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Topical Questions

Volume 642: debated on Monday 4 June 2018

Yesterday we marked a year since the appalling attack at London Bridge and Borough Market, and less than two weeks ago we remembered those lost at Manchester Arena. Those sobering occasions remind us that the first duty of the Government, and my highest priority as Home Secretary, is to protect the public. Therefore, I today launch the Government’s new counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, following the comprehensive review of our counter-terrorism approach announced by the Prime Minister a year ago. The strategy sets out how the Government will continue to tackle the serious and evolving threat from terrorism.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that an increased ability for MI5 and other public bodies to share information will not only deliver a more effective and joined-up response to the fast-changing nature of potential terrorism, but will also come with the right safeguards to protect the use of that information?

I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. One of the lessons learned from the 2017 attacks was that MI5 could share some of its information on a wider basis—not just with counter-terrorism police, but perhaps with elements of local government and neighbourhood police. That will happen in the pilots to which the Minister for Security and Economic Crime referred earlier. I assure my right hon. Friend that the information will be declassified and that there will be certain safeguards in place.

Denzel Darku is a student nurse and a tireless volunteer who carried the baton for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He dreams of a career in NHS Scotland, but faces deportation on a technicality, through no fault of his own. My colleagues in the Scottish Government have already written to the Secretary of State about this young man’s case, but they have not had a reply. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this young man, who only wants to stay in Scotland to serve the national health service?

I am pleased that the hon. and learned Lady has raised that case, because it was also raised with me last week by the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, who is also very concerned about it and has asked me to look into it. The hon. and learned Lady might know that there is an appeal going on with regard to Mr Darku, and I should not say too much about that. However, I am very sympathetic about the situation, and there will be no enforcement action while the review takes place.

T3. Do Ministers agree that more needs to be done to help women who want to exit prostitution to do so? (905669)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, and I also thank the all-party parliamentary group on prostitution and the global sex trade for its report. I know that my hon. Friend is a member of that group. The Government are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution. Those who want to leave should have every opportunity to do so. We have provided more than £2 million to organisations supporting prostitutes and sex workers, and we are now funding a study to look into the scale and nature of prostitution.

With reference to the earlier questions on how the cap on tier 2 visas is depriving the NHS of much-needed doctors, the visa cap is damaging the NHS at a time when it is already facing a doctor shortage of 10,000 and an overall staff shortage of more than 100,000. The Home Office is turning away doctors the NHS needs because it is unable to breach the cap. Ministers have referred to briefings in the press in the past few days, but does the Secretary of State appreciate that the NHS needs him to come forward as a matter of urgency and say that he is prepared to review the workings of the cap to allow us to recruit those doctors?

It is right that we control immigration and try to bring it down to sustainable levels in the long term, but it is also correct that we let in the skills that we need, whether for our health service or our businesses. This is an important issue, and as we heard earlier, Select Committees have written to me and I am looking at the issue very carefully.

T8. On 6 April the USA announced tough sanctions against 24 Russian Government officials and oligarchs, including Oleg Deripaska, whose company floated here in London last year. When will we publish an equivalent British sanctions list on people whose presence and dirty money are not welcome on our shores? (905674)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on this issue as the Government’s anti-corruption tsar. Like him, I was incredibly interested in the sanctions list that the United States published. He will be aware that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 has gone through this House. There are further opportunities to strengthen the regime with, I hope, a Bill coming forward from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with regard to designations. We will be exploring that issue. It is important to note that the United Kingdom has recently been at the forefront of driving out dirty Russian money—or indeed other dirty money. It is important that we tackle this issue head on.

T2. The Home Secretary said yesterday that he is open to looking again at the inclusion of international students in net migration targets. He will know that there is strong support for that move on both sides of the House. Will he therefore meet me and other officers of the all-party parliamentary group on international students, prior to the publication of the Migration Advisory Committee review that his predecessor so wisely commissioned? (905668)

First, it is worth reminding the House that there is no cap on the number of students who can come into the country. I know that the hon. Gentleman knows that, but it is not well known more widely. I do think that this issue is important, and that is why I have committed to take a look at it in due course.

T10. The people of Morley and Outwood want to see more police officers on the streets. What are the Government doing to recruit more police officers, particularly in West Yorkshire? (905676)

We have taken steps that have led to an additional £460 million of taxpayers’ money going into the police system, including another £9.9 million for West Yorkshire, where the police and crime commissioner has said that he will use it to recruit more than 140 police officers and staff—and that is on top of an increase in 2016. I am sure that my hon. Friend will do a great job in holding him to account to make sure that those additional resources are used to the benefit of her constituents.

T4. A few weeks ago, the Government’s chief inspector of borders and immigration said of the right to rent policy that it“is yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance”,that“the Home Office has failed to coordinate, maximise or even measure…its use”,and that“externally it is doing little to address stakeholders’ concerns.”Is it not time to listen to the wide range of concerns about this failing policy? What is the Secretary of State going to do to review it? (905670)

The right to rent is an important component of the Government’s policies to make sure that those who are living here illegally do not find it easy to access the services and facilities that those who are here legally access. It is really important that we draw a clear distinction between legal and illegal immigration. The Government are determined to make sure that we implement our policies in an effective but humane way.

I was humbled to take part in the Firefighters Memorial Day commemorations in Corby a few weeks ago. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending our brilliant and brave firefighters in Northamptonshire for all they do?

I am certainly happy to commend firefighters not just in Northamptonshire but across the country, who do an incredibly difficult and demanding job within a service that this country can rightly be very proud of.

T5. The Home Office revoked some 40,000 visas from students of the test of English for international communication following the BBC “Panorama” investigation of 2014, and it is estimated that 4,000 to 7,000 of those students were wrongly accused. The Home Secretary gave my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) an undertaking that he would look at that. Can he update the House and explain whether his Department will have an urgent helpline for those affected and hold a review of the matter? (905671)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We regard the action that the Home Office has taken in response to information received from the Educational Testing Service as proportionate. However, we are reviewing the position of those who remain in the UK.

While I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments about ensuring non-EU migration for the NHS, may I ask him to also bear in mind the needs of the private sector and ensure that any solution he finds does not merely put more pressure on the tier 2 visa cap? We must ensure that our private sector businesses get the highly experienced, skilled labour that they need.

It is an honour to take a question from my right hon. Friend, and I can give her that assurance. She is absolutely right; we have to make sure we have the skills that we need for both our public sector and our private sector.

T6. I am sure the Home Secretary will join me in sending condolences following the appalling incident in my constituency last week at a car meet, when a so-called drifting car crashed into spectators, killing one and grievously injuring six others. Will he work with me and colleagues around the country to look at how we may need to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms available to the police and local authorities so that we can curb the spread of those events and stop them being displaced elsewhere? (905672)

Of course I join the hon. Lady in what she has said, and my thoughts are with all those affected. She is right to raise that issue, and this is a good opportunity to look at it more closely. I will happily discuss it with her.

Further to the comments on the tier 2 application route and the effect on the NHS—it is working against the best interests of patients—will the Home Secretary consider the impact on areas outside London, the costs to NHS staff of making applications and the cost of their failure, in monetary terms and for patients? Will he also look at the effect on scientists and researchers?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I thank her for the letter that she sent on behalf of the Health and Social Care Committee, in which she made some other excellent points, and I assure her that I am looking at it carefully.

T9. Will the Secretary of State look carefully at policing numbers, particularly in relation to the growth of gang culture in our country, which is linked to knife crime? The police cannot cope without the resources to tackle gangs. (905675)

I thank the Home Secretary for looking again at the impact of the tier 2 visa cap on doctors. Will he also look at the impact on trainee doctors such as my constituent, who has completed most of his GP specialist training on a spouse visa but, due to a marriage breakdown, now needs a tier 2 visa?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She makes a really important point. I am conscious that it is not only about NHS trusts seeking to bring in doctors from overseas; there are also a number in training and at university who are seeking to gain employment opportunities here. She will have heard the comments of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Some Iraqi Kurds who applied for asylum in the UK in Saddam’s time did so under false names because they were terrified of what would happen to them if they were sent back. It appears that some of them, having been granted asylum, are now having their British passports withdrawn simply because they have told the Home Office what their real name is. Does the Home Secretary think that that is fair?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that. I was not aware of it, so I am pleased that he has brought it to my attention. I would love to hear more, and perhaps he could meet me to see what we can do.

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, soft fruit farmers in Angus and across the United Kingdom are gearing up for a busy season. What assurances can he provide to those farmers that they will be able to access the workforce they require, and can he give a timescale for when that will be delivered?

My hon. Friend has been consistent in making a very strong case for supporting the Scottish strawberry and, indeed, raspberry. I am conscious that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited her constituency recently and listened to some of her constituents’ views, and we are looking at the issue of seasonal workers very closely.

Several Members have raised the fact that more than 1,500 doctors have been turned away in the past five months because of the tier 2 visa cap being reached. That crude approach, in which points are now gained only with a qualifying salary of £60,000 instead of £30,000, means that many areas of the UK and almost all public services are excluded; a doctor’s salary cannot simply be doubled. When will this be changed?

The hon. Lady will have heard an earlier answer, which stated clearly that nobody on a shortage occupation list has been turned away. Both I and the Home Secretary are very conscious of the points that have been made repeatedly this afternoon. We know that there is a real challenge in the NHS accessing trained doctors. The Department of Health and Social Care is doing excellent work to make sure that we increase the number of training places in the UK, but the calls are being heard.

Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary agree that the current shopfront advertisements of Lush are clearly anti-police, are in very poor taste and should be withdrawn?

People can have legitimate concerns about the so-called spy cops issue, and that is why there is an inquiry, but I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that Lush should be tarring all police officers with the same bath bomb.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the increasing farce besetting Border Force recruitment in Northern Ireland, and will he meet us to consider how best and most fairly we can have exactly the same conditions for Northern Ireland applicants as those that apply in the rest of the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he and others have raised this with me. We have looked very carefully at recruitment processes in Northern Ireland to make sure that there is absolutely no bias, taking into account the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s comments.