Victoria Atkins debates involving the Home Office during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 13th September 2021
77 interactions (6,000 words)
Wed 14th July 2021
65 interactions (4,253 words)
Mon 12th July 2021
29 interactions (1,497 words)
Thu 8th July 2021
6 interactions (489 words)
Mon 5th July 2021
13 interactions (217 words)
Mon 5th July 2021
11 interactions (1,932 words)
Mon 14th June 2021
4 interactions (1,758 words)
Mon 7th June 2021
11 interactions (521 words)
Mon 24th May 2021
27 interactions (1,857 words)
Wed 28th April 2021
2 interactions (1,549 words)
Mon 26th April 2021
19 interactions (3,111 words)
Thu 15th April 2021
19 interactions (3,153 words)
Mon 8th February 2021
11 interactions (312 words)
Wed 3rd February 2021
3 interactions (1,564 words)
Thu 14th January 2021
63 interactions (5,765 words)
Mon 14th December 2020
29 interactions (1,225 words)
Wed 25th November 2020
4 interactions (1,463 words)
Mon 9th November 2020
21 interactions (1,059 words)
Tue 6th October 2020
3 interactions (2,264 words)
Mon 28th September 2020
7 interactions (313 words)
Mon 13th July 2020
11 interactions (337 words)
Mon 6th July 2020
32 interactions (4,600 words)
Wed 17th June 2020
47 interactions (7,472 words)
Tue 16th June 2020
28 interactions (3,914 words)
Tue 16th June 2020
30 interactions (3,949 words)
Thu 11th June 2020
32 interactions (4,218 words)
Wed 10th June 2020
34 interactions (4,440 words)
Tue 9th June 2020
15 interactions (2,156 words)
Tue 9th June 2020
53 interactions (6,211 words)
Thu 4th June 2020
16 interactions (1,435 words)
Thu 4th June 2020
32 interactions (3,400 words)
Tue 3rd March 2020
9 interactions (1,796 words)
Thu 27th February 2020
22 interactions (2,836 words)
Thu 27th February 2020
4 interactions (1,377 words)
Mon 24th February 2020
9 interactions (2,096 words)
Mon 10th February 2020
25 interactions (799 words)
Wed 29th January 2020
6 interactions (1,639 words)

Afghanistan Policy

Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

With permission, Mr Speaker—thank you for accommodating this statement today—I would like to make a statement on the Government’s response to the situation in Afghanistan and specifically the effort we are mounting to support Afghans resettling in the United Kingdom.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out to the House last week, Operation Pitting was the biggest UK military evacuation for over 70 years and enabled around 15,000 people to leave Afghanistan and get to safety in the UK. This is in addition to the families we have already welcomed under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy for those who served alongside our British forces and worked with the British Government. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

The Home Office has been at the heart of the UK’s response to the fast-moving events in Afghanistan, and I pay tribute to the dedicated officials who have worked day and night to support this unprecedented mission. From Border Force officers on the ground in Kabul supporting our military and diplomats in extremely challenging circumstances to the UK Visas and Immigration staff in Liverpool, they worked alongside colleagues from across Government, the military, the police and our intelligence agencies. They conducted vital security checks, processed visa and passport applications and welcomed and supported evacuees.

We are determined to ensure that those evacuated here have the best possible start to life in the UK. That includes providing clarity about their immigration status, which is the subject of a policy statement that the Government are publishing today. We recognise the difficult, exceptional and unique circumstances in which many arrived in the UK, so we will be offering immediate indefinite leave to remain to Afghan nationals and their family members who were evacuated or who were called forward during Operation Pitting but will come to the UK after evacuation. This will provide certainty about their status, entitlement to benefits and right to work.

Our commitment to the people of Afghanistan is enduring. The UK’s humanitarian response is one of the most ambitious in the world to date and builds on our proud record of resettling more people than any other European country since 2015. The statement published today sets out details of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, which will see up to 20,000 men, women and children resettled in the UK. The scheme will prioritise those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and have stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech, and the rule of law, which could include judges, women’s rights activists and journalists, along with many others. The scheme will also prioritise vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk and members of minority groups at risk, such as ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT+ people.

Eligible people will be prioritised and referred for resettlement to the UK in one of three ways. First, some of those who arrived in the UK under the evacuation programme, which included individuals who were considered to be at particular risk, will be resettled under the scheme. Secondly, we will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify and resettle refugees who have fled Afghanistan. This replicates the approach that the UK has taken in response to the conflict in Syria and complements the UK resettlement scheme, which resettles refugees from across the world. We will start the process as soon as possible following consultation with the UNHCR. Thirdly, we will work with international partners and non-governmental organisations in the region to put in place a referral process for those inside Afghanistan, where it is possible to arrange safe passage, and for those who have recently fled to other countries in the region.

The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme complements the existing Afghan relocations and assistance policy, which remains open; applications can be made from anywhere in the world. Approximately 7,000 Afghan locally employed staff who served alongside our armed forces in Afghanistan, and their families, have been relocated to the UK under ARAP. Those brought to the UK under ARAP or the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme will have certainty of status through indefinite leave to remain. They will be able to apply for British citizenship after five years under existing rules.

We could not have welcomed so many people to the United Kingdom under Operation Pitting without the support of local authorities. I have written today to all councils across the United Kingdom to set out our funding commitment to them. We will provide a complete package covering health, education and integration support costs for those on the ACRS and ARAP. Local authorities will receive a core tariff of more than £20,000 per person, which will be provided over three years to support resettled Afghans to integrate into British society and become self-sufficient more quickly. Funding will also be provided to support education, English language and health provision in the first year, and there will be a further £20 million of flexible funding in the current financial year to support local authorities with higher cost bases with any additional costs in the provision of services. I urge more local authorities to come forward to support our Afghan friends, and I ask colleagues across the House to relay the message to their councils, too; I am already very appreciative of efforts across the House to do so.

All those brought to the UK under ARAP and ACRS will have the right to work and be able to apply for public funds. The Government are amending legislation to ensure that new arrivals under the two routes can access benefits from day one, including social housing. The Department for Work and Pensions will also offer new arrivals tailored support to help them to become self-sufficient more quickly, and surgeries will be set up across the country to answer benefits and employment questions. However, the challenge of integrating a large number of people at a fast pace and helping them to rebuild their lives cannot be met by central and local government alone. We will be working with the private, voluntary and community sectors to harness our efforts across the whole of society.

The people who have come forward with offers of support have again shown their kindness and compassion. I know that many colleagues have seen such examples in their constituencies. That spirit of generosity is one of the things that make our country so special. We are creating a portal where people, organisations and businesses can register offers of support, and we are extending the community sponsorship scheme so that friends and neighbours, charities and faith groups can come together to support a family through the resettlement scheme.

Afghan nationals will also be able to make applications to come to the UK via one of our existing immigration routes. Family members of British citizens or those with indefinite leave to remain, or family members of refugees who do not qualify for the ACRS, can apply to come to the UK via the family routes or the family reunion rules respectively.

A number of Afghan nationals are already in the UK on an economic, work or study route, and we recognise that they may face difficulties in making a further application if they cannot obtain the correct documentation that they need to extend their stay. We will therefore take a concessionary approach for Afghan nationals similar to that which we took for Syrian nationals in 2015, which will allow us to waive certain document requirements in some circumstances. We will also remove the “no switching” rule on some routes for Afghan nationals, which means that there is no requirement to travel outside the UK to make an application at one of our global visa application centres. There is no change in the UK’s position that people can only claim asylum from within the UK. There are a number of claims already in the asylum system, and they will be considered in line with new country guidance, which will be published shortly. We also urge any Afghan nationals in the UK without lawful status to get in touch with the Home Office as soon as possible.

The shocking events in Afghanistan demand a comprehensive, compassionate and sensible approach. That is what the Afghan people who are starting their lives here deserve, it is what the British public expect, and it is what this Government will deliver. I commend my statement to the House.

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

I thank the Minister for her statement, and for advance sight of it. I also thank her for the briefing that was given to me by her and the Security Minister, and I welcome her to the Dispatch Box. However, given this vital work of leading on the Afghanistan resettlement scheme, I must ask: where is the Home Secretary? We hear that it is the Minister for the Cabinet Office who chairs the Cabinet Committee on this. As Kabul fell, the Prime Minister was on holiday, the Foreign Secretary was on holiday, and now, as we try to deal with the consequences, we have an absent Home Secretary. It is not good enough, and things have to improve.

Members throughout the House and their caseworkers have worked around the clock to try to get people out of Afghanistan, and the fact that, as we heard, email inboxes were ignored was a dereliction of duty by Ministers. On 6 September, the Prime Minister told Members:

“every single email from colleagues is being responded to by close of play today.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 34.]

Even that promise was not fulfilled.

Last week, I met people who had recently left Afghanistan and were starting to build their lives here. It was a solemn privilege to do so. I witnessed the pride that they took in their service alongside British troops, I heard their praise for what the local council was doing in supporting them, and I saw their gratitude for the fact that they were in a place of safety. However, I also saw their pain for those who had been left behind, fearing persecution and fearing for their lives. My question to the Minister is: what specific plan do the Government have in place for those still in Afghanistan and desperate to escape? She said in her statement that she was starting a process

“as soon as possible following consultation with the UNHCR”,

but what advice does she have for Members across the House on what they should say to those who are contacting them about leaving Afghanistan now? What assessment has been made of the number of British passport holders still in Afghanistan? How many who would have been eligible under the ARAP scheme remain behind? Can the Minister also update the House on the progress made by the Home Office, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence on assessing the viability of specific routes of safe passage to third countries for those fleeing Afghanistan? If people are able to escape, are this Government really going to impose a cap of 5,000 this year, and what is the justification for that figure?

I have spoken to Labour local authority leaders across the country who have come forward to help, and our local councils need support. The Prime Minister mentioned a figure of £200 million, and today the Minister has mentioned the core tariff of £20,520 per person, but that is over three years. Local councils are providing support now. When will that money start to be paid? When will the additional £20 million in flexible funding referred to by the Minister be available, and what will be the basis on which it is distributed so that it is fair to councils across the country?

We are also hearing about the Home Office placing large numbers of people in inappropriate hotel accommodation, sometimes for months at a time, without prior notice or indeed even engagement with local authorities in advance. Can the Minister confirm that there will be proper engagement with local authorities, and that such accommodation will never be used on a medium-term basis? For those already in the asylum system here in the United Kingdom, the Minister mentioned that new country guidance would be published shortly. When exactly will it be published, and why has there been such a delay in making it available?

I want to conclude with a message of thanks. Thank you to our troops, our civil servants and other frontline workers for their work on the evacuation of British and Afghan nationals. Thank you to those local authorities and charities that have come forward, and thank you to the British people for their generosity. The people of this country have stepped up when needed, but is it not time that this Government did the same?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. He made some very constructive points and others that I will perhaps leave for Hansard to consider. He is absolutely right to raise the point about email inboxes. I can assure colleagues that a “Dear Colleague” letter is on its way into inboxes—as I speak, I hope, but perhaps a little later today. I know that the question of correspondence has been a matter of great concern, and I completely understand that Members of Parliament expect their emails and inquiries to be dealt with in a timely manner.

I pray in aid the size of the task during those two weeks of emergency. We remember, of course, the scenes on our television sets. We set up a specific helpline in the Home Office during Operation Pitting to try to ensure that emergency cases were flagged to us. To put that in context, in the first 10 days, that helpline received more than 5.3 million attempted calls. We have also had many thousands of emails, not just to the Home Office but to the MOD and the FCDO. What I can tell colleagues on those emails on which they have not received specific updates thus far, is that we are in the process of logging those. This is one of the difficult messages that I have to deliver to the House, but I must issue a bit of a reality check. We cannot process cases in the usual way if people are in Afghanistan, because we have no Army or consular support there. We are in a very difficult situation. I know that it is difficult for constituents who have family still in Afghanistan about whom they are distressed and terrified, but I cannot provide Members of Parliament with information if I do not have it. We are hopeful that international efforts over the coming days, weeks and months will change that. There have been one or two flights out of Kabul, and we hope that will be built on over the coming days and weeks, but I am afraid that we as parliamentarians have to be frank with our constituents that, at this precise point in time, we cannot give specific updates on people within Afghanistan because of the precariousness of the security in that country.

The Prime Minister has said that 311 ARAP people are still in Afghanistan. Of course, as and when options and diplomatic levers work, plans can be put in place to deal with them. Having had the emergency of Operation Pitting, we have to deal with the deteriorating security circumstances in Afghanistan.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why there are 5,000 people in the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme. We have proposed that figure very deliberately because we know, through our experience of the Syrian resettlement scheme, that local areas and local communities can absorb, manage, integrate and welcome that number. Again, hon. Members will understand that, having had the mass evacuation through Operation Pitting, we are quickly trying to find homes for thousands of people. That is why we welcome voluntary suggestions from local authorities. We need the help of all our local councils to be able to offer these people permanent homes. We are trying to do that in a managed way so people are welcomed into this country in the usual measured and constructive way that we had under the Syrian scheme.

The 20,000 figure is over three years. That is a shorter period than the Syrian resettlement scheme, which was over five years, because we want to frontload the work that local authorities and others do to integrate people into our communities as quickly as possible.

I have met some of the people. I asked a woman what her hopes are for the future, and she said that she wants to study for her master’s degree so that she can start teaching maths in our schools as quickly as possible. We have already welcomed some wonderful people, and we want to get them into the jobs market and using the skills and qualifications that they already have to all our benefit.

Finally, every hon. Member who has a bridging hotel in their constituency will have had contact from my Home Office team to explain the process. There are some 68 hotels across the country, and I will not reveal locations and numbers. I hope the House understands why, because we want people to move quickly and we do not want to add complications. The bridging hotels are a temporary housing scenario, and we must encourage our local councils to offer permanent housing. The more offers we receive, the sooner people are out of that bridging accommodation. I am always open and willing to answer any questions that colleagues on both sides of the House may have on this.

Again, I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the principle of what we are trying to achieve. I welcome his scrutiny, but I very much hope that the House, together, will be able to give the people who have already been flown into our country, and equally the people who come here in the future, the warm welcome we want them all to have.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of welcoming the family of one of my constituents from Afghanistan. Sadly, two of his relatives have been executed by the Taliban. Another very close relative was a senior figure in the previous Government. Sadly, this is where the dilemma comes, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s help. That relative hopes to be able to make it across the border to Pakistan, but he expects to be in hiding in Pakistan because he is in fear of his life.

Will the Minister please make it possible for hon. Members who are aware of such situations to act as a point of liaison between those who are in hiding and the high commission in Pakistan, so that we can ensure they have a path to escape that leaves them safe and helps them to avoid the danger that exists to them on both sides of the border? I very much hope we can help that relative get to the United Kingdom, and I would be grateful for all the help we can get from Ministers to do so.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank my right hon. Friend for that; I suspect he has identified one of the most common questions I am going to face this afternoon. That is completely understandable, because he and every other Member of Parliament wants to help in the sorts of cases he has described.

One of the difficult messages I have to relay this afternoon is that because of the security situation in Afghanistan we have to be very careful about offering either encouragement or support for people who may be in a perilous situation in Afghanistan on making that journey to borders. We cannot, here today in the Chamber, understand the risks to those individuals themselves, particularly given the high profile, which my right hon. Friend has described, of some of the people we are talking about, and we do not know the situation this afternoon and this evening on the ground around borders. We have processes in the region, run by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence, and the Defence Secretary has made it clear that his defence attachés in the region will be working very hard on such cases. But I am afraid we have to deal with the reality of the situation; much as we, as constituency MPs, would like to be, we are not in circumstances where we can persuade people to move or not move, because of the dangerousness they face. I ask everybody to refer their constituents who may have concerns to the gov.uk website, which will be updated as soon as we are able to do this. In addition, this afternoon colleagues will, through a “Dear colleague” letter, be receiving the online form that people who believe that they are eligible for ARAP should use for contact, so that the processes we are able to control are then put in place. We must, please, be very, very careful about the safety of these people.

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

First, let me welcome the Minister to her new role and join her in paying tribute to all those involved in getting people to safety from Afghanistan. We know from the Syrian scheme that resettlement done well can save and transform lives, and that those who are resettled often go on to make brilliant contributions to our communities in return, so of course we want to work constructively to help deliver as many places for Afghans as possible. Equally, her Government must work constructively with partners here as well. It is welcome that local authorities now have more detail about the support they will receive, but when will the four-nations summit, agreed to by the Prime Minister, take place? That local authority support that was mentioned will be crucial. Does that tariff go at least as far as the support offered under the Syrian scheme? Were local authorities consulted about the fact that this would operate over three years, rather than five?

We will also be critical when that is required. Let us say unequivocally that we believe the number of resettlement places on offer is a long, long way below what events in Afghanistan require of us, in the context of more than 2 million Afghan refugees, with many more to come. Outside the 5,000 in the first year, the numbers put forward by the Home Office are vague aspirations, not detailed plans. Indeed, today the Minister referred to “up to 20,000”, so we could be talking about fewer. Can she at least confirm that 20,000 is the minimum number that will be resettled under the scheme? What are the prospects of frontloading the programme so that the initial 5,000 can also be increased? When will all this start?

On the Afghans already here, we need urgent clarity that they will be recognised as refugees. I am tempted to ask when the country guidance will be published, but do we really need the country guidance to tell us that people from Afghanistan should be recognised as refugees? Should that process not be expedited immediately? Will the Minister also revisit the tightly drawn refugee family reunion rules and ensure that those with family in the UK that might not otherwise qualify them for reunion—adult children, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins—can apply to join them here? If that does not happen, they are the people who will attempt to make it to the UK on their own initiative and who will then, under the Nationality and Borders Bill, be criminalised and jailed simply for seeking asylum here. The Minister spoke about a compassionate approach, but imagine prosecuting and imprisoning people fleeing the Taliban and seeking safety here with their family. Surely this is the moment that the Government must think again about those outrageous proposals.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

First, I thank the Scottish Government and, indeed, all the devolved Administrations for their constructive work with us so far. It genuinely is a great example of the United Kingdom really pulling together.

I very much hear some of the hon. Gentleman’s criticisms in respect of numbers. I suspect that he and I will not be able to find accommodation on that. We have been careful to ensure that those people whom we can welcome, we can welcome and integrate well, which is why, working with local authorities, we have settled on the 5,000 figure. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the ACRS, which is for members of civil society, vulnerable people and so on, is in addition to those who are welcomed under ARAP. Unless things have suddenly changed over the past 24 hours or so, it is truly one of the most ambitious schemes in the world, so we should be really proud of it.

On looking after people who have been evacuated here, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the tariff applies throughout the devolved nations as well. There are additional funds for education and so on.

On the Nationality and Borders Bill, I would argue that the very generosity of our country, though the resettlement scheme, shows our commitment as a Government to ensuring that there are safe and legal rights, which act as a balance against those people traffickers who exploit people at great personal risk—we saw only this weekend terrible news from the channel—for their own criminal ends. We want to encourage people to use safe and legal routes and we want to go after those people traffickers.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I pay enormous tribute not only to my hon. Friend the Minister but to the Home Secretary, whom I was texting barely half an hour before I came into the Chamber about an Afghan who is currently near a border, and she was personally sorting out the transit documents that I hope will enable him to come through. I also pay enormous tributes to the councils throughout the entire United Kingdom that have done enormous amounts to help us all to find accommodation for those in desperate need.

Does the Minister recognise that in many ways Afghanistan is many different communities, so people need to be looked at and addressed in different ways? What outreach has she done to the different community groups inside the United Kingdom? How is she looking to help those people who have links to various different elements in Afghan society to find their own home within that society here in the UK?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for his absolute commitment to this issue. He has knowledge and expertise in respect of the region that I think it is fair to say few in the House possess: we are genuinely better informed when my hon. Friend stands to speak on Afghanistan and the implications in the region.

On my hon. Friend’s thanks to the Home Secretary, I join him in making that point about both the Home Secretary and, if I may say so, the Immigration Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who has done extraordinary amounts of work behind the scenes. He never asks for credit or kudos but I am determined to give him credit in Hansard for everything he has done.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of trying to help some Opposition colleagues with their queries. This is a genuine team effort and we desperately want to help the people we can help. As part of that, we of course must include—and I am determined to do so—Afghan civil society in this country. I have already met many groups that have had helpful and constructive ideas about how we can all reach out and help people to integrate, and I am extremely grateful to them. This is an ongoing process and I very much look forward to working with such groups to ensure that we offer the warm welcome that the Prime Minister has promised.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister’s personal commitment and the intervention of the Home Secretary and other Ministers in trying to solve individual cases, but she will be aware that many MPs across the House have been struggling to get similar help for their constituents, or for families of constituents, and are not getting the same response. May I press her on the situation of those whose lives are still at risk in Afghanistan because they worked with or for the UK Government, but were not directly employed by the UK Government? They have had no response from the ARAP scheme, or have been told that they are not eligible because they were not direct employees. Can she tell me whether they are now eligible for the resettlement scheme, or do they have to apply again from scratch? Can their applications be automatically considered by the resettlement scheme urgently, or be looked at again by the ARAP scheme? I have been made aware of too many cases where someone is either in hospital or whose mother has been killed who are in that situation now as a result of Taliban persecution.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Again, I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for her question. The nub of the problem with people who are still in-country is that we are in the situation that we are in. We have to deal with the reality as it is at the moment. We understand that there are 311 people left in-country in Afghanistan, but the Ministry of Defence, the FCDO and the Home Office have received emails, which we are logging in terms of the wider scheme. Not all the cases referred to us would be eligible under ARAP, but they are being logged and we are considering how best to use them in the future, mindful, of course, that organisations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have their own internationally mandated processes. We very much want to reach the right people—the vulnerable people who have stood up for western or British values—and to help them as we can within this scheme. I hope that she will appreciate that, as things becomes clear overseas, we will be able to provide more detail. I know that this is a snapshot in time, but I am trying to keep the House as updated as I can. I very much hope that “Dear Colleague” letters will be published this afternoon. That will help our staff, who have done incredible amounts of work over the past few weeks and whom we really must thank for all the pressures that they been under as well.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister know that the Council for At-Risk Academics has been rescuing scholars under these dangerous circumstances since 1933? I appreciate the difficulties of those who are still trapped in hiding in Afghanistan, but out of the 16 who have research studentships or visiting fellowships waiting for them at British universities and who have been validated by the council, one has made it to the Netherlands and three, at considerable risk, have made it undocumented into Pakistan. Can she do everything possible to expedite the issuing of visas for those who have managed to cross the border and are now in Pakistan in particular?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I seem to recall that my right hon. Friend asked the Prime Minister a question along those lines last week. May I ask him to liaise with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, in relation to those wider immigration questions? Again, that invitation is open to Members across the House. We want to help them with the cases, but, please, there must be understanding that we will not be able to help everyone and we will not be able to give specific updates on individual cases if they are in Afghanistan.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has talked about the real difficulties facing those who wish to apply from Afghanistan, but having listened very carefully to what she has said today, there are two things that I am not clear about. First, the impression was previously given that if people could get to the border and leave Afghanistan, they should do so. I am not clear what she is saying today about that in terms of the latest Government advice.

Secondly, let me pick up the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chair of the Select Committee, has raised. All of us have been referring to the Home Office many, many cases relating to people who are in Afghanistan at the moment. Will they have to make a fresh application under the scheme that she has announced today, or will those details be read across and considered under the scheme automatically? It would greatly assist many Members on both sides of the House to know what is it that we should be doing. Can we say that we have sent the Minister the details, she has them and will consider them under the new scheme, or do those people have to apply afresh?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

In relation to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question about what people should be doing, I am trying to reflect the rapidly changing security situation in Afghanistan, so I would ask any Member of Parliament to consider very carefully whether they feel able to, or comfortable, giving people advice about moving to borders, because, with the best will in the world, we cannot hope to have the sort of information that, for example, those on the ground, those working with the armed forces and so on will have. The advice at the moment is to look at the gov.uk website. That is our primary source of information. We need to bear in mind, of course, that with anything we talk about, there is the potential that others are watching—bad actors and so on. Indeed, Members of Parliament should bear that in mind when it comes to their own correspondence; we heard the experiences of a colleague last week in relation to a fraudulent attempt.

Let me turn to the right hon. Gentleman’s second question, which was about the process. ARAP is organised by the Ministry of Defence, which has its lists of people and so on. With the citizens scheme, we are trying a blended approach. We want to use the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as we have done under the Syrian scheme, but we recognise that that only deals with people who are out of country in refugee camps, by and large. We also want to look at civil society. We are not proposing to open this up as an applications process, because there are 40 million people living in Afghanistan, and I suspect that the overwhelming majority of them feel pretty vulnerable for various reasons at the moment.

We will be working with international organisations, including non-governmental organisations, to invite people forward to the other two parts of the scheme. Bear in mind, of course, that some of the 500—[Interruption.] I suspect that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) will get his moment. Some of the 500 or so people who have been evacuated under Operation Pitting may be eligible under this scheme. As I said, we are having to take this step by step, but we wanted to keep the House as updated as we could today, so that it is aware of the direction of travel.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate that the Minister is dealing with complicated and sensitive matters, and that she is anxious to give full answers to colleagues. She certainly is not avoiding questions, but is taking them head-on. Unfortunately, some of the questions are also rather long and complicated, so we have managed, in 40 minutes, to take questions from five Back Benchers. We will have to go a lot faster now, but in order that the Minister can give short answers, I need to have short and succinct questions. That way, we will cover everything eventually.

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the statement. Many of those fleeing the Taliban will be highly skilled people who will want to integrate rapidly into the workforce so that they can become contributors, not just supplicants. Will the Minister unpack a little the £20,520 per person in core funding that she announced, and tell us what proportion of that she envisages being used for further education to enable people, where necessary, to upskill? What conversations has she had with her ministerial colleagues at the Department for Education to see what more colleges in localities can do to ensure that these people are able to do what they aspire to do, which is to enter the workforce and be contributors?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that once we have dealt with the immediate emergency of moving 15,000 or so people from quarantine hotels into bridging accommodation—I hope and plan that that will be concluded this week—we can then start really to set in stone some of our plans for integration. There are all sorts of ideas, including equivalence qualifications involving the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that we get people into the jobs market as quickly as possible. Of course, we will also be measuring English language fluency to help those who are a little bit further from the jobs market towards the jobs market so that they can be truly independent and have their own futures here in the UK.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously, quite rightly, a lot of the discussion is around ARAP, but what about UK citizens and UK residents who are trapped? My case is of a woman with three tiny daughters who is stranded having cared for a relative and got caught by covid, and now she does not know what to do. How do I get help for her?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

If I have understood the hon. Lady correctly, the person she is describing is already within the asylum scheme—

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Will the hon. Lady give me the privilege of perhaps speaking to me afterwards, because I have misunderstood her question? I do apologise.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for this announcement. How will local authorities be supported in accommodating Afghan citizens, and how will the education system be supported, to help to facilitate the smooth transition of Afghan people into local communities throughout the UK?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

We have today announced £20,520 per person over the next three years. This is because we want to enable local councils to front-load their integration support. We have, in addition, up to £4,000 per child for education and associated tariffs for medical care. We want to ensure that people are moving into their permanent accommodation as quickly as possible. This is where the call for volunteers from our local authorities must be made strongly. We need permanent housing in order to settle people as quickly as possible.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Hull is a city of sanctuary and has always stepped up to its responsibilities around asylum seekers and refugees, even though at times the Home Office has been rather high-handed in the way it has dealt with the local authorities. What exactly is the Minister going to do to ensure that all other local authorities step up to their responsibilities for asylum seekers and refugees under the UK resettlement scheme and, now, under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am not going to tread on the ministerial territory of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), as that is not my role. However, in terms of Afghan resettlement, the letters have gone out today, my officials will be hitting the phones this week, and we will be very much trying to encourage as many local authorities as possible to sign up if they can. It need not be huge numbers per local authority, and, as others have said, these people can make a huge contribution to our local communities once they are settled in.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My local authorities, Wealden District Council and Rother District Council, are taking part in welcoming our Afghan friends. The Minister references the three-year funding settlement. What assessment has she made of whether that will fully cover the cost of resettlement? Will she urge all local authorities to think of the contribution that these brave individuals will make not just to their local communities but to the economy?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend’s local authorities. They have worked very closely with my Department in recent weeks, and I am grateful for that. He is absolutely right on the last point. These are very skilled, highly qualified people who can be our doctors and our teachers, while some of them can—dare I say it?— help through standing for local councils. They can make a huge contribution. We have settled on the funding settlement very carefully because we want to try to encourage take-up as quickly as possible. We also have the additional fund of £20 million to help those authorities that are telling us some of the issues they have with housing. We want to try to make this as easy as possible for local authorities.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her statement. I thank Vale of White Horse District Council and South Oxfordshire District Council, who have opened their arms and absolutely said that they will take as many as they possibly can. I am helping to support about 400 individuals at the moment, some of whom are from the Hazara Afghan community. The Minister mentioned that there were other routes available other than the resettlement scheme—because, let us face it, that is not going to be enough. There is one willing to sponsor their brother, give them a job and support them. Will the Government give a special dispensation so that that space is given to someone else equally vulnerable who may need it?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that I should not be making very significant decisions about immigration policy at the Dispatch Box, but I will take away her idea. We have tried, as I say, to construct this resettlement scheme alongside our existing system, going above and beyond what many countries around the world are doing. We are proud to do so and we want to encourage others to follow our lead. But of course the immigration system, as is, remains there for those who have perhaps sought asylum under the family reunion rules.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her statement. Will she join me in commending Darlington Borough Council, which she recently met, for its commitment to support Afghan families, just as it supported Syrian families only a few years ago? Will she ensure that sufficient funds will be available to Darlington to meet its responsibilities?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

May I thank my hon. Friend, who is an absolute stalwart in speaking up not only for his constituency, but his local council? He is very much putting his constituency on the map. I am delighted to support the great offers of Darlington Borough Council and other councils across the country. I encourage them to do whatever they can to help. We should not forget that we can all play our part, because we have the portal open on gov.uk, where we can register offers of donations, volunteering, English language lessons—whatever we can manage. Also, for those who are able, there is the specific accommodation portal, where people can offer accommodation.

Diane Abbott Portrait Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened with care to the Minister’s statement. Is she aware of how many British residents and passport holders will be very shocked to learn that the Government can offer them no information on their relatives trapped in Afghanistan, let alone help them get their relatives to safety? Perhaps she should write to us and say she has no information. At least that would help us shed some light for our constituents. On the question of bridging hotels, many of them are entirely unsuitable, such as business hotels that have one single member of a family in every room. Can she assure the House about the maximum length of time individuals will be in this bridging accommodation?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Again, I regret that the right hon. Lady did not hear what I said earlier, which is that for those people in Afghanistan at the moment, it is a very fast-moving situation. At this point in time, I am not able to signpost constituents and parliamentarians in the way that I would normally be able to do, and that is one of the tough messages I have had to deliver today from the Dispatch Box. That does not mean that that will remain the case forever, and that is why the work of the FCDO, the Ministry of Defence and others in trying to secure safe passage out of Afghanistan is so critical.

In terms of bridging hotels, we have yet to complete the transfer of everybody from quarantine to bridging hotels, but the more offers of permanent accommodation we have, the sooner we will be moving people out of bridging accommodation. This is why we have to do things methodically, and this is why we are being very careful about the numbers of people we can welcome in the future.

Crispin Blunt Portrait Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the explicit recognition of the position of LGBT people in her statement, following the Prime Minister’s statement a week ago. The absence of LGBT people being an identified cohort during the course of Op Pitting means that I fear nobody made it out under the conditions of Op Pitting who would and should have succeeded as LGBT people to make their application. Through me and through our noble Friend, Lord Herbert of South Downs, the Prime Minister’s envoy, will she enable a specific point of contact within her Department who can advise us and the NGOs and others who are helping LGBT Afghans to make applications, so that applications can be successfully made and Border Force’s questions properly satisfied? I fully understand the restrictions my hon. Friend placed on the operational advice that she gave earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), but that help will be much appreciated at the application phase.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. We recognise the risk. We want to work with specialist organisations to ensure that we help the most vulnerable, which of course include minorities who are LGBT+.

Anne McLaughlin Portrait Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister talked in her statement about a referral process for those inside Afghanistan where it is possible to arrange safe passage, thus acknowledging that that is not always possible. Last week, the Home Office released proposals to engage in push-backs of boats in the channel carrying refugees and asylum seekers. Will she confirm that that policy means a boat carrying Afghan asylum seekers fleeing the Taliban who, as she said, could find no safe passage, would be forcibly pushed back from UK waters?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

We are setting out safe and legal routes for Afghans who need to be resettled. As the hon. Member will know, other countries across Europe through which people are making their journeys are safe countries, and we would strongly encourage people making their way into safe countries in Europe and elsewhere to apply for asylum in those countries. The resettlement schemes are about helping people in region, and we very much hope to help the numbers that we have talked about.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last month, my constituent Mr Kamal contacted me as he was concerned for the welfare of his wife and four daughters in Afghanistan. His wife is an Afghan national, while all four of their children—aged seven, six, three and just four months—are British citizens. He, like any father, is desperately worried about his family, yet, despite my representations to the Home Office, I have received no response at all. What advice can the Minister provide to Mr Kamal and his family? Will she assure me that I will get a substantive answer by the end of the week?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman describes an incredibly difficult case. If Mr Kamal’s family are in Afghanistan, I cannot give him a specific update on their safety and whereabouts, but I am happy to discuss the case with him after the statement because I want to see if we can do anything more.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituents are children here under the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme, and their families—Hazara families—in Kabul want to know what steps they need to take to make applications and whether they will fall under the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, not least because the numbers under that scheme are so pitiful. The Minister talks about 5,000 people, which is one or two families per constituency. We really need to re-examine those numbers.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I very much hope that the hon. Member is encouraging her local authority to volunteer permanent properties to help resettle families as she has described. On her specific case, if I have understood her correctly, she is talking about children, and she will know that children cannot sponsor adults to come to the United Kingdom under our wider asylum policy because of real concerns that children would be used by people with ill intent. However, if there are asylum matters in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), stands ready to help in that application, if he can.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for what she described as the difficult and unique circumstances faced by Afghan citizens. Can I ask her a narrow question about the concessionary approach to waive documents which she described? Will she please confirm that if an Afghan citizen is entitled to help, they will not be denied that help simply because they have been required to, say, burn a passport or other identity document—whether electronic or physical—to keep themselves alive?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman gives some powerful examples. The nature of the concession is that we are realistic about what some may have had to do to survive. I must, however, preface that with two caveats. First, security checks must be conducted—that goes without saying—and, secondly, the concession will have to be on a case-by-case basis, because we want to ensure that we are helping the vulnerable people whom we are aiming to help.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To be honest, I just feel that this is a completely hope-less statement, in the sense that the UK Government are giving up on the vulnerable people in Afghanistan who stood by us. That is what it feels like, and what really angers me is that we seem to be going backwards every time a Minister comes to explain this. Last week, we were told by the Prime Minister that we were all going to get replies to our individual cases by last Monday, and then last Thursday a Government Minister came here and told us that we would all get individual answers to each of the individual cases by this Thursday. Now it sounds as though the Minister is saying, “Oh, no”, and all we are going to get is another blasted “Dear colleague” letter. That is not good enough. We need to be able to give answers to our constituents.

In particular—this was asked earlier, and it was answered in a different way last Thursday by a different Government Minister—if a person has applied through the ARAP scheme and has been told no, will they have to make another application to another Department and put in another form, or will the Government be doing what the Foreign Office told this House last Thursday, which is triaging these with no need for a further application?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I simply disagree with the hon. Gentleman about his assessment of the Government’s position. I have tried to update the House today on our schemes. I have announced the funding now available for councils, which will be a significant step forward.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

indicated dissent.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the reality for many councils is that we are in negotiations with them and they wanted, understandably, to know the funding. We have now been able to provide them with an answer, and we will be able to unlock more offers of help. On the wider issue of correspondence, as I have said, we will log emails as they have come in, but I cannot give updates that I do not have because of the security situation in Afghanistan. I hope the hon. Gentleman will deploy the energy he has shown in this Chamber to persuading his local council to offer more permanent housing.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was pleased to hear the Minister mention in her statement that judges and women’s rights activists may be among those who would get priority, but the situation for female judges on the ground in Afghanistan is dire. There are about 220 of them, and they are trapped there in immediate fear of their lives. These people are desperate, and they have been on the phone to colleagues in the United Kingdom in tears every night. Basically, these women are waiting to be killed, so my question for the Minister is this. She says in her statement that one of the ways the Government are going to implement the scheme is to

“work with international partners and non-governmental organisations in the region to put in place a referral process for those inside Afghanistan, where it is possible to arrange safe passage”.

Can she tell me whether these discussions are taking place and are taking place with the appropriate urgency in relation to the female judges trapped in Afghanistan, and can she confirm that these women will be welcome in the United Kingdom?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I have already met the UNHCR to discuss with it that element of the scheme and how it can help with other parts of the scheme. Conversations with other NGOs are, of course, ongoing, and I will keep the House updated as progress is made.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the urgent cases I am dealing with is that of a former Chevening scholar trapped in Kabul, who is very worried that he is not on the appropriate Government list because, strangely, he did not receive a call forward to the airport in the early days of the evacuation. Can the Minister assure me that she is talking to the FCDO about Chevening scholars and that, from the Home Office perspective, all former and current Chevening scholars will be supported by the Government? In particular, will the right paperwork be issued to him, so that if he does make the decision to go with his family to the border, he will know that he will be safe once he gets there?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Yes, the Home Secretary has already, I think, addressed the House about Chevening scholarships. They will be honoured, and we are trying to make that happen, albeit with the practicalities the hon. Member has outlined if people are in Afghanistan.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have written to three different Government Departments seven times since 23 August on behalf of a constituent of mine whose family members are in Afghanistan. They could have been helped, and they were not. On Thursday, I spoke to my constituent who told me that, on Wednesday, her uncle was murdered by the Taliban, and another relative is continuing to receive the most chilling threats on a daily basis. I am not asking the Minister for an update on their situation in Afghanistan; I know that perfectly well from first-hand accounts from my constituent. I am asking what she is doing to give them permission to travel to the UK so that they can take the first step on their journey to safety before, as my constituent said on Thursday, she loses her whole family.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

As the hon. Lady has outlined, the circumstances in Afghanistan are incredibly dangerous, and that is why we made such huge efforts to evacuate as many people as we possibly could in Operation Pitting. I cannot discuss individual cases with her—certainly not in the Chamber—but I hope that, having listened to the statement about the opening up of the scheme, she will see that if the situation changes in Afghanistan and we are able to get safe passage out, the cases that she and others have raised will be able to be evaluated. However, I cannot make case decisions on the hoof at the Dispatch Box, as she would understand.

Anum Qaisar-Javed Portrait Anum Qaisar-Javed (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister referred to the importance of learning the English language. In previous interviews she has referred to “western values”, and to the support that her Government will provide to Afghans. What support will her Government give to help Afghans preserve their language and culture when they come here? We know that refugees enrich society with their culture and language.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

That is precisely why I am working with Afghan civil society to ensure that we integrate people in a way that reflects the values we cherish so carefully as a country, while of course acknowledging the contribution they will make.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister spoke about the ways the scheme will prioritise those who have assisted UK efforts, but what does “prioritisation” actually mean? Those who will be admitted on to the list of 5,000 in the first year need to know whether they are being prioritised, as that may affect their decision to travel to the border, or the way that people respond in Afghanistan, as well as those refugees outside it. The Minister will know that the criteria she set out would probably just about meet the 4,500 relatives of my constituents, every one of whom would qualify on that basis—

--- Later in debate ---
Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My question is about what prioritisation means, who will be notified about it, how it will be determined, and whether there is any pre-filling of the lists, as is being rumoured in Whitehall.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

As I said, some of those evacuated during Op Pitting and who would be considered under the criteria of the scheme will form part of that scheme, but there are two other avenues through which people can be invited to take part, and I have referred to those in previous answers.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

How widely and generously will the definition of an “assisted UK effort” be applied? I have cases of two interpreters who were told that they did not qualify for ARAP because they worked for G4S rather than for the Army, but if they had been properly assessed, they could already be here. Will they now qualify?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I ask the hon. Gentleman to write to the Minister for the Armed Forces.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In trying to justify allowing only 5,000 refugees in through year one of resettlement scheme, the Minister said that that followed consultation with local authorities, based on capacity and assimilation. Will she publish the collated information that shows that, cumulatively, all local authorities in the UK responded that they could take only that figure of 5,000?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman may not have heard when I referred to the fact that we were looking at the Syrian resettlement scheme, which is widely regarded as being a success. That scheme was resettling 5,000 people a year.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) for not having called him earlier. In all honesty, I could not see him because of this screen. Let us hope they do not have to stay here very much longer.

Khalid Mahmood Portrait Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a constituent who landed just before the blockade. Her father-in-law has been shot. She has got to the border a number of times. I have communicated with the embassy and with the Pakistani authorities to try to let her come through, but to no avail because the Afghans will not let her through on a British passport. Can we get through the Foreign Office, or the Home Office, some sort of indication to help those people? If not, can we use other available embassies to guide and support those people who are there with British passports?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am loth to give travel advice at the Dispatch Box, for the reasons I have given. Perhaps I should take that up with the hon. Gentleman after the statement to see whether we can find ways through.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The ARAP scheme pledges to provide protection for Afghans who were employed by the British Government, but many of my constituents have relatives in Afghanistan who worked for the British indirectly, for instance as a driver for an Army interpreter. Those people are in hiding and are terrified. Will the Minister clarify whether such individuals will be prioritised for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Again, I really cannot be expected to make decisions such as the hon. Member describes at the Dispatch Box. The ARAP scheme has been defined by the MOD. We are setting out the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. If there are queries about eligibility, then I encourage her to look at the gov.uk website for greater guidance.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This morning, a family with a very sick child, one of 300 people placed in a quarantine hotel in Shepherd’s Bush, were told to get on a coach to Stockport, despite having lodged an application for housing assistance in Hammersmith. On Saturday, 90 Afghan evacuees arrived at a bridging hotel in Fulham with no money, the clothes they stood up in, and no information about what was happening to them. A local charity, West London Welcome, and our council are trying to help. If we try to get through to the Home Office, it does not answer emails or phone calls. Is this what the Minister means by Operation Warm Welcome?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

On bridging accommodation, the hon. Gentleman will know, I hope, that we have had many thousands of people to rehouse out of quarantine very quickly. There are some 68 hotels being used around the country, and we have had to deal with those places as they are available. On provisions and other requirements, we have a scheme in place whereby the managers of the hotels have contacts with the Home Office to provide exactly the sorts of provisions that people need. In addition, local groups, charities and people have donated things that are available to hotels. If there is a particular problem in a hotel, the hon. Gentleman must please let me know, because we will nip it in the bud.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her statement, but my constituents and I grow increasingly worried the longer casework emails go unanswered. That is no criticism of all the hard-working civil servants who have worked around the clock. I have written to the Home Secretary again today to request updates on two cases where constituents have found their family members—one an 18-year-old woman—particularly vulnerable under the new regime. Can the Minister confirm what criteria the Home Office is using to assess vulnerability for applicants wishing to come to the UK and join their British family here?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I do not want to have to repeat the answers I have given in relation to correspondence, because I know the pressures of time. As I say, there will be a “Dear colleague” in due course, and I hope that that will help to deal with some of the hon. Member’s correspondence.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What reassurance can the Minister give to the 3,000 Afghans who were in our asylum system prior to the fall of Kabul? What lessons will she take from what other European countries are doing around a fast-track system? Crucially, can she give the assurance that under no circumstances will anyone be deported back to Afghanistan?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

We have said that there will be no more returns to Afghanistan. If someone is in the asylum system, they are supported, and their claim will remain within the asylum system as usual.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, let me place on the record the readiness and willingness, once again, of North Lanarkshire Council to stand forward for the Afghan refugees, just like we did for the Syrian refugees and, before that, for the Congolese when we welcomed them to North Lanarkshire. Will the Minister please heed the warnings by both the First Minister of Scotland and the leader of Glasgow City Council that the commitment to rehouse 20,000 in the long term and to resettle just 5,000 in the first year is clearly not sufficient? Clearly, in the context of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding, a far more ambitious programme is required. It is always worth saying that in Scotland, refugees are welcome.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am very happy to thank councils across the United Kingdom that have played their part. As I say, I am very much looking forward to others joining our voluntary scheme. In terms of numbers, I will not repeat what I have already said. We just want to make sure that we are welcoming people in a structured and measured way, as we have in the past with the Syrian scheme. We very much look forward to working with partners across the United Kingdom to achieve that.

Bill Presented

Planning (Street Plans) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

John Penrose, supported by Bob Blackman, Sir John Hayes, Danny Kruger, Mr Simon Clarke, Kevin Hollinrake and Stephen Hammond, presented a Bill to make provision about the creation and operation of street-level plans for local development; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 October, and to be printed (Bill 161).

Strategy for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls

Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Wednesday 21st July 2021

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s strategy for tackling violence against women and girls. May I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the parliamentary staff who have helped facilitate this statement on what is an immensely important subject, but at an unusual hour, I think it is fair to say, of the parliamentary day?

I would like to begin with the words of some of the women who responded to our call for evidence, which helped to shape the strategy:

“I had never felt so lost in my entire life at the time of the abuse. I thought my life would never be the same again”.

Another:

“We shouldn’t have to pretend to be on the phone, or actually call someone, just because we’re scared to walk down the street in case we get attacked”.

And another:

“The trauma will stay with the victim forever. It seriously compromises all life prospects and opportunities”.

Those words are difficult to read. They are difficult to hear, but they capture a reality that we simply must confront: women and girls are too often subjected to abuse, harassment and violence. Enough is enough.

Today we have published our new “Tackling violence against women and girls strategy”, which will build on progress we have made in recent years. When the Prime Minister was Mayor of London, our capital became the first major city in the world to launch a comprehensive strategy to combat violence against women and girls. I also pay tribute to the contribution that the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), has made in this regard. This includes leading work on new offences for controlling or coercive behaviour, stalking, female genital mutilation, and so-called revenge porn. This year, the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 was passed, which ensured, for the first time, a statutory definition that includes recognising victims as children in their own right, strengthens the response to perpetrators, and creates new protections for victims.

But we must do more. The strategy we have published today sets out action to prioritise prevention, support victims, pursue perpetrators, and help to make sure the police, education, local authorities, prison and probation services and others work together more effectively. As I say, it has been shaped by a call for evidence that we ran earlier this year and that received over 180,000 responses. The volume of feedback was unprecedented and astonishing, and the content at times harrowing. I want to place on record my gratitude to all those who took the time to offer their thoughts and describe often painful experiences. That takes great courage. The national outpouring of grief and personal experiences that we saw in the wake of the tragic case of Sarah Everard was a watershed moment. We must change our society for the better. We owe it to Sarah and all the other women and girls who have lost their lives or been subjected to violence and abuse.

Crimes such as rape, female genital mutilation, stalking, harassment, cyber-flashing, revenge porn and up-skirting are appalling. They can take place behind closed doors or in public places. They can happen in the real world or online. The devastation and trauma caused by such crimes cannot be overstated. The scars can remain for years— in the worst cases, for a lifetime. The consequences are felt across society, too. They cause women and girls to calculate risk and calibrate their behaviour, sometimes without even realising it. They also require national and local responses, and result in economic as well as personal costs.

As I say, we have made progress in tackling these crimes, but the need to step up our efforts could not be clearer, and today we are taking a significant stride forward with the publication of this new strategy. The strategy represents our blueprint to address those concerns and deliver real and lasting improvements. It is made up of four key pillars: prioritising prevention, supporting victims, pursuing perpetrators, and delivering a stronger system. The most effective way of driving down these crimes is to stop them from happening in the first place. We have taken a range of action on prevention already, but we are determined to go further. So we will be launching a multi-million-pound national communications campaign with a focus on targeting perpetrators and harmful misogynistic attitudes, educating young people about healthy relationships, and ensuring that victims can access support.

We have also launched a specific safety of women at night fund worth £5 million to ensure that women do not face violence in public spaces at night. It will support initiatives that target potential perpetrators or seek to protect potential victims. This will build on the additional £25 million we are investing this year into the safer streets fund. The Home Office will also pilot a tool, StreetSafe, which will enable the public to report areas anonymously where they feel unsafe and identify what about the location made them feel this way. This data will be used to inform local decision making. And we will invest in a “What Works” fund to build up evidence on the most effective approaches and measures.

It is difficult to imagine how traumatic and frightening it must be to be subjected to one of these crimes. It is essential, therefore, that victims, in their time of need, can get help. We recognise the role that support services and organisations play in helping people rebuild their lives. We are already investing a record £300 million to support victims of all crimes this year and our strategy outlines how we will increase funding this year for specialist services, including “by and for” services, and helplines for victims and survivors of crimes, including stalking and revenge porn. We will ensure that the police and prosecutors are confident about how to respond to public sexual harassment with new guidance. We will continue to look carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment could address those. We will review options to limit use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment in higher education. Whatever the crime, whenever and wherever it happens, the needs of the victim must always be the priority.

Another priority is catching the perpetrators of these crimes and bringing them to justice. We will continue to back the police to do exactly this. We have given forces more powers, more resources and more officers, and we are taking action to restore confidence in our criminal justice system. Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we will change arrangements for serious violent and sexual offenders so that they serve longer in prison.

The strategy outlines a number of further measures: for example, we will appoint an independent reviewer to examine the police management of registered sex offenders in the community and advise the Home Office on whether changes are needed. The Department of Health and Social Care will work to criminalise virginity testing and we will carefully consider the recommendations in the review that the Law Commission has just published today on abusive and harmful online communications.

If we are to make real and lasting progress, this is clearly not a task that Government can take on alone. We need everyone in our society to play a part in fighting these crimes. The strategy outlines a number of steps to strengthen the system as a whole. They include introducing the first ever national policing lead for tackling violence against women and girls; reviewing the disclosure and barring regime; and appointing a new violence against women and girls transport champion.

The publication of this new strategy marks an important moment in our mission to crack down on violence against women and girls, but we will not stop there. Later this year, we also plan to publish three further documents: the domestic abuse strategy; a revised national statement of expectations covering all forms of violence against women and girls; and a revised male victims position statement.

These crimes, which disproportionately affect women and girls, are despicable. It is high time we sent a message: enough is enough. This Government will always stand up for the law-abiding majority and, through this strategy, we will strive relentlessly to prevent these crimes, to support victims and to bring perpetrators to justice. I commend this statement to the House.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The first responsibility of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. Today, rape prosecutions are at a record low, domestic abuse in this country is soaring and charging is falling. Sexual abuse in school is being normalised, according to the recent Ofsted inspections. Ending violence against women and girls is a cross-party issue. On both sides of this House, there is a profound concern and desire for an ambitious strategy that will deliver. The strategy today is not ambitious enough.

There are things to welcome. A policing lead on violence against women is certainly one of them, but we already have one for domestic abuse, one for rape and sex offences, another for historical sexual abuse and one for child sex abuse, so why will this one succeed where others have struggled without the resources to tackle the issue properly?

It is good to see that calls for a public awareness campaign aimed at men to stop the perpetration of misogyny have been answered. A rape helpline looks good when it is written on a piece of paper, but can the Minister answer this: will it be for recent sex offences, or will it be open to all historical cases too? Is there a guarantee that the helpline will have a local specialist agency to refer to that can pick up the case straight away? Currently, in a number of rape cases I am handling, victims are on very long waiting lists—some waiting for 18 months for any sort of a service. Can people just keep calling the line until a service is available? It is simply not enough.

There is so much missing in what the strategy sets out today, and time will only allow me to highlight a few things. I welcome the offer to look at the possibility of reviewing some non-disclosure agreements at universities and the preventive duty on employers is something we have campaigned for, along with unions and women across the country, for years. Why, then, is there nothing about non-disclosure agreements in workplaces, when women are still being abused and silenced completely legally in our country?

Where in the strategy is there anything to help adult women suffering sexual exploitation? During the pandemic, I sat with a 23-year-old woman as she bled on the floor in front of me, following a battering by her controlling gang, miscarrying the child she had conceived of rape. She was scared of the police and needed urgent, yet unavailable, housing. Why in this strategy have we left the gap that means there is no national strategy for sexual exploitation of adult women? Where is this woman in this strategy? Why is there no national strategy for or inclusion in this strategy of adult victims of sexual exploitation? Their only slight mention is that the Government are going to ask porn sites to voluntarily do better on exploitation. I am sure the porn sites are all going to do the right thing!

Where is the much-needed public sexual harassment law? The Government have said that they think offences exist already. Well, tell that to the two thirds of young women who tell us they are suffering this abuse every day. We need root-and-branch reforms not only across the criminal justice sector, but in health, in housing, in social security and online. We need to make sure that women and girls, wherever they are and whatever they are doing, are safe.

Instead, we have some transport champions, who already seem to have pretty busy jobs—especially if you are a west midlands MP, you would think they did—as well as an app gathering data that local authorities will not be resourced for responding to or compelled to respond to, and absolutely no long-term funding for any of the invaluable specialist services that the Government are relying on to deliver most of this strategy. The VAWG strategy expects services to be able to deliver without any serious funding to deliver it. What is clear is that, on every single step of their journey, women and girls are being failed, and today it feels as if the Government do not have enough of a plan to manage that.

The Labour party has worked up a Green Paper for ending violence against women and girls. We have set out, among many other things, toughening sentences for rape, stalking and domestic murder, and reviewing sentences for all domestic abuse. We have set about introducing a survivor support package to improve victims’ experiences in the courts, including fast-tracking rape and sexual violence cases, end-to-end legal help for victims and better training for professionals to give people the help they need. We also suggest, as quickly as possible, the creation of new offences for street harassment.

I once again offer to work with the Minister to help make this strategy into something that women and girls in our country need. I hope she takes me up on it.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and I am pleased to hear that she supports much of this strategy. Perhaps I can just help her understand one or two of the policy areas that we have announced today.

The hon. Lady referred to the national policing lead and to the policing leads in the National Police Chiefs’ Council. She is absolutely right that those officers sit in those roles but, as she knows full well, they are not specialist full-time officers working on those areas; they are assistant chief constables or, indeed, chief constables doing their day job as well as vital work for the National Police Chiefs’ Council. This national policing lead, which incidentally was recommended by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, is a full-time role that will be focused solely on tackling violence against women and girls. This is a great policy announcement, and I very much hope the hon. Lady will come to support it.

The hon. Lady asked whether the helpline will be open to all victims historical and current. Of course it will; just as with any of the other helplines that we as a Government fund, whether to do with domestic abuse or perpetrators or the revenge porn line, it will be open to all victims 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That message came through loud and clear in the survey; we have acted in this strategy.

In relation to non-disclosure agreements, we have specifically referenced universities. The hon. Lady will know that there are legitimate reasons for non-disclosure agreements in workplaces. It continues to be a line of work that we look at, but we wanted to send the message out loud and clear to universities that they have got to sharpen up their act and ensure that we have consistency and quality of standards in dealing with these serious cases of sexual harassment in universities and on their sites.

The hon. Lady asked about street harassment. Again, I refer her to the communications campaign. It became clear as we read the responses that it was felt that if only it were the case that passing a law on street harassment would eradicate street harassment, but that in fact it is much more complex than that. We need to look at, for example, why women are not reporting cases to the police: is it because they do not know that what they are experiencing is in fact already an offence, are there gaps in the law, and how can we help them have the confidence to report to the police? That is why later this year we will be launching a public communications campaign; I understand it will be welcomed by those who work with victims and survivors of violence against women and girls, and I hope it will be welcomed across the House, because this is the campaign through which we can tackle perpetrators’ behaviour and also, importantly, give victims the confidence they need if they wish to report such behaviour to the police.

The hon. Lady asked about the online tool. That actually came from a lady called Lucy, who emailed me with it as we were having the national conversation about the terrible tragic events earlier this year, and it has met with a great deal of support from the public. We will be piloting it and will be working closely with those who work with victims and survivors and the police to ensure that there is the appropriate safeguarding framework around it. It is meant to be an anonymous reporting tool where we can pinpoint where we feel unsafe, and then that information can be shared with local commissioners, both local government and indeed the police, to ensure that these messages are getting through to the police in a way that does not, as I have already set out, mean that women do not always feel confident or able to report.

The hon. Lady asked about support for services that support victims. Again, in that specific pillar of the strategy we set out our commitment to specialist services. She will know, for example, that we have underlined in the Domestic Abuse Act alone our commitment to specialist services for victims of domestic abuse who have had to flee their homes and are living in safe accommodation. She also knows, because we have had this conversation before, about the £27 million that we are investing to create 700 new independent sexual violence adviser and independent domestic violence adviser roles. These are all important steps that will help us support victims.

What I want by the end of this decade, because I genuinely want us to seize the moment that this year and the public conversation that we have had presents, is for us to be able to point to real changes in the attitudes, misogynistic and otherwise, that underpin so much of this offending behaviour. That is how we are going to make real change, alongside the support and the pursuit of perpetrators—that is how we will make a real change and help ensure women and girls are safer in our country.

Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend my hon. Friend for the measures in her statement and for her personal commitment to this subject. As she mentioned, the Law Commission has today recommended that cyber-flashing be made a criminal offence. It is a pernicious act, and one that we know is a gateway towards more dangerous crimes. As someone who has been flashed in the past, I was appalled to learn that Sarah Everard’s murderer was accused of flashing someone six years before he attacked Sarah, so may I urge my hon. Friend to review the commission’s recommendations and to work to make this a criminal offence as soon as possible?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, and I thank her for sharing her experiences. It is so important to share our experiences if we feel able to do so, because hopefully that will give confidence to younger women in particular, who may be facing these problems too. I also commend her for her campaign to bring about an offence in relation to cyber-flashing. We have said throughout the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that we will await the Law Commission’s findings, and that we will look at them carefully when it has reported. I am delighted to say that it has reported today, and we will look at the findings expeditiously. I very much hope that my hon. Friend’s campaign will come to fruition in due course.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. It is welcome to see the UK Government looking further at this issue. These past months, we have had many discussions in this place and more widely on the blight that violence against women and girls is on society, and the lives that it destroys, but this is not a new issue and the statement, welcome though it is, comes with a glaring and inexplicable gap. The UK signed the Istanbul convention almost nine years ago. Five years ago, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, a former SNP MP, brought forward measures obligating the UK to ratify the convention, but despite warm words, the UK Government remain one of the few EU Governments yet to ratify it, despite repeated pleas from these Benches, so the UK is still not legally bound by its provisions. Does this violence against women and girls strategy mean that this issue will finally be addressed and, if so, when? Warm words do not protect women, but ratifying the Istanbul convention would.

I welcome references to measures to increase prosecutions, but that is just spin unless there are also resources to handle that increase. Delays will simply mean more trauma for victims and less likelihood of convictions as existing delays stack up further. I also ask the Minister to clarify what the strategy will do to overcome the failure of the UK Government to improve support for migrant survivors in their Domestic Abuse Act 2021. What specifically will it do for foreign nationals and those with no recourse to public funds because of UK Government policy choices?

I hear what the Minister says on higher education, but we know that because the UK Government have not acted, abuses of non-disclosure agreements to cover up workplace discrimination remain hugely problematic, two years after the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry on the issue. What specifically will this strategy do for these women? When will the UK Government bring forward specific steps to deal with this in the employment context, including requiring companies to report on their use of NDAs? These issues could not be more important, and we need to match our words with action in this situation. We need to see action from the UK Government, but I fear that some of the elements of the strategy do not appear to offer the heavy lifting that is required to move far enough forward.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

May I reassure the hon. Lady? She knows that we have to report to the House each October on our commitments to the Istanbul convention. I am pleased to tell the House that we meet or exceed the expectations of the convention in all but three of the requirements in the convention. Two of the three requirements will be met by the end of this year. We had to pass the extraterritorial jurisdiction measures in the Domestic Abuse Act. That has happened and, with the help of the Scottish Government, they will apply across the United Kingdom. Legislation also needs to be passed in Northern Ireland, and I am told that that will happen by the end of this year. That leaves the support for migrant victims. As the hon. Lady will know, in the Domestic Abuse Act we set out a support for migrant victims scheme, which is due to finish next year, but we take these serious commitments very seriously, unlike other countries. Some other countries do not need to meet the requirements before they ratify, but we do, and I hope and expect, given the commitment in the strategy to ratification, that that is our intention.

We know there are some instances in employment situations where non-disclosure agreements are used legitimately. They must not—I repeat, must not—be used to conceal criminal behaviour, and we want to take this first step with higher education because we are particularly concerned about how some young victims are having to deal with these cases at university.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend will understand my disappointment that there is no current commitment to outlaw public sexual harassment. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, writing in The Times, indicated that there would be ongoing work to look at gaps in legislation, but her correspondence to Members this evening omitted it. Please will my hon. Friend the Minister, from the Dispatch Box, commit to making sure that, where gaps are identified, they will be acted upon, and swiftly?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

As I hope is clear in the strategy, we are looking very thoroughly at the issue of street harassment. We very much hear the concerns of Members on both sides of the House about whether current legislation meets every instance of street sexual harassment that we see in the survey, that we see as constituency MPs and, indeed, that we have perhaps experienced ourselves. That work will be ongoing, and I am sure I will appear at some point before the Women and Equalities Committee, which my right hon. Friend chairs, to provide an update.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the measures that the Minister has announced, and I welcome her personal commitment. The challenge is whether these measures match the scale of the problem and the scale of the huge response that she has had from women across the country. I, for one, do not want to wait 10 years for major changes to take place. Much of this feels very incremental—just limited pilots and evidence gathering.

In the most awful cases of violence against women, we know that too often the perpetrator has committed previous offences of stalking or domestic abuse, or previous sexual offences. What will the Minister do to make sure that all police forces take much stronger action to identify those repeat perpetrators and intervene early so that lives can be saved?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Lady is right to highlight the issue of escalating behaviours. On waiting 10 years, this is the beginning of the journey. If one reads the strategy—I appreciate it only came out today—I hope one will see the immediate-term, medium-term and long-term aspirations. As Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, she will know better than anyone that some of the education work and cultural attitudes work will take time.

We cannot pretend that attitudes will change in a matter of months, but we have immediate-term work. The public communications campaign will be launched later this year. We will begin the appointment process for the national policing lead as soon as possible. The online tool pilot is being launched next month. The what works fund is being set up, and it is an interesting fund because I am trying to mirror the excellent work of the youth endowment fund in tackling serious violence. We want to do the same for violence against women and girls and build the evidence base.

I accept the right hon. Lady’s point that we cannot wait 10 years, but there is a lot of work before that 10-year period ends. I very much want colleagues on both sides of the House to see this as the beginning of the journey.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement on the strategy for tackling violence against women and girls, and I welcome her personal commitment. I am grateful to her and her ministerial colleagues and officials for meeting me to discuss the new clauses I will address. She is no doubt aware of the campaigners from Karma Nirvana, IKWRO, the Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation and others who worked with me on my proposed new clauses 1 and 2 of the Health and Care Bill to end so-called virginity testing and hymenoplasty. They, like me, will welcome her statement that we will criminalise virginity testing. We must also look to tackle hymenoplasty, and do it now. Will the Minister examine new clauses 1 and 2 and meet me and colleagues to discuss them again and ensure that further progress can be made in this Session?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a diligent campaigner on these issues. I remember meeting him some months ago on precisely these issues and he has dealt with them, if I may say so, in a sensitive and appropriate way, understanding just how delicate some of them are. In terms of virginity testing, I am really pleased that he welcomes that. We will work together, I am sure, with my counterpart in the Department of Health and Social Care to find the appropriate legislative vehicle. On hymenoplasty, we have already spoken to clinicians about that process. Whereas virginity testing has no medical validation, I am told by clinicians that there are circumstances where it is not quite as clearcut—if I can put it that way—as virginity testing, so we have very much undertaken to examine that in great detail with clinicians and the royal colleges to ensure that in relation to that particular practice we arrive at the right result that is medically sound.

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

I thank the Minister for her work on this strategy. She will know that if somebody is subjected to abuse or attack because of the colour of their skin, we rightly ask the police to record that and the courts to prosecute it as a form of hate crime. Yet if somebody is subjected to abuse or attack simply for being a woman, they face no such protection under our current system. Will the Minister meet me and campaigners, who are waiting for the imminent report from the Law Commission about how to make misogyny a part of our hate crime rubric in this country, to look at how we can quickly close that gap and give equal protection to everyone everywhere?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Yes. I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady and campaigners to discuss that issue. I hope she will recall that when the Domestic Abuse Act went through the House of Lords, we undertook, in response to issues raised in the other place, to ask the police to record issues of gender where the victim felt it was relevant. We look forward to that data, but I am always happy to discuss such matters with her. Indeed, I hope she will find the public communications campaign, for example, a helpful intervention from this strategy. Again, over the longer term we believe that education and changing cultural attitudes is one of the ways we can tackle misogynistic beliefs.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. Focusing on what she said about delivering a stronger system, I wonder if I can urge her to speak with colleagues in other Departments, especially the Ministry of Justice, about the family court system. Today and yesterday, I have been dealing with constituents who have been subjected to coercive and controlling behaviour. They have finally fled their marriages, and children are involved. Unbelievably, one family court judge dismissed out of hand the coercive behaviour and said it was out of time, and then suggested that my constituent, who had to travel 130 miles to deliver custody of her daughter, could perhaps stay at his house overnight. Will my hon. Friend work with other Departments, because in delivering a stronger system we also have to address the fact that the family courts are really letting down women who have escaped dangerous, coercive and evil behaviour?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Not only will I commit to working with the Ministry of Justice, but it has been incredibly important in informing cross-Government work on the strategy. On the family courts, there is an ongoing piece of work arising out of the harm panel report, which was created last year in light of the Domestic Abuse Bill. I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend to update him on the work of that panel, along with Ministry of Justice colleagues.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In today’s Times, the Home Secretary wrote:

“Nowhere should be off limits to women and girls. Nobody deserves to be victimised or feel unsafe.”

This week the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment stated in the House that nobody should be intimidated when accessing legal healthcare, so when will the Government join Australia, Canada and France among others in legislating for consistent national buffer zones around abortion clinics? Surely the status quo, with women and girls protected only in the areas of three local authorities—and they have to stretch antisocial behaviour order provisions in order to do so—creates an unsatisfactory, unequal situation of justice that is subject to legal challenge all the time and cannot stand.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is diligent in her campaigning in this important area. We believe that the public space protection orders regime that is in operation in three local authority areas provides balance in protecting women who are seeking medical care and only that. However, as I have said, the Government are determined to keep this area under review and to ensure that women are not intimidated or harassed.

Peter Bone Portrait Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for making this statement to the House before the summer recess and for letting us scrutinise her. Girls in this country are trafficked into sexual exploitation—imagine being a girl forced into sexual exploitation. Thankfully, because of the excellent work of police forces and our Modern Slavery Act 2015, forces are breaking up these gangs and rescuing the girls. Unfortunately, we do not support girl victims of human trafficking as well as adult victims. My private Member’s Bill, the Human Trafficking (Child Protection) Bill, which will have its Second Reading on 21 January 2022, would put that right. Will the Minister and the Department work with me to ensure that that Bill becomes an Act of Parliament?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a strong campaigner for some time on modern slavery and on the care of victims of modern slavery. On the care of children, the national referral mechanism applies to adults, but children go into children’s services because of the statutory requirements under the Children Act 1989. I am, however, interested to hear how he believes support could be improved. The Government have, as he may know, set out plans to refresh the modern slavery strategy in the coming months and I would be pleased to meet him to understand where he believes that could be improved.

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

I thank the Minister for her encouraging statement. No one can doubt her clear personal commitment; I appreciate that very much. I welcome this move to take every available step to tackle violence against women and girls; it is not before time. The new strategy involves new legislation to deal with stalking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and yet, as the shadow Minister said, more work needs to be done on sexual assault and rape. Recent Home Office statistics show that 83% of sexual assaults go unreported. What additional work will be done to encourage victims to come forward about their assaults? What will be done—I say this respectfully—to fix the lack of trust there is between victims of violence and the policing system?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for dealing with some important points in a sensitive way. He will know that, alongside the violence against women and girls strategy, only a matter of weeks ago we published the rape review, which is focused on the end-to-end results of the criminal justice system from the moment at which the police record a crime through to a conviction or the other ways in which a case can be finalised. There is a real action plan in that rape review dealing specifically with rape prosecutions, and that forms part of our work to tackle this.

On building trust, a measure in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill sets out and clarifies the law on the extraction of data from mobile phones. This will not apply for every victim of sexual offences, but for many victims handing over their phone and losing it for months at a time has a real impact on their willingness to continue with the investigation, if indeed they volunteer at all. Through the Bill, we will be able to clarify the law and ensure that victims are treated properly in that regard. Of course, the rape helpline that we have announced in the strategy will also go a long way to helping victims have the immediate support they need, as and when they need it.

Anum Qaisar-Javed Portrait Anum Qaisar-Javed (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Five years ago an SNP MP passed through Parliament a law obligating the UK to ratify the Istanbul convention. The United Kingdom Government have yet to deliver, despite countless pleas from the SNP Benches. There has been delay after delay. The Minister confirmed that sections have been adopted and are in place. However, after years of waiting the Government should proceed to adopt this completely. Will the Minister therefore provide a clear timetable for ratification today?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

As I said in response to the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), we meet or exceed all the requirements of the convention, except for three areas. One of those has already passed into law through the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; another, in relation to Northern Ireland, will happen by the end of the year; and we are dealing with the third issue by way of the support for the migrant victims scheme.

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

I welcome today’s strategy on tackling violence against women and girls, particularly the focus on and greater education about crimes in higher education and school settings, backed up by an additional £25 million for the safer streets fund. To that end, will the Minister do what she can to support the application to the safer streets fund by Cleveland’s police and crime commissioner Steve Turner that looks to increase education provision on violence against women and girls for schools in Middlesbrough, and in Redcar and Cleveland?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I probably ought not to support the application, given that I am a Minister in the Department handing out the bids. What I will do is warmly encourage the efforts of police and crime commissioners who are focusing on violence against women and girls as part of their priorities, having recently been elected. It is critical that the national expectations that we have set in this strategy and continue to set in other pieces of cross-Government work are met at a local level. I look forward to the help of my hon. Friend and other colleagues in ensuring that police and crime commissioners are able to do that.

Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Female genital mutilation is a spectacularly horrible crime, yet the possibility of perpetrators—or even those aiding the crime —being brought to justice is very tiny in our society. In the past, I have worked with women who have been victims of this crime, who do not want it for their own families or for other women, but we need a national strategy to combat it. It is not enough to deplore FGM. We have to ensure the multi-agency working that gives us the opportunity to change the culture and ensure that the cutters are brought to justice. What can the Minister do to make sure that we take this agenda forward?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member will know the work that has been done in recent years—indeed, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead—to tackle female genital mutilation and ensure cross-agency working. It is difficult, in that the victims are often very young; they are children, and are facing that criminal behaviour from close family members or friends. Through the mandatory reporting duty, we have set out what we expect of agencies that discover such injuries in the course of their public service. We very much want to support victims—if they feel able to do so—to support prosecutions.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had the chance to meet Lauri Swindell, who runs the Hop Pole and Imperial pubs in my constituency. Lauri and her staff are passionate about their venues being safe spaces for women and girls, and their approach includes using the Ask for Angela initiative. Could the funds announced today support the promotion of such initiatives locally, as they make a real difference on the ground for women and girls?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

It is great to hear about the initiatives in my hon. Friend’s constituency and, indeed, throughout the country. The Ask for Angela scheme is really effective and we took inspiration from it earlier this year when we launched the Ask for ANI codeword scheme in chemists up and down the country for victims of domestic abuse. I am happy to support my hon. Friend and the landlady he mentioned in her work. The fund is open to police and crime commissioners, local authorities, British Transport police and civil society organisations; that will allow for the development of a variety of innovative initiatives and encourage local partnership working. My hon. Friend’s constituency is lucky to have a Member of Parliament who does such a great piece of work with his local landladies.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK Government failed to improve support for migrant survivors in their Domestic Abuse Act, so what have they done in their violence against women and girls strategy specifically for foreign nationals and those affected by the Government’s absolutely horrendous “no recourse to public funds” policies? The fund that ends next year does not cut it.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady knows the range of crimes that are included under the umbrella of violence against women and girls: they range from rape and sexual assault through to female genital mutilation, forced marriage, stalking and so on. Every victim of such crimes must be treated as a victim first and foremost. If they feel able to—they will not always—they can report their offences to the police, and helplines and so on are available to them as well. If we can help them with investigating those crimes, I hope that will be a significant support for them.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her statement, for the measures announced and for all her hard work and dedication to this incredibly important issue. Women and girls are the predominant victim of modern slavery and human trafficking. The Government have committed to strengthening the Modern Slavery Act 2015; does the Minister agree that one way we can strengthen that Act is to expand section 54 to include investment portfolios?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I have already met my hon. Friend to discuss this area of potential policy development and I am very interested in it. As he rightly says, as we review the modern slavery strategy we will be able to build on the significant success we have had since the introduction of the previous strategy and, indeed, the passing of the Act. My hon. Friend knows that I am looking carefully at his suggestion.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her work and for this long-awaited strategy for tackling violence against women and girls, but as she will be aware, the Labour party put forward a detailed proposal to criminalise street harassment in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. We need much more than a communications campaign and the online tool, as described in the statement, so will the Government adopt that detailed proposal?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I hope he has heard, as I have said before, the assurances I have given at the Dispatch Box that while we are working on launching the public communications campaign and the other measures, we continue to explore whether a bespoke street-harassment offence is necessary. As I say, some offences already exist that may address some of the concerns, but we are keen to understand what is needed in addition to legislation, which is why we have responded carefully with the communications campaign, which I hope will see real dividends over time.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to greater resources for our police and agencies, we must tackle misogynistic attitudes in society more broadly? Will she explain how the strategy will help to achieve that?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am so grateful to my hon. Friend, who does so much work in her constituency to help women and girls and to tackle these heinous crimes. We very much want, through the strategy, to build on the existing relationships and sex education that is now mandatory in every school. Indeed, only yesterday I visited Uplands Primary School in Sandhurst and learned about Pantosaurus, the dinosaur who wears pants. That is the first lesson that children as young as five and six have at that school to start to understand about personal privacy, safeguarding and what is healthy and what is not. We are determined that such education continues at school, but of course we have to reach beyond school, which is why there are measures in the strategy such as a public communications campaign and reaching out to universities. We want to try to reach the wider public with some of the attitudes that we all find so concerning.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The strategy published today includes a proposal for a new national policing lead on violence against women and girls, but it does not clarify whether this person will have any meaningful powers to improve police practice. The Minister referred to the fact that this was a recommendation from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services, but will she tell us what relationship she sees the lead having with HMICRFS? For example, will they have input into its inspections? What powers will the lead have to investigate and address problems within police forces where they have not been reaching best practice? Will the lead have a role in reviewing the recording of aggravations of misogyny, as the Government agreed to do earlier this year?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

As the hon. Lady will know, the inspectorate’s report landed a matter of days, perhaps only a week, ago. We are working through these details, but, as I say, we have absolutely accepted the inspectorate’s recommendation that there should be a national policy lead whose sole focus is eliminating violence against women and girls.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On combating virginity testing, I welcome the work of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), and I want to express my support and praise for the campaigner Nimco Ali, who has done an awful lot behind the scenes on that. Separately, I have said before that Stroud’s schoolgirls came to me to raise the issue of public and sexual harassment. They were quite desperate and it was really upsetting; girls are struggling, at school, on the streets and in relationships right now. I welcome the measures in this strategy, but I ask the Minister to use her energy to work across government to deliver safety for our young girls.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for her constituents and in raising these issues with me. On street harassment, as I have said before, we are looking at every option to try to ensure that women and girls feel supported in reporting such incidents, at whether there is room within legislation in this regard and, importantly, at cracking down on the behaviour of perpetrators. Men must not think—we are talking about some men, a minority—that it is appropriate to behave in the way we have seen in the survey; that must stop. By acting together across the House and across society, we will achieve real change.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her statement. She will well know that many victims fail to come forward for fear of retribution by an abusive partner or by gangs or other individuals. What more can she do to ensure that victims of these horrible crimes come forward, so that the police can take action to not only arrest those individuals responsible but to ensure that they go through the courts and the judicial process?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend identifies an important theme in this work. I should say that it is work that we set out not just in this strategy; there is a whole body of work that we are doing across government to fight youth violence, in particular, and the work of gangs. Part of that is about ensuring that girls do not fall foul of criminal gangs through exploitative relationships that can harm them greatly. On building confidence, this is where, among other things, the national policing lead can make a real difference, because we must tackle head on this issue of trust in the police and the ability of victims and complainants to put their experience before the police. Interestingly, the analysis we did during the rape review suggested that victims are reporting rape offences more to the police, but we must do more to ensure that people know that the sorts of offences we have heard about today, particularly those in the street, are offences and that they can and must, please, if they are able to, go to the police about them. We can do that through the communications campaign, as well as through education.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s hard work in this area; I know it is something that she is passionate about.

Like colleagues, I welcome the long-awaited publication of the violence against women and girls strategy and the announcement that the Government will look at finally making street harassment a crime. However, this issue is so much bigger than legislation. We require urgent action to tackle the attitudes and behaviours that drive male violence. We need to see a complete culture change in this country if we are to truly make women and girls feel safer on our streets. How does the Minister think the strategy will change the lives of women across the country—me included—who feel compelled to tell our friends at the end of a night out, “Just text me when you get home”?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady has described just one of many calibrations—behaviours—that we all use and have used to ensure that we get home safely. I have talked before about the immediate term, the medium term and the longer term. The sort of cultural change she is talking about is going to take time. I wish that we could change it overnight or over a couple of days. However, I believe that this strategy sets out our clear ambition, over this Parliament and beyond, to change those attitudes, to improve the trust of victims and to pursue perpetrators relentlessly. That is how we are going to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a great deal of respect for the Minister, and I was very pleased that she recently met me, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and Lisa Squire, the mother of Libby Squire, the Hull University student who was raped and murdered in 2019. It came out in the court case that the man who raped and murdered Libby had been prowling the streets of Hull for 18 months beforehand, committing low-level sexual offences such as indecent exposure, many of which had not been reported. I know that the Minister was particularly moved by the power of what Lisa Squire had to say to her.

I really welcome the strategy if it is going to encourage people to come forward and go to the police for those non-contact, low-level sexual offences, which we know are often the gateway to much more serious sexual offending. However, it will be effective only if it means that the police and the courts are able to take that early intervention. Will that happen under the strategy that the Minister has outlined this evening?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank the right hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) for bringing Mrs Squire to meet me. It was an incredibly moving meeting. Indeed, Mrs Squire and parents of other women who have been murdered have set out very clearly the escalation of behaviours before such terrible, awful, horrendous crimes are committed.

We are doing a number of things. The right hon. Lady mentioned the public communications campaign—I know that was something that Mrs Squire was very interested in—but I hope that she will also see in the strategy that we want to review the police management of sex offenders to ensure that it is as effective and safe as it should be. She may note, too, that in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are strengthening sexual risk orders and sexual harm prevention orders, which can be used to manage such offenders in the community.

However, the plea must go out that if you are the victim of a non-contact sexual offence—in common language, that means if someone flashes you, if they are following you, if they are masturbating in front of you, if they are making you feel unsafe in the streets, and it is sexually motivated—please, please, if you feel able to, ring the police so that we can get these crimes recorded and, hopefully, the police can start to find those serial perpetrators before they do something even worse.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Racist Abuse on Social Media

Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Wednesday 14th July 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) (Urgent Question)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the prevalence of racist abuse on social media.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I will take a moment to reflect on the extraordinary success of the England football team in this tournament, knowing as we do the background to the urgent question. That team played their hearts out for us, and they won through to their first international final for 55 years. They did so with enormous skill, with sportsmanship and with dignity. They brought our country together and they united us in joy. It is therefore a great shame that the success and achievements of every member of that team have been overshadowed by the racism of online trolls.

In Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister just reinforced our collective condemnation of racism online and offline. Individuals who commit racist offences should face the full force of law, and we already have robust legislation in place to deal with online hate. Governments around the world are grappling with how we collectively tame the wild west of the internet. We are leading the world in tackling online harms through the introduction of the online safety Bill, which will put in place measures to tackle illegal and legal but harmful abuse, including racist abuse.

If major platforms do not meet their own standards to keep people safe and address abuse quickly and effectively, they could face enforcement action. Let one message ring loud and clear to those companies: there is no reason for companies to wait until the regime is fully running to take action against this abhorrent abuse. Indeed, I suspect that such delays will serve to stiffen the resolve of the Government and of this House.

In addition, we have asked the Law Commission to conduct a wide-ranging review into hate crime, including offensive online communications. Let us put that in context: in 2019-20, the police recorded more than 76,000 race hate crimes. Increases in police-recorded hate crime in recent years have been driven by improvements in crime recording and better identification of what constitutes a hate crime. Although statistics can help us track trends, we must always remember that behind the numbers are real people who are often left traumatised and shaken by their experiences. There is nothing so damaging and corrosive as the impact that racism has both on victims and on our communities more widely.

I would like to conclude this statement with the words of our England manager Gareth Southgate:

“We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together…the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue. We have shown the power our country has when it does come together”.

Let us all live up to those words.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for that response, but the reaction of the Government has lacked urgency and completely failed to understand the scale of the revulsion that exists as a result of the events of recent days. The England men’s football players have been a credit to the country on and off the pitch. When they took the knee to stand against racism, that was not gesture politics. They spoke courageously to a desire for change across our country. The failure of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to condemn those who were booing the team while they took the knee was shameful, and frankly makes their later protestations of support for the team no more than empty words. The Home Secretary has not even bothered to turn up to answer this urgent question today.

The racist abuse to which Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka have been subjected is disgraceful. Such behaviour has been too common on social media for too long. Social media platforms have had more than long enough to act. The Home Secretary said to me on Monday that “legislation will be absolutely pivotal”, but the Government have dragged their feet bringing the online harms Bill forward. Worse still, the Bill as proposed will not address what we have seen in the past couple of days—allowing social media companies to set their own terms and conditions will not be enough.

Will the Government therefore commit to including criminal sanctions for senior executives in the Bill? In addition, will the Minister tell us exactly when the Government will be acceding to the demand from Opposition Members to extend football banning orders to offences that take place online, as was promised by the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s questions?

Finally, will the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary finally show some leadership, and apologise for siding with those who are booing and not with the brave England players?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

If I may, I will just explain to the House where the Home Secretary is today. She is at this very moment hosting a long-standing meeting with charities on the frontline of tackling violence against women and girls and with the survivors of those crimes, so I hope the House will instead put up with me answering this urgent question. However, I know that the Home Secretary would reject many, indeed all, of the allegations that the right hon. Gentleman has just made about her conduct. She has been relentless—relentless —in pursuing social media companies to ensure that they take much tougher stances, as we all expect, not just on racism online, but on child sex exploitation, terrorism and other offences. So I do not accept his accusations across the Dispatch Box.

On the online safety Bill, this is a landmark piece of legislation. The Government have been very careful to ensure that the Bill receives the scrutiny of the House, and that is why we are taking the confident step, I would say, of opening up the draft Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny. We do not do that for every Bill, but we want to get this Bill right. The House will remember that we did exactly the same with the Domestic Abuse Bill, and the Bill was made all the better for it. I am delighted that Labour has now, I understand, provided the names of its Committee members, so that the pre-legislative scrutiny can take place at pace. However, I underline the message that this House, but also the public, are watching the behaviours of online companies very carefully, and any company would be very wise to set out what it plans to do in relation to meeting the expectations of this place and of the public when it comes to conducting their systems in a way that is clear and that prevents the sorts of abuse we have seen this weekend.

On football banning orders, again the right hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Prime Minister said very clearly at PMQs about the work the Government are conducting in relation to football banning orders. It is complex because we know, for example, that some of the trolls who have targeted some members of the team over the weekend are overseas, but we very much want to work with football clubs and others to ensure that these orders have the powers that we all want them to have. As I have said throughout—and this is the golden thread that runs throughout our work on tackling online crimes—what is illegal offline is illegal online, and that is the principle we will be adopting throughout the online safety Bill.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her statement and for calling out some of the vile racist abuse that our brilliant players have had to face. On Sunday night, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate identified and reported 105 Instagram accounts that racially abused members of the England football team. As of this morning, only six of them have been taken down, so while we are getting warm words from some of these social media companies, that appears to be all we are getting from them at present. Can my hon. Friend therefore confirm that the online safety Bill will be brought forward with speed, and that those who post this abuse online will be held to proper account?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend highlights some of the very practical responses that social media companies can take right now; they do not need to wait for the online safety Bill. I read with some dismay and anger a report in the i paper today about how Instagram had applied its own rules—community rules—in relation to offensive emojis and indeed highly offensive words that were sent to players, but the social media companies themselves have to explain how exactly their community rules accord with the expectations and indeed the law of our country. May I, however, just make the point again that we are not alone in this? This is a challenge facing every democratic society in the world, and it is by working together, as we are doing with our voluntary principles on tackling terrorism and child sexual exploitation, that we are going to be able to make real progress against these companies and against this hatred.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I now call the SNP spokesperson, Stuart C. McDonald.

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

The disgusting online racism faced by England players is unfortunately overshadowing a fantastic tournament and a fantastic performance by an England team that has lately attracted admiration and perhaps even a little bit of envy.

Yes, we urgently need stronger online regulation. Content must be taken down faster, and platforms must no longer be allowed to support racist content through shamefully lax rules. We also need a debate on how we identify and punish those peddling this hate. Does the Minister agree that social media regulation is not a silver bullet, that online racism reflects offline racism, and that the Government need to take tackling racism, including structural and institutional racism, more seriously?

Whatever our disagreements, no one could say that the previous Prime Minister did not take tackling racism incredibly seriously. Why do we struggle to say the same about the current Prime Minister? Is it not because on his watch too many in his party have spent more time downplaying racism than tackling it, and more time ridiculing anti-racism campaigners than going after those who actually peddle racism? So yes, we will support action to clamp down on online platforms, but will the Minister support a change of attitude in her party?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I can assure him that had Scotland reached the same dizzy heights as England, I would have been cheering them on with great passion and strength of feeling, so I am pleased that he was able to concede some support for the England team.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s wider question about racism and hate speech across society, he is right to acknowledge that this is a matter for us all to tackle. As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, he will be aware of the work that the Government are doing to tackle hate speech and hate crimes. Of course, “hate crimes” is a very broad term: it includes not only racism but hatred towards disabled people, hatred towards transgender people, and so on. That is why we have asked the Law Commission to look at online crimes to ensure that the position is up to date and meets our expectations.

However, there is a wider message on racism more generally. I have been overwhelmed by the public’s response to those trolls over the weekend—by, for example, the way they responded to what happened to the mural in Withington: how angry they were that some individual had defaced it, and how positive their reaction has been. I think that that is what we need to reflect on and act on. Indeed, that is why I quoted our team’s manager. I think he has summed up where the public are and where we are on this, and I think it is by working together that we will tackle some of these hateful attitudes.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the Home Secretary herself has been at the receiving end of terrible racist abuse. Does the Minister agree that fighting racism online and in any other form is a priority for her and for the Government? Does she also agree that that fight will be most effective when racism and anti-racism campaigns are fully understood by everyone, and that what really matters is meaningful action to tackle the scourge of racism?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Very much so. The Home Secretary has been targeted,, along with other Members on both sides of the House, and it seems that, sadly, women in particular—women of colour—are targeted by online trolls.

There are many, many people in our society who have to deal with this racism, not just online but, I am afraid, offline. I think that part of our national conversation should be about how each of us can show our complete support for the campaigns to combat racism, and how we can all ensure that we are doing everything we can, both individually and as a country, to tackle racist behaviour. I know that the Home Secretary feels very strongly about this, and indeed she has been particularly strong in her communications with tech companies throughout the two years for which she has been in office; but I also know that this is a feeling shared by many in the House, and, as I say, I am very conscious that there are others in this place who are victims as well.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let us now go to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the Instagram profiles of England heroes this lunch time, there are still racist posts, including blatantly racist words and emojis, that have been up for more than 24 hours. I have challenged Instagram on this from the Home Affairs Committee repeatedly over the last few days. It told me this morning that using some of those emojis as racist slurs is against its rules, yet inexplicably, they are still up, and it is still taking Instagram days to remove these posts. Speed matters.

Can the Minister tell me what the Online Safety Bill is actually going to do to take action on this speed issue and to penalise companies for not moving fast enough? At the moment it looks as though that action will not happen. That is unacceptable. Keyboard cowards are being given a megaphone by these social media companies, and it has to stop.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I completely agree with the right hon. Lady, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I do not think these tech companies quite understand the anger and frustration of everyone involved in trying to scrutinise and hold them to account when they come back at us with, “It doesn’t meet our community rules.” Words such as the words I suspect she is thinking about, the emojis, the language—that is unacceptable in any civilised society, and that includes online fora as well as offline. The Bill is a real opportunity for the Government to lay the law down but also, as I say, for parliamentarians across the House to make their views known. I have long urged the companies to listen carefully to Members of Parliament, and I would urge them again to do so, because if they do not listen, we will act.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As someone who represents one of the most diverse constituencies in the entire country, may I put on the record how abhorrent racism is, in any form? Does my hon. Friend agree that many of these online trolls hide behind the cloak of anonymity? Can she confirm that the police can still prosecute anonymous postings, and will she consider whether we should outlaw such online posting? I think that people would take more personal responsibility if it were in their own name.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend alights upon a very important point, but also one that will require the scrutiny and debate of this House. While we know that many, many cowards hide behind anonymous accounts, there are people who use their anonymity legitimately—victims of domestic abuse, for example, and indeed whistleblowers in very restrictive regimes overseas. I know that this place, when we come to scrutinise the Bill, will weigh those arguments up very carefully, but again, I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend’s viewpoint that if people are able to hide behind these accounts anonymously, of course that makes it much more difficult for the police to trace them. Again, we need to think through collectively where we are prepared to draw the boundaries in the wild west of the internet.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister gave the usual Tory platitudes. Yes, she condemned the horrific racism our England stars have faced, but what did she think about the Prime Minister when he was describing black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, when he used newspaper columns to mock Muslim women as “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”, when he refused to condemn the booing of England players taking the knee, and when his Home Secretary derided that anti-racist message as “gesture politics”? Is it not the case, like England star Tyrone Mings has said, that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister were stoking the fire of racism and giving the green light to racism, and only now, when the consequences are clear, are they feigning outrage?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I had hoped that we would be able to conduct this debate in a measured and collective way. I do not genuinely think the hon. Lady is accusing either the Prime Minister of this country or, indeed, the Home Secretary of racism. That would be a truly extraordinary allegation to make. I hope that, at some point, we will be able to work together to tackle racism. That is what we all want to do. That is what the work of this Government is directed towards. I hope that we can lower the tone a little bit and understand that in—[Interruption.] Again, the hon. Lady is trying to shout at me. In tackling these horrific instances of racism, we need to work collectively together, and shouting at me across the Dispatch Box is not going to help with that.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the incidents of racism on social media over the past few days show why the approach taken in the draft Online Safety Bill is right? We need an independent regulator that will hold companies to account. Those companies have failed to take down this abuse, even though it is against their platform policies, and they have failed to take it down when people have complained about it. Worse than that, their own recommendation tools were actually promoting the content on Sunday night. This has to stop, but it will only stop once there is independent regulation of these companies.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in describing that Bill as necessary and required. I think that in 10 or 15 years’ time we will look back on this era of the internet, and with the regulations we will be in a much better place in terms of people accessing social media in a positive, healthy way, rather than having to put up with the hatred we have seen in some quarters. In the Bill, as part of imposing that duty of care, we propose fines for the companies concerned of up to £18 million or—importantly—up to 10% of qualifying annual turnover. I suspect that the second figure may be the one that helps to concentrate minds.

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is not the issue that the Government have refused to take any action towards ending social media discrimination of any kind? That, in turn, has fanned the flames of divisiveness and hate in our communities that we are currently witnessing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) pointed out. The Amnesty International report on “Toxic Twitter” pointed out that black women are 84% more likely to experience racist abuse online than anyone else. What real steps will the Minister take, urgently, to ensure that no one—and I mean absolutely no one—is able to post racist abuse online?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I suspect I am not the only person who feels a little astonished that it is this right hon. Member who chose to ask that question about taking immediate action to tackle racism. I remind the House of the findings of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission under his watch, to determine whether Labour

“unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish.”

I am also reminded that a Jewish female MP had to have police protection at the right hon. Gentleman’s party conference, because of fears for her own safety. I will listen to many people about tackling racism and I will work with pretty much anyone, but I will take a long spoon with which to sup with this particular Member.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is popular to blame mutant algorithms for many things, but social media giants could use them quickly and effectively to shut down accounts that are spouting racist bile. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the Government are prepared to take action against platforms such as Instagram, which have been painfully slow to respond to the horrific racist abuse targeted at black players since Sunday?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend alights on an important point. This power is already within the reach of internet companies. Those companies seem to think that their community rules somehow take precedence over the laws of our country, and I imagine that is the same across other countries in the world. The message to those tech companies is this: please listen to the public’s outrage at some of the posts festering on your platforms, and deal with them. It is simply not acceptable to expect players, or victims of such abuse, to deal with it themselves. The tech companies have the algorithms and no doubt the powers to intervene, and they should use them now.

Margaret Hodge Portrait Dame Margaret Hodge (Barking) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My question is a similar one. The racist abuse targeted at black footballers has been absolutely abhorrent. The tech giants could have stopped it, but they chose not to because it suits their business model. In October 2020, Mark Zuckerberg decided, literally on a whim, to remove holocaust denial from his Facebook, and he did that. In February 2021, after a public outcry, Instagram made a U-turn, changed its policy and started to regulate some direct messages of racial abuse.

Does the Minister agree that it is not the powers or the capability of the tech giants that is lacking, but the will? Everybody knew that the Wembley final could result in a torrent of abuse, yet the online platforms chose not to plan, not to monitor and not to act. Does she further agree that if we are to turn empty rhetoric into action, it is not enough to fine the companies, but the Government must legislate to hold the senior executives to personal account? They should be personally liable for failing to remove harmful content from their platforms.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady and mindful of her own experiences with abuse, online and offline. I agree that of course these powers exist already, so one can only conclude that in the cases highlighted in this Chamber and in newspapers, the businesses concerned do not wish to remove those items; I have no doubt that if I am wrong, they will correct me.

There must be a will there. I very much hope that a former Member of this House—one Sir Nick Clegg, who, as we know, advises Facebook at a very senior level in California—is advising Facebook as to the powers of this place and the anger that Members across the Chamber feel. It seems to me that responding to these concerns makes not just good moral sense, but good business sense.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The abuse that we saw after England’s heroic final Euro game is beyond disgusting and has no place in any world, let alone the modern world. I know that my hon. Friend will agree that it is not beyond the ingenuity of social media platforms to deploy their vast coding expertise to develop artificial intelligence and algorithmic solutions to rapidly remove disgusting, abusive racist posts while still being able to protect appropriate freedom of speech. Sadly, there is more than enough training data for them to use.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Very much so. My challenge to these tech companies is, “Look: you have some of the brightest brains in the world. You recruit from the top universities. You pay—I imagine—handsomely. Use those brilliant brains to do some good and to stop this abuse on your platforms.”

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The whole England team have been remarkable in opposing racism and championing justice and equality for all. Sadly, they have not had the full support of this Government. It is up to all of us with a public platform, including the Home Secretary, to personally confront racism in all its forms and give our full support to those who are working against it. The Home Secretary is not here today, so I cannot ask her personally, but will the Minister add her support to the petition to ban racists for life from all football matches in England, which now has more than 1 million signatories?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I do not know whether the hon. Lady was in the Chamber at the beginning of this urgent question when I explained that the Home Secretary is hosting a meeting—a long-standing meeting—with charities that work with survivors of violence against women and girls. I hope that the House will understand.

On the hon. Lady’s general allegations, I am minded to point out that the Home Secretary herself receives extraordinary levels of online hatred. Some of the things that she—and, in fairness, others across this House—have to deal with are eye-watering. I urge hon. Members to join together with us in tackling this racism.

On the petition, the hon. Lady may have missed the Prime Minister’s answer at Prime Minister’s questions. We are going even better than the petition, because we are looking urgently at football banning orders to ensure that people who express these racist views are stopped from going to our matches entirely.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I believe this great and united nation is one of the most tolerant and anti-discrimination nations I know, and that what we have witnessed is orchestrated hate crime by the minority and trolls. Does the Minister agree that we need tougher punishments for racially driven violence, intimidation and abuse on social media? The biggest issue I see is with the social media companies, which have been very slow to remove abuse from their platforms.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend has worked assiduously not just on online hatred directed on racist grounds, but on other categories of people affected on social media, including women. I hope she will work tirelessly with the Government on our forthcoming Online Safety Bill to ensure not only that these companies do what they should do and clear out their own backyard, but that we work together to tackle the horrific attitudes that underline this abuse.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Minister, we live in an era when online abuse is becoming normalised. The disgusting comments directed at our footballers on social media have in many cases been illegal, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. But in other cases the abuse has been technically legal, yet remains extremely harmful and distressing. Warm words and veiled threats are clearly not enough. Will she therefore commit today to ensuring that legal but harmful content will be adequately addressed in the Online Safety Bill, to improving the Bill to ensure that social media companies’ terms and conditions meet a minimum standard, and to ensuring that those standards are enforced so that harmful content is swiftly removed from their platforms?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

Yes, I am very happy to confirm that of course we are looking at legal but harmful material. Let me draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Online Safety Bill is a really significant piece of legislation but there will be other vehicles for legislating on these sorts of crimes, including not only the victims Bill but the Law Commission’s work on online hate law more generally. It is really important that we get this right. The law has probably struggled to keep up to date with some of these developing advances in technology and we have to make sure it is future-proofed to cover these terrible crimes.

Caroline Ansell Portrait Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Since Sunday’s final, everyone I have spoken to in my constituency, everywhere I have been, has expressed nothing but pride in our England team. Racist abuse online has inspired an outpouring of support and solidary. By contrast, figures released by Twitter in 2020 show that the company responded to less than 50% of all requests for information from law enforcement in the UK. Alongside support for campaigns such as Kick It Out, does my hon. Friend agree that such social media platforms must seriously raise their game or face serious repercussions?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I am delighted to hear that the football team have received such support in her constituency—I suspect that that is the experience of us all. The racist attitudes that have been displayed by a small number of people and trolls, some of which we know originate from overseas, are very much in the minority. The overwhelming majority of us are incredibly proud of our great team.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my position as co-chair of the all-party group on showing racism the red card. Show Racism the Red Card does fantastic work in tackling racist abuse, online and elsewhere, but the Home Office, in its wisdom, cut its funding to zero 18 months ago. Show Racism the Red Card still gets funding from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, so will the Minister meet me, parliamentary colleagues and Show Racism the Red Card so that we can discuss its funding, to help to tackle this scourge in our society?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am very happy to do that. I should point out that a huge programme of work continues, including the online crime hub run by the police, which we help to fund. Campaigns that help to tackle racism are clearly in our country’s interests, so I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss those issues further.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sunday night should have been a celebration of achievement. Instead, we woke up the next morning with racism aimed at three men simply doing their job. That is not acceptable. We know that social media is at the centre of the storm and has a growing influence across our lives, from bullying and racism to my interest, which is in body image. Does my hon. Friend agree that social media campaigns and companies have a duty and responsibility to work proactively with Government and the police to better our society?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I most certainly do agree. In fairness, as the House would expect, I should say that we do a lot of work with online companies across a great range of subjects. Indeed, only yesterday I met business leaders, including tech leaders, to discuss how we can create opportunities for our hardest-to-reach young people who are at risk of serious violence. I am grateful to them for those activities, but the message is coming out loud and clear not just in this country but across the world that somehow we must tame the wild west of the internet so that these more hateful practices are not dominating our national headlines and taking away from the great achievements of our England team.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Racist abuse online is not just abhorrent; it normalises racist views offline and desensitises people to them. The true spirit of Greater Manchester is in the scenes that the Minister mentioned of the community placing messages of support and love on the defaced Marcus Rashford mural, not the graffiti of some pea-brained moron. As a Man City fan, I say that United’s Rashford is among the best of us. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to extending football banning orders to cover online abuse, for which Labour has been calling for some time. Given the urgency, when and how will that happen?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I do not have a timeframe to hand, but I will happily write to the hon. Gentleman on that. May I thank him, as a Man City fan and a Member of Parliament for one of the greatest cities on the planet, for highlighting the great humour and support that the people of Withington have shown?

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

We all know that social media companies have the tools and powers to prevent online hate, yet it is still happening day in, day out. The incidents following Sunday evening have shone a light on this disgusting abuse. If social media companies will not act on their own, what actions will the Government take to ensure that finally we put a full stop to online hate?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend has identified the opportunity for the Government, and indeed the House, in the Online Safety Bill. The powers-that-be in the tech companies are no doubt watching the debate closely, and I assume they have got the message loud and clear from all parts of the House about our expectations on their next moves.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for coming to the House this afternoon. Racist incidents online do not exist in a vacuum; they exist in a world where, according to the YMCA, 95% of young black British children have witnessed racism in education. They exist in a world where, according to the Runnymede Trust, racism in the UK is systematic in our health system, in the criminal justice system, in employment and even in politics, which I know all too well. I want every young black and minority ethnic person watching today to know that they have a place in this society and they can reach the height that I did from a council estate in Brixton. I will continue to do my bit to ensure that we speak out against racism.

This racism also exists in a world where so-called spectators even want to boo their own team—disgraceful! Social media companies need to take a lot more action, but, until they feel the full weight of the law, they will not understand that. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will introduce criminal sanctions against social media executives in the Online Harms Bill?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments; she spoke with such passion, and she is right. Every time she and other Members of this House stand up to speak on behalf of their constituents, they are role models. I am delighted that this House is more diverse than it has ever been, although it needs to be even more diverse. I am also very proud of the fact that the Government are more diverse than they have ever been. The fact that two of the great offices of state are filled by people who happen to be of ethnic minority heritage is a real credit to our country and to how one can achieve what one wants with hard work and effort.

On the hon. Lady’s question relating to executives, that is something we are looking at in the Bill. There are measures in it that have been set out to deal with executives. Of course, I welcome her and any other Members’ input to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that the Bill is meeting the expectations of all.

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Some of these vile abusers are totally open, but the cloak of anonymity does embolden others. It also opens the door for hostile actors, with the divisive exploitation that can sometimes follow. As the Minister said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), anonymity is important in some contexts, including, for example, for survivors of domestic abuse, but it does not follow that it is therefore required in all contexts. If someone is communicating online in their own identity, should they not be able to say that they want to hear from and be commented on only by other people who are using their own identity? Will the Government please look at that again in the Online Safety Bill?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

That is an extremely interesting point, and I promise I will look into it.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Like thousands of other Welsh fans, I stand with Marcus Rashford and others, including many Welsh players, against the vile racist abuse they have received. Tory Home Secretaries have wasted years through their inaction on this issue. In 2016, I introduced my Criminal Offences (Misuse of Digital Technologies and Services) (Consolidation) Bill, which included tackling racist abuse online, to make the current fragmented law workable in the 21st century. Five years on, we are still waiting for action. I have a specific question: will the Online Safety Bill provide clarity on what constitutes illegal racist hate speech against groups of people as well as offences against individuals?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady knows that we have asked the Law Commission to look into the laws relating to malicious online communications. I declare my interest as a former prosecuting counsel. This is a horribly complex area of law, and as technology develops with, for example, deep fake images and so on, it becomes more complex. That is precisely why we asked the Law Commission to look into it. In terms of the hon. Lady’s other challenges, the Bill is going to be scrutinised at length by the House, so she will no doubt have the opportunity put her views forward. I want to get the message out that the Online Safety Bill needs to be considered carefully, because we very much want it to be a piece of legislation that stands the test of time. I cannot really think of another country in the world that has entered into such an ambitious project to try to bring some of these corners of the internet into the light so that we do not see these sorts of practices online.

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

Much of the online racist abuse against England’s footballers is thought to have originated from overseas social media accounts. What steps are she and her Department taking with counterparts in other countries to ensure that there is a concerted international effort to stamp out these appalling attacks so that there is no hiding place?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I think my hon. Friend is referring to the early analysis by the Premier League. I hope he will be reassured by the fact that we are looking into this with some urgency. Given that it is a global football competition, it is perhaps no leap of the imagination to suppose that some of this abuse may have come from overseas, and we want to look at that carefully. This also underlines the point that the internet is available across the world and that we have to act collectively with other nation states in order to bring these trolls to heel. We are already doing that through the Five Eyes and through the voluntary principles that we have won agreement on in relation to child sexual exploitation and tackling terrorism.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I join the Minister and others in their congratulations and tributes to the England football team, and in their condemnation of the abuse suffered by the three black players. In a couple of months’ time, David, in the form of Northern Ireland, will take on Goliath, in the form of Italy, in World cup qualifying. We will endeavour to build on the national pride and endeavour we have seen in the past few weeks.

On the online safety Bill, will the Minister reassert, as she has said several times, that if the providers do not act, they will suffer grievous financial hardship and we will hit them where it hurts, in their corporate pockets?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am pleased to join the hon. Gentleman’s support for Northern Ireland. I am sure Italy will pose no problem for Northern Ireland, and I wish Northern Ireland all the greatest of success.

On the serious subject of our work to tackle the online hatred we saw again this weekend, the online safety Bill is a landmark piece of legislation and I look forward to working with the House on its passage.

Craig Whittaker Portrait Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Racism, racist bullying and any form of bullying is completely unacceptable, and I hope my hon. Friend uses all her powers to stamp down on such behaviour. On divisiveness in our society, it appears it has become about whether or not people take the knee. Does she agree that the single biggest cause of divisiveness is the lack of tolerance and respect from both sides of the argument, equally? It does not matter whether someone chooses to take the knee. What matters is that they have tolerance and respect for those who choose to and, equally, for those who choose not to.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend has defined what it is to live in a free country. We abide by the principles of free speech, within the genuine and legitimate confines of legislation such as hate crime legislation. We have a wonderfully diverse football team with enormous talent and enormous skills. Just as they have acted with tolerance, respect and humility in the face of the nation’s joy and adoration, we should extend that to each other and treat each other with tolerance and respect.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We all know that racist abuse is not confined to social media. On 3 July, The Sunday Times ran an article stating that Raheem Sterling’s success in the Euros was being celebrated on the “violent Jamaica streets” where he grew up. This sort of ignorant and tasteless commentary only feeds the stereotype that black people and black populations or countries are dangerous. Will the Minister today condemn the disgusting attitudes that have been propelled by the tabloids and broadsheets for decades? What will she do about it?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I have not seen that report, but my memory of Raheem Sterling is the story he told of growing up in the shadow of the Wembley arch and imagining himself playing under that arch—instead of being outside the stadium, being inside the stadium. Of course, he has done exactly that.

That shows that in this country there is the opportunity and the chance, if you have the talents of Mr Sterling and others, to succeed. I very much hope that is the message that comes out of our debate both this afternoon and more generally in relation to the horrendous hate crimes we saw over the weekend.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that this should be a matter where both sides of the House and all parties come together to ensure we put an end to racist abuse once and for all? Will she highlight how, through the online safety Bill, this will actually happen?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. By working together, we are so much stronger. Today we have seen that there is great unity of intent and will across the House to ensure that those who express racist views are held to account and brought to justice, and that each part of society plays its part, including online companies.

Olivia Blake Portrait Olivia Blake (Sheffield, Hallam) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister think her colleagues’ refusal to condemn the booing of players for taking the knee, their dismissal of taking the knee as “gesture politics”, No. 10’s denial of institutional racism in the UK or the Government’s three-year delay to legislation that would crack down on online abuse could have given space to a culture or hostile environment that sees the racist abuse of England players as acceptable? Does the Minister regret that denial of the problem and the failure to act?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am going to temper the hon. Lady’s remarks with some facts. The Home Secretary did not say that she supported football fans booing England players for taking the knee. The Prime Minister was clear in saying that the public should be cheering our team, not booing them. We have to be very careful with how we handle the facts; we are presenting our plans for the future to help to eradicate racism and our plans for taming the internet, and that is how we will achieve things. A little bit of back and forth at the Dispatch Box is welcome and part of our rich tapestry of democracy, but I do hope that the hon. Lady will stick to facts next time.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I draw the Minister’s attention to the paradox identified by Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future: there are far fewer overt racists in Britain today than there were 20 or 30 years ago, which is a very good thing, and there are far fewer racist attitudes in Britain, but because of social media and the fact that everyone is always online, individuals from black and ethnic minority communities experience far more racism on a day-to-day basis than they did then. That is why fixing this needs to be a public policy priority and why people at Twitter and Facebook need to step up. They need to stop people who are banned opening new accounts, and they need to address the algorithms that promote that material, and in that way we can rebuild community cohesion.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

We all acknowledge the echo chamber that social media provides, and the fact that being available online across the world perhaps enables just a single person to have far more volume added to their voice than would be the case if they were known, as they usually are, to be sitting in their bedroom rather pathetically tapping away on their laptop or phone. We must build resilience among our young people in schools to prepare them to understand that torrents of abuse like this may represent only a tiny number of people, and very much build on education and the cultural attitudes that we are seeking to address through relationships, health and sex education in schools to ensure that people understand the principles of tolerance and kindness in being able to debate without hatred. There are many ways of tackling racism. I look forward to debating them in the months and years to come, but we do not need to take chunks out of one another while we are debating.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am now suspending the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Oral Answers to Questions

Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Monday 12th July 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell (Sedgefield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps her Department is taking to help stop young people from becoming involved in crime and violence. (902521)

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

From 2019 to 2022, this Government will have provided more than £242 million across the 18 areas that account for the majority of knife crime and other serious violence incidents. This money is funding violence reduction units, which will draw together all key partners to address the root causes of violence as well as targeted police action to deter and disrupt knife crime. The House has recently approved the serious violence duty in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and we are investing more than £200 million over the next decade in the youth endowment fund to help interventions to divert young people away from serious violence.

Darren Henry Portrait Darren Henry [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Nottinghamshire, our violence reduction unit has played a key role in strategic planning and supporting practical local work to protect our young people from harm. Can the Minister provide any reassurance that VRUs will continue to form part of our local response to serious youth violence, supported by Home Office funding?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

This Government take extremely seriously the harm that serious violence causes all people across society, but particularly young people who are dragged into gangs by gang leaders. That is why, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we have introduced, as I said, the serious violence duty. We are also increasing sentences for the most violent offenders. VRUs remain a key part of our work to tackle serious violence, as demonstrated by our £2.6 million invested in Nottingham alone.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Youth clubs and groups teach young people valuable skills and help to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. Will the Minister join me in praising the neighbourhood policing teams in Clwyd South, who work in partnership with youth services and local councils, including in the Ceiriog valley, where together they are involving more young people in the local rugby club and hiring a mobile BMX course?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I am very pleased to join my hon. Friend in praising his local police, but also the local charities and other services that are working together to help young people to escape a life of crime. Sport can have many benefits. With our £200 million youth endowment fund, over the next 10 years, we will see the benefits of sport programmes, but also of other types of intervention to help to remove young people from the clutches of gang leaders. I am delighted also that my hon. Friend’s police force has received almost 100 new police officers as part of this Government’s commitment to tackling violent crime and making our streets safer with 20,000 new officers.

Paul Howell Portrait Paul Howell [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that one way to stop young people from becoming involved in crime is to give them more opportunity to be active? Would she support the efforts of people such as Sean Ivey, who, despite suffering personal attacks, including having his home, car and caravan torched, is now leading efforts to support his community in attacking antisocial behaviour? Will she look at how we can support his efforts through targeted funding for distressed communities, and can I encourage her to come to Wingate in Sedgefield to see for herself the efforts being made?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I join my hon. Friend in commending and thanking Mr Ivey for all his efforts in his constituency to support others in Sedgefield and to tackle antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour, particularly of the sort that my hon. Friend has described, is absolutely unacceptable. Next week, we have a week of awareness raising on the perils of antisocial behaviour and the tools available to our councils, the police and, indeed, to us as Members of Parliament to tackle antisocial behaviour in our communities. As a Government, we have committed an additional £7.3 million in funding, and almost 90 new officers have been recruited to help to keep County Durham’s streets safe. I am very pleased to receive my hon. Friend’s invitation, and I will of course accept.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had the pleasure of visiting Calderdale’s early action team on Friday, where West Yorkshire police and partner agencies are delivering some exemplary work, keeping children and young people safe from crime and exploitation. However, for all the positive work they do, chronic backlogs in the criminal justice system mean that it is taking anywhere up to 18 months for cases to be heard, delaying restorative justice for often young victims. Only with a swift and effective criminal justice system will these agencies be able to do their best work in protecting young people from criminality, so what is the Government’s plan to deliver a dynamic and effective youth justice system that is fit for purpose?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I know her own commitment in this area. The Government are taking a whole system approach to how we tackle serious violence. The journey of a young person who is involved in serious violence may start in seemingly tiny steps. It may be the offer of a new pair of trainers or the offer of a meal. That is how gang leaders ensnare young people into their gangs to go around the country selling drugs and so on. As part of the Government’s work, we are investing not only in very tough enforcement action, but in early intervention programmes. The youth endowment fund has just launched its toolkit, which will help local commissioners to discover which programmes work and have the best impact on early intervention. I commend that to the hon. Lady. I very much look forward to working with her and her local police force in helping to prevent serious violence among young people.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps she is taking to help prevent knife crime during summer 2021. (902508)

--- Later in debate ---
Ellie Reeves Portrait Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps she is taking to help prevent knife crime during summer 2021. (902514)

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

This year, we are investing more than £130 million to tackle serious violence at local level. That includes funding violence reduction units, which draw in all key partners, including the police, local authorities and the community, to address the root causes of violence, as well as targeted police action to deter and disrupt knife crime. It also includes up to £23 million for new early intervention programmes that will help stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yesterday, I spoke to Cindy, whom I met three years ago as we both worked to support her friend whose son had been murdered with a knife. She phoned to tell me that a 16-year-old son of another friend had also been stabbed and killed this weekend. She told me:

“I haven’t called his mum yet, I don’t know how I will bear hearing her screams in my ears.”

Knife crime has risen in every police command area across the country in the last decade, doubling since 2013. Lives are being lost, families devastated and communities traumatised every single week, yet the Government have disbanded the serious violence taskforce. Why are they so complacent about the loss of young lives?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

May I try to correct the hon. Lady? First, clearly everyone in the House has heard the account she has given of her constituent and the families affected in her constituency by knife crime. We understand and we express very seriously our commiserations to the families involved. However, I do think the hon. Lady has perhaps missed the news about the violence reduction units, which we are funding, particularly in London, to help the police work together with other agencies, local authorities, local groups and so on to try to tackle serious violence both with enforcement and, importantly, with local intervention projects. Again, I very much welcome the opportunity at some point of sitting her down to talk about the youth endowment fund, for example, and to explain how that will help young people in her local communities. This Government are not complacent about serious violence or the deaths she has described. We are working very hard with the police and with local communities to ensure that these terrible crimes stop.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have stated that they are committed to a public health approach to tackling violence affecting young people and the Minister has just mentioned the violence reduction units, yet our 18 violence reduction units only receive short-term funding settlements. The work these units do is extremely important in tackling the root causes of violence, but they cannot formulate long-term strategies without long-term funding, so what is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the comprehensive spending review delivers on that?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

As the hon. Lady knows, because we have discussed this many times in the past, violence reduction units are a key part of our work to tackle serious violence. We are constrained within the current spending review, with the wider problems of the pandemic and the impact that has had on Government spending, but she will know that the Government have invested record amounts in these units to get them working across the country in the 18 areas most hit by serious violence. However, we are going further than that, because through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are imposing a serious violence duty on every single local area across the country, so that every single area is taking the public health approach that she so commends, and rightly so.

Ellie Reeves Portrait Ellie Reeves
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Michael Jonas, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, Jay Hughes, Levi Ernest-Morrison and Tashawn Watt are all young children and young people who have been stabbed to death in my constituency over the past few years. Words cannot do justice to the grief and anguish this has caused their families and the wider community. The Government say they are committed to a public health approach to youth violence, but youth centres, schools, health services and children’s centres have all had their budgets decimated over the past 10 years. My constituents cannot wait any longer. When will the Government reverse these cuts and take urgent action before more lives are lost?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady rightly raises the names of those who have been murdered in her constituency, and of course our thoughts go to the families and friends affected by that. Of course, serious violence does not just affect the individual family; it affects the whole community. That is why we are taking this whole-system approach: very tough law enforcement, but critically, also trying to intervene at an early stage to help young people to avoid gangs, which will have an impact on the streets more widely. That is why the serious violence duty is so very important. I really hope that, on the next occasion the Labour party has to vote in support of the serious violence duty, it takes the opportunity to do so. Working together with schools, hospitals, other healthcare agencies, the police and local authorities is how we are going to help ensure that the sorts of incidents she describes do not happen again.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we have been watching the incredible achievements of the England football team, the epidemic of violence on our streets has been growing, with younger and younger boys losing their lives in horrific murders, including a 16-year-old we are mourning in my constituency. Many of our football heroes had tough upbringings and have spoken out about the importance of role models and mentors—adults in their lives who helped them unlock their talent. I want all our young people to be able to unlock their talent, including that small group of vulnerable people at risk of being gripped by crime, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) says, many of those adults—in youth work, in education, in social care, in the health service—have disappeared following a decade of extreme cuts. Our summer holidays should be flooded with youth work, mentorship programmes, sports clubs and mental health support, as well, of course, as good neighbourhood policing. The scale of the problem deserves an appropriate response, so will the Government today recognise the potential of our whole nation and commit to helping every vulnerable child this summer?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

May I join the hon. Lady in acknowledging the sportsmanship, the talents, the dignity and the joy that the English football team have brought so many people over the tournament? They have been the very best of us; and they have been the very best of us while facing some horrific abuse—absolutely horrific racist abuse—during the tournament, and that is not acceptable.

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise the question of role models. I know from my own son’s adoration of many of the England footballers just what powerful role models many of those footballers are to younger people. Sadly, of course, we cannot incorporate a Sterling or a Harry Kane into every youth project, but what we can do is build the structures around them. That is precisely what we are doing, with increased investment both through the Department for Education funding over the summer and through our own work in funds such as the trusted relationships fund, which is helping young people to build positive relationships with positive role models. I join the hon. Lady’s cri de coeur that we should pay full credit and respect to our footballers. They themselves tell the tale that if you have the belief and you have the talent, my goodness you can make it.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps her Department is taking to help dismantle county lines drugs gangs. (902509)

--- Later in debate ---
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps she is taking to tackle child sexual abuse. (902515)

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

The UK Government are committed to eradicating all forms of child sexual abuse and continuing to be a global leader in tackling these crimes. The Government’s tackling child sexual abuse strategy sets out our ambition to drive action across Government, law enforcement and society as a whole to combat this heinous crime in all its forms.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. She knows that the National Crime Agency is receiving more than 20,000 child abuse referrals a year from organisations such as Facebook and Instagram. If the services are end-to-end encrypted, those referrals may not be possible in future, so how are the Government addressing this really important problem to ensure that those who abuse children online continue to be brought to justice?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

The implementation of end-to-end encryption in a way that intentionally blinds tech companies to content on their platforms will have a disastrous impact on public safety, and we remain seriously concerned with Facebook’s end-to-end encryption proposals. The safety and security of the public is at the heart of this issue, and Facebook must continue to work with us to embed the safety of the public in its system designs. Companies have a responsibility to prevent the proliferation of child sexual abuse imagery and to protect children from predators on their platforms.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps her Department is taking to tackle scam callers. (902516)

Licences and Licensing

Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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

I apologise for the hoarseness of my voice, but this is what happens when you shout at a television for however long it was. It seemed like an eternity, but it was well worth a shout. I shall be doing exactly the same on Sunday.

I call Victoria Atkins to move the motion.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That the draft Licensing Act 2003 (2020 UEFA European Championship Licensing Hours) Order 2021, which was laid before this House on 7 July, be approved.

It is somehow fitting that you are in the Chair for this particular statutory instrument, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I suspect it may be the most popular statutory instrument of my entire career. It will enable pubs, restaurants and hostelries around the country to roll out the barrel and welcome in fans, friends and families to cheer on our great team. These regulations enable them to stay open until 11.15 pm on Sunday. We have tried to give enough time for extra time, to ensure that fans can celebrate wholeheartedly.

The technical description in the Licensing Act 2003 is that we can extend hours for occasions that have

“exceptional international, national, or local significance”.

I believe all three of those boxes are ticked. Just to give an indication of how much that might mean for our publicans across the country, the British Beer and Pub Association has estimated that 50,000 pints were sold each minute last night, which on my very quick reckoning means an extra two and a quarter million pints in the 45 minutes that we are going to be introducing. [Interruption.] Mr Deputy Speaker has just said that most of that was him—I wanted to make sure I got that in Hansard.

In conclusion, will you allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, to mangle the words of our greatest wordsmith, William Shakespeare, in “Henry V”? The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit; and upon this charge, Cry, “God for Harry, England and Saint Gareth!”—I mean Saint George.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I don’t think we are going to expect a Division on this, are we? I think this will be the most popular motion the Minister has ever moved.

Conor McGinn Portrait Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady. I apologise to you and her for not being in the Chamber in person, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I came to St Helens last night to watch the game with my kids. As rare as English football success is, sadly the failure of the west coast main line is all too frequent for us in the north-west, as you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I was unable to be there.

It strikes me as something approaching cruel and unusual punishment to ask an Irishman to support opening pubs for longer hours, but only on the basis that England are in the final and could win the Euros. Of course I and the Labour party are delighted to give our wholehearted support not just to the order, but to Gareth Southgate, Harry Kane and the entire squad. If I might be allowed to abuse my position on the Front Bench, I particularly want to say how proud I am that Conor Coady from Haydock in my constituency is in the squad. I know that his family and the whole local community are right behind him.

I do not intend to detain the House or strike any discordant note, but I would just like to ask the Minister a few questions. Will she ensure that local licensing teams, alongside the police and businesses themselves, have all the information and support they require to prepare for Sunday? Will she also ensure consistency in the Government’s messaging in relation to coronavirus regulations and the need for us all to continue to meet our obligations to each other and be responsible, while of course also enjoying the fun we have missed so much over the past 16 or 17 months?

Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to pubs, clubs, bars and the wider hospitality sector for their heroic efforts of late? Is it not great to see them back at the heart of our communities, being the place where we share, together with friends and neighbours, the ups and downs of life, love and the world? Will she also do us a favour and ask her colleagues who have been boycotting the England games to stick steadfastly to their principles and ensure that they do not jinx the team on Sunday by switching from the reruns of “Murder, She Wrote” on ITV4 to the biggest game that the country has seen in 55 years?

I want to say something serious about England and this team, because what has happened over the past few weeks goes way beyond football. Since I came here almost 20 years ago, this country has been very, very good to me; I have made my life here and I have been given incredible opportunities. I think that these young men and their manager are the best of England and everything I have experienced. In fact, they are the best of life itself. They are inspiring all generations, through not only their skill and success, but their values and example. We salute them and we wish them well. In conclusion, it is a pleasure to support this legislation, which means that for millions of people watching the game in pubs across the country on Sunday, when football comes home, they will have a little more time to celebrate before they have to.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
- Hansard - -

It gives me great pleasure to respond to the hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that he is not here in person, but he has been causing those on the Government Benches chuckle away at his many comments. First, I am happy to confirm that the police, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Local Government Association and the British Beer and Pub Association have been working, alongside UKHospitality, to develop guidance for licensees screening the tournament, very much to help venues make sure that we all end up having a great time on Sunday and celebrating, we hope, together in a safe way. On his other comments, I am going to leave it to his imagination as to whether or not I agree with him on certain points, but I would say that as a mum of a very excited nine-year-old last night I know that mums and dads across the country will be trying to contain young children, as well as perhaps those of an older age, on Sunday night to ensure that we all have a great time. The team were a superb example of sportsmanship and talent last night. They are an absolute credit to our country and we will all be willing them on, whether we are in the pub or not, on Sunday night.