The Secretary of State was asked—
Security Agreements: European Union
I have regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on a range of matters. The deal that the House considered last week confirmed the commitment of the UK and the EU to a new security partnership and included a transition period. In considering a way forward, we must focus on ideas that deliver the same benefits, are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in the House.
Title V of the draft withdrawal agreement describes the ongoing police and judicial co-operation between the UK and the EU on criminal matters. Given that it has taken 30 months to agree the 13-page section on security and that the section covers only the transition period, why should we have any confidence in this Government completing negotiations to ensure this country’s future safety and security by the end of next year?
Security is an absolute priority for the Home Office, which is why it should come as no surprise to the House that all capabilities on which the UK would wish to co-operate with the EU are covered in the political declaration. If the hon. Lady wishes to continue that kind of co-operation, the best thing to do is to support the deal.
The last time the Home Secretary appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, he told us that, in the event of no deal,
“we will be as safe—if we are talking about the SIS II system, for example, as we were just now”,
and said that Schengen Information System II is merely a “nice to have”—those were the words he used. Since then, the Met Commissioner has said that losing access to SIS II
“will be more costly undoubtedly, slower undoubtedly, and potentially, yes, put the public at risk.”
The National Crime Agency has also said that there is
“a risk that this country will be less safe as a result.”
What is the Home Secretary’s assessment of the risk to the country, particularly in policing and security terms, from no deal, and why is his assessment different from that of the police?
The right hon. Lady will know that paragraph 87 of the political declaration talks about how the UK and our EU partners will work together to consider continuing arrangements for missing and wanted persons, and on other issues, such as criminal information exchange. Today we are lucky to live in a very safe country. Under our assessment, I am confident that, whether we have a deal or no deal, we will continue to be a very safe country.
The arrival of 39 suspected migrants via crossings in just the last two days is a considerable concern to my constituents in Dover and Deal. When will the Home Secretary next meet his French counterpart to discuss this matter? Will the Home Office carry out round-the-clock aerial surveillance urgently? Can he confirm the date on which the two cutters in the Mediterranean will return to be on station to secure our border?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have started to deploy aerial surveillance of the English channel since I declared a major incident. While we await the arrival of the two cutters in early February, we have increased the presence of vessels, including with help from the Royal Navy. I will be meeting my French counterpart, Minister Castaner, this week.
Further to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the police have said that direct access to EU databases such as SIS II are mission critical for their work in tackling criminals and terrorists. What guarantee can the Home Secretary give the House today that, after the transition period, Britain and the police will still have access to these mission-critical databases?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those databases are important, which is why it is very good that we have an agreement in the political declaration to consider how we can keep using such arrangements. Again, if he is that concerned, he should support the deal.
Is it not the case that our closest security and intelligence partnership is with the United States and the “Five Eyes” signatories, none of which are members of the European Union; that our closest defence partnership is with NATO, not the EU; and that, whether we leave the EU with or without a deal, we will be signing a security and intelligence arrangement with the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the security relationship we have with many other countries, including, of course, with our “Five Eyes” partners—that is a critical relationship—and the NATO alliance. That does not take away from the fact that we also want to continue co-operating with the EU, and I am sure that we will.
Can the Home Secretary help me, please? The European Court of Justice has oversight of the European arrest warrant, SIS II, Europol and Eurojust. He says that we will have arrangements with all three; how does he cross the Prime Minister’s red line on those issues?
That is quite straightforward. If the right hon. Gentleman takes the time to read the political declaration, he will see that it refers to establishing arrangements—for example, for the quick and efficient surrender of individuals. They are not necessarily exactly the same instruments, but we have done this in a way that is consistent with our taking back control of our laws.
I have listened with great care to the Home Secretary. He will be aware that the EU insists on treaty arrangements governing key aspects of international security, justice and policing. Without a treaty, courts have no legal basis to implement arrest or extradition warrants, and cannot allow access to criminal and other databases to third countries. The danger is that there will be a mutual loss of the European arrest warrant and the UK will no longer be able to access the Europol database in real time. How does he justify putting the security of the nation at risk in this way?
The Government have suggested to the EU—if the deal gets through Parliament, this is what will be looked at—having an internal security treaty between the UK and the EU because, as the right hon. Lady quite rightly says, it is best to have these arrangements on a proper legal footing and it makes sense to do that through treaty-type arrangements. I have to say again, however, that if she is really concerned about continued co-operation, she should support the deal.
County Lines Drugs Operations
We have provided £3.6 million for a new national county lines co-ordination centre to enhance the intelligence picture and to support efforts to identify and safeguard victims. The centre launched in September last year and carried out its first week of action in October, leading to more 500 arrests and more than 300 people safeguarded.
I was pleased to see it reported recently that the Government are treating the victims of county lines as victims of modern slavery. That is a helpful approach, but I have two concerns. One is that children who have been excluded from school are particularly at risk. My second concern relates to housing. What conversations are Ministers having with their counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to make sure that children who are at risk are not housed back in the area where the people who have persecuted them live?
I thank the hon. Lady for her continued focus on modern slavery. She is absolutely right that this is not just about policing, although of course that is a vital part of our treatment of serious violence and county lines. It is about taking a holistic approach, which is why the Home Secretary chairs the serious violence taskforce, which brings together local government, national Government and all the relevant agencies. That can make a real difference in the lives of young people who may be vulnerable to the gangsters.
In November, West Midlands police was granted a cash boost of £1.8 million to help to deal with gangs and violence. Does the Minister endorse the work of the charity Redthread to prevent youngsters from joining gangs and becoming drug dealers?
I am delighted to endorse the work of Redthread, a charity we support not just in the midlands, but in London and Nottingham. I have been delighted to visit accident and emergency departments where Redthread is in operation. Its workers reach out to young people when they are in A&E departments, at what they call the teachable moment. That is exactly the sort of positive voluntary work we need.
Will the Minister update us on the Government’s public health approach to tackle serious violence? I am not asking for an update on the serious violence strategy, the Offensive Weapons Bill or the youth endowment fund. I have been following those very closely, but I cannot find anything about the Government’s public health approach, as announced at the Conservative party conference. Perhaps the Minister can update us now.
I thank the hon. Lady for her assiduous focus on this important topic. I am grateful to her for her work on the Youth Violence Commission. We are due to consult on the public health duty, a legal duty that will apply across the board to help to embed a public health approach in our treatment of serious violence.
The hon. Lady will know that we have recently announced an independent review of the 21st-century drugs market. Indeed, only last week I had the pleasure of visiting a drug treatment centre in south London to see the important work of doctors and health professionals to help those who are sadly addicted to these very harmful substances.
For the victims of county lines and youth violence, the trauma from their experiences will be devastating, yet far too often police forces and mental health trusts do not work together to make sure that their needs are automatically assessed, leaving children extremely vulnerable and at risk of being re-exploited. Will the Minister commit to working with her colleagues with responsibility for mental health to ensure that all such victims receive an automatic referral to mental health services? Will she commit to coming back to the House at the earliest opportunity with a full update on progress against the wider serious violence strategy?
The hon. Lady will know that we are very conscious of the impact that mental health issues can have, not only on the immediate victims of serious violence but, of course, in respect of the ramifications further afield for communities affected by serious violence. A great deal of work is going on to help people with mental issues who are being dragged into county lines, in particular. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing met the relevant Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care only last week to discuss this issue.
In the year to June 2018, the proportion of recorded crime that was closed with no suspect identified was 47%—a similar proportion to that in the previous year.
Charge rates in West Yorkshire have fallen for some key crimes, with charges for sexual offences as low as 4%—among the lowest in the country. The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council has said that this is because of fewer officers and staff. The Government’s decision to raise money through an increase in council tax means that West Yorkshire will be able to raise almost the same as Surrey, despite having double the population. Will that really meet local need?
I am sure that, given the seriousness of the point the hon. Lady raises, she will welcome the fact that rates of prosecutions and convictions for rape and sexual offences are at their highest ever level. She also asked about funding, and she wants more resources for her local police force, so I hope that she will support the proposed police funding settlement that will, if the NPCC uses the flexibility, provide an additional £28.5 million for her local police force.
In Hampshire, just 4% of sexual offences and just 14% of robberies now result in a charge. Can the Minister honestly tell the people of Portsmouth that after losing 1,000 police officers and a staggering £70 million in central Government funding, my city’s streets are safer?
The hon. Gentleman also refers to the conviction rates for rape and sexual offences, which are at record levels. They are low in percentage terms—unacceptably low—but we are making progress, and it is incredibly important that we do so, because one of the success stories of the past few years has been in encouraging vulnerable victims of so-called hidden crime to come forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that and that, given his concern about seeing Hampshire police properly funded, he will vote for the proposed police funding settlement, which would see police funding for his local force double.
The Minister will know that in Telford and Wrekin there is currently a call for not only an independent inquiry but a council-led inquiry into unresolved crimes relating to child sexual exploitation. Will the Minister join me in calling on the council to get on with that inquiry and to release information so that the victims can finally get justice?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. When he raised it before, he heard a clear “get on with it” message from the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box. I repeat that, and I am more than happy to offer to meet him and anyone relevant to discuss the matter.
Hon. Members will know from today’s papers that there has been yet another stabbing in London—this time in Kew in my constituency. I am pleased to say that the victim is now expected to make a full recovery and I thank the local police for their full and rapid response. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge, please, that increased crime in the capital is a source of huge anxiety? Will he reassure my constituents not only that getting to grips with it is a top Government priority, but that he is doing everything he can to work with both the Met and the Mayor of London on a co-ordinated and full response?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, because it is one of the biggest public safety challenges that we face as a city and as a country. I am meeting the Mayor later this evening to discuss this in person. My hon. Friend wants more resources: an additional £100 million of investment is going into the Met police this year and the proposed funding settlement will see an additional £172 million of public money going in to support the Met. That is alongside all the other work that we are doing on the Offensive Weapons Bill, stop-and-search and everything else that he wants to see. I cannot think of a higher priority for the Department at this moment.
On 19 December last year, the Government published a White Paper that set out our principles and plans for a future skills-based immigration system. The future system will focus on high-skills, welcoming talented and hard-working individuals who will support the UK’s dynamic economy and enabling employers to compete on the world stage.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. When we leave the common fisheries policy, as he will be aware, we take back control of our waters and our fish. We can expect at that point an expansion of the seafood processing sector in my constituency of Banff and Buchan, an area of very low unemployment. Will he therefore assure me that our future immigration policy will, if required, facilitate the sourcing of skilled seafood processing workers from outside the UK?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the opportunities that Brexit will bring for certain industries. I can assure him that the immigration White Paper does contain proposals to bring medium-skilled workers into the scope of skilled workers and also to introduce a temporary workers’ route at all skill levels. I hope that that offers him some reassurance.
Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the skills-based immigration system will not fall foul of an arbitrary salary cap? This is important in many sectors. In research—I declare an interest as I am on the board of a university—very highly skilled researchers are often not paid anything like £30,000 at the beginning of their career, but we need them for our university and research sector.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. He may know that we made our visa offer for academics even more generous last year. Those changes have been warmly welcomed by the research community. I can assure him that we will engage with employers in the higher education sector and others before we determine any future salary thresholds.
Chichester is home to a fresh food industry worth £1 billion, and its businesses rely on European workers. One grower in my constituency reached 1.5 million picking hours last year, and with no mechanical alternative for picking soft fruit, any restriction in accessing labour will curtail growth. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that our post-Brexit immigration policy will ensure that such businesses will be able to get the workers that they need?
I understand the importance of the fresh food industry to my hon. Friend’s constituency. We are piloting a scheme to bring in workers from outside the EU to work in this industry, and our immigration White Paper proposed a temporary work route, allowing workers to come to the UK to work in jobs for up to a year at any skill level.
Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will listen to North Yorkshire farmers and those in the agricultural sector who wish to retain access to seasonal workers after Brexit? Will he confirm how the pilot will be assessed and that changes to numbers will be reviewed?
I can tell my hon. Friend that, first, the pilot will test the effectiveness of our immigration system, alleviating seasonal labour shortages during peak periods of production while ensuring that there is a minimal impact on local communities. We will fully assess the outcome of the pilot, but I am happy to give him the assurance that he seeks.
It is impossible to consider the future of the immigration system without considering the injustices that the immigration system has meted out in the past. In relation to the compensation scheme for Windrush citizens who have been unjustly and unlawfully treated by the Home Office, is the Home Secretary aware of reports that unscrupulous law firms are approaching Windrush victims and seeking to represent them in relation to the compensation scheme on the basis of a commission rate of more than 25% of the compensation awarded? Will he condemn that utterly predatory and exploitative practice and take steps to ensure that 100% of the compensation awarded by that scheme, when it is finalised, will go to the victims, who have already suffered enough?
It is very important that we have a fair compensation scheme in place. The work that Martin Forde, QC, has done independently is excellent; we will announce more on that soon. I join the hon. Lady in condemning those unscrupulous firms that are thinking only about lining their pockets, and not about the victims.
The hon. Lady will know that a consultation on the subject recently closed; it was extended at the request of Martin Forde, the independent chairman appointed to look into the matter. We are now working through the responses across Government, and we will announce more details soon.
Tens of thousands of families have been split by the Prime Minister’s draconian anti-family immigration rules. How many more families will be destroyed by the Home Secretary’s proposals to extend those rules to EU family members? Should we not be getting rid of these rules, rather than extending them?
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that in the withdrawal agreement in the Prime Minister’s deal, there is an extensive section on guaranteeing citizens’ rights. I believe that what we have agreed with the EU is very generous. No one has any interest in splitting any families. We must do everything we can to welcome those EU citizens who have made their home in the United Kingdom.
Can the Home Secretary tell us how the settled status scheme will work for EU nationals ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, but working in the offshore oil and gas industry, or the merchant marine? Can he confirm that the fact that many of those people work outside the 12-mile limit for more than six months in the year will not be a barrier to their inclusion in the settled status scheme?
One of the reasons why we piloted the scheme was to look at any issues that might come up before the full launch, which is expected in April. The pilot has just closed; we published the results today. It looks at precisely such issues as the one that the right hon. Gentleman has brought up. We will look into that carefully.
This morning, the Government launched the largest stage of the settled status roll-out. If just 5% of those who need settled status fail to apply for it, 175,000 people in the UK will have insecure immigration status, or no status at all. The British Medical Association found that 37% of EU doctors are not even aware of the settled status scheme. What are the Government doing to make sure that EU citizens know that they need to register for settled status to avoid a repeat of the Windrush scandal?
The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that in a recent test—we have just published the results—out of 30,000 applicants, 70% were granted settled status; 30% were granted pre-settled status. None was refused. Almost 80% said that they found the application process very fair and easy to complete, so the process is working well, although he is right to highlight the question of what it might look like once it is fully open. We are making sure, through a huge comms campaign, that we get through to everyone who needs to know about the scheme. We are, for example, working with employers; I visited one such employer, GSK, just last week.
Immigration Detention Estate
The Government are committed to using the detention estate sparingly, and only when necessary. We have taken a systematic approach to modernising and rationalising the detention estate, so that we ensure that we have the geographical footprint and resilience required to meet our future needs. By this summer, the detention estate will be almost 40% smaller than four years ago, and of significantly higher quality.
I welcome very much the closure of Campsfield House; I have been campaigning for its closure for a very long time. However, it happened very quickly, so lots of workers are now worried about where they will find a job. The local community is desperate to know the plans for the site once Campsfield is totally run down.
I am glad that the hon. Lady identified her involvement with the Close Campsfield campaign. I am conscious that she was at many of the protests calling for the closure of Campsfield. We are developing options for the future use of the site following the end of the contract, which was, in any case, scheduled to end in May 2019. Although the employment of Mitie staff is a question for Mitie, the company has provided assurances that it is actively engaged with its staff on redeployment options within its business. All detainees have been transferred to other centres where they will be held in decent and dignified conditions.
EU Settlement Scheme
The hon. Lady raises the question of how the EU settlement scheme is working. Of course, we know that EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and society, and we want them to stay. The first two phases of beta testing have successfully concluded, and the wider public implementation of the scheme has gone live today.
I have received a worrying pattern of news about EU citizens in my constituency being denied universal credit because they are deemed not to have the right to reside. This is happening despite the Department for Work and Pensions having access to work history records and other evidence to the contrary. Is this an example of the hostile environment extending to EU citizens before Brexit has even happened, and will the EU settlement scheme have any impact on this?
The EU settlement scheme is a really crucial part of making sure that the 3.4 million EU citizens living here can absolutely evidence their right to stay here through a digital status in line with 21st-century requirements. The hon. Lady will have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talk in positive terms about how important this scheme is. We have now opened the final phase of testing before the whole scheme goes live at the end of March.
The Government are right to be working hard to secure a Brexit deal, but if no deal is reached, can my right hon. Friend reassure EU citizens living in our county of Hampshire and elsewhere in the UK that their rights will still be guaranteed? This is important and it needs to be clear, not just to citizens but to businesses as well.
Picking up on the final part of my right hon. Friend’s question, last summer we launched the employer toolkit to enable employers best to communicate to their employees the settled status scheme. She is right to point out the concerns that many may have about the event of no deal. I would like to reassure her that across Government we are working incredibly hard to avoid a no-deal outcome. However, the Department for Exiting the European Union was very clear about the protections afforded to EU citizens in the event of no deal, and we believe that our offer to them is generous. Deal or no deal, the scheme will open publicly at the end of March, and it is crucial that as many citizens as possible apply.
The Minister knows that this is an increasingly complex area. I have had many letters from constituents concerned that they will be impacted by the immigration health surcharge. Who is going to have to pay this, and is it going to be increased along the lines foreshadowed in the press?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we did increase the immigration health surcharge. That was an important manifesto commitment that the Conservative party made to make sure that those who are using NHS services are also contributing to the NHS. The settled status scheme has deliberately been designed to be simple, not complicated. It is really important that EU citizens only have to prove their identity, prove their residence, and confirm that they do not have criminality. In the second phase of private beta testing, it has been very plain that the vast majority of people going through the scheme—in the region of 80% or so, I believe—have been able to confirm their residence of five years without any reference to additional information other than their records with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or their DWP records.
As somebody who is married to an EU citizen, I think that these proposals are entirely fair and proportionate, and are in marked contrast to the outrageous scare stories that were put about by some people, in and out of this House, who are fanatical about remaining in the European Union.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that his wife will be going through the process very soon indeed. In fact, some of the best advocates for the simplicity of the EU settled status scheme have been those who have already gone through it, and we have had very positive feedback on the first two phases of testing.
Immigration: Scottish Economy
The Government’s immigration White Paper sets out the principles of an immigration system that will work in the best interests of the whole of the UK. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made clear, the White Paper is the start of the conversation. I look forward to ongoing engagement with stakeholders in Scotland over the course of this year.
The Scottish policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses has said:
“The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to many of Scotland’s businesses and local communities. These proposals will make it nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to access any non-UK labour and the skills they need to grow and sustain their operations.”
Is he wrong?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the importance of our engaging with business groups and stakeholders across Scotland. I was delighted to meet the CBI in Scotland in a business roundtable back in the summer, and that engagement will continue. I would also like to point out that the independent Migration Advisory Committee was very much of the view that Scotland’s economic situation is not sufficiently different from the rest of the UK to justify a very different migration policy.
Does the Minister accept that the idea of a skills-based immigration system is undermined by having an arbitrary salary threshold, which should be scrapped in favour of an honest assessment of the real skills demand across different sectors in the economy?
I would gently point out that it was not an arbitrary salary threshold; it was the one put forward by the independent Migration Advisory Committee. It is, of course, important that we engage with business and employers across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we will use the next 12 months to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) has referred to the concerns of the policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland. The chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Marc Crothall, has said:
“There is no doubt that the government’s plans will exacerbate the existing recruitment crisis considerably, placing our tourism industry and what is one of the most important economic drivers for Scotland in severe jeopardy.”
Is he wrong as well?
The hon. and learned Lady will be aware that the Migration Advisory Committee, which is independent of Government, made the point that it did not see the case for a wide range of sectoral schemes. In fact, it made the case that perhaps only in agriculture was one appropriate. However, it is important that we continue to engage with all businesses and sectors. I am sure she will be delighted to know that the tourism industry in Wales has already beaten a path to my door, and I look forward to Scotland doing likewise.
Clearly the tourism industry in Scotland are very unhappy with the proposals, and I beg to suggest that they know more about their industry than the Migration Advisory Committee. The reality of the situation is that people in businesses across Scotland are dismayed by the UK Government’s approach to immigration. Scotland already has different policies and approaches on taxation, climate change, tuition fees and social care. If those major areas of policy can be devolved and implemented to suit Scotland’s needs, why can immigration not be devolved? I would like to know the Minister’s views, rather than the Migration Advisory Committee’s views.
Response times to fire have increased gradually over the last 20 years. At the same time, as the hon. Lady knows, the number of fires and deaths from fire has, thankfully, fallen. There is no clear link between response times and firefighter numbers.
I thank the Minister for his response, but last month a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services found that fragmentation was resulting in a postcode lottery of 999 response times and standards, which simply is not fair on the public or on firefighters. What steps is the Minister taking to introduce a consistent national framework of standards across fire and rescue services, to provide a proper benchmark against which inspections can take place?
The independent inspection of the effectiveness of our fire service found that 10 of the 14 fire services inspected were rated good for effectiveness, including their response to emergencies. We are driving up standards and finding out what “good” looks like through independent inspection, the creation of the standards board and robust local accountability, including the chance for local police and crime commissioners to take over governance. That framework will drive up standards across the fire service, which is what everyone wants.
Rising response times are not the fault of firefighters, chief fire officers or local politicians. They are the result of this Government’s austerity agenda, which has led to 10,000 fewer firefighters protecting our communities. Council leaders such as those in South Yorkshire, where £12.5 million has been slashed since 2010, have explained to the Minister that this Government’s austerity measures will risk the public’s safety—they have made that clear. Will he explain how sustained cuts to fire service budgets, which force a reliance on small, one-off, un-earmarked—note the distinction—reserves, provide a sufficient basis for a responsive and well-resourced service? Will he commission a review?
I would say to the hon. Lady that we have fewer firefighters because we have had 46% fewer fires over the past decade. What I would also say to her, which I said to all the fire chiefs this morning, is that I am absolutely determined that, in the next comprehensive spending review, the fire service gets the resource it needs to continue to be world class.
I met the chief fire officer and the chair of the fire and rescue authority in Nottinghamshire on Friday, and they made no complaint about their funding level. They have had to make a series of reductions, and they have done it extremely well, without any risks increasing at all to the people of Nottinghamshire. They want to make sure that their funding is retained, and I do not expect the Minister to comment on that. However, does he agree with me that our fire services have done remarkable things, with cuts in their budgets, without any risk to the public at all?
I said exactly that to the fire chiefs today. Through austerity, they have made changes, and they should be commended on their leadership during that period. Their spending power will grow by 2.2% next year, and they sit on reserves worth 42% of their spending power. I repeat to my right hon. Friend what I said to them today: I am determined to ensure that, in the CSR, our fire service is properly resourced.
The Government have concentrated on bringing law enforcement together alongside regulators to focus ruthlessly on tackling dirty money and economic crime. In the next 18 months, we will invest over £48 million to bolster capabilities, including in the establishment of the National Economic Crime Centre.
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. It is in all our interests to ensure that our financial sector and country tackle financial crime. The global scale of it demands that all of us play our part to burden-share, which is why the serious and organised crime strategy last year specifically committed to ensuring the widest response from both Government and the private sector.
A year ago, the Government introduced unexplained wealth orders to tackle the laundromat of dirty money in this country. It is reported that the National Crime Agency has identified 140 cases in which such an order would be appropriate, but only one order has been imposed in the past year. Why are the Government afraid of using the tools available to them?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify some of his remarks. First, those orders were not introduced—enacted—until April last year, so they have not been used for a year; and two, not one, have been used. At the same time, the Criminal Finances Act 2017 brought into existence asset-freezing orders. In one year, since April, we have seen asset-freezing orders used 200 times alone in the Metropolitan police, freezing over £40 million. I assure him that the use of unexplained wealth orders will continue. However, he will know as a lawyer that the courts and the judiciary have to get used to understanding them, and we have to understand how the courts interpret the legislation; but he should not worry, the asset-freezing orders are doing their job, as will the unexplained wealth orders.
We have reformed and strengthened the powers available to local areas to tackle antisocial behaviour, including vandalism, through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Six powers are available to the police, local councils and other agencies, including the civil injunction and public spaces protection orders, which set out how a public space can be used.
Over the Christmas period, the Outwood memorial hall in my constituency was vandalised, the community centre and war memorial were damaged, and the possessions stolen include a wheelchair used by the Outwood stroke club. This is a truly sickening crime that has caused great distress to our community. What plans does my hon. Friend have to increase the sentences for those found guilty of such offences?
I am sure that the whole House is sorry to hear about that appalling incident, and I fully understand the distress that it must have caused my hon. Friend’s constituents. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their local community. Robust legislation is in place to tackle such crimes, from the antisocial-behaviour powers in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, to criminal damage offences—and, indeed, violence offences, if those are appropriate on the facts of the case.
Residents and businesses in Hoyland have recently been subjected to a distressing wave of serious crime, including vandalism, break-ins and theft. That reflects the fact that there are nearly 600 fewer South Yorkshire police officers on our streets as a result of this Government’s cuts. Can the Minister confirm that Barnsley will not get a penny from the Government in this year’s funding settlement to recruit more frontline officers? Will she think again?
I am sorry to hear about the experiences in the hon. Lady’s constituency and I hope that she will therefore be supporting the Government’s funding settlement, which is coming towards us and will help give up to £970 million more to policing, with the help of police and crime commissioners.
Online Crime: Company Responsibility
Tackling serious crime online is one of our highest priorities. We are increasing our investment in law enforcement and will set out plans to legislate in the online harms White Paper, jointly led by the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It will set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe online, including protection from serious online crime.
Technology is at the root of a great deal of serious crime in the United Kingdom. I know that the Minister understands that and will want to work with tech firms to fight against crime committed online. However, does he rule out the suggestion made by some people, including Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, that if significant change is not forthcoming from the tech firms, we should regulate them?
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is ultimately right in the sense that, yes, if communications service providers fail to respond to abuse of the internet, they will need to see an increase in existing regulation. We are considering a full range of possible solutions to address the issue, including a regulatory framework as well as broader legal and regulatory changes, where necessary.
We launched the serious violence strategy last year; it has culminated in detailed work, stretching across Government. It includes the Offensive Weapons Bill and the serious violence taskforce. In addition, we want to build resilience for young people into the future, so we will be launching a £200 million youth endowment fund to intervene on children and young people at risk of serious violence. Shortly, we will consult on a new duty to underpin the multi-agency approach on public health.
Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne was recently successful in getting a grant of almost £1 million from the Home Office—I thank the Department for that—to specifically address serious offences among young people. May I have an assurance that Crawley will continue to remain a focus of such support to combat serious offences?
I congratulate police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne; it is always a pleasure to work with her. That was one of 29 projects awarded a total of nearly £18 million from the early intervention youth fund. The project in Crawley helps engage positively with children under 18 at risk of committing serious violence. The project will establish a network of coaches, drawing together the various agencies working with those young people—again, very much underpinning our approach to tackling serious violence: that we should all be concerned about this matter and working together on it.
The Home Office-funded Violence and Vulnerability Unit report of 2018 noted that a reduction in services that offer positive activities to young people, such as youth services and school clubs, has left a vacuum that gangs are moving into. Does the Minister agree that supporting vulnerable young people and protecting them from county lines requires a cross-departmental approach with funding to back it? That has all too often been missing under the austerity agenda.
I am pleased that the hon. Lady recently met my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to discuss this issue. As she will know from the serious violence strategy, the taskforce and our intention to consult shortly on a public health duty, the Government take our work to tackle serious violence very seriously.
Order. The hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) was focused intently upon his electronic device, and I am sure he found it thoroughly captivating, but I gently point out to him that he has a question that is not unadjacent to that with which we are dealing now, and that he might care to shoehorn his inquiry into the present.
I am delighted that Essex is one of 29 projects across the country that have received money under the early intervention youth fund. The project in Essex will help to support the violence and vulnerability project. As we know, it is the vulnerability of young people that often places them so starkly in the path of those gangsters who want to exploit them.
After a worrying upward trend in violent crime in Tooting, I held a crime summit that brought together the police, local authorities and community groups. That kind of joined-up, multi-sector working is essential in tackling violent crime. Will the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to ensure that we work with local groups at the heart of the community to stamp out violent crime?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady has taken that approach in her constituency. I have to say that the Government are very much leading on it. I am delighted, for example, that the Mayor of London sits on the taskforce chaired by the Home Secretary. Our approach is that we cannot arrest our way out of this. We want to intervene at an early stage to stop these young people from getting into the clutches of these criminals in the first place.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.