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Home Department

Volume 667: debated on Monday 28 October 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

Leaving the EU: Unaccompanied Child Refugees in Europe

1. If she will make it her policy to maintain the rights of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe to family reunion in the UK in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (900158)

10. If she will make it her policy to maintain the rights of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe to family reunion in the UK in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (900167)

The UK has a long and proud tradition of offering protection to vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution, and the Government take the welfare of vulnerable children seriously. We support the principle of family unity wholeheartedly, and the Government are committed to meeting our obligation under section 17 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to seek to negotiate an agreement with the EU on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

The House of Lords Home Affairs Committee recommendation is to temporarily maintain the current rights for family reunion in the event of a no-deal exit to avoid legal limbo. Will the Home Secretary assure this House that the Government will do that to protect vulnerable families in the event of a no deal?

I would like to reiterate that the Government are committed to getting a deal and, with that, fulfilling our section 17 obligation to move forward in the right way. As I have already made clear, we are committed to ensuring that we protect those who are vulnerable and, importantly, that we continue to have high standards when it comes to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

I hope it is in order for me to wish everybody happy Diwali. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

At least one third of all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in England are cared for in London, but London Councils has identified a £32 million funding shortfall. Will the Government commit to fully funding those unsustainable care costs and to reforming the national transfer scheme, so that local authorities can continue to provide the high-quality care and support that vulnerable children need?

I, too, would like to wish a very happy Diwali to all Hindus across the United Kingdom, and to the hon. Gentleman and others.

The hon. Gentleman recognises and highlights the fact that London authorities do indeed deal with a significant number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I would like him to know that I have had representations directly from London Councils and London authorities. We are looking, as we always do, at the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who come through the system, but also at the pressures that that puts on local authority budgets.

I am sure the whole House welcomes the generous approach of the Government to child refugees in Europe. Will the Government apply the same generosity to child refugees who are British citizens in Syria?

My right hon. Friend highlights a current and pressing issue: child refugees in Syria. I know that other colleagues in the House, including the Foreign Secretary, have spoken about this issue recently. We review on a case-by-case basis. I should just say for the benefit of the House that every case has to be looked at individually. They are difficult cases and we have to look at all the backgrounds behind all the children.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that whatever course of action we take, we must do everything possible to discourage people from sending vulnerable young children on unaccompanied journeys through Africa, Asia and Europe?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. All hon. Members will recognise that we see far too much tragedy in relation to children fleeing war-torn parts of the world. We need to do more in-country and we have to work upstream with our international partners.

My constituent Helen Tekeste fled Ethiopia in 2015 and came to the UK. In the process, she was separated from her two children. Thankfully, her 11-year-old son was able to join her two years ago, but her 13-year-old daughter’s application has twice been refused. Will the Home Secretary meet me to discuss the case?

I will of course meet the hon. Lady. As she will recognise, everything is looked at from casework on a case-by-case basis, but I will be more than happy to discuss that case with her.

The Government have stated that they will seek to negotiate a future agreement with the EU on plans for family reunion, but that refers to separated children only. The Home Office’s own statistics show that in 2018 over 1,000 adults and children were reunited with their family members in the UK under the Dublin regulations, but the majority of those would not be covered by the Government’s commitment. What preparations, if any, have been made by the Government to ensure that safe and legal routes for refugee family reunion continue to operate to the same standards and provisions as under the EU law?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are very clear that when we leave the EU we will leave the Dublin III regulation, but we will continue to participate during the transition period if we have a deal. The fact of the matter is that discussions are under way across Government. It is important for the House to recognise that this is not just from the Home Office’s perspective, but that it is part of our ongoing negotiations with the European Union, which are, of course, led by the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Police Officer Numbers

2. What recent assessment her Department has made of the adequacy of the number of police officers in England and Wales. (900159)

The Prime Minister has made it one of his chief priorities to strengthen police numbers over the next three years by 20,000, starting with 6,000 by the end of March 2021.

Gwent police’s budget has been cut by 40% in real terms since 2010, so the Government’s plans to recruit will only take us back to where we were in 2010, if that. What assurances have Ministers given Gwent police that this programme and, importantly, pension costs will be funded after the first year?

I am happy to say that Gwent police are already up 42 police officers on last year’s budget settlement. A target of a further 62 has been allocated in the latest funding round. Announcements about police funding will be made as usual in early December, and I am confident that there will be smiles all round at Gwent police when we do that.

17. The police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall is over in Portcullis House today, demonstrating innovation in rural policing. It is fair to say that rural policing has not always had its fair share. I ask the Minister whether Cornwall and, more importantly, North Cornwall can have its fair share of the 20,000 officers to make sure that our policing can be brought up to speed. (900174)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that the excellent police and crime commissioner—I have met her several times now—for Cornwall is over in Portcullis House, demonstrating what a great job the police do in that part of the world. As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, there has already been an initial allocation of police officers to his county force and there will be more news to come. We are in conversation with the policing community more widely about the allocation of police officers for years 2 and 3 of the uplift programme. Once that is concluded, I will let him know.

At my weekend surgery, a constituent who had phoned the police time after time about neighbours from hell living above him said that he realised, at one moment of desperation, that he had a hammer in his hand. Had he used that hammer against those neighbours from hell, the police would have turned up—no doubt very quickly—and he would have been the object of their attention, not the neighbours from hell. When I meet the Minister tomorrow to discuss extra police for Birkenhead, will he give a commitment not only in terms of numbers but that the police should stand on the side of decent citizens, not on the side of neighbours from hell?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the police standing on the side of decent citizens. When I hear distress calls from across the country about people who are not getting the response that they require from the police, I refer everybody to the police and crime commissioner for that area, who is responsible for performance and priority in the police force in question. Happily, the right hon. Gentleman will know that 200 police officers have been allocated from the uplift to Merseyside police, as a target for it to recruit over the next 12 months or so, and there will be more to come when we settle years 2 and 3. Like him, I want to see more police officers patrolling in Birkenhead, particularly in Hamilton Square, which holds fond memories for me as a child.

Police officers are on the frontline of defeating terrorism. The Minister will join me and all others here in welcoming the news of the demise of Baghdadi, the leader of the evil, vile and barbaric organisation Daesh. My question to the Minister is this: military action alone will not defeat Daesh—in 2015, I led the campaign to get the terminology right—so what step will he take to ensure that further work goes on to defeat the idea, the ideology and the appeal, which suck in vulnerable individuals from around the world and here in the UK?

I well remember my hon. Friend’s persistent questioning from the Back Benches of former Prime Ministers to get the terminology right about this mission. He is quite right that we all need to work together on a multi-stranded approach to prevent young people from being seduced into these evil ideologies and practices across the world, and the police are at the forefront of that. I hope and believe that some of the measures put in place to bind the police as closely as possible into society will assist in that mission.

In July on the steps of Downing Street, and again in his heavily criticised speech in front of new police recruits in West Yorkshire, the Prime Minister promised 20,000 new police officers for the frontline, but a leaked Home Office letter suggests that as many as 7,000 of these will not be going to local forces. With the Budget now scrapped, it is anyone’s guess if and how these officers will be recruited, so will the Minister tell us: will every one of those 20,000 officers be going to the frontline, as promised by the Prime Minister—yes or no?

The hon. Lady makes a good point about the allocation of police officers across the piece of policing, and I know that every single warranted police officer regards themselves as being on the frontline, whatever job they do. She will know that we have allocated the first 6,000 police officers to territorial policing, but there is a conversation to be had about further allocations, specifically to serious and organised crime, through the National Crime Agency, and to counter-terrorism policing, and about the balance between those and the territorial forces. I would not regard any one of those functions as non-frontline.

County Lines Drugs Gangs

We are determined to end county lines and have announced a £20 million package of initial measures to do so. This will expand the national county lines co-ordination centre, help to target the transport network and go after the profits from this crime, and support young people to exit county lines.

North Yorkshire police have had recent success arresting six people in a county lines operation in Harrogate. Breaking the gangs that operate the county lines is obviously critical, but so is supporting the addicts, who are at the end of the line, and those exploited into dealing. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is through tackling both supply and demand that progress will be made in dealing with county lines?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I gather that he was recently involved with his local constabulary in the apprehension of a drug dealer on East Parade in Harrogate—I am glad to see he is on the frontline too. He is right that we need a balanced approach to tackling the harm that drugs cause in our society. While that includes enforcement and disrupting the business model of those involved in promulgating this awful trade, we also have to provide support to young people to get them out of the habit, or even to prevent them from getting into the trade in the first place. Significant resources are being devoted to this, not least through the early intervention youth fund, which is putting hundreds of millions of pounds behind these kinds of projects.

The Home Office has a number of UK-wide initiatives to combat the range of problem drug use factors, including county lines—we might even refer to it as country lines, because it affects the whole United Kingdom, and there are people suffering from drug gangs coming as far into the north-east as Banff and Buchan. With the SNP’s stated policy of decriminalising possession and consumption of controlled drugs, what effect does the Minister think that such a differentiation in Scotland would have on these UK-wide efforts?

My hon. Friend was present at the Scottish Affairs Committee when we discussed this matter in some detail, so he will know that my view is that having a different regime in Scotland from that in England and Wales could cause significant problems for Scotland, not least because it would become a target for those wishing to promote the trade more easily and running county lines from England into Scotland. There are times when we are four nations and times when we are one country, and on drugs we should be one.

Sussex police were recently in receipt of a Home Office grant to tackle county lines drug offences. Will my hon. Friend update the House please?

My hon. Friend is a doughty defender of Sussex police and a great supporter, I know, of the brilliant police and crime commissioner there, Katy Bourne, who is doing a fantastic job. He is right that Sussex police have been in the forefront of the fight against county lines and have received significant funding of £900,000 through the early intervention youth fund and £1.3 million to support police operations in the area. I am happy to say that in the latest week of intensification of action against county lines, which I hope he noted the other week, Sussex police made 29 arrests and safeguarded 50 vulnerable individuals.

I am deeply concerned about the county lines gangs from Bradford and Liverpool which are bringing drugs into my constituency. How does my hon. Friend expect the £20 million funding package that has been announced to stop those gangs, and to support victims in Morecambe and Lunesdale?

I too am concerned about the situation in Morecambe, not least because, like Birkenhead, it has happy memories for me of my childhood. I am keen to sit down and talk to my hon. Friend about what more we can do in Morecambe, not least because we are in conversation with Merseyside police about the action that we want to take on county lines. Obviously, many of the lines into Morecambe will be run from my home town. It is a town in a particular position, because there are limited points of access, over bridges and by road, which gives the police a significant opportunity to identify and apprehend criminals before they even get there.

Our July Select Committee report warned that county lines were spreading violence and drug networks into not just cities but towns. In Castleford, in my constituency, where I called a meeting with the police, local schools and community representatives, there is a real sense that the problem is getting worse in our towns, with residents reporting overt drug dealing on the streets and in town centres. People are concerned not just about the halving of our neighbourhood police, but about the fact that the youth endowment fund that the Minister has announced is tiny by comparison with the cuts in the youth service. Does he accept that there is a real perception across the country that the Government’s drug strategy simply is not working, and that unless they invest in the youth service as well, they will not turn this problem around?

As the right hon. Lady will have heard, I did, in answer to an earlier question, talk about a balanced drugs strategy that takes into account both enforcement and youth intervention. However, there is always more that we can do. Alongside the expansion of the county lines co-ordination centre and the action that we shall be taking over the next few weeks as part of the general uplift relating to the £20 million of funding that we have received, we have established a county lines group at the Home Office which is bringing together all the partners we think can have an impact, not just in policing but beyond. We need a real push, because we are under instruction from the Prime Minister to bring this phenomenon to an end.

19. Last week the Health and Social Care Committee, of which I am a member, published a report recommending a radical change in the UK drugs policy—a change from a criminal justice approach to a health approach. Given the high rate of drug-related deaths in Scotland, does the Minister accept that the current UK policy is simply not working, and that a new approach is desperately needed? (900176)

As I said to the Scottish Affairs Committee, my mind is open on what more we can do, but there are plenty of things that should be done and are not being done. One of the common phenomena in countries that have been successful in dealing with drug-related problems is investment in health treatment and recovery, but, sadly, that has not happened in Scotland over the last few years. As I said to the Committee, there are many things that the Scottish Government can and should be doing. Given the scale of the problem in that part of the United Kingdom, I am surprised that they are not putting more effort, and more resources, into treatment and recovery.

We have heard twice about the Minister’s early days as a youth, including in Liverpool, but the fact is that he will have to grow up fast, because the wicked people behind drugs in this country are big gangsters, and those who killed the 39 innocent people in that refrigerated van are big players. When will the Government tackle the wicked men and women who run crime in this country, and do it effectively?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has noted some of the recent successes that we have had in dealing with some of the really big gangs who promulgate this trade—not least the National Crime Agency’s biggest ever seizure of drugs, which were being shipped in, funnily enough, in Liverpool, in fruit and veg lorries. Nevertheless, there is always much more to do. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be encouraged by the fact that the Home Secretary and I, along with the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), who is responsible for dealing with serious and organised crime, are working closely together to see what more we can do in order to do exactly as the hon. Gentleman says, and take this business out from front to back.

County lines operations have invaded every town and city across the UK, and they do not discriminate when it comes to the lives they affect. South Wales police, my own excellent constabulary, are seeing children as young as 13 arrested for involvement in county lines. We must protect the young and vulnerable from this exploitation, and no matter what the Government think they are doing, it is not enough. We need to do more to protect young people from this dreadful county lines epidemic.

The hon. Lady is exactly right. Thankfully, her local police force will have more police officers next year to help with this effort, and I know that one of the key focuses of all police forces involved in dealing with this awful phenomenon is the safeguarding of young people. Obviously, I will be working closely with colleagues from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education to see what more preventive work we can do. I believe that there is quite a lot more we can do around the disruption of the business model, to make it more difficult for people to deal drugs and to launder the money involved in the trade. That would make them less likely to promote it in smaller towns and villages and more likely to concentrate instead on urban areas, where we can get to work on the issue.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner

4. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of making the role of domestic abuse commissioner a full-time position. (900161)

We were delighted to announce Nicole Jacobs as our designate domestic abuse commissioner. The role was advertised as part time because we understood from advice from recruitment advisers that that would ensure the widest range of candidates. However, we have said in our response to the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, and in the House on Second Reading, that we have an open mind on whether the role requires a full-time position. The Bill Committee will start its deliberations tomorrow, and no doubt we will look into that question in detail.

I welcome the appointment of Nicole Jacobs to the role of championing the needs of survivors of domestic abuse. As a social worker, I know that children are at serious risk of long-term physical and mental health problems as a result of witnessing domestic violence, so what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the commissioner is given the necessary powers and resources to properly support the one in seven children and young people under the age of 18 who have lived with domestic abuse at some point?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this matter. We know that domestic abuse is one of the primary adverse childhood experiences that can have such a terrible knock-on effect on a young person’s future life as well as on their own relationships. That is one of the many reasons why we are giving the commissioner powers to require information from public authorities and to oblige public authorities and central Government to respond to her recommendations within 56 days of her making them.

I like the Minister a great deal, but what she has just said about being advised by the recruitment agency that she would get the widest range of candidates only if the position were part time is hogwash. We know that abusers and those who exercise coercive control do not do that on a part-time basis. This needs to be a full-time position, and I hope that when this is discussed in Committee, the Minister will see sense and the position will become full time.

I thank the hon. Lady; the feeling is mutual, and I look forward to working with her on the Bill Committee. The decision was made in the best of faith, and the joy of appointing the designate commissioner ahead of the House’s scrutiny of the Bill is that these issues can be teased out. As I say, we are approaching this with an open mind, and we will see what the evidence says.

EU Settlement Scheme

The EU settlement scheme is designed to be simple and straightforward for people to apply to. The Government are also putting in grant support for a wide range of voluntary and community organisations, as well as digital and telephone support through the resolution centre.

As a remainer, I wish that the EU citizens in my constituency had not been put in this position. As the Minister has mentioned, applications can be made by phone or iPad, but connectivity in parts of my constituency is absolute mince, to use a Scottish expression. I have raised this time and again—we would be better off with two cans and a length of string. Cannot the Government see that this lack of connectivity militates against the EU citizens who want to remain in my constituency?

People do not have to do things digitally. They can speak to people or they can send things in. We also have several hundred centres that people can go to. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could join us in encouraging the Scottish National party to support the Prime Minister’s work to see broadband rolled out more widely across the country, so that Scotland can benefit just as the rest of the UK can.

I am delighted that the settlement scheme is progressing at pace, with 2 million or so people signing up. However, some individuals in my constituency really benefit from face-to-face contact, so what steps are being taken, through pop-up shops or whatever, to ensure that they can get the vital hands-on support they need?

The Home Office is undertaking a programme of work through voluntary organisations, and the £3.75 million scheme includes working with people at pop-up events. I visited one in Great Yarmouth that is doing excellent work with communities so that people can see how simple the system is and are able to apply, and we encourage more people to do so. We have now reached 2.2 million applications, and I look forward to that number growing quickly.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Introducing digital-only proof of status will cause many problems for EU citizens, and low digital users in particular. The Home Office’s own assessment of creating a digital-only “prove your right to work” service said that there was

“very strong evidence that this would cause low digital users a lot of issues”,

so does the Minister agree that the same will apply to the EU settlement scheme? Will he reconsider the provision of physical documents?

People applying through the settlement scheme obviously get an email confirming that the application has been processed and dealt with. The process is being done digitally as we are moving to a digital system more generally. It is the right way, it works for employers, and the fact that 2.2 million people have already applied through the scheme in just a few months confirms that.

In Scotland, the Scottish Government have taken a number of steps to reassure EU citizens, and the First Minister has launched a “Stay in Scotland” campaign, which provides practical advice and support to EU citizens during this uncertain time. The Scottish Government have also announced funding for a new programme in Scotland called Settled, which is designed to target vulnerable EU citizens and offer them help with applications to the scheme. Does the Minister welcome that initiative by the Scottish Government? Will he be doing anything similar in England?

The hon. and learned Lady should not be using that kind of language. There is no reason for anybody to have any concerns or be unsettled. We have been clear that we want EU citizens to stay, and that is why we introduced a scheme to ensure that we protect their rights and put £9 million into work with voluntary groups in addition to the £3.75 million to ensure that we get the message out. I am happy to work with anybody who wants to ensure that we are spreading the message positively and properly. Some 2.2 million people have already applied through the scheme, and I look forward to seeing all 3.5 million people processed as quickly as possible.

The money that the Minister has made available for voluntary groups is welcome, but does he recognise the specific concern around hard-to-reach groups, such as elderly people in care homes and people working in rural areas, in agriculture and in construction? Does he agree that there is a need for real outreach to ensure that all EU citizens have a chance to clarify their position in law?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. We are working with voluntary groups and through the EU settlement resolution centre to ensure that we reach all those vulnerable and harder-to-reach groups, particularly in rural areas. For example, we are working with local communities by holding pop-up events, such as the one that I saw in my constituency, to reach out to as many as possible. People have until December 2020 to apply to the scheme, and it would be good to get 3.5 million through as quickly as possible.

The Minister will be aware of the genuine concern among EU nationals, their families and their employers about the workings of the EU settlement scheme. He will also be aware, as will Members on both sides of the House, about the general problems with delays at the Home Office. For instance, the proportion of leave to remain applications taking more than six months doubled between 2014 and 2017. The Minister correctly said that more than 2 million applications to the EU settlement scheme have now been made, but 18% of them have not been resolved. The Minister caused concern recently when he said that EU nationals who fail to apply before 2020 could be deported. Will he give the House an assurance that every effort will be made to reach out to those who have yet to apply and that applications will be processed promptly?

The short answer is yes. Just to give a bit of flavour to that, there are no delays with the EU settlement scheme; the right hon. Lady conflated two completely different schemes in her question. People’s status under the EU settlement scheme is decided very quickly, and 2.2 million people have now applied through that process. In the whole of the process, only two people out of the set of figures that she gave have been refused, on grounds of criminality, which is absolutely right.

Marriage: 16 and 17-year-olds

6. If she will bring forward legislative proposals to end marriages involving 16 and 17-year-olds. (900163)

We have listened carefully to the debate on the legal age of marriage and continue to keep it under review. Tackling forced marriage is one of this Government’s priorities, and I am proud that we made it an offence in 2014.

The Minister is aware that 350 children a year are married in this country. We do not know how many of those are forced marriages, nor do we know how many unregistered or overseas marriages there are. The Minister can change this instantly, and change the culture around it, by making the legal age of marriage 18. Will she do it?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, knowing as I do the work that she is doing on this. We are very much looking at the evidence. In 2016, the last year for which we have figures, 179 people aged 16 to 17 entered marriage, out of nearly half a million who got married that year. In a way, the hon. Lady’s question demonstrates the complexities of this difficult subject, but I am very keen to work with her and other Members to look at the evidence on this important issue.

Does the Minister really believe that it is still appropriate for children to marry, with parental consent, before they have completed mandatory education or training up to the age of 18?

My hon. Friend has rather demonstrated the paradox in age legislation in our country. I take some comfort from the fact that marriages under the age of 18 are on the decline in this country. We know that that is sadly not the case elsewhere in the world, but I am happy to work with her and other Members from across the House on this difficult and thorny but important topic.

Place-based Crime Prevention

There is strong evidence that place-based approaches can be an effective means of preventing a wide range of crimes, including acquisitive offences such as burglary and theft. That is why, on 1 October, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the £25 million safer streets fund, which will support the communities worst affected by such crimes to implement effective situational prevention, such as street lighting and home security.

Old Market Place and Rutland Street in Great Grimsby have both experienced incredibly violent knife crime, including the on-street killing of a homeless man. Will Operation Galaxy, launched by Humberside police today, look at what changes need to be made to the built environment so that my constituents can feel safe again? Can the Minister also say how much money Humberside police will be getting out of the £25 million announced?

The hon. Lady is quite right that, as I said in my previous answer, small design changes or equipment such as CCTV can have a huge impact on crime. We know, for example, that alley gating can result in a 43% reduction in burglary—I was sorry to read that she was burgled earlier this year. We will encourage applications to the fund from the areas that are most significantly affected, particularly by acquisitive crime, on the basis that the worst affected 5% of areas account for 23% of all offences. I look forward to entertaining a bid from Humberside police.

The Minister will be aware that there is a plethora of evidence that we can design out crime, both in the built environment and through the design of objects. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care recently launched the national academy for social prescribing, to link healthcare with the arts and creative industries. Can the Minister update us on the work that the Home Office is doing with our world-beating creative and arts industries to help to combat crime?

In typical fashion, the right hon. Gentleman poses an intriguing challenge, which I shall have to research in the Department to find out whether there has been any impact. However, one area that I know we could do more work with, and that is a significant contributor to the cultural life of the nation, is the architectural profession, which often does not make crime prevention a top requirement when putting in place developments, but very often should.

One of the greatest casualties of a decade of cuts to policing has been seen in the breakdown in partnerships between local authorities and mental health trusts. So what discussions is the Minister having with those departments to ensure that there is investment in those services and shared funding to move them forward?

The hon. Lady is right that the rise in the incidence of mental ill health has caused significant problems across the country, not least to the police. The frontline response teams I have met in the past few months in this job have all highlighted to me the problems they have in dealing with mental health cases. However, the problem has been sorted in some parts of the country, not least in my county of Hampshire, where there is a good relationship between the organisations, such that they are functioning well. I would like to take that best practice and spread it.

The Minister mentioned being able to design out crime. What more can be done by linking up with local councils to ensure that not only buildings but the landscaping around them are designed to try to minimise crime and make places more pleasant to visit?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely good point. A well functioning local criminal justice partnership, which will involve the local authority as well as the police and other bodies involved in crime fighting, will often look at exactly these kinds of issues. I hope that as we move forward in the police uplift programme one area of focus will be a regional approach to problem solving in policing. I would be more than happy to meet her to discuss this if she has any specific ideas.

Firefighter Numbers

We are confident that fire and rescue services have the resources they need to do their important work. Operational decisions are for each fire and rescue authority to make as part of the integrated risk management planning process, and it is for individual fire and rescue services to make decisions on the number of firefighters they employ.

Since Grenfell, London Fire Brigade has undertaken focused and enhanced visits to high-rise buildings, using both station-based crews and fire safety inspecting officers. Inspecting officers are highly skilled individuals who ensure that those with responsibility for buildings are taking the necessary steps to uphold fire safety standards. What is the Minister doing to support brigades in recruiting and retaining officers in these essential specialist roles?

Obviously the Grenfell inquiry is due to publish shortly, and we will all have to learn lessons from its conclusions. The hon. Lady is right to point towards prevention as a key part of the mission of the fire service, and one in which there has been enormous success in the past decade or more in driving down the number of fires attended to, in particular, and incidents across the board more generally. We have secured an extremely good financial settlement for the fire service across the country this year, and I have urged fire chiefs, not least in the light of the first set of inspections for some time, to invest in prevention.

I certainly support the Government in recruiting an extra 20,000 police officers, but may I ask the Minister to look again at the resources for the fire service? In West Yorkshire, and I suspect in other parts of the country, they are extremely stretched at the moment. The number of people on a fire engine is going down to try to mask over those stretched resources. Will he look at that again, because the fire service needs extra resources, just as the police do?

I would expect nothing less than a challenge from the champion of Shipley on my portfolio, just as he has challenged me in my previous portfolios. I would be more than happy to look at particular problems in his local fire service if he believes there are any, but we have recently instituted and had the results of the first inspection regime of fire and rescue services for some time. It has been reassuring in parts, but it does point towards particular areas we need to address. As I say, we had a good settlement from the Treasury this year from the financial point of view, and it will be for local fire and rescue chiefs to decide how they invest that extra money.

Police Officer Numbers: Sussex

The Government are committed to recruiting 20,000 new police officers over the next three years, with energy and pace. This reflects the biggest recruitment drive in decades, and I know my hon. Friend will welcome the recent announcement that Sussex police have been allocated another 129 officers in the first year of the programme.

I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. Will she join me in welcoming the announcement from Sussex police that they intend to use their extra funding to reintroduce PCSOs across towns and villages in Lewes?

My hon. Friend is right—and yes, the Government are more than supportive of police plans to increase the number of PCSOs and their presence across towns and villages, in her constituency in Sussex and across the country. This is all about how, through our new police recruitment drive, we can do more to keep the public safe and increase police visibility.

16. I am delighted to hear about the increase in the numbers of police in Sussex, but will the Home Secretary also reassure me that the London Borough of Merton will see an increase in its officers? Will she support my campaign to keep the police station in Wimbledon open, so that those police officers have somewhere to operate out of? (900173)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know that he will welcome the increase in police numbers—more than 1,300 for the Metropolitan police service. Of course, the issue is now all about local police presence and ensuring that more officers are on the beat. That is exactly what will happen in his borough.


14. What steps she is taking to provide security and law enforcement organisations with the tools they need to counter terrorism. (900171)

It is crucial that our security and law enforcement organisations have the tools needed to keep our people safe. A review of powers was undertaken as part of Contest, our updated comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. In February this year, the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 received Royal Assent. It ensures that our security and intelligence agencies, prosecutors and the judiciary have the powers they need to counter the threat.

Identifying indoctrination by Islamists and similar fanatics is essential to providing the good order that Edmund Burke characterised as the hallmark of good government. As the Minister will know, the Prevent duty on local authorities obliges them to play their part in that effort. Mindful of the fresh guidance that has been published—I have it here—will the Minister now review the practice of those public bodies, identify what is going well and sanction those who are not doing their duty?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He was instrumental in the introduction and delivery of the Prevent duty, to the benefit of everybody. There is obviously work for us to do on extremism, including the unwanted growth in right-wing extremism, which we want to bring down. We are therefore always reviewing how the programmes work, to ensure that everybody is kept as safe as possible.

International action is, of course, required to tackle terrorism. Paragraph 78 of the political declaration, as it stands, refers to a “balanced security partnership” after Brexit. But the reality is that, three years on, the Government are no further forward in agreeing the security treaty promised by the former Prime Minister and have not put forward any ideas about how to reconcile the UK’s position as an EU third country with the level of security co-operation that we have now. Given the continuing risk of no deal, is not the Government’s attitude to our future security arrangements little short of negligent?

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did not vote for the programme motion the other day, so that we could actually have got on with the withdrawal agreement Bill, to get towards delivering on a deal with the EU and ensure that we get a good outcome. The Government’s work to prepare for no deal has continued, with meetings on a daily basis, to ensure that we are ready for when we leave. We have excellent agencies and good working across Europe—and, indeed, globally: the work we do for Interpol also plays an important part as we go forward.

Low-level Crimes

We expect all crimes reported to the police to be investigated appropriately. Chief constables and police and crime commissioners are responsible for ensuring that cases are investigated properly. Together with the Crown Prosecution Service, they must make sure that charges are brought in cases where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but section 176 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes theft from a shop of goods worth £200 or less a summary-only offence. According to the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, shoplifting crime has increased since then. Will the Minister have a look at what is going on and what can be done to reduce retail theft?

My hon. Friend has been a persistent champion for those in the retail trade who are subject to crime. I will be more than happy to look at the point that he raises—not least because if the data shows that there is a problem, we have to do something about it.

I would just say to my hon. Friend that when Westfield shopping centre opened in west London, there was a concern about crime. I recommended that all employers there gave time off to some of their shop staff so that they could become special constables, on the basis that there would then always be a police officer on duty.

I am sure the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) is greatly gratified to know that he is not merely a champion, but a persistent one at that.

It feels, unfortunately, as though the police and the Crown Prosecution Service still think that an assault on an emergency worker is a low-level crime and that, frankly, magistrates often say, “Well, a little bit of violence is just in the way of doing your job.” Surely, we must reverse this trend. When there is an assault on an emergency worker, it is an assault on us all.

I think that the hon. Gentleman speaks for us all. In my view, anyone who raises a hand in malice against an emergency worker should face the severest possible penalties.

Topical Questions

I would like to begin by remembering the 39 people who died in horrific circumstances last week trying to reach the United Kingdom. The thoughts of the whole country are with them and their families, and I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services who responded with such professionalism. Our focus now is to bring the perpetrators to justice.

May I welcome the recent increase in police numbers across Warwickshire, which will see 191 new officers recruited? My constituents will particularly welcome the creation of a rural crime team in north Warwickshire. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating our excellent police and crime commissioner, Philip Seccombe, and chief constable, Martin Jelley, on this fantastic initiative, which will make our local area even safer than it already is?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise his chief constable and his police and crime commissioner. I wish to extend thanks to them for everything they have been doing with regard to making a difference in the local community. That also means being part of our scheme and initiative to recruit 20,000 more police officers, and so I absolutely welcome that.

We are more than two years on from the Grenfell Tower fire and insufficient regulatory reforms and continued cuts to fire services have not given the local community any reason to trust this Government. There must be scrutiny of processes and resources, not just blaming of individuals. Advice to residents on the night was to stay put as part of a strategy of containment. We need to be absolutely clear here that this is Government policy; not fire brigade policy or a policy dreamed up by firefighters. As promised after the Lakanal House inquest in 2013—that is six years ago—will the Minister commission a review into the stay-put policy as a matter of urgency?

As you may recall, Mr Speaker, I had some responsibility for the enormous changes that are required in building regulation and fire safety procedure when I was Minister for Housing. I dispute the hon. Lady’s representation that nothing has happened. A huge amount of work is going on under the auspices of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that that kind of thing can never happen again. Having said that, the inquiry will be announcing shortly, and no doubt there will be implications for us all about what more lessons can be learned.

T3. Following time spent patrolling Leigh-on-Sea Broad- way on Friday with two excellent police officers, I ask my right hon. Friend to look now at the availability of accommodation for people with mental health issues detained under section 136 and perhaps at some simplifying of criminal behaviour orders. (900185)

I thank my hon. Friend for going out on patrol and obviously supporting Essex police in everything they do locally. He is right, and we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to consider recommendations from the Mental Health Act 1983 review so that people in mental health crisis can receive the right support that they need. We should stop criminalising these individuals and make sure that we are working across all institutions and local communities to ensure that they have the right kind of help and support.

T2. [R] Claire Throssell’s abusive husband murdered her two young boys, Jack and Paul, by burning down their family home. It is impossible to put into words the pain that she suffered as a consequence, so does the Home Secretary or the Minister agree with Claire that we urgently need the Domestic Abuse Bill to put an end to aggressive cross-examining and to ensure that children’s voices are heard in the family courts, so that no one else has to suffer the same pain that Claire has? (900184)

I have had the privilege of meeting Claire. Indeed, her Member of Parliament also set out Claire’s case and the names of Jack and Paul on Second Reading of this important Bill. We very much take on board the points that Claire and others make about the workings of the family courts. There are already measures in the Bill to address some of those concerns, but we are very much looking for the Bill Committee and the House to scrutinise our proposals so that we can ensure that the family courts are a place of justice for victims of domestic abuse and their children.

T4. Rural areas of the Calder Valley such as Stainland, Todmorden and Ripponden have seen a rise in crime in recent years. The announcement of 20,000 extra police officers is very welcome news indeed, but can my right hon. Friend tell me what the strategy is in the meantime to tackle the rise in rural crime? (900186)

My hon. Friend is right. Rural crime blights rural communities and harms the rural economy. The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s rural affairs strategy is intended to address exactly this issue, by supporting rural communities and providing a greater focus for policing. I urge West Yorkshire police to invest in rural crime prevention through the new funding for police recruitment, training and engagement.

T6. I welcome the new contract for asylum seeker support in the north-east, but the Minister will be aware that there is still considerable anxiety because of the lack of guaranteed long-term accommodation and because of the long delays in accessing services provided by Migrant Help. This leaves many people, including pregnant women, without adequate support. When is she going to sort it out? (900188)

The hon. Gentleman will know that the advice, issue reporting and eligibility service provided by Migrant Help was set up to help applicants with their applications and to provide guidance through a single, nationally operated, end-to-end service. I very much take on board his point and would be happy to meet him to discuss this issue. We want to ensure that applicants get the help they need while making their application so that the right decisions are made as promptly as possible.

T5. The Vagrancy Act 1824 criminalises vulnerable people for simply having nowhere to go, and wastes valuable police time and resources with issues that could be far better managed by outreach workers and multi-agency support services. Local police officers tell me that they have plenty of other tools to deal with rough sleeping. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that she is engaging positively with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in its review of this outdated, unnecessary and damaging piece of legislation? (900187)

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are working with MHCLG colleagues. The Government believe that no one should be criminalised simply for sleeping rough. We committed to reviewing the Vagrancy Act in the cross-governmental rough sleeping strategy. Rough sleeping is obviously a complex issue, and we are looking closely at all the options, including retention, repeal, replacement and amendment of the Act.

T7. Given that Ellesmere Port is losing its second pump, I was a little perplexed to hear from the fire Minister earlier that he thought that fire authorities had a good settlement from the Treasury this year. Will he join me in lobbying the Chancellor for extra funds for the fire service for next year, so that we can keep this vital service? (900189)

I am sorry to hear that that pump is going, but presumably that was an operational decision by the local fire chief and fire board. We did get a 2.3% settlement, which in the great scheme of things was good for the fire service, but more investment can always be looked at. One area of investment that I have talked to the fire service about and that is of interest to me is technology—the question of what more we can invest in to make the fire service more efficient and its ability to fight fires better, and to ensure that all forces are wetter; Mr Speaker, did you know that there is a chemical that can be added to water to make it wetter and therefore more effective in putting out fires?

What an extraordinarily helpful nugget of information the Minister has vouchsafed to me and other Members of the House; he really is an encyclopedia of arguably useful information.

T8. Can the Minister confirm that she is working closely with the Lord Chancellor to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill goes hand in hand with root-and-branch reform of family courts to make them more accessible and less intimidating places? (900190)

My hon. Friend has hit upon one of the most common experiences of victims and survivors—namely, the trouble they feel they experience in the family courts. We want to sort this out, which is why the Home Secretary and I are bringing this Bill forward along with the Ministry of Justice and the Lord Chancellor. In fact, we will also be looking at the conclusions of the expert panel commissioned by the Ministry of Justice to examine exactly this point, to ensure that the family courts and private law courts are places of justice for all.

T10. There have been reports that the Home Secretary might introduce a regional visa system—something that the Scottish Government and the SNP have been championing for some time. Is she in a position to provide us with more details on this issue? (900192)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, immigration is an issue for the whole United Kingdom, now and after we leave the European Union.

T9. In Staffordshire, we welcome the 90 new police officers we are getting as part of the Government’s investment, but we also recognise the danger that those officers put themselves in every day. Officers are asking for access to Tasers in order to keep them safe. Will the Home Secretary commit that any police officer who wants a Taser will get one, and when will they be getting hold of them? (900191)

My hon. Friend will know that the deployment of Tasers is an operational matter for chief constables, and it is obviously for them to determine the number of Tasers for officers. However, we have introduced a £10 million Taser fund, and that funding will mean that over 10,000 more officers in England and Wales will have the opportunity to carry a Taser.

Rural and agricultural communities are significantly affected by a rise in such crimes. Will the Minister confirm that there will be no significant reduction in funding to rural police forces, which in fact need more funding?

Rural police forces in England will receive the same uplift funding as the other police forces do. As somebody who represents a large and very beautiful rural constituency, I have a particular interest in making sure that rural crime does not become a Cinderella part of the service.

As my right hon. Friend develops a new immigration system, will she ensure that she pays particular attention to its design to facilitate the movement of scientists, researchers and technicians in and out of the country to protect our world-class science base and maintain our position as a global science superpower?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Yes, the Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to look at a future points-based immigration system that is intended not to be geographical but based on the skills that this country needs so that we continue to be globally leading but also globally open.

Does the Minister have any plans to bring in legislation to provide that all specialist housing and registered care accommodation, both new and existing, be fitted with sprinklers?

This policy area actually falls within the purview of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I know, having been Minister for Housing until recently, that as part of the review of building regulations, the matter of sprinklers is under consideration.

Shropshire has suffered widespread and dangerous flooding over the past few days, affecting thousands of people. Would the Home Secretary like to join me in putting on record her thanks to West Mercia police and all the people from Shropshire fire and rescue services?

I would absolutely like to put on record my thanks and gratitude. Flooding is a dreadful issue that has an appalling impact on people’s lives, livelihoods and homes. Of course, our fire and emergency services, the Environment Agency and police officers have done a great deal of work to provide a great deal of support and comfort to local residents.

I have a constituent whose mother is in her 90s. She came to the UK from Poland after the second world war as a refugee. She now has dementia, and she needs to apply for settled status. She has very few documents proving her residency over the past five years. Will the Minister advise me on what she and people in her situation have to do to acquire settled status?

I would be delighted to look at that application directly with the Home Office. We also have 57 voluntary organisations that have been resourced by the Home Office to reach out to individuals who will not necessarily be able to access technology easily. But, as I say, I will be very happy to look at that individual case.

May I welcome the confirmation of additional funding for counter-terrorism in the spending review and ask my right hon. Friend what steps she is taking to counter terrorist content online?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are determined and focused in making sure that we do everything we can to ensure that we keep all our citizens safe. He rightly highlights the threat to us all of the online environment and the work that we need to do with our agencies right across the board. Great work is being done not just by the National Crime Agency but by other agencies to ensure that we are continually working to make sure that this is a safe environment. However, we all have a part to play in that, and we will continue to be focused on it in terms of finance and of policy and legislation.

As a direct result of Government cuts, some fire brigades have cut the crew per pump from five to four and even four to three. That is not just an operational decision; it is a direct result of cuts. How sustainable is it?

The exact disposition of the number of firefighters on each appliance is an operational decision. [Interruption.] It is. It is not my job to sit in Whitehall and decide how each fire service should run its operation. We have instituted the first inspection regime of fire and rescue services for some time, which specifically looks at a service’s effectiveness, efficiency and ability to perform its function. Lessons will be learned from the first round of inspections, which I hope and believe will improve the service.

Having called the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), to avoid marital disharmony, I must call the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns).

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

A few weeks ago, a young girl got stabbed in my constituency. The family are quite rightly frustrated, as the suspect is walking free while awaiting charges, and their young daughter has had to be put in foster care for her own safety. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can reunite that family?

I would like to express my sympathies to the family. That is a dreadful tragedy, and I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the family to hear much more about that case.

We have an ambitious programme of work for our future security arrangements. Other countries, such as the United States, have a relationship with Europol —in fact, I think the United States has the biggest attendance there at the moment. Europol is still an important part of our future as part of our future negotiations.

Order. We must move on from questions to the Home Secretary to the statement by the Home Secretary.