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Topical Questions

Volume 686: debated on Monday 14 December 2020

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.