Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

Current News

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Opposing proposal to cut 24 posts from King's Community Midwives

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It is so dismaying that EU citizens who have been such an important part of our community, who have had families here and lived in Southwark for decades are now facing the anxiety of having to ‘settle their status’ as the UK leaves the EU.

The Government says that EU citizens are “our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues and we want them to stay.”  They will only have to prove they are existing residents.

That is, of course, exactly what was said to the Windrush Generation. But everyone now acknowledges that terrible mistakes were made and people who were here for years were wrongly detained as illegal immigrants.

With no independence or accountability in the system Home Office mistakes are inevitable. So it’s vital that as the Government subjects 3m EU citizens to our immigration system, they make sure lessons have been learnt from Windrush and those injustices are not repeated.  

As Chair of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights I’m leading an inquiry into this. We heard harrowing evidence from people wrongly detained, separated from their children and threatened with deportation. The evidence on their files that they were long term residents was ignored, the pleas of their families swept aside.

I have helped countless people in Camberwell and Peckham challenge Home Office decisions. Like one Chinese man who was detained for 33 days and threatened with removal. He is now back home with his partner.

Those we get to hear about are only the tip of the iceberg.  But we know that £21m was paid out by the Home Office in just 5 years to compensate people for wrongful detention.

If you are suspected of a crime you can’t be detained by government - only by the police - who are independent of government.  If the police need to detain you beyond 36 hours they have to bring you to court - also independent of government.

But if the Home Office suspects you of being in breach of immigration laws, there is a complete absence of independence in the decision-making. A civil servant – nameless and faceless behind closed doors - ticks a box to detain you.  The first you’ll know about it is there’ll be a banging on your door in the early hours of the morning, you’re bundled into a van and taken to a detention centre.

You have no idea whether you’ll be in the detention centre for a day, a month, or a year. The Criminal Justice System imposes time-limits at every stage of detention. But the Home Office can hold you in immigration detention indefinitely. 

It should not be the case that you have fewer protections as an immigrant than you would if you had actually committed a crime. For any individual traumatised by indefinite detention, that’s reason to change the policy. But it is now happening on such a scale that it is really important to deal with it. 

In the 1990s there were only 250 detention places. Now there are over 2,500 and more than 27,000 people are detained every year. 

I am working with Yvette Cooper MP, Hilary Benn MP, Dominic Grieve QC MP, David Davis MP and Andrew Mitchell MP to amend the Brexit Immigration Bill to ensure that in future no-one is deprived of their liberty unless the decision is taken independently and to make it illegal for anyone to be held in an immigration detention centre for more than 28 days.

In light of the injustices exposed by Windrush and the fear that this could happen to EU nationals after Brexit, I am confident the Government will accept this change which has widespread support across Parliament, from the SNP, Lib Dems, the DUP and the Labour frontbench.

Unaccountable, arbitrary, indefinite detention is a human rights abuse. It’s long overdue to end this historic injustice.

 

Strip Home Office of power to indefinitely detain migrants

It is so dismaying that EU citizens who have been such an important part of our community, who have had families here and lived in Southwark for decades are now...

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Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, Second Reading, House of Commons

This Bill repeals the law relating to free movement and brings EEA nationals and their families under the general UK immigration control.

When EEA nationals and their family members become subject to our immigration laws they will be required to have leave to enter and to remain under the 1971 Immigration Act.

The government have said that the 3m EU citizens are “our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues and we want them to stay.” They will only have to register that they are existing residents.

No one doubts the government’s sincerity on that but that is, of course, what was said to people of the Windrush Generation and everyone now acknowledges that terrible mistakes were made by the Home Office and people who had been here for years were wrongfully detained as illegal immigrants.

So it’s right as we subject 3m EU citizens to our immigration system, that we should at this point ask ourselves whether we’ve learnt the lessons from the Windrush cases and that we do not repeat those injustices on EU citizens.

In our inquiry into immigration detention it was clear to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that there are 2 problems which need to be addressed:
1 - the lack of independence in the detention decision and
2 - indefinite detention

If you are suspected of a crime you can’t be detained by government - only by the police - who are independent of government. If the police want to continue to detain you beyond 36 hours they have to bring you before a court - which is, of course totally independent of government.

But for someone who the Home Office suspects of being in breach of our immigration laws, there is a complete absence of independence in the decision-making.

A civil servant - nameless/faceless - behind closed doors can tick the box to detain you. The first you’ll know about it is that there’ll be a banging on your door in the early hours of the morning, you’ll be bundled into an immigration enforcement van and taken to a detention centre.

With no independence in the decision-making and with no scrutiny or accountability, mistakes are inevitable. Those we get to hear about are probably only the tip of the iceberg. But we do know that £21m was paid out by the Home Office in just 5 years to compensate for wrongful detention.

And terrible mistakes are certainly what happened with the Windrush cases.
It is routinely said that they were unable to prove their residence here. That is not the case for the detainees we saw. We looked at their Home Office files (which the Home Sec was good enough to release to them) and it was not that there was no evidence of their residence here. There was masses of it. Including records of National Insurance Contributions going back to the 1970’s. If there had been any independence in the decision-making these people would not have been detained. Yet they were detained not once but twice - the papers on their files ignored, the pleas of their families swept aside.

After the right to life, the right not to be unlawfully detained is one of the most important human rights.

It should not be the case that you have fewer protections from wrongful detention as an immigrant than you would if you had actually committed a crime.

We should ensure that in future no-one is detained unless the decision is taken independently. The Home Office must make their case. But someone independent must take the decision if you are to be deprived of your liberty.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights will put forward an amendment to this bill to that effect and we hope that the Government will agree to it.

Another of the deplorable aspects of our immigration system - which under this Bill EU citizens are now to be subject - is that there is no time-limit when you are detained. You are taken from your home, or your workplace and you have no idea whether you’ll be in the detention centre for a day, a month, or a year.

Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights identified the indefinite nature of the detention as one of the most cruel aspects of it.

The Criminal Justice System imposes time-limits at every stage of detention. From the first bringing before a magistrate to the sentence which sets out the time in prison.

But the Home Office can hold you in immigration detention indefinitely.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights agrees with the Hon Member for Royal Sutton Coldfield (Andrew Mitchell); for Beaconsfield, (Dominic Grieve); Leeds Central, (Hilary Benn); Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper); and Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) that there should be a time limit of 28 days on immigration detention.

And we will bring forward an amendment to the Bill which lays down that if the detainee is not deported by this time then they should be released or they should be brought before a judge where the Home office could apply for a further 28 days.

We hope that the Government will accept this amendment which has widespread support in the House. Including from SNP, Lib Dems and DUP and the Labour frontbench.

This is not a party issue. The Labour government should have ended the scandal of indefinite detention - but we didn’t.

Here in the UK we pride ourselves on our commitment to human rights - so how is it that indefinite Home Office detention has been a feature of our system for so long.

I suspect one of the reasons is that it used to be only a very small number of people, exceptional cases, where immigration detention was used. In 1993 there were only 250 detention places. Now every year about 27,000 people are detained.

Unaccountable, arbitrary, indefinite detention is a human rights abuse. It is a cruel anomaly in our system and I hope the government will use the opportunity of this bill to end it. It is long overdue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's time to end the injustice of indefinite immigration detention - Speech

Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, Second Reading, House of CommonsThis Bill repeals the law relating to free movement and brings EEA nationals and their families under the...

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Today in parliament there was a brief - and rare - moment of cross party delight!  Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom announced that, at last, MPs will have baby leave.

2 weeks for men and 6 months for women when they can, if they choose, vote by proxy.  

Until now MPs’ babies have been invisible to parliament’s procedures. The rules were for a Parliament that was for men (93% men when I was first elected in 1982) while their wives looked after their families so they could decide the affairs of state. 

The handful of women that there were in the House either had no children or their children had grown up. So I shrouded my 3 pregnancies under tent-like maternity dresses and depended on the whips to grudgingly grant me permission to be off when I was in labour and in the weeks after. I either had to be in the Commons wracked with guilt about my tiny baby or at home wracked with guilt about my constituents. 

Fast forward to now. There are more women - now 32% of MPs.  And they are younger. Last year 4 babies were born to women MPs. And the men have changed too.  Many of the younger men have been brought up by feminist mothers and believe that they should respect their wife’s work and play an equal part in the care of their children. The sons of the women’s movement are now in all parties. 

Broadcasting of TV means that you don’t have to be in the chamber to see our debates. Though we set the rules for maternity and paternity leave, we still have no rules for ourselves. New mothers and fathers can be excused from the vote. But you’d have to go and ask your whips’ office and they’d have to get agreement with the other side’s whips. You wouldn’t have to come in to vote but your vote would not be counted. 

Women MPs don’t want to choose between their newborn baby and their right to vote. New fathers don’t want to have to choose between being in the labour ward or the Division Lobby. The new system of proxy voting will, if no MPs object, be brought in on Monday. In time for Tuesday’s crucial Brexit vote. 

New MP fathers or mothers (and those who are adopting) will be able to choose a fellow MP to cast their vote for them.  It’s long overdue. It’s 100 years since women won the right to sit in Parliament - and 31 years too late for me!  But we have a new crop of Brexit babies on the way.  Tories, Chloe Smith and Suella Braverman are expecting as are Labour’s Emma Reynolds and Luciana Berger - who’s due soon. Tulip Siddiq has just had baby Raphael. She should be able to vote on Brexit decision day next week without having to bring him in. 

Getting change in an ancient institution like Parliament is hard.  We’ve all worked together.  MPs who’ve been there for years have joined forces with the new intake. MPs from all parties have worked together.  Men MPs have backed up the demands of women. Tomorrow we’ll no doubt be back to the shouting and jeering of Prime Minister’s Questions.  But just for a brief moment we can savour a small united step as MPs move parliament into the 21st century.

At last Parliament to vote on MP baby leave - Telegraph article

Today in parliament there was a brief - and rare - moment of cross party delight!  Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom announced that, at last, MPs will...

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I am delighted that the Government has announced that MPs will get the chance to vote to approve a one year pilot on voting rules for MPs who have had a baby or adopted a child on Monday 28th January 2019 - almost a year after Parliament first agreed to implement proxy voting for new parents. 

This would be a small steps into the 21st century, which is long overdue. Women MPs who fought to get into parliament don't want to be excused, they want to exercise their votes and represent their constituents.

We don't want tiny babies to have to be brought into the division lobbies for these important Brexit votes, nor is it acceptable for women to be excluded from voting. 

It sets a terrible example that the babies of men in parliament are invisible and now that's not what men MPs want either.

My speech in the Urgent Question in the House Commons to welcome the Government announcement:

This has been a collective endeavour. First, I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who has been a champion of this for pressing reasons and reasons of principle. I thank her for securing this urgent question, and thank you for granting it, Mr Speaker. You have always been on the side of progress in respect of parents. As the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) said, you were a champion of the crèche here, and she explained why this measure is so necessary.

We must also thank the Procedure Committee and its Chair. As soon as the House passed the motion, the Committee cracked on with it and did a thorough and excellent job. Who knew how exciting the Procedure Committee was? I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). This is me railing ineffectively, but she had the idea that we should go to the Backbench Business Committee, to enable the Chamber to debate it. I thank the Committee for its role.

It is 31 years too late for me, but I am delighted about this, because it is really important. There are many babies of Members on both sides of the House in the offing. They are blissfully unaware of the Brexit debate, but these Brexit babies cannot wait, so I am delighted that we are getting on with it.

Finally, I pay tribute to the Leader of the House, who I am in no doubt has always been on the right side of the argument. I point out that I, too, was Leader of the House, and I failed to get this through. Whoever succeeds in these long decades of progress and these baby steps into the 21st century, all power to your elbow.

Watch my speech here.

 

Government announces Parliament to get vote on baby leave for MPs

I am delighted that the Government has announced that MPs will get the chance to vote to approve a one year pilot on voting rules for MPs who have had...

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Monthly report - December 2018/January 2019

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Autism used to be something that most people knew nothing about.  Now there is growing awareness of the effect on someone of being on the Autistic spectrum - a lifelong developmental disability that means someone has difficulties with communication and social interaction and how they experience the world. But public services and support for people with Autism and their families still have a long way to go.

I’ve been contacted by an increasing number of constituents who have a family member with autism and who need help on a whole range of fronts. The biggest concern I’ve been asked for help with is housing. You might be perfectly settled in your home but as an autistic child grows you become concerned about their safety if you live high up or by a busy road. So moving becomes a necessity.  You might have good relations with your neighbours but end up with complaints if your autistic child is noisy at night, banging on the walls. And you might end up with complaints of the noise your child makes in the garden in the summer. Again, you’ll need a move. All children need their own space as they get older. But it becomes particularly acute for a teenager sharing a bedroom with their autistic sibling. They might be woken many times at night and be too tired for school.  A larger home then becomes essential.   

All children need stability and security and constant moving is never a good idea. But if a family with an autistic member is given notice to quit their private rented home they can end up in a hostel or temporary accommodation. Disruption and change is particularly hard for an autistic child and it is difficult for them to cope in shared accommodation such as a hostel and if they also have to change schools, or make a long journey to their existing school.

Parents complain to me about delays in getting their autistic child assessed which can delay them getting the diagnosis and the support that they need. This is especially important to ensure that they are in the right school with the right support. Parents complain that if it’s to be a special school, they are not fully included in the decision about where their child will be placed.

And meeting the care needs of one or more family members who are autistic can affect the ability of the parent to work and therefore involve claiming benefits. That’s a challenge for any family but for someone who doesn’t speak English or who’s new into the country, finding their way through the benefits system and finding the right help by way of services can be a problem.

The council has a strategy on services and support for families with autism which they agreed with the local health service. But all the services are overstretched. The council needs to be providing more help to those with autism and yet their budgets are being cut.

As chair of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights I’m leading an inquiry into the Assessment and Treatment Units where some autistic young people are detained.  We are particularly concerned that the concerns of parents about whether the place their child is being held is right for them are not listened to and that parents’ concerns are treated as a nuisance rather than an important warning that things are not right. The Human Rights Committee will be publishing our report later this year.

I’m proposing that the Government ensure that every council has a detailed strategy for supporting people with autism and that they ensure that both the council and health services are fully funded to meet those needs. It’s important that autism is more recognised and understood. But it also essential that with that comes the support to which those families should be entitled. 

Government must properly fund autism support - South London Press Column

Autism used to be something that most people knew nothing about.  Now there is growing awareness of the effect on someone of being on the Autistic spectrum - a lifelong...

We all saw the TV clips of thugs shouting abuse in Anna Soubry’s face and blocking her way to parliament from a media interview over the road. Everyone agreed it was awful. It’s her job to have opinions. She’s elected to speak up not keep her head down. Everyone said it overstepped the mark.

We have been here before (remember the harassment of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s children). About every six weeks there’s an ugly incident and we all gather in the chamber to wring our hands and do nothing.

Attacks on, and threats to, MPs are commonplace. Jo Cox was killed, Rosie Cooper could have been killed and others are threatened with death. This is serious and we don’t know the half of it.

Most assaults or threats against MPs are not even reported, for a whole range of reasons. We are hardwired to present ourselves as tough champions of others — not victims. We don’t want to make the assailant even worse. We don’t want to look like we’re using up scarce police resources when families on our council estates complain to us that their community police are vanishing.

We’re afraid of being called a “snowflake”, who doesn’t have what it takes to be an MP.

Way back when I was a new MP with three young children at home a violent ex-offender threatened me, waited outside my home, came to my surgery, wrote hundreds of lying letters to MPs and ministers. For years I buried my head in the sand.

There were enough people saying that parliament was no place for a young mother of three children. They’d say if I couldn’t stand the heat I should “get out of the kitchen”. It was only when the Maudsley hospital insisted I tell the police as he was telling them he was going to kill me and they believed him, that I faced up to it.

Daily I hear of MPs beleaguered by threats at their home, in their constituency office, in the street and online. Some report and some are driven to taking out injunctions. But we don’t have the official overall picture as no one collects this information.

Parliament is keen to get on with tackling other people’s problems but notoriously slow to address our own, fearing accusations that we’re feathering our own nest. (We’ve been legislating for maternity leave for decades but still don’t have any baby leave for MPs!).

And we’re rightly even more wary if it could be alleged that what we’re doing is against the public right to demonstrate, their freedom of expression and protest.

But we can’t have a situation where MPs are looking over their shoulder, keeping their head down, restricting their advice surgeries, reluctant to go on public transport on their own at night. Yet that is what is happening.

Supposing it had been Tulip Siddiq MP (eight months pregnant and 5ft nothing) rather than Anna Soubry? Would the police still have stood by?

Many different people and organisations need to be thinking about this. The police, the CPS, the leader of the House, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and many more.

We need a process to look to bring this together and consider the balance between the competing rights of demonstrators and the right of MPs to get on with the job for which they were elected. We need to make sure that MPs are not at risk.

Ken Clarke MP (father of the House) and I, (mother of the House) are jointly calling for a Speaker’s conference to look seriously into all this and make proposals. And no one would dare call Ken a snowflake!

Link to story as it appeared on the Times Red Box here.

 

Threats to MPs can’t go on: they are an attack on democracy - Times Red Box Article

We all saw the TV clips of thugs shouting abuse in Anna Soubry’s face and blocking her way to parliament from a media interview over the road. Everyone agreed it...

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Most of us who live in Southwark think it’s a great place to live.  Vibrant and close to the heart of London, it has so much going for it. 

But there’s an issue which casts a shadow over our borough, and indeed our great city, and that is the increase in the number of murders.

2018 saw the highest number of people killed in London in a decade.   Last year 132 people were killed.  And for each one of the victims there are devastated parents, husbands, wives, children, friends and communities left behind.

Many young people involved in crime will have problems at home, been expelled from school at a young age, or themselves have been victims of crime.

For every young man who ends up in the dock accused of a killing, there are parents, teachers, neighbours and many others who’ve seen the warning signs and who’ve been unable to prevent the downward drift into crime.

That means better information for parents who are worried about a child but don’t know who to turn to.

It means a quick response and effective support when parents do call out for help with a youngster who’s getting into trouble.

It means a higher level of support for young people leaving care.

And we need to ensure that all the agencies have the resources they need to step in before a problem develops into a crisis. That means the child and adolescent mental health services as well as the police.

This approach would be what is described as a “public health” approach to youth crime.  Seeing it in the same way as an infectious disease, treating people early but above all prevention being better than cure.

Lewisham and Deptford’s MP Vicky Foxcroft has been pressing for this approach by setting up the Youth Violence Commission.  Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones has set up an all-party group of MPs on knife crime – of which I’m a member.  And the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, is setting up a new Violence Reduction Unit to address the root causes of violence.

But there can be no doubt that all this work is hampered by the cuts to school budgets, to youth services and to the police.

Southwark has lost 200 police officers and Police Community Support Officers since 2010. Eight  years of cuts from the Tory government have undoubtedly made the problems worse.

There has, rightly, been a big focus on the lives of young men lost to gang violence. But we must never lose sight of the fact that there also remains a persistent high number of women being killed by their husbands or boyfriends – domestic homicide.

In London last year almost as many people lost their lives to domestic violence as to gang violence. The loss of women’s lives at the hands of the men they live with also needs to be focussed on.  It cannot be treated as something that is inevitable and that we can do nothing about.  As with gang crime there are nearly always warning signs which could and should have been acted on.

Southwark is a great place to live.  But too many people are dying violent deaths.  It needs working together, but it must mean more resources from government and an end to the cuts.  Otherwise the horrific death toll will just get worse.

We need to tackle violence as a public health issue - Southwark News Column

Most of us who live in Southwark think it’s a great place to live.  Vibrant and close to the heart of London, it has so much going for it.  But...

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As Mother of the House of Commons I am working jointly with the Father of the House, Ken Clarke, to propose a Speaker's Conference on protecting our democracy by guaranteeing the ability of Members of Parliament to go about their work without threat, harassment, violence or intimidation

The fundamental principle of democracy is that MPs are elected by the voters and once elected no-one must stop them carrying out their duties.  They must be able to get on with their job.  Yet, now, on a more or less daily basis, MPs are threatened with physical violence. Where MPs are threatened just because they are an MP that is a "contempt of parliament" and an undermining of our democracy and demands action.

The advent of social media means that the whereabouts of MPs whether at home or at work, are very widely known.  Social media is important for MPs to communicate directly with their constituents and account for what they are doing on a regular basis.  But it is also used by people who anonymously threaten MPs and by those who whip up hostility and violence towards MPs. 

Now, more MPs are women, living away from their families on their own during the weeks when parliament is sitting. MPs are high profile and when there’s an atmosphere of hostility to politics and politicians they are vulnerable.

BBC 5 Live has conducted a survey of women MPs asking about our security. It showed:

  • More than half of women MPs questioned had faced physical threats.
  • An overwhelming majority of women MPs have received online and verbal abuse from the public.
  • Two thirds felt "less safe" following the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox.

This is a problem for men MPs as well as women.  While MPs are away from their home during the week their families, living at an address which is well-known locally and easily found on the internet, can feel vulnerable.  This applies to elderly relatives who might be living with them as well as spouses and children.  A police officer stood by while a member of the public shouted out at the young children of Jacob Rees-Mogg.  If their parent had been a member of the public rather than an MP it’s surely the case that the officer would have stepped in and asked the ranting member of the public to “move along now”.

Women MPs, particularly younger women and most particularly ethnic minority MPs, are subjected to the greatest number of threats. A study by Amnesty International in 2017 found Diane Abbott received almost half of all abusive tweets ahead of the June 2017 General Election and black women politicians are almost twice as likely as their white peers to be abused on Twitter.

There has always been a level of threat against MPs but we don’t know the scale of the problem because MPs are reluctant to report and many threats and offences go unreported.  

We also don’t know the full extent to which MPs are altering the way they work and travel because of these threats. Their priority is to get on with their job, not to talk about their own personal safety.

Parliament has taken many steps to protect MPs both before and in particular after the murder of Jo Cox as she held her constituency advice surgery.  MPs can apply for funding from IPSA for extra security in their own homes and constituency offices. 

MPs who are threatened all deal with it differently.  Some ignore it hoping it will go away.  Some call the police - and depending on which police area they are in get widely differing responses.  Some take out injunctions against the threatening individual - hoping that so doing will inflame them less than a police intervention or worried for the threatener’s mental health if the police are involved. 

When an MP is threatened by a member of the public the response of the police and the CPS varies in different areas.  On some occasions the Criminal Justice Agencies react on the basis that it is their job to protect the MP.  Sometimes their response is based on the sense that they regard it as their job to protect the rights of the public, to demonstrate, to have free speech in relation to their MP, to challenge their public representative. 

Over the past years the concern has mounted but there’s been no comprehensive consideration of the issues at stake and the measures needed to address them.

Unless we respond to threats and abuse we are colluding with the notion that we deserve to be denigrated and abused. We cannot just denounce every ugly incident but take no action.

The responsibility for ensuring that MPs are able to get on with their work, vote without looking over their shoulder and freely engage with their constituents and the wider public lies not with them as individuals or their party or the Government.  It lies with Parliament.  Parliament must step forward to address them. 

MPs must be able to represent constituents free from threat - Speaker's Conference Proposal

As Mother of the House of Commons I am working jointly with the Father of the House, Ken Clarke, to propose a Speaker's Conference on protecting our democracy by guaranteeing...

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