The Secretary of State was asked—
Crime as measured by the Crime Survey for England and Wales has continued to fall in recent years. That includes the period after 2010, when police forces played their part in tackling the deficit by operating within reduced budgets. Decisions on deployment are rightly made by chief constables, working with their democratically accountable police and crime commissioners to meet local needs.
A quarter of my local police forces’ operational strength has been cut since 2010. When I visited police in Barnsley this weekend, they told me that they were genuinely worried about how they would continue to operate at the same level if further cuts were made. Does the Home Secretary disagree with officers such as those in Barnsley who say that additional cuts will have a severe impact on neighbourhood policing?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that there are no plans for further cuts, and that the police budget has been protected between 2015 and 2020. I have particular admiration for South Yorkshire police, who recently launched a new neighbourhood policing model that is moving significant resources in neighbourhood policing across the forces’ four districts. That shows exactly how well they are operating.
As the Home Secretary will know, one of the crimes that has increased is the carrying out of attacks on police officers themselves. May I therefore take this opportunity to welcome today’s news that the Government will support the “protect the protectors” Bill, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), on Friday?
That having been said, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently warned that
“the position on crime prevention and local policing continues to deteriorate.”
Does the Minister now accept that neighbourhood policing is at the very core of crime prevention, and that it is neighbourhood policing that has had to bear the lion’s share of the loss of 20,000 police officers across the country, much to the detriment of safety in our communities?
The hon. Lady has raised two points. On the first, I agree with her. I welcome the close working to protect the protectors, and we will continue to do that. As for the specific point about the hon. Lady’s local police force, it is good to see that West Yorkshire police is graded as “good” across all three strands, and that HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham has said:
“I am very pleased with the overall performance of West Yorkshire Police.”
May that continue.
If the Government are going to support the private Member’s Bill mentioned by the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), it is important that the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service play their part as well, and that, when the Sentencing Council suggests that judges give more severe sentences for assaults on police officers and other emergency workers, they do what it says on the tin.
There is a worrying increase in crime in West Yorkshire, including in my constituency, and it is a fact that the police officers, who are doing a fantastic job, are overstretched. The Government’s first duty should be to protect the public and keep them safe. May I urge the Home Secretary to ensure that more resources go into West Yorkshire to support the police who are tackling that worrying rise in crime?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the first role of Governments is indeed to protect people; as the Conservative party in government, we will make sure that we do that at every step. I can tell my hon. Friend that the total cash funding for West Yorkshire in 2017-18 has increased by £3.7 million since 2015-16, and also that West Yorkshire has police resource reserves of £91 million.
I understand that the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead is to become a knight of the realm. I had not been aware of that important fact, but I am now, and I warmly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, who is evidently absolutely delighted with the status to be conferred upon him.
On the matter of knights, I call Sir Edward Davey.
Given that the Met police are issuing guidelines that some so-called low-level crime will no longer be investigated in London, is it not now crystal clear that Government cuts in community policing are helping criminals and hurting victims? Will the Home Secretary now tell the House that she is campaigning in the Government for a big rise in police funding in the forthcoming Budget?
Let me respectfully observe to the right hon. Gentleman that, having spoken to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner very recently, I know that there is no change in the operating model of the Metropolitan police. They will continue to triage crimes as they arrive in the appropriate way, to ensure that they always prioritise the most important. Conservative Members will always be on the side of the victims, and will always ensure that the police have the right resources to address crime.
Northamptonshire has 1,242 police officers, 488 specials, 860 police staff and 95 police community support officers. Will the Home Secretary congratulate Northamptonshire police on starting a drive to recruit even more police officers this year?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question and will of course join him in congratulating Northamptonshire police. I should add that his force is not the only one increasing recruitment and the number of crimes it is solving. Sometimes, listening to Opposition Members, one could think that the police were not doing the fantastic duty that they are; I urge Opposition Members to take the time sometimes to congratulate them on the phenomenal job they do.
Residency Rights (EU Nationals)
The Prime Minister was clear in her Florence speech in September that people will continue to be able to come to, and live and work in, the UK. There will be a registration system—an essential preparation for the new immigration system required to retake control of our borders—and we will be setting out initial proposals for the implementation period in due course, and for our new immigration system later in the year.
I have encountered numerous cases where documents supplied to the Home Office by EU nationals have been misplaced or permanently lost. Does the Minister think it is fair or reasonable to expect people to endure the financial cost of replacing these documents for the Home Office? What assurances can he give that this issue will be addressed, especially given the chaos that is about to ensue as we leave the EU?
We are clear that we want to work with our partners in Europe to have a smooth and good system for EU citizens here to go through as they gain settled status as part of the fair and very serious proposal we made, and I am confident that we will be able to deliver that in a simple and clean system for them. Obviously, if the hon. Lady has particular cases that she feels we need to look at, I encourage her to write to me and I will happily look at them.
There has been a lot of reportage and worry in this country about the number of EU nationals coming here perfectly legally. I am much more worried about what the Home Affairs Committee was told last week by David Wood, former head of immigration: there are 1 million illegals here, which the Home Office knows nothing about. Will the Minister’s Department focus on fast-tracking our friends and relations who are here legally from the EU so it can concentrate on the illegals?
We are very much focused on dealing with people who are here illegally; that is what the compliant environment work is all about. Obviously our friends and partners and citizens from the EU are, under free movement, here entirely legally. I encourage them to remain, as we value what they do for our society and economy, and we will remain focused on dealing with the illegal immigrants, who should be in their home countries.
The Scottish Government have said that they will meet the fee for settled status applications of EU citizens working in the public sector in Scotland, in order to keep vital workers in the NHS and other public services and to make it clear that we want them to stay because we welcome them. Will the United Kingdom Government match that promise—or, better still, waive the fee entirely?
Scotland does not want to lose the benefit of freedom of movement. Yesterday the Unison trade union said that immigration must be devolved to Scotland after Brexit or else there would be a population crisis. In saying that, Unison is joining with business in Scotland, including the Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors, who have said that they want a separate deal for immigration in Scotland. With this wide support from civic society for the devolution of at least some immigration to Scotland, what will it take for the Minister’s Department to give these calls the serious consideration that they deserve?
We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee, who are going to be looking at the impact of European workers on our economies. We are clear that we value their input both in society to our communities and to our economy. We want EU citizens to stay and will be encouraging them to do so, as the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have done on numerous occasions.
The Minister will be aware that we cannot move on to trade talks with EU negotiators until we have resolved the questions of the Irish border, the financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights. When will Ministers accept that the Government’s current proposals on EU citizens’ rights post-Brexit fall short because, among other things, EU citizens will not have the same right to bring in family members that they currently enjoy?
Negotiations are progressing well. We are clear that, as our offer outlines, when we leave the European Union we will ensure that European citizens in this country have the same rights as British citizens. I am just disappointed that the right hon. Lady is not as focused on the rights of British citizens, both here and abroad.
Refugee Family Reunions
The family reunion policy allows immediate family members of those granted protection in the UK to reunite with them here. In addition, the family provisions in the immigration rules also provide for relatives with protection in the UK to sponsor children when there are serious and compelling circumstances. Our policy is clear: where an application fails under the rules, we consider whether there are exceptional reasons to grant leave outside the rules.
As the Minister will be aware, a lone child refugee is currently unable to sponsor even their parents or siblings to join them in safety here. UNICEF and the Refugee Council have both said that the rules are too restrictive, and the Home Affairs Committee has called the situation “perverse”. Will the Government therefore support the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, introduced in the other place by my colleague Baroness Hamwee, and allow these vulnerable children a chance to have the loving upbringing that every child surely deserves?
We are working with the UNHCR and with UNICEF on this issue, and we want to ensure that the application of these rules and this policy works in practice. I ask the hon. Lady to look again at the rules that I have outlined, because we can consider whether there are exceptional reasons to grant leave outside the rules.
The Minister will know that it is around 12 months since the Calais jungle was cleared, and Britain did its bit through the Dublin and the Dubs schemes to take some unaccompanied child and teenage refugees. Will he confirm, however, that since then no further child or teenage refugees have come to this country under the Dubs scheme and, in particular, that there have been none from Italy or Greece? Will he accept that the Home Office has designed the scheme in a way that is too restrictive and that makes it too difficult for Italy and Greece to send children here, despite the fact that there are still 280 pledged local authority places that remain unfilled? Will he now agree to revise the scheme to ensure that those 280 places can be filled before Christmas?
We are working with other countries, which have their own national sovereignty. I was in Italy and Greece over the summer to talk about these programmes, and we are working with the Greek and French authorities to ensure that more children can come over and that we fulfil our duty. Let us bear in mind that when we get to the 480, the United Kingdom will have done more than other European countries, and we should be proud of that.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. His county council in Kent is doing some fantastic work, and there are councils around the country making offers to do similar work. It would be good to see more councils coming forward to do that work, and I will be speaking to the Local Government Association this week about that very issue.
My private Member’s Bill, the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, will have its Second Reading on 16 March. It is important for families to be united, especially when they need to travel together. I have a 14-year-old constituent who was born and raised in the Hebrides. Unfortunately, her father has died and her mother has not been seen for about 12 years, as I am sure the Home Office knows. Crucially, the mother’s birth certificate cannot be found. The upshot is that the UK Government refuse to give my constituent a passport. She needs a status letter, please. It is beyond any doubt that this girl is a Hebridean Scot. In the words of the Home Office,
“On the balance of probabilities, the girl is a British national”.
Will the Home Office now give my constituent and her grandparents that status letter, so that she can get her passport? Anything less would create tremendous difficulties, as I am sure the Minister knows.
I am aware of that case and saw the hon. Gentleman’s social media output over the weekend, so I will write to him with some details. When we issue passports, we have to ensure that we go through all the proper checks to make sure that we are doing things correctly. I make no excuses for that—it is obviously a matter of national security. However, I am looking into the case and will get back to him in the next couple of days.
Motorcycle and Moped-enabled Crime
We recently brought together—Mr Speaker, I have failed once more. May I group Question 5 with Question 19?
We recently brought together motorcycle insurance industry leaders, law enforcement partners, the Local Government Association, charities and representatives from the motorcycle-riding community to have a full and open discussion about the issue. All parties agreed to work together to devise a comprehensive action plan to tackle this type of crime. As a first step, we have announced a review of the law, guidance and practice surrounding police pursuits and response driving.
Of 20,000 moped-related crimes in London last year, 752 happened in Southwark, but only 17 people were charged with an offence. Instead of tackling the rising problem, the Government have announced a review. What are the terms of this pathetic response to this blight on my constituents’ lives? When will it be completed? What specific additional resources and powers will it give our overstretched and underfunded police?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we do not have operational control over what goes on in his constituency; what we do have is the ability to pull people together to get the right answers. This sort of evolving crime needs to be dealt with by bringing people together to find out the best way to address it. We need to be guided by the police and local authorities. I urge him to engage with that consultation so that we get the right answers for his constituents.
In the course of the Home Secretary’s welcome review, will she undertake to get the message out that pretty cynical and street-hardened young people, such as some in my constituency, are taking off their helmets when the police appear on the scene because they believe that the police will not chase them under the current guidelines? The guidelines are utterly out of touch with reality and frustrate police officers who are trying to do their job. Will the review look at that specific issue?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point in his particularly distinct way. He is absolutely right—he has put his finger on it—that the police do have a concern and we are having the review to address that concern. I hope that I will be able to come back to him with some progress soon.
Over the past six months, 35 motor vehicle thefts and a rise in moped-related crime have been reported in Penge. Yesterday, it was reported that an acid attack occurred in broad daylight. Many of my constituents are becoming increasingly concerned. What exactly is the Department doing to combat such crimes?
I share the hon. Lady’s concerns. We take this matter seriously and we must address it, particularly because such crimes tend to evolve and can hold a fashionable attraction for different communities. That is why we are having this review. That is why we are bringing together the different parties, and I urge her to engage with the process.
Asset Recovery Programme
Since 2010, we have recovered £1.4 billion under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The Criminal Finances Act 2017 provides important new powers to improve the asset recovery system, such as unexplained wealth orders and the forfeiture of bank accounts. The Government are also implementing the recommendations of a 2016 Public Accounts Committee report, and our asset recovery action plan will be published by the end of the calendar year.
Serious criminals view prison as an occupational hazard, but they do not like it when law enforcement hits them in the wallet and goes after their illegally obtained assets. Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that the National Crime Agency will use the exciting new powers, including unexplained wealth orders, that it has been given?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are determined that unexplained wealth orders should be used not only by the NCA but by broader law enforcement to ensure that people have to prove where they got their wealth. Using that reverse burden of proof makes sure that we progress to taking an asset if a criminal’s wealth is unexplained and might have resulted from criminality.
Is the Minister aware that we regard the National Crime Agency as a bunch of amateurs in this field? People are increasingly talking about a big Russian mafia presence in London that is spending huge fortunes on organising crime. When will he take those people seriously and do something about them?
The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know—it might make him a bit happier—that that is why unexplained wealth orders, when applied to people outside the European economic area, have a lower burden of proof in court, so that we can freeze their assets and ensure that such people prove where they got their billions. We can then take the money and redistribute it back to the people who need it, either the law enforcement agencies or back to the countries from which they might have stolen it.
I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is exactly our goal to keep all those measures, but there is another party on the other side of the negotiating table. We would like to keep those measures, and we will ask for that—perhaps he could ask them, too—and let us hope they give it to us.
Mr Speaker, I may be testing your legendary benevolence to the limit by seeking to group Question 7 with Questions 9, 14, 17 and 23.
The hon. Gentleman has slipped in Question 23, which was not part of the original request. That should not be the normal practice, but on this occasion, notwithstanding a certain amount of twitching by the learned souls who advise me, I am inclined to try to be helpful.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. The twitches are noted for future occasions.
In 2017, the taxpayer will invest more than £11 billion in our police system, an increase of more than £114 million on 2015. However, we recognise that demand on the police is changing, and we are very sensitive to the pressure they are under. That is why we are reviewing demand and resilience, and we will consult on plans for the 2018-19 settlement before the end of the year.
With direct resource funding amounting to a budget cut due to inflation and with the chief constable stating that the force is getting very near to not being able to deliver a professional service, how can the Minister guarantee to keep people across Northumbria safe?
I had a productive meeting with the chief constable and Commissioner Baird, and I have a good understanding of some of the policing challenges they face and of the historic ratio of precept funding to core grant funding. All I will say is that, as with every single force, we are reviewing the demands on Northumbria police and its resilience before we make decisions on the 2018-19 funding settlement, on which we will consult before the end of the year.
The chief constable of West Yorkshire police said, “Our officers are exhausted” and that policing is “not sustainable” in the long term without an uplift in funding. We have lost more than 1,000 officers in West Yorkshire, yet this weekend Ministers briefed the press that there is room for more cuts. If the Government’s first duty is the safety of their citizens, how can they possibly justify more cuts in the face of such warnings?
We are not cutting. As I have made clear, the amount of taxpayers’ money going into the police system has gone up and individual police budgets are flat. The amount of funding for West Yorkshire police rose in 2015-16 by £3.7 million, and the force is sitting on £91 million of reserves, some 22% of revenue.
Since January 2017, policing the anti-fracking protest in Lancashire has cost Lancashire constabulary close to £4 million. Given that 78% of the protestors are not from Lancashire, when will the Government step in to meet those costs? It cannot be right for the council tax payers of Lancashire to bear the burden of what is essentially a national protest.
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. I am sure she is aware that we have a special grant pot, from which police forces can bid to cover significant, unexpected costs. A number of forces, including Lancashire, have put in bids to cover the costs of fracking protests. That is under review.
Last month, my constituent Jude Gayle, a young father, was stabbed to death as he returned home—yet another tragic and senseless loss in a growing number of knife attacks, which are up 20% in London over the past year. Will the Home Secretary finally accept that cutting hundreds of millions of pounds from the Metropolitan police budget since 2010 is a reckless approach to the safety and security of Londoners?
We have not, and I do not necessarily think there is any link between a reduction in police numbers and the outcome in terms of the complex drivers of the crime that the hon. Lady mentioned. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) is totally on top of this in terms of new legislation to ban the sale of zombie knives, for example. What I say, as a London MP, is that the budget for the Met is under review, as is that of every other force in the country, ahead of the 2018-19 funding settlement.
“With officer numbers at 1985 levels, crime up 10% in the last year and police work becoming ever more complex, this additional pressure is not sustainable.
The current flat cash settlement for forces announced in 2015 is no longer enough.”
Those were the words of Britain’s most senior police chief. Which part of that does the Minister disagree with?
The hon. Lady will know, because her shadow Minister put it on the record last time, that police budgets have been protected in the round—that is the reality—but we recognise that demand on the police is changing. I echo the Home Secretary’s words: we are absolutely determined to make sure that the police have the resources they need to do the job properly, while continuing to support and challenge them to be more efficient and effective.
Wiltshire police force’s investigation into the pretty flimsy allegations against Sir Edward Heath—a matter to which I hope to return in topical questions, if I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr Speaker—has cost between £1.5 million and £2 million, depending on whom one listens to. Most of us think that is an idiotic waste of money. I am grateful to the Home Office for agreeing to pay £1.1 million of that, thereby relieving my constituents in terms of their council tax obligations, but if this is a national matter, why is the Home Office paying only £1.1 million and not the whole thing?
Essex’s police service is doing an amazing job, but it is the second lowest funded in the country and our local policing precept is also very low. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Essex police on the job they do? Will he also be prepared to meet Essex MPs to discuss the possibility of increasing the local funding contribution, without the cost of a referendum?
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I join her in celebrating the success of Essex police. I have received representations from the Essex police and crime commissioner—now also the fire commissioner—and other commissioners about flexibility on precept funding, and that is all part of the analysis we are doing as we look to the settlement for next year. Of course, I would be delighted to meet Essex Members of Parliament.
Antisocial behaviour and so-called low-level crime are a blight on Mansfield’s town centre, limiting investment and regeneration. Opposition Members are always keen to talk about budgets, which we know have risen, but it is not enough to throw money at a problem without having a plan. Will the Minister therefore tell me what proposals might come forward to try new methods of policing issues such as antisocial behaviour?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I understand that antisocial behaviour, particularly in town centres, is a blight, not least on the economy. I think three things need to happen: the Government need to make sure local police forces have the resources they need; the local commissioner and the chief have to make sure they have a smart system for allocating resources to demand and local priorities; and the police have to be very smart in how they work in partnership with local agencies and local businesses to work together to confront those issues, which is exactly what I saw recently in Newcastle.
The Minister will be aware of proposals to merge Devon and Cornwall police with the Dorset police force. Will he reassure me that if that merger goes ahead, there will be no loss in funding and the funding for the new combined force will be at least equal to that which the two separate forces currently enjoy?
I understand the point my hon. Friend is making on behalf of Cornwall. I have received representations on this potential merger, but there is no question of our imposing it; it has come out of the system and we will look at it, carefully examining the business case and indications of support from both parts involved in any merger, particularly Cornwall.
The policing of shale gas protests in Kirby Misperton in my constituency is putting pressure on local budgets, but many of the protestors are connected to national campaigns. Will the Minister agree to a meeting with me and the police and crime commissioner, so that we can make our case on why the costs should be met with national funds rather than by local taxpayers?
We know the pressures on police resources from a rise in violent crime, a huge increase in 999 and 101 calls, an unprecedented terrorist threat and a surge in non-crime demand because of mental health issues and missing persons. The police simply do not have the resources to respond to every report of crime. Were the Minister’s house burgled, how would he feel if the police did not show up?
I would feel frustrated and angry, as anyone else would. Government Members totally recognise the pressure that the police are under; in fact, I am currently concluding a process of speaking to or visiting every single police force in England and Wales, so I do not need any lectures on how pressured and stretched the police system is. We are listening and that is feeding into the work we are doing ahead of the consultation on the 2018-19 funding settlement. We are determined to make sure that the police have the resources they need to do the job, while we also continue to challenge them to be efficient and effective.
The Government are working hard to continue to attract international students to study here in the UK. There is no limit on the number of genuine international students that educational institutions in the UK can recruit; nor do we intend to change that position.
I have the honour of representing in my constituency two universities, Abertay University and University of Dundee, with a large intake of international students. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s confused approach to international students, based on information, will damage Scotland’s reputation as a world-leading destination for study?
The short answer is no. The hon. Gentleman might be a bit confused, because we have been clear all the way through that we want good, genuine international students here at good, genuine institutions. The Government should take great credit for shutting down bogus colleges, so that when students come here they know that they are going to a good, strong institution. They play an important part in our economy, and we encourage that to continue.
I am happy to remind the hon. Gentleman that we set immigration and nationality fees at a level that ensures that the income received contributes towards the resources that are necessary for the wider border, immigration and nationality system, and in line with the charging powers approved by Parliament that are set out in the Immigration Act 2014, which he may have forgotten.
Obviously, as I said in answer to the first question from the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), we continue to encourage international students to come here. It is good to see that universities in this country saw a 5% rise last year. That is good for the economy, good for universities and good for our society.
The Minister knows that international students are different from other types of migrants. They are temporary; they make a vital economic and cultural contribution to our universities; they contribute billions of pounds to our economy; and public opinion correctly does not think of students as immigrants. When will Ministers listen to voices from all parts of the House and remove international students from the immigration total?
I say gently to the right hon. Lady that the definition of net migration, which is decided by the UN, refers to people who have been in the country for 12 months or more, which university students obviously have if they are here for three years and using services here. Ultimately, though, the numbers are decided by the Office for National Statistics, which is an entirely independent organisation, and not by the Government.
We are confident that a positive deal can be reached, but we are of course preparing for every outcome. Although we cannot comment on the detailed planning, Departments are working together across a range of complex issues to develop our future approach to the border, including for a possible no-deal scenario. Those options will be subject to the outcome of our negotiations with our partners in the EU.
The Minister’s former immigration director, David Wood, said last week that, with current resources, the challenge of Brexit “can’t be met”, and that is with a minimum two-year transition, let alone the chaos of a no-deal scenario. Given all the other demands on his budget that we have heard about today, is it not grossly irresponsible for some of his Cabinet colleagues to be running around talking up the prospects of a no deal, instead of being level with the public about any trade-offs that will inevitably result in a Brexit deal?
I am optimistic that we will get a good deal both for the UK and for our partners in Europe, so that we can work together as forward-looking partners, but we are also actively monitoring work flows at the border to ensure that we have sufficient resources in place to meet demand. As my colleagues across the Government and in the Cabinet have said, it is absolutely right that we do plan for all eventualities.
The Minister is, as always, a happy and optimistic chap, but, obviously, we must plan for a no-deal situation. The only thing that disturbed me was that the Government seem to want it kept in secret. Would it not be nice if it was shared with the whole House, so that British business and other people would know what a no-deal situation looked like?
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s comments about my demeanour, and I will always try to remain optimistic and happy about the fact that we are focused on ensuring that we keep our borders secure and that we are ready for any outcome at the end of the negotiations.
Watching the faces on the Front Bench, we see the sensible wing of the Conservative party too frightened, rightly, to say what a no-deal Brexit would look like. May I urge the Minister to talk to the “fun boy three”—the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Secretary of State for International Trade—and leave them in no doubt about the strength of feeling among Opposition Members of the need properly to prepare for all eventualities and to plan for a deal with our European colleagues?
I am absolutely astonished that the hon. Lady has asked that question, bearing in mind that, over the weekend, it became clear that the Labour party is prepared to take a bad deal, or any deal, as opposed to a good deal. As the Prime Minister has outlined, it is absolutely right that we are optimistic and trying to achieve a deal that works for both the United Kingdom and our partners in Europe, but, at the same time, we must also do the job that we have been brought here to do, which is to prepare for all eventualities.
We all recognise the importance of dealing with knife crime, given the terrible impact that it can have on people’s minds. Our work to tackle it is centred on working on four key strands: on police and enforcement; on retailers and responsible sales; on the legislative framework; and on early intervention.
I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Does she agree that, one of the challenges here is that some of the most lethal knives are actually in people’s kitchens up and down the land, which makes them very difficult to regulate. On sentencing criminals, will she tell the House how many people have been convicted under the so-called Nick de Bois amendment of “two strikes and you’re out”?
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. That was exactly the right amendment and we need to ensure that it is enforced. I have also taken up the matter further with Nick de Bois, a former Member here, to see how we can implement it. He also drew attention to the importance of our £500,000 community fund, which enables local organisations to work with the community on early intervention to stop people picking up knives in the first place. That is available now, and I urge Members on both sides of the House to consider inviting local community organisations to apply for the fund.
Today was the first evidence session for the Youth Violence Commission, and we looked specifically at the role of youth and community work. Does the Secretary of State agree that early intervention is important in tackling knife crime and what would she say to those calling for a statutory youth service that is fully funded?
I certainly agree that early intervention is critical. My conversations with chief constables and colleges led to that. We need to do more to ensure that young people realise the consequence of carrying knives, as well as the terrible impact it can have on them if they are seen to be carrying one. That is why we have introduced the community fund, for which I urge the hon. Lady and other hon. Members to consider applying.
Exit check analysis shows that 97% of students whose visas expired in 2016-17 were recorded as having left in time. That is good evidence that our reforms, from 2010 onwards, to tackle abuse in the education sector have worked.
Applications for international students and other immigration applications cost hundreds of pounds, and errors are common. When the Home Office makes such errors, it puts constituents and citizens in unnecessary distress, but there are no consequences for the Department getting critical decisions wrong time and again. Will the Minister explain where the profits from visa and other visa-related applications are going and how much of the fees received pay for these services? What will he do to improve such a terrible service?
I will do my best to rise to the challenge, Mr Speaker. As I said earlier, the immigration system’s visas and charges are as per the Immigration Act 2014. I would challenge the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) a little bit because no one has come to me about mistakes in how we deal with student visas. We are encouraging students from all over the world to come here.
The Government have been clear that there should be no safe space online for terrorists and their supporters to radicalise, recruit, incite or inspire. We are working closely with the industry, including through the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, to encourage it to develop innovative solutions to tackle online radicalisation.
My hon. Friend is right. Internet companies could do more with their technology. They could do much more to recognise that they have a responsibility for much of the stuff that is hosted on their sites and they could do more to take it down. That is why the United Kingdom Government, through the Global Internet Forum, are taking the lead in dealing with the issue. The Home Secretary was only recently in Silicon Valley, talking to those companies and trying to put further pressure on them to use their profits and vast wealth actually to do something about it.
As part of the Government’s strategy for online safety, they are seeking to ensure that all those suppliers bidding for information-sensitive contracts are certificated under their Cyber Essentials scheme. Yet the Government have admitted to me in a written answer that they do not even bother to count the number of suppliers signed up to that scheme. In those circumstances, how can the Government ever look at and consider the success of their policy?
The hon. Gentleman misses the point. The authority placing the contract will, of course, verify the conditions of the contract before signing it. Whether we put it together and say, “We’ve got 1,000”, is slightly the second point. The main issue is whether it is properly done. On top of that, the UK Government as a whole invest £1.9 billion into the national cyber-security strategy to ensure that we deal with threats against our companies and individuals.
The Government have ensured that, through the election of police and crime commissioners, communities—including those in rural areas—have a strong voice in determining how police resources are allocated, to tackle the crimes that most matter to them. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Katy Bourne on her work to prioritise rural crime in Sussex.
I certainly congratulate Katy Bourne, who does a great job. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to ensure that the police investigate all crimes and not give a perception that certain offences, particularly those prevalent in rural areas, will not be pursued?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course, police will investigate all crimes. Extremely good police and crime commissioners who work with their communities, such as Katy Bourne, are able to prioritise what matters most to people. They often work in partnership with great organisations such as the National Farmers Union to come up with the right solutions for the community.
UK Visas and Immigration
The Home Office deals with millions of visa, citizenship, passport and immigration status applications each year. In the past year, UKVI has received more than 3.5 million applications, and more than 98.5% of major application routes, including for non-settlement, EU applications and asylum, have all been decided within their service standards. Some 99% of straightforward non-settlement applications were processed within 15 days last year.
I have a number of constituents who have family members who have applied for visas, submitted their passports and then endured very long delays—in some cases of many months—without their passports, so in effect they are trapped, unable to travel. What is UKVI going to do about those cases?
Reviewing identity documents such as passports as part of an application is obviously an important part of maintaining a robust immigration system. Travel documents are retained for the duration of the decision-making process, but if the applicant wishes to travel while the application is being considered, dependent on the route through which they have applied, we will of course return their passport to them. If the applicant needs a passport for ID purposes, we can send certified copies that they are able to use.
I wish to update the House briefly on the Government’s decision to launch a consultation on new laws on corrosive substances, knives and guns. All forms of violent crime are completely unacceptable and devastate lives, families and communities. That is why I have launched a consultation on offensive and dangerous weapons, with proposals to ban the sale of the most harmful corrosive substances to under-18s, and to introduce minimum prison sentences for those who repeatedly carry corrosives without good reason. The consultation also includes new measures to prevent under-18s from getting around age restrictions by buying knives online, and proposals to ban offensive weapons such as zombie knives from being kept privately.
I want to send a powerful message that the cowards who burn with acid or cut with knives will not escape the full force of the law. I am clear that, by threatening someone with a knife or by plotting an acid attack, the only life you will be ruining is your own.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about Mamba and the growth of other elements of drugs. That is why we have introduced a new drugs strategy, to try to help people exit. It involves making sure that local authorities work closely with police, housing and other stakeholder support areas. It is not just about banning, which is important, but about helping people to get off it and to get out and start to live their lives without it.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question on such an important area. It is vital that the police have the confidence and the allowance to pursue people when they need to do so. That is why we are conducting a review to give them extra clarity that they can pursue people on mopeds.
I have been touring the country speaking to fire chiefs, and we have spoken about the consequences of the Government’s austerity obsession, which, since 2010, has led to 11,000 firefighters being axed, reduced home fire safety checks, increased response times, and, in some areas, fire-related deaths increasing. Does the Secretary of State support calls from some fire chiefs for pre-set flexibility to keep our citizens safe? If not, does she support increased funding for this crucial service?
We must congratulate the people in the fire authorities, who have made sure that the amount of fires has fallen by 50% and the number of deaths from fires has reduced by 20%. They have done incredibly well at, in effect, driving productivity in that way. I will make sure that they are always suitably funded. One of the ways in which they can have more funds is by making efficiencies by merging with police forces. I am delighted that a number of fire authorities are doing exactly that. The proposals are with us at the moment. Fire authorities will be able to make efficiencies and spend more money on the frontline.
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). I will be delighted to sit down with Essex MPs to discuss this. As I said, a number of commissioners have approached us in similar vein, and it is part of our thinking as we look ahead towards the 2018-19 settlement.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the principle of having continued access to these databases is important for making sure that we keep people safe—people in the UK and people in the EU. As regards what sort of jurisdiction there is with oversight on the final arrangement, we are hoping to have a treaty to engage with them. I point him to other arrangements that are already in place. There are different arrangements with Norway, Switzerland, America, and Europol. We will have a creative and, I hope, positive approach to delivering on that.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I outlined earlier, we are preparing for all eventualities. We have published our offer for EU citizens. We will publish a White Paper later this year outlining our views about a future immigration system. We have also been very clear, in terms of citizens and flow, that we do not want to have a cliff edge. We want to make sure that businesses and the economy across this country can continue to access the labour they need as we move to a new immigration system.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. It is very sad to hear what is happening in his constituency. I would welcome him coming to the Home Office and providing me with more detail. One would really hope that in the 21st century such homophobic activity was consigned to the history books. Let me be absolutely clear: there is no place in our society for hate crime. In our hate crime action plan, we have very, very strong laws against those committing homophobic hate crime. I hope that his constituents will not hesitate to use those powers.
Following a spate of vehicle thefts in my constituency, would my right hon. Friend take action to ban the online sale of devices that are helping criminals to steal high-value vehicles by bypassing security coding and reprogramming onboard computer systems?
Vehicle theft is a horrible crime. It is at historic lows, but we are seeing spikes in some areas and we know that the methods used by criminals are constantly evolving. I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are not complacent at all and we are working very closely with industry to make sure we stay ahead of the criminals.
Nottinghamshire police force has decided, without any consultation and with hardly any notice—literally, a note under the clerk’s door—to end community policing in Kimberley and Nuthall in my constituency. I do not expect the Minister to comment on the merits of the decision, but does he agree that in community policing, it is really important to work with and communicate with communities?
I could not agree with my right hon. Friend more. It is not for me to comment on the individual decision. Nottinghamshire police force does a good job and it has difficult decisions to take, but when it takes such decisions, it must make sure that it takes the community with it, particularly on an issue as sensitive as community policing.
We do have a priority system, and I outlined earlier the high levels of success we have in dealing with applications in the timeframes set out in our service level agreements. Obviously, some cases have complexities to them, which means that they will take longer, and we let individual applicants know that.
The Crown Prosecution Service report on violence against women and girls, which was published last week, demonstrated that real progress has been made in encouraging victims to report their crimes, and in improving the number of perpetrators who are prosecuted and convicted. But we know that many survivors do not involve the police. Women’s Aid found that only half of women in refuges report crimes against them, and only one in five women had seen a criminal case or sanctions against a perpetrator. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the welcome new domestic violence and abuse Bill will not only focus on the criminal justice system but deliver the progress that survivors need across all areas of Government, including housing, health and support for their children?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the significant progress that the Government have made on tackling domestic violence and the support that we are giving to victims. We are not at all complacent, however, and we have a groundbreaking opportunity with the forthcoming legislation to make the prevention of domestic violence and abuse everyone’s business. I am working with vigour and at speed with colleagues across Government to make sure that we have, as my hon. Friend quite rightly points out we should, a joined-up approach that includes housing, welfare and employment.
I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have plenty of bilateral meetings that cover some of the elements that he has raised. We will be having a meeting of the National Security Committee soon, and when that takes place I will be able to reassure him.
We obviously keep all routes of return under review at all times to ensure that when we return people, on the basis of the evidence in the cases before us, we are doing the right thing for those people as well as for the United Kingdom. We will continue to do that, with the best interests of those individuals at heart.
The Minister is currently considering an application to bring together fire and policing functions in Northamptonshire, and I commend that to him in the strongest possible terms. What benefit does he see that sort of amalgamation bringing to the delivery of emergency services on the ground?
I see a major benefit in increased accountability and transparency for the people of Northamptonshire. There may also be significant financial benefits just from the efficiencies that such services can find together. I find from going around the country and talking to forces, in areas such as Northamptonshire that are doing great work on collaboration, that there is so much potential. I think we are at the start of this journey, rather than at the end of it.
Last week, all parties backed a near unanimous motion on Ealing Council to introduce a public spaces protection order outside the Marie Stopes family planning clinic there, because three decades of protests by pro-lifers and one year of protests by pro-choicers have made it impossible for residents to pass along the pavement and have obstructed women having legal NHS healthcare. Will the Government issue guidance on whether other local authorities with such facilities within their boundaries should follow suit, or will there be a more national permanent solution?
I commend the hon. Lady for raising this subject. It is imperative that women have access to safe and legal abortion. Although we of course agree that public protest must be allowed, it must not in any way be allowed to intimidate women on the way to receiving the health services they want. I am watching with interest how Ealing Council, which is the first to do this, manages, and we will see whether any additional support is needed. It is a local matter, but as I say, I am very interested to see the outcome of this and I welcome her raising it in the House.
In response to what can at best be described as a fishing expedition by Wiltshire police on the steps of Sir Edward Heath’s house in Salisbury some years ago, some 118 people came forward with allegations against Sir Edward. Of them, 111 have since been dismissed, leaving a handful that are still theoretically on the table. The Home Secretary has now had an opportunity to read both volumes of the report produced by the police and released last week, one of which is of course secret. Will she advise the House whether there is one shred of evidence in either report that Sir Edward Heath was a paedophile, or one scintilla of doubt about that?
Does the Minister agree that, with fire deaths in Cheshire having increased every year for the past four years, cuts to fire services and, indeed, the downgrading of appliances cannot continue without severe consequences for local people?
According to my information, Cheshire fire and rescue service has had a 31% reduction in fires over the past five years, and a 6% reduction in incidents. This year, it had a core spending power of £40.9 million, and at March 2017, it held reserves of £28 million.
We will bring forward a White Paper on emigration by the end of this year, an emigration Bill will be brought forward at the beginning of next year and the Migration Advisory Committee will complete its report by the end of next year. It will be a very busy 12 months.
There is no evidence that that has happened. Of course, people think that it probably will happen, but at the moment the figures do not match the theory. When anyone returns about whom we have a suspicion that they have been fighting for any group or committed a crime overseas, they can expect to be arrested and questioned by the appropriate police forces. If there is evidence, we will obviously prosecute them for their crimes.
Another day, another awful story of a family split apart by the Government’s draconian family visa rules, this time the Newton family. When will the Home Secretary scrap the ludicrous income threshold and the other unwarranted requirements for spouse and partner visas?
There are no plans to change the current situation whereby people need to be able to show that they can support those they bring into the country. People have to go through a full process, and that is absolutely right to ensure that we have a strong and clear immigration system.
The Home Secretary will be aware that last week’s revelations about Cyril Smith in the child abuse inquiry demonstrate that the cover-up of decades of child abuse reached the highest levels of Government. Will she commit to releasing papers held by all Departments and agencies in relation to the case so that Cyril Smith’s many victims, who were denied justice in his lifetime, can now find it in theirs?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that, where appropriate, those papers are being released. Some papers are held for national security reasons, and she would not want me to persuade the security services to release those. However, I am encouraged to hear her positive approach to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse for perhaps the first time.
In the Newtown area of my constituency there have been seven shootings in the past three months. Local people tell me that they simply do not feel safe, and cuts to police funding and neighbourhood policing are having a devastating impact. Why cannot the Home Secretary see that she is failing in her responsibility to resource the services that are required to keep us safe? How much more will my constituents have to suffer before she changes course?
The hon. Lady makes the valid point that a number of shooting crimes are being committed at the moment. That is why the Government have increased funding to police and specialist policing by £32 million for armed uplift to ensure that we have trained officers on the ground to deal with such threats, and that when we go after criminals who are armed, the police are protected and have the right equipment to do the job and make sure that those people are put in prison.
Emergency workers are there to protect all of us, so an attack on an emergency worker is an attack on us all. Surely the law should therefore come down heavily on any assailant. Will the Home Secretary confirm for the avoidance of doubt that the Government will support my private Member’s Bill on Friday? Will she ensure that magistrates understand that, when they say that police officers and other emergency workers should have to put up with a certain amount of violence in their jobs, that is completely untrue? We should protect the protectors.
The hon. Gentleman will know, certainly if he listened to the Home Secretary’s conference speech, that the Government are extremely supportive of the spirit of his Bill and included such measures in our manifesto. Any drama around the Government’s accepting the principle of his Bill is therefore of his manufacturing, as he well knows from our conversations. We want to support the Bill because we want to send the strongest possible signal that assaulting emergency workers is intolerable and anyone who does that should feel the full weight of the law. As with all private Members’ Bills, there will be detail to work through, but he knows that we support the principle of his Bill, on which we congratulate him.