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Commons Chamber

Volume 655: debated on Monday 25 February 2019

House of Commons

Monday 25 February 2019

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Online Platforms: Extremist Content

8. What recent discussions he has had with online platform providers on taking down extremist content. (909394)

The Government have been clear that there should be no safe spaces online for terrorists and extremists to operate in. We work closely with industry to encourage them to develop innovative solutions to tackle extremist content, but there is still more to do. A White Paper will be published shortly setting out measures to tackle online harms, including terrorist content.

I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. I understand that his Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently met Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and was quoted as saying after the meeting that

“the UK Government wants to keep its citizens safe online”.

Mr Zuckerberg refuses to come before the House’s Select Committee. Can the Home Secretary update the House on what discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleague as a result of that meeting, particularly in relation to what will be introduced to make people safe on social media and online?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I am meeting the Culture Secretary later this afternoon, and then I will get a briefing on the meetings he has had in the US. If she will allow me, I will write to her after that. She makes an important point. It may help if I share with the House the fact that Facebook has announced that it has taken action to take down some 9.4 million pieces of Daesh and al-Qaeda content in the second quarter of 2018. That is a substantial rise on what it has achieved in the past, and most of that is due to its own technology and internal reviewers. There is still more to do, but some progress is being made.

The evidence strongly suggests that much more needs to be done to tackle this growing issue. What penalties does the Home Secretary envisage imposing on the internet giants, which have so far proved reluctant to help stamp out extreme content online?

Again, the hon. Lady raises an important point. I know that she, like other Members, has suffered from vile content being directed at her on the internet, which is unacceptable, and that is why more needs to be done. We are working closely across Government—especially my Department with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—on the online harms White Paper. I do not want to prejudge or announce now what is in that paper, but I can assure her that we are taking this issue very seriously, and if it is helpful, I am happy to meet her to discuss it further.

I urge the Secretary of State to take action. I have not had half the vile stuff that my female colleagues have had, but it is disgusting. I get threats and have had people arrested for things they have posted on my website. Can we have action now? There is a culture we have to change of people making horrible threats anonymously and disgusting stalking. Let us put an end to it now.

I very much share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment. As he pointed out, there is some action that the police and law enforcement could take today, but it is not enough. I do not think that there are enough rules and laws in place to tackle this. That is why we are working across Government to see what more needs to be done, but I very much share his concerns, and I hope he will welcome the White Paper when it is published.

Until now, the approach even of the more responsible internet companies has been that somebody else has to report something first, and then they will consider taking it down. Surely they should be proactive. If people can search for vile material and find it, why can the companies not search for it proactively and then take it down?

My right hon. Friend is right. We have seen some good examples. As I mentioned, Facebook is starting to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to track down this material and, in some cases, even prevent it from being uploaded in the first place. Given that this challenge is caused by technology—much of which we embrace—we should be using more technology to tackle it.

Campaigners against the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation have highlighted how young girls are often coerced into undergoing the procedure through using online platforms. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government’s online harms White Paper includes measures to prevent FGM victims being targeted in this way?

I would like to give my hon. Friend that assurance. This House and hon. Members across the House have done a huge amount in recent years to fight the abhorrent practice of FGM. My hon. Friend is right to highlight how the internet has been used to promote this vile practice, and I can give her the assurance that it is one of the harms being looked at in the White Paper.

Mr Speaker, you will have heard, as we all have over the weekend, of the vile extremism that has spread over the internet and has encouraged many people to join groups such as ISIS. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the opportunity has really come to change the law, and to look at how we can charge people with treason? Will he look at the espionage Bill, which is coming before this House soon, and see whether the Policy Exchange report written by me and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) could be used as an inspiration for some amendments to that law?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will know that this House recently passed the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill and made it into an Act that gives the Government some new powers on fighting terrorism. He has also raised the issue of further potential powers, including in relation to treason. I am taking these issues very seriously. We are looking at this, and I would be happy to meet him and discuss this further.

I worked with the Security Minister on what is now the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 to update our laws to deal with those who access online extremist content, but platform providers have to take responsibility too. The Home Secretary says he is concerned about it, indicates he has spoken to the tech giants about it and has promised a White Paper, but what excuse does he have for not acting now?

The Government are acting now. For example, last year I made two visits to meet the online giants in the United States. One of those was for the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which the UK Government sponsor, as the hon. Gentleman will know. It is an industry body, but it works both with the large platforms and with the small platforms. We are working with it to see what more can be done to use technology, especially with auto-detection. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support—he did support the measures in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, and I thank him and his colleagues for that—and I look forward to working with him even more closely.

Asylum Seekers: Right to Work

Our current policy allows asylum seekers to work in jobs on the shortage occupation list, where their claim has been outstanding for 12 months or more through no fault of their own. However, there is ongoing work in this area, and I continue to have discussions with stakeholders and right hon. and hon. Members on this very important subject.

I hear the argument the Minister is making, but I remain baffled about why the Government are prepared to allow people, often very highly skilled people, to come to this country and force them to live on £5.40 a day, when they often have the skills we are crying out for, especially in key health service sectors. Does she not agree with me that allowing asylum seekers to rebuild their lives by going into employment and making an economic contribution would make them feel valued and would have benefits for us as well?

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. Of course, this policy is designed to protect the resident labour market so that access to employment is prioritised for British citizens, and it is important to reflect that about 50% of asylum seekers are ultimately found not to be in need of international protection.

The asylum system simply is not working. Between 2010 and 2016, 81,000 asylum applications were either refused or withdrawn, yet only one third of these people were removed and 54,000 are still here. Before considering the employment of asylum seekers, will the Immigration Minister sort out the asylum system itself?

I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that we are committed to making sure that asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay and to making sure that, when decisions are made, they are the right decisions first time. He makes an important point about returns. This Government are committed to working both with stakeholders and with individual people who have failed in their asylum claims to promote voluntary returns and make sure that they are returned to their home countries, where it is safe to do so.

My constituent Ehi Izevbaye has been in the UK for more than 14 years with no right to work and he has a 10-year-old daughter. He has been repeatedly turned down for leave to remain and now faces deportation. They say he has run out of options. The Home Office has made a catalogue of errors and mistakes with this incredibly complex case. Please will the Minister look personally at the case and review it, and either agree to meet me to discuss it further or consider what she can do to help him?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that individual case. I am of course happy to meet her to discuss it in detail. In circumstances in which somebody has had a claim outstanding for a considerable period and has a child, it is important that we continue to act to ensure that we are faster in making decisions.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of work for physical and mental wellbeing and for community integration? Does she agree that we should do everything we can to ensure integration?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of work. I often say, with no irony whatsoever, that I spent a very happy 12 months at the Department for Work and Pensions. I am conscious of the importance of work for people’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, not to mention the fact that children are better off when their parents are in work. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention integration. I commend the work of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on its integration Green Paper, and the Home Office is working closely with it.

I wonder whether in her own surgery the right hon. Lady has ever had to look an asylum-seeking constituent in the eye and explain to them why they are forced to walk around with a plastic card that says, “Not permitted to work”. The right to work is a fundamental human right, so is it not about time that the Government extended that right to all asylum seekers?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman was listening when I made the point that the policy is about protecting the labour market for British workers. Of course I have met asylum seekers in my surgery. Indeed, the ward of Swaythling in Southampton has one of the highest numbers of supported asylum seekers in the entire city, and it falls within my constituency. It is important that we get the balance right and find out how we can best support people into work, but what we do not want to do is create perverse incentives for people to seek to come here by circumventing our important immigration rules, which reserve the right to work for those who have applied through the correct processes.

Windrush Generation: Compensation

Successive Governments have failed the Windrush generation, but it remains this Government’s priority to put those wrongs right. On 8 February, I issued a written ministerial statement to inform the House that the Government response to the Windrush compensation scheme consultation will set out the details of the scheme along with accompanying guidance and rules. The response will be published shortly.

When the Home Secretary was appointed he told this House that it was his first priority to help those affected by the Windrush situation. That was in July last year—over seven months ago. The consultation ended on 16 November, but he still cannot—or will not—tell us when the final details of the scheme will be announced. If this is how he treats his first priority, I would hate to think how he treats the others. When can my constituents expect the compensation they so desperately need and deserve?

It remains a first priority, which is why since I have been appointed we have helped more than 2,000 people through the Windrush taskforce; created the Windrush scheme; helped almost 3,500 people to apply for citizenship; waived thousands of pounds in costs; and set up an urgent assistance programme for exceptional cases. The hon. Lady is right to raise the compensation scheme. It is hugely important that we do it properly and get it right. That is why we have held a consultation, with an independent reviewer, to make sure that we look at all the issues and it is done properly.

Since our urgent question, the Jamaican commissioner has joined calls from across the House to halt deportation flights to Jamaica. After Windrush, where we know that hundreds of people were wrongfully deported or detained, this Government cannot be trusted to follow the correct process. What is their plan for future deportation flights, and will the Home Secretary suspend them until the lessons of Windrush have been learned?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this issue has been discussed in the House. He refers to the charter flight to Jamaica on 6 February. On that flight were 29 foreign national offenders, all convicted of serious crimes. He will know that in each of those cases—as I said, they were all foreign national offenders—we took extra care to ensure that none were subject to the Windrush scheme. Every single one arrived after 1 January 1973 and there is no evidence to indicate that any had been here before that date. He will know that, under a law passed by a previous Labour Government, the Home Secretary is mandated by law to issue a deportation order for anyone who is given a sentence of more than one year. Surely he is not asking me to break the law.

EU Settlement Scheme

EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and society, and we want them all to stay. The EU settlement scheme enables them to do so. The scheme will be free of charge, and we are putting in place measures to ensure it is streamlined, user-friendly and accessible to all prospective applicants.

With exit day drawing closer, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will do everything to protect the rights of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, regardless of whether there is a deal or not?

I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is vital that we give people full reassurance that their rights will be protected as we leave the EU, which is why we have made it crystal clear that, whether there is a deal or no deal, the rights of EU citizens resident here will be protected through the EU settlement scheme. We will continue to work with our friends in the EU, the EU27, asking them to provide the same absolute assurances to UK nationals living in their countries.

The Home Affairs Committee heard in a recent evidence session that those who did not register under the EU settlement scheme in time would be unlawfully resident. Can he confirm whether that is the case? What rights will those people have if they have not registered with the EU settlement scheme?

As the right hon. Lady will know, we want to make sure that all EU citizens who are here know exactly how the process works for them to stay. We want them all to stay and we want to make the scheme that I have just set out as easy and accessible as possible. As with any scheme, there will need to be a cut-off period at some point, not least because this is about protecting the rights of EU citizens so that as we end freedom of movement there is no possibility that we can have another Windrush-type situation, which she knows was created by successive Governments not properly documenting a change in immigration status for people who were already here. It is important that we get this right. In terms of a cut-off, we will take a proportionate and sensible approach.

A whisper may have reached the Home Secretary that my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) is going to propose an amendment on Wednesday calling for a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the draft withdrawal agreement as soon as possible. May I invite the Home Secretary to indicate, for the very reasons he has just set out, that the Government are supportive of that position?

I have been very clear, and I am very happy to say so again to my right hon. Friend, that we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are here in the UK, whether there is deal or no deal. She refers to concerns raised by hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire. I welcome the interest of both him and my right hon. Friend. I would be happy to meet them to discuss it further.

Further to the question from the Select Committee Chair, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), does the Home Secretary not realise that there could be a large number of EU citizens living here now who may not, for a number of reasons, manage to register by the June 2021 deadline? Will the Home Secretary therefore look at alternative ideas that are being put forward, for example a declaratory scheme, so that EU citizens can get their rights here and we can treat these people with the respect and dignity they deserve?

I could not be clearer: the rights of all EU citizens who are here in the UK prior to exiting the European Union will absolutely be protected. We will do everything we can, whatever is necessary, to ensure that. The right hon. Gentleman makes a suggestion about a declaratory scheme. I say again—this is a very important point—that that is exactly what was done in the ’70s with the Windrush generation and we all have seen the consequences of that all too clearly. They were not designed by anyone; that was the outcome of a declaratory scheme. We cannot have such a situation again. I am happy to look at any other ideas and thoughts that hon. Members have on this matter, but I think we all share the concern that we must ensure that rights are protected and properly protected.

I was pleased recently to add my name to an open letter from the Cornwall leadership board to all EU citizens living in Cornwall, making it clear that we want them to remain here and that we want to make it easy for them to do so. However, concerns remain about getting the message out about the settled status scheme to the more rural and hard-to-reach communities in Cornwall, so will the Home Secretary reassure me that the Home Office will make every effort to get the message out to the remotest parts of our country?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. That is a very important point: we want to make sure that we are reaching not just people in rural communities outside our big cities, but those who might be more vulnerable, perhaps because they are disabled or are children who are being looked after by local authorities. We need to make sure that we reach out to all of them, which is why we are working with a number of organisations. We have allocated £9 million of funding for them to make sure that they can go out and reach all these vulnerable groups.

The right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) has asked the Home Secretary about an amendment to be debated in the House later this week, requiring the Prime Minister to seek to ring-fence the rights of both UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, regardless of whether the withdrawal agreement is signed. This ring-fencing has cross-party support across the House, including from many Government Back Benchers. What possible reason could there be for the Home Secretary not to recommend to the Prime Minister that the Government accept that amendment?

The hon. and learned Lady will know that the Prime Minister is not able to speak on behalf of the EU; she can speak only on behalf of the UK. She is not able to force the EU to ring-fence anything—that is ultimately a decision for the EU. What the UK can do, though, is unilaterally guarantee the rights of all EU citizens, regardless of whether there is a deal or no deal, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Well of course, what the Prime Minister is being asked to do is to seek an agreement from the EU, not to force the EU. However, if the Government are not prepared to do that, will they do this? The British in Europe campaign group told the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Committee last week that the best alternative to bilateral ring-fencing was to put the settled status qualifying criteria in the Bill along with a clear statement of strong settled status rights. That would be best practice and would give other countries in the European Union significant encouragement to reciprocate. Will the Home Secretary commit to that as a fall-back position?

I absolutely share the hon. and learned Lady’s concerns. It might be useful to point out that we can guarantee people’s rights through secondary legislation, which would be much more straightforward and easier, and that is our plan. As we have set out, we absolutely will be guaranteeing the rights of all EU citizens, regardless of deal or no deal, and when that comes to this House, hopefully through secondary legislation, I hope that hon. Members will support it.

Online Content: Crime

5. What steps he is taking to ensure that tech companies tackle serious crimes perpetrated on their platforms. (909391)

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, which will set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe online, including through protection from serious online crime.

Following an 18-month investigation into fake news and disinformation by the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—I was proud to be part of that—it has published its recommendations, one of which called for comprehensive new regulations. The main detail, however, was to have an independent regulator to ensure that social media companies are forced to take down harmful comment. Does the Minister agree with the recommendations, and does he also agree that speed is of the essence?

My hon. Friend highlights the very good report produced by the Committee, which was full of really good ideas. I do not want to anticipate the online harms White Paper and what may be consulted on—the White Paper will be part of a consultation—but I totally agree with her that speed of action is incredibly important. It is about time for these big, hugely profitable tech companies to take responsibility, step up to the plate and do something about this.

At the moment tech companies are apparently taking down masses of material, but would it not be much more helpful if they were automatically required to pass on to law enforcement agencies the IP addresses and registration details of accounts that abuse their own practices?

The hon. Gentleman highlights something that is already the case for child sexual exploitation images in the US, and we get up to 4,000 referrals a month from US and Canadian ISPs where that has been identified. Exploring broadening that out would be welcome, but we should not forget that a large part of what these companies do is about making profit. The algorithms in their platforms are about hooking people into watching more and more, and they need to get to the heart of their business case as well as their technology so that we can deal with the challenges.

One of my constituents, a teenager whose brother was murdered, has recently been targeted by vile abuse online from a person claiming to be the murderer of her brother. What is the Home Office doing to ensure that social media companies such as Snapchat do much more to help to catch trolls making such malicious communications, who think they can hide behind the keyboard and get away with it?

I hope that the online harms White Paper will address many of those issues, and I look forward to my hon. Friend’s contribution to it.

Too often what happens is that the content that is uploaded does not break the law, but it leads to the law being broken, and is often followed by harassment campaigns against individuals. Too often Facebook is not just a safe space for that stuff—which it is—but actually the weapon of choice. When will we get legislation to properly regulate companies such as Facebook that, from what I can see, do not really give a damn?

First, the online harms White Paper consultation, which as I have said will be published imminently, will be a chance for all of us to contribute to the best policy tools to deal with that threat. Secondly, we need to recognise that under EU law we currently have the issue of mere conduit, whereby one of the statutory defences for the companies is, “We are just a conduit for this material: we do not take responsibility for it.” That is why issues such as duty of care are an attractive policy model that we should look at adopting as a potential solution to the problem.

Given the dangers our children are exposed to on social media platforms, does my right hon. Friend agree that those platforms should look to fund education seminars in schools on how to stay safe online?

My hon. Friend makes a really good point. Some of the large companies already do that: Google, for example, goes to many constituencies and makes presentations in primary schools. I would recommend that all hon. Members approach the company and ask it to come to their constituencies. I went to a session in my constituency which made a difference for young people in staying safe online. But there is a lot more that companies could do, and that is what we will push for in the online harms White Paper.

Crime Levels

Crimes traditionally measured by the independent crime survey for England and Wales are down by more than a third since 2010. The assessment by the Office for National Statistics is that crime has fallen over recent decades, and overall, levels of crime are currently stable. But we accept that certain crimes, particularly violent crimes, have increased, and we are doing everything possible to address that.

Crime rates are up 13% in North Yorkshire and up in every single category of crime. I met the police this weekend, and our amazing officers are breaking. Cuts have serious consequences. I am dialling 999 for help in York: how will the Minister respond to my call?

I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that the Government have provided up to £970 million more for policing in this year, which means more than £11 million for her constabulary. I am sure she will be delighted that that will be spent by the Conservative police and crime commissioner to fund 50 more police officers and 20 more police community support officers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that greater flexibility for local police and crime commissioners will better enable local forces to solve local problems?

Very much so. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government support police and crime commissioners precisely because we believe that, ensconced in their local communities, they can understand the local policing priorities in their areas better than bureaucrats in Whitehall.

19. It is not just crime that troubles communities. Antisocial behaviour is also on the rise and, after nine years of cuts to police officer numbers and council budgets, local authorities and the police say that they do not have the officers, resources or powers to tackle the problem effectively, leaving huge numbers of people in constituencies such as mine to live in misery because of problematic individuals locally. What is the Home Office doing to tackle antisocial behaviour? (909407)

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of antisocial behaviour. Indeed, we debated it recently, courtesy of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who is sitting behind him. During that debate, we discussed the fact that the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 had introduced six powers for not just the police but local authorities and even landlords—and Transport for Greater Manchester, for example—that will help to stop antisocial behaviour. However, we are well aware that such behaviour can be a terrible blight on local communities, and we encourage police, local authorities and other agencies to work together to tackle it.

Order. In my usual spirit of helpfulness, I advise the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) that if she were to seek to shoehorn her inquiry at Question 18, which will not be reached, into that of which we are treating now, she would be fortunate.

18. Thank you, Mr Speaker—and I apologise for my cold. A business in my constituency was the victim of fraudsters who hacked into Barclays bank’s financial system, stealing £500,000 from its accounts. There seems to be no liability for Barclays to refund my constituent for the loss or for the police to track down the fraudsters, who seem to be Pakistan-based. What are the Government doing to protect local businesses from such fraudsters by making banks responsible, and will the Minister meet me to discuss that case? (909405)

I am extremely concerned to hear that. The Government are investing more than £48 million over the next 18 months to bolster capabilities to tackle economic crime through, for instance, the new National Economic Crime Centre, which will increase the number of financial investigators and improve the regional and local response. However, I know that the Minister for Security and Economic Crime, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), is keen to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that case with her.

A public health approach to tackling youth violence requires fully funded public services, but in recent years policing, local authorities, schools and youth services have been cut, which has reduced support for local communities. What measures have the Government taken to ensure that new funds are available immediately to support the public health approach that is so desperately needed to tackle the rise in youth violence?

I know that the hon. Lady met my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently to discuss issues in her constituency. She will be aware that, as part of our approach to tackling serious violence, we are not only running a programme of actions to tackle it—as set out in the strategy—but investing £22 million in early intervention and an additional £200 million in the youth endowment fund, which I hope will bring about real changes over the next 10 years.

I proffer the same advice to the hon. Member for Havant (Alan Mak) as I extended to his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. We might not reach his question. His moment could be now. Does he wish to seize it?

14. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Charities such as Active Communities Network, in my constituency, do excellent work in creating opportunities for young people who might otherwise risk becoming involved in crime. What is the Home Office giving to organisations of that kind? (909401)

I welcome the work of Active Communities Network, and I am delighted that the Home Office has helped to fund it previously to provide diversionary and outreach activities for vulnerable young people in my hon. Friend’s area. As I have said, the introduction of the youth endowment fund means that £200 million will be invested over 10 years to provide—I hope—innovative ways to intervene on young people and divert them from a criminal lifestyle before the gang leaders get to them.

Fire Services: Pensions

7. What assessment he has made of the effect of changes in the level of Government contributions to public service pension schemes on the financial sustainability of fire services. (909393)

I am sure that we all want good public pensions to be affordable over the longer term; and yes, public sector employer contributions will have to rise, including those in the fire and rescue authorities. The Treasury has made clear that it will cover 90% of the additional cost in 2019-20, and following years will be covered by the comprehensive spending review.

The Government have not picked up their fair share of the pension fund contribution, which means that local authorities and fire authorities will have to pick up more. We have to pay the pensions. How do the Government expect fire authorities to maintain the increasing calls on their services, and to meet their target call response times, when they have to contribute extra funds that are not provided by the Government?

What I would say, with respect to the hon. Lady, is that the Treasury is requesting of the fire sector £10 million of additional funding; that is from a sector that will receive £2.3 billion in income and is sitting on almost £600 million of reserves. I think it is affordable, and I hope that she, like me, will welcome the announcement of her local chief fire officer Phil Garrigan about his intention to increase the number of fire engines and firefighters in Merseyside.

We have heard from the Government a number of times that austerity is over, yet this same Government are slashing their financial contributions to fire and rescue pension schemes at the same time as they plan to cut funding by £155 million by 2020. They are piling the pressure on a service which, after nine years of austerity, has fewer firefighters, fewer appliances and rising response times. When will the Minister end the dismantling of our fire service and implement a sustainable funding model to build a service fit for the challenges of the 21st century?

With respect to whoever is informing the hon. Lady, actually the core spending power of our fire system will increase by 2.3% in cash terms in 2019-20, and, as she is well aware, the system is sitting on £545 million of taxpayers’ money in reserves, a sum that has grown by 80% since 2011. It is therefore hard to argue that the system has been cash-strapped, but the hon. Lady has my assurance that the Home Secretary and I are absolutely committed to making sure that through the next comprehensive spending agreement the British public can continue to rely on a world-class fire service.

Northumbria Police

10. What comparative assessment he has made of the number of frontline police officers employed by Northumbria Police in 2010 and 2019. (909397)

The Northumbria police and crime commissioner has announced that the precept will increase by £24 in 2020, meaning that funding will increase by £18 million compared with 2018-19. That is increased local investment in local policing.

Since 2010 the Tories have cut Northumbria police’s funding by 25% and given it a 1,000 decrease in the number of police officers on the street, leading to a massive increase in serious crime. Is the Minister proud of this Government’s record?

Of course, the statistic the hon. Gentleman omits is that the other key thing about 2010 was that this country was then dealing with the largest deficit in our public finances in peacetime history. Over the years we have taken action to tackle that and get the public finances under control—opposed by Labour—and we are now creating the conditions for increased public investment in policing, again opposed by Labour.

No, no, no: as I have just been advised, it would require a cross-country train to make the journey from Northumbria, about which the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn) asked, to either Coventry or Dudley, which doubtless have many merits, and which can be reached subsequently in other circumstances.

Residents in Lincolnshire, just like those in Northumbria and many other people across the country, will be paying £24 more on their council tax this year, which the Government have claimed is to fund local policing. However, because the force has spent all of its reserves, which the Minister has repeatedly told forces to do and which we have just heard him do again, the force will be losing 40 officers and 30 police community support officers this year from the frontline. So what does the Minister have to say to residents who will be paying more for a much lesser service because their force has faithfully followed Government policy?

Lincolnshire is only marginally nearer; there is a degree of latitude for the Front Bench, but that is mildly cheeky.

We are in regular contact with Lincolnshire police. Of course, the hon. Lady stampeded to a worst case scenario and ignored the fact that, as a result of the police funding settlement that she led her party to vote against, Lincolnshire police will be receiving up to £8.6 million in cash next year, a move welcomed by the PCC and the chief.

Immigration: Workers’ Rights

11. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of proposals in his immigration White Paper on workers’ rights. (909398)

Foreign nationals admitted to the UK to work under the proposals set out in the White Paper will benefit from the same employment rights and protections as the rest of the UK workforce, such as the national minimum wage, paid annual leave and protection from discrimination.

The Minister might be interested to know that when I criticised aspects of the White Paper last week, particularly the proposed £30,000 salary threshold, her colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland said that he shared my concerns and that he would be making a submission to the consultation about the flawed nature of that arbitrary salary threshold. Does the Minister share her colleague’s concerns about the impact that that threshold will have on young skilled employment in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that when the Home Secretary published the White Paper, he made it clear that this was the start of a year-long conversation about the proposal contained therein for us to move to a single system based on people’s skills and not on where they come from. He will also be aware that the Immigration Bill has recently moved into its Committee stage, and we heard evidence the week before last from a range of experts giving us the benefit of their views on salary thresholds, including the Migration Advisory Committee, which proposed the £30,000 threshold.

Part of the immigration White Paper covers seasonal workers. I warmly welcome the seasonal agricultural workers scheme that will be implemented this spring, but can the Minister assure me that she will continue to monitor it to ensure that it fulfils the industry’s requirements and that she will not rule out retaining it as a permanent process?

I commend my hon. Friend for her enthusiasm and determination to see a seasonal workers scheme introduced. As she knows, the pilot starts this month and we are determined to work closely with the horticultural sector and those companies that are piloting the scheme to ensure that we evaluate it thoroughly and look for the best way to take it forward.

Domestic Abuse

Ending domestic abuse is an absolute priority for this Government. On 21 January, we launched a landmark draft Bill that includes the determination to introduce a definition of domestic abuse that includes not only physical but economic and emotional abuse. The draft Bill also includes 120 non-legislative measures to ensure that our response to domestic abuse is absolute in its determination to support victims and tackle the perpetrators of this terrible crime.

Much of the support for domestic abuse is aimed at victims escaping from a physically abusive partner. Violence and extreme abuse in a domestic setting always start with small, often subtle entry-level acts of control, manipulation and deceit. What are the Government doing to help people to recognise those red flags and to raise awareness of the dangers posed by people with narcissistic personality disorder, given that NPD is a key driver of such abuse?

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who brings with him his experience of working with his local women’s centre, the Sutton women’s centre, to help the victims of domestic abuse. He is correct in identifying the early signals of an abusive relationship, and this is precisely why the draft Bill includes proposals for a statutory definition that ensures that all forms of domestic abuse are recognised, understood and challenged, both by those who can help the victims and by those who can tackle the perpetrators of these crimes.

17. Domestic violence protection orders give essential support to the victims of domestic abuse. Effective training for police officers on these orders is key, so will the Minister review the funding of the “Domestic Abuse Matters” training course, which is unclear for next year, in order to support the victims of domestic abuse in the future? (909404)

I am so pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised the very good “Domestic Abuse Matters” project, which is run by SafeLives, the domestic abuse charity. This is being rolled out by the College of Policing, and some 14 police forces have already signed up to it, but there are a number of other training and change programmes available to the police. Part of the important message of the non-legislative measures in the draft Bill is that we need to train police officers and a whole range of other frontline workers, which could include that one person who can reach the person who needs help.

Diolch, Mr Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Now that we have seen how narrow the draft domestic abuse Bill is, will the Minister confirm that there is scope to expand it? We have concerns about many areas of the Bill, not least about housing. A joint tenancy can be ended by just one partner, which means that the perpetrators of domestic violence are able to oppress their victims by ending the tenancy and leaving them homeless. We must legislate to stop that.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. I feel as though I am in the middle of a Welsh appreciation society. I am afraid I do not agree with her analysis that the Bill is narrow in its breadth. The legislation and the raft of non-legislative measures are very broad. We have always been clear that this is not just about changing the law; it is also about changing society’s attitude to and understanding of domestic abuse. She will know that we have quite deliberately published it as a draft Bill because we want it to be open to scrutiny by both Houses, and we very much look forward to the Joint Committee looking at it and coming forward with recommendations.

Fishing Industry: Employment

15. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the fishing industry can employ crew members from outside the EEA. (909402)

The Government set out their plans for the future immigration system in the White Paper published on 18 December. We recognise the need to provide employers with flexibility as the new system is implemented, and our proposals include plans for a temporary short-term workers route, which will be open to overseas workers at all skill levels and in any occupation.

May I remind the Minister that when she replied to my Adjournment debate on 11 July last year she told us that she was “conscious of the urgency” of tackling this issue, but that she wanted to get the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee and would expect then to “reflect” upon it? Beyond what she has just said, how are these reflections going? When will we get a concrete proposal for a scheme?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. He will of course be aware that when the MAC provided us with its report last year it was clear in its recommendation that we should not introduce sectoral schemes to meet labour needs at lower skill levels, except in agriculture. He will be aware that I have held various meetings with right hon. and hon. Members, and undertaken two visits to talk to the fishing sector—one to Kilkeel harbour and one to Troon. I have undertaken to make a further such visit to Banff and Buchan, which I hope will take place around Easter.

Police Funding

16. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect on police forces of changes in the level of Government funding for the police in 2019-20. (909403)

As a result of the police funding settlement, we will be investing almost £14 billion in our police system next year, which is £2 billion more than in 2015-16. Up and down the country, police and crime commissioners have set out their plans to use that additional money to hire about 2,700 additional officers, including more than 40 more in Cheshire, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome.

Cheshire police force has lost 135 officers since 2010, and central Government cuts for a ninth consecutive year, in real terms, continue to put real pressures on our local resources. When will the Minister ensure that our PCC gets the resources that he needs?

As a result of the two funding settlements that I have taken through Parliament, the Cheshire PCC is now in a position to recruit an additional 43 officers and seven police community support officers. I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will welcome that and wonder why he voted against it.

Topical Questions

I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Sir Charles Farr, an outstanding public servant who dedicated his life to national security.

Yesterday, we marked the 20th anniversary of the Macpherson report. My thoughts are with the Lawrence family, and I am pleased that our police force is now the most diverse it has ever been.

I recently announced the introduction of knife crime prevention orders. Dame Carol Black has been appointed to lead an independent review of the drugs trade. And I announced new stop-and-search powers to tackle acid attacks and the misuse of drones. We are giving the police the powers they need and acting wherever we can to help tackle serious violence.

The dozens of people involved in the recent violence at Haydock Park racecourse faced ejection from the course rather than arrest. It seems that the bar for getting arrested is very different for someone involved in football-related violence than for someone involved in loftier pursuits such as horse-racing. Will the Home Secretary tell us what he is doing to ensure that violent crime is treated equally, no matter who the perpetrators are?

First, the hon. Gentleman will know that ultimately how violence is treated and whether charges are brought is a decision for the police and the courts, but I take his broader point. He will be pleased to know that when it comes to all types of crime, whether serious violence or other crimes, there has been a decline of some 12% since September 2010 in his Derbyshire force area. I am sure he will welcome the extra resources that have been given to his local police force, which will certainly help it to fight crime.

T3.   I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for his commitment to preventing child sexual exploitation. The authorities in Telford who agreed to hold an inquiry into CSE a year ago have only this past week started to look for a chair to lead the promised inquiry. Learning lessons from the past is vital to protecting our young people today, so does he agree that that shocking lack of urgency in getting this inquiry started could place more young people at risk of CSE in Telford? (909414)

I am pleased that there has been some progress—albeit, as my hon. Friend describes, in small steps—in the inquiry in Telford. The fact that an inquiry chair has been advertised bodes well for the process overall, but as a good constituency MP she will continue to pressure the local council to ensure that it continues its work expeditiously.

Ministers will remember that last Monday the Home Secretary said:

“We must, of course, observe international law, and we cannot strip someone of their British citizenship if doing so would leave them stateless. Individuals who manage to return will be questioned, investigated and, potentially, prosecuted.”—[Official Report, 18 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 1193.]

Ministers will be aware that the Opposition think that the latter would have been the correct course of action. By Wednesday, however, the Home Secretary had stripped Shamima Begum of her citizenship rights. Can he share with the House whether he contacted the Bangladeshi high commissioner or the Bangladeshi Government before taking this decision?

The right hon. Lady will know that I cannot comment on any individual case and that, in order to protect our national security, Home Secretaries have the power to strip British citizenship from someone where it does not render them stateless. While I cannot talk about an individual case, it should be quite obvious that the power set out in the British Nationality Act 1981 cannot be used if someone is rendered stateless as a result. That power has been used by successive Home Secretaries, in successive Governments, only on the basis of expert advice from their officials, including legal advisers, to ensure that its deployment is entirely lawful at all times. The right hon. Lady is the shadow Home Secretary and wants to be the Home Secretary. She should reflect that ultimately it is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to use whatever tools are available to keep this country safe.

T4. A county lines drug operation has been uncovered in the beautiful town of Callington in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend commit more resources to fighting this problem, which destroys so many young lives, recalling that Callington police station closed in 2015? (909415)

Like my hon. Friend, I am very concerned about the impact of county lines. She may know that recently I met Devon and Cornwall police to discuss what they are doing to fight these types of drug gangs. She will know that we have allocated some £3.6 million to the new national county lines co-ordination centre, and she may be interested to know that during two separate weeks of activity there have been over 1,000 arrests nationally and 1,300 young people safeguarded.

T2. Two of my elderly constituents, Bill and Anna Meikle, are to be torn apart, when they should be enjoying their retirement together. They have lived in Scotland for four years, after fleeing South Africa. Following a simple mistake made in Anna’s application, she is going to be sent back to South Africa by the Home Office, where she has no home, no pension and no family. Will the Secretary of State meet me or investigate this particular case? (909413)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking the time to raise his important constituency case. I am absolutely happy to confirm that I will meet him to go through the specifics in detail.

T9.   I welcome the work that the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing have done to secure more resources for our police, facilitating Warwickshire police to now recruit an additional 150 officers. Given the impending spending review, will my right hon. Friend continue to push for further police funding, to ensure that the police have the resources they need, and also look at fairer funding for county areas? (909420)

I thank my hon. Friend, not least for his representations to me on behalf of Warwickshire in the run-up to the funding settlement. I am delighted that his constituents will have access to more police officers. I give my assurance to him and other Members who are concerned about the fair funding of policing that police funding is the priority for the Home Secretary and me in the CSR, and within that we have made a commitment to look again at how resources are allocated across the system.

T5. What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of the UK leaving the European Union on the relationship between British police forces and their counterparts in other EU countries? (909416)

What I can say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I am so sorry. What I can say to the hon. Lady is that over the past few months, the Home Secretary and I have had very regular contact with Interior Ministers across all our European partners, and he and I have detected a very, very strong interest on their part in continuing to work closely with us and, as far as possible, to maintain the capabilities that exist at this moment in time.

The Home Secretary quite rightly says that he cannot comment on the individual case of Shamima Begum. However, it does raise a more general issue. In that case, citizenship was removed after the birth of the latest child who therefore presumably has a right to British citizenship herself. What, if anything, are the responsibilities of the British state to that child in this event?

Again, my right hon. Friend will know that I cannot talk about a particular case, and that any children born in that conflict zone deserve our utmost sympathy. He will also know that when it comes to Syria, FCO travel advice has been very clear for a number of years: we have no consular presence, so we cannot provide any consular assistance at all. Should a child reach a location outside Syria, where we do have a consular presence, then it would be possible to provide support with the consent of parents.

Order. I should just emphasise to the House that, as things stand, the case is not sub judice. If the Secretary of State for the Home Department wishes to apply a self-denying ordinance—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and others that if he decrees that he will not comment on individual cases, that is perfectly within his ambit. It is a political judgment, but it is not a procedural requirement. It is quite important to be clear about that. That is his choice, and I respect it, but it has nothing to do with the rules of the House, still less the dictates of law.

T6. I am very proud of my Irish heritage on my mother’s side and my Nigerian heritage on my father’s side. Born and brought up on Tyneside, I have never held or sought any citizenship other than British. In what circumstances does the Secretary of State believe that he could strip me of that citizenship, and where would he suggest that I went? (909417)

A little like the hon. Lady, I am very proud of the heritage of both my parents from Pakistan. I am as proud of my heritage as she is of hers, and she should be. Her question is about the law and about what the law allows in terms of deprivation of British citizenship. That is set out very clearly in the British Nationality Act 1981. It was also debated in this House in 2014 in the Immigration Act of that year when the powers were further extended. On a regular basis, successive Governments have used that power and they have made transparency reports to this House on the use of that power.

An excellent BBC South East report showed that police seizures of ketamine have increased by a third, and are at a 12-year peak. What can the ministerial team do to reassure me that matters are under control, and can I meet them to discuss this local scourge?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. Ketamine is just one of the new substances that we are seeing emerge on the street scene and that I was discussing only last week with the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs—a body that helps to inform and advise Government on drugs policy. I am very happy to meet him to discuss it, but there is a very clear message: these sorts of substances are very, very harmful and carry huge risks if anyone takes them.

T7. Earlier on, the Secretary of State spoke about protecting the rights of EU citizens, yet my office has had to deal with three cases where EU citizens, who have stayed here most of their lives, are being told by the Department for Work and Pensions that they do not have a right to reside here and therefore cannot access universal credit. Will he issue an apology to my constituents and, more importantly, advise the House on how many other EU citizens will be affected by these current immigration rules and what the Government are doing to prevent the next big scandal? (909418)

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are having issues with benefits or with the Department for Work and Pensions, and I would be happy to take that up with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. As far as the settlement scheme is concerned, the hon. Gentleman will know that it has not yet been launched; it is in a testing phase. More than 100,000 people have participated in the testing phase and not a single one has been rejected.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on Members across all parties of the House to be clear to all our constituents from the EU that their rights to stay in the UK will be protected, deal or no deal?

My hon. Friend is of course right. The Government have been very clear that EU citizens living here will be able to stay; more than that, we want them to stay. That is why the settlement scheme has been designed to be easy and straightforward. As the Home Secretary has just indicated, so far the applications of more than 100,000 people have been through the testing phase and not a single one has been refused.

T8. Victims of crime deserve minimum standards of rights, support and protections, which currently exist by virtue of our EU membership. Will the Secretary of State ensure that these standards are maintained after the UK exits the European Union? (909419)

The hon. Lady makes an important point. I assure her that we will continue to have the highest standards at all times.

Spencer Hargrave and his business partner Paul from my constituency set up a van and tool theft awareness group on Facebook after being victims of crime themselves. Through their hard work, they were able to track down one of these thieves, who is now serving seven years in prison. What is the Minister doing to increase the sentences of those who prey on hard-working tradesmen, and will he congratulate Spencer and Paul on their fantastic detective work in helping the police to bring this lowlife to justice?

My hon. Friend reminds the House of the eternal truth of, I think, principle 7 of Robert Peel’s nine principles of policing—that the public are the police and the police are the public. I congratulate Spencer and Paul on working with the police to bring criminals to justice.

T10.   Earlier the Home Secretary was asked about delays to the Windrush compensation scheme. There have been reports this week that one of the reasons for the delays is that he has apparently requested an extra £150 million from other Cabinet colleagues and from the Treasury, otherwise the scheme will not be able to go forward. Is it is true that he has made such a request to the Treasury or the rest of the Cabinet? If so, for how much, and is this why the scheme is being delayed? (909421)

I am clear that I want the Windrush scheme to be as generous, straightforward and easy to use as possible, and that commitment is shared throughout the Government.

The Home Secretary will know that the Official Secrets Act 1989 is 30 years old this year. Given that espionage has not gone away, would the Home Secretary or the Security Minister meet me and like-minded colleagues to discuss how we can update and reform the Act, particularly around the issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The 1911 and 1989 Official Secrets Acts are definitely out of date and need to be updated. A Law Commission report is due out soon that will reflect on some of the challenges, and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

Does the Minister now accept that although the disclosure and barring scheme was a response to a real concern, it has become a bureaucratic nightmare? It has reversed the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and prevented people from turning their lives around and providing for themselves and their families, while also being deeply discriminatory. Following the decision of the Supreme Court, will she rapidly reform the DBS—not with endless consultations, but with some real action?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that Lord Sumption in the Supreme Court described the disclosure and barring scheme as a “coherent scheme of legislation”. The reason for the regime is to protect children and vulnerable people; that is the point of it. As Lord Sumption recognised, it balances public protection with the rights of individuals to a private life. It applies only to certain jobs that are protected, and it is for employers to decide whether they give someone a job once they are armed with the facts. The scheme was supported by the Supreme Court.

What assessment has the Minister made of the success of police and fire service collaboration in boosting frontline response?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Northampton is of course a very good example of where the emergency services work together extremely well, not just to find savings in how taxpayers’ money can be deployed in the most efficient way but in delivering a better service to the public. Armed with that evidence, we will continue down that path.

Does the Minister want to take this opportunity to condemn the bizarre events in the west midlands, where we have a Tory councillor and a member of the Mayor’s staff committing identity fraud in order to influence the outcome of the police and crime commissioner consultation? Surely the police are entitled to a higher standard of probity than that.

I would have thought that a Member of Parliament of the hon. Gentleman’s experience would take a little bit more care with his words in this place, because he will know that any wrongdoing has been denied and that this is the subject of an independent investigation at this moment in time. The Government support the second devolution deal for the west midlands, and that includes incorporating the role and powers of the PCC in the mayoralty as has been done in London and Manchester.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

What steps are Ministers taking that will reassure the people of Witney and rural West Oxfordshire that their police have access to the funding and the numbers that they need?

I can say to my hon. Friend, who represents my father’s old seat, that I have every interest in making sure that the people of Witney continue to have access to high-quality policing. That is why, through the most recent police and funding settlement, we have taken steps that will see an additional £30-odd million go to Thames Valley police. I hope he welcomes that.

Employment and Support Allowance: Underpayments

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on the employment and support allowance underpayments.

The Department is correcting some past underpayments of ESA that arose when people moved from incapacity benefit on to ESA. We realise how important it is to get this matter fixed. Clearly, the mistakes should never have happened, but we know that it is vital that it is sorted as quickly as possible. Last Thursday, I tabled a written statement that updated the House on progress since the previous written statement in October last year. We are on track to complete work on the majority of the original 320,000 cases by the end of April this year. As of 11 February, 310,000 of that overall number have started the reassessment journey. We have paid arrears of over £328 million to 58,000 people, which is significant progress. The Department has also increased the number of staff working on putting these cases right from about 400 staff to approximately 1,200 staff, which will enable us to continue to complete this important activity at pace.

Following the announcement in July last year to pay cases back to the point of conversion, I confirmed in October that this will require us to review an additional 250,000 cases. We have started this activity and will aim to complete this phase by the end of the year. Last Thursday, the Department published an ad hoc statistical publication on gov.uk that sets out further detail on the progress it has made on processing the cases, including an updated estimate on forecast expenditure and the number of people affected. The Department now estimates that about 600,000 cases require review and that by the end of the exercise about 210,000 arrears payments will have been made. The increase, compared with the previous estimate of 180,000, is based on additional sampling and very careful, thorough checking. Alongside the written statement that was published last Thursday, I also published an updated version of the frequently asked questions, and this has been deposited in the House Library.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

On 21 February, the Department for Work and Pensions published a statement saying that 210,000 ill and disabled people could have been underpaid vital employment and support allowance after a grave error by the Department dating back to 2011, when it wrongly migrated them from incapacity benefit on to contributions-based ESA, denying them essential social security, such as the severe disability premium, to which income-based ESA would have entitled them.

The Government initially estimated that 70,000 ill and disabled people were underpaid. In October 2018 that number increased to 180,000 people, and now it has emerged that up to 210,000 ill and disabled people were underpaid, on average, £6,000 in social security. How can we trust that the number will not increase?

Thus far, 20,000 people have died before receiving the social security to which they were entitled. That is 20,000 people who will never be repaid what they were owed by the DWP. The Department estimates that more than £1 billion will be spent to rectify this catastrophic error, and we have now learned that it will employ up to 1,200 staff to do so.

How many people have been pushed into rent arrears, council tax arrears, debt and destitution? Will the Department listen to Labour’s demands and pay compensation to those who have been pushed into debt? What support will the Department provide to the estates of the 20,000 ill and disabled people who tragically died before they received their payment?

Given the scale of the issue in transferring to ESA, how will the Government avoid repeating this error when they transfer ill and disabled people from legacy social security on to universal credit? Given that there are currently seven reviews into ill and disabled people being underpaid, how much of the Government’s total expenditure is spent on underpayments? Finally, will the Minister apologise to the additional 30,000 disabled people, and their families, who have been denied thousands of pounds in social security, and to the 20,000 people who died before justice was done?

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. Let me make it absolutely clear that, each and every time I have addressed the House, I have thoroughly apologised on behalf of the Department for these administrative errors. This should never have happened, and I am very happy to apologise again today. Although I wish this had never happened, we are working at pace to make sure that people receive the payments to which they are entitled.

The hon. Lady is right to say that we have reviewed the cases of people who have subsequently deceased, but she is not right about the quantities of people who would have actually benefited from this exercise. We are only part of the way through, and we do not know, as yet, the total number of deceased people who, having reviewed their case, would have been eligible for additional payments. Where we review the cases of deceased people—of course, we are reviewing all of the cases—we make the payments to their family. We are working carefully and urgently to find the families so that we can make the payments.

On the additional resources that we have made available to complete this exercise, I am sure the whole House would agree it is vital that we get on and sort this out as swiftly as possible so that people can benefit from the additional sums of ESA and other disability premiums to which they might be entitled. I am pleased that we have been able to find the additional resources to enable us to do this. I made the commitment to the House that we would complete the exercise this year, and that is what we are going to do.

The hon. Lady rightly asks what lessons we are learning, especially as we are now planning for the managed migration of people from ESA on to UC. The key lesson we have learned is to make sure that the claimant is involved in that decision. For all the right reasons I am sure, it was decided to migrate people from incapacity benefit on to ESA without contacting them—just passporting them over. I have heard Opposition Members make that call to me as we approach the managed migration, and that is the key mistake that was made. The opportunity was missed to check in with people claiming the benefit to make sure that their circumstances had not changed and that there were not additional payments to which they might be entitled, and that was the cause of this particular problem. I am determined that those lessons are learned so that, as we do the managed migration in a measured and careful way, the mistake is not made again.

How is it possible for someone with a long-term condition to have their ESA changed and their mobility car taken away without there having been any assessment or contact with them at all?

I point out to my right hon. Friend that we are talking about ESA, and the entitlement or opportunity to have a Motability car comes with personal independence payments. We are talking about a decision that the previous Labour Government made to introduce ESA and migrate people to it from incapacity benefit.

We are extremely disappointed that the Minister had to be forced to come to the House by an urgent question, rather than doing what she should have done and made this announcement via an oral statement. On Thursday, we discovered that the DWP had identified nearly double the number of cases to be re-examined and that the errors we believed to have ended in 2014 actually continued through to 2015. Those ad hoc discoveries are extremely concerning and beg the question: what other errors has the DWP missed?

What investigations is the Department doing to ensure that no other payment is affected in such a way? The most alarming aspect of this entire scandal is that 20,000 people whose claims were due to be reviewed have since died. Are the Government undertaking any investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding those deaths and whether this underpayment in any way contributed to or exacerbated those circumstances? Finally, we know that the Department is putting more resources into investigating this, but will the Minister confirm that that is new money and is not coming out of existing DWP budgets?

The hon. Gentleman asked me a range of questions. First, let me say that nobody has dragged me to the House. I regularly update the House; it is a matter of record how often I update the House through a whole series of written statements and by publishing a lot of data. I have made those commitments to the House and I regularly honour those commitments.

In terms of the additional resources, the hon. Gentleman will know that ESA has not been open for applications since the end of last year because people now apply for universal credit, so we now have extremely experienced ESA decision makers who have the time and capacity to support us with this exercise. We had recruited an additional 400 staff before the announcement that I made today.

In terms of the number of people who sadly will have deceased since we recognised this problem and who could have benefited from additional payments, we are very anxious to ensure that we contact people as soon as possible, and if we can find people’s families, we will make those payments to them. Virtually every time I come to the House or Westminster Hall, Members make allegations about the causal link between people being on benefits and them tragically taking their lives. Members need to be very careful when they say those things. As our deputy chief medical officer, Professor Gina Radford, has said, and as the NHS’s survey data show, we cannot make causal links between people being on benefits and them tragically taking their own lives.

Given that people with learning difficulties find the prospect of a face-to-face interview quite stressful and distressing, what more can the Department do to support people in that situation when they need to claim benefits?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. In not only the process for claiming new benefits but this particular exercise, a lot of effort is going into ensuring that we find people and engage with them to check whether they are eligible for these additional payments. That happens through letters, telephone calls and even home visits, to ensure that we contact people in the most appropriate way possible for them.

What is the Minister’s current estimate for how long it is going to take to complete this exercise and to correct all these very serious mistakes?

What financial support is available for disabled people who incur costs relating to their condition that welfare payments are not designed to meet?

I think my hon. Friend is talking about the benefits that are available for the additional costs of disability. There are three benefits there: disability living allowance, attendance allowance and the personal independence payment. As a country, we are going to spend over £50 billion on those benefits this year, which is a £4 billion increase on 2010, and those benefits are of course uprated each year.

As the Minister knows, I have met a lot of people who suffer from acquired brain injury. Quite often, they find that the system does not really meet their needs, because the trajectory of their condition may not be clear and straightforward. They may have periods when they go through much worse phases, and Wednesday may be considerably different from Thursday. All too often, unfortunately, the way that they have been treated through all of this process has made it more difficult for them to get their minds in the right place. Will she please make sure that all 1,200 of the staff she is talking about are aware of the needs of people with acquired brain injuries?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his active engagement with me in coming into the Department so that we could absolutely get this right. It is very important, for people who have not only acquired brain injury but a whole series of conditions that are variable, that the way we do the assessments truly understands their needs. We are utterly committed to making continuous improvement not only to the work capability assessment but to the PIP assessment processes.

I welcome the overall tone of the Minister’s statement and her replies to questions so far. Will she confirm what work the Department will be doing with advice charities locally to ensure that people are aware of this process and when they can expect to be repaid the moneys they should have been due?

For the first phase of people we have contacted, we have nearly completed the exercise. Most of those people will have been contacted and we will have paid them their arrears by the end of April. As we start on the next phase, we will be contacting people by letter. We have really good stakeholder engagement with a range of disabled people’s organisations and charities to make sure that people know this is happening and, when they do receive the letters and communications, that they understand what we are trying to do, which is to make sure that they get all the benefits to which they are entitled.

I welcome what the Minister had to say about the lessons learned from this catastrophe. Will she assure us that she will take the upcoming migration pilot as an opportunity to ensure that an alternative is found to the hard stop, so that claimants who do not make an application in time for universal credit do not have their benefits cut off?

We are absolutely determined to learn the lessons from this particular situation, but also from all other situations, and to make sure that people have the personal, tailor-made support they need so that they can make a smooth transition on to universal credit.

The incorrect transfer of people from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance since 2011 has been a big and costly mistake, with over 600,000 cases examined, potentially at a cost of £920 million. May I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting on top of this issue and sorting it out? Is not the big lesson here that, when it comes to new benefits such as universal credit, it is important to get these things right before they are rolled out?

I very much thank my hon. Friend for what he says. This is why the Government are taking such a measured and careful approach to the managed migration of people on ESA on to universal credit. It is absolutely essential that this is done accurately, with compassion and treating everyone with dignity, and that nobody has a loss of benefit.

I welcome the work that my hon. Friend is doing to deal with this massive issue. What more can she do, though, for those people who have, quite rightly, received a significant sum of back payments but who find that they have gone over the £16,000 savings threshold as a result?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and I want to reassure him and all other hon. Members. This was an official error, so the additional payment that people will get and to which they are obviously entitled—it is a back payment—is discarded for all income-related benefits, including universal credit.

Administrative errors and other mistakes in strategy and practicality flow from values, so what is the Minister doing to inculcate into her Department a set of clear values, and to narrow the gap between operations and aspiration?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point about the culture of the DWP and the need to make sure that it is a learning organisation, so that people on the frontline feel empowered to escalate any errors or problems to their managers and that those managers are supported by the Department’s senior officials. I have been working closely with the permanent secretary to make sure that new approaches are brought into the Department to enable that learning culture, which ultimately will safeguard all of the often vulnerable people with whom the DWP works.

These Government errors have led to extreme hardship and destitution for some of the most vulnerable in society—the people who can least afford to find themselves in this situation. Will the Minister agree to examine the case of my constituent Gillian, who as a result of changes to her benefits is unable to attend urgent hospital appointments for a long-term condition, because she cannot afford the transport costs? I was deeply distressed to learn of her situation. She has been told that that she may well have to wait up to 18 months for a resolution. That is not good enough.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I would of course be delighted to meet her and discuss Gillian. Clearly something is not right. It does not sound like it is related to what we are talking about today, but clearly something has gone wrong and I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady as a matter of urgency.

I thank the Minister for her response so far. Underpayments to my constituents have ranged from £3,000 to one massive sum of £22,000. The issue affects some of my constituents when it comes to housing benefit. Can the Minister assure me that none of my constituents will be disadvantaged by something that is not their fault?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that question. This was an official error, so the income disregards do apply and his constituents should not be disadvantaged in the way he describes.

Given that 20,000 disabled people have died while the review has been going on, it is a shame that the issue had to be investigated via an urgent question rather than an oral statement. We know that the figures have been amended since the last update and that 30,000 more people are being reviewed. Is it likely that the number will continue to change?

I disagree with the hon. Lady about our motivation. Since the issue came to light, we have had ministerial statements, written statements and debates in the House. We are absolutely determined to do the right thing by claimants.

As I have said, we have repeatedly come to the House and discussed with hon. Members what is happening. It is really important, as I have said, that we do the right thing as urgently as possible.

I will answer directly the question about additional estimates. Because we want to be so thorough in making sure that we are not leaving anybody out of this exercise, we did some additional sampling. We were not satisfied that people had always been given the right benefits since 2015, even though new measures were brought into the Department, and that is why there are some additional numbers. I would have thought that Members on all Benches would welcome the fact that we are being so thorough as to make sure that everybody who can benefit will do so.

ESA passports people to other benefits, so when they get the backdated ESA payments will they be reimbursed for the other benefits they have missed out on?

If people were eligible for additional disability premium, then absolutely they would be backdated and going forward they would have those. Other Government Departments have other schemes which can benefit people who claim ESA, but they are the responsibility of those Departments.

I am dealing with a very difficult case at the moment of a man who is in recovery from drug addiction. He had to apply for universal credit to get himself off the streets and into a house. Unfortunately, that meant he lost his severe disability payment. He is now wondering what the point was of getting clean and getting off the streets. He is much worse off and really in a very bad way. I am going back to him later this week. What should I tell that gentleman?

I am absolutely delighted that he has got off the streets and into a substance misuse programme. That will enable him to really turn his life around. There will be lots and lots of support in the jobcentre from his work coach to help him to take those steps to work. I would really praise him for being so brave in tackling his substance misuse and working with his work coach so he can live a full and independent life.

Our focus has been to make sure that people receive their back payments as soon as possible, so we have not looked at the particular conditions for which people were applying to ESA. We do produce ad hoc statistics, so I will certainly take away that request on how we might provide that for the House in future.

This feels like a perpetual war of attrition with the DWP. I have a constituent who, despite having numerous chronic medical conditions and depression, recently had a work capability assessment where she was stripped of ESA even though her GP certified her as unfit to work. She now has to go through the mandatory reconsideration process which is already adding to her anxiety. Coupled with that, she has been stripped of her housing benefit. What is the Minister going to do about this situation? Will she meet me to discuss this particular case? Will she review the unacceptable rate of ESA claims that are reinstated after mandatory reconsiderations?

Of course I am willing to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that particular case. I assure him that we are absolutely committed to improvements to the work capability assessment, but for the vast majority of people the process works well.

The Carers Outreach Service says that young disabled people in Wales face confusion and possible injustice at the age of 19 when migrating from child benefits and tax credits to claiming ESA. Education, health and social services are all devolved in Wales, and ESA problems could be resolved with proper co-ordination between those services and the DWP. Is it not therefore obvious that it could be very beneficial if key elements of the benefit system were also devolved to Wales?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for a question that goes way beyond what we are discussing today. He makes a very good point about when children are growing up and move from childhood benefits to adult benefits. Those young people will now be applying to universal credit, which has the huge benefit of the personalised tailor-made support that is available through the work coach.