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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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—
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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”?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.