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Topical Questions

Volume 663: debated on Monday 15 July 2019

We continue to fight serious violence and support our world-class police. Yesterday I announced a new legal duty on public bodies to prevent and tackle serious violence, which will compel all relevant public agencies to work together to understand and address this epidemic. Over the last year, we have engaged with police officers and staff on our frontline review, which was published last week and will lead to even more support.

Given the ongoing police inquiry into the leaking of confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents, together with the need to protect the freedom of the press, my right hon. Friend has a difficult circle to square. Can he tell the House how he intends to both protect the freedom of the press and ensure that the person responsible for this crime is brought to book?

I am not going to comment on an ongoing police investigation—I hope my right hon. Friend understands that—but the person who leaked the document should, of course, face the consequences. When I was Culture Secretary, I was very passionate about the freedom of the press. That view has not changed in any way whatsoever. I will always defend the hard-won liberties and the operation of the free press.

The latest Government fire and rescue service inspections found that nine years of austerity have created a postcode lottery of response times and crewing levels. We now have rising response times, with fewer firefighters attending incidents. The Government’s reckless lack of oversight and investment is risking the safety of many communities across the country. Will the Minister consider implementing national minimum standards, to confront the geographical inequalities that his Government have deepened?

We have introduced independent inspections of fire and rescue services, which in fact show that most people across the country get an excellent service in the response to emergencies, but there are variations. That is why we have introduced a national standards board, which is looking at the opportunity to develop greater consistency in standards across the system in the light of the inspection findings.

T2. Responsibility for enforcing the Vagrancy Act 1824 falls between the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time we revoked the Act and that homeless people should be helped, not arrested? (911943)

I commend my hon. Friend for the huge amount of work he has done on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping; I saw that as Communities Secretary as well. The Government believe that no one should be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live and sleeping rough. The Government’s 2018 rough sleeping strategy committed us to reviewing the homelessness and rough sleeping legislation, including the Vagrancy Act 1824. That is what we are doing, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further.

T3. The Government have been severely complacent in preparing fire services for an emergency on the scale of Grenfell Tower. There are still hundreds of dangerous high-rise buildings, and by continuing to degrade our fire service, the Government are failing to recognise the severity of the risk. Since Grenfell, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service’s funding has been slashed by £3.8 million. Response times have continued to rise. Can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that all fire and rescue services will be properly prepared for high-rise emergency incidents? (911944)

The Government continue to give the fire service the resources it needs against a background of falling fire numbers. We continue to monitor that in the run-in to the comprehensive spending review, working closely with the fire service. On the remediation of buildings and the urgent review of a fire safety system that had clearly failed, we continue to work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in our consultation on that.

T4. In 2018, the Home Secretary agreed to review the policy that bans asylum seekers from working within their first 12 months and severely restricts what professions they can enter thereafter. Can he tell the House when he expects the results of the review to be published and what proposed changes will be recommended? (911945)

As my right hon. Friend knows, asylum seekers can work in jobs on the shortage occupation list if their claim has been outstanding for 12 months. I know that she will agree that we need to distinguish between those with the need for protection and those who are here only to work. She is right to raise the issue, and it is time for reform. The work in the Home Office is ongoing, and we hope to bring something to the House as soon as possible.

T5. A blanket three-year temporary leave to remain visa after a no-deal Brexit will not cut it, especially for students wanting to study courses that last longer than that. When will that be fixed so students have certainty that they can complete their courses? (911946)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question on an issue that has been raised several times in the House. The Home Office is working hard to make sure that we have a solution so that not just students at Scottish universities but those in English universities who might be studying a longer course such as medicine, veterinary science or architecture are not disadvantaged. We are determined to find a solution that works for all students.

T6. Neighbourhood watch schemes and social media apps are widely used in my local community to share local information and to keep the community safe by working together. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss this and the possibility of funding a pilot scheme to enable the police, neighbourhood watch and local people to engage in a wider network to better co-ordinate those digital platforms? (911947)

Those of us who have active neighbourhood watch networks in our constituencies know the value of that network of active citizens working closely with the police: it is the heart of our police model. We are big fans of neighbourhood watch and we have supported it for many years. I would be delighted to sit down with my hon. Friend to discuss how that funding could help in her constituency.

T7. On Friday, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, told the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse:“I am convinced we need to move to mandatory reporting for regulated activities.”Does the Home Secretary agree with the archbishop, and will he now introduce mandatory reporting legislation to protect children from harm? (911948)

We are of course grateful to the archbishop for his thoughts, and to the independent inquiry, which is doing an incredibly important job in looking at tackling institutional child sexual abuse. We have looked at mandatory reporting really carefully, and the balance of evidence came down against, but it is something that we very much keep under review, and I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss it with her.

T8. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to get the message to those across the world who gain wealth from grotesque crimes involving hideous human rights abuses and fraud that they are not welcome here is to have more unexplained wealth orders and a robust UK sanctions regime up and running? (911949)

My right hon. Friend has led a long campaign against such people. He will be glad to know that in the last few years, with our new impetus on economic crime, we have found that a number have already had their collars felt, some have had to explain their wealth—the latest case being £100 million of London property—£112 million of assets have been frozen, and some have found it very hard to visit the country altogether.

My constituent Bibi Rahima said that

“my life is just a prison”

after she was accused of cheating in the test of English for international communication. She was overjoyed when she won her appeal in May, but I have written to the Home Secretary on her behalf again today to plead against a further appeal now being taken against her. I am certain she did not cheat, and the judge in her appeal in May said that

“there is no specific evidence in relation to this Appellant at all.”

Will Ministers now withdraw that cruel and pointless action?

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s interest in this issue and the work that he is doing through the all-party parliamentary group that he chairs and helped to set up. We have discussed the broader issue several times. He will know that in 2012 the National Audit Office highlighted widespread abuse of the student migration system. That said, I have agreed with him and many other hon. Members that we need to look again at the action that was taken and see what more can be done. I am planning to come to the House with a statement to say much more before the summer recess.

T9. On 23 June, police had to swarm the once idyllic village of Roydon in my constituency to deal with a stabbing on a chalet estate. Since 2009, local residents have reported numerous planning breaches, suspected rogue employment practices, immigration offences, intimidating behaviour and the illegal tarmacking of our village green. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure joined-up working between the police and other agencies to squash this blatant disregard for the laws of the land once and for all? (911950)

I commend my right hon. Friend for the work he has done in this space, especially on tackling unauthorised encampments. He will know that the Home Office has identified a set of measures that will extend the powers available to the police. We are also conducting a review of the act of trespassing to see whether it can be automatically criminalised.

Disability hate crime has increased more than fourfold since 2011, and that is not even the real level of hate crime and abuse that disabled people have faced. Disabled people have been particularly hit by this Government’s cuts, so what will the Home Secretary do to tackle not just the consequences of this hate crime but the causes?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The latest official data indicates an increase in police recorded disability hate crime. We believe that is due in part to general police recording improvements, but more clearly needs to be done. That is why we are instigating a review by the Law Commission to ensure that the framework, generally, tackles such hatred. We have had a nationwide public awareness campaign, including specific examples of disability hate crime. We are also funding community projects across the country, including a number that directly tackle disability hate crime, such as Changing Faces and Barnardo’s.

In his excellent op-ed in the Financial Times on 7 June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said it made no sense at all to send back home straight after their studies some of the brightest and most enterprising people in the world, and he also backed a cross-party move to liberalise the student visa regime. Could he update the House on his progress in restoring the two-year post-study work visa that was removed in 2012?

I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend has said. I think that is exactly the kind of change we should be looking at. It is not the policy of the current Cabinet, but, as he knows, there will be a change in the Cabinet very soon. We do not know who will lead that change, but it might well be someone he is quite close to, so he might want to lobby them too. However, I am very sympathetic, and I will happily work with my hon. Friend.

TransPennine Express recently locked a gate that is a major access point to the Hull Paragon station, and prominent disability campaigners have been protesting about that. It has locked the gate because it believes that that is the best way to deal with the rising problem of antisocial behaviour. Does the Minister agree that the company should be letting the police tackle the problem of antisocial behaviour and not discriminating against disabled people? Will Ministers join me in sending a clear message to TransPennine Express to open the gate?

I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me if I am not familiar with the precise railway gate in question. However, she will know that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides at least six powers for not just the police but local authorities to tackle antisocial behaviour. It might be that the train company would benefit from a bit of discussion with not just the police but local authorities to see whether they can come up with a better solution.

Over the last couple of weeks, my constituency has been rocked by two serious incidents of crime. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will want to join me in thanking the emergency services and in wishing a speedy recovery to those who were physically injured in those attacks. However, what cross-departmental discussions has he had about providing a more holistic approach to supporting the victims of such crimes?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Having visited her constituency recently, I am incredibly sorry to hear of the experiences her constituents have had. She will know that the Government have recently published the victims strategy, which, although led by the Ministry of Justice, very much had the input of the Home Office as well. We want to ensure that we support victims through targeted, focused help, while ensuring that all the relevant agencies, including the health sector, also play their part in helping victims of such terrible crimes.

I will call the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) if he commits to a single-sentence question and then honours his commitment, and I feel sure he will.

Absolutely, Mr Speaker.

Whose interests were served by tearing Lizanne Zietsman away from her family, business and community, and deporting her against the wishes of the entire community of the island of Arran?

The hon. Gentleman will understand the distinction between deportation, which happens to foreign national offenders, and removal, which happens to those who are immigration offenders. There is a very clear difference. He will know that I cannot comment on individual cases, but it is worth stating that the Supreme Court has upheld the Government’s minimum income requirement to have dependants and spouses in this country. That is an important principle, which the Government support, because we want people to have an adequate level of income that will enable them to integrate into society.

Given that we ran a highly successful seasonal agricultural workers scheme from 1945 to 2013, what do the Government think they can learn from a two-year pilot? Since we have an urgent labour shortage in agriculture, will the Secretary of State commit to convert the current pilot into a fully operational scheme next year?

My hon. Friend will be conscious that at the moment free movement still prevails, which is one of the reasons why this is still a pilot. The Government will of course carefully evaluate the outcome of what is scheduled to be a two-year pilot to understand the impact and to look at what we can do going forward.

I am sorry, but this will have to be the last inquiry, as demand exceeds supply. I am sure the Home Office ministerial team are delighted to know that they are parliamentary box office.

The cornerstone of community policing in London, to use the Minister’s words, is the safer neighbourhood teams, which have been cut by 50% to 60% and more. When will they be returned to full strength?

That is ultimately a decision for the Mayor in his capacity as police and crime commissioner, working with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Our role is to ensure that the Met has the resources it needs. That is why we have taken through funding settlements resulting in the Met receiving £100 million of additional investment last year and £172 million this year, with more to come. How that money is spent and allocated is down to the Mayor and the commissioner.