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Home Department

Volume 671: debated on Monday 10 February 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Family Reunion

1. What plans she has to maintain the legal route to family reunion for refugees and asylum seekers in the EU with family in the UK after the transition period. (900673)

The UK has a long and proud tradition of offering protection to vulnerable people who are fleeing war and persecution, and this Government take the welfare of vulnerable children extremely seriously. We support the principle of family unity wholeheartedly.

If the Government are as committed as Ministers have repeatedly said they are to maintaining children’s ability to join family members in the UK, then rather than waiting for the outcome of negotiations, will the Home Office not get on the front foot and make some much-needed changes to domestic legislation? The changes could be made tomorrow and provide certainty for the many hundreds of families who can currently be reunited through the Dublin regulation.

The hon. Lady will be more than aware of the work that we do to provide safe and legal routes for family reunion, and for vulnerable persons and children. She has heard me say that we are fully committed to supporting the most vulnerable children and the principle of family reunion. It is a fact that we are about to negotiate with the European Union. I set out the Government’s position clearly in communications and correspondence with the European Commission at the end of last year, and that is the route we will be pursuing.

The Home Secretary will be aware of the conditions that many refugee children endure in refugee camps all over Europe. She will also be aware that the public do not want us to let these children down. Will she confirm that unless law and practice are changed, we run the risk of breaking up families and leaving children abandoned with no relative to care for them?

The right hon. Lady has touched on a very important point, namely the conditions that children and families endure in refugee camps outside the United Kingdom. That could be in Europe, but also in countries outside Europe. It is important that we reflect on the priorities and standards that we, as a country, provide for those refugees through our work in international development and aid. We should not overlook the fact that there are a great deal of associated issues—reunion, the protection and settlement of refugees, and vulnerable children—that come together internationally, but we are leading the way on this in the UK.

Does the Home Secretary agree that by far the best way of reuniting families is to find vulnerable children in refugee camps in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and that by simply accepting those who turn up at Dover, we risk encouraging the vicious people traffickers who thereby make a lot of money? Does she agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, who said recently:

“The resettlement of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable refugees over the past four years is something the UK can be proud of”?

I hope that she is proud of that.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The House should be under no illusions; we have a strong and proud record of helping vulnerable children, and we have protected more than 41,000 children since the start of 2010. He is right; there are a number of points here about the criminality associated with illegal migration. I am afraid that we have seen far too much of that, whether people are being trafficked in small boats, in lorries or through other vehicle movements. That is wrong, and it is something that we are also determined to stamp out.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the action that the Government are taking to protect vulnerable children through legal routes, more action needs to be taken to slow down and stop activity on the illegal people trafficking routes, particularly those between Calais and Dover?

My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) speaks with a great deal of knowledge and insight about this issue. We must absolutely clamp down on the illegal routes that are being exploited, many of which are upstream—outside the United Kingdom —and on the appalling amount of human trafficking. There are many safe and legal routes that are supported by the British Government, and we will continue to support them.

Why do we not simply say unilaterally that we will continue to consider take charge requests on behalf of unaccompanied children from Europe? Why should children’s rights be subject to negotiations at all?

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that any future agreement is a matter for negotiation, and it is not within the gift of the United Kingdom alone. We can work bilaterally, but this is about the reciprocal arrangements that we undertake with our EU counterparts. That is the approach that has been outlined by the Government, and it is the right approach.

Terrorism

14. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that (a) law enforcement bodies, (b) police officers and (c) intelligence agencies have the tools they need to tackle terrorism. (900687)

Terrorists are a persistent menace to our security and way of life. The nature of the terrorist threat is constantly changing, so our response must evolve as well. The safety and security of the UK is obviously our No. 1 priority, and we are committed to ensuring that our security and law enforcement organisations have the powers and tools they need to keep us safe. To do that, we have provided an additional £160 million for counter-terrorism policing this year, taking counter-terrorism police funding to over £800 million. The counter-terrorism and sentencing Bill, and our emergency legislation, will close further gaps in our ability to combat terrorism.

Reports suggest that the perpetrator of the recent London terror attack was on automatic early release. Does the Minister agree that we need a robust and tough approach to sentencing for those convicted of terror offences, to prevent them from being able to carry out further atrocities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why the Government will be introducing emergency legislation in Parliament tomorrow that will end the automatic early release of terrorist offenders without there first being a thorough risk assessment by the Parole Board. Those still considered a threat to public safety will be forced to spend the rest of their time in prison. The changes will mean that about 50 terrorist prisoners already serving effected sentences will see their automatic release halted. We will not hesitate to take decisive action to ensure that we do all we can to protect the public and keep our streets safe.

Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the steps his Department is taking to ensure that those who are released from prison after terrorism-related offences face the most stringent monitoring and reporting requirements?

Absolutely. I am pleased to say that in the last week we have announced that we are considering whether new legislation is required to provide additional reassurance when terrorist offenders are released from prison. A range of measures are available, including stringent conditions during post-release licence periods and notification requirements for terrorist offenders, which the Government strengthened only last year. Serious crime prevention orders were extended to terrorist offenders last year. Alongside terrorism prevention and investigation measures, these orders provide the police with strengthened powers to manage terrorists on their release. We will continue to review everything to ensure that we are doing all we can to keep the public safe.

Countering terrorism is not just about London and the big cities; it is across the whole country. I welcome the extra £8.6 million of funding for Lincolnshire police. What can be done to prevent people in rural areas from being drawn into terrorist activity?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Overall funding for CT policing will grow to £906 million in 2020-21. That is a £90 million year-on-year increase. The money will support and maintain the record high numbers of ongoing counter-terrorism policing investigations, allowing us to respond swiftly and decisively to incidents, no matter where they take place—and we have to be clear that they could happen anywhere in the UK. It is a significant additional investment that builds on the work we are doing to ensure that we are protecting our communities with 20,000 extra police officers around the country, and the work we do in all communities around the country with the Prevent programme to keep people safe and prevent people from being taken into extremism in the first place.

The Minister has just referred to the Prevent programme. This week, it is a year since the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 received Royal Assent. Of course, that Act provided for an independent review of the Prevent programme. In the last year, the Government have appointed one reviewer, who has had to resign from post given previous views that he had expressed about Prevent, and we are left today—a year later—without a reviewer in place. The Minister is talking about decisive action. When will that reviewer be appointed?

As I have outlined at the Dispatch Box previously, the review will go ahead, and it is still the case that it will be completed in the timeframe that the Government outlined—that is, before the end of August this year. We are also introducing emergency legislation tomorrow.

We face a growing threat from extreme right-wing organisations in this country. The Minister will be aware of incidents in my own community relating to some extreme right-wing groups. Why have the Government not yet proscribed organisations such as the System Resistance Network, the Sonnenkrieg Division and others who are linked to the banned National Action organisation, and what steps will they take to review the situation urgently?

These issues are always under review. The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to be alert to and aware of extremism from any direction, including the growth in right-wing extremism. That is why Prevent is focused on protecting people who are targeted by terrorist recruiters, regardless of their reasoning or where they come from.

Surely we should have a programme giving young people who might be attracted into terrorism other creative things to do in the community. Would the Minister think about diverting some of the tens of millions of pounds flowing from the plastic bag charge into community action that would involve young people and replace some of the dreadful cuts in youth services that we have seen in recent years?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about engaging with people from communities across the country, particularly young people. We do have funds specifically focused on young people. The Prevent training has already been completed some 1.1 million times. One of the areas where Prevent is so successful is in enabling frontline practitioners, including teachers, to recognise the signs of radicalisation. That is why this programme is so important, as well as the bespoke programmes that we support.

Violent Crime: Young People

The Government are committed to delivering on the people’s priorities by tackling violent crime. We have already invested £220 million in early intervention. Through our serious violence fund, we have committed to funding violence reduction units until 2021. We are also introducing the serious violence Bill, which will put a duty on police, councils and other agencies to prevent and reduce serious violence.

Ahead of the police and crime commissioner elections in May, will my hon. Friend encourage our fantastic Conservative candidates to make youth diversion schemes a key part of their manifestos?

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the entire House that we have these vitally crucial elections coming towards us, at which the public will have the right to hold their police and crime commissioners to account. I look forward to working with many Conservative PCCs in future, I hope. I fully support the idea of diverting children who are on the cusp of entering the justice system and putting in place, where appropriate, support that can reduce risk and prevent an escalation in offending. He may wish to know that in his own local area, we are funding Redthread at Queen’s Medical Centre—I was delighted to attend its launch last year—and, through the youth endowment fund, two different projects are helping children and young people, and their families and schools, by keeping them safe and diverting them from risk.

Children excluded from school are twice as likely to carry a knife. A quarter of young offenders who are serving a custodial sentence of less than 12 months have a history of permanent exclusion. To help turn around the life chances of these children, will my hon. Friend take up the recommendations in my report on school exclusion, published last year, which are aimed at taking a public health approach to crime and tackling the root causes, not just the symptoms, of school disengagement?

I thank my hon. Friend for his meticulous work in his report. He will know that the Prime Minister is taking charge of our response to serious violence, and is indeed holding a Cabinet Sub-Committee on this imminently. I agree that we must tackle the root causes of serious violence. That is precisely why we are bringing forward the serious violence Bill to place a duty on the agencies that can help to address it.

I fully support the exclusions review that was just referred to, but, in tackling youth violence, does the Home Office think it is either acceptable or right that the vast majority of young people on the gangs matrix are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds? Being flagged on the gangs matrix brings with it huge consequences for those young people, often separation from families and other issues. Does she think that this approach is appropriate, or that it works?

The hon. Lady is referring to an operational tool used by the police, but it is one of many tools that we are looking at in terms of law enforcement response and these crucial issues about diverting children and young people away from crime in the first place. The causes are manifold, and we must work with communities to address them together.

Can my hon. Friend assure me that the police have all the powers they need to crack down on the scourge of knife crime, which is ruining so many lives across the country, but particularly in London? Could she update the House on what plans she has to target repeat knife carriers?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who of course brings to the House his experience of representing his constituency on this important issue. We are determined to ensure that the police have the powers they need to tackle this terrible scourge. That is why, in the new serious violence Bill, a new court order will be brought forward that will make it easier for the police to stop and search known and convicted knife carriers.

What is the Minister doing to protect young and vulnerable people from drugs gangs, particularly in rural areas such as mine, where they are extremely prevalent?

Drug gangs, or county lines, often involve a horrific form of child criminal exploitation, and we are determined to put an end to it. One of the many ways we are seeking to do that is through further investment in the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre, which has co-ordinated enforcement action across the country, resulting in more than 2,500 arrests and the safeguarding of more than 3,000 vulnerable people.

Last year, Labour attempted to amend the Offensive Weapons Bill to ban the open sale of knives and require shops to lock them behind cabinets, as we currently require them to do for cigarettes. The Government refused those amendments. Last week, Sudesh Amman walked into a shop on Streatham high street, picked up a knife from the display and stabbed two people. This weekend, that shop was still openly displaying knives and machetes by the front door. Will the Government now think again?

The hon. Lady may recall that we said we would keep that under review, because we felt that the measures put forward last year were of a nature that did not target areas that have a particular problem with knife crime. We will keep it under review, but I make the point again that it is the responsibility of shop owners to make sure that if they are selling items such as that, they display them appropriately and, if necessary, keep them under lock and key.

Good youth services are the frontline against youth violence, but this week we see yet another local government settlement that means there is a decade’s worth of erosion of funding for youth services. What will the Home Office do differently to encourage the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to properly fund youth services or to put its own money into a good universal offer across all our communities?

The hon. Gentleman will know of the most recent local authority grants, which the House will debate later this week. He will also know that the Chancellor restated a commitment to young people, confirming £500 million of investment through the new youth investment fund over five years, in addition to the £220 million that will be spent over the next 10 years on early intervention projects that can, and I hope will, make a great difference to our young people’s lives.

The Scottish Government’s CashBack for Communities scheme is about to make a payment of £19 million of money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to youth projects in Scotland, bringing total payments to more than £110 million since the programme began in 2008. Will the Minister join me in welcoming that as something that can deliver real opportunity for young people in Scotland?

As always, I will work with and commend anyone who is joining the Government’s determination to cut down on violent crime and protect our young people.

Families of Police Officers

It is often forgotten or taken for granted by many that behind every police officer stands a proud but anxious family. We want to recognise their bravery, commitment and sacrifice by introducing the police covenant. The covenant will be brought forward through the police powers and protections Bill, placing it on a statutory footing and ensuring that Parliament can scrutinise its progress. We will launch a consultation on the principle and scope of the covenant in the coming weeks.

What steps are Ministers taking to ensure that families who lose a loved one in the line of duty—such as the family of PC Andrew Harper, who was tragically killed last year—receive the support they need?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. The death of Andrew Harper last year on the very edge of my constituency was a terrible and tragic event. She will know that there are already measures in place to assist families in that position, not least the police injury benefits scheme, as well as welfare support offered by particular forces and the Police Federation. But there is always more we can do, and we would welcome submissions to the consultation on the covenant, to address any gaps that may exist.

One thing that families would quite like to see is prosecuting authorities and the police themselves taking it much more seriously when there are assaults on police officers, even if they are relatively minor ones. Otherwise, there seems to be a sort of acceptance that a degree of violence is in the day job of a police officer, and that must surely be wrong. Why is the legislation introduced two years ago still not being used effectively by the Crown Prosecution Service?

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. As I have said in this House before, it is my view that anybody who raises a malevolent finger against any emergency service should face the full weight of the law. He is right that there is general concern about the increasing number of attacks on emergency service workers of all types, and we will review what steps need to be taken in the near future to sort that out.

Hampshire Constabulary: Police Numbers

5. What estimate she has made of the number of additional police officers joining Hampshire constabulary during the 2019 Parliament. (900677)

The Government’s pledge to put an additional 20,000 officers on our streets sends a clear message that we are committed to giving police the resources they need to tackle the scourge of crime. Hampshire will receive up to £366.5 million of funding next year, an increase of up to £26.1 million on the previous year. In this year alone, the county will benefit from 156 more police officers.

I welcome the increase to Hampshire—and Isle of Wight—constabulary. Does the Minister agree that the increase will enable police in both Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, as well as in other areas of the UK, to follow up lower level crime? It causes great concern to all our constituents, but in recent years the police have been under pressure not to investigate it, due to police numbers.

It is obviously an operational matter for chief constables to address where and how they allocate their resources, but I would certainly hope that an increase in the number of police officers will allow them to spend more time on the sort of crimes that assail both my hon. Friend’s community and mine in the county. They perhaps do not attract the attention of the headlines, but nevertheless cause consternation in the communities we represent.

“Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper”

6. If she will hold discussions with the Scottish Government on their report “Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper”, published on 27 January 2020. (900678)

Immigration is and will remain a reserved matter. This Government will introduce a points-based immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. Applying different immigration rules to different parts of the UK would significantly complicate the immigration system.

The Australian Immigration Minister stated last November that regional visas

“can play an important role in helping to address regional skills gaps and grow local economies.”

As migration is the only reason Scotland’s population continues to grow, does the Minister agree that Scotland would benefit from this Australian approach to immigration, rather than the one-size-fits-all one of this UK Government?

We have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee on several occasions to look at the case for applying different immigration arrangements to different areas of the UK. It has consistently recommended against this, and I think Members in this House will realise why it would make no sense, for example, for a plumber from Gretna to be unable to take on jobs in Carlisle.

New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada are just some of the other countries that, like Australia, operate a tailored regional immigration system without any need for internal borders, so what possible rationale is there for claiming, as the Prime Minister did last week, that to operate a Scottish visa would require a hard border between Scotland and England?

Again, we have made it very clear: the independent Migration Advisory Committee has set out in its report why it does not recommend this type of approach. Ultimately, we do not want to see borders at Berwick just to satisfy a separatist obsession. Our goal would be to have a system that works and drives success in Scotland, and that means being part of a wider, stronger United Kingdom.

I think the only people satisfying a separatist obsession at the moment are those on the Conservative Benches with their hard Brexit.

Let us try again on this mythical hard border, shall we? The United Kingdom has an open land border and shares a common travel area with the Republic of Ireland, which operates an entirely distinct and independent system. That does not necessitate a hard border, so why should a modest Scottish visa mean a hard border between England and Scotland? Let us have an answer to the question for a change.

Let us be very clear: the Migration Advisory Committee has advised against such a system. It would create complexity, with businesses having to work out which staff were on one visa and which were on another. Ultimately, we will be guided by independent advice, but I will be absolutely clear: this Government will create a migration system that works for Scotland and drives success in Scotland, but will not drive separation for Scotland.

Can the Minister confirm that this Government will indeed design and implement a new, fit-for-purpose global immigration system that works for all regions and nations of our United Kingdom, and that, of course, Members on the SNP Benches have as much right as any Member in this place to work with the Government to help to achieve that?

Absolutely, and the suggestion from the Scottish Government that it would be implemented via the Scottish tax code is rather defeated by the fact that Scottish Members of Parliament are on the Scottish tax code but work across our United Kingdom, and rightly so. So, yes, we will work with interest groups across Scotland to make sure this system works for Scotland as part of our United Kingdom, on a points-based basis. Again, we will focus on what works and what is successful, not on what pleases the separatist grievance agenda.

Police Officer Numbers: Lancashire

7. What recent assessment her Department has made of the adequacy of the number of police officers in Lancashire. (900680)

We believe that the entire country, including Lancashire, could do with a boost in police numbers to address the changing nature of crime, and as a result we have provided enough money to recruit 6,000 police officers over the next year. Of that, Lancashire will benefit from 153 more.

I am sure, Mr Speaker, you will wish to join me in paying tribute to Lancashire police, who responded over the weekend to the devastating effects of Storm Ciara, alongside all the other emergency services.

The Minister points out that Lancashire is to receive 153 officers under this core grant allocation-style funding, but Lancashire has lost 750 police officers since 2010. On that pattern, we will not regain the total number of officers lost, whereas Surrey, which has lost eight officers since 2010, looks to be gaining hundreds of officers under this funding formula. Can the Minister explain to my constituents why that is fair?

The funding formula has been in place for some time, and there is obviously consternation across the House about the impact it may have, along with a number of the other formulas on which we allocate resources. We will keep this under review, and will do so on this formula, but for the moment the quickest and most efficacious way for us to share out this huge uplift in the number of police officers across the country was using the existing formula, and I hope those 153 officers will be put to good use.

Points-based Immigration System

9. What plans she has to introduce a new points-based immigration system; and if she will make a statement. (900682)

The Government will introduce a points-based immigration system that works in the interests of the United Kingdom, and that is fair and prioritises the skills people have to offer wherever they come from.

I for one welcome this, particularly the fact that we will be able to get the brightest and the best not only from Europe but from other nations as well, such as the US, Australia and New Zealand, and Canada. But Lichfield is a rural constituency—a particularly beautiful one, I might add—and we have a need not just for people with great skills but for part-time horticultural workers. What can my right hon. Friend do to assure people they will come to the UK?

Without wishing to compete with my hon. Friend’s beautiful rural constituency, I, too, have one. Of course, in order to take back control we are effectively bringing in these changes, and with that I am doubling the number of people who can go through the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, and more information will follow on that in due course.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that such a points-based system will take account of the needs of communities across all regions of the United Kingdom, including my Bridgend constituency in Wales?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question on the applicability of the points-based system, including to his beautiful Bridgend constituency, and of course he is absolutely right to raise that. We want the brightest and the best; we want to control immigration, but of course we want to bring that equalisation so that anybody from around the world—not just from the EU—who wants to come to the UK, including Bridgend, and has the skills to offer will be welcome.

Will the Secretary of State provide some clarification regarding the proposed immigration system? It has been called Australian-styled, but the Minister will be aware that the Australian system is actually a permissive system designed to encourage migration, and as the hostile environment rages on surely that is not what this Government aim to do—raise migration. So will the right hon. Lady clarify exactly what the system is, and confirm whether the Government will scrap the net migration target, which was dreamed up without evidence and has never once been met?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and of course she will know that the hostile environment, as she called it, dates back to previous Governments. The point about the points-based system is of course that we want a simpler, faster, firmer, better system—one that fulfils our promises to the British people, where we seize that once-in-a-generation opportunity to take back control of our borders and end free movement, which I appreciate Opposition Members simply do not want. We will restore democratic control of our immigration, which is effectively what the British people voted for.

It is important to remember that it was the Labour Government who introduced a points-based system. It is important to remember, too, that many of the workers we need in this country cannot come in under the immigration cap of £30,000. The Home Secretary has looked at that for some professions, but will she widen it to ensure we get the workers we need?

Immigration legislation will come before the House in due course. With regard to the labour market and the skills this country needs, decisions on the points-based system will be based on the needs and skills that this country requires. That is incredibly important, so that no Member is deceived under that. It recognises the fact that we need good people with the skills our economy needs, which will enable and facilitate growth in our economy. We want to encourage the brightest and the best to come to this country not just from the EU, but from outside the EU.

Criminal Justice System

10. What steps she is taking with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State for Justice to help ensure that people have confidence in the criminal justice system. (900683)

22. What steps she is taking with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State for Justice to help ensure that people have confidence in the criminal justice system. (900696)

The Government are looking at all aspects of the criminal justice system to ensure it works for victims, witnesses and the most vulnerable. We all have a part to play in that—this is not just a Home Office matter—and today the Cabinet’s new committee on the criminal justice system will meet to look at how we can drive better integration across government.

As part of that work, I welcome the review of sentencing we are undertaking. We need to ensure that sentencing reflects the severity of the crime. I ran a survey for residents in Crewe and Nantwich to tell me what they think and they overwhelmingly back what we are doing. They also tell me that the term “life sentence” is not fit for purpose. I do not understand why someone whose loved one has been murdered might hear that the person responsible has been given a life sentence but see them walk out of jail, while they are still serving the true life sentence of living with a lost relative.

My hon. Friend makes some very valid points about victims, sentences and the criminal justice system. I had the privilege of meeting some of his constituents when I visited his constituency during the election. It is fair to say that the work we are doing with regard to changes to sentences and working with the criminal justice system will ensure that sentences will fit the crime and that we can therefore restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.

In the Flint area of my Delyn constituency, violent and sexual assaults made up 47% of crimes committed in the second half of last year and antisocial behaviour 21%, yet for all crimes committed across the board only 7% went to court, 31% are still being investigated and 55% were closed with no action. What can my right hon. Friend do to assure my constituents that the Government will ensure that offenders are brought to court in a timely and efficient timeframe?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight those appalling figures and statistics, which go to show that victims are not being served and justice is not being given to the victims of those crimes. In terms of what we should do and are doing, there is now clear financial uplift to the Crown Prosecution Service. We are pressing the CPS and working with it closely to address many of the failings and inadequacies in the system. We must eradicate such delays and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

It is not just in the CPS that there are delays and bottlenecks. The Home Secretary will know that in the court system, too, there are very significant delays exacerbated in some cases by the lack of access to legal aid, which means defendants having to represent themselves. Will she say what discussions she is having with her counterparts in the Ministry of Justice about speeding up the courts process?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the issues about access to justice. The work that has taken place and will be taking place through the new Cabinet Committee on Crime and Justice, and the work that I am undertaking in addition with the Ministry of Justice, very much shine a spotlight on that. We have to support individuals as they go through the legal process, the court process and the court systems. The Government have announced a royal commission into the criminal justice system, where some of those issues will be addressed.

One group of people who often do not have confidence in the criminal justice system are those with autism and their families. They often get caught up in the criminal justice system inappropriately. Will the Home Secretary agree to work with Ministers in other Departments and perhaps set up a cross-ministerial working group to ensure that people with autism are not unnecessarily caught up in the criminal justice system?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and the new committee that the Prime Minister has established seeks to do exactly this. We have to look across Government. No one Department has the answers to any of the challenges not only with the system but in terms of how we can protect victims and individuals. Cross-government working is absolutely crucial, and I am very happy to work with individuals and people who have experience of this.

County Lines: Exploitation of Children

The Government are determined to stop the terrible exploitation of children and rid our streets of criminal county lines gangs. That is why we are augmenting significant police activity with an extra £25 million of targeted investment across the next two years to uplift the law and enforcement response to county lines and increase the support available to children, young people and their families.

In Beaconsfield, the Thames Valley police have been working tirelessly to protect and prevent child exploitation, particularly from county lines. Will the Minister update the House on what preventive tools the police can use to protect children and young people who are at risk of being criminally exploited through the county lines network?

One of the most significant deterrents that we think will be available to us is differential sentencing. A judge, on giving a sentence to somebody who is involved in county lines, can already take into act culpability factors, such as the use of children. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the Sentencing Council is currently reviewing those guidelines, and we hope and believe that the most severe penalties will be meted out to those who exploit children in this way.

With no statutory definition of “child criminal exploitation”, different safeguarding agencies and police forces understand the risks differently, but county lines exploitation is everywhere. In order to comply with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s recommendation that we need a unified definition in law of child criminal exploitation, when can we expect such an announcement so that we truly safeguard these child victims?

The co-ordination of the effort across Government and indeed, across all the arms of government, including local government, will be one of the primary tasks of the new Cabinet committee that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has established. The hon. Lady is right that dealing with this phenomenon, which spans force and local authority boundaries, will take a united and concerted approach, and we will be doing so over the next few weeks.

According to Hampshire police, every town in our county has been targeted by county lines drugs gangs, and in Fareham we had some recent arrests of drug dealers. Will the Minister reassure me that Fareham will not get overlooked in the allocation of police officers as part of the new recruitment wave?

In her usual manner, my hon. Friend fights hard for resources for her constituency and I do not blame her, but, as she knows, the allocation of police officers—not least, new police officers—in a specific force area is a matter for the chief constable. However, as a Hampshire MP myself, with a town that has also been preyed upon by county lines drug dealers, she can be assured that how we as a county, and indeed, as a country can combat this scourge is at the front of my mind.

21. What discussions is the Minister having with other Departments about what we do when young people have been identified as having been caught up in county lines? It is very important, in some cases at least, that they are treated as victims, but that means getting them away from the scenes where they are vulnerable, and many times they are not found until they present at hospital because they have been stabbed. What are we doing about rehousing them or finding them a safe place to go, so that they do not get caught back up in the gangs again? (900695)

As I said in answer to an earlier question, co-ordination of the effort against county lines in terms of enforcement and intervention, and then rescuing young people who are involved in it, will take a huge amount of effort. The Cabinet committee that the Prime Minister has drawn together will look specifically at this. The hon. Lady will be pleased, however, that the Cabinet Office has been leading on cross-government work, looking at what more we can do to make sure that we deal with this problem.

Domestic Abuse: Victim Support

The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill was announced alongside the Queen’s Speech on 19 December last year. The Bill and an accompanying non-legislative package will protect and support victims of domestic abuse across England and Wales and bring perpetrators to justice.

In the west midlands, over 60,000 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes were recorded by the police in the year ending March 2019. Will the Minister ensure that in the forthcoming domestic abuse Bill these victims and their children, who as a result of their ordeal have been made homeless, are prioritised during the allocation of safe and permanent housing for victims of domestic abuse in Wolverhampton and across the country?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are committed to supporting domestic abuse victims and their children. Statutory guidance already makes it clear that in allocating social housing councils should consider giving additional preference to those who are homeless and require urgent rehousing as a result of domestic abuse. We strongly encourage all councils to give appropriate priority to victims and their families who have escaped abuse and are being accommodated in a refuge or other temporary accommodation.

Knife Crime

We are determined to tackle the scourge of knife crime. We are recruiting 20,000 more police officers, increasing police funding, making it easier for the police to use stop-and-search, and ensuring that more perpetrators go to prison for longer. We have legislated through the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 and knife crime prevention orders to help take more knives off the street. We are also introducing the serious violence Bill, which will put a duty on police, councils and health authorities to prevent and reduce serious violence.

Last month, a young man tragically lost his life in Liskeard after being stabbed. What action is being taken to get knives off our streets in towns and rural areas?

First, I offer my condolences to the bereaved family. It is a terrible event to happen and I know it will have shocked everyone in the town. Happily, I understand that an investigation is ongoing and an arrest has been made, and we await the outcome of that investigation. As my hon. Friend, who has fought hard for resources for her constituency, will know, Devon and Cornwall police will receive more funding next year and will be able to recruit 141 additional officers in the first year, as part of the 20,000 police officer uplift. I hope they will be put to good use to prevent exactly this sort of incident.

Topical Questions

Last week, we were shocked and appalled by another terror attack on the streets of London. I pay tribute to the brave members of our police and emergency services who responded immediately. It is our duty to keep the people and public safe, and it is only right that the Government are now introducing emergency legislation to put a stop to these terrorist offenders being automatically released early with no checks or review.

Since I last addressed the House, Britain has made history by leaving the European Union, delivering on our promise to the British people. This is the dawn of a bright new future for our country. With that, I am also delighted to announce that our hugely successful EU settlement scheme has received 3 million applications. This will embrace an exciting new chapter in our history together.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to attract highly skilled scientists and engineers to come and work in our country and contribute to our successful future?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out that through our points-based system we are introducing new routes to attract the brightest and the best. Our fast-track immigration scheme will facilitate entry to the UK for more people with skills, including scientists, researchers and mathematicians. This is just the first phase of our reforms to send a signal that the UK intends to remain at the forefront of research and innovation.

Does the Home Secretary appreciate the widespread concern about the Jamaican deportation flight due tomorrow? Is she aware that Stephen Shaw, in his review of detention, suggested that we should not be deporting people who came here as children, but that many of the proposed deportees came here as children and have no memory of Jamaica? Does she accept that these deportations constitute double jeopardy, because the persons have already served an appropriate sentence for their crime? Is she aware that more than 170 Members of Parliament from all political parties have written to the Prime Minister calling for the deportation flight to be halted?

I am sure that the right hon. Lady is aware that under the UK Borders Act 2007 a deportation order must be made in respect of foreign criminals sentenced to 12 months or more in prison. Every person on the flight was convicted of a serious offence and received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. That means that, under the Act, which was introduced by the Labour Government in 2007, a deportation order must be made.

T3. I have received significant online abuse, intimidation and threats. I believe that that kind of abuse on social media, directed at me and others, is simply unacceptable. It puts off people from making a difference in public life. I have received considerable online support from many of my constituents, and for that I should like to show my appreciation. What are the Government doing to protect people who would want to stand for public office? (900700)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting and shining a spotlight on some of the most corrosive and abusive behaviour that people in public office—public servants—witness and experience online. That is simply unacceptable. The Government’s Online Harms White Paper makes clear that we will absolutely tackle such corrosive behaviour: we will pull it off the online media, and we will introduce a regulatory regime to ensure that that kind of hatred cannot continue online.

On Friday the deputy chair of the local Conservative association was jailed for nine weeks for menacing communications, including these threats against me:

“I am already organising her to be hurt. Amazing what crackheads will do for £100. I’m gonna get her beat up.”

The chair of the local association wrote to me today expressing regrets and apologies for what he describes as the grave and unacceptable actions of its member, who has since been expelled. I welcome that letter and that support, but it concerns me that, thus far, no similar condemnation or sense of regret has been expressed by the national party. The national chair’s letter to me in response to the issue said nothing stronger than

“intimidating behaviour has no place in our politics.”

I am also disappointed that the neighbouring Member of Parliament chose to give a very positive character reference for that individual, without contacting me first. I have raised that with her directly, but I know that she was unable to be in the Chamber today.

I am still concerned about the fact that although I raised this case with senior members of the national party, the individual was still able to be at the general election count after he had been summonsed. May I therefore ask the Home Secretary to condemn these threats in the strongest terms, to look into her party’s response, and also to show leadership by urging all political parties to come together and draw up a new joint code of conduct against intimidation? Violent threats must have no place in politics in all parties.

I thank the right hon. Lady for presenting to the House the horrors of what she has endured, and for making the case, very strongly and robustly, that there is no place for threats and intimidation in society or in public life. Let me say now, on the Floor of the House, that that is categorically unacceptable and wrong. There is no place at all for intimidation in public life. As for the national party’s response, the right hon. Lady can take it from me, right now, that I am hugely apologetic for what she has had to put up with. It is simply unacceptable, and that is also something of which we should all be mindful, as representatives of major political parties. None of this should be tolerated.

The right hon. Lady referred to my colleague in the neighbouring constituency. My understanding is that her comments were in support of securing the help that that individual needed in terms of access to mental health. However—[Interruption.] I see that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) is chuckling away. This is a very serious matter. It is not a laughing matter.

I think it is fair to say, given that remark, that the insincerity sits with the hon. and learned Lady. The fact of the matter is that it is right that we come together. [Interruption.] Yes, we will see. It is a fact that it is this Government who are trying to deal with this type of issue. Members have already heard me speak about dealing with online harms and trolling, and have heard me call this unacceptable. I am absolutely sincere in my remarks, and I am so sorry—actually, I think it is shameful—that the hon. and learned Lady is herself being quite insincere in respect of the case that I am putting to her.

T4. My constituency has one of the fastest-growing populations of any constituency in the country, partly because it is such a wonderful place to live, but police numbers, which are partly based on lagging population figures, have not kept pace. Will my hon. Friend tell me what the Government are doing to increase police numbers in Cambridgeshire? (900701)

We have provided up to £10.6 million more funding, which will allow the police and crime commissioner to recruit another 64 police officers for the county. That is the first instalment of Cambridgeshire’s share of the 20,000 police officers. I hope that the good people of Cambridgeshire will reciprocate by electing a very good police and crime commissioner in May.

T5. When will the Home Office announce the immigration status of the EU students who are due to start courses here in 2021? (900702)

We will shortly confirm our policy on migration, and we will of course continue to have discussions across Government with the European Union to determine future status here in this country.

T8. Does my hon. Friend agree that Neighbourhood Watch is a vital asset to the detection of crime? Will he join me in putting pressure on the Mayor of London to continue to support Online Watch Link—OWL—the online system that is used by more than 100,000 London Neighbourhood Watch members and that has secured more than 1,200 hours-worth of sentences for criminals in my council ward in my constituency alone? (900705)

I am more than happy to endorse my hon. Friend’s remarks. He has been a champion for his part of London for a long time before coming to this House. He is quite right to have high expectations of the Mayor of London, whose efforts on crime have sadly disappointed during his time as Mayor thus far.

T6. Glasgow has had plans for a medically supervised drug consumption room since 2016, and the evidence worldwide points to the efficacy of such rooms, so when the UK Government hold their drugs summit in Glasgow later this month, will they act on the evidence and bring in solutions for urgent change, or will it be more of the same from this Government? (900703)

I am sure that the issue of drug consumption rooms will appear in the discussions during the drugs summit, but I repeat what I have said to the Scottish Affairs Committee on this matter, which is that the Scottish National party’s obsession with drug consumption rooms is a distraction from the major effort that can be put into this issue. The irrefutable evidence from across the world is that treatment is by far and away the best way to prevent drug deaths. However, it is no surprise that the SNP should seek to distract in this way, not least because the SNP Government have cut drug treatment funds in Scotland over the past few years.

T9. Over the weekend, a large number of illegal migrants were detained trying to cross the channel. Last summer, the Prime Minister warned migrants crossing the channel that the United Kingdom would “send you back”. I have read that few of these migrants are actually sent back, because they have claims for asylum, but surely if they leave a perfectly safe country such as France and try to enter our country illegally, they should not be able to claim asylum. Will the Home Office get a grip and send these people back, in order to stop this illegal trade? (900707)

I share my right hon. Friend’s concerns, and we have been clear that people should make their asylum claim in the first safe country they reach. We work under the Dublin regulations and we will continue to discuss our future participation in that regard, post-Brexit, but we will be tackling this because we want to end the scourge of trafficking that puts so many lives at risk.

T7. In the west midlands, violent crime is up 27%, the homicide rate is rising and, in Birmingham, drug crime is at a six-year high. The Home Secretary admitted last week that some communities had been “neglected and left behind”. Given the rises in violent and drug crime in Birmingham, will she accept that her comments include my city, and will her Department finally step up to the plate and do something about this? (900704)

I had the privilege of visiting the west midlands two weeks ago and participating in an early-morning drugs raid. The scourge of serious and violent crime is absolutely one that we have to deal with, and this Government are fully committed to that. We are providing all the necessary resources—the money, the equipment and the powers—to the police to enable them to get on top of this.

Just this weekend I received a report of masked intruders on a farm in my constituency. Could my right hon. Friend update the House on what is being done to tackle the intimidation of farmers and rural crime such as fly-tipping and theft, and could she also reassure my constituents that preventing and prosecuting rural crime will be a focus of this Government?

I reassure my hon. Friend that we absolutely view rural crime as totally unacceptable. It blights communities and, whether it is fly-tipping or organised crime related to waste crime in particular, she and all other Members who represent rural communities know that it has to be tackled. We are currently working on that through our serious organised crime strategy and across Government.

How many EU citizens who have been living here for more than five years, entirely legally, and have applied for settled status have been given only pre-settled status?

Pre-settled status is granted to people who have not been in the country for five years. By definition, an EU citizen who has been living in the country for five years or more and can evidence that will be granted full settled status. For clarity, according to the most recent set of official figures, I think only five people have been refused status, all on the grounds of criminality.

When a secular psychopath threatens to run amok and kill indiscriminately, we treat him as criminally insane and detain him indefinitely in a high-security psychiatric unit. Why do we not do the same for a religious psychopath who threatens to do exactly the same thing?

My right hon. Friend raises very important issues. The Government will address them in tomorrow’s emergency legislation and the forthcoming counter- terrorism Bill, which will consider appropriate sentences for people who seek to do a great deal of harm to our country.

I just want to reassure the House that, in fairness to the Home Secretary and me, we took very seriously threats made against MPs and candidates during the last election, so much so that we were constantly in touch to make sure that support was being given. That support will continue to be available to all MPs. Please, if a threat is made to any MP, make sure that you report it. The House and I and the Home Secretary will ensure that your safety comes first. Please do not shy away from reporting any incidents.