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Topical Questions

Volume 639: debated on Monday 16 April 2018

I am deeply concerned about the recent experiences of people from the Windrush generation in terms of the appeal for their documentation and any confusion that has caused. This is a unique cohort of people who have automatic leave under our legislation and therefore are entitled to reside here lawfully. The vast majority will already have documentation that proves their right to be here. For those who do not, I am today announcing a new dedicated team to help them evidence their right to be in this country and access services.

The team will be tasked with helping applicants to demonstrate that they are entitled to live in the UK, and with resolving cases within two weeks of the evidence being provided. The team will work across Government to help applicants to prove they have been living or working in the UK. Of course, no one should be left out of pocket as they go through this process. Given the uniqueness of the situation in which the group find themselves, I therefore intend to ensure that they will not pay for this documentation.

We have already set up a webpage and dedicated contact point for people with concerns, and I have been engaging with charities, community groups and high commissioners to reassure people. The Prime Minister will meet Heads of Government tomorrow, and I will be meeting high commissioners later this week.

I thank the Home Secretary for that response and put on record my gratitude for the fantastic leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). However, is this not a case of too little, too late for many? Is not what has happened to the Windrush generation a broader reflection of the over-pernicious nature of the Home Office, which is going after the soft targets instead of those who are much more difficult to identify—those who are here illegally and should be deported?

There is no question of going after any soft targets or of our trying to single out a particular cohort—and, yes, we do go after the illegal cohort. It is because we do that that some of these people have been caught up in the process. As I referenced earlier, it was the Labour party that put in place the labour market tests in 2008, meaning that people had to evidence their right to work here, but because the Windrush cohort has been caught up in this, I am making that sure we put in place particular arrangements to support them.

T3. I commend the Government for their work on— [Interruption.] It says here, “law enforcement with regard to the dark web”. What steps are the Government taking to best protect families and businesses from those who use the anonymity of online platforms for illegal activities? (904766)

I think that my hon. Friend might have got lost in the dark web just then.

Our dark web programme is investing in specialist capability to disrupt and bring to justice those who use online anonymity to trade in illegal goods and services, including personal data. Much of the risk to families and businesses can be defeated by simple best practice. The Cyber Aware campaign encourages small businesses and individuals to adopt simple, secure online behaviours to protect themselves and their data from cyber-criminals.

T2. The Home Secretary will know that hundreds of thousands of people have already signed petitions opposing giving the passport printing contract to a foreign company. Like me, they are concerned—indeed astonished—that while France, Germany Italy and Spain all back their own industry, she seems unwilling to back Britain. They also question whether British firms are actually competing on a level playing field. Even at this late stage, will she call in the decision and engage with De La Rue to preserve British jobs for British workers in the north? Will she also publish the data on which she made her decision? (904765)

This was a fair and open competitive process. It is right to have a tendering process that looks after taxpayers’ money and of course ensures that British companies can compete. I wish that a British company had won the contract, but the process has to be carried out fairly, on the basis of quality and cost, and on that basis we saved the country £120 million. I wonder how the right hon. Gentleman would choose to spend that; I know that we can put it to good use.

T4. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Essex police, fire and crime commissioner, Roger Hirst, who has used precept powers to increase the number of frontline police officers in Essex by 150? (904767)

I welcome the action of my hon. Friend’s police and crime commissioner. PCCs have been given powers to raise additional funds, if they want to do so, to provide extra policemen and women on the frontline, and most are choosing to do that.

T5. More money is being raised by tax for more police, but every single police officer and constituent I speak to says it will not be enough, and that we will not have, and do not have, enough police on the streets of Bassetlaw. What does it say about Government priorities that nobody accepts what the Home Secretary is saying—that we have enough police? (904768)

I note that someone on the left-hand side of the Opposition Benches wants me to spend another £120 million while a Member on the right-hand side has asked me where more money is to come from.

We have made it very clear that we will run an efficient Government, particularly in respect of public procurement, to ensure that we have the funds to support our public services. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is not just about police numbers. Last year I commissioned a new serious violence strategy, which has come up with new information and a new approach to stopping the sort of crime to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I hope that our new serious violence taskforce will be able to do that.

T6. For a number of years, businesses, shopkeepers and residents in The Stow, in Harlow, have been blighted by antisocial behaviour. We saw the tragic murder of a Polish man in 2016, and only last Saturday youths were spraying CS gas, forcing shops to shut. I welcome the extra police in Essex, but will my right hon. Friend have urgent talks with the police and crime commissioner in Harlow and do what she can to help us to deal with this antisocial behaviour? (904769)

May I answer the question on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary?

I read about the incident in The Stow, which must have been extremely unsettling for my right hon. Friend’s constituents. He is tireless in acting on behalf of Harlow, and he was one of a number of Essex Members who lobbied me asking that the police and crime commissioner be allowed to increase the precept. That increase is enabling the commissioner to invest in providing 150 additional police officers across the county. I will of course join my right hon. Friend in speaking to the police and crime commissioner to reassure his constituents that the area is being policed.

T8. Policing and uniformed police training are not devolved in Wales, so will the Minister ensure that Welsh police forces receive their full share of the apprenticeship levy for training? It is just not good enough to pass responsibility to the Welsh Government when the money involved does not even cover their Treasury spending cuts. (904771)

I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the training available to Welsh police officers. I have been very clear about the importance of ensuring that our police officers have the right skills, but there is currently an impasse, as Welsh police forces are paying tax to the Welsh Government and getting nothing in return. There is a difference of view on the issue, but we are trying to resolve it. A meeting is imminent, and I hope that we shall be able to make some progress then.

T7. We have all been shocked by the incidents of knife and gun crime in London, Manchester and other locations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that stop-and-search still has a role to play, especially when it is intelligence-led? (904770)

Yes, I strongly believe that the approach has a very important role to play. As I have said before, it is a vital tool, and we expect it to be used vigorously as part of a robust law enforcement approach to the terrible cycle of violence that we are seeing. We welcome the news that the Metropolitan police, for example, has increased its use significantly in the most affected areas. However, as we have made clear for some time, it must be used legally, and be proportionately targeted and intelligence-led, and the use of body-worn video must increase. We must not go back to the old days when more than a million people a year were stopped and only 9% were arrested.

Two and a half weeks ago, I telephoned 999 after witnessing a prolonged and serious fight in a petrol station in Chesterfield. I have not been contacted by the police since then. Although I have been unable to establish this for certain, I believe that the incident was not recorded as a crime because none of the protagonists considered themselves to be victims of crime, although it was also reported by the people who run the petrol station. Is this part of a wider policy? Are the Government encouraging police forces not to record as crimes incidents that would clearly be seen as crimes? What guidance do the Government give police forces in such circumstances?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration about that particular incident, and one hears similar anecdotes, but the Government’s policy is, in fact, completely the reverse. We have pressed the police, with the help of the independent inspectorate, to get better at recording crime. Back in 2014, an independent inspection showed that only about 81% of reported crime was recorded. That has improved, and the improvement is feeding into increased pleaded recorded crime. The truth is therefore completely the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman has asserted.

T9. Can the Home Secretary tell us what has happened to the long-awaited and much-needed immigration Bill and when it might appear before the House? (904772)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We will, of course, be bringing forward a White Paper later this year and an immigration Bill as soon as possible after that.

When will the Home Office fix the disastrous mess that is being caused by the tier 2 work visa cap being exceeded for four months on the trot? Is it not time to scrap the cap?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we keep the tier 2 visa route constantly under review. We are looking very carefully at the issue that he raises.

T10. Can the Secretary of State reassure my constituents in Willenhall and Bloxwich that post Brexit we will continue to work closely with our friends in Europe on matters of security and counter-terrorism? (904773)

Yes, I can certainly give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We know the importance of working closely with our European Union friends on matters of security. In conversations with my opposite numbers, I have received much reassurance from them that that is what they want as well.

Mr Speaker, you will remember that on 29 March, the Leader of the House said that we would have a debate in Parliament on the Government’s serious violence strategy when it was published. It was published on 9 April, so my question is simple: when will we have that debate?

I will take that very good question to the Leader of the House. I would relish such a debate. I thank the hon. Lady for the leadership she has given in this area, and I hope to have more progress to report regarding the taskforce in due course.

The drug commonly known as Spice has as strong an impact on its users as any class A drug, yet its categorisation as class B means that its dealers receive much lesser sentences than others. Will the Minister commit to looking again at this drug’s classification so that that reflects its impact more accurately?

My hon. Friend has long expressed concern about the impact of Spice, not least on Torquay town centre, and I have seen at first hand the terrible effect it has. I hope he welcomes the progress that we have made in relation to the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, and the fact that over 300 retailers across the UK have either been closed down or are no longer selling these substances. We are making arrests and a great deal of progress, and usage is falling. On changing the classification, I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that any decision has to be led and guided by advice from the advisory council, and its position at the moment is not to reclassify.

My constituent Charles Mukerjee has special educational needs. He and his family were recently detained in Yarl’s Wood. In detention, his medication was taken away, and he had a number of seizures and stopped eating. A doctor who saw him there said that he was traumatised. Will the Home Secretary urgently look at this family’s experience and see what changes need to be made to ensure that we treat all people who are detained humanely and in a dignified way, especially those with learning disabilities and mental ill health?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue. The answer to her question is yes, I will, and I ask her to send me the information, which I will take a look at personally.

Will the Home Secretary welcome the additional 200 police officers who are being recruited and deployed by Sussex police in her Hastings and Rye constituency and mine of Bexhill and Battle?

Yes, this is good news. The police and crime commissioner for Sussex, the excellent Katy Bourne, has told us that she will be recruiting 200 officers this year and 200 the following year. Kent has said the same, and I understand there will be another 1,000 officers in London.

Online radicalisation and cyber-crime are no respecters of boundaries, yet policing in Scotland is devolved. Will the Minister assure me that there will be maximum co-operation and co-ordination between Police Scotland and the UK police forces to stamp out these terrible and terrifying crimes?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and that is why at Gartcosh, just outside Glasgow, we have put together the National Crime Agency and Police Scotland to tackle, through cyber-crime units, that very problem. It is absolutely true that the best thing to do is to make sure we work in solid partnership, whether that involves the agency, local police or regional organised crime units.

Has my right hon. Friend made any assessment of the ease with which users can remove unacceptable online content and how quickly that content is then taken down?

The biggest challenge in that space is often that when we make a referral to internet companies, the speed at which they take content down is not as rapid as it should be. We often identify it quickly. By working with a technology company, we have managed to produce a system that is 99.95% accurate. Let us see what the internet companies can do, but there is still more to be done.

Fear stalks many streets in Erdington with gang crime, gun crime, knife crime and attacks with machetes on the rise. The police are doing a magnificent job in very difficult circumstances, but does not the Policing Minister accept that cutting 2,000 police officers from West Midlands police, the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing and huge cuts to youth services are making it so much more difficult for them to keep the public safe?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have always recognised that our police system is stretched. That was why I personally led the demand review and why we took through the House a funding settlement that will see another £460 million going into our police system this year. That will mean that we are investing £1 billion more this year than we were two years ago. That is additional money for the west midlands that I would have hoped that he would support, but he voted against it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last week, there were some serious incidents of antisocial behaviour in Saltburn in my constituency. Will Ministers assure the public in Saltburn that they will work with me and the PCC to give the best advice on how to deal with youth gang violence, and will they commend the officers of Cleveland police for their response?

First, I am of course pleased to commend the officers for their response. I am sorry to hear about the example that my hon. Friend has given. I urge him to work with us in terms of looking at the serious violence strategy, because there is a lot of new work on, and new approaches to, how we handle gang violence, which is often the driver not just of serious violence but of antisocial behaviour.

Order. Listening to colleagues is endlessly inspiring, and my appetite for doing so is usually insatiable, but we must now move on because we have other important business to address.