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Topical Questions

Volume 648: debated on Monday 29 October 2018

It has been a busy few weeks at the Home Office as we continue in our efforts to deliver for the British people. On Thursday, regulations that allow the medicinal use of cannabis-based products will come into effect, providing relief to those people, particularly children, who have known so much pain. I shall shortly visit the United States to monitor progress on my challenge to tech giants to help us to fight child sexual exploitation. For those who fall short, there will be no place to hide.

On Friday, my constituent was supposed to be moved by Serco to new social housing accommodation, following a successful claim. However, that did not happen, and Serco removed beds, heating and £22.50 in cash. Does the Secretary of State believe that Serco is a rogue provider of services that should be removed its contract?

I am happy to take a closer look at the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions. He will know that we have consulted the Scottish Government, local government and others on a new approach, and we are confident that that new approach will bring significant improvement.

T7. Over the past few months, we have seen a reduction in moped crime. Does that not show what can be achieved when we take a multi-agency approach when resources are allocated and, crucially, when the police are allowed to pursue motorcyclists even though they are not wearing crash helmets? (907339)

As a London MP, I am absolutely delighted that moped crime is down by around 50% from its terrible peak. That is the result not only of superb police action but of the work convened by the Home Office that has brought together Government, industry and civil society to bear down on the problem. So pleased are we with that work that we taking the model forward to tackle vehicle crime.

I thank Max Hill QC for his work as the reviewer of counter-terror legislation—a role that he left on 12 October to become the Director of Public Prosecutions. Given that his departure was announced on 24 July, why has no successor been appointed and the post been left vacant with counter-terror legislation going through Parliament? What on earth is the Home Office excuse for this sheer negligence?

We are about to start the process for appointing Max Hill’s successor. To suggest that that has held back progress on counter-terrorism would be completely incorrect. The new counter-terrorism strategy was launched just a few months ago and sets out how seriously the Government take the issue.

Order. This really is a matter of the utmost sensitivity, and the right hon. Lady’s question must be heard with solemnity and respect.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

In the light of the horrors of Pittsburgh, can the Home Secretary provide the reassurance that both the Government and the police will always take very, very seriously the security of the Jewish community and other minorities who may be subjected to hate crimes and violence?

I can absolutely provide that reassurance to my right hon. Friend. In fact, this weekend, following that tragedy, I spoke to the head of the Community Security Trust to offer that reassurance. It is an organisation that we are proud to support, but we want to look at new ways of helping the community with its security needs. It is sad, in this day and age, that any community needs security of that type but, for as long as they do, we will always be there. Tonight, I will also be attending a vigil to mark the terrible tragedy at Pittsburgh.

The perpetrator of the Pittsburgh murders has a history of posting the most vile antisemitism, Islamophobia and threatening comments. Similarly, the man suspected of sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats threatened the life of a political commentator via a tweet a few months ago, but Twitter said that that did not violate its online guidelines. In the wake of these terrible tragedies, what are the Government doing to address the very serious issue of online hate?

The hon. Lady is again right to raise this matter. We have seen the role that social media is playing not just in Britain, but abroad, in feeding hate. That is one reason why the Government recently refreshed our anti-hate strategy and that is exactly one of the things that we will be looking into further.

This summer, Rugby saw a number of illegal Gypsy and Traveller encampments on new housing sites. Our local councillor, Jill Simpson-Vince, brought together developers and Warwickshire police to put a protocol in place. Can the Secretary of State encourage others to follow Warwickshire’s lead?

T2. What progress has the Minister made in compensating Windrush victims who have been made homeless and jobless by the Government’s hostile environment project? (907334)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will know that Martin Forde QC recently asked the Government, and we agreed, to extend the consultation period for the compensation scheme so that we can make sure that we get the best responses possible and so that he can engage more widely with the community. In exceptional circumstances, the Home Office has already made payments to some individuals.

Meat and fish processing businesses in my constituency rely heavily on migrant workers. Many of their staff are highly skilled even though their skill is not formally recognised by a qualification. What steps are the Government taking to make sure that these sorts of skills are properly recognised in our future immigration policy?

Our food and drink industry is vital to the success of our economy and I know that many Cornish businesses are very successful in this sector. I can reassure my hon. Friend that we will be taking these issues very seriously as we develop our new immigration system.

T3. My constituent, Mr Jenkins, was born and bred in Bridgend. His wife of more than 20 years has been told that she has to leave the day before their child’s 18th birthday. Why? What sort of hostile environment destroys family life in that way? (907335)

If the hon. Lady would care to write to me, I will look closely at the case that she has mentioned.

Next March will see the 40th anniversary of the brutal assassination of Airey Neave on these premises. Airey Neave’s family, my constituents, are seeking more information about the circumstances of the murder. I have been told that my questions on this have been transferred from the Northern Ireland Office to the Home Office. Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary agree to meet me and Airey Neave’s family to discuss how they can get answers on how and why Airey Neave was murdered 40 years ago?

T4. What will the Home Secretary do to help police forces to prioritise resources when they are faced with cannabis clubs, of which most members require cannabis for medicinal reasons, and an epidemic of Spice at the same time, which poses very serious risks to both health and law and order—both are class B drugs? (907336)

Operating priorities are local decisions, but what I can tell the hon. Lady is that the priority of the Department is to make sure that the police have the resources that they need to do their job, which was why we took steps to increase public investment in our police.

May I seek an assurance from the Minister that any revised immigration policy will reflect the needs of the farming and fishing community in Scotland and indeed the whole UK?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, and that was one reason why we recently launched a pilot for a seasonal workers agricultural scheme for 2019.

T5. In the west midlands we have lost over 2,000 police officers and violent crime is on the rise. Will the Home Secretary look again at funding for West Midlands police and reverse the imposition of extra pension costs? (907337)

I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that West Midlands received more funding this year— £9.9 million—in a police funding settlement that she voted against. I will be coming to the House in early December with our proposals for 2019-20.

Town centres are at the heart of the Erewash community, but on occasion they can become the target for antisocial behaviour brought on by the misuse of drugs and alcohol. What more can be done to ensure a visible police presence in our town centres, and does my hon. Friend agree that sharing back-office functions with other emergency services to free up resources may be one solution?

I am delighted to be visiting my hon. Friend on Friday to see for myself the hard work that she does in taking care of her constituents, working alongside her local police force. This Government support greater collaboration and have placed a statutory duty on police, fire and ambulance services to keep collaborative opportunities under review and enter into them in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness.

T6. Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of most of our economy, including in my Bath constituency. However, they face many challenges in recruiting the talent they need, so will the Minister consider reforming the tier 2 visa system to make it easier and remove the prohibitive costs for smaller employers to recruit highly skilled overseas graduates from UK universities? (907338)

I share the hon. Lady’s admiration for small and medium-sized businesses the country over. The immigration system already facilitates recruitment of foreign graduates of UK universities by waiving many of the usual requirements. We will shortly be setting out our plans for the future immigration system, following the recent report by the Migration Advisory Committee.

Following on from my Adjournment debate on the subject and a letter from 20 police and crime commissioners, will the Minister confirm that he shares my concerns about the impact of Mamba and Spice on communities such as Mansfield and consider potential solutions to support local police and other services in tackling this issue?

I salute the tireless campaigning by my hon. Friend and others. Spice is a scourge of many town centres at the moment. We take independent advice on classification and we keep that independent advice under review.

T8. Tomorrow, Martha Fernback would have turned 21, but sadly her young life was cut short when at 15 she took an overdose of ecstasy. Her mother, Anne-Marie, now campaigns tirelessly for a new, evidence-based approach to drugs policy. Will the Secretary of State consent to meeting Anne-Marie to hear why she believes a new approach is necessary? (907340)

I am of course very sorry to hear that, as I am sure the entire House is. The hon. Lady will know that the Home Secretary has commissioned an independent review of drugs so that we may understand better how they are used in the 21st century, and I would of course be honoured to meet her and her constituent to discuss this.

When we leave the European Union, we will of course have control of all aspects of immigration policy. Does the Home Secretary agree that we can then prioritise higher-skilled immigration as a way of boosting our nation’s productivity?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. That is exactly what we will do, and we will set out the approach in the White Paper in a few weeks.

T9. Since 2010, Northumbria Police have had funding cuts of £140 million and seen 1,000 jobs lost. Now it faces an additional cost from employer pension contributions of £11 million, which is equivalent to 220 officers. Has the Minister pressed the Treasury to fund that cost before even more police jobs are lost? (907341)

The hon. Lady’s local police force will be getting an extra £5 million this year, and she will also know that later this year we will have the policing settlement—something that I know she will look forward to.

The seasonal agricultural workers pilot scheme was warmly welcomed both by farmers and by agricultural bodies across the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Will the Minister update farmers in my constituency on when further detail will be released? [Interruption.]

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I was delighted to go to her constituency over the summer to meet soft fruit farmers who made a compelling case for a seasonal workers scheme. She will no doubt be delighted that the Government are having a pilot in the horticultural sector to make sure that it can access the labour that it needs.

T10. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I hope the Home Secretary will answer this question, because the reality is that in the West Midlands police area, crime is escalating and the overstretched, understaffed police are feeling deeply frustrated as the criminals and the gangs take control of the streets, especially at night. When is he going to stop the rot and give the backing and the resources to our police out there on the street every day? (907342)

The right hon. Gentleman will know that West Midlands police had an increase of almost £10 million this year. However, it is always worth listening to local forces. I am happy to meet west midlands MPs, as I have done in the past, and to listen more.