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Topical Questions

Volume 683: debated on Monday 9 November 2020

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, however, 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 have made it 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 and 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 to 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 needles 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, along 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, parents 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 whether 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.

During 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 and 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, and 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 business people 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 has the Home Secretary 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 crisis, 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 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 Scottish Government 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, which is only compounding the pressures on healthcare professionals rather than alleviating them?

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.

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 on in 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.