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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 663: debated on Monday 15 July 2019

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Disclosure and Barring Service

The Disclosure and Barring Service is a vital part of the safeguarding regime. The DBS issued more than 5 million certificates last year, which was more than the previous year. The Home Office, as the sponsoring Department, continues to oversee the DBS’s performance.

Does the Home Secretary not understand —I think he does, along with the Justice Secretary—that it is widely accepted across the House that the service is not fit for purpose, because it makes it far too difficult for those with a record to get back into work, which is bad not only for them but for their families and society? Can we have some urgent action to get back to trying to rehabilitate offenders by putting tight limits on disclosure, especially for cautions and minor offences in early years, and so let many of our citizens turn their lives around? Why does he not cut through the bureaucratic inertia in the Home Office and get a move on?

The House will be aware that there have problems with the service in recent years. As a result, a number of changes are being made and performance is up. In fact, a new chief executive is starting this week, I believe, so there is new management. On the actual policies it implements, the right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Changes can be made and active discussions are taking place right now between me and the Justice Secretary.

Already this phenomenal summer of sport will have inspired many children to play football, tennis and cricket, with netball, golf and rugby still to come, but there are still failings in our safeguarding processes, including the DBS checks. I worked extremely hard with the excellent Minister on this policy. The main issue remains broadening the remit of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to include sports coaches, but will the Home Secretary update the House on progress towards strengthening DBS checks for those involved in coaching, including assistant coaches, to ensure the next generation of possible sporting heroes and heroines are safe from abuse?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work she has been doing for several years to encourage more people, particularly young people, to take part in sport. She is right about the current position: sports coach is not included as position of trust. Enhanced criminal checks are available, but I agree that we need to do more work, which is why we are reviewing the effectiveness of the law on those who take advantage of young children with sexual relationships and are looking at what more we can do to include them as positions of trust.

The scope of the DBS is far too narrow. Private tutors are exempt, as are host families of international students. As we head into the summer, it is a reminder that we need to safeguard all young people. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure it is far more comprehensive in who it covers?

I understand that the hon. Lady has had a meeting recently with the victims Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), on this very issue, and I am glad that she has raised it. She may be aware that there are changes we have to, and want to, make because of a recent Supreme Court judgment, and because of that I want to bring forward other changes that we are looking at and planning and that, when they happen, she will welcome.

Some of these DBS checks take far too long and prevent people from getting into employment. Is it the fault of the DBS, local police forces, or both?

Sometimes, when there are delays, they will probably be very case-specific, so it is hard to attribute fault, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the need for speedy checks. There have been significant improvements. He may be interested to know that there is a 14-day maximum on the basic checks we apply, and in 98% of cases that has been met.

Economic Crime

Last week, the Government published a new economic crime plan in partnership with the private sector to create a whole-system approach to economic crime. Her Majesty’s Government are investing at least £48 million this year to bolster capabilities to tackle economic crime, including with the establishment of the National Economic Crime Centre, to increase the number of financial investigators and to recover more assets.

I welcome the new economic crime plan, and I agree we need more resources to finance people to tackle these various crimes. What more will be done under that new plan to strengthen our protections against fraud?

The new economic crime plan brings together all the different actors on the stage the Government have invested in and identifies all those areas that need to be solved. It is a better analysis of economic crime. We have set up the NECC to bring together all the assets of government—everything from UK Visas and Immigration and the Home Office to the intelligence services—to focus on some of the biggest money launderers and to implement the new powers in the Criminal Finances Act 2017, to deal with criminals and money launderers and to take the money back from them.

17. Given that the Government are constantly telling us how much more money they are putting into funding the police forces across the UK, can the Minister tell us how many detectives were assigned to serious organised crime in 2010, and how many there were in the latest available data? (911933)

Given the economic character of that question, the best thing is for me to write to the hon. Lady with the detail of the number of financial investigators—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady has not been particularly specific. Does she mean the number of detectives within the National Crime Agency, within the Met’s serious organised crime command, within the regional organised crime units or within the local forces? I will send her the details so that she can analyse and discuss them.

I welcome the economic crime plan, but I do not see any mention of extending the “failure to prevent” offence to include economic crime. Is the Minister still keen to do that?

Absolutely. Building “failure to prevent” offences such as bribery and tax evasion into statute makes a real difference. It is important for us to give our law enforcement agencies powers to deal with, for instance, corporations that engage in conspiracies, because in the past that has been very hard to prove.

Poor pension transfer advice can amount to fraud, but in my experience local police officers often refer such cases to the Financial Conduct Authority, which often focuses on administrative penalties rather than criminal prosecutions. Will the Minister agree to meet me, and to review economic crimes against pensioners, so that justice can be done?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. While large sectors are regulated under the FCA, we have seen fraudsters exploiting marketing as a guise to escape that regulation. When we identify them, there are criminal investigations, but I should be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and hear more about his views.

How will the forthcoming legislation requiring the registration of overseas entities prevent money generated through crime and corruption overseas from being invested in the London property market?

Transparency is the best disinfectant in such cases, and the Government are working hard to improve the operation of Companies House to ensure that we get to the bottom of some of these spurious companies. We are also fully committed to the establishment of a public register of property ownership in the UK, and are working with overseas territories to ensure that similar registers are established to cover ownership there.

As capital moves ever more easily, it is imperative that we look again at the very limited circumstances in which large financial actors can at present be held accountable before the law. The Minister mentioned corporations a moment ago, but the Government’s economic crime plan totally fails to take on the issue of corporate criminal liability, which we must consider. Here is a very simple question: what are the Government afraid of?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have been talking about that issue for a long time, and we have been working hard on it. “Failure to prevent” in relation to tax evasion is now being rolled out, and the National Security Council discussed the issue more than a year ago. The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, wait to see what happens, but we are determined to try to deal with it.

EU Settlement Scheme

3. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of the EU settlement scheme application process. (911919)

EU citizens are our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues, and we want them to stay. The settlement scheme is performing well. The latest published statistics show that more than 800,000 applications have been received and the majority of people are finding it easy to apply. Additional support is available to those who are vulnerable, or who do not have the appropriate access, skills or confidence to apply online.

Instead of implementing a scheme that makes EU citizens—many of whom have lived here for a great many years—unlawfully resident if they fail to apply by December 2020, will the Minister introduce a declaratory system whereby people apply for proof of settled status rather than the right to stay?

A declaratory system that did not require EU citizens to obtain status and provide evidence of it would risk causing confusion, especially among the most vulnerable, and people might struggle to prove their status in years to come. There would also be a risk of confusion among employers and service providers, and the system might impede EU citizens’ access to benefits and services to which they are entitled.

The vast majority of people I hear from say that the settled status scheme is working very well and is easy to use. Many receive responses within a few hours of submitting their applications. However, it is a bit frustrating that the service is still not available on Apple devices such as phones; can the Minister update us on when it might be?

It is not just anecdotal information that tells us that people are finding it easy and quick to apply; we know that most applications are settled within one to four working days. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been tireless in pursuing the issue raised by my hon. Friend, and we are very hopeful that the app will be available on Apple devices in the autumn.

There is a significant eastern European community in Enfield and other parts of London. Sections of the Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish and Roma communities can be hard to reach, and some have limited English language skills. Community representatives are concerned about individuals who have worked in the grey economy as cleaners or handymen, or for unscrupulous employers, being able to supply the right paperwork. What further steps is the Department putting in place to support these communities and to ensure that everyone can access, and apply to, the scheme?

The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Office has provided up to £9 million of grant funding to 57 voluntary and community-based organisations specifically to help the vulnerable people to whom she refers. I was pleased to visit the East European Resource Centre and to have the opportunity to speak to a group of long-standing UK residents about the support available. She references the grey economy; we do not wish to see anybody working in the grey economy, but we recognise that there will be those who do. The Home Office is absolutely prepared to accept a wide range of evidence of people’s stay in the UK, including tenancy agreements or letters from health providers with whom they have been in contact. This is absolutely about working with individuals. The EU Settlement Resolution Centre is up and running, and is incredibly well staffed. I was pleased to visit it, to see the help that it can give to individuals.

There is a seeming desire among some Opposition Members for the EU settlement scheme to be a complete failure, but will my right hon. Friend again confirm that this is a successful scheme and that take-up has been positive? If Opposition Members continue to tell their EU citizen constituents that they will not be able to apply, they are not being helpful.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The scheme has been a success, and it is shocking when hon. Members talk the scheme down. It is working well. We are determined to put in place support for those who are vulnerable, as I said. Later this week, we will see the latest statistics surrounding the scheme, which will show a considerable uplift from the figure of 800,000 reported from the end of May.

Refugee Settlement Programme

4. When he plans to announce details of the integrated programme to resettle an additional 5,000 refugees from 2020-21. (911920)

23. When he plans to announce details of the integrated programme to resettle an additional 5,000 refugees from 2020-21. (911939)

We continue to engage with international and domestic delivery partners and stakeholders, as we work through the detailed policy and operational considerations for the new global resettlement scheme. In the meantime, we continue towards our commitment of resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees affected by the conflict in Syria.

The Minister knows that I would like the ambition to be as high as possible. What plans has she got to consult refugees and refugee organisations about the lessons that can be learned from current resettlement schemes?

The hon. Lady will know—this is an ambition that I have often voiced to her—that we have sought to bring together the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme and the gateway protection scheme, to consolidate our refugee programmes. We continue to work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and indeed with those delivering the schemes, local authorities included. As part of the ambition—this is why we have given a figure in the region of 5,000—it is important that we learn from VPRS, work through local authorities to establish the number of people they can best assist through the schemes and make sure that we do not downgrade the good commitments we have previously given on resettlement.

Young adult asylum seekers often face unique and complex challenges to their mental health and wellbeing, with many having survived unimaginable experiences in their country of origin and during their long and treacherous journey to reach this country. In setting out details of the integrated programme to resettle an additional 5,000 refugees from 2020 to 2021, will the Minister commit to there being a youth welfare officer in every asylum accommodation and dispersed accommodation location, so that vulnerable, traumatised 18 to 25-year-olds receive the support that they need to recover from their experiences and can live as well as possible in the UK?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out the distinction between the formal resettlement schemes referred to in the question and those young people who have made, in many instances, terrible and perilous journeys of many thousands of miles and who have travelled across the whole of Europe to get to these shores. It really is important that we work to support young asylum seekers; I am conscious that the largest numbers will be found in a small number of local authorities, particularly Croydon, Kent and Hillingdon, which work incredibly hard to support not only unaccompanied minors but those leaving the care system and those for whom we have a responsibility up to the age of 24 under the Children and Families Act 2014. It is crucial that we get this right; that is why I was so pleased to see the uplift in funding to local authorities for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

Scotland has played a leading role in the current vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, resettling nearly 3,000 people across all Scotland’s local authorities. Recent opinion polls show strong support in Scotland for maintaining that commitment and, indeed, for improving on it. Will the Minister join me in welcoming Scotland’s success story, and will she commit, through the comprehensive spending review, to funding integration support for refugees under the new scheme at the same levels that are currently provided under the VPRS?

The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to point out the significant role that Scotland has played. In Jordan last summer, I was pleased to meet a family who were being resettled to East Ayrshire within a few days of my visit. It is important that we provide not only support for resettling people but the necessary integration, not least through the provision of English language teaching, which is a crucial component. She will know from previous comments I have made in this House that one of my big passions is ensuring that we assist those with refugee status into work and ensure that good schemes exist across the entire country to help them to do that.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As well as Scottish local authorities, Scottish community groups are also planning to sponsor refugee families. I met representatives of Refugee Sponsorship Edinburgh in my constituency recently. This is the first group of people to do this in Scotland. They will be delighted that the UK Government have finally agreed that any refugees supported under the community sponsorship scheme will be additional to those resettled under the UK Government scheme. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the new scheme will make it easier for named individuals to be resettled and for family members dispersed across the world to join refugees who have already been settled here? I am sure I am not alone in being approached regularly in my constituency surgery by refugees with those concerns.

The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to highlight the brilliant role played by community sponsorship schemes. They are absolutely the gold standard of resettlement. However, it is important that we continue to work with the UNHCR to ensure that it is the most vulnerable people who are resettled here, whether through community schemes or through the sponsorship of local authorities. It would be very wrong for us to use resettlement schemes to resettle people from safe third countries when many people across the middle east and north Africa region and across the world are in parlous situations and in real danger. They must always be our first priority.

In noting that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) was chuntering from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of the length of an inquiry, I simply say to him in the gentlest possible spirit that I feel sure that, in his own mind, his own questions are never too long but merely fully developed.

Modern Slavery Act: Business Compliance

Around 16,400 UK businesses are within scope of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Home Office has commenced the first stage of a compliance audit, following which non-compliant businesses will risk being publicly named. We are developing a Government-run registry to track compliance and make it easier for consumers and others to scrutinise business action. We are also consulting on strengthening modern slavery reporting requirements, including improving compliance and the quality of business statements.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but the number of potential victims of modern slavery identified in the UK each year has more than doubled since 2015 and now stands at just under 7,000. The Modern Slavery Act was a step in the right direction, but it has been left to go stale due to lack of enforcement, with a staggering 40% of companies not complying with it at all. Will the Minister take urgent action to commit to an enforcement body to enforce sanctions against non-compliant companies?

I think that, when we have the opportunity to do so, we should talk up our country and what we are doing to lead the world in tackling modern slavery. We really are leading the world; the Prime Minister hosted a dinner last week with the McCain Institute, at which people from across the world acknowledged the world-leading work we are doing in this country. Of course there is more to do, which is precisely why we asked the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss to conduct an independent review of the Act to ensure that it is up to date and working. We know that modern slavery criminals change their mode of working. From that, last week we announced £10 million over five years to establish cutting-edge policy and evidence centres on modern slavery and human rights. We also responded to the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act and accepted the majority of its recommendations. I really believe that this work on transparency in supply chains will be groundbreaking.

I entirely endorse what the Minister said about how this country leads the fight against modern-day slavery, which is a great credit to the Prime Minister, but should she not encourage all businesses to report possible victims as they come across them in their daily business? Police would prefer to have an investigation that leads to nothing than leave victims in modern-day slavery.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who has done much work in this field. We have only to look at the terrible case that was finalised last week to see the breadth and range of ways in which people who indulge in modern slavery torture and enslave their captives; some of the details of that case were truly shocking. It absolutely underlines the fact that every single business that meets the criteria in the Act is obliged by law to report and ensure that its supply chains are free from slavery. That has a trickle-down effect for smaller businesses that are contracted to those larger businesses, because they have to make sure that they are doing the right thing too.

Will that requirement be carried out in the public sector? Given the size of the procurement budget, will the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to ensure that Government spending is within the scope of the Act?

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman, as I said, for the work that he and his colleagues did on the review? It was an extraordinary piece of work and very thorough, and I know that he was pleased that we were able to accept the majority of its recommendations. We absolutely accept the point about the public sector, and he will know that the Prime Minister recently made an important announcement to confirm that Departments will make modern slavery statements to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery. As for the further details, I will write to the right hon. Gentleman in due course.

We on the Labour Benches appreciate the progress that has been made on modern slavery thus far, but the House will be aware that there was recently a shocking case of agricultural slavery. A fresh produce supplier to major US supermarkets was using slave labour in its supply chain. Does the Minister accept that consumers who are conscious of issues such as organic production and sustainable food production will not appreciate unwittingly purchasing fresh food with slave labour in its production? Will the Government act more swiftly? We need faster action than she is suggesting to get proper business compliance with their modern slavery legislation.

I am delighted that this is one of those issues that enjoys the support of Members from all parts of the House. The right hon. Lady will know from the announcements last week on our response to the independent review that we are very much seeking to toughen the regulations and requirements for the largest businesses. For what it is worth, some 75% of businesses that are in scope have set down a modern slavery statement, but we want to make it easier for civil society and others to judge how effectively businesses are doing, which is why we are looking into setting up a central Government registry to help that happen. We are conscious, too, of the role that non-governmental organisations can play in this space. Only last week, Oxfam released its new behind the barcode supermarket scorecard, which shows how the sector as a whole needs to step up activity to identify and rectify labour exploitation risks. I am delighted that many UK supermarkets have signed up to that.

Immigration Policies

6. What steps he is taking to ensure that his Department’s immigration policies do not unfairly discriminate on the basis of (a) race and (b) nationality. (911922)

10. What steps he is taking to ensure that his Department’s immigration policies do not unfairly discriminate on the basis of (a) race and (b) nationality. (911926)

14. What steps he is taking to ensure that his Department’s immigration policies do not unfairly discriminate on the basis of (a) race and (b) nationality. (911930)

The Home Office is bound by the public sector equality duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote good race relations. The Equality Act 2010 provides that discrimination is not unlawful if it is required by legislation or authorised by Ministers. For example, a visa regime that applies to a particular nationality constitutes discrimination, but is lawful under the Equality Act.

An Iranian refugee in my constituency applied for a Home Office travel document and has been refused. He was told that he must get a passport from his own country, which, as he fled that country, is almost impossible. Even to apply for a passport, he would have to agree to sign up for national service. Surely that is discrimination.

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that specific issue. Although I cannot comment on individual cases, we do not wish to see anybody disadvantaged because of the individual requirements of travel documents from their country of origin. I would be very happy to work with her to see whether we can find a solution.

The Department’s own statistics make it clear that last year’s average refusal rate for entry visas from Nigeria was 37%, and almost 44% for entry visas from Ghana, compared with an average refusal rate of only 12% across all countries. Can the Minister explain to my west African-born constituents, whose family members, friends and ministers of religion are being refused visitor visas in ever rising numbers, why the system is discriminating in that way?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the system is not discriminating in that way and that the Home Office is obliged to consider all visa applications in light of the evidence presented by the applicant. He might be reassured to learn that, in the year ending June 2018, we saw a 2% increase in the number of visas issued to sub-Saharan African nationals compared with the same period of the previous year.

The Home Office has offered warm words and reassurances to migrant communities about a movement away from the hostile environment, yet the Government are appealing against the High Court ruling that the right-to-rent scheme, which requires private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants, is discriminatory and breaches human rights law. Does the Minister believe that discrimination is a necessary price to pay for enforcing the hostile environment?

The Government disagree with the judgment and are appealing. The evaluation conducted during phase 1 implementation found no evidence of systemic discrimination as a result of the scheme. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commissioned further evaluation, which will examine the potential for discrimination in right-to-rent checks.

Churches in Stirling and in other parts of Scotland are struggling with the recent change in immigration rules for visiting ministers of religion. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the degree of difficulty this is causing faith groups in Scotland? What can be done to alleviate it?

I was very pleased last week to meet ministers of religion across a wide range of faiths to discuss this specific issue. I am sure Members will agree that when it comes to ministers of religion, as opposed to religious workers, it is imperative that those who are going to preach and conduct pastoral work within any religion need to have a good standard of English, which is why the Home Office is requiring them to apply for a tier 2 visa, as opposed to a tier 5 visa, which of course does not require the language check.

The Windrush crisis did not fall from the sky but was a direct result of the hostile environment, which the High Court has found directly causes discrimination. The Windrush compensation scheme took over a year to set up and has a two-year deadline. Has anybody actually received the money in their bank account yet? How will the Minister ensure that claimants receive speedy compensation? Does she believe that two years is long enough to ensure that nobody who is entitled to compensation loses out?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will, of course, recall that elements of the compliant environment were introduced under the last Labour Government, including the controls introduced in 1999 on temporary and illegal migrant access to benefits and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which introduced controls on local authority social care.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important question about the Windrush compensation scheme, and it is important that we have the scheme up and running and are receiving applications. We have, of course, undertaken to provide regular updates to the Home Affairs Committee, which will provide exactly the information that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Of course, it is a requirement under legislation that the compensation scheme be for a period of two years, but we are looking closely at that. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that should there be a requirement to extend it, which would undoubtedly need primary legislation, we would be happy to consider that.

Violent Crime: Young People

Diverting young people away from crime is at the heart of our 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, for example, we are investing £220 million in early intervention schemes—a record amount.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. We all know that instances of violent crime in urban centres such as London get the most media attention, but sadly we are also seeing our share of violent crime in my coastal constituency. We had one robbery at knifepoint and one serious assault in the same area of the town in the past week. Following a campaign that I led in Essex, we have seen 12 more officers on the streets of Clacton. They work so hard, but what more can be done to prevent young people in areas such as my constituency from turning towards violent crime?

My hon. Friend has led an excellent local campaign and I commend him for it. As he will know, Essex police has received £1.7 million from the £100 million extra funding to tackle serious violence that was recently announced. In addition, his local police and crime commissioner has been provisionally allocated a further £1.16 million for a violence reduction unit. He may also welcome the £660,000 allocated to Essex from the early intervention youth fund.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating N-Act, in my constituency, which has toured the schools producing plays that have a profound effect on young people, meaning that they do not get involved in gangs, and Gorgui Thiam, a Senegalese sports coach whose work has been very effective in breaking up violent gangs through the power of sport?

I happily join my hon. Friend in commending that work. The work being done there locally and similar work across the country shows the power of early intervention. That is why we have set up funding to support more and more schemes like that, both through the early intervention youth fund and the youth endowment fund.

Of course we all join in the celebration of the power of sport as a positive force, be it, for example, tennis, cricket or indeed football. [Interruption.] And lots of other sports to boot—netball, hockey, rounders and athletics. We also celebrate those who teach sport, and those who broadcast it and write about it, one of whom I spy not very far from me at this every moment—the great Richard Evans. [Interruption.] That will do for now.

21. Reducing school exclusions is key to tackling this problem. Will the Home Secretary join the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary to co-fund high-quality intervention for young men who are falling out of school and being excluded from school between the ages of 13 to 15, which appear to be the key ages when they are at risk of going from pupil referral units to prison? (911937)

The hon. Lady raises an important point and it shows precisely why we are planning to introduce the public health duty—to get more Departments and public agencies to work together in providing early intervention through many different types of programme. She is right to highlight alternative provision and some of the issues associated with it, especially how some of those children, sadly, become the target of gangs, and we are doing more work across government.

22. What is the Home Secretary doing with other Departments in the spending review to fund youth centres properly? That would go some way to tackling youth crime. (911938)

When it comes to early intervention, youth activities, youth clubs and the kind of thing we have just heard about in Southend are the sort of important work that we want to support more. I have talked about the £220 million of early intervention funding, which is a record amount, and it will go towards doing that, supporting some 200 different projects.

You are far too kind, Mr Speaker.

What difference does the Home Secretary believe putting 20,000 more police officers out on the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime, will make in practical terms?

I have long said that we need to tackle crime, especially serious violence, on many fronts, and that means making sure that the police are properly resourced so that we have enough police on the streets. That is why this year we had a record settlement of almost £1 billion, which was voted for and supported by Government Members but rejected by Opposition Members.

Often, the focus is on violent crime in cities, but towns such as ours in West Yorkshire have seen an increase in robberies and antisocial behaviour, and the results of county lines and drug violence, too. Our area has lost nearly half its neighbourhood policing, which the Home Secretary will know has been cut throughout the country. The Home Affairs Committee has called for more police on the beat—we need more police back on the beat—and the Home Secretary has recognised that we need 20,000 more police back on the beat. When does he estimate we will get them?

I very much agree with the right hon. Lady about the need for more police. That is why we had a record settlement this year, which included, for example, more than £28 million extra for her local police force, which is leading to more police officers and more police staff. I have said that we need to go further, and we are discussing that internally in Government to see what more can be done. I hope the right hon. Lady recognises, though, that it is about more than just police; it is about early intervention and understanding some of the underlying causes of crime. I have always recognised the need for more resources and more police.

The Home Secretary referred to the new public health duty. The Opposition agree that it is a good idea in principle, but does the Home Secretary agree with the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, who has said that the change is not enough on its own and who is calling for the next Prime Minister, and perhaps his Chancellor, to ensure that preventive services such as youth services have the right resources? Will the Home Secretary tell us how often the Prime Minister’s knife crime taskforce has actually met?

The right hon. Lady has mentioned an important partner in tackling serious violence, and the Children’s Commissioner is part of the serious violence taskforce and we listen to her important views regularly. Of course, the Children’s Commissioner is right that this issue requires action on many fronts. There is no one single answer—we have talked about resources, new powers, early intervention and, of course, the public health approach—which is why we are working across Government. We have institutionalised that in Government in many ways, including with the taskforce that the Prime Minister set up, which has already met once and is meeting again today.

Extremist Views

Our £63 million “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme provides funding to local community groups that seek to challenge extremist views. Since 2016, we have supported more than 230 civil society groups, which have access to training opportunities and a network of 40 expert counter-extremism community co-ordinators who are embedded in local authorities.

What more can the Government do to publicise those important examples of where communities and community organisations have succeeded in the supply of information that has prevented terrorist plots, saved innocent lives and helped to take people who were at risk of radicalisation away from extremist doctrines?

My right hon. friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have often talked at the Dispatch Box about, for example, the importance of the Prevent programme, which is fundamentally about safeguarding and supporting vulnerable individuals to stop them becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that in just one year, 2017-18, our Channel safeguarding programme supported some 394 individuals, and 181 different community projects that have reached 88,000 different people.

The Home Secretary really should be ashamed of himself. If he comes to a place such as Huddersfield and other towns in West Yorkshire, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has just mentioned, he will find that it is about not only diverting young people from violence, gangs and crime, but tackling extremist views early on. If the Government dismantle local government youth services, they cannot just pass the responsibility across to community associations and think that is okay.

The hon. Gentleman should know that we have done a great deal since 2000 to support community projects, including youth community projects. I mentioned earlier the £63 million that we put into the “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme. That is through the Home Office alone, but much more is going on through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education and local government. He mentions Huddersfield. Just last week, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man called Jamal, who was the victim of racism, a form of extremism, in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency. I had the opportunity to welcome him to our great country and to tell him that what happened to him in Huddersfield in no way represents the people of our great nation.

No, no, no; the right hon. Gentleman is ahead of himself. He is working on the basis that we always stick to time, which is not an unreasonable assumption except that it suffers from the disadvantage in factual terms of being wrong.

Hostile State Activity

Across Government, we are taking a broad range of legislative, diplomatic and operational action to prevent, disrupt and deter hostile state activity.

The right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) will have Topical Question 1 as well, so he will get two bites at the cherry and he will have nothing about which to complain.

A wonderful opportunity! Scarcely cricket, but a wonderful opportunity.

Following the attempted poisonings in Salisbury, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took robust action to secure the dismissal from the United Kingdom and other European countries of Russian spies posing as diplomats. There is some reason to suppose that that network is now being rebuilt. Without asking my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to give details of the work of MI5, may I ask him to give us a reassurance that it is very firmly on the case?

As my right hon. Friend says, I will not comment on any sensitive intelligence matter, but he is right to be concerned about the rise in hostile state activity. There is ongoing activity across Government to ensure that our democracy is protected. We have taken many steps and co-ordinated them across Government and the relevant authorities. He will also be pleased to know that, now that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 is on the statute book, it gives us many more powers to counter hostile state activity.

The Home Secretary will know that police numbers remain key to hostile state activity prevention. I have still not heard an answer to the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) posed—how many extra police officers are going to be recruited, and when, to tackle this important issue?

When it comes to hostile state activity, it is not that police numbers are unimportant, but actually, the key is intelligence and support for our intelligence services, especially for MI5 and the excellent work that it does.

I am enormously tickled to see the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the Father of the House, beetle into the Chamber by walking across the Government Front Bench. I suppose that he was so long an habitué of the Treasury Bench that it may seem a perfectly normal means by which to enter the Chamber, but, in any case, we are delighted to see him.

As I say, we are very pleased to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and we look forward to hearing from him ere long.

Community and Neighbourhood Policing

12. What recent discussions he has had with police and crime commissioners on (a) the merits of and (b) investment in community and neighbourhood policing. (911928)

As funding for the police increases, we have made it clear that we want to see more consistent, proactive neighbourhood policing, which is the cornerstone of the British policing model.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but my police and crime commissioner has cut the number of warranted officers by more than 500 since 2010, and, despite the efforts of my brilliant local police, only two are now allocated to Kidsgrove. We have seen a spike in threatening antisocial behaviour in the past month, with some people now refusing to go to the local park. I will not have no-go areas in my constituency, so what will the Minister do?

I am a bit puzzled by what the hon. Lady says, because I have spoken to her police and crime commissioner, the excellent Matthew Ellis, and he is extremely animated about how he is going to use the additional money from the funding settlement to move 100 more people into neighbourhood policing by the year end and to get behind proactive policing to disrupt crime, including drug dealing, in hotspots. I hope that she welcomes such plans, and she certainly needs to sit down and discuss them with him.

We all agree about the importance of neighbourhood and community policing, but does the Minister agree that effective community policing does not rely on police officers having degrees? Yes, it is critical that we have enough officers; yes, it is crucial that they have common sense; but does he agree with me and other blue collar Conservatives that it is ridiculous to say that all police officers must have a degree, as proposed?

They do not need a degree to go into policing; that is what the apprentice route is for. I know plenty of people with degrees who would make very poor police officers. What we are keen to do is upskill the force and, critically, ensure that the very considerable skills that people coming out of policing have developed are accredited.

18. Northumbria police has lost a quarter of its funding and 1,000 police officers due to Government cuts. Labour’s candidate in the police and crime commissioner elections on Thursday is so concerned that she has raised a petition to reverse the cuts. Will the Minister send the next Prime Minister a message that he cares about community policing and sign Kim’s petition? (911934)

Northumbria police has had its funding increased by £18 million in a process that the hon. Lady opposed. The excellent Conservative candidate in those elections—Robbie Moore, whom I have met—is absolutely committed to neighbourhood policing, as are this Government. We are making police funding a priority.

Investment in neighbourhood policing looks set to become even more difficult following last month’s Supreme Court ruling that the Government’s post-2015 pension changes were unlawful. This ruling affects tens of thousands of public servants, including police officers, who have no negotiating rights and have had these discriminatory changes imposed on them. Will there be an industrial resolution to this mess for officers who have been left in limbo, and will funding for policing be protected when the Treasury finally brings forward measures to remedy this illegal discrimination?

The Government have made very clear the priority that we attach to police funding. We are increasing funding, through council tax and other measures, by up to £1 billion this year. The Home Secretary and I have made it quite clear that police funding is our priority, as have the candidates for the roles of leader of our party and the next Prime Minister. In relation to the very important judgment—it is extremely significant—against which the Government cannot appeal, it is for my colleagues in the Treasury to make a considered response.

We are running late, but I want to take the questions from the hon. Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse

Ending domestic abuse remains an absolute priority, which is why I am delighted to announce that tomorrow we will be launching the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which will contain a groundbreaking series of measures to promote awareness, support victims and children, tackle perpetrators and improve services.

I thank the Minister for answering my supplementary question before I had asked it—I am delighted that the Bill will be introduced tomorrow. Can she confirm that it will support my constituents in Daventry who have experienced or been victims of domestic abuse, and protect others from experiencing it in the future?

Very much so. I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done to raise with me the issues in his constituency. We are delighted that the Bill will be introduced tomorrow. There is also a package of non-legislative measures that will be critical in ensuring that we are supporting victims, preventing further opportunities for abuse and, also importantly, helping children who live in abusive households.

Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the new and excellent Women Out West centre in Whitehaven, which is having a huge impact on women and their families in my constituency in partnership with the Copeland hub, which she recently visited?

I would be delighted to commend the centre. It was a pleasure to visit the Copeland hub—a great example of multi-agency working, which, as everyone in the House knows, is essential if we are to tackle this pernicious crime of domestic abuse effectively across our country.

It is great news that the Bill is going to be published tomorrow—real credit to the Minister personally for sticking with this. Can she confirm that she has listened to the survivors of abuse, particularly of emotional and economic abuse, through the draft process and strengthened the final Bill as a result?

Very much so, and may I thank the hon. Gentleman, too, for all his work and his lobbying of me to support and protect victims of domestic abuse? I must also record my thanks to the Joint Committee —a brilliant Committee of parliamentarians from both Houses who scrutinised the draft Bill in great detail, heard lots of evidence from incredibly important stakeholders and produced a report, to which we will publish a response tomorrow alongside the Bill.

Topical Questions

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.