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Topical Questions

Volume 653: debated on Monday 21 January 2019

The public testing phase of our EU settlement scheme was launched today. It is open to all resident EU citizens with a valid passport, allowing us to further test the scheme ahead of full roll-out by April.

We have also announced a significant increase in police funding for the next year. Police and crime commissioners are consulting on plans to recruit around 1,200 extra officers, which is potentially the biggest increase in officer numbers in 10 years.

Finally, we have published our draft domestic abuse Bill to support victims, tackle perpetrators and improve services.

Like me and many others in north Kirklees, the Home Secretary will have been shocked and concerned to hear last week about the 55 local arrests in relation to child sex abuse. This vital investigation will put extra strain on the police and the local authority, whose resources are already stretched to breaking point. Will the Home Secretary give my constituents a cast-iron guarantee that the police will have the resources they need to protect victims in the long and short term? Will he also ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice, with which I am sure the House would agree?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that case. The Government, local police forces and others such as the National Crime Agency have a huge focus on child sexual exploitation and abuse. She has raised the horrific case in Kirklees. I assure her that we want to ensure that all the necessary resources are available. The recent police settlement for this year will certainly help, but there is more to be done, including with the tech giants and those who groom our children online.

T2. Will the Home Secretary join me in welcoming the High Court judgment in the Kotey-Elsheikh case—they are also known as the ISIS Beatles? Does he believe that the judgment vindicates the position he took in the face of fierce criticism in the House and further afield? (908685)

I, of course, welcome the High Court judgment, which upholds my decision on all grounds. I hope that hon. Members who at the time claimed that my decision was inconsistent with long-standing Government policy take their time to reflect on it. With the situation changing on the ground in Syria as we speak, I will do all I can to protect our country and to bring suspected terrorists to justice.

I am pleased that the Government have finally announced that they have introduced the draft domestic abuse Bill. Cross-examination of survivors by perpetrators will now be outlawed, but more scrutiny of the family courts is needed. Will the Minister commit to including in the Bill an independent inquiry into the culture, practice and outcomes of the family courts in connection with child contact cases, and to listening to the children?

I thank the hon. Lady for her great example of cross-party consensus, which is very much to be welcomed at the moment. It is great to hear that she welcomes the introduction of this important draft Bill. It is a draft Bill because we will have pre-legislative scrutiny of it, and the idea that she has suggested I am sure will be looked at by the Joint Committee.

T4. Investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct can take many years, meaning that officers often put their lives on hold although two thirds of gross misconduct cases are subsequently not proven. Do Ministers share my concern about that, and what can be done to address it? (908687)

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern. There is widespread frustration among our police officers about that. She will share my view that, obviously, robust investigation of misconduct is important, but we want the IOPC to focus on the most serious cases and to process those investigations faster. That is exactly what we see happening.

T3. The Home Office has a service standard to deal with indefinite leave to remain applications of six months, unless they are complex, when there is no timescale at all. Reviewing my casework, I noticed the worrying trend of cases being badged complex just before the six months, and therefore having no service standard at all. Will the Minister let me know the current percentage of applications that are badged complex compared with each of the previous eight years? (908686)

The hon. Lady asks a very specific question about figures. I am very conscious that service standards can sometimes drive behaviours that we would not want to see, with caseworkers deliberately choosing cases that are less complex to deliver. Sometimes it has been the case that complex cases have not received the attention that we want. We are working incredibly hard in UK Visas and Immigration, across the piece of visas and applications for asylum and leave to remain, to ensure that we drive down waiting times. If she would like to see me to discuss any particular cases, I will be delighted to talk to her about them.

T5. As the Minister might have seen, Oxford University recently suspended grants from telecoms firm Huawei due to security concerns. In the same week, Germany joined the growing number of our allies and intelligence partners by blocking the company from its 5G network. Will Britain take similar action? (908688)

My hon. Friend is right to raise this. A cross-Government approach is looking at safeguarding our telecoms networks. It would be inappropriate for me to mention any particular company by name, but I can say that I very much share her concerns and I believe that we should work with our allies on a co-ordinated approach.

T7. Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), last week we saw a further 55 arrests regarding historical and horrific child sexual offences in Kirklees. I have to press the Secretary of State: exactly when will we see the extra resources put into Kirklees so that those offences and others can be fully investigated and the victims of crime can have the necessary protection and support? (908691)

I want to make sure that police forces across the country, including West Yorkshire, have the resources that they need to deal with this priority. I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the draft police settlement, which I think has an additional almost £30 million for her local force, which will go to help with that absolute priority.

The percentage of convictions secured for domestic abuse is at its highest since 2010. What more can the Department do to ensure that we get more prosecutions and thereby more convictions?

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said. The resources and the settlement that has been announced, with the additional almost £1 billion for police forces in England and Wales, will certainly help, but more can be done making sure that the police have the powers that they need.

T8. Last November, Tyne and Wear MPs joined together in Westminster Hall to raise the funding problems of the Tyne and Wear fire and rescue service. The Minister undertook to meet the chief fire officer. Will he update us on progress in resolving those problems? (908692)

I thank the hon. Lady—[Interruption]—and the House for that welcome. I recently met the leadership of Tyne and Wear, an excellently led force, and it will be receiving an increase in core spending of 1.5% this year. My undertaking to her, as to all fire chiefs, is that I will work with them to build the evidence base to put in a credible bid in next year’s comprehensive spending review to make sure that our fire service continues to be well resourced and world-class.

T6. The domestic violence Bill really is an outstanding piece of legislation, and I am pleased it has been getting a warm welcome from both sides of the House, but I am hearing anecdotal evidence that the East Midlands Ambulance Service—and indeed Nottinghamshire police —is not properly using the existing laws. If that turns into hard evidence, would the Minister agree to meet to see what progress we can make? (908689)

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this point, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, for whom this Bill and helping victims of domestic abuse are a personal priority. I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend, not least because we share the same ambulance service, and I would like it to be doing right by victims of domestic abuse.

T9. The Government have cut 21,000 police officers, which is the cause of violent crime doubling. Knife crime and antisocial behaviour have brought misery and terror to our communities. Is it not time the Home Secretary got a grip on law and order and invested in our police service before he fast becomes known as the Home Secretary for crime and disorder? (908693)

The hon. Lady will know that action is required on many fronts to fight the rise in serious violence, and that is why we have our serious violence strategy, which includes more than 60 different measures. On resources, if that is what she really believes, the best thing is for her to support the Government’s police settlement.

I, too, welcome the Government’s domestic abuse Bill and the announcements today. Will the Minister meet me to discuss issues of continuing emotional abuse where a couple have divorced but share the parenting of their children? Constituents of mine in that situation have some very practical suggestions for reducing such emotional bullying.

Very much so. The Bill is just part of our response to tackling domestic abuse; there is a range of non-legislative measures as well. Including emotional abuse in the definition of domestic abuse will help victims of this terrible crime, and I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend.

In the remotest parts of the United Kingdom, EU health workers are filling vital roles that might otherwise remain unfilled. Will the Government assure me that these crucial people will be allowed to remain at no cost to themselves?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, in the second private beta testing phase of the EU settled status scheme, we made a political priority of those working in NHS trusts and the universities sector. He is absolutely right to point out the vital role that EU citizens play within our health service, and of course he will have heard the Home Secretary and I say repeatedly that we want them stay and are determined to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

People in Corby and east Northamptonshire want to see more police out on the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime. What difference does my right hon. Friend believe the additional funding recently announced will make to achieving that objective?

We are proposing the biggest increase in police funding since 2010. Almost every force in the country is now actively recruiting and delivering what the public want, which is more officers on the streets and more investigators bearing down on crime.

The National newspaper this morning reports on a female constituent who has been detained and is due to be removed tomorrow despite court papers having been lodged at the Court of Session at the start of the month. Is this the hostile environment in action, and either way will the Minister meet me urgently so that we can secure the immediate release of this constituent?

I am, of course, very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this case. He will be conscious that it would be inappropriate for me to discuss it on the Floor of the House, but I will meet him privately immediately afterwards.

In the coming months, fruit farmers in my constituency plan to welcome thousands of migrant workers from the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, these workers will still be able to come to make sure we can pick and pack our fruit?

My hon. Friend will be aware that, in addition to the rights of EU citizens, which we have secured, we are also piloting a seasonal agricultural workers scheme for those in the soft fruit and growing industries, about which she has spoken to me several times. I am happy to reassure her that we wish that pilot to be successful and will work with her growers to make sure it is.

Mrs Amodio and her husband came to live in Bury over 60 years ago. Mrs Amodio had to sign the Official Secrets Act when she worked at Bury police station. Now retired, she and her husband have been told by this Government to register, apply and pay for settled status. She feels unwelcomed and angry. Will the Secretary of State confirm this policy, and what has he to say to them? Does he agree that we become lesser versions of ourselves as a country with such mean-spirited policies?

The Government have made it absolutely clear that we welcome all EU citizens who have made their homes here and have contributed so much to our nation. We want to have a scheme in place that shows they are welcome, and we will reflect on what is being said and see how we can continue to improve the scheme.