House of Commons
Monday 4 June 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Refugee Family Reunion
The Government’s approach to refugee family reunion has provided a safe and legal route for more than 25,000 partners and children of those granted protection here in the last five years. We are listening carefully to calls to expand family reunion. We are monitoring the progress of two private Members’ Bills and are actively in discussion with non-governmental organisations.
While adults can sponsor their relatives, under UK rules separated children have no family reunion rights—not even to bring their parents to the UK. Every other country in the EU allows children to sponsor at least their closest relatives. When will the UK do the same?
I understand the concerns of the hon. Lady, who is right to raise this important matter. As I said a moment ago, we want to look at the private Members’ Bills and see what more we can do. On her specific issue about children, there is a concern that if we allow children to sponsor adults, whether their parents or others, that might cause harm, in that people might be incentivised to push children forward and put them through danger. I hope she understands that we need to consider such things carefully.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He will know that the Government do a lot—more than any other European Government—to support refugees in conflict zones. With regards to Syria, for example, the British Government have so far allocated more than £2 billion.
The Home Secretary says he wants to consider the private Members’ Bills, so is it not about time the Government brought forward a money resolution so that the Bill in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, can make progress and we can debate the Government’s amendments?
We have two Syrian families living in Taunton Deane. The local community has gone all out to look after them, particularly a charity called Christian Help and Action for Refugees in Somerset and Rev. Rod Corke from St Mary Magdalene Church, who is leaving us soon to go to Malvern—a great loss. Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating all those who have given up so much time to look after these needy people?
The importance of family life ought to unite both sides of the House, but the current rules break up families, as many of us see in our own constituency case loads week after week. The rules are inhumane and in breach of the right to a family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. It is also unfortunate that legal aid for some of these applications, which was previously available, was removed under the coalition in 2013. Labour has pledged in government to end the breaking up of families under these rules. Surely the Home Secretary should move faster to review his current family reunion rules.
I say to the right hon. Lady that 25,000 people have been reunited over the last five years—5,000 a year; I hope she would agree that that is not an insignificant number. She says the current rules are inhumane. It is worth reminding her that they were introduced in 2007 by the previous Labour Government. Perhaps she should reflect on that. She talks about legal aid. As she will know, legal aid is under review by the Ministry of Justice and is something we are looking at carefully.
Domestic Violence and Abuse
The Government’s wide-ranging consultation on domestic abuse closed last Thursday. We are analysing more than 3,200 responses received from survivors of domestic abuse, frontline professionals, experts from the domestic abuse sector and academics. I am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond. As announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Government remain committed to bringing forward a draft Bill this Session.
The previous Chancellor announced that domestic violence services would be among the beneficiaries of the tampon tax and would receive an additional dedicated £10 million a year, but this amount remains inadequate for services already hard hit by successive cuts since 2010. Will the Government set out a long-term funding strategy for domestic violence and rape crisis services?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I know he has taken an interest in this matter. The Government have committed £20 million specifically to domestic abuse accommodation. It is supporting 80 areas, creating 2,200 new bed spaces and supporting 19,000 victims of domestic abuse. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is also conducting an audit of services. Between that audit and the consultation responses, we will ensure that we have a service that supports victims of domestic abuse.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse will recognise that it is not just physical, but can take many different forms—psychological, sexual, economic and emotional—all of which should be considered?
I echo your congratulations to my right hon. Friend, Mr Speaker. I can give him the confirmation for which he has asked. The purpose of the Bill is to include in legislation, for the first time, a cross-governmental definition of domestic abuse. We know that it is not confined to physical violence but can take many forms, and we want the law to reflect that.
I look forward to the introduction of the Bill, and, as the Minister knows, I also look forward to working on it on a cross-party basis. However, may I press her further? Is she aware of a report published by Professor Sylvia Walby in 2009, which, I think, updates earlier research and draws attention to the economic as well as the moral and emotional case for tackling domestic violence earlier and better?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who always brings her outside expertise to the House when she speaks of such matters. It does not feel right to talk about the economic effects of domestic abuse, because the emotional and psychological impacts are of course far greater, but there is an economic side as well. We look forward very much to working on the Bill with the hon. Lady and others.
The Home Office monitors protest threats, but the management of protests is an operational and independent matter for the police so no Home Office guidance or briefings have been issued.
Does the Minister agree that protest groups whose core aim is to disrupt legitimate business, such as meat production, should pay towards the cost of policing? Surely it cannot be right either for there to be too few police covering the protests, or for there to be fewer police elsewhere because those who are covering the protests cannot police the rest of the community.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, and I understand how distressing it must be for a legitimate business to be on the receiving end of a campaign of disruption. I am sure that, as a good democrat, my hon. Friend would not want to do anything to undermine the principle of peaceful protest. When that crosses the line into harassment or threats to public safety, we have recourse to the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Ealing’s police have been dealing with one protest for 23 years outside our local Marie Stopes clinic. The aim of the protest is to prevent women from accessing healthcare. Although our council has now introduced a public spaces protection order, this is a national problem that requires a national solution. Will the Minister respond to the letter that 160 of us—including the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), and three Select Committee Chairs—wrote to him asking for his predecessor’s review to be published, and will he opt for our proposed solution of buffer zones? That would be an easy win for him at an early stage in his already successful career.
The hon. Lady and I have debated this matter in Westminster Hall, and we both know that there is a balance to be struck between the right to protest and ensuring that protests do not cross the line into harassment and intimidation. As she says, her local council has introduced a public spaces protection order, and we need to see how that goes. As for the review that she mentioned, it was entered into in good faith and it is ongoing.
The application process for resident EU citizens and their family members to obtain that status in the UK after we leave the EU will be straightforward, streamlined and user-friendly, and there will be a dedicated customer contact centre to help people through the process. The majority of applicants will need to meet only three criteria: they will have to prove their identity, prove that they are resident in the UK, and prove that they do not pose a serious criminal or security threat.
According to the Migration Observatory, 64,000 non-Irish EU nationals in the UK have never used the internet, and 250,000 have reported language-related difficulties in accessing or keeping work. What capacity will the Home Office have to deal with the many thousands of applicants who will not be able to apply online?
It is crucial that, in addition to our assisted digital application process, we will have dedicated support—lines to help people through the process. But I am very conscious that there will be people with language difficulties; that has been raised with us by some of the user groups, and we are looking to see how we can assist them as well.
I greatly welcome the Minister’s announcement that the process will be smooth and easy to follow, but agree with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) that a very large number of otherwise extremely sophisticated people in this country do not know that it will be as easy as my hon. Friend describes. By what mechanism will she get the message out to all these people that they are welcome here, that the process will be easy, and, crucially, that the cost of applying for residency will be no more than the current cost for a British citizen of applying for a passport?
We have been very clear from the outset that the cost of the scheme will be no more than the cost of applying for a British passport, and indeed for those who already have permanent residency there will be no cost at all. It is crucial that we continue to work with our user groups, and as we roll the scheme forward we will be providing more information, including through our dedicated email service that we are sending out to people. But we do have an important communication job to make sure people know how to apply and when the scheme opens.
Efforts to involve community groups and public services such as libraries in facilitating settled status applications seem almost non-existent. I learned from Scottish Government colleagues last week that in Scotland the UK Government have made only cursory contact with just two libraries. Can the Minister tell us what further engagement is planned with community groups and public services?
The Home Office continues to engage with people, businesses and organisations across the UK. We are seeking a deal that works for the entire UK and it is very important that we make sure that user groups in Scotland, including organisations such as Citizens Advice, have the necessary resources and understanding of how this system is going to work. We are rolling forward an engagement programme from this point onwards, and I am looking forward to making further announcements in due course.
Does the Minister agree that the fact that 3 million or 3.5 million EU citizens wish to remain in the UK after we leave the EU is a huge vote of confidence in post-Brexit Britain’s future? Does she wish that all colleagues in this House had as much confidence as those EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK after we leave?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There are more EU citizens living and working here now than there were at the time of the referendum, and we want to make sure that it is very clear to them that they are welcome. We welcome the contributions they make to both our communities and our economy, and we are working to make sure that the streamlined process is as easy as possible.
EU citizens are worried that they might be subjected to the same treatment as the Windrush generation; we have seen similarly cruel treatment of highly skilled migrants deported because of minor tax errors. What system is the Minister putting in place to ensure that, when the settled status system is up and running, issues can be picked up internally without the need for a media storm and extensive pressure from the Opposition?
Of course, it is crucial that the settled status scheme gives people a digital confirmation of their right to live, work and rent property in the UK, and we are absolutely committed to doing that.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of people with minor tax discrepancies. It is important to reflect that there have been several instances where those minor discrepancies have run into tens of thousands of pounds, and it is crucial that we pick up any discrepancies between what people are declaring as their income for immigration purposes and their income for tax purposes. We want to make sure that we collect the amount of tax that is owing.
Sexual Exploitation of Vulnerable Children
The Government attach the highest priority to tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse, declaring it a national threat and investing significantly in law enforcement capacity to transform the police response. Last year’s “Tackling child sexual exploitation” progress report announced a £40 million package of measures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation, and to crack down on offenders.
I thank the Minister for her response. Child sexual exploitation victims often struggle to get justice. What steps will she take to ensure that the police identify grooming and child sexual exploitation, and that they do not mistake those serious crimes for consensual sex?
I know that my hon. Friend is pursuing this campaign with great vigour. We have provided £1.9 million to the College of Policing to develop a training package for first responders to vulnerable people. The package teaches the importance of applying professional judgment when identifying signs of issues such as grooming, and police guidance makes it clear that sexual grooming and sexual communication with a child are offences in their own right.
Will the Minister also acknowledge that the grooming of children can lead to young people over the age of 16 being raped, whether or not so-called consent is given, as the manipulation has already been sustained while the young person was under 16? Will she look into changing the law in this area so that prosecutions can be brought?
Every case has to be judged on its own facts, but I would hope that any police investigation—and, indeed, any prosecution—would reflect any history of grooming when the case came before a judge and jury. If the hon. Lady wishes to refer a particular case to me, I will of course be delighted to review it.
The Minister might be aware that I have raised with her colleague, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, the fact that if the child protection information sharing project were able to keep details of vulnerable mothers-to-be as well as of children, Poppi Worthington would have been known to social services before she died. Has the Minister had time to consider this shortcoming, and will she put it right?
We all acknowledge that child sexual exploitation can often be a consequence of county lines, but the limited awareness of the signs of it means that vulnerable children are often left to the mercy of their abusers. To improve identification, the emergency services need more support. What training and support are the Government providing to help them better recognise child victims of county lines exploitation?
As the hon. Lady knows, county lines is a policing priority. It is a major element of our serious violence strategy, precisely because we recognise the harm that it can cause not only through acts of violence among gang members but in the wider community. That is precisely why we have contributed £3.5 million towards a national co-ordination centre to help to spread the message and the intelligence about county lines among police forces.
The Government have published a serious violence strategy that sets out a range of actions to tackle knife crime, including a national media campaign, continuing support for police action under Operation Sceptre, an offensive weapons Bill and a new round of the Community Fund.
Does the Secretary of State agree that we need a multi-faceted approach to tackling knife crime? It is essential that we not only disrupt but educate those people who are likely to offend, but it is also important that we retain a high likelihood of imprisonment for anyone who refuses to stop carrying a knife.
Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in the prevalence of knife crime in Essex over the past year. Some of it is associated with county lines drugs operations moving out into Essex from the capital. What action is the Home Secretary’s Department taking, in association with the Essex police, to fight this menace on our streets?
I know that the police in Essex taking this issue seriously. Among the actions that they are taking, one thing I would encourage them to do more of is to apply to the Community Fund and to focus a bit more on early intervention, which I know they are interested in and have done successfully before. They have received funding for such projects before, and I would encourage them to seek it again.
We know that prevention lies at the heart of much of the knife crime issue, but there are things that can be done now. The former Home Secretary, who is here today, told the Home Affairs Committee that she would look at using more criminal behaviour orders for people who have been convicted of knife crime to stop them from going on social media to get the attention that they crave. Will the Home Secretary look at that issue?
Will the Home Secretary match the £2 million that the West Midlands police and crime commissioner has managed to scrape together to tackle gangs and knife and violent crime with early intervention schemes, mediation programmes and other initiatives? Will he meet me and a cross-party delegation of MPs from the region to discuss how we can work together to tackle the issue?
I commend the work that is being done locally by West Midlands police to fight violent crime, particularly knife crime, and I am sure that the funds that it has put to use will make a difference. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other local Members of Parliament to discuss the matter further.
Perhaps my hon. Friend listened to or heard about the speech I gave to the Police Federation just last week, when I said that the police should be examining all the powers that they currently have, including stop and search. Whenever they think that it is appropriate, they should not hesitate to use it because that will help all communities.
I am sure that we are all as one in wishing to tackle knife crime, but it is the framework of law either side of the Scottish border that interests me. In Scotland, 16 to 18-year-olds can purchase kitchen knives, yet it is a short drive from Coldstream in Scotland to Alnwick in England. Should we not harmonise the laws on either side of the border to tackle knife crime?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Devolution means that it makes sense to co-operate on many important issues, and this is one of them. We hope that the new offensive weapons Bill will be supported by the Scottish Government and that they will take similar action.
It is for police and crime commissioners and chief constables to decide the size of their workforces. We are helping the police to respond to changing demand with a £460 million increase in overall funding in 2018-19, including through the council tax precept, and many PCCs are using that cash for extra recruitment.
I thank the Home Secretary for that response. Tackling terrorism is obviously extremely important, but the more immediate concern for people each and every day comes from crimes such as burglary and antisocial behaviour. Is he confident that police forces such as Gloucestershire’s will have sufficient officers to follow up complaints about those crimes and see them through right to the end?
I reassure my hon. Friend that we are helping the police to respond to the changing demand that he mentions with the extra £460 million overall. Many PCCs have made a commitment to increase frontline policing. Gloucestershire has received a £3.6 million increase this year and I am sure that that will help. In addition, I will prioritise more police resources in the next spending review.
The Metropolitan police does a fantastic job and its officers are incredibly dedicated. Over the past few weeks that I have been in this role I have had the opportunity to meet many of them. We must ensure that they have the resources they need. That is why the Metropolitan police received a record increase in the recent financial settlement, which has been welcomed.
The Policing Minister is sitting next to the Home Secretary and will be able to brief him on the crisis in police funding in Lincolnshire. He will tell the Home Secretary that we are one of the bottom three authorities in the entire country for funding, so what is the Home Secretary going to do to try to resolve this matter? It would take relatively little and relatively few steps, and it would be cost-effective to ensure that we were fairly funded in Lincolnshire to help to resolve rural crime.
For a moment I thought I was back in Housing, Communities and Local Government questions, as that sounds like a question about local government funding in Lincolnshire. My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is an increase of more than £3 million for local policing in Lincolnshire in the latest settlement, but this is an important issue that I wish to look at much more closely as we get to the spending review.
The Home Secretary has twice talked about police resources on “The Andrew Marr Show” since he took office, first on 8 April, when he said that police cuts have had no effect on crime, and then this weekend, when he said that, as a priority, he wants to secure extra funding for the police. For the avoidance of doubt, is the Home Office’s new line that the police do need high budgets? If so, how much and when?
What I recognise is that, for a number of reasons, there has been an increase in recorded crime and certain types of crime, such as cyber-crime, and there has been more reporting of past sexual offences and of domestic crime. We are encouraging that and we want to see it reported. We have to make sure resources match that demand, which is why the increase this year is very welcome. As we get to the spending review, we have to make sure that we have the right amount of resources for the long term.
Since the Tories came to power, the number of police in the Northumbria policing area has been cut by 27%. During the same time, violent crime has gone up 177%. Is it just the general public who notice the link between those figures, or has the Secretary of State noticed it, too?
Perhaps it is worth my reminding the hon. Gentleman that at the last election he stood on a manifesto that wanted to cut police funding by 5% to 10%, whereas this Government have protected it. If his correlation were correct—if it were correct—crime would have gone up even more had Labour been in office.
Fire Services: Workforce
The statutory fire and rescue national framework includes principles that all services should follow to ensure that firefighters remain fit and fully supported to remain on operational duties and in employment.
Yes, because we believe the fire system has the resources it needs to do the job against a backdrop of falling demand for statutory fire services. Of course, the system is sitting on over £600 million of reserves, which have grown by over £0.25 billion since 2011.
The ageing work profile among our firefighters is partially a result of changes to the firefighters’ pension scheme. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of redeployment opportunities for firefighters who are compelled to work to the age of 60?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The average age of our firefighters is 42, and we have more than 1,000 firefighters who are over 56, which makes it extremely important that fire authorities do not just assess fitness but help firefighters to maintain and develop their fitness and give firefighters all the necessary support and protection when there is a problem so they can continue in their operational duties. That is set out in the statutory fire and rescue national framework, and it will be the subject of independent inspection when independent inspection starts this year.
I assure my hon. Friend that I speak regularly to Andy Street. The Government are determined to honour the second devolution deal, including with proposals to help to bring police and fire services under the Mayor, as we have done in London and Manchester. I assure my hon. Friend that we are absolutely committed to working with both Andy Street and the police and crime commissioner to make sure that that happens by 2020.
As a result of this Government’s cut to funding, along with no recruitment drive, we have seen both a reduction in the number of firefighters and an increasingly ageing workforce. How do the Government plan to address the rising age of firefighters? Will the Minister please give us some specific examples?
I already have. Through the statutory national framework, every fire authority is required not just to assess firefighter fitness, but to help to develop and maintain it, giving assurances about support if problems arise, so that every firefighter, whatever their age, is given the maximum possible opportunity to continue to support their service and remain on operational duties. That is set out in the statutory framework.
Illegal Migrants: Employment
Employers have had a duty to prevent illegal working since 1997. In 2016, we introduced tougher sanctions on rogue employers and made illegal working a criminal offence, so that wages can be seized as proceeds of crime. We have recently introduced additional safeguards to protect legal migrants seeking employment who do not have the necessary documentation to establish their lawful immigration status.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to reducing illegal immigration. Does she agree that the best way to deter illegal migrants from looking for work in the UK is by preventing their entering the country with stringent checks at air and sea ports?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. All passengers arriving in the UK at passport control are checked against watch lists on arrival at the border. The majority of those people are checked against our systems before they even travel, through the collection of advance passenger information. Between April 2010 and March 2018, we refused entry to 138,992 people, including more than 18,000 in the year to March 2018.
Those seeking asylum in the UK are currently banned from working and, as a result, they are forced to live in penury and are denied the right to contribute their skills to our society. Does the Minister agree that this system is lacking in both compassion and common sense? Will she reform it?
Our asylum system provides accommodation and funding for those who are here during the process of their asylum claim. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point: we must continue to make sure that the UK has one of the most humane asylum systems in the world. We are working very hard to make sure we do that.
The Government recognise that cyber is a tier 1 risk to the UK’s economic and national security. The Home Secretary and I hold regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, the National Security Council, GCHQ and other Government Departments, both to tackle the overall threat and in response to specific incidents.
Through both the Joint Fraud Taskforce and broader cyber-security meetings in the Home Office, we work with the industry to produce a common cyber aware campaign, to make sure that everyone is reading from the same hymn sheet and advice is consistent across government. We also work hand in hand with the National Cyber Security Centre to make sure that advice is given both to small businesses and the charitable sector, so that they are not made vulnerable. By investing £1.9 billion in the national cyber-capability programme, we can invest in the capability to see this off.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the personnel at GCHQ Scarborough, which is known locally as “Wireless station”? Together with their colleagues in Cheltenham, they work day and night to keep us safe from cyber-attacks and cyber-crime.
The workforce at GCHQ do a tremendous job of keeping us safe from our enemies, and have done since all the way back to GCHQ’s history in Bletchley Park. I was delighted that some new GCHQ jobs were recently announced in my region, the north-west, which shows that it is not just a Cheltenham-based organisation, with sites in Yorkshire, Cornwall and now Manchester.
The Security Minister indicated on the radio this morning that counter-terror intelligence will now be shared with local organisations, including the police and local councils. Will he explain how the cyber-security of that data will be guaranteed at a local level and what training will be given to those who handle it? Crucially, will he confirm that additional resources will be given to every organisation that is asked to store it?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are sharing the information more widely in three pilot schemes that will be funded by the Home Office, so the funding will be met by central Government. The first three pilots are going to be based in Birmingham, Manchester and London. Of course, local authorities, social services and mainstream county police forces deal with sensitive information every day, and that is already subject to data protection rules and appropriate levels of security. We will continue to advise them on that, and the information that we share will of course be declassified before they get it.
The Government have introduced a new offence of coercive or 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, including a £17 million service transformation fund that supports 41 areas to promote early intervention and prevention. We are of course working towards the introduction of a draft Bill before the end of this Session.
I thank my hon. Friend for her important work on supporting children and families. The Government are committed to early intervention in and the prevention of domestic abuse. We already fund schemes—such as Women’s Aid’s Ask Me scheme—that create safe spaces in communities so that victims can disclose. Following the closing of our domestic abuse consultation last week, we are considering all options on doing more.
Will the Minister please strengthen the domestic violence services in North Yorkshire, where the Tory council has closed its refuge, meaning that victims flood over into Labour Durham and put our refuges under unacceptable pressure?
Leaving the EU: Seasonal Workers
The Government are considering a range of options for the future immigration system. We will make decisions based on evidence and engagement. We have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the economic and social impact of the UK’s exit from the EU and on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy.
The tourism and hospitality sector’s No. 1 concern is post-Brexit access to the labour force. Many seasonal workers will not qualify for settled status under the current framework because of the seasonal nature of their work. Will the Minister consider some sort of seasonal workers scheme for the hospitality sector, along the same lines as a seasonal agricultural workers scheme?
I recognise the importance of tourism in my hon. Friend’s constituency and his work in the all-party group on the visitor economy. Seasonal workers make an important contribution to the tourism and hospitality sector, and it is a sector that we wish to see thrive. Any EU citizen who is currently in the UK will be able to benefit from the settlement scheme that we are establishing. For the longer term, we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise us; I am sure that it will be mindful of my hon. Friend’s points.
Along with the hospitality industry, the agricultural industry is crying out for help on migrant workers. Will the Government confirm that they will reinstate the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and allow it to reflect the needs in different areas, such as my county of East Lothian?
The hon. Gentleman has identified farming and my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) asked about tourism, but a number of other sectors are affected, including fisheries, which has been raised with me recently. It is crucial that we take the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee and that we have evidence-based policy making. I reassure the hon. Gentleman and other Members that I am looking into this issue very closely indeed.
The 2015 counter-extremism strategy committed the Government for the first time to tackling the non-terrorist harm that extremism causes. Since 2015, supported by civil society groups, we have taken steps to protect public institutions from the threat of extremism.
After the bombing in Manchester, my constituency experienced a sudden sharp loss of police resources in favour of the city of Birmingham, so I welcome the £450 million extra to be spent on combating terrorism. Does the Home Secretary agree that programmes such as the Church Urban Fund’s Near Neighbours scheme are also needed to tackle the underlying causes of extremism and to help strengthen social cohesion?
I agree very much with my right hon. Friend. She will know that I am a big fan of the Near Neighbours scheme. Since 2011 the Government have committed more than £11 million to it, and there is a further £2.6 million agreed for the next two years. There may also be support available from the Government’s “Building a Stronger Britain Together” campaign.
My hon. Friend’s constituents are right to be aghast at that, and I fully understand that feeling. This is a Europe-wide issue, and I have already discussed it with some of my counterparts in Europe. We are making sure that individuals who return from conflict zones such as Syria are properly investigated and potentially prosecuted by police, and that if they do come back and live here we have proper restrictions in place.
Will the Home Secretary please delegate a Minister to meet me about an issue on which it is crucial that work is done sensitively, because errors can occur? I refer to a constituent whose home was mistakenly broken into by terror police. He has been unable to return to work, and his neighbours all believe that he is a terrorist. Will the Home Secretary please delegate a Minister to meet me to sort that out as soon as possible?
Waiting times for forensic test results differ between police forces depending on the types of tests required and the different arrangements that each police force has in place to deliver its forensic services.
My local police force in Derbyshire tells me that, since the closure of one of the private forensic testing companies, it now takes more than six months for forensic tests in criminal cases to come back. That is obviously far in excess of the pre-charge bail conditions that it can put on people, and is seriously hampering it in its abilities to arrest and detain offenders.
I assume that that data is true, and I share the hon. Lady’s concern about it. Our overall perception is that the majority of forensic services are currently being delivered faster, more reliably and to higher quality standards than in the past, but the system has had to absorb a couple of quite significant shocks recently, which is why I am conducting a review with stakeholders into the future effectiveness of the forensic market.
We will continue building and managing an immigration system that meets the economic and social needs of the UK, and I will set out further plans in due course. I am committed to a fair and humane system, and we are reviewing the operational assurance regime across the borders, immigration and citizenship system to ensure that it is effective and reflects best practice.
In recent months we have seen a squeeze on doctors’ ability to come to this country to fill vital roles in our NHS. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that we can access the skills that are needed while ensuring that our immigration system becomes sustainable?
We keep the tier 2 cap under close review. Priority is given to doctors working in shortage specialisms, as determined by the Migration Advisory Committee, and no one has ever been refused for any of those posts. We have taken steps to boost training places for nurses and doctors, and a record number of undergraduates will begin medical training by 2020, with 1,500 new places.
Order. As I seek to squeeze in the penultimate question, I am sceptical as to how enormously helpful it is for a vast array of colleagues suddenly to display an interest, but how can I turn down the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Home Affairs Committee recommended in February that the Government look again at the tier 2 system, because doctors were already being turned away. The BMJ is now reporting that 1,500 doctors have been turned away even though they had job offers in the national health service. In the Home Affairs Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, and across the House, there is a strong desire for us to make sure that we get the doctors we need. The Home Office said in response to our recommendations that it was simply going to wait until the publication of the MAC report in October. That is too late. I urge the Government to change the system now to ensure that we can get in the doctors we need.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question, and I welcome the comments that various Select Committees have made on this issue. I have absolutely no doubt that she heard the Home Secretary’s comments yesterday, and I reassure her that we are looking at the matter closely.
The Government remain committed to stamping out the despicable crime of modern slavery. We have strengthened the operational law enforcement response and introduced world-leading requirements for businesses to report on slavery in their supply chains, and we are now transforming the support that we provide to victims.
Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, stated in his resignation letter that he had too often felt that his independence was subject to the discretion of the Home Office, rather than being on a statutory basis. What will the Minister do to ensure that the next commissioner is given the independence that he needs for his role to be flexible?
May I record our thanks to Mr Hyland for the invaluable work that he did as the commissioner? The whole point of the role of the commissioner is that it is independent, so we very much look forward to filling the position with a similarly robust and independent person in due course.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
Personal Independence Payments
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on the withdrawal of her appeals in relation to personal independence payment claimants with chronic conditions, and what further action she will be taking.
I am absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people and people with health conditions get the right support they need. PIP is a modern, personalised benefit that assesses claimants on needs, not conditions. It continues to be a better benefit than its predecessor, disability living allowance, for claimants with chronic conditions. Under DLA, only 16% of claimants with diabetes received the top rate, whereas under PIP 29% receive the top rate.
I carefully considered these historical cases and decided no longer to continue with the appeals in order to provide certainty to the claimants. Since withdrawing the appeals, I have provided instructions to operational colleagues to put these claims in payment urgently. These claimants will receive any backdated moneys owed, and should receive their first payment within the coming days.
These cases were decided prior to the March 2017 amending regulations—the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017—in which the Government clarified our policy for managing therapy under PIP daily living activity 3. These regulations are not affected by our decision to withdraw these appeals.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.
The announcement during the recess that, for the second time this year, the Secretary of State has withdrawn appeals, this time on daily living activity 3 of the PIP assessment—the component on managing therapy or monitoring health conditions—raises serious questions. I would therefore be grateful to the Secretary of State if she told me now how many people she estimates have been incorrectly assessed on the PIP daily living activity 3 descriptor who have either been denied support or have had reduced support.
Will the Department be undertaking a review of past claims relating to this descriptor to identify other claimants who may have been underpaid or denied support? If so, when will the process start and be completed? I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her reassurance that it will take days. Will additional staff be recruited to undertake this process? What assessment has the Department made of the average award to which claimants will be entitled, and when will the payments be backdated to? Will there be an appeal process for PIP claimants who are not contacted by the Department who believe that they should receive back payments? What assessment has she made of the administrative and legal costs to her Department and the public purse?
Given the Secretary of State’s concession in these test cases, does she accept that the changes made in the March 2017 PIP regulations regarding activity 3 are illegal? Given also that there is a review of 1.6 million PIP cases to identify the estimated 220,000 people who have been underpaid with regard to the mobility activity component, will the Secretary of State tell the House how many of the 1.6 million PIP claims have been reviewed to date and when the exercise will be completed? How many of the estimated 220,000 people affected have received back payments to date?
With a record of 69% of PIP decisions being overturned on appeal, it is clear that the assessment process is not fit for purpose. The recent report by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions on the process said that the assessments caused unnecessary stress and anxiety for thousands of people who have been denied support unfairly, as well as wasting public money by sending many decisions back to the courts. When will the Secretary of State get a grip on PIP, and will she immediately stop the reassessment of disabled people with progressive conditions?
Today’s urgent question was specifically about the cases of AN and JM, on which I have given a decision. For the purposes of clarity, it was not to continue with the court case. Any other issues that the hon. Lady raised are separate, and the question of whether we move on and do other things is not for discussion today. There is a further case under way, and I am sure Mr Speaker would agree that it would be incorrect for me to discuss an ongoing legal case, so I cannot do so. However, for the claimants on whose claims this urgent question was granted, I have, for the sake of clarity, withdrawn the appeal.
We are talking separately about the mobility issue, on which I have given regular updates to the House. We have been working with stakeholders to create new guidance, and we have consulted claimants and stakeholders. We seem to be on schedule for the first payment to go out to them at the start of the summer.
As the Secretary of State knows, I have written to her about a number of complaints that I have received from constituents about PIP. While it may not be completely on point with the question asked by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), I would respectfully say to the Secretary of State that my concern is not about PIP, which is a very good benefit, but about Capita in my area and the assessments. I have a constituent with a severe brain injury, who is receiving DLA and other benefits. He was assessed for PIP and got a zero. He then went through the process and, rightly so, got the full amount. I would be happy to discuss that with my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, but we need to look at the assessments.
I will of course meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this. Over 3 million people have gone for PIP assessments, and while there have been appeals by 9% of them, 4% of those have been overturned. The vast majority of people are receiving awards, and under PIP rather than DLA far more people are receiving higher awards. Under this Government, from 2010 right the way through to 2022, more money will go to disabled people in need than under DLA in 2010. As I said, I am more than happy to meet my right hon. Friend.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this urgent question. I was disappointed to hear the Secretary of State be so dismissive of concerns that have been expressed by Members right across the House. For the second time this year, the Secretary of State has been forced to acknowledge that her Department has made a serious error in assessing claims for personal independence payments. The previous error resulted in potentially 220,000 people being underpaid PIP, causing misery that could and should have been avoided. The Secretary of State now admits a second error, this time relating to activity 3 of the daily living component, “Managing therapy or monitoring a health condition”. The Department has again got the law wrong on interpreting PIP descriptors, leading to perhaps thousands of disabled people not getting the crucial support that they need.
In January, when the DWP last admitted that there had been an error, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) asked the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work a series of questions that should have been answered but still have not been. If anyone is to have confidence in the Department, the Secretary of State must now answer our questions.
How quickly will the Department be able to identify claimants? Will the Secretary of State publish her criteria for reviewing cases? Will she include the cases that did not originally score sufficient points? Exactly how many claimants have been wrongly assessed for PIP? What assessment has she made of the administrative cost to her Department of undertaking yet another complex exercise? Given that this is the second error in the Department’s interpretation of its own guidance to come to light in six months, what reason do disabled people have to believe that her Department is fit for purpose?
This is a brand new benefit that, for the first time, looks not just at people with physical disabilities, but fundamentally at all the disabilities people have—cognitive, sensory, health and mental health conditions—and supports more people than DLA ever did.
Nobody was forced to come here to explain why I did not appeal the mobility case. I made a decision by myself, which I thought was true and in keeping with how PIP was designed, and I made sure that we did not seek leave to appeal that.
There was a period of uncertainty for the five months between the court case and when the new regulations came into play. I agreed that in the cases of AN and JM, they should not be living in uncertainty. I believe that in both instances, I have done the right thing in not seeking leave to appeal.
I appreciate that the Opposition do not like to hear the fact that we have, I would say, made a positive move by not seeking to appeal and by supporting these extra people. No one would believe it from the screams from the Opposition Benches, but what I have decided to do and what this Government have decided to do is to support disabled people as best we can and to provide this new benefit, which is a personalised, forward-looking benefit, which was not the case with DLA.
My hon. Friend raises several questions about helping disabled people into work. Over the last three years, we have helped more than 600,000 people into work. People will know that PIP is a benefit for those in work and those out of work, and we have helped another 200,000 people in work through PIP. This is what we are about: supporting disabled people who are in work and out of work, and bringing in a more tailored and personalised benefit. What I will say is that if something has gone wrong and if something is not right, we will correct it to make sure that people get the payments they deserve.
The credibility of this Department lies in tatters. The Secretary of State celebrates the fact that the Government are not appealing this decision, but the fact remains that they had to be dragged through the courts in the first place to be proven wrong.
I have some questions for the Secretary of State. Will she commit to ensuring that the money for the back payments does not come out of existing DWP budgets? When will the first payments be made and will they be fully backdated, so that nobody loses out? Why are decision makers making decisions as if the High Court case never happened? I have constituency cases in which people are being assessed under unlawful criteria and then forced into the appeals process, all of which delays payments to which they are fully entitled and means that they are living in poverty. When will new guidance be issued to Jobcentre Plus staff and claimants, because there is so much confusion out there that nobody is aware of what they are entitled to?
This Department is in no fit state to be undertaking the biggest shake-up of social security this country has ever seen. It is incompetent and failing the most vulnerable in our society, and the Secretary of State must do something about it.
I reiterate that under PIP we are supporting more people than before and giving them a higher rate than they ever got before. If the hon. Lady is questioning whether money is being handed out to people who need it now, I ask her to consider how many fewer people were getting that support under DLA, the previous disability benefit. On the mobility component, in respect of which I rightly did not seek leave to appeal, we are supporting an extra 200,000 people—I take it that both sides of the House agree I should be helping an extra 200,000 people. That is what we are doing. That is what we are aiming to do. I think I said earlier that the first payments would be made at the start of the summer; I meant at the end of the summer. As I said, in respect of the specific cases that gave rise to the urgent question, those concerned will get their first payment in the coming days.
I can tell my hon. Friend that the expenditure has continued to go up and will go up every year until 2022; it has increased from 2010. For PIP, DLA and attendance allowance alone, expenditure is £5.4 billion higher than it was in 2010. There will be future announcements on the continuous improvements for PIP, but I can say now that we want to introduce video recording—that is key—and when we do we will start with pilots to make sure it is right. We want a modern benefit that looks after and reaches out to disabled people and gives them the money they should be getting.
The Secretary of State has acknowledged that the new benefits are available for a wider range of conditions, including neurological conditions and mental illness. What steps is she taking to ensure that the assessors are fully competent to make these judgments on the wider range of conditions?
It is important to put the urgent question and the comments from the Opposition in context. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are spending more than £50 billion on supporting sick and disabled people, and that we spend more in this country on supporting disabled people than any other country in the G7, barring Germany?
As ever, my hon. Friend is correct. We are spending more than £50 billion, and are proud to do so, to support disabled people who need it. This Conservative Government are supporting more people and giving them the higher rate they need, and we will continue to do that.
But the Secretary of State has been dragged to the House by an urgent question to talk about her decision not to pursue the appeal in these cases concerning activity 3 of the daily living component. She has very coyly failed completely to answer the question of how many people her decision affects. We know that 165 million people receive the component—[Interruption.] I mean 1.65 million—it is still a lot. Will she now answer: how many people are affected directly by the decision she took in the recess to withdraw the appeal, when will these people get the right amount of money and when will they be assured that they have not been illegally underpaid?
The urgent question was about two cases in particular. This is about those two cases: it is about two people who were affected, and who will receive their money immediately. We are assessing the position, but that is what the urgent question was about. If Members want to talk about matters outside the scope of the urgent question, that will be for a different occasion and a different day.
This is not the only PIP case that the Government have lost. On 21 December 2017, the High Court ruled that PIP changes made earlier in the year had been “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions, and “cannot be objectively justified”. However, six months later, there is still no confirmed timetable for the full implementation of the High Court’s judgment and the delivery of back payments to the people affected. Will the Secretary of State tell us today—six months on—when that High Court ruling will be implemented?
I have answered that question several times today. As I have said, we have been preparing new guidance and consulting stakeholders on what is best for that guidance and how to work through it. As I have also said, the first payments will be made at the end of the summer. As the hon. Lady will appreciate, having to assess such a number of people will take—and has taken—a bit of time, but the process has been thorough and correct.
It is interesting to hear criticism of the decision not to carry on fighting with lawyers. It seems that some people would have preferred the Secretary of State to carry on and appeal against the ruling, wasting money on further legal challenge. Will she reassure me, however, that she is considering the recording of the PIP assessment process to provide quality assurance, and to ensure that the points raised by this case are taken up in future assessments?
My hon. Friend is right. As I said earlier, more than 3 million assessments have been carried out, 9% have been appealed against and 4% have been overturned, so it is clear that the vast majority are right. However, we want to ensure as far as we can that all of them are right. If that means recording assessments—and I personally would prefer video recording—that is what we should do, so that everyone can have confidence in what is going on.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. PIP applicants who are wards of court because, owing to brain injuries, they are unable to make any decisions for themselves must nevertheless go through the application process and are subject to house visits, although, according to the court, they cannot be allowed to make any financial or personal decisions. Is it not time that such people did not have to go through a process that clearly disadvantages them and causes considerable trauma and angst?