pensions are excluded from the legislation and what steps he will take to get the Department to deliver exonerations as soon as possible?

The Minister’s proposals set a very difficult precedent, as he said, on the relationship between the legislature and the judiciary. Will he outline what conversations he has had with the Lord Chancellor about this matter and his views on it, which might alleviate some people’s continued concerns?

As the Minister mentioned, there are also issues around precedent that could be exploited in the future for less appropriate purposes. Although I appreciate the assurances that he has provided on that, it would be helpful to understand and get clarification on what specific safeguards will be put in place to avoid this becoming a precedent. The cross-party nature of this work is critical to ensure that happens. However, some people are asking whether he considers that this particular example could be relevant in the future for other worthy causes.

May I also ask the Minister about the pre-Horizon system, Capture? Will he confirm whether prosecutions were made using Capture data and whether any sub-postmasters lost money due to Capture failings? If so, will he commit to those convictions being in the scope of the legislation and compensation schemes?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank the hon. Member for her collaborative comments. I am keen to work with her going forward, as we have every step of the way on this issue. I do not accept that we have made little progress. Let us be clear that 78% of all full claims that have been submitted have been settled—that is 2,700 claims that have been settled. Nor do I accept that there have been delays at every turn. That is not a correct characterisation of the situation.

With regard to our next steps, as I said, we expect the legislation to be tabled next month, which is as quickly as possible. I am working on this on very much a daily basis. On the differences between Post Office and CPS cases—those we are seeking to overturn with this legislation—and DWP cases, I think it is fair to say there was a different standard of evidence. Those DWP cases relied on evidence independent of Horizon such as the surveillance of suspects, collation and examination of cashed orders from stolen benefit books and girocheques, handwriting comparisons and witness statements. Those cases were very much not simply relying on Horizon evidence.

My engagement with the Lord Chancellor has been extensive, and our engagement with other stakeholders—including the hon. Member’s shadow Front-Bench colleagues—has also been extensive. We decided that was the right thing to do. Having said that, these are unprecedented steps. I think that again speaks to the fact that we are keen to make as much progress as possible, rather than as little.

The hon. Lady mentioned safeguards. The standard of evidence is critical to get to this point. It is fair to say that the trailblazing 555, who successfully took their case to the courts in the first place, set a high bar for anyone to emulate or replicate. We will be clear in the legislation that convictions will be overturned based on objective criteria, as another way to deal with this. That speaks to the hon. Lady’s last point on Capture, which I am very aware of and I have discussed with the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on several occasions, including immediately prior to this statement. We need to ensure that we have the right evidence base. I am happy to continue the dialogue on that, but it is important that we do not include cohorts where we do not have the evidence base, as we have for the cohorts that we have set out—where the CPS and the Post Office prosecuted cases. We are taking very serious measures to overturn the convictions. We should never resort to this kind of approach lightly.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Will the Minister take UK Government Investments out of its role of controlling and supervising the Post Office? It has allowed these gross injustices to go on for too long, allowed the Post Office senior managers to rack up huge losses of £1,391 million to last March, with more to come this year, and given the executives bonuses for losing us that much money. It has left the Government with a great financial black hole. Would it not be better to change the Post Office management, to have it report directly to the Minister, and to make its No. 1 task giving justice to the sub-postmasters?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He and I have had serious conversations about the future of the Post Office, which I am keen to continue to engage on. The current UKGI representative who sits on the Post Office board is Lorna Gratton, for whom I have a great deal of time and respect. Clearly it is important that the inquiry does its work to determine who did what in the past. As we look to the future, there are different opinions on how the Post Office should be governed. I am happy to keep those discussions ongoing with my right hon. Friend.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
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I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. Under successive Labour, Tory and Liberal Ministers, Post Office Ltd has overseen the largest miscarriage of justice in UK history. The Horizon scandal is just appalling. Unusually, both the Scottish and Northern Irish Governments have written to the UK Government, calling on them to rule on devolved affairs. It is vital that the UK Government work to ensure that exonerations in Scotland and Northern Ireland take place at the same time as those in England and Wales. [Interruption.] I do not find this amusing at all, but obviously the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) does.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows
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The devolved Governments have no power or locus in the UK Post Office, so we really need to get this together. When will the legislation for both the exoneration and the redress schemes be published? The Scottish and Northern Irish Governments have written to ask for UK-wide legislation. We need the UK Government to act, because otherwise we cannot guarantee simultaneous legislation that is compatible and comparable with UK Government schemes. When will there be a response to the Scottish Government? This is really important.

There were reports yesterday that Post Office Ltd has only now brought in external investigators to investigate its internal investigators. Does that not seem quite late to the Minister? Why was that not done earlier? Is it just to avoid the appearance of continued cover-ups in Post Office Ltd?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank the hon. Lady for her work and for her points, including on the devolved issues around Scotland and Northern Ireland which she is right to raise. We considered that very carefully. When we originally set out to legislate, we were very clear that it would be for England and Wales only, but that we would work with our counterparts in the other parts of the United Kingdom on what they might do. Indeed, we have responded to them already. We met them last week before we announced the legislation in this statement to the House. We decided to legislate for England and Wales only, because justice is a devolved matter. As she said, the Post Office is UK-wide, but justice is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and of course they have different legal systems in those areas and different prosecutors. Taking action to interfere with the independent judiciary is a very, very serious thing to do, of course, but we believe that it is the right way. We are working closely with our counterparts in the devolved Administrations to ensure they understand our legal approach and we are very happy to assist with any legislation they may seek to undertake in their own Parliaments.

On redress, there is a single UK-wide scheme, so once somebody’s conviction is overturned they can access redress in exactly the same way as anybody in England and Wales. On the investigation or investigators, that is initially a matter for the Post Office but also for the inquiry to see what happened in the past. There is little point in the huge expense of setting up a public inquiry, as Members called for, and then seeking to do the inquiry’s work ourselves. We need to see exactly what the inquiry makes of that and of many other issues.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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I commend the Minister and the Secretary of State for the firm and consistent approach the Government are taking to getting justice for the affected sub-postmasters. We heard earlier about precedent. The Minister will know that many of us have concerns about precedent in bringing forward special legislation in this case, although we know, of course, that many hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters have suffered the most serious miscarriage of justice. The Minister just said that the scale and circumstances of the Post Office’s actions in this case rightly require an exceptional response. Will he set out how using that mechanism will ensure that the people we are bothered about, the sub-postmasters, benefit speedily and accurately from those measures?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank my hon. Friend for his point and for his work on the Select Committee. He is right that we will take those steps very carefully and very much as a last resort. He concluded his question on exactly the right point. This is about sub-postmasters and the speed of overturning those convictions: the speed to justice. We looked at doing that through other means, but did not feel that they would achieve the same level of speed. He may be aware that hundreds of people have passed away—there was a report in the newspapers over the weekend—waiting for compensation and justice. That is just not acceptable. We made the difficult decision to deal with this situation in this particular way. As we have often described it, this is the least-worst option but it is still the right option.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I call the Chair of the Business and Trade Committee.

Liam Byrne Portrait Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)
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May I put on record my gratitude to the Minister for the speed and attention he is paying to this issue? The bottom line, however, is that redress is too slow and the offers are too low. Papers that the Select Committee is publishing this afternoon show that at the core of the problem is a toxic culture of disbelief of sub-postmasters, which still persists at the top of the Post Office. Indeed, the board minutes for March last year show that board members lamented that the board was tired and constantly distracted by historical issues and short-term crises. I am afraid that that is not good enough when only 40% of the allocated budget for the Horizon scheme has been paid out and only 4% of the budget for the overturned conviction scheme has been paid out. When the Minister brings forward his Bill, will he make sure that the Post Office is now taken out of every single one of the compensation schemes, and that a hardwired instruction to deliver, with a fixed, legally binding timetable to deliver compensation agreements, is written on the face of the Bill?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his points, his kind words earlier, and his work on this matter. I know that he will be chairing a Select Committee session on it tomorrow, and I look forward to his recommendations.

I agree that compensation has been delivered too slowly. We are trying to accelerate its delivery every single day, and we are, I think, doing good work with the advisory board to ensure that that happens. I do not accept that the offers are too low, although I am not saying that there are no exceptions; no compensation scheme will be 100% perfect. In respect of the GLO scheme, for example, 58 full claims have been submitted and 41 have been accepted without reference to the next stage of the process, involving the independent panel, which would seem to indicate that the offers that have been made are fair. Of course people will not take my word for it—they will only accept it when those cases have been resolved—and there are bound to be high-profile cases, as indeed there have been, in which people say that the offers are too low. However, we are determined to ensure that everyone has full compensation that is also fair to the individual, fair to the other individuals within the schemes and, of course, fair to the taxpayer.

As for the people who are running the scheme, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Horizon shortfall scheme was set up as a scheme run by the Post Office, with an independent panel including eminent KCs such as Lord Garnier. I have met its members, as has the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), and we have confidence in it. Nevertheless, we are looking at recommendations from the advisory board for an independent appeal process. The GLO scheme is independent of the Post Office; it is within our Department, and we are working to ensure that the offers are fair. As the right hon. Gentleman suggested, we are considering bringing the overturned conviction scheme back in-house, and we will have more to say about that in due course.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned 40% of the budget. We set a maximum budget of £1 billion—not a cap, but a maximum budget at this point. Part of the reason why only 4% of overturned convictions claims have been settled is the fact that the convictions have not in fact been overturned, which is why we are legislating in this way. Once those hundreds of convictions have been overturned, en masse, people will have access to rapid compensation via either the fixed-sum award, whereby compensation takes only days, or the full-assessment route, which takes longer.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about a legally binding route, and of course we will look at all the various suggestions that are made. We have just legislated to extend the timescale for GLO compensation because we did not want to be bound by an arbitrary date, and I think he supported our legislation. I would therefore caution him against suggesting a legally binding date, because not everything is in our gift, in terms of when we receive a claim and how fast it can then be processed.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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The Minister will be aware from my correspondence of the case of my constituent Mr Graham Ward—one of the 555 in the GLO. He has been in touch with me in the last week, and I think it fair to say that he has expressed his deep frustration about the processes that the House is currently discussing in respect of redress and access to compensation. The £75,000 fixed-sum offer is less than the impact that he has experienced. In his statement, the Minister referred to the 40-day process that people might wish to go through rather than accepting the lump sum. May I suggest to him that that should be looked into? Graham is having to undergo medical assessments and various doctors’ appointments, and all this is a terrible ordeal that continues for him, but so many others have also been part of this. I urge the Minister to bring a human element to his considerations, and to recognise that £75,000 does not even scratch the surface when someone has lost their business, their livelihood, the goodwill and their reputation. That is what we must restore sooner rather than later.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank my right hon. Friend for her constant correspondence and engagement with Mr Ward. I wrote to her recently about the case, and asked to be kept updated on his progress.

The £75,000 is one of two routes that people can take. If they feel that their claim is below £75,000, they do not have to submit any evidence and can simply opt for the £75,000, take that money off the table, and move on with their lives. If they feel that their claim is significantly higher than that, they can opt for the full-assessment route, which inevitably takes more time because assessing someone’s loss is a complex process. The submission of a claim for financial loss will require forensic accountants on behalf of the claimant, and other assessments of the type that my right hon. Friend mentioned will also be needed. All the compensation schemes with which I have been involved during my time in this place have been complicated, but we are trying to simplify this one. Only last week we discussed with the advisory board measures to accelerate the process, but the fundamental principle is that claimants such as Mr Ward should always be given the benefit of the doubt.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
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I declare my interest as a member of the Horizon compensation board, and I thank the Minister for his statement. It is welcome to see him, rather than the Secretary of State, present today’s statement. I welcome the approach that the Government are taking on overturned convictions, but I note that it includes pilots.

I have given evidence to the Minister and the public inquiry about the Capture system. Those affected need to be included in any overturned convictions and to get compensation. I am slowly getting the evidence out of the Post Office and from individual cases, and it comes back to a point that the Chair of the Select Committee just made about the role of the Post Office. The Minister wrote a letter at the weekend to the Select Committee, saying that the culture at the Post Office has changed, but it clearly has not; the toxic culture is still there. Until the Post Office is taken out of this process altogether and forced to regurgitate the information, nothing will change. The Minister knows that one of the advisory board’s recommendations is to do exactly that. Until we do it, postmasters will not have any faith in the process.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman again for his tireless work over the years and, indeed, for his work in recent months on the advisory board. It is hugely important for accelerating this process.

We have discussed Capture on a number of occasions. It is important that we have the right body of evidence on that, and I am keen to work with the right hon. Gentleman to make sure that we do. Clearly, intervening in matters that were independently decided by the courts is a step we take very rarely—it is unprecedented in this context—but I am happy to discuss that further with him and to help him seek evidence from the Post Office where he needs more evidence on this issue. We discussed it last week, and I am keen to make sure that we have the process running as independently as possible.

I can assure colleagues, any claimants out there and the wider public that every single process—not least the GLO scheme and the overturned convictions scheme—has an independent reviewer. It is Sir Gary Hickinbottom for the overturned convictions scheme and Sir Ross Cranston for the GLO scheme. These are very highly regarded individuals, who will make sure that postmasters who come forward are fairly treated and get the redress they deserve.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
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I welcome the care that has been taken to set out how extraordinary this circumstance is and the fact that we are not leading ourselves into setting any precedents. I also welcome scrutiny of the Bill as it comes forward.

On compensation, it is right that evidence is checked and that we are thorough, but I am concerned that the Government’s payment clock will start to run only when they are satisfied that they have all the information on individual cases. It is very difficult for some postmasters to collate documents covering 20 years, some of which have been destroyed or damaged. This is causing a lot of stress, in a similar way to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) described. Will the Minister explain the Government’s position regarding evidence? Given the process of trying to speed up the payments, are we able to get to the point at which we are taking a view on claims, so that we can kickstart the 40-day process and get the money out the door?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank my hon. Friend for her engagement with this issue and for her work on behalf of her constituent, whose case I am very aware of. Yes, we absolutely should be taking a view where evidence is impossible to obtain. Of course, it is fair to request certain bits of information to support a claim, but where such information is not available because it pertains to 20 or 25 years ago, it would be unreasonable to expect that as the basis for a claim. As I said earlier, where there is an absence of evidence but a broader claim that is compelling, there is no doubt that the claimant should get the benefit of the doubt, and I am very keen to make sure that her constituent gets compensation as quickly as possible.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Ind)
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I thank the Minister and his predecessor for their work on this. I know that he has been paying a lot of attention to it. On the issue of full and fair compensation, may I express a worry about the £600,000 option? It has been said that this is a complicated process, but it does not have to be. Schedules of past and future loss are regular events when calculating these matters, and if ever there were a case for aggravated and exemplary damages, surely this is it. My fear is that people who are up against time limits and perhaps getting older will want to accept the £600,000, which will be a vast undersell of the true value of their claim. What mechanisms is the Minister putting in place to ensure that people do not undervalue their claim and take that easy option to bring the matter to a close?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Full and fair compensation lies at the heart of this matter, and we do not want people to feel that the £600,000 is the only option for getting compensation in quick time. It is there for those who want to take the money, walk away and draw a line under the matter, particularly where they think their claim is below that figure. As the hon. Gentleman might have heard me say earlier, on the recommendation of the advisory board and others involved in the process, as soon as a full claim is received, individuals in the overturned conviction cohort will get their interim compensation of £163,000 topped up immediately to £450,000. That will ease the financial pressure and reduce what he suggests might be an incentive for people to take a lower amount than they deserve. A significant amount of money will be paid forward on that basis while the remainder of the compensation claim can be properly assessed.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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I echo some of the words of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali). I had an email overnight from a lady in Australia whose father was prosecuted by the DWP. He had been extremely ill, and he was given a six-month prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. From the statement this afternoon it is clear that the scope of the Bill will apply only to prosecutions from the CPS and Post Office Ltd. Those who received a sentence from the DWP will therefore be outside the scope of the new law. That cannot be right, Minister.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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We have looked at this very carefully. In all the appeals based on DWP cases, the convictions have been upheld thus far. Clearly it is rare that we take the kind of route that we are taking now, in summarily overturning convictions. We see that the evidence bar was much higher in those cases. As I said earlier, there was surveillance of suspects and collation and examination of cash orders from stolen benefit books and girocheques, so there is a significant evidence base for these convictions. I would point out that people can still technically appeal their convictions. They can go through the normal Court of Appeal route. I would be happy to have a discussion with my hon. Friend afterwards to discuss this further if that would be helpful.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
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After 14 years of campaigning on behalf of my constituents, Mr and Mrs Rudkin, and the other sub-postmasters who were victims, I welcome our now having almost a weekly update on the compensation scheme. I also welcome the Minister’s announcement of more generous interim payments for the victims, but I have to disagree when he says that the sub-postmasters Horizon scandal is unprecedented. I am thinking of the infected blood scandal, the so-called Gulf war syndrome repayment scandal and the banking fraud scandal, and of course the House will have the vaccine deaths and vaccine harms scandal to look forward to, which will overshadow everything that has come before. Does the Minister think that those would benefit from a docudrama?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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The hon. Gentleman outlines particular scandals, but my responsibility extends only as far as the Post Office in that regard. As he knows, I come to the House quite often and I probably have enough on my plate in dealing with this issue right now. I thank him for all the campaigning he has done from the Back Benches on this issue and I very much hope that Mr and Mrs Rudkin get the compensation they deserve as soon as possible.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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The Minister often comes to the Chamber to discuss this scandal, and I just wish that Ministers in other Departments, dealing with other scandals, came as often as he does, for which I compliment him. Will he Minister confirm that all those with overturned convictions will be compensated before the general election?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I thank the right hon. Lady for all her work on this subject and on the infected blood scandal. I contributed to that work as a Back Bencher, and I understand that £400 million has been paid out in interim compensation, but I know she will not rest until all the people she represents get full and final compensation.

On overturned convictions, not everything is within our gift. We are summarily overturning convictions en masse, and we hope to do that very quickly. We plan to table legislation next month, and we hope to overturn all the convictions by July. That will open the door to compensation through the two different routes. We are somewhat at the mercy of claims being submitted, which can take time. The £600,000 route is much quicker. I cannot say when the general election will be, so I cannot answer yes to the right hon. Lady’s specific question, but I very much hope we will do so. Our original date was August, and we hope to get everybody compensated by the end of this year. We will do everything we can to ensure that is the case.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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We understand why the legislation to overturn convictions must be limited, but we have heard today from the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) about convictions that were secured through other systems and other prosecutors. What assessment has been made of the likely number of people who have been wrongfully convicted outside the boundaries that have been set? What might be made available for people who want to bring their own appeals against wrongful convictions but who cannot make use of the forthcoming legislation?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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It is fair to say that we can all now see a significant body of evidence showing that these were wrongful convictions, which is why we are acting in this unprecedented way. If the hon. Lady is referring to the Capture cases, we do not have that body of evidence thus far. We think the DWP cases are a different cohort because of the evidential standard. We are acting in this way because we do not think the evidential standard for Horizon was of the right level, and clearly a number of different factors were involved in these convictions. The DWP cases are different. There are around 70 to 100 cases in the DWP cohort, which means that the vast majority of the 983 convictions will be overturned by this legislation.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
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I want to raise again with the Minister the shortcomings of the Horizon shortfall scheme. My constituent, Mr Pennington, was a sub-postmaster for over 20 years, and for 11 of those years he had the stress and worry of continually having to pay back shortfalls generated in error by the Horizon system. He has not received back all that he was forced to pay in, and he was offered only a derisory £1,500 for 11 years of stress and financial distress. I wrote to the Minister about this case five weeks ago, and I have still not received a response. Last week, the Business Secretary said that I will receive a letter very soon. How long will Mr Pennington have to wait for answers to his questions after so many years of financial stress and worry?

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I will chase that correspondence as soon as I leave the Chamber. I thought I had signed the correspondence, and I apologise if the hon. Lady has not received it. I will ensure that she receives it at the earliest possible opportunity.

I am familiar with the hon. Lady’s case, having read about it and about the times she has raised it in the House and elsewhere. I am keen to look at this. The advisory board made recommendations about how we can make sure everyone feels that their settlement is fair. We are looking at those recommendations, and I will get the letter to her as soon as I can.