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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 686: debated on Monday 14 December 2020

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police Officer Numbers

The Government have a clear commitment to recruit 20,000 police officers by March 2023. Thanks to the strong commitment we have had from all forces across England and Wales, we have made a fantastic start, with almost 6,000 additional officers recruited by the end of September. As the party of law and order, we are well on track to increasing police officer numbers across all forces.

I welcome the increase in police numbers across the country; it is great news, honouring and delivering on our manifesto commitment. I have been informed that Avon and Somerset seems to be lagging behind a bit on the uplift of police numbers. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that that is not the case?

I can assure my hon. Friend that Avon and Somerset has all the resources needed to recruit the number of police officers that it needs. We have asked it to recruit 137; it has actually recruited 130, and of course we have funded it with up to £326 million. On top of that, I would urge the police force and my hon. Friend to keep on banging the drum—we are the party of law and order—and to get out there and recruit the remaining police officers that it needs.

I am grateful that the Government have provided Kent with an additional 184 police officers, but will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Kent’s excellent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, who, in his four years in office, has recruited 450 officers over and above the Government-funded number? That means we now have 3,847 officers in Kent, which is the highest number on record.

I absolutely commend the police and crime commissioner for Kent, Matthew Scott, but I also thank and pay tribute to the chief constable. This is a joint effort. Having been out in Kent a few weeks ago on a police raid, I have seen at first hand the new recruits and the absolute determination that the force has not just in recruitment but in dealing with some of the most appalling crimes that we see.

I am delighted that London will also receive an uplift in the number of police officers on our streets. With the continued incidence of catalytic converter theft, vehicle-related crime, antisocial behaviour and burglaries in Carshalton and Wallington, can my right hon. Friend assure me that the London Borough of Sutton will receive its fair share of these new officers?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to bang the drum for the London Borough of Sutton. Of course, he will know that the Metropolitan police has been allocated an additional 1,369 new officers. Its funding has increased as well, by £193 million. I must emphasise that that is money for the frontline—for police officers to deal with the crimes that my hon. Friend highlights, along with a lot of the serious violent crime we see across London.

The Government’s police officer uplift is of course welcome, but it must surely be only the starting point for what is needed to repair the damage to policing by Conservative Governments. New figures revealed in The Sun on Sunday show that there is now only one police community support officer for every 6,475 people in England and Wales, compared with one PCSO per 3,292 people in 2010. While the population has grown and violent crime has risen by 150%, the Government have cut nearly half of our neighbourhood PCSOs, and on top of that we have lost over 12,000 police staff roles. The Prime Minister said last year that

“the most important thing politicians can do is back the police,”

yet he has zero plans to replace the PCSOs or police staff that have been ripped away. When will this Government live up to their promise so that our police officers can get a grip on crime?

It is important for this House and the British public to know that this Government have put record levels of funding into the police, and that this Government, this Prime Minister and this Home Secretary absolutely, unequivocally back the police. The hon. Lady asks about the recruitment of PCSOs. Obviously, that links to the powers and the duties that they have, but she will also know that that is a decision for chief constables and police and crime commissioners, so across London, for example, where there might be an issue with PCSOs, it is for her, as a London MP, to raise this with the Labour Mayor of London. These are operational decisions, but I maintain that this Government back the police. Our funding settlement illustrates that day in, day out, as does the recruitment programme, with almost 6,000 new police officers recruited to the frontline.

Rosie Cooper is mobile at the moment—hopefully we will come back to her question—so we now move on to the next question.

Covid-19: Public Order

Our police forces face unprecedented challenges and have the critical role of maintaining public order. They will continue to engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules, but will enforce where necessary. We have provided £30 million extra surge funding to support additional enforcement and we continue to work closely with our policing partners to ensure they have the necessary powers.

There are widespread reports in West Yorkshire of people breaking restrictions when in gyms. This is incredibly frustrating for pubs that are forced to close, with many on the brink of extinction. Can my hon. Friend reassure those pubs, which are watching from the sidelines, that the same robust approach will be applied in all settings?

I know my hon. Friend has a background as a former publican and that his local pubs are very dear to his heart as a key plank of his local communities. We have done everything possible economically to try to support them, but he is quite right that we should, where at all possible, try to maintain a level playing field in terms of enforcement. He will know that the responsibility for enforcement indoors largely falls to local authorities, environmental health and trading standards, but his question today is a good reminder to everybody involved in enforcement that it must not only be fair, but be seen to be fair.

Has the Minister seen some of the quite shocking footage of the policing of demonstrations that is available online, and is he aware that the police have been visiting restaurants and demanding people’s names and addresses? What is happening to our country?

I know my right hon. Friend is not given to hyperbole and that he has expressed his concern about the enforcement regime around the regulations over some weeks now. The enforcement from place to place is obviously an operational matter for the chief constable in that particular locality, but we are trying, where at all possible and in close conjunction with the National Police Chiefs Council, to maintain a sense of fairness and proportionality, using the “Four Es” where we can. I would just point him to the very small number of enforcement notices that have been handed out against the vast population of the United Kingdom—only in the tens of thousands against a population of 65 million—which shows that encouraging the British people to follow the regulations is largely working.

UK Immigration System: Devolved Administrations

What recent discussions she has had with the devolved Administrations on the UK's immigration system after the transition period. (910158)

The new immigration system will deliver a vision of success for the whole of our United Kingdom, as outlined to Members of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. The key new routes under the points-based system, including the flagship skilled worker route, are already open for applications. The Home Office regularly engages the devolved Administrations, Parliament and Assembly as we take this work forward.

Ending free movement will have a profound negative impact on Scotland’s public services, not least NHS Scotland. Previously, the Home Office team met quarterly with Scotland’s migration Minister, but the last meeting took place in July 2019. Since the Minister took up his post, there have been no further meetings. Why is he repeatedly refusing to have those meetings?

From the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I can only conclude that he missed my appearance before the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee on Thursday. Perhaps he might find the video online. During the session I outlined several meetings I would be delighted to have with Scottish Cabinet Secretaries and the kettle is on if they want to take me up on the offer.

I find that a fascinating reply, Mr Speaker, because it does not really accord with my understanding of what happened at the meeting to which the Minister refers. The UK Government’s immigration policies threaten to plunge Scotland’s working-age population into decline, to cause serious staffing shortages in key industries such as the farming industry, and to inflict lasting damage on our public services. The Minister has appeared to dismiss these serious concerns and has point blank refused to meet the Scottish Government Minister with responsibility for migration since he came into office under this Prime Minister. Did I correctly understand his previous comment as saying that that position has changed? If so, when is he planning to meet the Scottish Government’s migration Minister?

It is unfortunate that the hon. and learned Member appears also to have missed the session, but again, I believe there is a video online—she might find it fascinating—with me giving examples of Scottish Ministers I was prepared to meet to discuss a range of issues. I also gave MSPs examples of how Scotland’s needs are directly shaping the future immigration system for the whole of our UK, including the change to the permit-free festival system directly driven by the needs of Edinburgh international festival. But I suspect the actual focus of this question is, as always from the SNP, pushing separatism, not success for Scotland.

The Minister would do well to appreciate that the SNP represents the majority of voters in Scotland. At the meeting last week that he is referring to, my understanding, from speaking to colleagues, is that he said he would not be meeting what he described as the SNP’s “migration spokesperson”, so can he now put this on the record? Will he meet my colleague and friend, the democratically elected SNP Government’s spokesperson for migration? Will he meet him, as he has refused to do since last summer—yes or no? It is a very simple question; I want a clear yes or no answer.

I regularly meet the SNP spokesperson in this place on migration matters for constructive discussions. This Government are going to focus on building a future migration system focused on ensuring that the world’s talent sees Scotland at the heart of our United Kingdom as its natural home. The SNP sees it as an opportunity to ensure that the Scottish Government can always seek to recruit care workers at the legal minimum wage and as a chance to fulfil their ambition to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall and get England to pay for it.

Knife Crime

We are surging police capacity in the forces most affected by violent crime. We have just consulted on serious violence reduction orders, which would make it easier for the police to stop and search individuals previously convicted of knife crime. We are also investing millions in early intervention to stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place.

In Warwickshire, knife crime has risen by 300% since 2014. Just this year, on 15 January in Leamington Spa, we had one murder and one attempted murder—both stabbings. On 28 May, we had one murder—a stabbing. On 12 November, we had a stabbing, with serious injuries. The Government claim that we have as many officers as we did in 2010. We do not. We are about to lose 125 posts in Warwickshire—police, intelligence officers—so does the Minister understand why the public no longer trust the Government with law and order?

The hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned about knife crime in his constituency, as am I. While he again seeks to make a connection between police numbers and the level of crime—an argument that was made endlessly before the election—I point out, as somebody who paid a leading role in the battle against the last surge in knife crime, between 2008 and 2012, when police officer numbers were at an all-time high, particularly in London, that the connection is not direct. However, there is much more that we can and will do on knife crime. Although absent the covid effect on crime, we are seeing some signs of a turn in the current surge in knife crime, there is still much more to do in his constituency, as there is across the country.

I acknowledge the work that the Minister did while he was working for the Mayor of London to tackle knife crime, reducing numbers, but also in the last year, with a welcome reduction of 19% in knife crime offences. Of course there is more to do. Every life lost is a life wasted and a family ruined, and we must do more. I was very supportive of the introduction of knife crime prevention orders, and I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me how many orders have been issued since the trials were rolled out this spring.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his concern about this issue, which affects his constituency as it does many others, and he is right to raise it. Unfortunately, the introduction of knife crime prevention orders, which were scheduled to come in in London, has not yet happened, largely because of the impact of the covid pandemic and the absorption of capacity. However, there has been very significant activity on this issue, not least three weeks ago with a national week of intensification of Operation Sceptre, the anti-knife crime operation, which saw 2,005 arrests and well over 10,000 knives taken off the streets in the space of one week. That is an indication of the scale of the problem to which we are addressing ourselves with some urgency.,

Asylum System Reform

As the Home Secretary has already announced, we will embark next year on one of the biggest ever reforms of our asylum system. The system is in need of fundamental reform in which the principles will be firmness and fairness—fair in that we will rapidly grant claims that are meritorious, but firm in the sense that, where claims do not have merit, we will rapidly refuse them and ensure that people cannot have endlessly repeated bites of the cherry, which sadly is the case at the moment.

We are all rightly proud of the UK’s history as a safe haven for the persecuted, but can my hon. Friend outline what steps his Department is taking to ensure that claims of asylum from unsafe countries are being prioritised over those from inherently safe countries such as France?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. The United Kingdom’s resettlement scheme aims to take people directly from dangerous conflict zones, such as those around Syria, into the United Kingdom. We have run the biggest resettlement scheme of any country in Europe over the last five years. In terms of preventing claims from safe countries, he will be aware that we introduced some inadmissibility rules a few days ago, and we are working with our French colleagues to prevent these very dangerous small boat crossings from France to the UK. Thanks to that work, I am pleased to be able to report to the House that over the last three months since September, the number of small boat crossings per calm-weather day has come down by over 60%. That is testament to the great work being done by UK officers and by our colleagues in France as well.

It is immensely important that asylum seekers and refugees received the welcome and support they need when seeking sanctuary in the United Kingdom, but does my hon. Friend agree that those who are rejected should leave the country promptly?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Where an asylum claim has been rejected, it is only right and fair that the person whose claim has been rejected should leave quickly. Sadly, that is not always the case. In fact, we are currently accommodating some thousands of failed asylum seekers at public expense, but it is right that they should leave when their asylum claim has been rejected. One of the problems is that repeated appeals and last-minute claims can go on almost without limit and we intend to legislate in the first half of next year to ensure that that breakdown in process—that breakdown in the system—no longer happens.

The failure to manage the backlog of asylum claims has led to the Minister planning open prison-style camps in temporary accommodation in unsuitable locations, remote from healthcare services. Can he explain to the residents of Barton Stacey how the changes laid to the immigration rules last week are going to help? Does he not run the risk of establishing a separate tier of asylum seekers who cannot have their claims processed but cannot be returned to any European Union country because no agreement exists to enable that to happen? And does that mean that they will be permanently stuck in limbo?

The large numbers being accommodated are to some degree a consequence of covid because, as my right hon. Friend will know, we have been running significantly lower levels of move-ons for people whose asylum claims have been decided. For example, no negative cessations are happening at all at the moment, and that has led to a significant increase in the number of people being accommodated. As we move out of coronavirus next year, we hope to get those numbers rapidly back down again.

In relation to my right hon. Friend’s question about the immigration rules, they are laying the foundations for our post-transition period system. As she knows, we are currently in the Dublin system, which provides for people who have claimed asylum elsewhere to be returned to those countries, including France, Germany and Spain. It is our intention to open discussions with those countries as soon as we are able to do so, in order to bring into force similar measures after the transition period ends.

My hon. Friend will be aware that approximately 60,000 people are currently stuck in our asylum system. Does he agree with me and my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme that we must get this reform through, not only to treat those people fairly but to treat the taxpayer fairly? We should not be picking up the tab for a bloated and broken system.

My hon. Friend puts it perfectly. It is unfair on the taxpayer to have people whose claims have been rejected still subsisting in accommodation, and it is unfair on people with meritorious claims, whose claims take longer to hear because the system is not operating in the way it should. We certainly will be reforming it to address the issues he is rightly raising, and he can look forward to supporting legislation in this House in the first half of next year to do exactly that.

The law on asylum is dated and complex. Loopholes have been exploited for many years and, as my hon. Friend has stated on many occasions, tougher legislation is required. Will he advise the House as to when that legislation will be presented?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As I said, we will be introducing legislation in the first half of next year. It will aim to be fair to people with meritorious claims, to make sure that their claims are decided quickly and they are properly looked after. For people who have no valid claim or who seek to bring repeated, vexatious claims, often at the last minute, in order to frustrate removal, we will be shutting down those avenues, which are being abused. This is to make sure the system works fairly for those who need protection, but prevents abuse.

County Lines Drugs Networks

We are determined to dismantle county lines, which is why we are investing £25 million over two years to surge our law enforcement response to these ruthless criminal gangs. This includes investment in the national county lines co-ordination centre, targeted operational activity in three major exporting police force areas, and increased disruption on the road and rail network.

With schools often having to send children home this year, very vulnerable young people have been preyed upon by these terrible gangs. Will my right hon. Friend welcome the decision of West Mercia’s police and crime commissioner, John Campion, to commission the Children’s Society to provide extra help and diversionary activities for these young people?

My hon. Friend rightly recognises that these gangs particularly prey on and target vulnerable children when they are outside the school environment, often those who have, sadly, fallen out of school and cease to attend. So initiatives such as the one she outlines sound absolutely on the money in terms of the type of work we need at a granular level in constituencies across the country. Having worked with the Children’s Society as a Back Bencher, I know what enormous value and experience it can bring to these efforts, and I applaud the efforts of her local PCC to do this.

End of Transition Period: National Security)

What recent assessment she has made of the potential effect of the end of the transition period on national security. (910163)

The safety and security of our citizens remains our priority. We are working closely with operational partners to ensure we are ready for a range of scenarios at the end of the transition period. We will continue to co-operate with European and international partners to tackle shared security threats.

The deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police has pointed out that losing access to EU databases such as the Schengen information system will move the average time for securing a criminal conviction from six days to 60 days, describing this as a “capability gap” and as having a “massive impact”. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, what emergency contingency plans does the Department have in place until—possibly—replacements for the existing cross-border arrangements are agreed?

National security remains our absolute priority. This country is a safe country and will remain so after the end of the transition period. The hon. Lady asks what alternative arrangements are in place. Obviously, we continue the negotiations and await their outcome, but we are prepared for a range of scenarios. In the event that it is not possible to reach an agreement, the UK has well developed and well rehearsed plans in place. They involve transitioning co-operation with EU member states to alternative, non-EU arrangements by the end of the transition period. These are tried and tested mechanisms, which the UK already uses with so many other countries.

The Minister recently wrote to me that, in the event of no deal on policing and security co-operation, the UK would fall back on non-EU arrangements. Does he agree with the former National Security Adviser’s comments this weekend that these fallbacks are all “slower and more clunky” and that they would leave us all less safe? Moreover, when the current head of UK Counter Terrorism Policing said that we need an agreement that retains or improves levels of co-operation, can the Minister promise the police, the Security Service and, most importantly, the British public that this Government will deliver precisely that?

I have already said that this country will remain one of the safest places in the world. It is worth underlining to the hon. Gentleman that the UK will continue to be a global leader on national security; we are now and we will remain so in the future. I hope that, equally, he will note the level of preparedness and the hard work by our police and all our other agencies to ensure that we are well prepared for the end of the transition period to give that assurance to the public over their safety and security and welfare and wellbeing, which absolutely remain a priority for this Government.

Shopworkers: Protection from Assault

Mr Speaker, before I answer the question, may I apologise to you and to the House for having used the word “granular” in my previous answer? If it is not unparliamentary language, then it ought to be.

The Government’s response to the call for evidence on violence and abuse towards shopworkers was published in July. We are working with retailers on a programme of work to drive down this crime. We are developing communications materials to give the message that abuse is not tolerated, encouraging retailers to report these crimes and provide better support to victims.

Like many colleagues, I support USDAW’s Freedom from Fear Campaign and recently visited and met staff at my local Co-op. I was astonished to hear that, across its 12 stores in Cambridge, some 3,000 incidents have been reported already this year. That is an incident in every store every day, so how much worse does it have to get before the police take this more seriously and the Government take some action?

I join the hon. Gentleman in being appalled at the level of abuse and, indeed, violence that shopworkers often face. We are doing a huge amount to try to deal with it. Along with the retail crime steering group, we are working closely with police forces to press down on this particular issue. I have written to all chief constables in recent months outlining the need to ensure that every crime that takes place in a shop is investigated as much as it possibly can be. Interestingly, just last week, I met the head of security at the Co-op to talk about the work that it is doing with a company called Facewatch, which is using facial recognition technology to alert staff to repeat offenders who are entering the store, allowing them to intervene before the interaction is likely to become violent and abusive.

In a recent survey of its members, the shopworkers’ trade union USDAW found that 85% had been verbally abused, 57% had been threatened and 9% had been assaulted this year. Given those shocking statistics and noting the unsung role that these retail staff have played in ensuring that shops remain open during the pandemic, does the Minister agree that they need greater protection, and does he support the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), which seeks to create new offences for assaults on retail workers?

I do agree with the hon. Gentleman that shopworkers deserve all the protection that we can afford to them in the conduct of their duty, which has never been more crucial than during the recent pandemic and the lockdown where we saw the critical part that they play in making sure that the nation is fed. Having said that, we do not yet see the case for a specific offence of assault on a shopworker, notwithstanding the fact that conviction for an assault on those performing a public service—a category that such workers would fall into—is already an aggravating factor in sentencing. The Sentencing Council is, I gather, shortly to begin its work in reviewing the sentencing of assault. I urge the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have discussed these matters many times, to put his evidence into that consultation, as will the Government, to ensure that those who assault people working in a retail environment receive a commensurately serious offence such that others will be deterred from doing the same.

Covid-19: Domestic Abuse

What steps the Government plan to take to protect domestic abuse victims in response to the increase in domestic abuse incidents during the covid-19 outbreak. (910170)

What steps the Government plan to take to protect domestic abuse victims in response to the increase in domestic abuse incidents during the covid-19 outbreak. (910177)

Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, we have provided unprecedented additional funding to domestic abuse service providers to bolster their capacity to meet the demand for support. We announced further funding last month and relaunched the #YouAreNotAlone campaign to ensure that victims of abuse and those worried about them know how to access help and advice. In addition, the police continue to target perpetrators of abuse proactively because there is no excuse for abuse.

We know that domestic abuse helplines have seen a significant increase in calls for help this year, especially during lockdowns, but we also know that there are many people who have struggled to access domestic abuse support, even before the pandemic. Hearing from local campaigners such as Dr Nazia Khanum in Luton, it seems that people just are not getting the support needed because of additional barriers such as finances, language, culture and having no recourse to public funds. What are the Government doing to ensure that domestic abuse support gets to those who are hardest to reach?

The hon. Lady will of course be aware of the groundbreaking Domestic Abuse Bill, which has passed its scrutiny in the House of Commons and awaits its scrutiny in the House of Lords. As part of that Bill, we have an extensive programme of work—not just in the Bill itself, but outside the Bill—to help support victims. She will know, I hope, that not only have we commissioned the designate domestic abuse commissioner to map the services that are available in the community, but that we are in the process of launching our support for migrant victims scheme, which is a pilot scheme to support victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds.

The Minister was wise to make extra funding available in the light of the impact of covid on domestic abuse and sexual violence. However, that money has to be spent, through police and crime commissioners’ offices, by support services by March. The support services that I have talked to have said that that is simply not enough time to spend it efficiently and effectively. Will the Minister commit herself today to giving them another year to spend that same money?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising a constructive point. I hope that he knows that we were very keen through the pandemic to help at a local, regional and national level. Indeed, I was very careful to ensure that police and crime commissioners, who are responsible for distributing the local level of funding, do so not just to the services that are commissioned, but also to non-commissioned services, because there is a wealth of expertise across the country. On the point about funding, I will of course take that away. It is something that I have been discussing with charities and I know their concerns; we are dealing with that issue during the spending review allocation process.

Reducing the Risk supports victims of domestic abuse in my constituency and across Oxfordshire, and it was grateful to receive some of the funding that my hon. Friend refers to and which has helped it to support 50% more people. One of the things it focuses on is prevention. Does my hon. Friend agree that although we have to deal with the cases that we have seen spike during this year, we must not lose sight of the importance of prevention so that they do not get to that stage in the first place?

I very much recognise that. Indeed, part of the programme of work that sits within the Bill and outside the Bill is about tackling those who perpetrate domestic abuse. We need to stop these cycles of abuse; sadly, in some cases, perpetrators go from relationship to relationship, abusing and hurting people in their wake. One of the things that I am very interested in—I know that this is also an interest of my hon. Friend—is looking at what more we can do to understand the work of academics, particularly in interesting areas such as the use of artificial intelligence, to see whether we can do better by way of risk assessing domestic abuse perpetrators and the terrible impacts that they can have on their victims.

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker.

The Office for National Statistics and Women’s Aid data last week revealed that 4,823 victims of domestic abuse were not given refuge in 2018-19 because of a lack of space. That is an increase of 1,200 victims left without a safe place compared with the previous year. The Government may cite the temporary increase in beds hard won by campaigners over the covid-19 crisis, but both the Minister and I know that support services should be for life, not just for covid. I have tried and failed to get refuge beds for victims over the last few weeks. I simply ask the Minister if she is proud of a record of a rising number of victims turned away from life-saving support? Can she guarantee that this figure will fall next year, or will it rise to 5,000 or maybe 6,000 victims turned away?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support on the Bill, because, as she knows, the introduction of part 4 of the Bill puts particular duties on tier 1 local authorities to provide support services as part of their package of care towards people who are having to live in safe accommodation and refuge spaces. However, we also need to focus not just on refuge spaces. Although those are absolutely critical, as part of our work in the future I very much want us to focus on trying, where safe, to keep victims and children in their homes, with perpetrators being required to leave their home addresses. It is simply unacceptable that someone who has suffered trauma for years and years feels, in moments of crisis, that they must be the ones to leave their home, their family, their friends, their GPs and their schools while the perpetrator gets to stay in the home address. That is wrong. Wherever it is safe and possible to do so, we want to change that culture.

County Lines: Safeguarding

What steps she is taking to tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation. (910171)

What steps she is taking to tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation. (910181)

What steps she is taking to tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation. (910188)

We are determined to tackle the harm caused by county lines exploitation. In addition to the establishment of violence reduction units, the extensive operations conducted by British Transport Police on transport networks and other targeted policing across the country, this year we have significantly increased our investment in one-to-one specialist support for county lines victims and their families to help them to leave the clutches of these criminal gangs. We are also funding the helpline Safecall run by the Missing People charity, which provides specialist advice and support to young people, parents and professionals who are worried about a young person who may be in trouble and being exploited.

In my constituency there is one estate where it is believed that at least 20 county lines are being run. We have had a spate of killings this year, including two teenagers, one of whom died only a few weeks ago. Does the Minister think that the loss of over a third of our police services and 80% of our youth services, and the halving of our early intervention services, have helped or hindered in dealing with county lines?

We should be clear that the fault for the terrible facts that the hon. Lady describes in an estate in her constituency lies in the hands of the criminal gangs who are exploiting our children and peddling drugs. It is that demand for those illegal substances that is driving this market force of county line gangs across the country. She will, I am sure, be delighted about the recruitment of extra officers to the Met. She will also, I am sure, be pleased about the targeted investment that we are putting into one-to-one specialist support for children and young people, including in London. But the message is clear: it is criminal gangs who are responsible for this and we need to work together to drive them out.

Children in my constituency are also getting unwittingly or unwillingly ensnared by gangs and exploited by them, not only into county lines but other criminal activity. That has a huge impact on them and on their families. In response to this trend, groups such as Action Isleworth Mothers in my constituency have been set up by parents to support other parents and their children who are at risk. What additional support and funding will the Government provide to grassroots groups such as AIM?

I really welcome the sort of intervention that the hon. Lady describes. I am very conscious of the impact that county lines exploitation and, as she says, other types of criminal exploitation have not just on the young people themselves but on their families and their wider neighbourhoods. In terms of the organisation she mentions, I am very happy to meet her to learn more about it. I remind her of the youth endowment fund, which is a fund of £200 million that we have set out over a 10-year period in order to research programmes that work and are evaluated to have really good development and really good conclusions so that we can share that best practice with other local authorities and charities across the country.

In a recent report, the Children’s Commissioner highlighted the risk that young people in care were put in when they go into unregulated and mostly unsupported accommodation, and called for a ban on that. One of the things that they are at risk of is being preyed upon and drawn into county lines activity. Will the Minister speak to her colleagues in the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to see whether they can support my Bill which aims to outlaw this?

I hope the hon. Lady would be content to know that those discussions are already taking place. I take the vulnerabilities of children living in care very seriously indeed. One of the funds, the Trusted Relationships fund, which she may be aware of, is precisely to help children who have perhaps been let down by every adult they have come across in their lives, and I have seen at first hand some of the incredible work that the youth workers are able to do with individuals through that fund. I am certainly happy to meet her and to discuss her Bill with my colleagues.

Topical Questions

The Windrush generation helped build the Britain we know and love today. The Windrush compensation scheme is a key part of our efforts to right the wrongs they endured. Today I am announcing substantial changes to the compensation scheme, so that those eligible will receive more compensation and more quickly. I am increasing the minimum payments for the impact on life to £10,000, with payments starting this week. I am raising the bar for the amount someone can claim for the impact on their life to £100,000, with exceptional cases able to receive more. The changes under the terms of the scheme will apply retrospectively and together will make a real difference to people’s lives. I have always promised to listen and act to ensure that the victims of Windrush have received the maximum amount of compensation they deserve, and it is my mission to correct the wrongs of the past. I will continue to work with the Windrush working group to do exactly that.

At this time of year, there is only one person we want sneaking into our houses, and he wears a red suit, so perhaps the Home Secretary will join me in congratulating Thames Valley police on their recent week-long anti-burglary operation, which resulted in 88 arrests, meaning that Father Christmas has a longer naughty list, but the homes of Milton Keynes and the rest of the Thames valley are safer this festive season.

I thank my hon. Friend for that. He will know the strength of support I have for Thames Valley police force in particular and the exceptional work they have done and do. I commend them for their work, particularly on burglary. I want to wish everybody a happy Christmas, and a safe and secure Christmas to all members of the public.

I open by thanking the many neighbourhood police officers who did so much work last month visiting schools in support of the vital message of Anti-Bullying Week. I am sure all Members of the House would agree with that message and with teaching the importance of upholding those values, yet we have a Home Secretary in office who has been found to have broken the ministerial code by bullying. What signal does the Home Secretary think that sends to victims of bullying all around the country as to whether they should come forward?

First, as the House will know, I have already made an apology to those I have inadvertently upset, and I have also made it clear that I am now getting on with delivering on the people’s priorities.

The truth is that the whole episode shows a Government who have lost sight of their moral compass. The Prime Minister’s former distinguished adviser on ethics, Sir Alex Allan, found that the Home Secretary had breached the ministerial code for the second time, yet he is the one who loses his job. It sends the most terrible signal to victims in workplaces and schools around the country. Let us be clear: this has happened in the context of chronic failure, with violent crime rocketing across the country, conviction rates at record lows and domestic abuse charities struggling to keep their doors open. It has taken two and a half years for the Government to consider any meaningful action on the offensive mess that is the Windrush compensation scheme. Is not the truth under this Government that it is one rule for the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and their friends, and another for everybody else?

The hon. Gentleman can carry on with his belittling personal attacks, which will actually make me more determined than ever to deliver on the issues that I am focused on and the people’s priorities—the people’s priorities that got this Government elected a year ago: to deliver 20,000 more police officers and to deliver on the immigration changes that his party still implacably opposes.

Let us not forget about the victims of the Windrush compensation scheme. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the scandal of Windrush dates back many decades, under many other Governments. It is this Government who are fixing the wrongs of the Windrush issue but also delivering in terms of compensation to the victims and ensuring that more victims of that scheme come forward. As he heard in my opening remarks, I will continue to pursue that. We will learn the lessons of the past, and at the same time we will continue to work with everybody across the Windrush taskforce to ensure that the wrongs of the past are righted.

Does my right hon. Friend know when the Labour party decided to start standing up for the convicted criminals like murderers and rapists that this Government are trying to deport, rather than the victims of crime and law-abiding members of the British public? (910219)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Once upon a time, the Labour party claimed that it was tough on crime and the causes of crime, but, quite frankly, this is quite disgraceful. I am sure that his postbag has mirrored mine over recent weeks. The British public are shocked and appalled that the Labour party now stands up for the murderers, the rapists and the sex offenders and is not doing the right thing when it comes to ensuring that foreign national offenders are removed from our country. The Conservative party is the party of law and order, and we will continue to do the right thing and keep the British public safe. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) finds that funny and has to laugh at that.

I welcome the Windrush announcement; we look forward to seeing the detail. Last week, the National Audit Office report said that the Home Office plans to remove all SIS II—second generation Schengen information system—data from the Warnings Index, Semaphore and Border Crossing systems on 31 December. Can the Home Secretary confirm that that means the Government will be removing or deleting from our border systems the details of more than 40,000 criminals and suspects wanted abroad?

The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee highlights the issue of the ability to share data with our international partners. Obviously, our Interpol relationship predates our SIS II access, and that will provide us with the means to communicate with all our international partners quickly and securely. All incoming Interpol circulations—notices and diffusions, as they are called—are uploaded to UK border and policing systems to ensure our security.

I believe that the Immigration Minister recently met members of the National Farmers Union of Scotland to discuss the labour needs of Scotland’s farmers. Can the Home Secretary update the House on the seasonal workers scheme for 2021? (910222)

My hon. Friend is right: the Immigration Minister did have meetings. He will understand that the Government are rightly looking at and reviewing the needs of the agricultural sector and the seasonal agricultural workers pilot, which he and many other colleagues have made representations on. The Immigration Minister and I are working across Government to meet those needs while getting the balance right for future employment opportunities for British workers in our country.

As alluded to earlier, the Home Office has just made some extraordinary immigration rule changes that are completely at odds with the refugee convention and could see almost every asylum seeker in the UK left in limbo or removed to a country they have never even been near. Why will someone in the Department not have the courage to make a full statement to the House, so that MPs can properly scrutinise these drastic changes before they come into force in January? (910215)

It is absolutely right that we have made changes to our immigration rules. I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises that when it comes to illegal migration and the issues that we face, too many people are putting their lives at risk by crossing the channel in unseaworthy vessels—and they are putting not only their lives at risk but the lives of Border Force officers as well. We are determined to make that route unviable, and these rule changes are part of that.

Over the last few months, there has been a spate of vehicle thefts across High Peak, including in Glossop, Hadfield, Chapel-en-le-Frith and New Mills. I am grateful to Inspector Dave Parker and the local police for their proactive efforts to tackle that problem, but more resources are needed. I was proud to stand on a manifesto promising to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers. Can the Home Secretary assure me that Derbyshire will get its fair share of those extra officers as soon as possible? (910223)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise his concerns. He has raised the issue of crime and the implications of disorder for his local community, and he is right. I can confirm that his police force has recruited 72 additional police officers, and of course that number is going to go up and up in line with our commitment to recruit 20,000 more police officers.

Will my right hon. Friend agree to consider the reclassification of psychoactive substances such as Monkey Dust that have had such a damaging effect on lives and communities in Stoke-on-Trent? (910229)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to and highlight the devastating impact of drugs such as Monkey Dust. I have visited his constituents in the past and we discussed these issues. The Government absolutely recognise the corrosive harm that these drugs do. Of course, there are penalties for supplying these drugs—penalties of up to 14 years in prison and unlimited fines. At this moment, we are keeping drug classification under review, and of course we do that taking into account all the harms and the impact of these drugs on individuals and our communities.

I welcome the Government’s recent funding commitment to extend the work across England and Wales to manage and change the behaviour of abusive perpetrators, yet I note with concern that these funds have to be spent by March 2021. This clearly does not leave much time to introduce the vital measures that are desperately needed to end domestic abuse. As the Minister has herself said today, it is vital that we reach perpetrators before they have a chance to abuse again, so what plans do the Government have to keep holding perpetrators’ feet to the fire with projects for the long term? (910221)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting that investment. She makes a point about the timeframe in which the money was granted by the Treasury, but this is a programme of work that we are taking forward throughout the next few years. She will understand that there are spending review allocation decisions to be made at the moment, but we are clear that we want to continue tackling this abusive behaviour.

The new emergency services network, which is being delivered by EE, is clearly vital for our emergency services, but also for the improvement of mobile phone services in rural areas. However, it is well behind schedule and way over budget. Is there anything the Home Secretary can do to bring that back on track? (910232)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—this programme is incredible late on delivery and well over budget. In fact, this House has given this programme a great deal of scrutiny, and rightly so. There is no apology for that; the failings are on the record. We are now working at pace, clearly, to deliver on this. It is a really important programme. The Policing Minister and others are working with police forces now to get this plan implemented. We want this to work, and, as my hon. Friend has highlighted, I am afraid that too much time has passed and too much money has been lost and wasted. This is a classic example of procurement and big projects not working. We have got to fix this and sort this out.

Earlier this month, eight Commonwealth-born British Army veterans lost their legal battle to remain in the UK, leaving the men in fear of destitution and deportation. The Home Secretary has the power to end their ordeal, so will she now commit to granting the veterans the right to stay in the country they so bravely fought for? (910224)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to those individuals who have served our country. I think it is important that the hon. Gentleman knows and the House is aware of the fact that I am currently working with the Secretary of State for Defence on these very cases; we are both looking at this. There will be future announcements coming forward. However, I am well aware of these individual cases—how these individuals have been treated, and the cases and the representations they are making right now—and, quite frankly, we want to correct this.

I welcome the Windrush announcement, but the Windrush scandal was just the most extreme example of the indifference and rank incompetence endemic in today’s Home Office. Delays and charges are escalating, documents are not returned and often lost, and correspondence takes forever—whether to claimants or, indeed, to their Members of Parliament. Rather than make repetitious speeches about how tough they are going to be, why do Ministers not address the public’s priorities, as the Home Secretary has said, roll up their sleeves and get a grip of this dysfunctional Department? (910225)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. He mentioned Windrush and the Department’s inefficiencies of the past, and there are a couple of points that I want to make. Windrush was a stain—let us face it—on the Department and the Government, and we are now working through that; we want to right the wrongs. I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Do not forget that Wendy Williams’s report basically pointed to the ignorance and thoughtlessness about race and the history of the Windrush generation in the Department, but he refers to something much wider—he has raised this point with me numerous times—which is that we must not treat people like cases. That is a fundamental change that I am trying to bring to the Department. It is taking time, and there is no quick fix. I give him every single assurance that I will continue to work night and day to change our systems and make sure we put people first.

There has been a spate of catalytic converter thefts in Coventry, with more and more vehicles being targeted by thieves. These crimes cause distress and disruption to victims. Will the Home Secretary tell me what steps the Government can take in conjunction with the motor industry and other partner agencies to reduce the theft of catalytic converters, which seems to be a growing problem? (910240)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Of course, the long-term answer is to work with the industry, as we are doing, to design out many of those problems and issues. That is about the changing nature of vehicles. The fact of the matter is, as we have already heard from colleagues, that the theft of vehicles or catalytic converters is damaging and blights people’s lives. That is why we are resourcing the police and supporting them in every effort to go after the criminals behind this.

There is great concern in the far south-west that daffodil growers will not be able to access the workforce they need to pick this year’s crop. The peak of the season is literally days away. We welcome the successful pilot of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, but there is concern that it will not be in place quickly enough or that it will not provide enough staff for flower pickers this winter. Will the Minister update the House on when the scheme will be fully rolled out, and will he ensure that our flower pickers get the staff they need?

I recognise the importance of the issue. We are looking to continue the seasonal workers pilot into 2021. As the Home Secretary said a few moments ago, we will confirm the numbers shortly, but it is worth remembering that the restrictions on international travel may well affect the number who actually travel, as they did this year.

Highly talented students are often attracted to our universities in the hope that their degree leads to enhanced employability in the UK, yet competitor countries such as Canada and Australia offer longer, and therefore more attractive, post-graduation work visas. Will the Government help our universities to remain competitive by further extending the post-study work visa to three or four years for undergraduate and masters students?

The hon. Lady has rightly highlighted how incredible, fantastic and outstanding our universities are in this country. We are in a global competition when it comes to international talent, and the Government fully recognise that. That is why we now have the two-year post-study visa route. Of course, all our policies remain under review. There are routes that went live in October under the new points-based system, and we will continue to look at them and how they develop. Let me be clear that we want the brightest and best coming to this country, and our immigration system is enabling that.

As the Home Secretary knows, Newport West is a diverse and multicultural part of south Wales. My constituent and I want to know what plans she and her colleagues across Government have to convene engagement events with at-risk communities? Those are the very people we need to be involved in putting together a fully costed plan to tackle hate crime online and in person once and for all.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the issue of online crime, online abuse and hate crime. Frankly, appalling and personal attacks are now prevalent across society. Associated with that, we have a wide range of engagement taking place, not just with our Department but with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. That is in line with our review of online harms, and there will be future announcements about that. As the hon. Lady is well aware, legislation is coming.

The rail to refuge scheme run by the train operators is highly successful in supporting victims of domestic abuse and their children, but it will expire in March 2021. Will the Government please look at reviewing the scheme to ensure that they protect all victims?

This is a really interesting scheme. As the hon. Lady knows, it was launched in March and, since then, on average four people a day have used it. I understand that early in 2021 the Department for Transport will review its continuation beyond March. I hope that, as with all our departmental questions, the message to victims of domestic abuse is clear: in the pandemic they can still leave their homes if they need to seek help.

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 three minutes.

Sitting suspended.