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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 683: debated on Monday 9 November 2020

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Abortion Clinics: Buffer Zones

What assessment her Department has made of the potential merits of introducing buffer zones around abortion clinics. (908389)

The right to protest is a vital part of our democratic society, and no one should be harassed or intimidated at all. In 2018, the Government conducted a review of protests outside abortion clinics. This policy has been kept under review, and following recent engagement with the police and abortion service providers this year, we are considering whether more work should be done to protect those accessing or providing abortion services.

I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. A clinic on a quiet street in my constituency has been plagued by 40-day protesters for over 12 months. Staff, local residents, teenage girls on their way to school and patients are all having opinions, leaflets and scripture forced on them. This is a place that offers family planning, counselling for those who have suffered miscarriages and a host of other services as well as terminations. I call what is happening wholly unacceptable harassment. What does the Home Secretary think?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter. This is a sensitive and complex issue—no question about that whatsoever—and I am really grateful to him for raising his concerns. He is not alone on this; I have spoken to many other Members of Parliament about this, too. He is right to say that harassment and intimidation are utterly unacceptable. Important services and advice are being provided. I can reassure him and say to the whole House that we are reviewing our work and policies on this important issue, and I think that that is absolutely right and proper.

Coronavirus Restrictions: Police Enforcement

What support her Department is giving to police officers to enforce coronavirus restrictions. (908393)

Our police forces have played a critical role during the pandemic and have been quick to respond to the changes and challenges that we all face. The Government have been clear that they will provide police forces with the support, both moral and physical, that they need to continue protecting the public and keeping communities safe through the coronavirus pandemic. This has included £30 million of additional covid surge funding.

I welcome the approach that my hon. Friend and the Home Secretary are taking to support brave police officers up and down the country. Lawful protest is the cornerstone of a democracy, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is wholly unacceptable for groups of protesters to come together and put police officers at risk by breaking social distancing rules, given that the police have a responsibility to keep the public safe?

It is no surprise that my right hon. Friend should put the welfare of police officers to the front of his mind, as should everybody in this country. Our police officers are out there on the frontline keeping us all safe, and it is true that a large gathering has the potential to expose them to a greater possibility of infection by the virus than would otherwise be the case. We have seen extraordinary resilience from our police forces throughout the whole pandemic. Indeed, absence has often been below business as usual. That is important because, besides covid compliance enforcement, we still have crime to fight, and if people want officers to be there at the other end of a 999 call and available to come to their aid in an emergency, they need to ensure that they do not expose them to a greater risk of infection than they would otherwise face.

In the first lockdown, we saw a number of large demonstrations and protests, including in Henley, that threatened frontline officers. In this lockdown, are we going to abolish them or try to prevent them from happening to protect officers and, indeed, the public?

I know that Henley has seen its fair share of problems over the past few months, and it is no surprise that my hon. Friend should raise them, as he often does, in this House. All large gatherings are now illegal under the coronavirus regulations, and I am afraid that that includes legitimate protests that would otherwise be tolerated. We are facing an extraordinary challenge as a country, with many vulnerable individuals, older citizens and others exposed to risks that they have never seen before, and we all have an individual duty towards our collective health. We hope and believe that the police will be able to encourage the vast majority of our fellow citizens to observe the regulations, but where they do not, enforcement is an option, as we have seen over the past weekend.

Lancashire has 750 fewer police officers than it did in 2010. Let us compare that with Surrey, which has only eight fewer officers. The discrepancy is because Lancashire is more reliant on Government grant than Surrey, which, as a relatively affluent area, is more reliant on council tax precepts. Given that the Government have promised to recruit 20,000 police officers in the next two years, when is the Department going to recruit them and base them in areas that have seen the biggest cuts, such as Lancashire?

I am pleased that our pledge to recruit 20,000 extra police officers is so popular, particularly in Lancashire. The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that 100 of the 153 that were allocated to Lancashire out of the first 6,000 had already been recruited by 30 September. They join the 5,834 that we have recruited towards our 6,000 target, which was due by next March; as Members can work out from the maths, we are well ahead of target. As for where those officers are based, that is a matter for the chief constable, who makes that operationally independent decision, in collaboration with the police and crime commissioner in the county.

Let me start by thanking the Minister for meeting me and the Daniel Fox Foundation, which is based in St Helens, does great work on knife crime in my constituency and was very encouraged by his support. We know the impact of coronavirus on our health and the economy, but it also has serious implications for public safety and the country’s security. There were anti-lockdown protests on the streets this weekend, but we see deliberate, harmful disinformation online all day, every day. So when ensuring that the police have what they need to meet all covid-related challenges that they face, what resources is he providing to them and the security and intelligence services to robustly counter the false online conspiracy theories, which are designed by nefarious elements, at home and abroad, to undermine our collective efforts to beat this virus?

First, let me say that I enjoyed our meeting with the Daniel Fox Foundation. I am pleased that in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world, St Helens, as in the rest of the country, we are standing shoulder to shoulder in the fight against knife crime. Sadly, we are having to do so once again, but it is a fight that we will and must win—I am sure there will be more about it later today. On misinformation and disinformation, he is right to say that unpleasant and untrue stories are circulating, whether anti-vaccine stories or the crazy stuff about 5G. Both the National Crime Agency and the security and intelligence services are engaged with our partners in the private sector in removing as much of that disinformation as we can. We have a role to play in this House as well, in standing together as democratically elected politicians and recognising that we charge others with assisting us in providing advice and data and that we must respect and acknowledge their views as being the basis on which decisions are made legitimately. That is the right way forward. I welcome the Opposition Front-Bench team’s support on that thus far, and indeed into the future.

Illegal Migration: English Channel

What steps her Department is taking to stop migrants crossing the English Channel illegally; and if she will make a statement. (908391)

These small boat crossings are dangerous, as the tragic fatalities last month showed. They are illegally facilitated by reckless criminals, and they are totally unnecessary because France is a safe country with a well-functioning asylum system, where people can seek protection if they need it. We are determined to completely stop these crossings. We are working with the French authorities to prevent embarkations. We are considering action we might take at sea, and we are taking robust law enforcement action, leading so far this year to nearly 100 arrests. Just last week, two people were convicted and sentenced for facilitating these illegal crossings.

My hon. Friend actually answered the question I was going to ask, so I am going to ask him something else instead. We have all been shocked by the number of deaths in the channel, but why does he think people want to leave France?

I must try to be diplomatic in the way I answer that question. There are a variety of motives, which probably include things such as language. The simple truth is that if people are seeking protection, France has a fully functioning asylum system. It is a safe and civilised country, and there is no reason to attempt and no excuse for attempting this crossing. That is why anyone in need of protection should avail themselves of it by claiming asylum in France and not attempting this dangerous crossing.

As the Minister knows, this problem has been getting worse throughout the year. We are seeing tragic loss of life and concern for communities on the channel coast because of this problem, which is profiting people-trafficking gangs. What progress is being made, either in preventing more crossings from leaving France in the first place or in stopping boats at sea and returning them to the French coast? If the migrants can see that they cannot get into the country in this way, fewer of them will try.

My hon. Friend is right to point out that this trade is facilitated by dangerous and ruthless criminals. On activity with the French, we are working with them to prevent embarkations and we are funding gendarmes who patrol the beaches. In fact, the French authorities have successfully stopped nearly 5,000 crossings this year so far. We are in the process of actively investigating action at sea because, as my hon. Friend says, if it is obvious that nobody can make it across, they will stop attempting such dangerous crossings in the first place.

We are also working to return under the Dublin regulations people who do get across—in fact, this week there are three flights, some of which will contain cross-channel migrants being returned under the Dublin regulations. By a combination of law enforcement on French beaches, potential action at sea and returns, we can remove the reason for even trying such crossings in the first place.

Does the Minister agree that the best way to clamp down on these illegal crossings is to prevent the small boats carrying the illegal immigrants from ever leaving European shores in the first place? Will he confirm to the House what steps he is taking with his French counterparts to ensure that they are stepping up their actions in that respect?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to do more with our French colleagues to prevent the embarkations. As I say, we are now funding additional gendarmes to prevent embarkations from the beaches, and we are supporting the French to provide proper, safe accommodation for migrants who would otherwise be living in the various camps. We are also investigating action at sea. My hon. Friend is quite right that if we can render these crossings essentially impossible, nobody will attempt them in the first place. Not only is that the right thing to do from a health and safety point of view, but it is the right thing to do to undermine and prevent the ruthless criminal gangs who are behind these crossings.

May I start by extending my sympathies to the relatives and friends of all who have died attempting these crossings?

As a matter of international law, entering a state to seek asylum without a visa is not illegal—I am happy to share with the Minister the advice from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the matter—but the crossings are certainly most irregular and very unsafe. Rather than fanning the flames of people’s desperation for political reasons, would it not be better for the Minister to focus on creating safe legal routes for asylum seekers? While he is attending to that, will he encourage the Home Secretary to stop her anti-lawyer rhetoric and acknowledge that there is a responsibility on politicians and other public figures to avoid saying anything that could make tensions worse or put people’s lives at risk?

Article 31 of the refugee convention, to which I think the hon. and learned Lady was referring, makes it clear that the prohibition on criminalisation of entry applies only to people who are directly—I use the word “directly”—entering a state from somewhere that is unsafe. I respectfully point out that France is not unsafe; France is a safe country.

On the hon. and learned Lady’s question about safe and legal routes, there are a large number of such routes and around about half the people who come here to claim asylum already do so via legal routes. In addition to that, for the past five years we have been running the resettlement programme, taking people directly from conflict zones—for example, Syria—and bringing them to the United Kingdom. Over that five-year period some 25,000 people, half of whom are children, have come via the resettlement route. The resettlement route—a safe and legal route of the kind for which the hon. and learned Lady calls—is the largest resettlement programme of any European country. We have a proud record of supporting people in genuine need and we will continue to do so.

On the hon. and learned Lady’s last question, I of course completely support the Home Secretary and we will continue to fight vexatious, last-minute legal claims when it is appropriate to do so.

Police Community Support Officers: Effectiveness

Police community support officers are a valued part of the police workforce as a key liaison point between local communities and policing, and we are all, I know, grateful for their service. Decisions about the best use of resources at the frontline, including the deployment of PCSOs, are for chief constables and democratically accountable police and crime commissioners based on their local knowledge and experience.

The Minister will know that Cambridgeshire has recently announced that the number of PCSOs is to be halved. The reason, in the words of the chief constable, was

“to ensure budget gaps can be met next year”.

Will the Minister do the right thing: bridge the gap and allow Cambridgeshire to keep our PCSOs?

I am very pleased to say that we have already started augmenting the resources available to Cambridgeshire police, with an award of £10.9 million last year, in the largest police settlement for a decade. Happily, it has already recruited 62 of the 99 allocated police officers, which I know will be making a huge difference in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, as they will across the whole of the county.

101 Service: Call Answering Times

What steps she is taking to improve the call answering time on the 101 service; and if she will make a statement. (908394)

We recognise the importance of a timely response to 101 calls and the role that technology can play in the relationship between the police and the public, which is why we are supporting national programmes developing new ways for the public to contact the police. Gloucestershire constabulary is a key beneficiary of the Single Online Home for policing, a digital 101 service.

I thank the Minister for that response, but the actual response on the 101 service is quite often far too long, and people then revert to the 999 service, putting undue pressure on it. I have a meeting with the chief constable of Gloucestershire on Wednesday, and I will certainly make those points to him. Is there any more the Government can do to improve the 101 service?

It is no surprise that a Member of Parliament who is himself very accessible to his constituents on an almost 24/7 basis should want the same for the police. While I would love to sit behind my desk in Whitehall and manage these things from the centre, the truth is that the response times and the disposition of 101 is a matter for the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable in his county. I know that, if he meets them, they will listen to him carefully, because it is extremely important, as he says, that when people pick up the phone to the police—whether it is the 101 service or the 999 service—they do get a good and efficient response. There is nothing that can undermine the confidence of a person in their police force than getting just a recorded message or, indeed, a call that is never answered. Some of that solution is technological and we think that much can be achieved through the Single Online Home, and I urge him to explore it as a reporting mechanism. I wish him good luck with his meeting, and look forward to hearing the conclusions of it.

Points-based Immigration System

The Government are making excellent progress on delivering one of the key promises that we made to the British people at the last election. Our new, fairer, firmer, skills-led points-based system will align the treatment of EU and non-EU nationals and deliver for the whole of our United Kingdom. Some routes are already open and most remaining routes will be open from 1 December.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Contrary to some of the arguments put forward by those who oppose a fairer immigration system, can he reassure the House that the new points-based system will, in fact, make it more straightforward and easier for medical professionals, from wherever they are around the globe, to be able to come to work in the United Kingdom as part of our NHS?

Yes, absolutely. The NHS and health and care sector, including Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, can continue to access the best and brightest from across the world under our new points-based system. The health and care visa was launched on 4 August and thousands of statuses have already been granted under it and those eligible benefit from fast-track visa processing, reduced visa fees and will not pay the immigration health surcharge.

Domestic Abuse: Victim Protection

This year, in response to the pandemic, our work to tackle domestic abuse has included additional significant investment of £27 million across Government to domestic abuse charities and service providers to bolster the support they give to victims and survivors. We have also run a public information campaign, #YouAreNotAlone, which we continue to build on, and the police have been proactively targeting perpetrators. We also continue to work on the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will help to support victims in the longer term.

I thank the Minister for listing that extensive programme of work. One of the reasons why I backed last week’s national restrictions with such a heavy heart was their impact on domestic abuse. Will the Minister say loud and clear from the Dispatch Box that one of the reasons that someone can leave their home is to flee abuse?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that really important point. I know that hon. Members across the House will very much have borne in mind the impact that further restrictions may have on victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I am more than happy to reiterate loud and clear that victims of domestic abuse can and must leave their home address to seek help, if they are able to. What is more, the Prime Minister made that very clear in his public statement to the nation at little over a week ago. I ask all hon. Members please to send that message loud and clear to their own constituents—that is, if someone is facing harm or injury at home, they can leave their home to seek help.

I join the Minister in her calls just now. I also make further calls to ensure that when people do need help, there is some help there for them. Due to a decade of cutbacks to our court system and the coronavirus crisis, there is a backlog of around 50,000 Crown court cases. I am sure that the Minister will have heard from those who have bravely come forward—just as I have been told by distressed survivors of domestic and sexual abuse—that trials such as these are being delayed, in some cases by up to two years. In light of these terrible delays to justice, will the Minister answer the calls of the domestic and sexual violence sector, and the Labour party, to ensure that sustainable, long-term funding is put in place beyond March, at least for community-based domestic and sexual violence advisers? Currently, those going through very delayed court cases could end up without the correct support because their court case will certainly run for longer than the funding allocated for their support.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the point of courts. Another message that we can all spread to constituents—please—is that under this set of restrictions, the court system is remaining open. Last time, some courts had to be closed. There were, none the less, still criminal and family courts open; indeed, domestic abuse and other forms of personal violence were prioritised by the courts. This time the courts remain open and absolutely can seek justice, and we have seen reports of increased orders, including domestic violence protection orders, issued by the police during the previous lockdown.

On the hon. Lady’s wider point about funding, I would say that it goes further than funding independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers, absolutely vital though they are. It is also about a wholesale change in how we deal with victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and with the perpetrators of those crimes. The Government are investing in more perpetrator programmes precisely so that we can stop the cycle of abuse. We will also be piloting integrated domestic abuse courts so that victims and survivors can find an easier atmosphere in which to secure justice, because that is what they deserve.

Knife Crime

We are taking action on every level to cut knife crime. This week sees the instigation of Operation Sceptre—a nationally organised week of intensification against that crime. We are also investing millions of pounds in prevention and early intervention to stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place.

In 2017, my constituent Ryan Passey was killed with a knife inside a nightclub in Stourbridge. Absurdly, the perpetrator was acquitted. I am grateful for the work done by the Government so far on sentencing, but does the Minister agree that we need to be tough not just on sentencing, but on all aspects that have thus far allowed the perpetrators of knife crime to go free?

My hon. Friend raises a terrible case. The family of Mr Passey have our deep condolences. Over the past 12 years, I have met far too many parents of children and young people who have sadly been murdered and killed on our streets and in nightclubs, often by people who they regard as friends. Back in the early part of the previous decade, we thought we had beaten knife crime, but unfortunately it is back. My hon. Friend is quite right that we need to concentrate on every aspect of this—from enforcement through to prevention and, frankly, long-term work with young people that shows them that carrying a knife is dangerous not only to others, but fundamentally to themselves. There is a better way. We all need to stand shoulder to shoulder with my hon. Friend and her constituents to show young people that way in life.

Public Order: Covid-19

The vast majority of the public have come together, followed the law and helped to prevent the spread of this virus. Our police forces face unprecedented challenges right now in terms of maintaining public order, but they have been working exceptionally throughout this crisis and have done so with a great deal of determination.

My right hon. Friend may well be aware that, while our police forces such as in Lincolnshire have been checking in with pubs and policing the 10 pm curfew, for example, in Lincoln, other crimes are still continuing and on the rise in some cases. What steps are being taken to ensure that our police forces do not take their eyes off the day job?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I praise his local police force in Lincoln for the outstanding work that they are doing and have been doing throughout coronavirus. He raises an important point about additional help and support. He will be well aware of the additional £30 million that has gone to local police forces across the country to really assist them in tackling the root causes, keeping on top of crime prevention and going after the criminals, but, specifically with coronavirus, going after the egregious breaches while also working with the community on the principles of the four Es— engage, explain, encourage, enforce—and encouraging people to comply.

While I much regret that we are having another lockdown, Essex police are doing a brilliant job under challenging circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend please spell out again what the powers are to enforce social distancing and to stop illegal gatherings such as those happening too often in Old Leigh in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think I can stand with him with a degree of conviction and praise Essex police for the outstanding work that they have been doing. I was with the chief constable just over a week ago. My hon. Friend asks about the powers that the police have. The regulations and the guidance are very clear in terms of police powers on fines and going after individuals who are breaching the covid regulations with egregious activities such as mass gatherings. We have seen the £10,000 fines being used very effectively, and in Essex as well.

Hate Crime

The Government take hate crime very seriously. The police recorded hate crime figures have benefited from an improved understanding on the part of the public but also, importantly, improvements in the way that the police record these crimes. Interestingly, the recent crime survey for England and Wales, which provides wider information on the nature of hate crime and is not affected by how the police record crime, shows a decrease of about 40% in the experience of hate crime over the past decade. However, we do not rest on our laurels on this. As well as doubling hate crime funding for places of worship this year, the Government are working closely with the police to ensure that all forces are providing reassurance to affected people and encouraging hate crime reporting during the pandemic.

Reported hate crimes have more than doubled since 2013, and it is a well-established fact that these crimes often spike with an increase in political rhetoric. When the Home Secretary brands Travellers as criminal and violent, and reportedly explored options to house asylum seekers on Ascension Island, what responsibility do the Government take for these increases, and does the Minister agree that it is time for our own lowering of the temperature?

I welcome any call from Labour Members with regard to working together to tackle these dreadful, dreadful crimes, but I again draw the hon. Lady back to the fact that the reports that people make to the crime survey show that there is not the same increase that we are seeing in police recorded crime. The importance of police recorded crime is that it suggests very strongly, first, that the public are recognising when they are victims of the crime, but also that the police are recording it better. That must be key to us tackling this terrible crime. If we measure it properly, then we can make sure that our methods to address it are doing exactly that and stopping this terrible crime.

Tell MAMA is running its “No2H8” campaign this month, and the Home Office has acknowledged in its own stats that this year’s rise in hate crimes is partly driven by far-right groups targeting Black Lives Matter campaigners. Will the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to support groups that they have been recognised as victims of an increase in hate crime?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we published the hate crime action plan in 2016 and refreshed it in 2018, and we have seen significant improvements, as I have said, which goes back to the point about police recorded crime as well. We are also investing. Through schemes such as the places of worship scheme, we can have a real impact on the local communities most affected by hate crime. In terms of the Black Lives Matter far-right counter-protest, there was a rise in racially or religiously aggravated and non-aggravated public order offences in June and July this year, as compared with the previous year. To push back a little on what the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) said earlier, we must all fight back against extremist politics, whether it is the far right, as the hon. Gentleman has just talked about, or indeed the far left, because there is an awful lot of hatred coming from that direction at the moment. I welcome the calls—I am taking them to be universal—to lower the temperature, to be responsible with our use of language and to ensure that we have the sorts of discourse in politics that I am sure we all wish for.

Unaccompanied Child Refugees: EU Transition Period

What steps the Government has taken to help ensure co-operation at a European level on unaccompanied child refugees after the transition period. (908402)

The United Kingdom tabled a full draft agreement to the European Commission back in May, which included provisions for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children family reunion. That has sadly so far not been agreed, but the negotiations are still ongoing, and I ask the hon. Lady and others to put pressure on the European Commission to constructively respond to the draft text we tabled. When it comes to the United Kingdom’s record on looking after UASCs, we currently look after more UASCs than any other European country.

I understand that on 9 August this year, the Home Secretary announced that she had appointed a clandestine channel threat commander. Can the Minister confirm precisely what powers the commander has and why the elements of the role could not be addressed by Border Force?

Given that the problems posed by cross-channel small boat crossings, as we discussed earlier, are unique, serious, dangerous—as we have tragically seen—and facilitated by ruthless criminals, the Home Secretary and I felt it was important to have a dedicated person with proper experience. He is a former Royal Marine and can work on completely stopping these crossings. That is the safe thing to do, the humanitarian thing to do, and the right thing to do legally.

Police Officer Numbers

This Government are committed to increasing the number of police officers by 20,000 over the next three years, and I am delighted to say, as the Minister for Crime and Policing has already this afternoon, that we have made a great start on that thanks to the commitment of all forces across England and Wales. In recent weeks, we have announced that so far we have recruited 5,824 additional officers, and they have all joined the police force as part of our uplift programme as of the end of September.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government not only are committed to increasing police officers, including in rural areas, but will look at increasing the number of police stations in rural areas, such as reopening Bakewell police station in my constituency of Derbyshire Dales?

I thank my hon. Friend not only for her question, but for her commitment to law and order in her constituency. She is indeed a strong champion of that, including with her representation for getting more police stations opened in her constituency. We have already recruited 72 additional officers for her local area, and her chief constable and police and crime commissioner should be equally as receptive to not only receiving new officers, but the additional resources that would lead to more police stations being opened.

West Lancashire and Chorley police do a cracking job, but a number of concerns have been raised in rural areas about groups of youths, potential drug use and certain amounts of antisocial behaviour, especially in Tarleton, Croston and Rufford. Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the additional police officers that Lancashire is benefiting from could be used to target these rural areas, where the force is stretched a little thin?

My hon. Friend is right. Of course, community concerns about crime should be addressed at the highest level with police and crime commissioners and the chiefs. She has an outstanding chief constable, who is increasing policing and police patrols across the region. In a rural area, that means more resources and putting more officers on the beat to deal with rural crime and the issue of antisocial behaviour.

Yorkshire has some similar problems to Lancashire. Following a break-in at Robert Wilkinson Primary Academy in my constituency and increased reports of antisocial behaviour in the more rural areas around our city of York, does my right hon. Friend agree that our efforts to increase the number of police officers should be used to improve rural police response times and not just be focused on our city centres?

My hon. Friend is right. As he has heard the Policing Minister and I say this afternoon, we are absolutely committed that the additional resources going to all forces across the country are there to bolster our communities when it comes to keeping the public safe, including in rural communities, and tackling the root causes of the crimes that are taking place in his constituency.

West Midlands Police: Crime Reduction Support

West Midlands police are receiving up to £620.4 million in funding this year—an increase of more than £49 million on last year. We have also invested £12 million over two years in bolstering their capacity to respond to violent crime swiftly and robustly and given £6.7 million for a violence reduction unit across the west midlands to address the root causes of crime.

Recently, West Bromwich town centre has seen an appalling spate of crime, and I thank the Home Secretary for her support on this so far. Last week, I held a meeting with the town’s main stakeholders and local police to see what we can do. Will the Minister continue to work with me and the police to put more officers on our streets, to make West Bromwich East safer, so that we can be proud of our town centre once again?

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this to my attention. I had a look at some of the incidents that have taken place in West Bromwich town centre, and it is a shocker, to be honest. Hopefully, using the convening power of her office, she can pull all the various groups together, and the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable will pay attention too. I recently had a good meeting with West Midlands police to discuss their general violence reduction, with a particular focus on reducing murder. It sounds like West Bromwich could do with some attention, and I am grateful to her, as I know her constituents will be, for bringing that focus to an area that obviously needs it.

Policing: Dorset

The police funding settlement for 2020-21 set out the biggest increase in funding for the policing system since 2010, with Dorset police receiving up to £144.3 million in funding. That is an increase of £8.8 million on the previous year. We are giving the police the resources they need to fight crime and keep the public safe.

Can I thank the Minister very much for his answer? My constituency of West Dorset is served very ably by Dorset police, and they have historically managed their finances very well, but in the national funding formula, we do not fare quite so well, being below average, with 48%, compared with the average of 64%. Could he give me some reassurance that the police in Dorset are valued as much as other police forces around the country?

My hon. Friend need have no fear: every officer and every force in the country stand in equal regard by the Home Office, although I know that Dorset police are close to his heart. I will say two things. First, it is very important that the good people of Dorset elect a Conservative police and crime commissioner in May next year who can continue that good financial management. Secondly, I remind him of the commitment that I gave at the Department’s last questions session. While the police funding formula is currently the best basis we have for allocating funds across all forces in England and Wales, it is a bit elderly, and we have undertaken to review it before the next election. During that review, I know that he, along with all the other Members of Parliament from Dorset, will be lobbying hard to ensure that that beautiful county comes out of it well.

County Lines Drug Trafficking

What steps she is taking to tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation. (908410)

County lines trafficking is a heinous crime, and tackling it is an absolute priority for this Government. This is why we are delivering £25 million over two years to surge activity against these ruthless criminal gangs. This includes investment in national and local law enforcement activity to roll up county lines, and funding for dedicated one-to-one specialist support for county lines victims and their families.

To effectively tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation—both issues of great concern to my Slough constituents—sufficient, desperately needed resources must be given to our police force. Having first cut more than 21,000 police officers, the Government thankfully did a U-turn and have pledged to deliver 20,000 extra officers, but the recruitment funds have since been repurposed for the covid response. Can the Minister categorically confirm that the recruitment funds will be made available to the police?

The hon. Gentleman surely welcomes the 260 new officers that have been appointed to his local area as of 30 September. We are absolutely clear—this is a manifesto commitment, and one which I know the public took very seriously—that we will recruit an additional 20,000 officers. In addition to those 20,000 officers, we are specifically targeting the heinous crime he has set out—namely, county lines. In Thames Valley alone, we are developing a multi-agency violence reduction unit to the tune of £2.32 million, combining the expertise of the police, local government, health and education professionals, community leaders and others to identify the causes of serious violent crimes, including county lines, and deliver a multi-agency response to it.

Sorry, but I am going to have to go on to topicals. Those who did not get in may get picked up if we can get through topicals a bit quicker than we got through the other questions.

Topical Questions

During these difficult times we will not forget those who feel especially vulnerable as we all spend more time at home. For the victims of domestic abuse, I want to be very clear: even during these tougher restrictions, you do not have to stay at home if you are at risk there. Our #YouAreNotAlone campaign has helped domestic abuse victims and the public know how to access vital support. The site alone has received over 330 million online impressions. We have stepped up our work with the National Crime Agency, pursuing child sex offenders, doing more to keep children safe online and supporting charities working with vulnerable children. Of course, the Work and Pensions Secretary this weekend announced £170 million of support to vulnerable children and families, and the police are stepping up in this space as well. My message is clear: for anybody who is subject to abuse, you are not alone and you must seek help from the police.

I agree that the new national restrictions this Government have introduced are absolutely necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus, but for vulnerable people and victims of domestic abuse it has not been an easy week. I have also had the great pleasure of meeting my local Barnardo’s, which works with children who have witnessed domestic abuse at first hand and are therefore victims themselves. I thank my right hon. Friend for the measures she has outlined to protect and safeguard the most vulnerable people from abuse.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and may I thank her for the conscientious way in which she has been raising this issue, but also tackling it locally? I am abundantly clear, and Ministers have spoken of it in the House this afternoon as well, that the support is out there. We continue to work with police forces across the country, which will continue to use the tools of law enforcement to go after abusers, but also to make sure that victims are protected.

With your leave, Mr Speaker, I begin by warmly congratulating American President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris. It is historic that we will see the first woman and the first woman of colour to be vice-president. Their victory is a lift for all around the world who believe in decency, value the truth and recognise the unifying power of hope.

Last week, we saw far more depressing news at home, where it emerged that at least nine people have died waiting for compensation for the Windrush scandal and just 12% of people who have applied have received compensation. Those figures are shameful. May I ask the Home Secretary what message she would send to those who are still waiting for justice?

I thank the shadow Home Secretary for raising the important issue of Windrush, and he will know of my own personal commitment, not just within the Department, to tackle the injustices that have taken place in the past. He is right in the figures he gave about the nine individuals who have passed away, and all our thoughts are with those families. We continue to work specifically with those families, to make the claims and ensure that compensation is still paid out to families of claimants who have passed away. Importantly, the compensation scheme has now paid out more than £1.6 million, and a further £1.2 million has been offered. As the hon. Gentleman will know from all the discussions and from each time I come to the House, I am determined to go further and faster. Let me add one other point: it is important that we treat everybody humanely. These are individuals. They are people and not just cases.

I recognise what the Home Secretary says, but the Windrush taskforce was set up more than two and a half years ago. Another five months have passed since June, when the Government promised that it was time for action, and the Home Secretary told the House that she had individual cases passing across her desk. Let me be clear: the Home Secretary will not regain trust on this issue unless the process starts delivering. Let me make a suggestion. Will she work to apply targets to the process, and give victims binding guarantees about how long claims will take, so that they can be processed efficiently? Surely she must accept that things cannot go on as they are?

I have been clear that we are absolutely determined, with conviction and commitment, to support those who have been affected by the whole Windrush scandal. This is not about targets; this is not just about cases. This is about people, and it is right that processes are in place. I have offered the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues across the House, the chance to work with us and see how those claims are assessed and processed. It is right to pay attention to detail with these cases. Detail was missed in the past, which was how we had that great sense of injustice. I am committed, as are my Department and officials, to righting the wrongs of the past, and we will do that in a thoughtful and proper way.

I welcome the efforts of my right hon. Friend and her ministerial team to tackle cross-channel migrants, but she will be aware of growing concerns among our constituents. Can she give an assurance that if new legislation is required, it will be in place before next summer? (908500)

My hon. Friend is right to raise that question, and he heard the Minister with responsibility for immigration compliance speak about that issue today. This is an issue, and we want to ensure that everyone who is seeking asylum comes to our country for the right reasons, and in the right way. Currently, our efforts are being undermined by people traffickers and issues of which my hon. Friend is well aware. We will bring forward legislation—I have been clear about that—to address problems in our asylum system, and ensure that we go after those individuals who are trafficking people, and who frankly are abusing vulnerable people who are seeking to flee persecution.

We have been told that the Government want to use Interpol databases as an alternative to the SIS II database after 1 January. Will the Home Secretary tell the House how many EU27 countries have agreed to upload all their information on wanted criminals, missing persons, and other crucial information on the SIS II database, on to the Interpol databases? How far will they have completed that task by 1 January? Can the Home Secretary guarantee the House that the police and Border Force will still be able to get access to that crucial criminal information?

Order. May I just say to Members that it is unfair to those the call list if I cannot get through it? We were slow on the last set of questions, and topical questions are meant to be short and punchy. Please let us work together. It is not fair on those who are missing out.

As the right hon. Lady has highlighted, in the absence of SIS II we will use Interpol channels to exchange information with EU member states on persons of interest.  All incoming Interpol circulations, notices and diffusions are uploaded to UK border and policing systems. Our use of Interpol predates our SIS II access, and provides the capability to exchange data and communicate with all our international partners quickly and securely.

While I welcome the Domestic Abuse Bill, can the Minister reassure me that sufficient time and support will be provided for the police, local authorities and other services to prepare for their new duties and powers, so that they can offer victims the best possible protection and support? (908504)

I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is right that we support victims and work with the police to give them the tools they need to do so.

Last week I met Peter Krykant, whose pilot scheme for safe consumption spaces in Glasgow last month saw 74 protected injections take place over 40 hours, with zero blood-borne viruses transmitted, zero overdose deaths and 74 needs safely discarded. Will the Home Secretary agree with me that those figures appear to support the conclusion of the Scottish Affairs Committee that safe consumption spaces are proven to reduce the immediate health risks associated with problem drug use?

The hon. and learned Lady will know that the Policing Minister, working with the Department of Health and Social Care, has been working assiduously on our plans to deal with drug abuse. Those findings will come out in due course, but a great deal of work is being undertaken by this Government through the Dame Carol Black review. We are undertaking a range of work, including some pilot work, on drug abuse.

As we fight against the coronavirus, we must not forget about the other threats facing this country, including terrorists and the hateful ideologies that fuel them. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what steps her Department is taking to crack down on terrorists and those who fuel hate, such as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, so that they can no longer pose a threat to the public? (908505)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this concern. We are, of course, fully committed to tackling terrorism in all forms, and hateful ideologies as well. That is part of our CONTEST strategy and we are constantly reviewing all actions in light of the changing world we are living in.

Over the last four years, knife crime in Bedfordshire has increased by 50%. In Luton North, I have parents who are scared for their children’s safety. A few weeks’ ago, at a litter pick in a local park, I found a knife as long as my arm. Can the Home Secretary tell the House if she has a strategy to combat the rise in knife crime and how she hopes to deliver it, given that her Serious Violence Taskforce has not even met this year? (908502)

The hon. Lady will be well aware that the Government are fully committed to serious violence reduction. We are working on this with our National Policing Board, as well as her chief constable. She is right to highlight the seriousness of the corrosive aspects of knife crime across society. The police have the tools and the powers to go out there and pursue individuals who are carrying such weapons, and we have the policies we are applying by working with the police.

In the recent half-term holiday, Sussex police stepped out across Eastbourne and Willingdon, my home constituency, to address antisocial behaviour. In the course of the operation, they uncovered an instance of cuckooing, where a vulnerable person had been targeted, exploited and their home used as a base for further criminal activity. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Sussex police for their excellent work in such challenging times, and update the House on what further work is being done to address this appalling crime? (908509)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I thank Sussex police. I have seen at first hand their work in dealing with county lines, drugs and protecting vulnerable individuals. She is right to highlight this abhorrent crime. We see far too many vulnerable people being used by criminals for criminal purposes. A great deal of work is taking place, in particular on county lines but also on safeguarding victims and vulnerable people.

In recent years, Cambridge has successfully resettled more than 100 Syrian refugees. The local authority nearby is keen to do more, but frequently runs into bureaucratic hurdles. Will the Secretary of State meet me and local representatives to smooth further resettlement? (908503)

Of course, the answer is absolutely yes. The hon. Gentleman will be very aware of the work the Government have done over recent years when it comes to resettling asylum seekers and refugees through our resettlement scheme. I am very happy to discuss that with him.

Can we look at the visa application system for businesspeople coming to this country? For far too many it is far too technical. and it really does need a review. (908511)

My hon. Friend raises an important change that is coming through our points-based immigration system, with simplification coming into the system, as he will be aware. He is absolutely right; part of our mantra as global Britain is that we are open to the world and, in particular, to those who want to contribute to our economy and our country.

The British Nationality Act 1981 was amended in 2014 to do away with the outdated notion of illegitimate children and allow a retrospective right to claim a British father’s citizenship by descent. However, the same right was not afforded to the children of British overseas territories fathers. It has been six and a half years since the Government stated their intent to remedy this oversight. What plans does the Home Secretary have to bring about a much needed change in the law? (908506)

The hon. Lady is right: that is a much needed change required in the law, and I will make further comments on this in due course.

For many vulnerable people and victims of domestic abuse, it will not be an easy few weeks in November during the lockdown. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what measures her Department has been taking to safeguard the most vulnerable people from abuse? (908513)

I refer my hon. Friend to the comments I made earlier. He will be well aware of the way in which we have empowered the police, who are going out there to ensure that victims are protected while at the same time going after the perpetrators of domestic abuse. My message is absolutely clear: if you are perpetrating abuse, the police will find you and come after you. We are putting more money and support into the system to protect the vulnerable, and we are asking those who are subject to domestic abuse to leave home and seek advice through many of the portals that we have stood up.

Throughout the coronavirus, my constituents with leave to remain have faced a number of issues with the Home Office’s coronavirus team, from NHS workers facing long delays for biometric cards to arrive to families stranded abroad with British children unable to return to school. My constituents and caseworkers have struggled to get accurate and up-to-date information from this apparently unaccountable team. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this further? (908507)

Of course I will meet the hon. Lady. If she can give me the specific examples that she is referring to, I will look at them.

I wonder whether the Home Secretary or one of her Ministers would be prepared to engage with some of the asylum support groups that I met recently in Glasgow to hear at first hand how they feel that the ASPEN—asylum support enablement—card system is financially and digitally excluding them during the covid virus pandemic and making them feel that the hostile environment has not gone away. (908517)

I have been speaking very regularly to people working with asylum seekers in Glasgow. Just last week, I spoke to Aileen Campbell, the Communities Secretary, and I have spoken—I think twice now—in recent weeks to the leader of Glasgow City Council. We are doing a great deal of work with those providing services to asylum seekers in Glasgow. We have managed to reduce the number of people accommodated in hotels from over 400 to about 200. It is regrettable that Glasgow City Council still has 600 people in hotel accommodation.

I am eternally grateful to you for calling me, Mr Speaker. On 1 October, the shadow Health Minister and I wrote to our counterparts in Government asking why it was taking months to process the one-year visa extensions promised to healthcare workers, leaving them without their biometric residence permits, which is exposing this country’s heroes to the hostile environment. We have not had a response to that letter, so I will ask again: now that we are in a second national lockdown, why was the visa extension scheme closed at the start of October and why are the permits taking so long to process, only compounding the pressures on healthcare professionals rather than alleviating them?

First, if the hon. Lady has not received a response, I will ensure that she receives one. The fact of the matter is that we are doing everything in our power to support the NHS heroes who have been working flat out throughout this coronavirus crisis, and there will be more activity on this front to come.

Greater Manchester police officers keep blowing the whistle to the Manchester Evening News about the failures of the new computer system, iOPs—the integrated operational policing system. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said that the system is putting vulnerable people at risk of harm. The system released the details of victims’ names and addresses online earlier this year. The £27 million scheme is massively overspent. Has the Secretary of State made a recent assessment of the project?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware—he has referred to this—we have sent Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Tom Winsor, to look at what has been going within Greater Manchester policing with iOPS. The cases that we have seen and the inability to record crime data—the points that the hon. Gentleman has made—are clearly unacceptable. We are keeping it under review, and we will keep him and other hon. Members informed of the progress of the work that is being undertaken on this front.

The Centre for Social Justice report “It Still Happens Here” estimates that 90,000 victims of modern slavery went unidentified under the previous lockdown. Under the second lockdown, what proactive steps will the Government take to identify, rescue and protect victims of modern slavery?

I thank the hon. Lady for her really important question. She is right about the report published by the Centre for Social Justice. I am acutely aware, as are officials across the Department, of the scale of modern-day slavery. Much of it is underground, in the black economy, where people are captured and put into bonded labour. There is extensive work taking place in the Home Office and with law enforcement, and I would be very happy to share some of that work with the hon. Lady.

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 a few minutes.

Sitting suspended.