Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP):
I rise to address matters arising from the Gracious Speech pertaining to security. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) will address health matters later.
I will speak to the Scottish National party’s amendment (h), which urges the Government to exempt Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from VAT without further delay. In addition, the Scottish National party will support the Labour party’s amendment (i). The SNP has consistently opposed the Conservative party’s austerity agenda, and the manifesto on which we won the general election in Scotland indicated that, in these times, the pay cap is no longer sustainable and that we would look at it very closely. I am very happy to lend our support to the shadow Home Secretary. On police and fire service cuts, I am very happy to say that the Scottish Government have not imposed the cuts seen south of the border. I will come to that later.
I want to look in particular at the proposals for a counter-extremism commission; the proposals to review whether the police and security services have all the powers they need; and concerns that I and my party hold about the scope of the repeal Bill, particularly for justice and home affairs issues.
I also want to address the potential impact of Brexit on our security arrangements. The European Union enables European nations to come together not just for the common economic and social good, but to tackle crime and terrorism in the interests of all citizens across Europe. Last year Rob Wainwright, the current, British director of Europol, said that in the event of Britain leaving the European Union it would be very difficult to negotiate security pacts from outside the Europol bloc. He said that trying to do so would be a “damage limitation exercise”. We have yet to hear any detail about how the Government propose to address that problem. We need to look at it closely.
The Scottish National party has already welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent change in tone and rhetoric following the attack at Finsbury Park. We were very pleased to hear her equate all forms of extremism. We hope that that signals the beginning of a Government approach that will not single out any particular group in our community for counter-extremism or terrorism measures. We believe that measures to counter extremism are very important, but they must not be allowed to create division among our many diverse communities across the UK.
We continue to be very concerned that, despite the Government’s failed attempts to introduce a counter-extremism Bill in the previous Parliament, they have yet to offer any legally sustainable definition of extremism or British values. We are concerned, as I have said previously, that the new plan in the Gracious Speech to establish a commission to look at those matters risks bypassing parliamentary scrutiny and the need for legal certainty on the nebulous terms of “extremism” and “British values”. I was therefore pleased to hear the Home Secretary say in response to a question I asked last week that any commission recommendations will be fully scrutinised by this Parliament.
We have already heard about the Prevent strategy, which has been controversial, and concerns have repeatedly been raised about its implementation. May I respectfully suggest that the UK Government look at how we have implemented the Prevent strategy in Scotland as a model of how things might be improved? Although counter-terrorism is of course a reserved issue, the implementation of policies to counter extremism is the responsibility of the devolved institutions. In Scotland we have worked very hard to recognise that we have diverse communities and that they must all be allies in ensuring that all our citizens are safe. The delivery of Prevent in Scotland has benefited from positive relationships fostered with all communities in Scotland through years of regular engagement. We recognise that the way in which people are becoming radicalised is constantly evolving and changing. We must therefore remain vigilant and refresh our approach accordingly, but we must also continue to work with our communities, rather than against them, in making sure that terrorist messages will not resonate.
I now turn to the question of whether the police and security services have all the powers they need. The SNP believes that they do have sufficient powers at their disposal and that the real issue that the Government should be looking at is whether the police and security services have sufficient resources to fight terrorism. I am fortified in that view by the quote from Max Hill QC, the official reviewer of terrorism, that has already been referred to today:
“My view coming into the scrutiny which we are told the Prime Minister wants to conduct is that we do have the appropriate laws in place, and that essentially the police and security services, and those whose job it is to keep us safe, do have the powers at their disposal.”
It is already a crime to incite violence. People suspected of terrorist activity can be stopped and searched. People who aid terrorists are imprisoned and those convicted of plotting an attack can be locked up for life—so we have the powers.
During the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 in the last Parliament the Scottish National party repeatedly urged the Government to concentrate resources on robust, targeted surveillance of suspects rather than subjecting the whole population to blanket, suspicionless surveillance. During the election campaign, and after the terrible terrorist atrocities in London and Manchester, the Prime Minister rightly faced difficult questions about the resources she is putting into targeted surveillance. She was Home Secretary for seven years and it is clear that her influence still holds sway at the Home Office—for example, in relation to the unrealistic and unobtainable immigration targets that continue to be set. The Prime Minister must face up to her responsibility for cuts to police budgets and police numbers in England, which have been dictated by her party’s narrow austerity agenda. That is why I am happy that the SNP will support Labour’s amendment.
It does not have to be this way. In Scotland, the Scottish Government have increased police numbers and in particular invested in increasing the number of trained police armed responders, while still balancing our budget. We have been able to do that despite the UK Government’s repeated refusal to remove the burden of VAT from Police Scotland. Police Scotland is the only territorial police authority in the UK unable to recover VAT. My Scottish Government colleagues and I have repeatedly raised this issue with the UK Government. I wrote to the Minister about the issue earlier this year. The SNP has tabled an amendment to the Loyal Address calling on the Government to rectify that anomaly, and today we again call on them to do so. They have recently rectified the anomaly for several other national bodies: it is now time to do it for Police Scotland.
Notwithstanding the Tory Government’s failure to rectify that anomaly, the contrast between Scotland and the UK in policing terms could not be starker: 20,000 police officers have been lost in England, but in Scotland we have maintained 1,000 more than the number we inherited when the SNP came into government in 2007. We have also taken steps to increase the number of police officers who are trained to carry firearms. In the days following the Manchester attack, Police Scotland was able to provide the heightened level of police cover, including armed policing, without having to call on the resources of the military.
We have also protected the police resource budget in Scotland, but in England the Home Office has cut the amount it spends on policing by 20% since 2011. It is time for the Conservatives to stop diverting attention from their under-resourcing of the police and emergency services and to follow the Scottish Government’s lead in giving them the resources they need.
I have already said that international co-operation is essential to keep Scotland and the rest of the UK safe from the threats of organised crime, cybercrime and terrorism. In this Parliament, SNP Members will call for continued co-operation across Europe and we will oppose any moves that would seek to use security co-operation as a bargaining chip in Brexit or trade negotiations with our European friends and neighbours. It is too important for that.
The Gracious Speech promised a new law on the protection of personal data, but we will not be able to continue to co-operate with our EU colleagues unless we abide by EU data protection and privacy protection law. In practice, there will be limits to how closely the UK and the EU27 can work together if the UK is no longer accountable or subject to the oversight and adjudication of supranational institutions, such as—most importantly—the European Court of Justice. We saw at the end of last year that the Court took a dim view of the provisions for data collection and retention in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, as many of us warned would happen when we considered the Act. If the UK does not comply with EU law on data sharing and privacy protection, our former partners will not be able to share information with us under the laws by which they are bound. That would be a disaster for security co-operation and for business, universities and research.
I am concerned that the Gracious Speech does not mention any specific legislation on the many changes to justice and home affairs, even though the Government have confirmed that the repeal Bill will include powers to allow for changes resulting from the negotiations to leave the EU. It is vital that Ministers and civil servants are not handed vast powers to change our legal landscape without proper parliamentary scrutiny, particularly in relation to security matters. Legislative consent motions must also be sought for justice and home affairs matters, and I am delighted that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Secretary of State for Scotland have all acknowledged that legislative consent will be sought for the repeal Bill.
Finally I turn briefly to the issue of human rights protections. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister spoke of ripping up human rights to fight terrorism. I suspect the attack on human rights was an attempt to distract from her own security failings and the impact of policing cuts in England. So I renew my request to the Home Secretary to confirm that nothing in the Human Rights Act or the European convention on human rights would prevent a robust approach to terrorism, and will she therefore confirm that there are no plans to “tear up” human rights to tackle terrorism? I would remind her that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said:
“Effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are complementary and mutually reinforcing objectives which must be pursued together as part of States’ duty to protect individuals within their jurisdiction.”
Terrorism is a fundamental attack on our way of life and of course we must respond robustly and appropriately. But it is at such times that human rights must be protected and cherished, not attacked and undermined. With the announcement by the CPS today on Hillsborough, we see the prospect of justice being achieved after many years as a result of the Human Rights Act guaranteeing a proper inquiry into that disaster. If we ripped up human rights, we would undermine the traditions that we all share across the House and play into the terrorists’ plans to undermine our democracy and the rule of law.