The Secretary of State was asked—
Police and Fire Service Collaboration
This Government firmly support collaboration between emergency services and have invested more than £88 million in projects to support that since 2013. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 introduced a host of measures to enable collaboration to go further and faster, which include a statutory duty to collaborate and allow elected police and crime commissioners to take on fire and rescue governance.
I welcome the recent Government investment of £24 million, following the Manchester bombing last May. The package includes almost £10 million to cover the cost of extra staffing and other pressures on Greater Manchester police. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is much we can learn from the response to the Manchester Arena terrorist atrocity and that we should continue to work to try to improve further how our excellent emergency services respond to such tragic events?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Of course, the important report highlights the acts of bravery and compassion that took place on the night of 22 May and in the following days. As Lord Kerslake noted, the response was “overwhelmingly positive”, but the report also shows a need for improvement in some areas. As she points out, it makes certain recommendations, which I know the local emergency services and the Home Office will follow up.
Is my right hon. Friend as pleased as I am to hear that Staffordshire fire service is now not going to take to judicial review her decision to merge the governance of Staffordshire’s police and fire services? Does she agree with me—and, more importantly, with Matthew Ellis, our excellent PCC—that this merger will mean that an additional £10 million a year will be saved, which can go into frontline services?
Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for his local leadership in achieving this. It was not uncontroversial for a while, so I am grateful that it has been able to go through, and that he accepts and the local authorities have accepted the independent advice we have received. I hope he and Matthew Ellis, and all the other organisations involved, will make a great success of it.
Clearly, when we are looking at these reforms, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will suit every part of the UK. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Government are going to be driven by a pragmatic approach, which will ensure that cross-service collaboration will be driven by what is best in terms of delivering results for communities up and down the UK?
I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is absolutely right to say that this is not a case where one size fits all, but it is the case that collaboration will lead to efficiencies, cost savings and a better service for all. I hope that the leadership we have seen across the country from some PCCs will be taken forward by others.
Collaboration between all the emergency services is vital, not least because these workers face some of the same threats, including a large and increasing number of assaults on them. Will the Home Secretary support my amendment to my own private Member’s Bill, which we will be discussing next week, to make sure that sexual assault on emergency workers is also an aggravated offence? It is wrong that these emergency workers are facing these abuses.
There is a lot to be gained from the police and fire services working closer together, but this cannot be used as an excuse for cuts. Efficiencies could come from it, but does the Home Secretary acknowledge that both the police and fire services are significantly underfunded at the moment and we cannot have more cuts coming in as a result of closer working?
One way of avoiding the impact of cuts that the hon. Lady highlights would be by having greater efficiencies, and having collaboration between the emergency services is an excellent way of doing that. That is what we have seen up and down the country, and I urge her to see more of it in her own area.
The PCC takeover of fire services will change the perception of firefighters from “public safety” to “law enforcement”. My question is: when are the Government going to provide adequate funding so that councils are not forced into hostile PCC and fire service mergers? I am looking for a meaningful response on central Government funding, not another brush-off about earmarked reserves.
The hon. Lady underestimates the high regard in which firefighters are held right across this country. The public know the difference, and are able to distinguish between firefighters and policemen and women, but they want to see better working of emergency services together.
The Government have put tackling domestic abuse at the heart of their agenda. We have introduced a new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour; rolled out new tools, such as domestic violence protection orders; and committed £100 million to support victims of violence against women and girls. Furthermore, on 8 March, we launched a wide-ranging consultation, and we will introduce a groundbreaking domestic abuse Bill, which will offer further support.
Domestic violence harms victims mentally as well as physically. Women who have experienced domestic abuse are far more likely to suffer from a mental health condition, as are children who have witnessed violence at home. I urge my hon. Friend to use the forthcoming domestic abuse Bill to make sure that victims of abuse and their families get the mental health support that they need.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question; she is a long-standing campaigner on mental health. We recognise that mental health can be a theme in domestic abuse situations. We are already funding a number of projects through the VAWG transformation fund. For example, we have given £377,000 to the London Borough of Southwark for therapeutic support for victims and their children with complex needs. We want to use the consultation to get the best possible deal for victims of domestic abuse and to stop the cycle of violence.
As well as putting the offences of psychological abuse and coercive control on the statute book, the Scottish Government have allocated funding to train 14,000 Police Scotland officers and staff to spot those offences in domestic abuse settings. Will the Minister commit to following that example in England and Wales?
I am delighted to hear that Scotland is doing that. New police training has been developed by the voluntary sector in England and Wales. It is called Domestic Abuse Matters and focuses on the recognition of controlling and coercive behaviour, and it is being rolled out to forces throughout the country.
The Government’s domestic abuse consultation proposes the tagging of perpetrators. The Victims’ Rights Campaign is calling for best use to be made of GPS tracking technology to warn police and victims when an offender enters a court-imposed exclusion zone. Does the Minister agree that such an alert system would provide vital security for victims and reduce reoffending?
The Government remain committed to stamping out the abhorrent crime of modern slavery, both at home and overseas. We have strengthened the operational law enforcement response and introduced new requirements for victims to report on slavery in their supply chains, and we are now transforming the support that we provide to victims. Internationally, we continue to work with partners to build capacity and consensus to prevent modern slavery, wherever it occurs.
The Government’s comprehensive reforms of the national referral mechanism will significantly improve support for victims of modern slavery. Move-on support for confirmed victims will be trebled to 45 days, giving a minimum of 90 days of support. During that period, victims can access accommodation, financial assistance, counselling, health services and signposting to legal support. In addition, confirmed victims will be entitled to a further six months of post-NRM support.
My hon. Friend will know that section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 stipulates that companies and organisations with a turnover greater than £36 million must monitor their supply chains. What progress has been made in the implementation of section 54 across the public sector?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that interesting question. Section 54 of the Act does not cover the public sector, but the Government are committed to taking action against modern slavery in our supply chains. The Home Office and other Departments are piloting a new detailed questionnaire to get more information about modern slavery risks in our supply chains. In addition, we are learning from the leading large businesses that make up our Business Against Slavery forum, so that we can apply the best business practice to our own supply chains.
I talk to many people from the police who do not think they have sufficient resources to tackle the evil gangs in most of our towns and cities that exploit people—women, normally, although not just women—whether from this country or brought in, and force them into prostitution. This is happening in every one of our towns and cities. When are we going to get more action?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. Local police forces work with the National Crime Agency so that we have a nationwide response to modern slavery. Let us be clear that trafficking, particularly if it involves women and victims of sexual trafficking, is completely unacceptable. I encourage local police forces to work with the NCA to investigate and prosecute those offences when they can.
I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. Nail bars can be a particular source of exploitation, which is why they are the focus of the anti-slavery commissioner and of the director of labour market exploitation. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter further.
One reason why we are improving the national referral mechanism is precisely to build resilience during that vital period. We are trebling the period once a person has been found to be a victim of modern slavery in order to build resilience in respect of those people, so that they are not prone to becoming victims of modern slavery or trafficking again.
The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration recently found no evidence that the Home Office is actively monitoring the link between the use of right to rent and victims of modern slavery, despite concerns that the scheme makes it difficult for victims of modern slavery to come forward. The inspector also found that the Home Office is failing to measure the scheme effectively, and yet it has refused to fully implement the inspector’s recommendations for a proper evaluation. Will the Minister do so now?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We have looked at the national referral mechanism because we are conscious that criminal gangs, as they find out what law enforcement and others are up to and as crime develops, change their modus operandi. If there are particular issues that he wishes to raise with me, I will be happy to meet him to discuss them further.
Does the Minister agree that modern slavery is not simply a national problem, but an international problem with international gangs? When we leave the European Union, will we continue to work very closely with our European colleagues and co-operate with them to deal with this evil trade?
Very much so. Public safety will always be part of the Government’s priorities both in the EU negotiations and beyond. We already work very closely with our EU partners and with other partners because, sadly, victims are brought from all over the world. It is a programme that has the personal commitment of the Prime Minister and I know that that will continue to be the case.
At the weekend, I attended an event in Edinburgh organised by the Faculty of Advocates’ Tumbling Lassie Committee to commemorate the Scottish judiciary’s rejection of slavery in the 17th century and, more importantly, to raise funds for charities working in Scotland at the moment, such as Community Safety Glasgow’s TARA service—the trafficking awareness raising alliance—which provides a wonderful service for trafficked women who have been sexually exploited. Does the Minister agree that Governments should do everything they can to support the victims of modern slavery and human trafficking?
I agree. Indeed, when the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, she undertook the massive piece of work that became the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which is universally recognised. When I have the opportunity to discuss this with our international partners, I find that the Act is universally recognised as being world-leading. The issue will very much continue to be a priority for the Government and we will continue to give victims the support they need.
The problem with the Modern Slavery Act is that it does not actually place a duty on the UK Government—unlike the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, passed by the Scottish Parliament, which places a specific duty on Scottish Ministers to provide the sort of support and assistance that we are talking about. I am aware that there is a private Member’s Bill going forward in the other place at the moment, but can the Minister tell us whether her Government have any plans to amend the Modern Slavery Act to bring it up to the standard of the Scottish Government’s Act?
The hon. and learned Lady is referring to section 50 of the Act, which provides for regulations. Those regulations are being reviewed at the moment—indeed, we have been in contact with the noble Lord who brought that private Member’s Bill before the other place. The regulations are very much under review. We are conscious that, as crime and criminal gangs change, we must keep up to date with our response, too.
Policing of Gangs
Last week, the Home Secretary launched the Government’s serious violence strategy, which contains a commitment to ensure that independent police inspections have a focus on serious violence and include thematic inspection of police forces’ response to county lines in 2018-19.
I certainly am, Mr Speaker.
Does the Minister agree that prevention is an absolutely key aspect of policing youth violence, and that part of that prevention is a more sophisticated approach to how we police? Young people from certain neighbourhoods —especially if they are black or ethnic minority—are too often wrongly labelled as gang criminals when, in fact, they are groups of youths. Will he look at this issue?
I could not agree more with the emphasis that the hon. Lady places on the balance needed between robust law enforcement and early intervention and prevention, to steer young people away from violent crime. That is exactly the balance that we are setting out in the serious violence strategy.
I also agree with the hon. Lady’s second point. In fact, I heard it directly from youth workers in north Manchester, when I visited a factory there recently. They said, “Don’t pin all this on gangs in large parts of Manchester.” This is not about gangs; it is about very serious work to steer young people away from a path that can have devastating consequences for them.
Does the Minister accept that changes to stop-and-search laws have led to an increase in the number of deaths through knife crime? Will he give a commitment that he will let our excellent police forces get on with doing their job, without having one or both hands tied behind their backs by politicians who are flexing their politically correct muscles and sticking their noses in where they are not needed?
With respect to my hon. Friend, with whom I go back a long way, there is absolutely no evidence to support his first assertion. In fact, the last big decline in knife attacks and violent crime coincided with a fall in stop and search. I will say, quite categorically, that we see stop and search emphatically as a vital tool in the police armoury as part of the robust law enforcement that we want. However, we have been clear that it needs to be used legally, targeted, intelligence-led and, ideally, increasingly supported by body-worn video.
I am happy to say that the Minister for Security has muttered his acceptance of that invitation to me. We are increasingly aware of the need to better align national, cross-national, regional and local capability to bear down on serious organised crime as it becomes more complex and affects more of our constituents.
There is widespread support for what the Minister has said—that we need both a policing response and a response based on intervention to prevent young people from being involved in gang violence—but what is he doing to deliver on the crucial task of assessing which interventions are the most effective and deliver the best results?
As my right hon. Friend says, the serious violence strategy balances the need for robust law enforcement with really effective work to support prevention and early intervention. That needs to be evidence-led, otherwise we will waste money. Part of the Home Office’s responsibility is to ensure that commissioners have the best evidence about what works.
The serious violence strategy made no reference at all to falling police numbers, but we have the document that was put together by Home Office officials, which clearly says that rises in serious violence are
“likely to be facilitated by…a shift in police resources meaning less proactive policing…and falls in arrests/charges relating to serious violence”.
So will the Minister explain on what evidential basis he or the Home Secretary removed that reference from the serious violence strategy? Was it a purely political decision to airbrush the strategy and risk our communities in the process?
I am disappointed that the hon. Lady should focus on that, not least because she was more sensible on the “Today” programme when she said, “We do not say that there is a direct causal factor between the number of officers on the ground and the number of crimes.” In saying that, she joined the Met Commissioner, who was also quite clear that causes of violent crime are complex and cannot simply be reduced down to resourcing. I give the hon. Lady credit for her interview on the “Today” programme because it was a lot more sensible than her question, which was partisan and party political at a time, frankly, when I think the public are sick and tired of politicians chipping away at each other on this issue and want to see us work together to put an end to this dreadful cycle of violence.
Human Trafficking: 45-Day Recovery and Reflection Period
The Government exceed their international obligations by providing a 45-day period of reflection and recovery for potential victims of modern slavery. That is not a maximum but a minimum period. The reforms of the national referral mechanism were focused on extending support at the point where stakeholders tell us victims need it most as they move on from support and reintegrate into their longer-term communities. We are trebling that support to 45 days, giving people a minimum of 90 days’ support plus up to six months of post-NRM support.
EU Nationals: Citizenship Applications
The Home Secretary may remember that in November last year I raised the case of a constituent she met at the TARA—trafficking awareness raising alliance—project in Glasgow. My constituent has been granted one year’s discretionary leave to remain, not the asylum that she was seeking, and the Home Office continues to mishandle the case. Will the Home Secretary please look into this issue further? I am very concerned that this woman is not getting the support that she needs.
The Home Office continually reviews its capabilities to ensure effective delivery of the Government’s agenda, which includes assessing how our priorities will impact on the workforce and capabilities required. We are on track to increase European casework staffing levels at UK Visas and Immigration to 1,500 ahead of the settlement scheme’s launch later this year.
I thank the Home Secretary for her response. The already socially excluded are likely to have the most difficulty in completing settled status applications in time. According to the Migration Observatory, 64,000 non-Irish EU citizens said that they had never used the internet. How will the Home Office ensure that those people can complete their online settled status applications in time?
I am glad to have the opportunity to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. The settled status application process will be very straightforward and very swift, with an assumption that people will get their status when they apply for it. We need to recruit many people and expend money to get this right, precisely because we need to make sure that we have the resources and facilities available for people who are not comfortable going online. We are aware of that and will be getting advice, and we will make sure that we have a system that works for everybody.
EU citizens have a clear pathway to British citizenship, but British Indian Ocean Territory nationals, many of whom were exiled and denied citizenship, do not. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary could consider my private Member’s Bill, to ensure that justice is restored to those British nationals, for whom we are responsible.
The Home Secretary will be aware of the Law Society’s new evidence that the Government are losing 50% of immigration appeals. Given that the workload of this flawed immigration system is about to have the biggest increase in its history, with EU citizens applying for citizenship and then settled status after Brexit, what is she doing to sort out the complete mess of the immigration system?
I think that in the core of that question there was an inquiry about the settled status of EU citizens, which I know is the right hon. Gentleman’s particular concern. As I said in response to a previous question, we are making sure that the new system will be completely online and straightforward to use, and the default position will be to accept.
I am pleased to hear that the Home Secretary is confident about EU citizens, but there is widespread concern as to whether her Department has enough resources, and we now learn that the Windrush generation are going through what seems to be a nightmare system. What assurances can she give us, especially in relation to the Windrush generation, who, after all, are British citizens in the eyes of many of us?
My right hon. Friend makes a fair point. I know that there will be an opportunity for me to answer questions on that later. I am very concerned about how the Windrush generation have been treated, and I will be making some further statements about what we are going to do about that. She is right to identify that they have the right to be here, and I will make sure that the Home Office delivers on that.
Cannabis Oil Prescription: Epilepsy
The World Health Organisation has committed to reviewing the scheduling of cannabis under the 1961 United Nations convention. It is due to consider the therapeutic use, dependence on and potential to abuse constituent parts of cannabis. The Government will await the outcome of that report before considering next steps.
I thank the Minister for his response. With special reference to Dravet syndrome, the seizures associated with which are aided incredibly by cannabis oil in a larger dose, can he confirm whether his Department will legislate for specific uses, to allow doctors to prescribe it to the likes of little Sophia Gibson in my constituency, whose parents Darren and Danielle are at this moment in Holland, where Sophia is receiving medical treatment?
The hon. Gentleman has raised his constituent’s case with me in writing, and we have a huge amount of sympathy for Sophia Gibson and her family. He will know that we need to ensure that doctors and patients are assured of the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines before they come to market, but I have written to the hon. Gentleman to arrange a meeting to discuss his constituent’s case.
The Minister, who met Alfie Dingley and his family, will know the pain and anxiety caused by the cumbersome licensing process. Does he accept that a wider range of cases than this very rare form of epilepsy involve the use of cannabis oil in palliative care and pain relief, and that they also need to be investigated?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman completely; it is hard not to feel a huge amount of sympathy for Hannah Deacon and Drew Dingley, not least having met them with Alfie. We have said that we want to explore every option within the existing law. The right hon. Gentleman talks about a cumbersome licensing process. In fact, we are waiting for someone to make an application. We cannot process a licence application until we receive one, and we are waiting for that.
National Crime Agency
We have made significant progress in the fight against serious and organised crime since the National Crime Agency was established in 2013. Capabilities have improved, partnership working is better and we intervene earlier to prevent criminal activity. The agency has been instrumental to that progress and has gone from strength to strength, with an impressive and sustained track record of disruption across the full range of serious and organised crime threats.
Young people who have in effect been groomed into county lines are themselves victims of serious and organised crime, but so too are their families indirect victims. One thing that all the families affected by this issue in my constituency have in common is that they provide loving homes for their children, but they feel they have very little support from agencies in going through what must be a very traumatic process. What do Ministers plan to do not just to tackle the causes and symptoms of county lines and this kind of organised crime, but to provide adequate support to families who suffer enormous distress as a result?
I recommend that the hon. Gentleman looks at examples in other parts of the country of how county lines are dealt with using other agencies. I think his local authority is Ilford. Many local authorities and police forces work together on county lines in a pan-agency group, including social services and other local authorities. I saw one recently in Merseyside, which is doing exactly what he urges. If he thinks Ilford is not doing that, I would be very happy to meet him and the council to see what it can do to improve.
A wave of organised crime burglaries is happening in the Wellingborough constituency. In one case, two 60-year-olds—a man and a woman—were taken into separate rooms and threatened with all sorts of things that would happen to their other half. This was in the early evening, and the burglars just smashed in the front door. Those people said to me, “What would happen if we’d defended ourselves? If we’d protected ourselves, would we have ended up in prison?” We need to look at that issue again.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about self-defence and the rights of homeowners. He will obviously have seen the recent events—I cannot of course refer to that case because it is sub judice, or certainly an issue in hand—but there is clear guidance about this from the Ministry of Justice. It is important that people understand they have a right to self-defence, but they should sometimes be careful not to take the law into their own hands. If the organised criminals are well armed and dangerous, people should rely on the help of the blue light services.
I am grateful to the Minister for facilitating my further visit to the National Crime Agency this morning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) referred to the increasing threat posed by county lines. Will the £3.6 million allocated to the new national co-ordinating centre come from elsewhere in the Home Office budget, and if the National Crime Agency needs additional resources, will they be provided?
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s first question, that will be part of the overall funding package from the Home Office through either normal police transformation funding or existing National Crime Agency funding. However, county lines are developing more and more across the country, and that is why the Home Office—internally, with the National Crime Agency—has put together a strategy to look at what intelligence can be learned. If the lessons are that we require more resource or better inter-agency working, we will obviously reflect that in the serious and organised crime strategy that is due to come before the House soon.
Biometric Residence Permits
Since August 2015, all non-EU nationals with a UK visa of more than six months have been issued with a UK biometric residence permit. We have no current estimate of the number of non-EU nationals born outside the UK who have leave to remain in the UK but have not obtained a biometric residence permit.
Constituents of mine from Commonwealth countries who have lived here on paper visas for many decades have now been refused universal credit because they do not have biometric residence permits, which they have never been told they need. This is causing real hardship—not least to those with no papers, with the immigration issues that that brings—and the BRP process is costly and lengthy. What are the Government going to do urgently to address this for those who have contributed so much to our country?
I share the hon. Lady’s view that they have contributed so much to this country. I am today announcing that I am setting up a new taskforce across the Department to ensure a swift response. I am also introducing a waiver for the fees involved and a number of other measures that I hope will go a long way to assisting the Commonwealth citizens who should have their rights confirmed without charge.
The Home Secretary will know there are people who came here 50 years ago who have now lost their jobs, lost their homes and lost their healthcare as a result of Home Office decisions. Now we discover that some of them have been locked up as a result of Home Office decisions and may even have been deported—wrongly—as a result of Home Office decisions. Can she tell us how many of the Windrush generation have wrongly been deported away from their family and friends, and what action is being taken now to urgently bring them back home?
I have agreed, and I have volunteered, to meet this week the high commissioners who would like to meet me, to find out whether there are any such people who have been removed. If they want to bring me situations such as that, I will certainly look at them.
The Home Secretary will be aware that one of her ministerial colleagues will apparently say tonight that some of these people were deported in error, so can she tell the House how many and how she plans to rectify the situation?
As I say, I will find out from the high commissioners whether there have been any situations where such people have been removed. I would respectfully remind the Labour party that the workplace checks were introduced by Labour in 2008. What is happening now is part of the pattern of making sure that people are here legally. I do not want any Commonwealth citizens who are here legally to be impacted in the way they have been. Frankly, some of how they have been treated has been wrong—has been appalling—and I am sorry. That is why I am setting up a new area in my Department to ensure that we have a completely new approach to how their situation is regularised.
This Government have been clear there should be no safe space online for terrorists and their supporters to radicalise or inspire people. We are working closely with industry, including through the Global Internet Forum, to counter terrorism and to encourage industry to develop innovative solutions to tackle online radicalisation.
I do agree with my hon. Friend. It was the Home Office that took the initiative to set up the counter-terrorism internet referral unit, which has seen 300,000 pieces of terrorist propaganda taken down—voluntarily, but taken down none the less. It was the Home Office that worked with ASI Data Science to develop an automatic model, which has a 99.9% accuracy rate. If we can do it, why can those companies not?
I recently held a community meeting to contribute to Mayor Andy Burnham’s consultation on community integration and preventing radical hate speech. One issue that came up was the extent of online hate speech against Islam coming from around the world, and particularly from the United States. Will the Minister say what discussions he is having internationally to ensure that this kind of derogatory and offensive material is taken down as quickly as possible?
The hon. Lady makes a really valid point. One of the challenges is that, while broadcast is obviously covered by Ofcom and so on, some individuals move online and broadcast speeches that would be illegal if they were broadcast under Ofcom’s responsibility. I am due to visit the United States this week, and that is exactly one of the points that I shall be raising, so her question was very timely.
First of all, the relative could make a report to the police, the local authority, local safeguarding officers or safeguarding officers at school. That report would then be looked at in conjunction with a Prevent panel. People’s names would not be logged; they would not be part of a deep surveillance operation. They would simply be looked at, and the case would be discussed at a multi-agency level. Over 30% of cases are referred to other safeguarding—it might be domestic abuse or sexual abuse—and about half see no further action taken. So it is all done delicately, with respect for the individual and respect for the community. At the end, we get a good outcome, whereby a significant number of people are given assistance and are no longer radicalised or a threat.
The Minister knows that, with the invention of the internet, radicalisation is now global and crosses international boundaries, so how is he working with our international partners? He will be aware that last week a Labour delegation visited Etidal in Riyadh, which has extraordinary technology to counteract online radicalisation.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, and the question from the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), there is no doubt that the only way to curtail such radicalisation is by working with all our international partners, whether in the middle east, Europe or the United States. We have to act together, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary sits on the Global Internet Forum to ensure that we push those countries together. The United Kingdom’s lead has raised awareness and proved that solid solutions can be delivered.
Vulnerable Syrian Families
It is important that we focus our support on the most vulnerable refugees in the region who are fleeing the atrocities in Syria, whatever their nationality. We are more than halfway towards reaching our commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees. As of December, 10,538 refugees had been welcomed in the UK under the scheme. We will continue to work closely with local authorities and devolved Administrations to ensure that we meet our commitments.
Northumberland County Council is providing homes and resettlement family support for 28 Syrian adults and their 41 children, but we currently have no Syrian refugee children as we are short of foster carers to provide the necessary support. Does the Minister agree that we must encourage people who want to support those Syrian children to apply to be foster carers?
I am very grateful to all the local authorities, including Northumberland County Council, that have participated in both the resettlement scheme and the national transfer scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Northumberland County Council recently received funding through the controlling migration fund to boost its capacity to look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Government are reviewing funding arrangements for local authorities that look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. In last year’s safeguarding strategy, the Government committed to further boosting fostering capacity, including by commissioning 1,000 training places for foster carers and support workers who are caring for unaccompanied children.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of working collaboratively with local authorities. We also work hard with charities, housing associations and civic society to help refugees on the road to integration. During the recess, I was fortunate to visit World Jewish Relief, Coventry City Council and Horton Housing, among others, which are working with resettled families who are being helped into work as part of their integration. He is right to mention the 20,000 target and I am absolutely confident that we will reach it by 2020.
Families belong together, and vulnerable refugee families from Syria in particular belong together. Will the Minister use the opportunity of the current attention on Syria to commit the Government to standing by Members on both sides of the House who support the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, the private Member’s Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil)?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question; I am conscious of her keen interest in this subject. She will of course know that, since 2010, 24,000 family reunion visas have been issued, but I will look very carefully at the Bill from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), which has received cross-party support. We will continue to look at what we can do to help the most vulnerable families from the region. They should, quite rightly, be our priority.
Police and Law Enforcement: Recruitment
As crime and society change, so must the police. That was why we established the College of Policing to raise standards and the quality of training, and why we funded innovative schemes such as Direct Entry and Police Now, which are bringing in fresh skills and talent.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that fundamental point, because more and more of our constituents are vulnerable to crime online—crime enabled by the internet—and it is absolutely vital that our police forces have the right skills to tackle crime. That is why, as part of our £1.9 billion cyber programme, we are investing in awareness programmes such as CyberFirst and creating the cyber digital career pathways project to ensure that officers have the skills that they need to face modern crime.
The Home Secretary and I attach great importance to this because we have policing by consent, and it is incredibly important that our police forces represent better the communities that they serve. They are more representative than ever, but are nowhere near where they need to be, and that is why the college, the police chiefs and the superintendents are working together to develop a national diversity strategy, which is being presented to chiefs this week. We attach huge importance to the strategy’s implementation so that our police forces can become increasingly representative of the communities they serve.
We have said clearly that we want to preserve the capabilities that we have worked hard over many years to develop with our European partners. That is why we have proposed a comprehensive new security treaty, in the mutual interests of our European partners, who recognise—this relates to the right hon. Gentleman’s point about Europol, and I think we are its second biggest contributor—that our continued active presence in that agency, along with the other tools that we have developed over many years, are absolutely critical to our security going forward.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, recently said that the police need to be better trained to tackle and prosecute upskirting, but police and crime commissioners have argued that a change in the law is needed. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Justice Minister or with police and crime commissioners?
I think that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) colleague, who is responsible for crime and safeguarding, has agreed to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this important point further.
The Government’s focus remains on protecting those selling sex from harm and enabling the police to target those who exploit vulnerable people involved in prostitution. We recognise the need for research on the nature and prevalence of prostitution before we consider any changes to legislation and policy. We have commissioned research by the University of Bristol to achieve this aim.
Article 6 of the 1979 United Nations convention on gender equality and the empowerment of women positions prostitution as symbolic of women’s continued discrimination and inequality. What is being done to address that and to prevent inequality and discrimination happening to women who find themselves in that vulnerable position?
We are very clear that we want to tackle the harm and exploitation that may result from prostitution. We want a strong evidence base to inform any changes that may or may not be made in future, and that is why we have commissioned this research. However, we are clear about the harm from prostitution and that enabling people who want to leave it must be accommodated.
Many young girls are forced into selling their body as a result of being in coercive and controlling relationships. Prostitution is a form of violence against women and girls. What more can the Government do to protect victims from the harsh reality of this form of abuse?
We are very clear that any such abuse is against the law. Indeed—this follows on from the previous question—we have awarded £650,000 to Merseyside police from the VAWG service transformation fund to provide services for sex workers who are the victims of, or at risk of, sexual and domestic violence and abuse, exploitation or human trafficking. We have provided £389,000 to organisations that help those who want to leave prostitution and sex work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.