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Topical Questions

Volume 657: debated on Monday 1 April 2019

My deepest sympathies go out to all those affected by the terrorist massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand. To help protect our faith institutions, we are increasing next year’s places of worship fund for protective security to £1.6 million, investing £5 million in security training and consulting communities in what more can be done. Tragically, we are still seeing an epidemic of knife crime on our streets, so today we have launched a consultation on a new legal duty to support our public health multi-agency approach.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the case of the Iranian Christian whose asylum application was turned down by the Home Office because—I quote a Home Office official—“violent passages” in the Bible contradicted his claim that Christianity is a “peaceful” religion. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that some of his officials may be so worried about being accused of Islamophobia or antisemitism that they overcompensate by becoming Christian-critical and do not understand that Christianity is the cornerstone of all our freedoms?

I have seen the letter to which my right hon. Friend refers. I found it totally unacceptable, and it is not in any way in accordance with policies at the Home Office. I have ordered an urgent investigation and not ruled out any further action.

T2. The Home Secretary talked about the epidemic in knife crime, which has tragically affected my own constituency with young people being killed and injured. We heard from senior police officers in the Home Affairs Committee last week about the £100 million that has been provided; they said that it simply was not enough to tackle the scourge. By comparison, 10 times that amount has been provided for Brexit. There have also been huge cuts in youth services across the country. What will he do to provide the resources that our police and all our services need to keep our young people safe? (910151)

Of course resources are very important in fighting knife crime. Alongside the £100 million that the Chancellor announced in his spring statement, which all the forces have told us will make a big difference, we should consider the almost £1 billion increase this year in the entire police system because of the financial settlement.

T3. I am concerned that the Labour police and crime commissioner in the west midlands is maintaining large reserves to be spent in advance of the PCC elections next year. Is there anything the Government can do to stop this? (910152)

The west midlands police and crime commissioner is one of many PCCs who were asking for more public money while, at the same time, putting public money aside to increase their reserves. We have increased the funding to west midlands police, and I hope my hon. Friend will welcome that. However, we also require police and crime commissioners to publish transparent strategies of how they intend to use their reserves. It is public money given by the public for investment in policing.

T7. Can the Secretary of State guarantee effective steps to encourage EU nationals to come to, and stay in, the UK to meet demand for NHS and care sector workers post Brexit? Does he accept that those sectors are facing a recruitment and retention crisis, with about 104,000 current health and social care workers who now feel unwelcome and undervalued? (910156)

The hon. Lady will have heard me say earlier that we are working very hard with the social care sector and listening to organisations such as the Local Government Association. A couple of weeks ago, I met not just the LGA but the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to talk about the importance of the social care sector and to make sure that our future immigration system is able to recruit people with the skills and the talents that we need to come to the whole of the United Kingdom.

T4. With more arrivals by small boats across the English channel, will the Minister update the House on progress with aerial surveillance and gaining the agreement of France for migrants to be returned, to most effectively deter the people traffickers behind the migrant crisis? (910153)

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that it absolutely is people traffickers and organised crime gangs who are encouraging people to make this extremely perilous crossing. We deploy aerial surveillance, but the House will appreciate that I will not be able to discuss our covert assets in detail. He is right to emphasise that we are working with a number of member states, including France, to facilitate returns. About 20 individuals who have crossed via small boat have been returned to date, and further returns are in progress.

T8. Local authorities are formally responsible for applying to the EU settlement scheme on behalf of looked-after children, but it is not clear what support is available for vulnerable adults such as elderly people with dementia. With potentially just 11 days left until we leave the EU, will the Minister now confirm what support will be made available to help vulnerable adults secure their status before the UK leaves? (910157)

The Government have made available £9 million of grant funding to charities and other organisations to support vulnerable people, including vulnerable adults in the care sector, through this process. We have already, through the test phase, been working closely with a number of local authorities, and there has been an extensive engagement process with the LGA and other local government bodies to make sure that we get this right.

T5. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while stop-and-search is a vital tool in the fight to tackle serious violence, to be truly effective, police need to be empowered to use it in an intelligence-led way? (910154)

Yes, I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The simple truth is that stop-and-search saves lives. Of course it should always be targeted and intelligence-led, with proper engagement with the community, but it saves lives. There are people alive today because of stop-and-search.

T10. What does the Minister say to the victims and survivors of historical sexual abuse in my constituency who were horrified by the recent comments of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) on spending by her Department on investigating such crimes? (910159)

I share completely the views of, I think, most Members of this House that the victims of child sexual abuse, whether current or historical, deserve justice, deserve fairness, and deserve our support. Our use of language in this arena is vital, and the priority of this Government will always be to support those victims.

T6. I very much welcome the introduction of the pilot scheme for seasonal agricultural workers, but it is vital that it works for all parts of our agricultural sector. Will the Minister therefore look carefully at the scheme to ensure that it works for daffodil growers, whose picking season is different from that for other crops? (910155)

I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes the introduction of the pilot scheme. I listened carefully to what he said. The scheme will be evaluated very carefully—I can give him that assurance. We want to make sure that it works for all parts of our agricultural sector.

Over a third of my constituents do not earn enough to sponsor a visa for a family member from outside the EEA. Will the Minister consider revising the minimum income requirement, to provide a pathway for minimum wage employees to be reunited with family members?

The minimum income threshold was set after consideration of advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee. The Supreme Court has endorsed the lawfulness of that approach and agrees that the minimum income requirement strikes a fair balance between the interests of UK citizens wishing to sponsor a non-EEA spouse and of the community in general.

T9. I would like to thank my right hon. Friend on behalf of my constituent, Janine Aldridge, for his work in looking into concerns about the retention of human tissue. On behalf of Ms Aldridge, I wrote to the Mayor of Greater Manchester on 17 July 2017 to raise concerns about the retention of her daughter’s tissue samples, which has led to the family holding three separate funerals. I was disappointed recently to receive a letter from the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, indicating that it has not undertaken a formal investigation into her complaint and was unaware that that was expected, despite Ms Aldridge meeting the Mayor and his deputy. Will my right hon. Friend urgently investigate this matter, so that the Aldridge family can have confidence that they have finally laid Leah to rest and to ensure that this never happens again? (910158)

The hon. Gentleman could not be accused of excluding any consideration that he might think in any way relevant, anywhere at any time.

Mr Speaker, my hon. Friend was raising the tragic case of a family who had to organise three separate funerals for a child. I understand that the deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester has written to Ms Aldridge informing her that Greater Manchester police will commence a formal investigation upon receipt of further details of the complaint. As promised, I have written to all chief constables in England and Wales requesting that their human tissue retention policy be submitted to my Department for scrutiny.

When the Home Secretary launched the immigration White Paper, I asked him about the overseas students falsely accused of cheating in the test of English for international communication. He said he was taking the matter very seriously. Can he update the House, and will he meet the officers of the new TOEIC all-party parliamentary group to discuss progress?

When I met the right hon. Gentleman, I took this issue very seriously. I have asked my officials to review it. We had a further meeting to make some final decisions just last week, and I will be in touch with him shortly.

Can we do more to help victims of car theft? My constituent Linford Haggie faced an extraordinary situation where his car was stolen, and the police told him he could retrieve it, but because the car had been kept to gather evidence and forensics, he had to pay a £150 release charge plus £20 a day for storage. Surely we should not be penalising victims of crime in that way.

I understand the point that my right hon. Friend makes. We are concerned about the increase in vehicle crime. That is why I have convened a taskforce to bring everyone together to look at it. There are costs that need to be recouped, but he raises a serious point, and we have agreed to look at that again.

The seasonal agricultural workers scheme presents a real risk of inadvertently creating slavery. What extra resources will the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority get to ensure that that does not happen?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know how vital the work of the GLAA is to tackling modern slavery. I am working with my ministerial colleague to ensure that the situation he describes does not occur.

For many victims of domestic violence, the mental and psychological abuse they are subject to has the biggest impact on their lives. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that that aspect of domestic abuse is tackled?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point; often, the emotional and mental effects of domestic abuse can be just as harmful as the physical effects. That is why we are including those forms of abuse in the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill. In addition, we are ensuring that the coercive and controlling behaviour offence, which we introduced in 2015, is still appropriate in this day and age.

Members of the British armed forces from foreign and Commonwealth countries are rightly allowed to settle here in the UK with their families after their service. Why must they pay £2,389 per person—nearly £10,000 for a family—to be able to exercise that right? Will the Home Secretary scrap those fees for veterans of the British Army?

The right hon. Gentleman raises a reasonable issue, and the Home Office has been working with the Ministry of Defence to see whether we can do more.