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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 661: debated on Monday 10 June 2019

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Violent Crime: Young People

Diverting young people from crime is at the heart of my approach to tackling serious violence. Factors such as domestic abuse, truancy and substance abuse can make a young person more vulnerable to becoming a victim or perpetrator of serious violence. That is why we are investing over £220 million in early intervention schemes to steer young people away from serious violence.

The experience of the local police in Chelmsford is that once a young person is in a gang they become indoctrinated and indebted to the gang, and it is hard to turn that round. It is therefore better to invest in prevention, and the role of schools is vital. Will my right hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State for Education and the Treasury to ensure that schools get the resources they need to run proactive initiatives to prevent young people from being sucked into violent gangs?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we cannot arrest our way out of crime, and early intervention is critical. That is why we have, for example, the £200 million youth intervention fund to do precisely that: steer young people away from violence. She is also right to think about how schools can work much more closely with police and others. That require some more resources, and I am very happy to continue that conversation with the Department for Education and the Treasury.

Drug dealing and violence across county lines involving young people is a growing issue in my region. What support is my right hon. Friend giving Hampshire police to tackle this issue and help our young people?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of county lines and his concern. More support is being provided for Hampshire in particular, with Hampshire police receiving £1.2 million from the £100 million extra that I announced a few months ago for the serious violence fund. Hampshire is also benefiting from the early intervention youth fund, through which we have sponsored a number of projects, including a £400,000 project in Hampshire aimed at supporting young people away from future offending.

The Home Secretary referred to youth intervention investment, but that money is spread over several years. As he will know, the Select Committee on Home Affairs asked for the annual breakdown of that money. We are still waiting for that. That matters, because it looks to us as though the additional investment he has proposed adds up to around only 5% annually of the £760 million being cut from youth services.

I know from a meeting in Knottingley in my constituency this morning that antisocial behaviour is rising, and knife crime among young people in west Yorkshire has trebled over the last few years. We need this investment very rapidly and cannot wait. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Select Committee will get those figures, and that he will give oral evidence to the Committee before the summer recess? His office suggested that he would not.

I do plan to give evidence to the Select Committee before the summer recess. I can confirm also that the right hon. Lady will get the numbers that she has asked for. Perhaps she was referring to the £200 million youth endowment fund, but she will know that there is also the £22 million early intervention fund, which has supported some 29 projects already.

I welcome the Government’s decision to adopt a public health approach to youth violence, but aside from a summit we are yet to see any affirmative action. The Home Secretary recognises that early intervention is important, yet we have seen cuts to our Sure Start centres, our education and our youth services. What urgent action will he take to implement a public health approach? What will he do to step up conversations with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that those vital early intervention services get their funding restored to them immediately?

The hon. Lady rightly raises the importance of the public health approach—having a legal requirement for all Government Departments and agencies to work together—but she is wrong to suggest that the only thing that has happened is the summit that the Prime Minister held. The hon. Lady will know that we have already published the consultation, which is ongoing. She will know that, to get good policy, it is right to hold a consultation. I hope that she will input into it and that, when it leads to legislation, we can have cross-party support.

The normally quiet and law-abiding town of Calne in my constituency has been rocked in the past two weeks by the brutal murder of 18-year-old Ellie Gould by, allegedly, an under-age knife-bearing murderer. I will not ask the Home Secretary to comment on that case, but does he not agree that one very good way of deterring people from carrying knives and taking part in this kind of appalling outrage is by applying the strongest possible sentence to these people to send a message to others who might be that way inclined?

May I take this opportunity to extend my sympathy to Ellie’s family for what has happened and their terrible loss? My hon. Friend is absolutely right that to tackle serious violence we need to take action on many fronts. As well as law enforcement and early intervention, it is right to ensure that sentencing is fit for the crimes that have taken place.

Part of the Government’s response to the horrifying rise in violent crime has been to commission an independent review on drugs. Given the revelations over the weekend in relation to various Tory leadership hopefuls, is it not time to consider extending that review to consider whether our drug laws and policy are discriminatory, and whether they, in fact, fuel violent crime?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government have been very clear, as have previous Governments, that drugs and the crime related to drug gangs are leading to serious violence and all sorts of other serious problems in society and other types of crime. That is why we have taken action on many fronts, but we do want to understand more about drugs and their impact. That is exactly why I commissioned the independent review, by Dame Carol Black, on drugs misuse.

Windrush Victims: Compensation

On 3 April, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the opening of the Windrush compensation scheme. The forms, rules and guidance were published on the same day. The freephone helpline is available to answer any queries. The scheme will ensure that those who have been affected are able to claim for the losses they faced and receive appropriate compensation.

How will the Government compensate Windrush victims such as my constituent who could not work for eight years because of his lack of status, losing his NI contributions and his pension? Are Ministers making sure that in such complicated cases people get the advice they need to fill out the forms, so they are not victimised yet again?

We worked very hard with the independent adviser, and indeed with victims of Windrush, to ensure the claim form was as accessible and as easily understood as possible. It is a complicated claim form, because there are 13 different heads of claims under which people are able to claim compensation, but we have set up a contract with Citizens Advice so they can get independent advice without having to resort to using lawyers.

Community organisations working with Windrush citizens, including the Black Cultural Archives in my constituency, report that the compensation scheme simply is not working. The form is too complex, advice is neither accessible nor specialist enough, and the burden of proof is far too high. Will the Minister review the scheme, acknowledge that it is not working, and, as an absolute minimum, provide immediate funding for specialist legal advice to be available not only by phone but in person to every Windrush citizen who needs it?

As I outlined, there is already a contract in place with Citizens Advice to provide that independent advice. There is an ongoing series of engagement events, with taskforce officials from the Home Office attending different community groups across the country, including in London. There have been two events in Newport. It is important that we get this right, which is why we worked with Martin Forde to have a scheme that gave us independent advice. It is important that we work through it. I know that at 18 pages the claim form is quite long, but of course individual claimants have to fill in only the components that are relevant to them, not every page.

This gross injustice with respect to the Windrush scandal is not an accident or a one-off; it is a direct result of the Government’s hostile environment policy. Have the Government considered how their hostile environment might affect migrants from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh now and in the future?

It is important to reflect that roughly half the individuals affected by Windrush had a negative impact pre-2010 under the previous Labour Government. We are determined to put right all those wrongs and ensure that wherever people have come from—people from a wide variety of countries, not simply the Caribbean, have made contact with the Windrush taskforce—they are given the support to go through the process of getting the documentation they need. Well over 4,000 people have secured British citizenship as a result, and over 6,000 people have the documentation they need to prove their right to stay in the UK.

The Minister has to begin to acknowledge communities’ grave concerns about the Windrush compensation scheme as it stands. They think that it is not working. She also needs to bear in mind that this is an ageing cohort, who will probably need more support on average than a cohort that is more mixed in age. The Home Secretary told the House in April last year that we

“will do whatever it takes to put it right”.

He continued:

“We have made it clear that a Commonwealth citizen who has remained in the UK since 1973 will be eligible to get the legal status that they deserve: British citizenship.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 35.]

What progress has been made on those promises?

Will the Minister reconsider some of the worst aspects of the current scheme? It will currently not compensate those who may have been wrongly deported. I quote from the document:

“It is difficult to determine whether inability to return to the UK is a loss”.

Of course someone being deprived of their home, job, family and community is a loss. How can Ministers say that it is “difficult to determine” whether there is a loss?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. It is absolutely because we acknowledge that people have been wronged that, in the last week, I personally have attended two separate outreach events for people who wish to understand the compensation scheme. It is why there are dedicated helplines. It is why we have put in place the scheme with Citizens Advice, so that it can provide advice. I reiterate that 6,470 individuals have been granted some form of documentation and 4,281 have been granted citizenship. As I said, there are 13 different heads of claim, including not only deportation, but loss of ability to work, loss of benefits and so on. We are absolutely determined to make sure that we compensate the individuals affected in a timely manner.

Facial Recognition Technology

3. What assessment has been made of the accuracy of the facial recognition technology used by the Metropolitan Police Service. (911210)

Facial recognition technology can help the police to do their job. It must be right to support trials of this rapidly improving technology, but given its sensitivity it must also be right that the technology’s benefits should be independently reviewed. That is exactly what the Met is doing with the University of Essex and we will consider that review very carefully.

In May, San Francisco, one of the most tech-friendly cities in the world, banned the use of live facial recognition technology because of massive error rates and concerns about racial bias in its use. Five United Kingdom police forces use similar cameras and systems. Both the Met and South Wales police have seen a 90%— or worse—misidentification rate of innocent members of the public. It is clear that the cameras carry serious risks, yet no legislation governs the use of the technology; it operates in a legal void. The Minister refers to the Metropolitan police. This is not a decision for a police force to make; it is a decision for Parliament. Will the Minister bring legislation to the House laying down strict guidelines on the use of this technology?

My right hon. Friend has a long track record in this area. He is entirely right to raise the sensitivity in finding the right balance between security and civil liberties. On the Met’s numbers, there is a one in 1,000 chance of a false alert, but we need to see the evaluation. I am very clear in my mind that we need to support the police in trialling new technology, but if we are to take the public with us we have to be absolutely sure that it sits inside a regulatory framework that they trust. We believe that there is a legal framework for it, although that is being challenged in the courts. I give him my undertaking that, given the importance of maintaining public confidence and trust, we are doing urgent work to review the regulatory environment in which this technology development sits, including new oversight and advisory boards, because I recognise the fundamental importance of taking the public with us on this journey.

The police national database contains 15 million images, which have been used in a much less controversial way for static facial recognition since 2014, but police tell me that the algorithm that is used to support the database is out of date and needs investment. Will the Minister confirm that the necessary investment will be made?

I can confirm to the hon. Lady that, across a substantial range of technology requirements for the police, the Home Secretary and I are considering the funding requirements of the police in the context of the comprehensive spending review, and he and I have made it clear that police funding is our priority.

In the last year or so, the Met have issued many of their officers with tablet computers, but the feedback I have had from officers and constituents is that very often these are unstable, freeze routinely and can actually mean that work takes longer, so will the Minister talk to the Met Commissioner to ensure that their technology is stable and reliable for officers to use?

I have had those conversations with the Met Commissioner because I have heard exactly the same thing from members of the serious violence taskforce and officers on the beat in my own constituency. It is clear to us that mobility—the ability to work on the move without having to go back to the station to fill in reports—is critical to improving police productivity, so we must make sure we get the technology right.

What was not known during the Huawei furore was that it was a leading pioneer of facial recognition technology distinguishing between Han and Uighur citizens within the Chinese republic. Are the Government seeking to use this technology as a solution on the British border on the isle of Ireland?

I will not get drawn into that. It is our responsibility as a Government and a Parliament to support the police in pushing the frontiers of what technology can do in law enforcement, but I come back to this fundamental point: we have to take the public with us, and that means the regulatory environment has to be fit for purpose.

The Minister will be aware of the comments of the new independent reviewer of our counter-terror laws at the weekend about our police and security services using artificial intelligence and algorithms in detecting suspicious behaviour. He was speaking of a future like that in the film “Minority Report” where predictive technology drives everything. Is not the only way to establish the appropriate balance between liberty and security to create a new durable legislative framework that can be properly considered by this House? Why can he not commit to bringing that forward today?

I repeat that I am extremely aware of the need, as technology develops in this area and others, for there to be public confidence and trust in it, underpinned by a legislative and regulatory framework in which people have confidence. We feel that that legal framework is in place, but we are reviewing the oversight and regulatory framework in which this all sits, and that is a work of some urgency for me.

Refugee Family Reunion

The Government provide a safe and legal route for bringing families together through our existing family reunion policy. These provisions are consistent with our obligation to respect family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. We are listening to calls to extend this policy and will continue discussions with stakeholders.

Ministers will recall that last July the other House passed the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill overwhelmingly but that it was not introduced here because of lack of parliamentary time. Since parliamentary time no longer appears so scarce, will the Minister introduce it here to help reunite families, many of whom are divided by some very rigid and inflexible rules?

As I said, we are listening to calls to extend family reunion and are watching the two private Members’ Bills very closely. The right hon. Gentleman’s question is of course one for business managers, who I am sure will heed his calls.

Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am that in designing a refugee family reunion policy we do not create incentives that encourage even more people to leave their homes and undertake an extremely dangerous journey in the hope they will bring the rest of their relatives to our country at a later date?

My hon. Friend rightly raises the Government’s concern that allowing children to sponsor close family members might create incentives for more children to be encouraged or even forced to leave their families and risk a hazardous journey to the UK in order to sponsor relatives at a later date. I am sure he agrees that we absolutely want to avoid that because it could play into the hands of criminal gangs already exploiting vulnerable people.

Immigration System

In December 2018 the Government set out their proposals for a future immigration system in a White Paper, “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system”. The new system will be focused on those with the skills that the country needs, who will bring the most benefit to the United Kingdom.

My constituency needs migrant workers to support local industry—particularly, but not exclusively, in the health, hospitality, fishing and farming sectors. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that there will be sufficient flexibility in any post-Brexit immigration system to allow those sectors to flourish?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We recognise that the future system must work for the valuable industries that make this nation great. We are working with many businesses and employers, including some in the sectors that my hon. Friend has listed, to ensure there is proper engagement which will achieve precisely what he has described.

On Thursday night, a 17-year-old schoolboy visiting Canterbury from Germany was violently attacked in our city centre. He is now fighting for his life. I thank the Home Secretary for intervening personally to enable the boy’s family to travel to be at his bedside, and I am extremely grateful for his—and his team’s—rapid response, kindness and hard work over the weekend. In the light of this awful incident, will he please reassure me that he is listening carefully to the grave concerns that are being expressed about the dwindling number of police on our streets?

I was very concerned to hear about that case when the hon. Lady contacted me, and I am pleased that the young man’s parents are now at his bedside. I can give her the assurance for which she has asked. We have a big police funding settlement this year, which is leading to the biggest increase in police numbers since 2010.

I thank the Home Secretary for the support that he has expressed for the amendment drafted by our hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), which has the support of many colleagues on both sides of the House, and which seeks to ease post-study work restrictions on overseas students. Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only is this an economically sensible and useful thing to do, but it will enhance UK soft power as we build global Britain?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he will know, we have already announced steps in that direction in the White Paper, because we want to make it easier for those who come from abroad to study in our universities to stay and continue to lead their lives in the UK. I do believe that we can go further, both for our own economic benefit—indeed, I think, for our cultural benefit—and, certainly, for the benefit of our soft power.

International students are vital not just for our exports, but for university funding and regional economies. Britain is lagging behind our main competitors in attracting the brightest and the best. What plans has the Home Secretary to add countries such as India to the list of states with fast-track access to tier 4 study permits to help to address that issue?

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of international students, including their importance as an export for our economy. He will be pleased to learn that there is no cap on the number of international students who can come to the UK, and that the number who came last year reached a record high. As for fast-track access for certain countries, we constantly keep that under review.

My constituent Ken Macharia is under threat of removal back to Kenya, where he will not be able to live openly as a gay man. In the month of Pride, it cannot be right for us to deny him the right to be who he is. More importantly, however, does the Home Secretary agree that Ken’s sexuality should not be the issue? He came here to qualify as a mechanical engineer, and he therefore has skills that we urgently need for our economy. Should we not be letting him stay for that reason, irrespective of his sexuality?

I understand why my hon. Friend has raised this case, and I can assure him that the Home Office is taking it very seriously. He will, perhaps, appreciate that I cannot comment on an individual case, especially if it involves an application for a judicial review, but I can reassure him that in cases of this type, at the heart of decision making is the welfare of the individual concerned.

As has already been pointed out, the Home Secretary has pledged that if he becomes Prime Minister he will reintroduce the post-study work visa. The university sector in Scotland, business, and my colleagues in the Scottish Government have been calling for its reintroduction for some years. The right hon. Gentleman is already Home Secretary, and he has the power to reintroduce it with full effect for Scotland today if he wants to, so will he make a commitment to do so?

I am disappointed that the Home Secretary does not feel able to make that commitment, but I hope he will maybe follow through on it if he becomes Prime Minister.

May I ask the Home Secretary about something else that is very important to Members in all parts of this House? A recent freedom of information request from one of my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament revealed that 19 children and six pregnant women have been held at the privately run Dungavel detention centre since 2016, and this is despite the Government committing to end the detention of children at Dungavel. Can the Secretary of State explain how this has been allowed to happen and will he commit to ending indefinite detention as part of his future plans for the UK’s immigration system?

On the hon. and learned Lady’s first question, it sounds as though she has not read the White Paper yet because it talks about increasing post-study work permits. On the question about detention, we have a comprehensive and detailed policy on adults at risk; we constantly keep it under review, and when there are specific cases we will look at them very carefully.

Fire Services: Overnight Cover

7. What assessment he has made of the effect on safety of changes to overnight fire cover by fire services. (911214)

20. What assessment he has made of the effect on safety of changes to overnight fire cover by fire services. (911230)

Operational decisions are for each fire and rescue authority to make as part of their work to assess local risk and manage and allocate resources according to their integrated risk management planning process. What we have done is reintroduce independent inspection by asking HMICFRS—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services—to assess how effective each fire and rescue service is in responding to fires.

I thank the Minister for his response, but the reality is that Government cuts are having a dangerous impact on safety. If Tyne and Wear’s fire and rescue service funding does not increase, this year we could see overnight cover cut by 50% in South Tyneside, putting my constituents and our local firefighters’ lives at risk. When will the Government increase funding to protect our lives?

I know there are strong feelings about the funding of Tyne and Wear fire service because we had a debate in Westminster Hall, and I have subsequently met Chris Lowther, the chief, to discuss that. Our view is that the fire service has the resources it needs to continue providing what is acknowledged to be a good service underpinned by very high levels of reserves, but we are approaching a comprehensive spending review in which we will be looking to continue to make sure that the fire service has the resources it needs to do its very difficult job.

In the Minister’s response of 5 June to my letter about fire service funding he stated that all services had the capacity to respond to high-rise fires, yet the speed of the fire spread we saw yesterday in Barking was terrifying, and if that had happened at night people may well have lost their lives. Seconds count and seconds save lives; is the Minister truly convinced that he has done everything he can to keep people safe in their beds?

The whole House will understand the sensitivities of this subject, not least this week, and the fire was indeed extremely intense and unsettling. I congratulate the 100-odd firefighters who attended that scene on their success in getting the fire under control with no serious injury. In response to the hon. Lady’s point, yes of course I take this extremely seriously. I have received assurances from the fire chiefs that the current arrangements around integrated risk planning, the requirements around mutual assistance and the national resilience are fit for purpose, but if anyone has hard evidence to undermine that my door is open.

In Northamptonshire the fire service has been successfully integrated with the local police service, saving money on administrative overheads and providing more resources for frontline capabilities. Is the Minister going to encourage more such mergers?

The answer is yes, and I congratulate Steve Mold and the leadership in Northamptonshire on what they have done to show what can be achieved through really creative collaboration. This is not just about saving taxpayers’ money; it is also about exploring the opportunities to deliver a better service to the public.

We are approaching the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which, as Members will know, happened overnight. The Grenfell residents had complained about their treatment by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and had specifically highlighted the fire risks, but they were ignored. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that similar warnings from those who know most—the residents themselves—are heeded and acted on?

I think the right hon. Lady meant to say that it was the second anniversary, but of course the point she makes is a fundamental one that will be addressed in the statement that follows on the Government’s response to the fire, not only on future arrangements for social housing and the regulation of that, but to ensure that the voice of tenants is a louder one and a respected one.

Firefighters: Health Screening

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on health screening for firefighters. (911215)

The health and wellbeing of firefighters is of huge concern to the Home Office and to the sector leaders we are working with to support further progress in this area. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the responsibility of individual fire and rescue authorities, as employers, to ensure that health screening suitable for the risks faced is available to their firefighters.

The stress facing our firefighters has grown considerably under this Government. We have fewer of them, and many have been replaced by retained firefighters, including in Cleveland. As we have heard, they face some of the most difficult circumstances. Does the Minister recognise the impact of those circumstances and stressors on the mental and physical health of firefighters? Will he tell me what the Government are going to do to fund health services properly for firemen?

I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Firefighters are exposed to major risks and highly traumatic situations, as well as to contaminants and toxic agents, so it is even more important that local fire authorities have appropriate strategies in place and that they are properly resourced and, critically, inspected and assessed by independent inspectors, which is what we have introduced. In relation to resources, I come back to the main point that a spending review is imminent, and it will provide an opportunity to ensure that the fire service continues to have the resources it needs to do its job and support its people.

Some of the things that those in our brave emergency services—whether in the police, the fire service or the ambulance service—are tasked with dealing with are truly horrific and have long-lasting impacts, particularly on family life. What work is being done to ensure that those in our emergency services are always able to access the very best mental health care?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. There is a growing awareness and culture in the leadership across the police and fire services about the importance of the welfare and wellbeing agenda. That is why we have supported the first ever national wellbeing service, which is being developed and rolled out across that system, and why we continue to engage with the fire chiefs in order to be absolutely sure that, on top of the money we have provided for the blue light services and for mental health support, we are doing everything we can to ensure that those on the frontline of our response to emergencies are properly supported and that the old culture of “stay strong” can be challenged when it needs to be, because of the trauma that our first responders are often exposed to.

Two years on from Grenfell, firefighters and members of the community still have not been screened for fire-related toxic contamination. Speaking as a former nurse and the mother of a young woman who died of cancer, I find that genuinely unacceptable. Given the dangerous carcinogens that have been found in the area surrounding the building, the Government’s inaction displays a reckless disregard for people’s health, and I hope that the Minister is not going to pass the buck here. I should like to ask him to commit to undertaking a wide review of cancer rates among firefighters, and to consider implementing a national fire service cancer screening strategy. This is just too important for him not to.

I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Lady is saying. In relation to the Grenfell firefighters, that is something that I will of course take up with the London fire brigade. On the broader point, she is absolutely right to say that firefighters are exposed to contaminants and toxic agents. Exposure will vary, but I am sure she will be aware that past research has not shown an increase in risk. However, this is a source of concern to us, and the fire chiefs have recently commissioned research from the University of Brighton. We will need to wait for that to conclude before agreeing the next steps in relation to the kind of comprehensive universal screening service that she has mentioned.


11. What steps he is taking to provide security and law enforcement organisations with the tools that they need to counter terrorism. (911218)

A review of powers was undertaken as part of our updated comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, and the lessons learned from the attacks of 2016 and 2017 were incorporated. Following the review, the Government launched the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which received Royal Assent on 12 February 2019.

Our security services are world class, but we know that co-ordination is key, so does my right hon. Friend agree that negotiating security co-operation with our European partners and neighbours and strengthening our alliances around the world should be top post-Brexit priorities?

Yes, I can reassure the House that intelligence sharing will go on unchanged. The relationship between intelligence services under national security, irrespective of our status within Europe, will not diminish, and the same goes for our status within the Five Eyes community—a strong partnership for intelligence. In addition, when it comes to law enforcement tools, our relationships are also underpinned by the 1957 Council of Europe convention on extradition and the 1959 European convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters, and those will continue no matter what the settlement is.

This weekend, the Home Secretary announced as part of his leadership bid a £500 million investment in border security in Northern Ireland, plus ongoing costs. Will the Minister agree to publish the proposals as soon as possible, so that they can be open to public and private scrutiny?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about investment in our border. However, I had a quick discussion with the Home Secretary, who does not have the same recollection of what he announced at the weekend. I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman writes to the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary will set out the position.

I was horrified to read that a Hezbollah bomb factory storing three tonnes of explosive materials was discovered in north-west London in 2015—three and a half years before the Home Secretary fully proscribed the antisemitic terror group. Why did the Government wait so long to act? Why were the public and MPs not informed, given the debates that we have had on this issue?

The right hon. Lady will know, as a former Home Office Minister, that we do not comment on intelligence operations for obvious reasons. In addition, if Hezbollah was behaving in that manner at that time, that would have been under its military wing, as it was classified, and that would have been an act of terrorism and, indeed, would have been subject to the proscription provisions. I therefore do not think that anything different would have happened. However, as the right hon. Lady knows, the Home Secretary recently moved to proscribe the entirety of Hezbollah, partly because of such cases.

EU Settlement Scheme

EU citizens are our friends, neighbours and colleagues, and we want them to stay. The EU settlement scheme enables them to do so, and we launched a £3.75 million marketing campaign in March to encourage them to apply.

If these people genuinely are the Home Secretary’s friends, colleagues and neighbours, perhaps the Government should start to treat them as such, instead of preparing to make them the victims of another Windrush-type scandal. The Home Affairs Committee recently reported that thousands of EU nationals in the UK run the risk of being left with an uncertain legal future. Does the Home Secretary not accept that it is time to get rid of the application and potential refusal system that they have just now and replace it with as a system of right to remain by declaration? That would leave the onus of proof on the Government if they think that someone should not be allowed to stay, instead of making the person prove that they can.

The settlement scheme is working incredibly well. To update the House, 800,000 applications have already been made since its launch, with almost 700,000 concluded. The hon. Gentleman mentions Windrush, and if he wants another Windrush, he should continue with the proposal that he just suggested.

Knife Crime

Just some of the actions we are taking to tackle knife crime include: strengthening the law through the Offensive Weapons Act 2019; establishing the national county lines co-ordination centre; consulting on a new duty to support a multi-agency public health approach; launching the £100 million serious violence fund in the spring statement; and providing new lesson plans to schools as part of our #knifefree campaign. We take careful note of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s recent comments about knife crime levelling off, and I am sure we all support the police’s efforts to tackle this.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but there were 18,000 assaults and 17,000 robberies involving a knife or a sharp object in the year ending 2018. The Government have cut police officer numbers by 21,000, and two weeks ago there was a murder in Tower Hamlets due to a knife attack. Does she agree that the Home Secretary is not fit to be the next Prime Minister, considering that he has lost control of law and order in his Department?

I have to say that I think this is such a serious subject—I understand the hon. Lady’s comments about her constituency—but I do not think this is the appropriate forum to make those sorts of comments. What I do know is that the Government, working with the police, local authorities, the medical profession and educationalists, are doing everything we can not just to tackle the causes of knife crime through law enforcement efforts but to intervene early to stop young people carrying knives before they take that terrible step, which can affect not only their lives but other families and communities.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) is welcome to shoehorn his inquiry, Question 16, conveniently into Question 14, if he so wishes, but it is not obligatory.

16. I have been working with Gwent police and local residents regarding alleged criminality in the village of Cwm. The local police have been great, but clearer 101 call information would ease victims’ concerns. May I ask the Home Secretary to encourage the police to provide more detailed call centre data, including out-of-hours response times and geographic information, for better public involvement and support for our police services? (911226)

I am very happy to look into that. The hon. Gentleman will know that, through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, there are six powers available to the police and to local authorities and agencies to tackle, in a flexible way, the terrible crimes that can be occasioned by antisocial behaviour.

Piggybacking on the shoehorn, so to speak, farmers are often victims of rural crime, antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and the theft of farm machinery. What more is going to be done to help to tackle rural crime?

As the proud Member of Parliament for one of the most rural constituencies in England, I know only too well the trouble that farmers and landowners can have with antisocial behaviour, including, for example, hare coursing. A range of powers is available to the police, depending on the type of criminality involved. I am very happy to involve my hon. Friend in the discussions we are currently having to see what more we can do to tackle hare coursing in particular.

Inshore Fishing Boats: Non-EEA Workers

15. What recent progress he has made in enabling the fishing industry to employ non-EEA workers on inshore fishing boats. (911225)

As part of the future borders and immigration system, we have launched a year-long engagement programme to seek the views of stakeholders, including the fishing industry, and I am listening very carefully to what they have to say. I have met representatives of the industry on several occasions, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and we are reflecting on the views expressed.

The Minister has previously said that:

“there was no case for schemes for particular sectors in the immigration system, other than agriculture, which has some unique characteristics.”—[Official Report, 8 April 2019; Vol. 658, c. 153.]

I am sure the Minister and everyone accepts that the fishing industry has unique characteristics as well. Although we want local labour to do these jobs in future, they are not ready and able to do them now. Will she look again at this with an open mind, because our fishermen are crying out for a solution?

I reassure my hon. Friend that I was quoting the Migration Advisory Committee when I said that agriculture is a unique sector with characteristics that justify the sectoral scheme, and the Government have certainly listened to that advice. He will know that we are undertaking a year of engagement as part of the proposals set out in the immigration White Paper, and no final decision will be taken on the future system until that is complete.

In calling the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), I am calling no less a figure than the Chair of the International Trade Committee.

That is much appreciated, Mr Speaker. This cuts across the Department for International Trade, of course, and I have a constituency interest.

The Minister talks about a year-long engagement. She told me the very same last May. She said that the Home Office would reflect and ask industry for its views. We hear the same rhetoric today. It is quite simple: she should go to her boss, the Home Secretary—a man who needs to show leadership at the moment—and ask him to lift his pen and get fishing boats working on the west coast of Scotland. It will happen that easily. Get it shifted, make it happen, and make it happen this year. We do not want another year-long engagement.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I do not think I have quite recovered from him appearing in my office asking me to write visas on the back of an envelope for those whom he deemed to be appropriate. It is important that the Home Secretary and I listen to all sectors, take the time to reflect on the advice received from the Migration Advisory Committee and the proposals set out in the White Paper, and make sure that we make the right decision, not simply the decision that the hon. Gentleman is demanding.

Asylum Application Process

The Home Office is committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered and protection is granted, where necessary, as soon as possible. We have ambitious plans to improve the system, including developing new service standards to ensure that cases with acute vulnerability are prioritised.

Last December, the Home Secretary said that he would look into lifting the ban on asylum seekers working. Will he please set out his view on whether or not asylum seekers should have the right to work after they have lodged their applications?

The hon. Lady will know that in certain circumstances asylum seekers can work: after a year and if the occupation is on the shortage occupation list. She is right: I have said that. We continue to look at how we can change this and how we can expand those rights potentially. That work is under review and we will report to the House in due course.

Emergency Services Network: National Audit Office Report

18. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the May 2019 NAO report entitled “Progress delivering the Emergency Services Network”. (911228)

Frankly, we welcome all scrutiny of the emergency services network. It remains an extremely ambitious and very challenging programme, but our intent remains the same: to make sure that our emergency workers have access to the best available communications network. We still believe that the benefits are there.

I have been raising this issue since 2013, when it became apparent that the Home Office was prioritising cost-cutting over the resilience of the communication network that enables our police officers, fire officers and ambulance crews to save lives. This is years late and billions overspent, so when are we going to have a proper plan to deliver this essential network? Will the Minister compensate police forces for the extra they are having to spend because of his incompetence?

Our plans have been set out and will continue to be available for scrutiny. The funding of forces will be dealt with through the spending review, but I push back on the hon. Lady’s premise. This has not been primarily just about reducing the costs of the Airwave contract, although that is real. It is also about making sure that 300,000 emergency workers have access to the most resilient, most modern emergency communications network. That is exactly what we intend to deliver.

Antisocial Behaviour

We are committed to tackling antisocial behaviour, which is why we reformed the powers available to local areas through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Although we recognise there has been a small increase in the number of people who have experienced or witnessed antisocial behaviour in their local area, we would expect local areas to use the powers in the Act to tackle ASB.

The Minister is correct; more than a third of respondents to the latest crime survey have experienced or witnessed ASB. Whether we are talking about drug dealing, vandalism, or people riding motorbikes or quad bikes in public places, for example in our parks, it has a real, damaging effect on people’s lives. Will she therefore support Lib Dem calls to invest more in community policing? Will she also publicise more effectively the community trigger, so that people know that it exists?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the point about the community trigger. We, as constituency MPs, can really help to publicise the power of the community trigger and how members of the public can use it to review decisions with which they do not agree. On police funding, he will know that we have just voted through up to an extra £1 billion, with the help of police and crime commissioners, to put into policing. Of course the Home Secretary has set out his commitment to resources as well.

22. Very well, Mr Speaker. I recently met two distressed constituents who had confronted a gang inside their home who were trying to steal the keys to their car. Prompt action by Warwickshire police prevented anything too serious from happening, but what steps are the Government taking to prevent crime of this nature? (911232)

I am concerned to hear of the experience of my hon. Friend’s constituents. He is right to ask about vehicle theft and the terrible impact it can have on victims. Vehicle theft is a priority of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing; indeed, he is bringing together industry, the police and others to help to ensure that the response to vehicle theft is as robust and technologically up-to-date as it can be.

Topical Questions

As we approach the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, our thoughts are with the families of the victims and everyone affected by the tragedy.

We continue to increase support for the police and victims of crime. More money has been made available to tackle serious violence, with further allocations to the worst-hit police forces from the £100 million fund. We are making calls to the 101 non-emergency number free from April 2020. I have announced plans to change the law to give trained police drivers more confidence to pursue suspects, better protected from the risk of prosecution.

In his remarks about facial recognition technology earlier, the Minister for Policing rightly spoke about the need to take the public with us. Does the Secretary of State recognise that the imposition of Big Brother-style surveillance and fining people for covering their face with their coat is no way to secure the public’s trust? Will the Government halt the use of live facial recognition technology in policing until there has been a proper public debate, Parliament has considered a framework and there are civil liberties safeguards?

I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that it is absolutely right that the police, and those involved in law enforcement more generally, take advantage of changes in technology. Facial recognition is one of the technologies that are advancing and it is right that we test it properly. Police forces are piloting its use. The whole point of a pilot is to look at the results and then determine whether it makes sense to take the pilot forward. That may well include the need for proper guidance and perhaps even legislation.

T2. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the current legal age for marriage in the UK, 16, can lead to exploitation in the form of forced marriages? (911234)

I am very much aware of that. Forced marriage is of course a terrible form of abuse. The Government have introduced a range of measures to tackle the crime, including the creation of a specific forced marriage offence and the criminalisation of the breach of a forced marriage protection order. My hon. Friend raised the important issue of under-18 marriages. It is right that we consider our position, which is under review.

The Government’s call for evidence on violence and abuse towards shop staff is welcome. However, research by the Charity Retail Association shows that more than a quarter of charity shops are reporting an increase in incidents of violence or verbal abuse against their volunteers. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that retail volunteers are included in the review and that they, too, will benefit from any proposed protections?

The statistic the hon. Lady cited is sobering. I see no reason why charity shops should not be included in the review. I encourage all Members of Parliament to advertise the call for evidence, which we are holding precisely because we want to find out the nature and extent of the problem. I very much look forward to discussing it with the hon. Lady in due course.

T7. What measures is the Home Office taking to increase police funding and get more officers on the streets of Fylde? (911239)

My hon. Friend has been persistent in making the case for more funding for Lancashire police, so he will welcome the additional £18.4 million of cash in 2019-20, on top of the exceptional grant for the costs of fracking. Chief Constable Andy Rhodes is recruiting additional officers, and I know that my hon. Friend will play his full part in lobbying the police and crime commissioner and Andy to make sure that Fylde gets its fair share of that additional resource.

T3. With theatre productions cancelled, couples attacked on public transport and hate speech spouted outside schools, what is the Home Secretary doing ahead of Portsmouth Pride to protect the LGBT+ community? (911235)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue. I am sure he has in mind the horrific attack that was reported at the weekend and that I condemn in the absolute strongest terms. There is no place in our society for such hate crime. My understanding in respect of that particular incident is that the Met has arrested five individuals. The Government are absolutely committed to tackling all forms of hate crime, including LGBT hate crime, and we will continue to do all we can.

T9. I warmly welcomed the implementation of the seasonal agricultural workers pilot scheme that was launched this year, but does the Minister agree that we need to review that scheme this year as opposed to waiting for another year? We know that it works and we know that our soft fruit farms need it. We should have it made permanent and extended as soon as possible. (911241)

First, I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she has already done to bring this about. She was one of the Members of the House to make the case for the scheme so powerfully and that is exactly why we have it. The intention is to see how it works while we have freedom of movement, but she has raised an important point. I think that it is worth considering an earlier review and I will be happy to discuss it with her.

T4. Can the Secretary of State advise us: what costs have been incurred to date by the Home Department in preparation for a no-deal exit from the European Union? (911236)

The Home Office has been preparing for a potential no-deal exit, not because it is what anyone expects or wants, but because it is the responsible thing to do. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman right here and now what the total costs are, but I am happy to write to him with more detail. But it is right that we make these preparations, whether they are for border issues, immigration issues or customs and security.

The strong message that came out of the referendum is that people want an immigration system that provides control, but they also want an immigration system that is underpinned by the principle of fairness, where everybody is treated equally, regardless of where they come from in the world. Is the Minister confident that the new system that we put in place will deliver on both those objectives?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. That is absolutely the principle underpinning the proposals put forward in the White Paper, which was published in December last year. We want to have a single immigration system that treats everybody from every country according to the skills and talents that they can bring to the United Kingdom, not one based on where they come from.

T6. The Carol Black review of drugs is specifically not considering legislative reform, but that may be exactly what we need to address the violence and harm associated with the drug market, so will the Secretary of State look again at the terms of reference of the review and at least consider that as in the scope of part two of the review? (911238)

The independent review of drugs misuse to which the hon. Gentleman refers is, I think it is fair to say, the most comprehensive review that has ever been commissioned on such a subject by a Government. It has a broad remit and, when Dame Carol Black reports back—I think there will be an interim report this summer—we will take it very seriously.

T8. The Home Secretary might not be aware of this, but he did rather upset people when he last spoke about his childhood in east Bristol. May I urge him to look at what the police are doing there with the early intervention and diversion scheme, which has had a 90% success rate in turning young people away from involvement in gangs and drug crime? (911240)

If I understood the hon. Lady correctly, she is referring to my comments about Stapleton Road, but I was referring to the Stapleton Road that I knew 40 years ago and I do accept that things have moved on. In fact, I was at Stapleton Road just a few days ago. I very much enjoyed myself and met some of the local residents, which was fantastic.

One always has to be careful about what one says about Bristol. For my own part, I fought the Bristol South constituency in 1992, but the good news for Bristol and perhaps for the nation was that Bristol South fought back.

T10. What recent assessment has the Secretary of State made regarding the number of girls and women being sexually exploited in connection with county lines drug trafficking, and what steps is his Department taking to tackle this specific problem? (911242)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. She is right to identify the fact that there is emerging evidence that gangs are ensnaring girls, in particular to rape them, but also to conceal weapons and drugs for the larger gang. If I may, I will write to her with the precise details. I am pleased that she has raised this because we tend to think of male members of gangs, but she is absolutely right to remind us that this includes girls as well.

Can I give the Minister a brief message from my constituents? They say that perpetrators of organised crime are constantly improving their ability to use new technologies to defraud them, and they have no resistance to having the best and most modern technology possible in the fight against crime.

One of the biggest challenges is how to get ahead of organised crime. Organised crime uses technology to organise better, and we need to organise better to counter it. The hon. Gentleman will have heard the different views in this House about technology and surveillance, and it is important to get the balance right. Members should be under no illusion that technology is giving the very baddest people in our society a real advantage, and that takes long-term investment to address.

Last Thursday, I travelled to the Netherlands with Teagan Appleby’s mother, Emma, to pick up the medical cannabis that has reduced Teagan’s seizures from 300 to four a day. In the absence of NHS prescribing, parents like Emma are having to go abroad, or pay exorbitant import and pharmacy charges. Emma had a UK prescription, so met the criteria presented to her at border control to the letter. Why, then, did the Home Office make UK Border Force detain the medicinal cannabis that Teagan so desperately needs?

The hon. Lady will know that I took immediate action to change the law to make medical cannabis available when I first heard about young children who are drug resistant and have severe epilepsy. But rightly—even with that change—it is necessary for a clinician to be involved and for a prescription to be given. Although medical cannabis is now legal with a clinician’s approval, it is still a controlled drug and it is necessary to have some controls to minimise the risk of misuse, harm and diversion. I am very sympathetic to the case that the hon. Lady has raised. We are discussing it with the Department of Health and Social Care and will do all we can to help.

Scotland had a 10-year strategy to develop a public health approach to tackle violence, although people in Scotland would argue that it should have been a 15 or 20-year strategy. Will the Government show us how serious they are about taking a public health approach to this issue by committing to a 20-year strategy from the start?

Earlier I mentioned the consultation, which—to correct the record—closed at the end of May. I hope that the hon. Lady will input into that consultation. If she has made that suggestion to the consultation, we will be taking it very seriously.

I do not want to spawn intra-family discord. We have heard a voice from Lewisham, so we have to hear a voice from Leyton; I call John Cryer.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Further to Question 7, it is widely known that fire crewing per pump has been cut across the country from five to four, and even from four to three. Although we all know that this is an operational matter, is not the safety of firefighters a ministerial matter as well?

The safety of firefighters is of huge interest to Ministers, and it is something that we do keep an eye on, but the hon. Gentleman is right in his fundamental point: these operating decisions are best taken locally. [Interruption.] He makes a face, but we cannot have a Minister sitting here and making judgments on what is right when it comes to allocating resources to risk in Cleveland, Cumbria or anywhere else.

I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but we have time for only one more question. I call Alison Thewliss.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

My constituent, Eryaar Popalzai, came to the UK from Afghanistan at the age of 14 some five years ago, as an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker. Since his further submissions in 2017, he has yet to hear anything from the Home Office. He is an incredibly vulnerable young man and has been getting therapy from Freedom from Torture for three years. What do I tell him when he comes to my surgery this Friday?

I am happy to take up this specific case with the hon. Lady after questions, if she would like. One of the changes that the Home Office has made over the course of the past few weeks is to ensure that we are prioritising older cases and cases of more vulnerable asylum seekers, so that we can get through the backlog of cases and ensure that people such as her constituent get a response.