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Topical Questions

Volume 677: debated on Monday 8 June 2020

The remarkable success of Hong Kong is predicated on its freedom, its autonomy and the remarkable industry of its people. The decision by the Chinese National People’s Congress to impose a national security law on Hong Kong is a clear breach of China’s international obligation and a threat to the freedom of the people of Hong Kong. If China follows through with this legislation, Britain will not hesitate to act. We will put in place new arrangements to allow those in Hong Kong who hold British national overseas passports to come to the UK, enabling them to live and apply to study and work for extendable periods of 12 months, leading to a pathway to British citizenship. If it proves necessary, the British Government will take this step, and take it willingly. We will never abandon our commitment to the freedom of Hong Kong and its people.

New-born babies put at risk of hypothermia; toddlers stripped of their life jackets and dangled over the side to prevent interceptions; and pregnant women forced to board at gunpoint. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is humanitarian—as well as the right thing to do—to tackle and put a stop to ruthless criminal gangs, to return boats to France and to give her the legal powers that she needs to put a stop to these small boat crossings once and for all?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She will know from the discussions that we had as recently as Friday the extent of the criminality, exposure and abuse undertaken by people traffickers, who are forcing mothers and children on to unseaworthy vessels, and the horrendous circumstances that they are put in. My hon. Friend the Immigration Minister earlier outlined the approach that the Government are taking to tackle these abuses and to go after the criminals and the facilitators of this crime. We will not stop pursuing this policy until we absolutely break the pathway that these criminal gangs are using.

The Home Office says that 9,000 looked-after children and care leavers are eligible for EU settled status. To date, 11% of these children have had such status. Why does the Home Office not consider a blanket approval for these vulnerable children and spare us all an administrative nightmare and a second Windrush? (903027)

When it comes to EU settled status, we are working with local authorities to give them the support that they need. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, and all right hon. and hon. Members across the House, will continue to work in a constructive manner in their constituencies to ensure that children are granted the settled status that they are due.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the right to protest is a fundamental part of our democracy, but that that right does not extend to physically assaulting our heroic police officers? Can she confirm that those perpetrators who assaulted police officers and engaged in public disorder over the last few days will feel the full force of the law? (903029)

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We strongly support the right to protest peacefully, but that does not extend to the violent behaviour that we have witnessed across the country throughout the weekend. Any assault on our brave police is completely unacceptable. Any perpetrator should be in absolutely no doubt that they will be arrested and prosecuted. Assaults on emergency workers must be handled with the appropriate severity by the entire criminal justice system in a consistent way, and this Government will go even further, as we have committed to consult shortly on doubling the minimum sentence for those who assault emergency workers, to ensure that the sentence truly fits the crime.

The Government need a refresher course in their own policies: the Prime Minister does not know what “no recourse to public funds” means and the Equalities Minister and apparently the Home Secretary think it means that lots of help and support are available. In Newcastle today, “no recourse to public funds” means a mother unable to buy food or nappies for her baby, a British citizen, in the middle of a pandemic with no public help available. Does the Home Secretary know that? Does she care? (903028)

The hon. Lady is completely wrong in her categorisation. First, public health measures are available right now, in addition to the fact that this is a public health emergency, so it is wrong to assert that in the way she has done. Also, I have outlined the funds. Working across government, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, vital funds and resources have been provided to local authorities to provide support to people who need that extra support. That is something the Government are committed to.

I know that we will return to the protest issues in the statement shortly. This evening, there will be a television dramatisation of the terrible injustice inflicted on Anthony Bryan by the UK Home Office during the Windrush scandal. It was a case we raised in the Home Affairs Committee two years ago. Does the Home Secretary agree with the urgency and importance of the Government now accepting and acting on all the recommendations in Wendy Williams’s review? In particular, given the timing of the immigration Bill, has she implemented recommendation 7 on a review of the hostile environment, including its impact on race equality?

The right hon. Lady will be well aware, from the statement I made in the House earlier this year, that I am looking at all the recommendations in the Windrush lessons learned review and have committed to returning to the House to outline those recommendations and their implementation. It is important for me to say categorically again, on the record, that the review was distressing and many strands in terms of institutional thoughtlessness were applied to the Home Office. Last week—Wednesday, I think—I met again and had a substantive discussion with the Windrush advisory taskforce to look at various facets of the review and to discuss the issues around compensation but also to discuss the measures that do need to continue to be pursued by the Home Office in terms of ways of working. That work is absolutely ongoing. There are cultural changes that need to be brought to the Home Office as well to understand and resolve many of the issues that she as Chair of the Select Committee will be familiar with and that her Select Committee covered two years ago. It is important that we give not just the Department but myself the time to work with Wendy Williams to bring forward those measures so that we can right the wrongs of the past.

Just a couple of weeks after I gained the nomination to stand for election as the Member of Parliament for Bosworth, a young man was stabbed to death at the end of my road in Hinckley. What has the Home Secretary’s Department been doing to rid us of the horrible scourge of knife crime both before and during the covid-19 outbreak? (903031)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for raising a distressing and horrendous case. Too many young lives have been lost to knife crime, which is why we continue with our plans and determination to recruit 20,000 police officers—the Policing Minister has already outlined a way that is working and the funds allocated. Importantly, it is right that we have legislated to take more knives off our streets and that our serious violence Bill will place a new duty on public agencies to reduce serious violence. That means public agencies coming together at a community level to work to stamp out that violence but also to provide the support that young people need in the community to avoid a life of crime and violence and to be protected from these horrible, heinous crimes.

I only wish I could be with you, Mr Speaker, to ask this question to the Home Secretary. She will know that drugs and drug running are at the heart of so much violence when it occurs in our constituencies. There is some good money that she is responsible for—the violence reduction units—and that is very welcome because it enables police forces to have those extra resources, but it is on a yearly basis. My police and crime commissioner and my local police tell me that, for that to be effective, it needs to be known that they will have that money for a number of years. Will the Home Secretary move on that and help my community, and communities up and down the country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and also for highlighting some of the most shocking aspects of serious violence. He mentions the violence reduction units, which play a phenomenal role in reducing violent crime at a local level. He also touched on drugs, and particularly county line drugs. A lot of work has been combined, and there are now more resources available to police forces specifically for reducing serious violence and for violence reduction units, but also for rolling up county lines. He will be absolutely cognisant and aware of the work taking place in his constituency with his chief constable and police and crime commissioner to make sure that all those strands come together, to make sure that we can absolutely tackle the scourge of serious violence.

In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, residents report the illegal use of off-road bikes around natural beauty spots, such as Ford Green nature reserve, the football pitches of Kidsgrove Ladsandads and Birchenwood country park. Will my right hon. Friend join me and local councillor Dave Evans in encouraging my local police and crime commissioner, Matthew Ellis, to work with the chief constable to start taking tougher action on the illegal use of vehicles and to confiscate those vehicles when the law has repeatedly been broken? (903032)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, the rule of law applies to everybody. I particularly commend the work he has led, with his local council colleagues, on working with the chief constable to urge the police and crime commissioner to tackle this scourge. Any crime of this nature blights communities, and communities are disproportionately affected by this.

While many people completely understood the impact of the strict global lockdown on their personal travel plans, things are beginning to change at destinations across the world. Many of our constituents are due to travel in the next few weeks but now face potential financial loss because of the lack of clarity over whether the quarantine policies are a refundable reason for cancellation under their insurance policies. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with the insurance industry about cancellations due to the impracticality of quarantine for those about to go abroad, and will she commit to giving her speedy support to travel corridors, so that our hard-working constituents can go on the holidays they have saved for? (903033)

My hon. Friend will be well aware of my comments last week about travel corridors, and specifically international travel corridors. I have been working across government, with Transport but also the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The travel advice right now still clearly advises against non-essential travel. However, this is important, and my hon. Friend makes a valid point about insurance companies, refunds and some of the financial responsibilities and liabilities. We are working across government, as I said to the House not only today but last week, to make sure that all those considerations are actively pursued and discussed. She will hear from other Government colleagues who lead on those policy areas.

Some charities are reporting a decline in the use of domestic abuse helplines during this lockdown, as people are entrapped with their abusers. This is a particular problem for those victims facing language barriers, where English is not their first language. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that those victims, using those helplines, are directed to specialist charities with bilingual call handlers, such as Karma Nirvana? (903034)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that. A great deal of work has taken place with specialist domestic abuse organisations, particularly those that offer bilingual services. A wide-ranging awareness campaign has been launched, the “You are not alone” campaign, which signposts victims to the specific practical support that they need. We have provided £2 million to bolster those services. That is for helplines, and to help organisations to bolster their own technological capacity and provide direct practical skills to ensure that victims remain protected.

We learn and understand our history in schools and museums, and we build statues of those whom we deem worthy of our adoration. Does the Secretary of State agree that where there is the democratic desire to do so, statues of white men who enslaved and killed black men, women and children can, and should, be removed from our streets?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. We live in an open democracy and a free society, where we can do as he suggests through democratic means at a local level, with elected mayors and local councillors. Those processes must be maintained so that people can have their voices heard, exercise their democratic rights and freedoms and, importantly, stay within the rule of law.

Following on from the question asked by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), does my right hon. Friend agree with so many residents of North East Derbyshire who contacted me over the weekend that violence is never an acceptable method of pursuing political ends? (903035)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are privileged to live in an open and democratic country with many values entrenched in our constitution and our rules-based system. There is no justification for violence. There are many avenues through which people can exercise their voice and raise their concerns at a local council level. That is the right way to approach these issues.

Topical question 16—not here.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for five minutes.

Sitting suspended.