House of Commons
Monday 5 December 2016
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Unskilled Migration: Employment Levels
The latest labour market statistics show that more British people are in work than ever before, the unemployment rate is at its lowest level for over a decade and nine in 10 people in jobs are UK nationals. However, the Prime Minister has been clear that as we conduct negotiations to leave the European Union, it must be a priority to regain more control of the numbers of people who come here from Europe.
There is no point in national London politicians lecturing people in places such as the black country with national statistics, because this has different impacts in different communities. Why are low-skilled migrants still coming here when we have hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in Britain? Why have the Government not stopped companies from just advertising jobs abroad or using workers from overseas to undercut wages here? And why do the Government not require large firms to train up local apprentices if they do have to hire someone from abroad?
It is a little rich getting that sort of lecture from a Labour Member, because the Labour party failed to put controls on in the 2004 enlargement and most of its Members who were in charge then have admitted what a mistake that was. There are no lectures coming from my party—only hard answers. The answer is that we will be restricting immigration when we move to leaving the EU.
Does the Home Secretary agree that students should be removed from the “tens of thousands” target? Does she also agree that as the data are extremely poor, we should strain every sinew to try to get better quality data so that we can form a judgment about whether—and if so, how—we can ensure that exports, which is what foreign students are, are maximised in this country?
I share my right hon. Friend’s view that students play an important role in contributing to the economy and are most welcome in the UK. The internationally recognised definition of a “migrant” is someone coming here for more than 12 months, so they are likely to stay within that definition, although I am aware that there are different views on this matter.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—the pressure is on. The Home Secretary refers to the measure of net migration, but she was asked about the target. Does she agree that international students should be taken out of the Government’s target, as the Foreign Secretary has said over the weekend and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to hint some weeks ago? Does she think that foreign students should be included in the target?
As I told the House, and as the right hon. Lady is aware, there are different views on this. The definition that I referred to was the one for international students, which is held by the Office for National Statistics; more than 12 months and they represent an immigrant, and therefore are part of the numbers.
I am not sure that students are unskilled in any case. Nevertheless, is it not the fact that there are people in this country who will not do the jobs that unskilled migrants do? Is not the point, therefore, that in the black country and elsewhere it should be not Brussels after Brexit but the United Kingdom that will decide which migrants are needed to do the jobs that UK people will not do?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. One in 10 18 to 24-year-olds is still unemployed, and we want them to have the opportunity to take up these jobs. That is one reason why, alongside other initiatives such as the apprenticeship levy, we are encouraging businesses to participate more in local employment and work more with local young people to make sure that they can take those jobs.
The UK relies on more than 80,000 seasonal workers to pick its fruit and veg every year, with the Financial Times recently suggesting that 98% of those workers come from within the EU. Will the Government commit to protecting access for seasonal workers from the EU to safeguard our agricultural sector going forward?
The hon. Lady has raised an important question, and I know that the National Farmers Union met my colleague the Minister for Immigration recently to discuss exactly that point. We are aware how necessary it will be to ensure that we have some sort of seasonal scheme in place, and we are looking carefully at it.
Assuming that a deal is reached under which EU citizens who were here before a certain cut-off date can remain after we leave the European Union, can the Home Secretary tell the House how the Home Office will document them—we are talking about an estimated 3 million people—so that employers and landlords will know thereafter to whom legally they can offer a job or accommodation and therefore distinguish them from those EU citizens who arrived after that?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We are aware that there is a certain expectation and concern about the European Union citizens here. As the Prime Minister has said, she hopes to be able to reassure them, but it is right that we do that while looking also at the over 1 million UK citizens in the rest of the European Union. There will be a need to have some sort of documentation—he is entirely right on that—but we will not set it out yet. We will do it in a phased approach to ensure that we use all the technological advantages that we are increasingly able to harness to ensure that all immigration is carefully handled.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance looked at the issue of immigration employment regionally? It found that the areas with the largest increase in EU immigration had not seen the sharpest falls in employment or wages since 2008. One author of the report said that there was still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs or wages. On the question of students, there is an increasing consensus in all parts of the House that students should be taken out of the immigration target. Technically, anyone who stays more than 12 months may be an immigrant, but in practice, they should not be in the target.
The hon. Lady might want to take up her interesting views with the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) who seems to take a slightly different view. One thing that is for certain is that when we do leave the European Union, we will have more control over immigration from the European Union and we will be making sure that the immigration that we do get from the European Union achieves the right balance of attracting the type of people who can really boost the UK businesses that need it.
Immigration remains a reserved matter and we will consider the needs of the UK as a whole. Applying different immigration rules to different parts of the United Kingdom will complicate the immigration system, harming its integrity and causing difficulties for employers who need the flexibility to deploy their staff to other parts of the UK.
I know that the Home Secretary agrees with me when we say that Vote Leave was irresponsibly short of detail during its campaign, but one of the details that it did give us was when the former Justice Secretary promised that Scotland would be responsible for its immigration policy. Is that still the case, or is that planned?
If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention to what I just said, he would know that it remains a UK competency. Given that the Scottish people voted in 2014 to maintain Scotland’s position as part of the United Kingdom, may I suggest that he looks at the powers in the Scotland Act 2016 to make Scotland a more attractive place in which people will want to come to live and work?
One group of families that a distinct immigration system for Scotland would help are the “skype” families. There are 15,000 kids across the United Kingdom who are separated from a parent abroad because this Government have the least family-friendly immigration rules in the whole of the developed world. Almost half of Scotland’s people do not earn enough to meet the crazy financial threshold to bring the partner whom they love from abroad to live here. Will the Minister for Immigration allow the Scottish Government to set their own threshold, or how will he explain to those children why they have to live apart from one parent?
What is so difficult about some state variations in immigration rules? Many visas tie people to a specific job and employer. We have Tech City visas, which have special rules for certain UK cities, and we do operate a common travel area and an open border with Ireland, which is a completely distinct immigration system. Does the Secretary of State accept that there is no practical reason why we cannot see significantly different rules applying in Scotland for those significantly different needs?
If the hon. Gentleman were to examine the evidence of the Fresh Talent scheme, which the Scottish Government reviewed in 2008, he would see that only 44% of those applicants remained in Scotland, and more than half of those jobs were not appropriate for the level of education of those who took them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a good reason why immigration is a reserved power, and that the slippery slope that the Scottish nationalists are trying to take us down would, if taken to its logical conclusion, end up with a border?
The Minister cannot get away from the fact, though, that different parts of the country have different labour and immigration needs. In the northern isles at present our fishing industry is being crippled because white fish boats in particular cannot get the visas for the crews that they need to go to sea. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the fishing industry to find a way around that?
I recognise the problem and have had meetings with a number of right hon. and hon. Members on the issue. I do not recall, however, that during the referendum campaign the fishermen around the coast of our country were campaigning to repatriate powers so that they could attract more Filipinos to work in the industry. I understand the problem and will continue to meet right hon. and hon. Members to see what we can do to help.
We have reformed policing to ensure that there is a sector-led approach to improving representation. We established the College of Policing as the professional body which is delivering a major programme of work called BME Progression 2018. Alongside this, innovative schemes such as Direct Entry, Fast Track and Police Now are making the police workforce more diverse than ever before.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The police have done a great deal of work on diversity generally, particularly seeing more women coming in, but there is more to do in relation to black and minority ethnic communities and women generally across the force. I hope that forces right across the country will be very focused on this as they go through their recruitment exercises now.
Police forces across the country are currently recruiting. The police funding formula has always been protected. We are doing a formula review. I will be meeting the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable of Northumberland shortly to discuss that and feed it into the review. The force there has benefited over the past couple of years from the ability to increase precepts above most others due to de minimis.
All police officers deserve our praise, but volunteer special constables who serve on foot in the local areas in which they live represent their local communities particularly well. Will the Minister congratulate Northamptonshire on the efforts that it is making to recruit more volunteer special constables?
How long, how long? I do not normally believe in quotas, but really diverse police forces have been a long time coming in this country, so let us see some action. Let us see some action, too, on recruiting more officers to police the roads in our country, where people drive like lunatics because they know that there is no one there to catch them.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has joined our cause after so many years of seeing diversity going nowhere under the Labour Government. It is this Government who have driven diversity by trusting local police forces to make sure that when they recruit, they recruit to represent their communities. That is why we are seeing BME representation going up and representation of women going up. We need to do more and I hope the hon. Gentleman will join us in encouraging forces to do that in their current recruitment.
Is the Minister aware that a more diverse police force has been an aim of forces such as the Metropolitan police since the 1970s? Is he aware that the underlying reason why there has been limited success is, sadly, continuing poor police-community relations? And is he aware that funding cuts are restricting the recruitment of officers, whatever their colour or gender?
The hon. Lady may like to note that this year, as I said earlier, the Government put protection in for police funding in the settlement, so police are benefiting from that protection. Police forces across the country are recruiting. In fact, the Met is one of the exemplars for how to get a diverse workforce; Police Now was literally the first visit I made in this role. The latest recruitment has seen increases to 25% in respect of women. That is good, but we need to go further and I am glad that the hon. Lady wants to join us in seeing that develop.
Freedom of Movement
The Prime Minister has made it clear that article 50 will be triggered before the end of March 2017. We are still working hard on our negotiating position, but we do not want to show our hand of cards before we get into the poker game. However, I assure the hon. Lady that we are determined to get the right deal for Britain.
The Government’s approach to Brexit seems to hinge on their ability to persuade other European member states to allow Britain to opt out of current freedom of movement rules while retaining tariff-free access to the single market. Can the Minister name me one European Minister who has told him that that might be possible?
There are certainly 3.2 million EU nationals in the UK, and it is in their interests to be able to satisfy their Governments about their status here. As the Prime Minister has said, the only circumstance in which we would not want to guarantee their status would be if the status of UK nationals living elsewhere were not similarly guaranteed.
I do not have a degree in economics, but it is true that supply and demand would operate in this area. That is why we are determined to be able to control the numbers of those coming from the EU, just as we already control numbers coming from outside the EU.
In any discussions, will the Minister raise the issue referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin): recruitment agencies, for example, that exploit workers from the EU and undercut UK workers by advertising for unskilled workers outside the UK, but not in the UK?
All these matters will need to be discussed, but I add the point already made by the Home Secretary. When the eastern European countries joined the European Union, transitional arrangements that would have protected jobs to some extent were not put in place.
Tackling knife crime is a priority and we are taking firm action, including warning young people about the dangers of carrying knives, working with retailers both online and on the high street, and legislating for tougher sentences. During October, 21 police forces took part in a week of action against knife crime. In Essex, test purchases were conducted, habitual knife carriers were stopped and searched, and 12 individuals were arrested.
I thank the Minister for reminding us of the action that Essex police are already taking. Over a four-month period, the knife amnesty got 311 knives off the streets. Will the Minister commit to continuing a knife amnesty and will she come to Southend to see the complexities and interaction between knife crime and drugs crime in Southend?
I am very grateful to my colleague for raising that point and I will be delighted to visit him in Southend. He will be pleased to know that the Home Office is working with the Essex police and crime commissioner, along with the Institute of Community Safety, to see what more we can do to help the situation in Essex. I understand that they will agree a plan of local action during a meeting this week.
Last week, a memorial service was held in Leicester for Tyler Thompson, who was killed with a knife aged only 16. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) said that 311 knives had been given in during the amnesty in Essex. Does the Minister have the figures for the whole country?
I do not have the answer to hand at the moment, but this was the first week, with 21 forces engaged in Operation Sceptre. That had a hugely beneficial effect, in terms of not only the surrendering of weapons across the country but arrests across the country. It sent out an incredibly clear, firm message: we will not tolerate people carrying knives as they will use them harmfully on innocent citizens.
Asset Recovery Regime
Since 2010, £1.2 billion of criminal assets have been recovered, and a further £3 billion have been frozen. The Serious Crime Act 2015 provided new powers, and the Criminal Finances Bill will further improve our capability, but there is more to be done. Next year we will publish a new asset recovery action plan, and the Cabinet Office will look at the UK’s response to economic crime more broadly. This will include looking at the effectiveness of our organisational framework and the capabilities, resources and powers available to the organisations that tackle economic crime.
I thank the Home Secretary for that. The Criminal Finances Bill contains many measures to combat illegal and immoral financial activity, but can my right hon. Friend confirm that the new law enforcement measures in relation to unexplained wealth orders will ensure not only that we can better combat illegal activity but that the principles of transparency will be upheld?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. Unexplained wealth orders will send a powerful statement to those who wish to launder the proceeds of their crimes in the UK. They are an investigative power and so will be subject to the same court rules that apply to the existing civil recovery investigative powers.
What my right hon. Friend says is welcome, but can she assure me that the asset recovery regime will extend to all forms of crime, and particularly tax evasion? The potential financial gains from tax evasion are large, and whatever people think about it being a victimless crime, it is wrong, and the regime should apply to it as well.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that I am having extensive discussions with European counterparts and with European bodies that help to keep us safe, so that when we do leave the European Union, we will, as far as possible, be able to have access to that information. When people voted to leave the European Union, they did not vote to be less safe.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we recently opted into the new elements of Europol. In terms of looking forward, we are in discussions on that matter. I can tell him that we are one of the largest contributors to Europol. We play an important part in it. It will be part of the ongoing negotiations. [Official Report, 12 December 2016, Vol. 618, c. 3-4MC.]
I refer my hon. Friend to the new legislation. She is absolutely right that the trouble is that criminals will always try to get ahead of us in finding ways to launder their money and the proceeds of their activities. We are determined to make sure that we get ahead of them, which is why we are having the new legislation put in place.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the cross-border flow of proceeds from criminal activity, corruption and tax evasion is estimated at over $1 trillion a year, and that half that money was looted from poor and developing countries? What steps is she taking to make it easier for these poor countries to recover stolen assets from UK, Crown dependency and overseas territory financial institutions?
We take dealing with the proceeds of crime incredibly seriously, and the idea that there are people who commit criminal acts and then come to the UK is very unwelcome. One of the elements we have to deal with that is the new unexplained wealth orders. They do apply to foreign persons also in the UK, and they will go part of the way to addressing exactly what the hon. Lady describes in terms of the transfer of illegal funds.
Unaccompanied Asylum-seeking Children
In July the Government launched the national transfer scheme to ensure a more equitable distribution of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children across the country. The scheme is designed to support local authorities like Peterborough City Council. In support of the national transfer scheme we also increased central Government funding to local authorities caring for unaccompanied children by up to 33%.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that in areas such as Peterborough, which has already borne a major burden in both EU and non-EU migration, we will not be expected to pay once again for the huge ongoing costs of children and young people who are unaccompanied minors—we have 40 such cases in Peterborough—and that we will receive bespoke central Government funding?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that each child that his council looks after does attract additional funding, so I hope that that will address his particular financial concerns about the council’s obligations. I would like to put on record our grateful thanks to Peterborough Council, which does a fantastic and generous job in looking after some of these most needy children.
Unlike almost every other EU country, the UK does not allow unaccompanied child refugees to sponsor their parents to join them—a situation that the Home Affairs Committee has described as “perverse”. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is in the best interests of the refugee children, as well as in the interests of our society, to allow them to be with their parents?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s motive in making this point. However, I would respectfully say to him that that could have a very detrimental effect in terms of a pull factor, with children coming to this country—potentially being sent or indeed trafficked to this country—in order to have their parents brought over; so no, we will not be looking at it again.
On the burden put on local authorities, one of the elements to which I refer them is the controlling migration fund—a new source of funds that I hope they will be able to access to support unaccompanied minors. On the Modern Slavery Act, I will have to get back to my hon. Friend.
Child protection organisations such as ECPAT UK fear that a lack of support and resources is preventing some authorities from offering the required level of professional services to adequately protect vulnerable children from traffickers. Why are over a quarter of local authorities unable to participate in the national transfer scheme for unaccompanied children? Will the Home Secretary agree to look at this as a matter of urgency?
The funds that we put in place to support unaccompanied children represent a sum that we agreed after consultation with local authorities to work out the costs. It is the average cost. We acknowledge that some children will have different needs and will therefore end up being more expensive, and some less so. We hope that this is the right amount to be able to support them. We believe that it is the right amount. We are always willing to try to listen to local authorities if they have other suggestions. I particularly refer them to the controlling migration fund, which we hope will be able to give additional support.
For the year ending June 2016, 16% of violence against the person offences recorded by the police resulted in a charge or summons. There were almost 30,000 convictions for violence against the person offences in the year ending June 2016. That represents over 75% of the people prosecuted and shows a rise of more than 1,500 convictions on the previous year.
According to the Home Office data on crime in England and Wales, violence against the person and sexual offences have risen under this Government and their predecessor, while charges have fallen or broadly stayed the same, as in the case of sexual offences. In Enfield, we have seen an 11% increase in violent crime over the past year. Why should people trust the Government when public safety is being put at risk via these statistics and falling police numbers?
The right hon. Lady may be confusing recorded crime with actual crime. The crime survey shows that violence is down by over 25% since 2010. We are seeing an increase in recorded crime. We should welcome that, because it shows a better recording of crime, and also, importantly, a willingness of victims to come forward.
In 2014, the current Prime Minister said that there were
“utterly unacceptable failings in the way police forces have recorded crime”
and that this has let down victims. yet all three forces inspected this August are not recording crimes properly. In Manchester, 17,000 violent crimes were simply ignored. Will the Minister tell this House why his Prime Minister failed to make any progress in two years?
The Prime Minister—the previous Home Secretary—and the current Home Secretary are seeing a reduction in crime. The police should be proud of that while running things efficiently for the benefit of the taxpayer. There is also an increase in recorded crime, which, as the Office for National Statistics itself has outlined, is because of the willingness of victims to come forward as a result of their increased confidence in the police to deal with the issues. That is to be welcomed.
Freedom of Expression (Religious Satire)
Freedom of speech and religion are core values that make our country great. They are, indeed, protected in law. What is or is not a joke, or what constitutes satire, is, I believe, in the eye or ear of the beholder and is not, perhaps, for Government to opine on.
One of the first actions that I took when I came to office in July was to publish a hate crime action plan, to which I refer my hon. Friend. It enables anybody who is the victim of any sort of hate crime, which I think is what he is referring to, to have the confidence to report what is going on and to make sure that the police take action so that they do not feel singled out and abused.
Immigration Detention/Adults at Risk Policy
The intention of the adults at risk policy, developed as a result of the review by Stephen Shaw, is part of a wider programme of work that aims to improve the way in which vulnerable people in detention are managed. That should enable the delivery of the issue raised by the hon. Lady. The policy came into effect on 12 September, and the intention is to ask Stephen Shaw to carry out a short review in 2017 to assess progress.
The Government’s commitment to reduce the number of survivors of sexual violence in detention is welcome, but how will observers know whether that is happening? Is information now being collected on the numbers of women in detention who disclose that they are victims of sexual violence, and will that information be made available?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that we are taking a significant package of measures to make sure that people are detained for the minimum time possible, that their vulnerabilities are properly recognised and understood, and that access to mental health and other health services is made available. As I have said, we will ask for an independent review in the course of the year, to make sure that that is working.
The Istanbul convention, which the Government have yet to ratify, requires countries to develop gender-sensitive reception procedures, such as women-only accommodation. What steps are the Government taking to guarantee the safety of women in initial accommodation, including women and children-only corridors?
The hon. Lady is right to point out the importance of making sure that women are safe. It is the absolute priority of this Government to keep women and girls safe, including in our detention system. The Government have signed and will ratify the Istanbul convention and, as the hon. Lady knows, we are well exceeding all its targets.
We have established a joint fraud taskforce, bringing together Government, law enforcement and the financial sector to tackle the crime of fraud. The recent arrest of 14 individuals involved in laundering the proceeds of international cybercrime also demonstrates how a multi-agency approach, including international partners, is crucial in tackling cybercrime and cyber-enabled fraud.
Fraud, both in person and online, is of great concern to my constituents in South East Cornwall, particularly among the elderly and vulnerable. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating voluntary organisations such as citizens advice bureau and Victim Support on their work in supporting fraud prevention through education and in supporting victims of crime?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the very important work that many voluntary bodies do in raising awareness. Citizens Advice, Age Concern and Victim Support make sure, including in the lead-up to Christmas, that people are aware of the pitfalls that await them online and of the scandalous fraudsters who pick on some of the most vulnerable people in society.
I certainly welcome any voluntary work that can be done, but as the level of fraud now stands at £193 billion a year and as local police forces are clearly completely unable to cope, we really need a far more serious strategy from Government to tackle the spectre of online crime. Will the Minister tell us what more can be done to support local police forces and provide some protection for our constituents?
First, that is why we established the joint fraud taskforce, which includes police and crime commissioners, police forces and victims groups, to make sure that we co-ordinate better our response. It is also why the Government have sponsored and supported the Cyber Aware campaign and Cyber Essentials, to help to make businesses aware of the fraud that awaits them, and banks have sponsored the Take Five campaign. In addition, the national cyber-security strategy sets out a programme in which the Government have invested billions of pounds to make sure that our law enforcement agencies have the capacity to tackle that crime when it is presented to them.
When one of those websites is reported through Action Fraud, our law and order agencies set about trying to make sure we either dismantle it or signpost people away from such areas. In Scotland that is devolved, and it is up to Police Scotland. The broader picture is to make sure that the public and the consumer are aware of what awaits them online, and that they take some very basic steps to protect themselves when they are, for example, Christmas shopping to ensure that fraudsters do not take their money away.
In July this year we implemented new powers in the Immigration Act 2016 to prevent migrants from profiting from working illegally, by making that a criminal offence. That ensures that the profits of working illegally can be seized as the proceeds of crime, and assets may be confiscated on conviction.
Victims of people trafficking tell me that they are often prevented from assisting in criminal prosecutions against individuals from abroad who commit criminal offences because they do not have any access to public funds. What discussions has the Home Office had with the Ministry of Justice concerning providing support to victims of people trafficking?
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that if people who are here illegally have been exploited through modern slavery because they have been trafficked, it is important that we treat them with a degree of compassion and respect, and that we treat them differently from people who are not in that situation.
Leaving the EU: Departmental Staff
The Home Office constantly reviews its capabilities in order to deliver the Government’s agenda. Work is under way to understand and respond to the immediate capability impacts as a result of the decision to leave the European Union.
The Secretary of State has just confirmed that the 3 million EU citizens in the UK will have to be documented. If that processing adds roughly 10% to the Home Office workload, does the Minister accept that it will cost at least £100 million a year and require 3,000 extra staff? If he does not, what is his estimate?
Let me make it clear that people who are here from elsewhere in the EU working legally do not need to receive additional documentation at this time. I reassure them that their status is assured. What happens in the future is a matter for the negotiations, but I make it absolutely clear that no additional documentation is needed at this stage.
May I make the case to the Minister for updating the systems and the use of computers and information technology in border control—particularly as, with Brexit, we will need to count people in and count people out more effectively—and for investment in our ports, such as the port of Dover?
The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists, and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 ensures that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in the digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight. The Criminal Finances Bill will add to the ability of UK law enforcement to identify, investigate and disrupt terrorist finance activity.
Yes, it is. It is also important to recognise that it is all very well the agencies having the capability, but they must also have the capacity. That is why, over the next five years, the Government are making an extra £2.5 billion available to the security agencies. We will use that to strengthen our counter-terrorism network abroad and at home.
Overall counter-terrorism and police spending has been protected in real terms against the 2015-16 baseline over the spending review period. Following the recent European attacks, we revised our risk assessments and are delivering an uplift in our specialist response capability, which includes a £144 million programme over the next five years to uplift our armed policing so that we can respond more quickly and effectively to a firearms attack.
Violence against Women and Girls
In March, we published the new violence against women and girls strategy, which sets out an ambitious programme of reform, supported by increased funding of £80 million, to make tackling these crimes everybody’s business, to ensure that victims get the support they need and to bring more perpetrators to justice. We have also introduced a new domestic abuse offence to capture coercive control, and consulted on new measures to protect victims of stalking.
As a trustee of Helping Victims of Domestic Violence, a local domestic abuse charity in my constituency, I have seen at first hand just how worrying domestic abuse and sexual offences can be. Will the Minister meet me and the police and crime commissioner in my constituency to see what more we can do together?
My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the voluntary sector organisations that do so much to support victims. I would be delighted to meet her and the police and crime commissioner for her constituency to see what more we can do to support those victims.
Does the Minister share my concern that Survivors Hull and East Riding, which has supported local victims of sexual trauma for more than two decades, is about to close because of a lack of funding? Would she be willing to meet me to discuss what more resources can go into providing a service locally for those victims?
There were 18,000 domestic violence offences against women in the last year in Leeds alone, so there are still far too many. Does the Minister agree that we need to do more to educate boys and men about this crime so that that figure comes down considerably?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about the important role that men can play and the importance of educating young people about appropriate sexual relationships. He will be pleased to know that world-class resources are available to do that not only from the Home Office, but from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. More such work is going on in schools than ever before.
To mark the UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, it is vital that we work together across Government and across political parties to do all that we can to end violence against women and girls. As I made clear at the College of Policing conference last week, protecting vulnerable people is one of my top priorities. As the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) said, we must include men in that as well. Last week, I hosted an event with ministerial colleagues, campaign groups and survivors to raise awareness of and demonstrate my commitment to ending female genital mutilation within a generation. This Conservative Government will continue to take steps to achieve our ambition that no woman should live in fear of abuse, and that every girl should grow up feeling safe and protected.
Despite those good intentions, twice as many women report rape now than four years ago, and the proportion of reports that lead to successful prosecutions has gone down. In my constituency, I speak to women who have been raped and had to wait up to 20 months for specialist counselling. When will the Home Secretary improve the care for victims of violence?
The right hon. Lady will be aware that we encourage the reporting of crime, particularly rape. We want people to have the confidence to do that and to know they will be treated well. We absolutely recognise the need for funding to support people, which is why the new violence against women and girls strategy has been launched, and we have pledged an increase of £80 million to 2020 to make sure we do just that.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I appreciate the concerns of the Waveney domestic violence forum. I can assure him that I am working closely with the Secretary of State for Justice to improve the family justice response to domestic abuse, and with the judiciary to consider what additional protections might be necessary. We are also supporting innovative pilots, working with perpetrators of domestic abuse, which include disruption as well as support.
The worrying rise in post-referendum hate crime, which we all condemn, has disproportionately affected women—we have seen hijabs ripped off girls, death threats to Gina Miller and family, and the tweet at the weekend about wanting to “Jo Cox” the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). Thankfully the instigator of the tweet has now been charged. Are the Government, after years of inactivity towards social media platforms, embarrassed by this burgeoning abuse of women on and offline? Is it not another aspect of Brexit for which they clearly had no plan?
The hon. Lady is right to raise these horrendous crimes, which have no place in our society, but she is wrong to say that we have been sitting on our hands. We have introduced not only the hate crime strategy but a whole series of offences, for which I am pleased to see the police successfully prosecuting people. We have also done groundbreaking work with the internet industry, which is taking seriously its responsibility to take down dreadful incidents of online hate crime.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this serious situation. I commend him and the Metropolitan police which, along with other police forces, has been working on Operation Sceptre, which includes knife sweeps. I recommend that he speaks to the head of Sutton Borough Council to see if they are interested in working with the Institute of Community Safety to undertake an area review and make sure that everything is being done to stop this dreadful crime.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. It is a local matter, of course, but it sounds like that important balance we tread between peaceful protest and responding to the law might have been handled in a rather tricky way in his constituency. I would always urge that peaceful protest is allowed, but I wonder sometimes whether police forces strike the right balance, as in the example he has given.
As was made clear during the Prime Minister’s recent and very successful visit to India, it is one of our largest visa markets, and we continue to make improvements to the visa service by expanding our priority services, including new products, and expanding our reach of visa application centres across India. There continue to be large numbers of visa applications from India. Indeed, the latest figures we have, for last year, show that 385,000 Indian nationals visited the UK—an increase of 6% year on year.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is not appropriate for us to outline our negotiations as they are ongoing. I will say, however, that, as both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have clearly outlined, we put security first, and the security and safety of our citizens is paramount for this Government.
A fire at an illegal waste site in Slitting Mill caused weeks of distress for local residents, and significant cost to Staffordshire fire and rescue. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss what additional changes to the law can be made to prevent such instances, as well as how the costs incurred by the fire service can be recovered from the site operators?
My hon. Friend has previously raised this issue with me on behalf of her area’s fire service. I appreciate that what the fire service had to deal with was really challenging. Balancing out the best way to deal with the problem itself incurs costs, so I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss it.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue; we are pressing to do exactly that. I have spoken to Kevin Hyland, the independent commissioner, about this subject, and I have had a roundtable on working with commissioners and the police force to ensure that the police not only press charges, but collect the information from the victims of modern slavery, so that we can make sure that investigations can lead to convictions. I share the hon. Lady’s views.
Why has the Home Office blocked three Iraqi Syrian bishops from coming to the UK to consecrate the first Syriac Orthodox church? Is it not at least disrespectful and probably shameful that they have been given the reason that they do not have enough money or that they might not leave the UK at a time when we should be showing solidarity with Church leaders at the frontline of persecution?
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on individual cases, but let me say that all these applications are considered on their individual merits, in line with UK immigration rules and guidance. There is no policy of denying entry clearance for visas from Syrian nationals.
In the first nine months of this year, there were almost 600 assaults on police officers in the West Midlands police force alone. Will the Minister meet me, representatives of the Police Federation and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) to discuss the growing problem of assaults on emergency service workers?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the debates we have had in the Chamber and elsewhere about this issue. It is completely unacceptable to see any kind of assault on a police officer, and that is an aggravating factor. We are working with the Ministry of Justice and are in contact with the Sentencing Council, which is independent, on this issue. I shall meet the Police Federation in the next few days.
I welcome the recently announced Home Office measures on police competence to investigate sexual offences. Will the Home Secretary accept from me that it is time for the police service, and particularly the Met police, to take a serious look at their respective detective training regimes, which I suggest are at the core of the unfortunate publicity?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Home Secretary outlined last week the importance we place on this issue. It is important, as we saw with the Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary inspection, that the Met police takes the opportunity to get to grips with training to ensure that its teams are properly trained to deal with these delicate issues.
If the refugee family reunion section of UK immigration rules was widened, many refugee children could arrive directly from the conflict region rather than via Calais. Will the Home Secretary commit to look again at these rules so that children do not have to risk their lives to be with their families?
We are constantly looking at our immigration rules to ensure that we have the right balance to support vulnerable children on the continent—most of them coming from Calais—whom we are trying to help, but we have other programmes that enable us to give direct help to vulnerable children who are out in the conflict regions.
As the Home Secretary knows, those of us with coastal constituencies in the south of England are feeling particularly vulnerable to the activities of people traffickers who are bringing illegal immigrants across in private boats. What measures have been taken since the review of small ports and airports that was promised by the previous intelligence Minister?
I share my hon. Friend’s view that we need to be constantly vigilant in case people traffickers are trying to get ahead of us, and if they fall between the cracks of our security and ply their evil trade. We have launched a number of initiatives, including Operation Kraken, which enables us to work closely with voluntary and private sector groups along the coast to ensure that any incidents are reported.
The Government seem determined to place restrictions on freedom of movement at the heart of Brexit, but the horticultural sector is heavily dependent on 80,000 workers a year coming from the European Union to work. Will the Government commit themselves to ensuring that Brexit, whatever form it takes, will not leave the industry in the lurch, and that it will continue to get the workers it needs?
Past waves of immigration have proved successful because of the integration of new communities into existing ones. The report by Louise Casey has not yet been published, but it has been said that it suggests a form of cultural separatism in the Islamic community. Is that true and, if so, will we be responding to the report in an appropriately thoughtful way?
What steps are the Government taking to identify and address criminal activity associated with Scottish limited partnerships?
That question has been raised by other SNP Members during the passage of the Criminal Finances Bill. I shall be meeting them shortly to discuss it, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has agreed to conduct a review.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; that is very generous of you.
I am currently dealing with two ongoing constituency cases that have been caused entirely by incompetence on the part of VFS Global. One of them involves a granny who is stuck in Iran and cannot go to Scotland to see her daughter and newly born granddaughter in Glasgow because of the ludicrous booking system for visa appointments. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the issue?
A person has been convicted and will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of four young men. Is the Home Secretary aware of that murder, and is she aware that if the police in London had acted differently, two of those lives might well have been saved? It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the Met, when investigating murder, seems on occasions to model itself on Inspector Clouseau.
I can say to my hon. Friend that, in the funding formula review, we are looking at all aspects. Rural forces are feeding directly into that. I am aware of the issues that they are raising. We will look at that and feed back on it as we go through the review.
Many Russian nationals who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and the corruption that he unveiled have harboured their assets in the UK. An opportunity to deal with that issue has been provided by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and 27 other Members in the form of an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill. Will the Government now support that so that we can keep Russian corruption out of London?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I met his colleagues and my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) to discuss that matter. The Department is looking at the amendment as tabled. We already have a number of powers to deal with people who have been accused in this area. However, we will look at the amendment and reflect on it. We will get back to Members on Report.
I am sure that Ministers will want to join me in welcoming the first Syrian family to arrive in my constituency under the community sponsorship scheme and to congratulate St Monica’s parishioners, who are providing support to the family, but will Ministers also look at the wider funding and commissioning arrangements across all Greater Manchester local authorities for the support of asylum seekers and refugees to ensure that we can look after all these people properly?
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating her constituents on welcoming the family. I also congratulate all the community groups who have generously stepped forward to welcome families. Often those families need a lot of assistance—for example, help with their children, with translation and with learning the English language. Having community support around them is so helpful. Of course, I will keep the support under review.
The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:
Sarah Jane Olney, for Richmond Park.
Performance on the Southern network has been affected by a combination of factors over the previous months. Those have included trade union action, infrastructure reliability and operator issues. The unions have stepped up their industrial action in the run-up to Christmas, additionally co-ordinating it with action on the underground network.
Let me be clear: this strike action is politically motivated and has affected passengers for far too long. Union leaders have even described the action as “carrying on Fidel’s work.” That will be of no comfort to passengers who just want to get to work.
I have a letter in my folder to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) from the director of railway safety at the Office of Rail and Road. Responding to the safety concern from the unions, Ian Prosser says “DOO is safe.” The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and ASLEF should not be misleading the public about their dispute with Govia Thameslink Railway. Once again I can assure the hard-working staff of the GTR franchise that no train staff are losing pay and no one is losing their job.
Passengers want and deserve improvements, which is why in September the Secretary of State appointed Chris Gibb, a leading railway professional, to work with the operator and with Network Rail to identify areas in which performance on the network can be improved quickly. Some of these £20 million interventions are under way and would be making a significant difference by now, were it not for the fact that owing to continued industrial action by the RMT and now planned action by ASLEF, Southern rail services are to be subject to further delays and alterations now and over the coming weeks.
In recognition of the disruption to services this year, the Secretary of State announced on 2 December a refund package that will compensate season ticket holders with a package equivalent to one free month in acknowledgment of the exceptional issues experienced this year. He also announced that GTR will be the first franchise to introduce Delay Repay 15, starting on 11 December. Compensation alone is not enough, however. We have to restore a timely, reliable and predictable train service. That is why the work of Mr Gibb is focusing on reducing the network rail faults, and why we have new safe driver-only operation trains that can cope with the volume of people wanting to use them. It is why I will continue to ensure that the management of the train operating company is doing everything in its power to run improved services. But we also need the union leaders to stop their needless, unreasonable, disproportionate and politically motivated strikes.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I am putting this question today with the support of Members from right across the House. On Friday, we heard that Southern rail services were to be severely disrupted every day from tomorrow until further notice. However, that grim warning of imminent service collapse comes after more than two years of rail chaos, which started long before any strike action began. Back in May 2015, the then rail Minister said that our services were “flashing red” in her Department. Eighteen months on, my constituents are regularly in tears of anger and frustration, jobs are being lost, relationships are being broken up and the economy is being seriously damaged. This situation is intolerable, and the Government cannot simply wash their hands of any involvement. Will the Minister roll up his sleeves and get stuck into resolving the crisis? The Transport Select Committee has called for all parties involved to sit down together and resolve the dispute, so will he convene a meeting with the unions and GTR to work this out and restore reliability to this vital public service? In so doing, he would be showing that he is not prepared to allow this crucial piece of infrastructure simply to collapse.
To end the stalemate, will the Department take charge of this contract in the open and strip GTR of the franchise and bring it back in house? That would at least increase the transparency around what is going on. When, for example, will a concrete timetable for GTR to publicly report its performance be revealed? Will performance data be published daily or weekly, and where will they be published? This contract and information about it are shrouded in secrecy, and it is time to make it accountable. Will the Minister answer the outstanding questions on the force majeure application from GTR? Will he provide urgent clarity about whether GTR is in default? The Transport Committee called for a decision on whether GTR was in default by early November 2016. It is now December. Why has the Minister not answered on time?
I do not think the Minister has any idea of the pain that passengers and businesses in Brighton and beyond are suffering. If he did, he would be doing more about it. We have a catastrophic stalemate. What exactly is he going to do about it? My constituents in Brighton want to hear that he is going to get involved. Anything else is not enough.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s urgent question. The best thing she can do on behalf of her constituents is to go and speak to her close friends in the RMT and tell them to call off their disproportionate and unreasonable industrial action. That is the best contribution she can make.
Thank you for calling me during this urgent question, Mr Speaker, which is important because it is about not only the Brighton main line, but communities in my area. Students trying to get to school from Edenbridge on the Redhill to Tonbridge line and people trying to get to work on the Uckfield line have endured misery. This is about the unions, but the nationalised Network Rail has also failed us again and again. Will the Minister please get on with sorting out that organisation, too?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out the impact on his constituents in Kent. I travelled to Sevenoaks today through London Bridge and saw some delays. The only long-term solution for this overburdened part of the network is for both Network Rail and the train operating companies to align the incentives and work together to fix the underlying problems that plague the network.
That this House is still having to address the abysmal service provided by Southern after a year and a half of sub-standard service is testimony to both Southern’s incompetence and the extent to which the Government are committed to privatised rail, even when franchises have become so deeply dysfunctional that they are unable to provide a decent public service. GTR should have been stripped of its franchise long ago for failing to plan properly to take on the franchise, as it has admitted, and for providing what is by far the country’s worst rail service. Hon. Members whose constituents rely on Southern will be well aware of stories of passengers fainting on overcrowded trains, jobs being jeopardised by repeated lateness and parents having to say goodnight to their children from a delayed train.
The Government have defended Southern to the hilt, excusing all its failings as the consequences of an easily avoidable, resolvable industrial dispute, allowing the cancellation of hundreds of services a week and repeatedly throwing taxpayers’ money at the problem as a sticking plaster on an irredeemably dysfunctional concession franchise. The Minister mentioned Mr Gibb, but why did we not hear about Mr Wilkinson, who stood up in Croydon and said that he wants dust-ups with the RMT and to starve staff back to work and to get them out of his railway industry? He is the sort of person the Minister ought to be talking about.
On Friday, it was announced that Southern season ticket holders would be eligible to receive compensation equivalent to one month’s travel. Yet more taxpayers’ money is being spent on the service following the £20 million committed to Southern just a few months ago. The compensation will apply to some 84,000 passengers, but Southern is responsible for 620,000 passenger journeys a day. While any amount of compensation for passengers is welcome, will the Minister take this opportunity to acknowledge that the measures announced on Friday will not come close to compensating the majority of passengers who have suffered from Southern’s abysmal services for the past year and a half? Considering the 1.8% fare rise scheduled for the start of next year, the few commuters who receive compensation will see it wiped out by inflation-busting fares. Sadly, a decent rail service—
Order. I know how to deal with such matters. Members are taking too long. The Minister finished just in time, but I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman exceeded his time. We must establish a discipline that if it is two minutes, that means two minutes or under, not two minutes, two and half minutes or three minutes. I am sorry, but we have to stick to those procedures.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is so opposed to the idea of compensating Southern’s passengers, but he is right about one thing: the dispute is entirely resolvable. It is resolvable because the RMT should recognise that the current mode of operation is safe and call off the strikes. ASLEF can also call off the strikes. We could then get on with improving the network.
I am pleased to hear the Minister say that no GTR staff will lose their jobs, but that is not the case for my constituents, some of whom have been sacked for being late. The balance of rights and responsibilities in our society is somewhat off if some people trying to improve their terms and conditions is costing other citizens their jobs.
The overall situation for passengers—[Interruption.]
Order. The shadow Secretary of State must take some sort of soothing medicament, which will have the effect of calming him. He will be aware that I suggested to one of his north-east colleagues some time ago that it might be advisable to take up yoga, because it would have a therapeutic effect.
Some months ago, as the hon. Lady will be aware, we asked Chris Gibb to look into the operation of the network, the infrastructure and the train operating company. We look forward to receiving his report by the end of the year, which will guide us in the decisions we take in the new year as to how to make rapid, noticeable, identifiable improvements in this network.
The RMT members who are adding to the disruption for all our constituents are also the employees. May we be told how much they earn, how many of them have signed up to the new operating arrangements and quite what issue is preventing the RMT and the operators from reaching agreement and allowing other workers to get to work reliably? I am talking about how students and teachers can get to work, and how old people can visit their friends.
My hon. Friend is right to point out why this is such a grossly disproportionate action the RMT is taking. More than 220 of the 223 staff involved have signed up to the new contracts to carry out the role of on-board supervisors, so they are striking against a role that they have already agreed to take up. That is both unreasonable and disproportionate.
Part of the problem is that every promise made from that Dispatch Box has not improved the service one iota in the past 18 months, including today, a non-strike day, when the service from Brighton to London was a complete shambles. Will the Minister get to his feet to say he will do whatever it takes to improve this service?
I entirely recognise that the service today has been disappointing, because of a broken rail between East Croydon and Gatwick, but, as the hon. Gentleman points out, this is happening far too often on non-strike days. I expect both GTR and Network Rail to address these underlying performance issues, but they can do that only if they are not also faced with unwarranted, unjustifiable industrial action.
My constituents who commute regularly look at the Southern rail situation with horror. What assurances can the Minister give them that such action by the unions could not spread to other areas, particularly given that we are renegotiating the South West Trains contract?
I recognise my right hon. Friend’s concern. All I can say to her is that I expect all train operating companies across the country to do their utmost to ensure that they run a timely, efficient, reliable and punctual service. I hope that will be the case with whoever emerges from the franchise competition for South West Trains.
I have here analysis of the feedback from the 1,000 constituents who have been in touch with me about the performance of Southern rail, and it is a catalogue of misery. The failure of Southern rail is affecting my constituents’ work, family life, health and wellbeing, and they have had enough. When will the Minister confirm rail devolution for London, so that Transport for London, which has a proven track record and high levels of customer satisfaction, can run these services? When will my constituents’ Southern rail misery end?
I recognise the picture that the hon. Lady paints of the problems her constituents are facing. I hope she will join me in urging all sides in this dispute to return to the negotiating table and reach an agreement that puts the needs of passengers first, not the interests of the rail unions.
I apologise for my interjection earlier, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) was absolutely right to say that the price for the RMT’s self-indulgent, politically motivated strike action is being paid in jobs by people, particularly young people, who are trying to get to work. This action is neanderthal, its day has well gone and that strike must end. Will the Minister confirm that the train operating companies will be able to take greater control of the works of Network Rail in the future, so that we can solve some of the structural problems?
My hon. Friend has clearly been paying attention to the weekend press. I should perhaps observe that the Secretary of State will make a speech on this issue tomorrow evening. He may therefore wish to pay close attention to the following day’s papers as well to learn more about what might be announced.