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Home Department

Volume 650: debated on Monday 3 December 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—

Online Child Grooming

Tacking online grooming is one of our highest priorities. We are increasing our investment in law enforcement and legislating on online harms to bear down on the threat. In November, I also co-hosted a hackathon in the United States, where tech companies developed an artificial intelligence product to detect online grooming, which will be sent out licence-free for all technology companies to use worldwide.

I was particularly impressed by the hackathon and the tools used. Will my right hon. Friend explain in more detail how what he saw in the US can be used here in the United Kingdom?

I gladly will. The hackathon event that I attended in the US involved the giant tech companies that we all know of. They worked together to develop a new artificial intelligence product that will detect online grooming; that is the intention. The technology showed the industry at its best and most creative, and it will help change people’s lives.

The Home Secretary will be aware that next Thursday we have a debate on the public health model to reduce youth violence. A key aspect of the public health approach is cross-departmental working, so will the Minister commit to inviting other relevant Departments next week so that they can listen, if not respond, to this important debate?

The hon. Lady makes a good point about serious violence. It is important to look carefully at this public health approach, which is why I have talked of it at length in the last couple of months and have already set out the Government’s intention to have a statutory duty on public bodies and agencies to work together on it.

On the wider issue of child grooming, does the Home Secretary agree that the delays by Telford and Wrekin Council in setting up an independent inquiry into the child grooming that has gone on in that borough is completely unacceptable and that it needs to get on with it for the victims and the victims’ families?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It is very unfortunate that the inquiry has been delayed; it is very important in the interests of justice and especially for those victims and their families, and I hope the council just gets on with it.

I know that the Home Secretary takes child grooming online extremely seriously. I am sure he agrees, however, that there is a need to have better education for, and understanding among, young people so that they can see the signs and feel free to report when they are uncomfortable and concerned about what is happening, particularly on social media platforms. Will the Secretary of State set out what more he can do to make sure young people have that understanding and feel free to report when they are worried about what could be happening online?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that point, and the companies can do more to help young people to help themselves when online. When I was recently in the US, I met all the tech giants, and there are tools that they can roll out and they have promised to do just that, but there is also a role for parents in helping their children to be much more aware online.

Sadly, the amount of abuse that we are seeing is increasing year by year. There was a 23% increase in all child sex offences in the year to March 2018 and a 206% increase since 2013. The good news is that much more work and effort is going into this; each month there are around 400 arrests and 500 children safeguarded.

Tackling online crime needs to be cross-border, yet the Government have failed to get the Schengen information system, or SIS II, and the European Criminal Records Information System included in the political declaration. They have also not identified exactly what our relationship with Europol and Eurojust will be going forward, and we have only vague promises on maintaining the benefits of the European arrest warrant. When will the Government act to stop this diminishing of our ability to tackle crime?

The hon. Gentleman will know from the information we have already published that we have reached a good agreement with Europe on future security co-operation, for example on passenger name records, DNA and other important databases. He mentioned the SIS II database, and there is also the criminal records database; we will continue to work together on those issues, and I am sure we can reach an agreement.

Child Sexual Exploitation

2. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of police resources to investigate historical cases of child sexual exploitation. (907952)

As the Home Secretary has made clear, tackling the abhorrent crime of child sexual abuse is a priority for the Government, and this is reflected in the fact that it is one of six national threats in the strategic policing requirement.

For victims of historical child sexual exploitation to come forward, they have to have confidence that their claims will be not only taken seriously but tackled with due urgency. A constituent of mine tells me that South Yorkshire police have recently merged their historical child sexual exploitation department with their violent crime department. This means that whenever a new violent crime comes in, victims of child sexual exploitation have to wait for their case to be dealt with. What can the Minister do to ensure that specialism and due urgency are brought to these cases?

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that victims need to have confidence in the police system. That is why we have agreed to provide grants for specialist operations in a number of forces, including South Yorkshire police. Just as critically, we are investing in prevention and technology to identify online abuse.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) is absolutely right to make that point, but is the Minister aware that the chief constable of Staffordshire, Gareth Morgan, who chairs the committee of chief constables regarding this sort of offence, has told me that there is a growing trend for people accused of such crimes subsequently to wrongly accuse others of such a crime, so that that can be used as mitigation? In other words, they are saying, “Don’t blame me. I’ve already been attacked in this way.”

I thank my hon. Friend, but I cannot comment on the truth or otherwise of his contribution. However, I want to press on the House the Government’s commitment to bear down on this abhorrent crime, not least by providing the police with the support and resources they need in terms of investment and powers.

I commend the Home Secretary for his commitment to preventing all forms of child abuse, but he knows that it is not just the police who need resources; it is survivors as well. Many people come forward only in adulthood to report child abuse, but statutory support stops at the age of 18. Will the Minister make a commitment to provide support to victims and survivors regardless of their age?

The hon. Lady has represented her constituents extremely well, and she has extremely brave constituents who have stood up in this context. We already provide support for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, but I certainly take on board the point that she has made and I will be happy to discuss it with her personally.

If the leaks over the weekend are to be believed, the Government intend to deliver a real-terms cut in Government funding to our overstretched police for the ninth year running. Does the Minister not agree that passing the buck to local ratepayers is unfair to those forces that have cut the most and can raise the least and that it fundamentally fails to meet the demand from legacy and current child sexual exploitation and the enormous demand from cyber-crime and soaring violent crime?

The hon. Lady knows that I will not comment on leaks, but I would simply point out that this Government took the steps that resulted in an increase of £460 million of public investment in our police system this year, in a settlement that she and her colleagues voted against.

EU Settlement Scheme

The Home Office is putting in place a range of support for EU citizens applying to the EU settlement scheme, particularly for those who are most vulnerable. This includes assisted digital support for those unable to make online applications, a new customer contact centre and indirect support to be provided through organisations such as community groups and charities.

I am of course pleased that the Minister has made clear the Government’s commitment to European Union citizens living here, particularly because there are parties in this House who have spread fear and alarm among EU citizens by questioning the Government’s commitment to their status. Does the Minister agree that those Members who spread fear and alarm should set the record straight and reassure those in our communities who are from the EU that their rights are guaranteed?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of sending a message of reassurance to EU citizens living here not only that they can stay but that we want them to stay and are taking steps through our settled status scheme to enable them to do so through a straightforward online digital process. I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that 95% of the people who have been through the first phase of beta testing of the settled status scheme found it very straightforward to use.

Some EU countries, including the Netherlands, have restrictions on holding dual nationality, which is leading to some Dutch citizens here having to choose between a UK or Dutch passport. What can the Minister do to reassure the Dutch diaspora in the UK that Brexit will not have an impact on their rights? Is she reaching out to her European counterparts to see what progress can be made in persuading other member states to loosen their restrictions?

The UK allows individuals to hold other nationalities alongside their British citizenship, and those with dual nationality already have the right of abode here and do not need to do anything. EU citizens do not need to obtain British citizenship to protect their status and can remain here indefinitely by applying to the settled status scheme, so there is no need for them to relinquish their current nationality. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about reaching out to other EU member states. It is important that we continue that work, because they are vital partners when it comes to spreading the message to the diaspora communities about their right to stay.

The Roma are still among the most marginalised EU citizens in this country. Will the Minister say what special steps the Government are taking to reach out to Roma support groups to encourage their citizens to apply for settled status and to support those who have digital or English-language difficulties?

In October, we announced £9 million of grant funding to charities and other organisations so that they may assist people, particularly those in vulnerable groups, through the process of applying for settled status in this country. We want to ensure that the maximum number of people apply and that those requiring the most support can access it easily via assisted digital services or, in exceptional cases, face-to-face support. It is important that we acknowledge that many groups may face challenges, which is why the Government have made £9 million available to help.

Given the likely large number of applicants, has the Minister considered allocating specific funding to Citizens Advice?

As I mentioned in my previous answer, we are providing up to £9 million of grant funding, which will be made available to civil society organisations to mobilise services targeted at vulnerable EU citizens. We already work with a group of organisations, including local councils, to help them to help their residents, but the scheme will be open to applications from bodies exactly like Citizens Advice, and I hope that many such organisations will be prepared to play their part in helping citizens.

This country benefits enormously from the one million Poles who have settled on our island. Will the Minister assure me that she will do everything possible to engage with the Polish community in London? Perhaps she will join me at one of the Polish clubs, such as Ognisko or POSK, to take the message directly to the citizens?

Interestingly, one of my first meetings after becoming Immigration Minister was with the Polish ambassador. We recognise that many Polish citizens live in this country, and working through the embassy and with the diaspora community is one of the best ways of reaching out to them. I would be delighted to take up my hon. Friend’s invitation and shall very much look forward to it.

Statistics from the British Medical Association suggest that nearly four in 10 NHS doctors from the EU are blissfully unaware of the Government’s settled status scheme. Does the Department not need drastically to up its game in raising awareness and ensuring that as many of those who need to apply do apply?

We are already piloting the settled status scheme, and we have established a significant database of EU nationals with whom we correspond regularly via email through Home Office communications channels. Employers also have an enormous role to play. The hon. Gentleman highlights people working in the NHS, so I am delighted to inform him that NHS trusts are reaching out to their employees and working hand in hand with us through the second phase of piloting the settled status scheme.

Domestic Abuse

4. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the November 2018 Office for National Statistics report on domestic abuse in England and Wales. (907954)

We know that high-quality, insightful data is critical to tackling domestic abuse. We are using the domestic abuse statistical bulletin and the 3,200 responses to the domestic abuse consultation to develop an ambitious package of action to transform the Government’s response to domestic abuse, which will include the publication of the draft domestic abuse Bill in this Session.

Last week, in St Helens, a mother of two young children was stabbed to death in her own home. Although domestic abuse-related crime recorded by the police has increased by 23% in the last year, worryingly, in the same period, the number of prosecutions pursued has fallen not insignificantly. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the increasing number of victims who come forward, showing incredible bravery, can be confident that, in doing so, it will lead to their perpetrator’s conviction?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this. We are, of course, pleased that more victims are trusting the system and coming forward to report abuse. I am obviously very sorry to hear of the terrible case in his constituency. Interestingly, from the bulletin, we know that 77% of all referrals made to the CPS by his local constabulary have resulted in charges, which is higher than the national average, and 80% of all such prosecutions resulted in a conviction, which is again higher than the national average. But, of course, part of the purpose of the draft domestic violence and abuse Bill and the package of non-legislative measures is to ensure that everyone, both inside and outside the criminal justice system, knows what domestic abuse is and how we should tackle it.

Police Funding

The Government understand that police demand has changed and that there is increased pressure from changing crime. Taxpayers are investing an additional £460 million this year in the police system, including income from council tax precepts. We are reviewing police spending power ahead of the provisional funding settlement to be announced later in December.

I am surprised that the Minister has grouped these questions together, as my question is about Bedfordshire. I am sure he will point to the additional funding provided for Operation Boson in this financial year, but does not the fact that the Home Office had to make that award demonstrate the scale of the problem of funding an urban area as a rural force? I have worked on a cross-party basis for the last eight years to try to get the funding formula fixed. Does he agree that the test of any future police settlement is whether it increases funding for Bedfordshire?

I am not entirely sure about that, and I think other MPs would also disagree. There is a clear Bedfordshire issue, which has been reflected in representations from MPs on both sides of the House. In recognition of some of the exceptional pressures it faces, not least through gang activity, Bedfordshire police has, as the hon. Gentleman notes, received an exceptional grant of £4.6 million. The funding settlement for next year will come shortly, and following that will be the comprehensive spending review.

I spent a night shift with Oldham police officers Josh and Ryan the other week, and our first call was to a threatened suicide. With Greater Manchester police’s budget cut by £215 million since 2010, and with 2,000 fewer officers, how sustainable is it for the police to be the default service in such cases because mental health and social services do not have the resources?

I hope the hon. Lady will welcome the £10.7 million increased investment in Greater Manchester policing this year. I hope she also welcomes the increased funding for mental health services in the Budget. I am absolutely determined, and I hope she shares that determination, that part of the dividend from that increased investment is reduced demand on the police.

In the past four years, recorded crime in Avon and Somerset has risen by 40%, with violent crime rising by over 75%. By contrast, the number of charges brought has fallen by 26%. When is the Minister going to listen to police and crime commissioners and chief constables and give the forces the funding they need so they can actually tackle crime in our constituencies?

I was in Bristol last week talking to the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, as well as visiting the Home Secretary’s former manor. I hope the hon. Lady will welcome, although she voted against it, the additional £8 million that has gone into Avon and Somerset policing, and I am sure she will look forward to the police funding settlement shortly.

West Midlands police have had the second highest funding cut in the country. Our chief constable has said:

“I think criminals are well aware now how stretched we are.”

And we have the rising levels of violent crime to prove it. Will the Minister now confirm that he will give our police the funding they need from our national Budget and spending settlement and not push the pressure downstream to local budgets, which will hit the poorest hardest and will not provide all the money that is needed?

With respect to the hon. Lady, I am not going to take any lessons on progressive taxation from the party that doubled council tax when it was in power. I am sure that, even though she voted against it, she will welcome the almost £10 million of additional investment in west midlands policing this year and will look forward to the funding settlement, which is imminent.

Northumbria’s police force has had its funding cut by more than a quarter since 2010 and has lost more than 100 officers in the past year alone. This is the largest cut of any force in England, yet crime and antisocial behaviour are on the rise. Why will the Minister not accept any responsibility for this situation, which is making it harder for police officers to do their jobs and keep our communities safe?

I am not sure the hon. Lady was listening; the Government absolutely accept that there is increased pressure on the police, as demand rises and crime becomes increasingly complex. That is why we took the steps in the police funding settlement for 2018-19 that resulted in an increased investment of £5.2 million in Northumbria police, with more to come, I hope, in the police funding settlement.

First, let me thank the Minister for the extra £4.6 million that he gave us last week. But does he agree that Bedfordshire has been underfunded since damping was introduced in 2004 and that part of what we need to do is refocus the police’s priorities on the bread and butter crime issues, which perhaps involves getting others to take more responsibility for missing children and mental health issues?

I thank my hon. Friend for his assiduous campaigning on behalf of Bedfordshire police, and I am delighted that we were in a position to make that exceptional grant. He will know that there is a lot more to do in the funding settlement and the comprehensive spending review to come. I also entirely agree with him that we need to do more, working with our NHS partners, to help reduce the demand on the police.

Funding has rightly been directed towards cyber-crime, counter-terrorism and other new threats, but I know the Minister recognises the importance of neighbourhood policing. What plans does he have to support the police in managing crimes such as theft, antisocial behaviour and drug use, which can make residents feel unsafe in their communities?

One of the Home Secretary’s and my priorities is increasing activity in relation to crime prevention, and good neighbourhood policing is at the core of that. More investment is going into the police system. Just as importantly, the police are developing guidelines on best practice on good neighbourhood policing, which is being rolled out across the country.

I represent the furthest south-west constituency in the country, and what I hear from people is that they just do not feel we are getting a fair share of the money available. So what can the Minister do to make sure that funds are available and that they are evenly distributed across the country so that my constituents have the safety and security they need?

The Government recognise that there is additional pressure on the police and we recognise the need to increase their capacity. Additional money has been put into Cornwall police this year, which I hope my hon. Friend welcomes. I am sure he will look forward, like the rest of the House, to the details of the police funding settlement, which is imminent.

Like Bedfordshire, Oldham and other force areas, Sussex has faced severe pressures in funding its police numbers, so our police and crime commissioner bravely urged a high increase in the police precept in order to recruit 200 additional officers each year for the next four years. That amount has been wiped out by the reassessment of the pension requirement over the next few years, such that we will not be able to recruit any more without digging into reduced funds. How are we going to get extra police officers?

I join my hon. Friend in saluting the leadership of Katy Bourne, who, like most PCCs, is either protecting or increasing the number of police officers as a result of the settlement we took through Parliament this year. We have debated the issue of the increase in pension costs. The Treasury has made it clear that it is going to contribute to part of the cost. The rest of the solution will be evident in the police funding settlement.

I, too, pay tribute to the Sussex PCC, Katy Bourne, who has successfully recently bid for almost £1 million of youth intervention funding. That is really important for my Crawley constituency, which has seen an increase in drug and knife-related crime. May I have an assurance that this partnership working with the Home Office will continue to tackle this issue?

I assure my hon. Friend that partnership working is absolutely at the heart of this Government’s approach to tackling serious violent crime and the running of drugs outside our major cities. Everything we have learnt from the examples elsewhere shows that effective multi-agency partnership works, and the Government are actively supporting that through funds such as the early intervention fund.

The Minister deliberately and consistently confuses money raised locally by the precept with money from central Government, but he will be aware that the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have all sounded the alarm about inadequate central Government funding. Most recently, the Mayor of London has said that London police numbers will plummet without increased funding. When will the Minister stop blurring the facts and make sure our police get the money they need?

I am not blurring any facts. What I am doing is challenging a deception carried out by the Labour party on the British public: that somehow someone else will always pay. The Government have no money: every pound that we spend is raised in tax or borrowed, meaning that the taxpayer pays interest on it. That is the fact. If we want more investment in policing—and we do—we have to pay.

Further to the Minister’s answer on police pensions, does he accept the estimate by Chief Constable Thornton that the changes will cost the police service more than £420 million, or the equivalent of 10,000 police officers? Will he explain why that will not be met in full?

We will set out the details in the funding settlement, later. The Treasury has made quite clear its intention to fund most of those costs. The rest will be clear in the police funding settlement.

Police Numbers

9. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of police numbers; and if he will make a statement. (907959)

This year, the Government took through a police funding settlement that resulted in an additional £460 million of public investment in policing. Most police and crime commissioners are either maintaining or increasing the number of police officers.

One of the casualties resulting from the cut of 21,000 police officers since 2010 has been the safer neighbourhood team in Mitcham town centre. The consequence has been an increase in drug dealing, street drinking, fighting, antisocial behaviour and men urinating in the street, which has meant that women do not want to take their children into the town centre. When will the Home Office accept the correlation between visible policing and crime, so that we can afford to have enough police to put more bobbies back on the beat in Mitcham and every town centre?

Speaking as a London MP and the Minister for London, I hope the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that the Met commissioner is actively recruiting an additional 1,000 officers, on top of the 1,000 the Met needs to recruit to stand still.

22. Lack of visibility is made worse when the police do not use the resources they currently have to follow up crime. That is a particular concern to residents in Bickley in my constituency, where a 29% spike, largely in burglary and theft, has not resulted in victims being contacted in a timely manner, even when in many cases they have been able to hand over CCTV footage. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this? (907973)

I shall certainly do that, not least as I have had similar experiences in my own constituency.

This morning, I learned that a café in my constituency had been broken into for the third time this year. This is not an isolated incident: burglary in Nottinghamshire is up this year, as it was up last year. How much more evidence do we need to get more police on the streets?

In the police settlement that the hon. Lady voted against, additional funding has gone into policing, and, as I said, most police and crime commissioners are actively recruiting additional officers. I hope she welcomes that.

Police numbers depend, of course, on the entry routes. Does the Minister agree that it is right that we not only encourage more graduates to become police officers but preserve the entry route for non-graduates? Does he further agree that it is important that that is a ministerial decision, not one for the College of Policing?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising an extremely important point. At a time when we are increasing investment in policing and the police are actively recruiting additional officers, who comes into the police force is critical. The police apprenticeship route, to which my hon. Friend refers, is a hugely important introduction and a hugely attractive opportunity for young people to learn and earn in a valuable and exciting job, without the burden of student fees on their neck.

Rent for Sex

10. What steps he is taking to tackle web platforms that publish advertisements offering to provide rent-free accommodation in return for sex; and if he will make a statement. (907960)

Offering accommodation in return for sex is illegal, and those who do so can face up to seven years in prison. The Minister for Policing has committed to engage with technology companies, including craigslist, and to press them to meet their responsibility to provide their services safely and to prevent them from being used for criminal activity.

When sexual exploitation occurs on the streets of this country, the police act, yet craigslist is facilitating and profiting from sexual exploitation through sex for rent, and nothing is happening whatsoever. They are acting like pimps; why are we not treating them like pimps?

That is a very strong message to craigslist and one that the Government are happy to engage with it on and ask what is going on with its website. One only has to look at some of the adverts to see the coded and yet all too obvious messages they contain. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that he is doing on this, but the difficulty, as he knows, is that the evidence for victims is pretty difficult to get hold of because, understandably, people can be reluctant to give evidence. One of the first jobs on our to do list is to speak to craigslist and other tech companies to tackle this.

Earlier today, Housing Women Cymru launched its “not a landlord” campaign, which aims to end the growing problem of sex for rent in Wales. Offering free and reduced accommodation in return for sex is illegal, and it is facilitated by online platforms. Those advertising are not landlords; they are criminals. What more will the Government do to review the laws around this to ensure better enforcement and to put an end to this sickening exploitation?

First and foremost, we should look at what is happening on the online platforms, which is why the conversations with craigslist and others are so important. As the hon. Lady knows, we are investing £150,000 in research into what prostitution in the 21st century looks like, and I very much hope that that research will look at this important subject, because we know that, sometimes, people who are extremely vulnerable are being exploited by their landlords, and that is simply unacceptable in this day and age.

Immigration System

The Government are considering a range of options for a future immigration system. Any decisions taken in respect of our future system will be based on evidence and extensive engagement. We will publish a White Paper on the future border and immigration system soon.

As my right hon. Friend will know, the science and research community thrives on international collaboration, which brings great benefits to the UK and helps us to maintain our position as a science superpower. However, technicians, scientists and researchers are not always the most highly paid individuals who visit the UK. Will he therefore confirm that any future immigration system will recognise the skills that an individual brings, not just their level of pay?

Britain is at its best when we are open to talent from across the world. I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we will take into account what he has said. I agree that mobility is vital for research and innovation in particular, and I want Britain to remain at the forefront of these vital industries.

The Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee that the immigration White Paper would be published certainly in December. He will know that there is obviously concern about the delays to the White Paper. Will he tell us now whether it will still be published in December and, if so, why it will be published after the meaningful vote?

All I can say at this point is that the White Paper will be published soon—I wish that I could say more than that. It is worth keeping in mind that this is the biggest change in our immigration system in four decades. It is important that we take the time and that we get it right.

As well as control, fairness as a principle and treating people equally regardless of where they come from in the world was right at the heart of why so many people voted to leave. What consideration is being given to that principle of fairness as we design a new immigration system?

One of the lessons from the Brexit vote was that people wanted to see control of our immigration system—one that is designed in Britain for our national interest, and that is certainly what we will be setting out. We want a system that is based on an individual’s skills and on what they have to contribute, not on their nationality.

Question 13 in the name of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) is certainly germane to the question with which we are dealing and therefore—it is not obligatory—if she wishes to rise to her feet now and give the House the benefit of her thoughts we will be happy to hear them.

13. The UK detains more migrants than the majority of European countries and is alone in detaining indefinitely without a time limit. Does the Minister accept the findings of the Shaw review that detention is harmful to mental health and will he end indefinite detention? (907963)

I recently made a statement to this House where I accepted much of what was in the Shaw review, including alternatives to detention, particularly detention of women. We are looking at piloting different approaches. We are in discussions at the moment, but we will be setting out more shortly to the House.

Is it not time that the Home Secretary showed some leadership and that he joined the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in his endeavours—the two Ministers working together to show the innovation, skills and creativity that immigrants bring to this country? Would not the Mayflower’s 400th anniversary celebration in 2020 be a wonderful hook to hang that on—celebrating what immigrants bring to this country?

I very much agree with hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about the importance of immigration. We are a much stronger country because of immigration and immigrants have contributed to every part of British life—not just our economy, but our families and communities. We should always be looking for opportunities to celebrate just that.

The Prime Minister is selling her Brexit deal by telling the country that it ends free movement of labour. Does the Home Secretary realise that it is completely unacceptable to have the meaningful vote without the White Paper having been published?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that, deal or no deal, there will be an end to free movement of labour.

At last Tuesday’s Select Committee on Home Affairs, the Home Secretary said that it was correct for colleagues from Northern Ireland to highlight particular regional concerns about immigration, and stated:

“It is still possible to design a system that takes into account some regional difference.”

Does he agree that the same is true for Scotland?

I am a little surprised by that question, on the basis that under the current immigration system, regional difference regarding Scotland is recognised, with the shortage occupation list, for example. I agree with the premise of the hon. and learned Lady’s question—that, although the immigration system will be a national one, we should look at any regional requirements.

I am delighted to hear that the Home Secretary accepts that the need for regional variation in Northern Ireland is mirrored by a similar need in Scotland, although I would underline that Scotland is a nation, not a region. If he is prepared to accept that, will he give me an undertaking that when the White Paper comes out, he will consult with all stakeholders in Scotland—including the Scottish Government and Scottish employers—and be open to the need for regional variation in Scotland, such as reintroducing the post-study work visa?

The commitment that I am very happy to make to the hon. and learned Lady is that we will consult extensively when the White Paper is published, and that of course includes with our friends in Scotland.

In a week’s time, MPs will be asked to make a decision in potentially the most important vote on our country’s future. Are we to do so without any idea of what our post-Brexit immigration system will be?

The hon. Gentleman said “without any idea”. We have already set out the principles of what a post-Brexit immigration system will look like; for example, there will be no freedom of movement and it will be a skills-based system. As I made clear in response to an earlier question, whether there is a deal or no deal, there will be a new immigration system.

Asia Bibi: Asylum

Our primary concern is for the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we welcome a swift resolution to the situation. A number of countries are in discussions about providing a safe destination once the legal process is complete, and it would not be right for me to comment further at this stage.

May I congratulate the Home Secretary on his very brave personal testimony about what happened to him at school years back?

The Catholic Church in England and Wales, and the Catholic Church in Scotland, have both said that they will contribute to secure Asia Bibi’s safety. As I chair the Catholic Legislators Network, will the Home Secretary meet me and other colleagues to discuss the issue?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise concerns about Asia Bibi, and I am sure that those concerns are shared by all Members of the House. It is not appropriate for me to talk about a particular case, especially if there is a risk that it might put the individual or their family in some kind of further risk, but I assure him that my first concern is the safety of Asia and her family. We are working with a number of countries, and I will do anything I can to keep her safe. I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter.

Will the Minister meet me to discuss the case of my constituent Mohammed Al-Maily, a Saudi national with indefinite leave to remain who has been told that he is liable for removal from the UK despite living in the UK for 28 years with his wife? The reason the Home Office has stated is that it shredded the archives detailing whom it had granted indefinite leave to remain to, and the Saudi embassy claims to have lost his passport evidencing his right to leave to remain in the UK.

That is what I would describe as illegitimate shoehorning. It is quite common for colleagues to seek to shoehorn into another question their own preoccupation. To do so so nakedly by advertising another case is a trifle cheeky on the part of the hon. Gentleman, but in observation of and tribute to his ingenuity, as well as to his cheek, perhaps the Secretary of State can be allowed to answer.

I appreciate the comments that the Home Secretary has already made about Asia Bibi, but of course there are many, many Christians in Pakistan who live under constant threat of persecution. Will the he work with his Home Office colleagues to make sure that their cases for asylum are treated in a sympathetic manner?

The hon. Lady is quite right to draw attention to that. We believe that there are currently some 40 individuals in Pakistan on death row because of blasphemy offences. That highlights perfectly her concerns. I am sure that the whole House shares those; we will always do what we can to help.

Disclosure and Barring Service

16. What recent assessment he has made of progress on the Disclosure and Barring Service modernisation programme. (907967)

The Disclosure and Barring Service is undertaking a major change in its IT services and has concluded that its R1—release one—system is not suitable for further roll-out. The DBS will be procuring a new supplier to deliver these IT services and has agreed a short contract extension with the current provider to enable a smooth transition so that all operational services are protected.

Does the Minister believe it is appropriate to waste yet more public money by continuing to outsource that vital project? Does she agree with the Public and Commercial Services Union that it should be brought in-house, providing proper accountability and better value for money?

I do not agree with the idea that it should be taken, wholesale, in-house. The DBS has taken full account of the findings and recommendations of the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee reports earlier this year, and, using its review, has decided to procure new providers to ensure delivery of services. We want to do this in as short and as frictionless a way as possible, which is why a short extension has been granted.

Topical Questions

I recently announced that 29 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners across England and Wales will receive £17.7 million of funding to divert children and young people away from violent crime. I published the Government’s new strategy for tackling serious and organised crime and pledged at least £48 million for 2019-20 to target illicit finance. I have been to America to convene a hackathon where industry experts work together to develop tools to detect online child grooming. All this work is designed to keep our people safe.

Fruit growers in my constituency welcome the seasonal agricultural workers scheme pilot, although they are concerned that 2,500 workers will not be enough. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the implementation period under the proposed withdrawal agreement, EU workers will be able to continue to come to the UK to work on fruit farms in my constituency? Will he advise on whether he has plans to expand the pilot?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in this pilot scheme for agricultural workers. I can assure her, first, that it will be carefully evaluated, and if we need to expand it, we will do that. I can also confirm that workers from the EU will still be able to come and work in the UK during the implementation period.

The Prime Minister has told us that austerity is over and that we are going to save millions from her Brexit deal, and the Minister regularly blames Labour for austerity. We should remember, though, that the Government have given tax cuts to the very wealthy and big corporations: it would seem that the country can afford those. The evidence of cuts is clear—12,000 fewer firefighters and rising response times. The blame cannot be put on local government and fire services. In the light of the Prime Minister’s comments, and if austerity really is over, when will the Minister commission a review of fire service funding—and will he recognise, rather than ignore, the difference between allocated, as opposed to unallocated, reserves?

Our firefighters do an incredibly important job. They have been well supported by the Government, with stable funding over the last comprehensive spending review period, in return for efficiency plans. We are conducting a demand review, to ensure that as we go into the next comprehensive spending review, our fire service gets the support it needs.

The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is looking remarkably stoical, in the light of his team’s two-goal defeat by four goals to two at Arsenal yesterday.

T4. I will not be tempted by your tormenting me to comment on the annual ritual, Mr Speaker.During the recent al-Quds march, the police were once again powerless to take action against people displaying flags of Hezbollah and Hamas, on the grounds that they are the political wings of those illegal terrorist organisations. When will my right hon. Friend proscribe both Hamas and Hezbollah, so that we can take action to prevent those terrorist groups from displaying their flags on our streets? (907979)

I could suggest that we proscribe Arsenal, Mr Speaker, but I am not sure how well you would take that.

It is clear that Hezbollah has engaged in and promoted terrorist activity around the world. That is why we have already proscribed its military wing, but I am aware that Hezbollah leaders have themselves cast doubt on the distinction between the military and political activities, so I understand why my hon. Friend asks that question. It is not Government policy to comment on proscription without coming properly to the House, but I assure him that we are keeping this under review.

T2. According to figures provided to me by the Fire Brigades Union, the Government have cut funding to the fire service by 30% since 2010. The FBU also informs me that a further cut of 20% is planned during the course of this Parliament. How can the Minister credibly claim that austerity is over for the firefighters of Cheshire and the UK? (907977)

I thank the FBU for both questions. The truth—and it is always ignored in questions about firefighters from those on the Labour Front Bench—is that the underlying demand for the fire service has fallen, in terms of the number of primary fires and fatalities arising from fires. Under those circumstances, stable funding over the last CSR period was a good deal for the fire service. We are very serious about ensuring that the fire service has the resources it needs, with a proper understanding of the demand and risks it faces over the next few years.

T5. What steps is the Minister taking to give security and law enforcement organisations the tools they need to counter terrorism? (907980)

rose— [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Seen but not heard is the role of the Security Minister.

The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which is currently transiting through the House of Lords, includes new measures to ensure that our statute book reflects 21st-century threats. That is why we have increased sentencing. New offences around online harm and extraterritorial reach of some existing offences will ensure that our law and order and intelligence services have the tools they need.

T3. Will the Home Department act in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment in a letter to me last month—namely, that EU settlement scheme applicants will not be required to show that they meet all the requirements of current free movement rules, and in particular will not have to show that they have been exercising EEA treaty rights? (907978)

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I quite agree that we want to make this scheme as easy and simple as possible. I want all 3.5 million EU citizens to feel that they can stay as easily as possible. I want them to stay, and I can give her that confirmation.

In Chelmsford, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and youth offender programmes occasionally have recommended that a youth offender has a curfew, to safeguard them from being further targeted by gangs, but the magistrates are often not aware of all the information and overturn that. Will the Minister’s team work with Justice Ministers on the better sharing of information with magistrates, so that the full intelligence picture is taken into account?

Very much so; my hon. Friend has hit on the point that the children coming before the youth justice system are very often themselves the victims of horrendous crimes. That is why, in the serious violence taskforce, we are bringing all Departments together to spread the message about data collection and sharing, which will then be disseminated nationally through local agents.

T6. A 2% increase in pay and prices will cost Merseyside police £6.2 million extra. I know the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service wants the police precept to double, but that will not come anywhere near covering that £6.2 million figure, so unless the Government fund the increase in police pension costs, it simply will not be possible for Merseyside police to deliver on keeping the public safe. I know he will not tell us what is in the police settlement, but can he perhaps tell us that he is lobbying the Treasury for the funds needed to cover the police pension liabilities? (907981)

We work very closely with the Treasury. That is why the Chancellor has personally turned up to hear the hon. Gentleman’s question; the hon. Gentleman must have given him advance notice. He will have to wait for the police settlement, which is not too far off, but he should question why he voted against the police settlement last year.

The Children’s Commissioner estimates that at least 46,000 children in England have been targeted by drug gangs and coerced by intimidation, violence and criminal incentives into the so-called county lines system of selling drugs across the country. What work is being done by my right hon. Friend’s Department to address this appalling exploitation of children and young people?

As my hon. Friend and other colleagues who work so closely on this will know, county lines are the dissemination of violence and drugs from our major urban centres into rural and coastal areas. Just one of the many pieces of work arising out of the serious violence strategy is the setting up of the national co-ordination centre, where law enforcement agencies work together to share intelligence and advice so that we get to the real criminals behind this practice, and also help to support the children who are being exploited.

T7. The Home Secretary has rightly commended those employers planning to reimburse EU employees for the cost of their settled status applications, but has he persuaded the Chancellor that taxing such payments would be counterproductive and utterly unfair? (907982)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which I know he raised at the Home Affairs Committee last week and again with me in Westminster Hall last week. Both the Home Secretary and I have undertaken to raise that with the Chancellor, who is obviously, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, on the Front Bench this afternoon.

Last month, I attended the Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse “Reclaim the Night” march in Colchester, along with hundreds of my constituents, in protest against sexual violence against women. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the police have the resources they need both to prevent these crimes and to bring those who commit these horrific offences to justice?

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. It is about resources—that is why we saw an increase in police resources last year; and there will be a police settlement statement soon, which will look at resources going forward—but it is also about powers, and I remind him that we will shortly be bringing forward a draft domestic abuse Bill.

T8. I listened carefully to the Home Secretary earlier, but I am still not clear: are we to be a member of Europol in this brave new world, or simply shadowing and co-operating with it? (907983)

We have an agreement with the EU—a draft agreement that this House can vote on—which gives us a very close relationship with the EU on security and co-operation, and it includes considering membership of Europol.

It is very important that we remain open and global with our new immigration system and that we also make the best use of new technology. My hon. Friend will have heard the Chancellor announce in the Budget that we will be expanding e-gates to five other countries—the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan—and we will now also be adding Singapore and South Korea to that list.

T9. As the Home Secretary cannot confirm that the White Paper on immigration will be published before the meaningful vote and given the total absence of clarity in this area, why on earth should we vote for a blindfold Brexit? (907984)

As I said earlier, the White Paper will be published soon, but it is important for people to keep in mind that this is the biggest change to our immigration system in 45 years, and it is important that we get the detail right; then we can evaluate it together, properly.

For many victims of burglary, the intrusion into their home, personal space and life is tantamount to an assault. Is it not time that steps were taken to ensure that domestic burglaries are effectively treated as crimes of violence, in terms of police resourcing and priority, and sentencing?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right: the intrusion into a person’s home in a domestic burglary can completely undermine their feeling of safety at home. That is why we continue to ensure that the police have the resources that they need to cut crime and keep our communities safe, and of course make sure that police and crime commissioners—for example, in London—set the policing priorities for their area.

T10. I was out on patrol with a police sergeant in Ashton recently, and he told me that he had less than half the number of officers and police community support officers that he had in 2010 to cover the area. With the chief constable of Greater Manchester warning that budget cuts and pension liabilities will reduce the number of officers still further, does the Minister not agree that the public and the police deserve more? (907985)

I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the additional public investment of just under £11 million that has gone into Greater Manchester police this year, and I hope that she will support us on the police funding settlement, which is imminent.

Today is the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. On this day, we celebrate the contributions made by disabled people and call for our rights to be realised. In the last year, hate crime towards disabled people has risen by 33%. The UN has warned the Government that statements about disabled people have encouraged negative attitudes, which leads to the rise in hate. On this day, what action are the Government taking to tackle the rise in hate crime against disabled people?

We must of course—all of us, in every Department—do all we can to help vulnerable people, including disabled people. That includes addressing hate crime against disabled people, which is of course completely unacceptable. We refreshed our hate crime action plan recently. We are always looking to see what more we can do.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Home Secretary, in developing a new immigration system, support on Wednesday the ten-minute rule Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), which would end a ridiculous situation in which terror suspects have better detention rights than those seeking to make the UK their home?

The Home Office asylum guidance for Afghan Sikhs is in desperate need of updating. I genuinely fear for the life of Afghan Sikhs sent back to Afghanistan because of the dangerous situation facing the Sikh community there. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the murder of 12 Sikh leaders only this July. Will she please meet me and Afghan Sikh representatives to discuss updating the Home Office guidance?

I thank the hon. Lady for the question. She makes a really important point, particularly in the light of the murder of 12 Afghan Sikhs back in the summer. I would of course be delighted to meet her, and will make sure that my office makes the necessary arrangements.

Will the Home Secretary intervene personally in the case of my constituent Mariya Kingston, who has been in dispute with the Home Office for two years? Her mother died on Friday, and she would like to attend the funeral in Uzbekistan. Will the Home Secretary please facilitate that?

I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent’s family bereavement. I will take a closer look at that case.

The Home Secretary will be aware that West Midlands police force has lost 2,000 officers since 2010. He may not be aware that last week, a Conservative councillor in my constituency, which is next door to his, suggested that the response to rising crime should be for local communities to have a whip round to fund private security patrols. Does that represent Government thinking?

Recognising the police’s need for resources, we increased funding this year by £460 million in total; that includes almost £10 million for the hon. Gentleman’s force. The most interesting question is why he voted against that increased funding.