The Secretary of State was asked—
Indefinite Leave to Remain
The UK offers a wide range of routes for people to settle in the UK, including those in need of protection and those who settle through marriage or work routes. There were 80,710 decisions on applications for settlement in the UK from non-European economic area nationals in the year ending September 2020, of which 97% resulted in a grant.
Since I was elected in 2017, I have been supporting Matt Jun Fei Freeman in his efforts to secure indefinite leave to remain. Matt has been in the UK for 17 years, and for the last nine he has made Lossiemouth and the wider Moray community his home. Will the Home Secretary agree to meet me to look at the considerable case for Matt to remain in Moray, so that he can continue to benefit from the friendship and support he gets here and so that Moray can continue to gain from Matt choosing this part of the world to be his home?
My hon. Friend raises a very important case. He spelt out the duration for which Matthew has lived in the UK and in his constituency. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss the detailed nature of the case, and I am happy to follow up on the concerns he has.
Police Officer Numbers
This Government are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers by March 2023—an unprecedented increase in the next three years that reflects the biggest recruitment drive in decades. I am pleased to tell the House that, as at 31 December, the police have recruited an extra 6,620 police officers—620 ahead of target and three months ahead of schedule.
It is great to hear about the huge increase in police numbers, especially here in South Yorkshire, but what we really need is these new police to be visible and accessible. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need these new police officers to be front of house at Maltby police station, so that they can speak to residents and address their concerns, and to be established at a new base on Dinnington High Street, to clamp down on antisocial crime?
It is no surprise that so diligent a Member would take every opportunity to maximise the benefits from this enormous uplift in police officers for his constituents. While the decision on particular police stations is an operational matter for the chief constable, in consultation with the police and crime commissioner, my hon. Friend is quite right that an expansion in numbers on this scale means that all police forces should be reviewing their property strategy, to ensure that the presence he looks for in his constituency is felt across the country.
Under the leadership of our chief constable Lee Freeman, Humberside police has made good progress from the position it was in a few years ago, and we have benefited from increased officer numbers. If we are to maintain that progress and meet the expectations of my constituents, we must continue to increase force numbers. Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that we will be able to further increase the number of officers in Humberside?
In my nearly six years in the House, I have watched with admiration as my hon. Friend, terrier-like, holds the Government to their commitments; he is doing exactly the same today, and I do not blame him for it. He is quite right that we have seen a big increase in police officer numbers, but there is much more to come. We have done 6,620, which means that there are 13,000-odd yet to go. The Government’s commitment to the number of 20,000 is about as solid as it gets. It is the same as if the ravens were to leave the tower: if we fail to fulfil this promise, there will be fundamental problems and consequences for Government, not least, I am sure, from my hon. Friend.
I welcome the brilliant work of my hon. Friend’s Department, putting more bobbies on the beat in Darlington. Does he share my concern that those same officers will spend more time ferrying detainees across County Durham and less time on the beat if the plans of the acting police and crime commissioner to spend £21 million on a single custody suite for the whole county go ahead, robbing my constituency of its accessible custody suite? Does he agree that this decision should wait until after we have elected a new, democratic police and crime commissioner?
What a joy it is to hear a Conservative voice for Darlington once again! You will be interested to know, Mr Speaker, that in my very first general election in 1987, I fought in Darlington for the then young and fresh-faced Michael Fallon, who was the successful MP in that election.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. When deciding about the disposition of custody suites in police stations across a particular force area, chiefs must have in mind the amount of time that will be spent by police officers in ferrying miscreants to and from those custody suites. I applaud him for pushing his temporary police and crime commissioner, and I hope there is soon to be a Conservative one—George Jabbour is a fantastic candidate—who will make a sensible decision in favour of all the people of Durham.
No Recourse to Public Funds: Covid-19
The Government remain committed to supporting everyone through this pandemic. Many of the wide-ranging covid-19 measures the Government have put in place are available to migrants with NRPF, including the coronavirus job retention scheme, statutory sick pay and discretionary hardship payments for those who have to self-isolate. In addition, migrants with leave under family and human rights routes can also apply to have the NRPF condition lifted, something that is successful now in 85% of cases, in just 17 days.
After hearing evidence at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on homelessness, I know that the unwillingness of the Home Office to suspend no recourse to public funds and a lack of clarity over support have had devastating consequences during this pandemic for many. Despite being over a month into this lockdown, policy is still opaque around section 4 eligibility for individuals with no recourse to public funds. Will the Minister provide an update on this as a matter of urgency?
There is absolute clarity about the benefits. I have mentioned things like the coronavirus job retention scheme already, and I have mentioned how people on family and human rights routes can get the NRPF condition lifted, but I did not mention the over £8 billion available via local authorities for NRPF-eligible migrants to apply for. In addition, the hon. Member asked about section 4: people on section 4 support do get accommodation provided by the Home Office. We currently now have, I think, about 61,000 people in accommodation. That is up from about 48,000 before the pandemic, precisely because we are looking after the people most in need.
The United Kingdom is a world leader in resettlement. My hon. Friend will know that, in the last five years, we have resettled nearly 30,000 people—more than any other country in Europe. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we will be completing the 20,000 people under the VPRS in the coming weeks, and after that we will be continuing to offer further resettlement places beyond that, as far as we are able to, given the current coronavirus circumstances. Beyond that, we will be making announcements—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be making announcements—in the relatively near future about how we plan to continue resettlement beyond that.
My hon. Friend has rightly championed the record of this country and this Government in providing support to the most vulnerable people here and abroad, and it is clearly vital that safe and legal routes to refuge in the UK are available to disrupt smuggling and people trafficking. Is my hon. Friend confident that using the very successful current scheme as a template, the new UK resettlement scheme will have the necessary level of support and funding to resettle refugees effectively and in line with our aspirations?
I can absolutely give that assurance. Of course, our resettlement work will have the financial support it requires. We intend to build upon, but also learn the lessons from, the previous resettlement scheme. There are going to be significant ways in which we can improve it. Not only was our resettlement scheme over the last five years the largest resettlement scheme of any country in Europe, but there is more we are doing. Our refugee family reunion provisions see 6,000 people a year or more come into this country, and just a short while ago our BNO—British national overseas—route opened up, allowing people being persecuted by the Chinese Communist party to seek refuge here as well.
The United Kingdom’s world-beating vaccination programme is saving lives and livelihoods, and it is always vital that we arm ourselves with the facts and call out wrong information on vaccines. The counter-disinformation unit is responding to the misleading online content and working with social media platforms to ensure that all action is taken to remove harmful disinformation so that authoritative sources of information are promoted.
I have seen the brilliant work Labour councillors in Hounslow, Swindon and Blackburn have been doing to appeal to communities to take the vaccine. This work is being undermined by misinformation on social media, and is literally a matter of life and death. What plans do the Government have to bring forward legislation on, for example, financial and criminal penalties for social media companies that fail to act to stamp out this dangerous anti-vaccine content?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point at this very delicate time with the vaccine roll-out, and I would like to make two comments.
First, the Government are absolutely focused on zapping down the disinformation and misinformation that is circulating around the vaccine, because we cannot allow people—lives will be lost—basically to be duped into believing that this vaccine is not safe. I urge everyone—Labour councils, Conservative councils, and everyone in positions of authority—to get the message out to take the jab; it is safe, and it will protect individuals and their families.
Secondly, the hon. Lady asked about legislation and actions by the Government. A lot of work is taking place across Government, by the Home Office, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and other colleagues, around sanctions and penalties, and work has also taken place with the online harms Bill very much to target social media platforms and the way in which they operate.
Finally, it is worth concluding, as we see the vaccine roll-out taking place, that everyone should, when called, take the vaccine, and collectively—no matter what our backgrounds politically or in terms of gender or ethnicity—everyone should be out there praising the efforts on the vaccine and making sure that people take the jab.
The spread of disinformation and anti-vaccine content on social media is presenting a real danger to the NHS in its efforts to vaccinate against covid-19, and some communities are hesitant to accept the vaccine, with people risking their own health and, in some cases, their own lives. In an agreement with the social media giants it was revealed that their only commitment was not to profit from or promote flagged anti-vax content, but there was no commitment to close down these groups, so is it not time that the Government got tougher to stop the anti-vax message getting through?
I very much refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments that I have just made: a lot of work is taking place with social media platforms. False information, disinformation and manipulated information are intended to deceive and mislead people, and when it comes to the vaccine that is going to risk lives. The Government are very clear about that, which is why action is taking place across all Government Departments, as I have outlined.
It is worth nothing that Ofcom’s latest research shows that the NHS remains the most trusted source of information on covid-19, and therefore it is right that we continue absolutely to put pressure on social media platforms when disinformation materialises, but also make sure that we maximise the right kind of information going out about the vaccine through respected channels of communication.
After a very difficult weekend in London, our thoughts are with the families, friends and neighbourhoods affected by those incidents of violent crime. Across England and Wales we are increasing police capacity in the forces most affected by violent crime, investing £176 million over two years. We have recently consulted on serious violence reduction orders, which will give the police stop-and-search powers to target individuals previously convicted of knife offences, and we are investing many millions of pounds in early intervention schemes to stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place.
After the recent tragic knife-related murder of a young man in Winsford, Cheshire police have secured funding for 25 16 to 18-year-olds to take part in an employment mentoring programme led by We Mind The Gap, as well as identifying a former community centre to deliver youth and apprenticeship activities. Will my hon. Friend congratulate Cheshire police on a constructive and long-term problem-solving approach to this issue and ensure that they have the funding necessary to prevent knife crime from happening in the first place?
My hon. Friend has a distinguished record of helping the most vulnerable children in our society, and I join him in welcoming the investment in this and other intervention projects in Cheshire to tackle the root causes of violent crime. I commend the work of Cheshire police in supporting such projects. In this financial year, Cheshire police will receive up to £219 million in funding, and it has already recruited 91 additional officers under the police uplift programme.
Emergency Services Network
The programme continues to make steady progress, and confidence in the technical viability of the solution continues to increase. The core network has been built, and much of the ultimate functionality has already been demonstrated. We are working hard to demonstrate the emerging product and agree realistic plans with users for the final stages of delivery and deployment.
I know that my hon. Friend knows the critical importance for the shared rural network of delivering the ESN. It is vital for my constituency, to deal with the notspots that are sadly all too common in mid-Wales. As well as the technical capabilities he outlined, will he update us on the delivery of the ESN, alongside the shared rural network, in Montgomeryshire and other rural areas across the UK?
I share my hon. Friend’s frustration. Representing a large rural constituency myself, I know exactly his experience and therefore his keenness to have his constituents better connected—all the better to reach him with their various problems and difficulties, which he will no doubt solve with skill and speed. We are rolling out the programme. I am pleased to say that, after a difficult period, shall we say, last year, the programme is back on track. We expect to appoint contractors to allow the execution of the shared rural network later this year, but I am more than happy, once we have clarity on the programme, to write to my hon. Friend with details of where and when he can expect his mast to be lit up.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), many communities in my constituency, in particular around Auchenblae, Drumtochty and the wider Mearns area, remain unable to get an adequate phone signal or even any at all. Having been promised that the emergency services network would contribute to solving that issue, many are still to be connected to decent 4G services. May I ask what the delay seems to be in opening up mobile telephone masts to commercial operators, as was initially planned?
I know that living in one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country is not sufficient compensation for a lack of connectivity, although it provides some commiseration to my hon. Friend’s constituents. As somebody who found out just the other day that, frustratingly, the fibre network in my constituency stops 200 metres short of my house, I understand the impatience for connectivity in his area. It is true to say that we have experienced some delays, not least on legal negotiations last year. Happily, those have now been overcome, and I am confident that we can now proceed with all speed to make sure that the shared rural network, alongside the emergency services network, is rolled out on schedule to 2025.
The new emergency services network, which is much needed to replace our outdated system, has become yet another embarrassment for the Home Office. Costs have spiralled to an eye-watering £10.3 billion, and constant delays mean that the project will not be finished for up to seven years. Local police forces, already under strain from cuts and covid, have to foot a large part of the bill, and their bill has just increased by £600 million. That would fund around 8,000 new police officers, yet when I asked the Minister about this in a parliamentary question, he said that the extra cost was “minimal”.
There is a pattern: £600 million is “minimal”; the catastrophic loss of 400,000 essential data records is brushed aside and still no answers given; and the Home Secretary breaks the ministerial code and we are all somehow to brush that aside as well. When will the Government accept that their incompetence is wasting taxpayers’ money, delaying vital work and putting the public at increased risk?
I understand that the hon. Lady feels that her job is to trade in hyperbole, but I think she has slightly overstated her case today, not least on the cost of the emergency service network, which is actually only—“only”— £4.2 billion, not the £10 billion-plus that she quoted. Governments of all stripes—and, indeed, many private companies—experience challenges, shall we say, in executing large technical IT projects, and this project has been no different. Having said that, we have made significant changes to the leadership team and we have reset the project. It is broadly back on track and, critically, we now have a new system of, effectively, joint decision-making with the end users—the police and the other emergency services—which we believe is breeding much greater confidence in the programme at the moment and hopefully over the next two or three years as we bring it to execution. This is an absolutely vital piece of equipment for police officer safety and, indeed, for the better prosecution of crime, and we are determined to get it right.
Asylum System: Reform
The asylum system is in need of fundamental reform, and the Home Secretary and I will be introducing legislation in the relatively near future to do exactly that. Too many people come into the UK having first passed through a safe country—for example, France—without having claimed asylum there. We are determined that we are going to have an asylum system that will protect those people in genuine need of protection while preventing the abuse that we sadly too often see.
I completely agree with the Minister: our asylum system needs to change ASAP. My constituents are vocal about how long it is taking to process their applications, often leaving them in limbo for months on end. For example, Shahid suffers from severe depression and has been waiting 16 months while he cares for his disabled wife. He cannot get carer’s allowance while his application is pending. Likewise, Aswad was told that their application would take a maximum of six months to process, but it has now been 13 months. May I ask the Minister to meet me to discuss how we can bring some closure to my constituents?
I would certainly be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the particular case that he raises, and I will follow up to arrange that. I agree that we need to do more to speed up the system. Coronavirus has had a significant impact on asylum decision making, as it has on so many other areas of our public life. In the short term, we are hiring considerably more decision makers, we are introducing better IT and we are spending £20 million next year on system transformation, but beyond that, we need to legislate to make the system work more fairly and more efficiently, for the reasons that my hon. Friend has laid out.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that Napier barracks in Folkestone is only a temporary facility to accommodate people in the asylum system, that it is unsuitable for individuals to be placed there for prolonged periods, and that, post-covid and with a reformed asylum system that is swifter in processing applications, we should avoid using facilities such as this in the future?
I can confirm that Napier was set up in response to the enormous pressures placed on our asylum system by the coronavirus pandemic. We have set it up in such a way as to be safe, and it is of course accommodation that was previously used by the brave men and women of our armed services. We ensure that it is clean and secure and that there is health provision on site. It is not intended for use in perpetuity. I know that my hon. Friend spoke to the Home Secretary over the weekend, and we would be very willing to maintain a close and active dialogue with him and the local council to ensure that it is managed as well as it possibly can be.
The repurposing of disused Army barracks to house asylum seekers is proving a disaster and a disgrace. What is worse, the leaked impact assessment shows that this dreadful policy was justified by wild notions that proper support and accommodation could undermine public confidence in the asylum system. In short, the Home Office was pandering to gutter politics. Will the Home Office apologise for suggesting that people in the UK oppose decent support and care for asylum seekers, and close these barracks urgently?
No apology is due. As I just said, the barrack accommodation units in question were previously used by the brave men and women of our armed services. They were good enough for the armed services and they are certainly more than good enough for people who have arrived in this country seeking asylum. We fully comply with all the relevant guidelines.
On the hon. Gentleman’s question about this country’s stance on asylum seekers, we now spend getting on for £1 billion a year on accommodating them. That record bears comparison with any country in Europe and, indeed, around the world. No apology is due and certainly none will be made.
The sad fact is that the policy undermines the UK’s reputation as a welcoming place. Almost as bad as the impact assessment are the Home Office claims that people who criticise the use of barracks are insulting our armed forces: it is the Home Office that insults our soldiers by using them as cover for such disgraceful policies.
The former senior military legal adviser Lieutenant Colonel Mercer has agreed that it is “wholly inappropriate” to house asylum seekers in disused Army barracks, saying that
“this treatment is nothing more than naked hostility to very vulnerable people.”
If the Minister will not listen to me, will he listen to Lieutenant Colonel Mercer and a host of respected medical organisations and close the barracks quickly?
The closure of the barracks would be made a lot easier if more councils in Scotland—other than only Glasgow—would accept dispersed accommodation. That is the sort of thing that puts pressure on our accommodation estate. Thanks to the generosity of our approach, the number of people we are accommodating has gone up from 48,000 to 61,000 during the pandemic, because we have taken a thoughtful and protective approach. That is the right thing to do and we stand by it.
On Napier barracks, the equality impact assessment makes it clear that the use of disused barracks as asylum accommodation is absolutely a political choice. The Government have consistently refused to confirm the numbers of those who contracted the coronavirus while staying at Napier barracks, but I understand that, out of around 400 people, 105 who did not have the virus were moved out, leaving us to draw our own conclusions about just how massive an outbreak took place there. Does the Minister not agree with me and others that the use of barracks as asylum accommodation has been both a moral and public health disaster and that people must be moved into dispersed accommodation as a matter of urgency?
I do not agree with that. As I have said already, we have closely consulted Public Health England throughout this episode. The use of accommodation of this kind is appropriate and suitable. We need to have regard to a range of factors, including value for money. We have had to use a large number of hotels to accommodate people during the coronavirus pandemic and they do not represent particularly good value for money. Barrack-type accommodation is not only suitable but a great deal cheaper than hotels. We all owe the general taxpayer a duty to ensure value for money and the Government make no apology for that.
Covid-19: Border Measures
Throughout the pandemic we have kept our border measures under constant review, including through regular liaison with the devolved Administrations, given their responsibilities in this policy area. On 27 January, the UK Government announced further action for outbound and inbound passengers to minimise travel across international borders and reduce the risk of covid-19 transmission.
I am sure I am not the only person on these islands who has been left to wonder why the party that has spent so much of the past five years talking about taking back control of borders seemed to completely fluff the opportunity to do so when there would have been almost unanimous support in the House. Will the Minister advise the House what defence the Prime Minister previously offered to the Cabinet for not closing the border on the Home Secretary’s advice?
Given the overall positive engagement that we have had with the Scottish Government in this policy area, it is disappointing to hear the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s question. In deciding on border measures, the UK Government must take into account a number of factors, including the rather obvious need to keep open key supply lines across the short straits, and routes to and from the Republic of Ireland.
To give some background, since the health measures came in we have conducted more than 3.7 million spot checks of passengers arriving at the border, as part of the new testing requirements, carriers are required to check test results, and a fine of up to £4,000 in England and Northern Ireland and £960 in Scotland and Wales can be levied on passengers who fail to comply with the requirements.
Migrant Channel Crossings
The Government are taking a huge range of measures to prevent these dangerous and illegal crossings. Most notably, the Home Secretary reached an agreement with her French counterpart in late November to increase the number of gendarmes deployed on the French beaches and to take a variety of other steps aimed at preventing embarkations from the French shores. To anyone considering this trip, I say that it is dangerous, they are putting their lives at risk, it is illegal, but, most of all, it is unnecessary because France is a safe country where it is perfectly possible to claim asylum.
Last month, the Eastbourne Royal National Lifeboat Institution rescued more than 30 migrants who had got into difficulty in the channel. I commend its sterling work. Its mission is simply to save lives at sea. I have every concern for those it rescued, but, as my hon. Friend has just outlined, there are serious concerns that this is pump-priming human traffickers, and the fact remains that people are putting themselves at risk. Can he outline to the House the work that is being undertaken with the French and with our European neighbours to intercept and close down human traffickers long before they reach the channel coast?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Let me start by paying tribute to the RNLI for the work that it does at sea keeping people safe in what are often very treacherous and difficult circumstances. She is right to outline the work that we need to do to disrupt and prevent these dangerous criminal gangs before they even launch the boats in the first place. The National Crime Agency and many other law enforcement agencies across Europe and beyond are working together to disrupt these criminal gangs. We regularly prosecute people for facilitating these small boat crossings. Last year, we successfully prosecuted 50 or 60 people. There have been several more prosecutions just in the last week, in addition to the law enforcement work we are now doing with the French, doubling the gendarme patrols, for example, which, just in the last few days, has resulted in literally hundreds of people being intercepted before they even set off. So these measures are now working, but we are certainly not going to give up: we will continue working with our French colleagues until these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings are completely stopped.
Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking Kent police and the police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, for their important work on this issue of migration and border policing? Can he assure me that, across my whole constituency, in Dover and Deal and at nearby Napier barracks, Kent police are having extra funding for carrying out this vital work?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that she has done in consistently standing up for her constituents on this issue, and to Matthew Scott, who does such a fantastic job as Kent’s police and crime commissioner. No doubt he will be triumphantly re-elected shortly. On the question of resources, Kent has had an extra 162 police officers recruited so far and I believe that there are many more to come. Assuming the precept is used, it will have an extra £19.5 million in the next financial year as well. In addition to that, if there are particular issues caused by small boats or, indeed, by the barracks at Napier, it is able to apply to the Home Office for exceptional funding and, if it feels that that is merited, I would certainly encourage it to do that.
We will bring forward legislation this Session to give the police the powers they need to tackle unauthorised encampments by moving people on and seizing vehicles where necessary. Intentional trespass will become a criminal offence, and we will broaden the range of harms that can be considered by the police when directing trespassers away from land.
The Home Secretary will know that I wrote to her back in June regarding unauthorised encampments. I thank her for her response. Although the majority of Travellers stay on authorised sites, a disproportionate amount of council and police time is spent dealing with the effects of unauthorised encampments. Does the Minister agree that communities such as mine in Wrexham need more protection against trespass on sites where there is no right of access?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head in standing up for her constituents on this issue. People want to see greater protection for local communities, and for the police to be given enhanced powers to crack down on trespassers. That is why we consulted on how we might strengthen police powers and why we will introduce legislation in this Session. We will act on these concerns, and I very much look forward to working with my hon. Friend in so doing.
Covid-19: Support for Police
Throughout this pandemic, we have given the police not just guidance but funding to support them in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. That also means working with them on increased support around guidance, changes to regulations and legislation. Of course, we also work with them every single day as various measures are constantly kept under review.
So far, more than 1,000 local people have taken part in my High Peak crime survey. Many residents have raised concerns about antisocial behaviour and drugs, particularly on Fairfield Road in Buxton. I am really pleased that Derbyshire police are being proactive and just last week made multiple arrests in the area, but I want to make certain that they have the resources that they need. Will the Home Secretary assure the people of High Peak that we will get our fair share of the 20,000 additional police officers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise these issues. On a fair share of police officers, I understand that his force has already recruited 67 more police officers, and our plans to recruit 20,000 police officers go from strength to strength. I note that Derbyshire police have received over £400,000 in covid surge funding very much to step up on enforcement and fines, and to deal with issues such as antisocial behaviour, which is a particular issue that my hon. Friend has raised on behalf of his constituents.
According to the crime survey for England and Wales, overall levels of violent crime have reduced since the peak in the mid-1990s. However, this trend has begun to stabilise and there is growing public concern. We are taking action by surging police capacity in the forces most affected by violent crime, and investing in early intervention to prevent young people from being drawn into serious violence.
Last month, I found out through an answer to a written parliamentary question tabled in September that the serious violence taskforce has been discontinued. Are the Government still committed to a long-term public health-based approach to tackling violence affecting young people? I fear for other measures they may be looking to scrap via the back door.
I am slightly mystified by the hon. Lady’s attempt at surprise, not least because I think there was an exchange at this Dispatch Box some months ago when we discussed the serious violence taskforce, and, indeed, there have been previous questions. The Prime Minister—given that he had been a renowned crime-fighting Mayor—decided on coming to office that he wanted to take leadership of the crime effort himself, so we created the criminal justice taskforce. Beneath that sits the National Policing Board, and a performance board sits beneath that. That is all focused largely on fighting violent crime.
Our commitment to fighting violent crime remains strong. Just this morning, I was able to announce an extra £35 million of funding into violence reduction units, a very large proportion of which will obviously come to London. Both the Prime Minister and I have experience of fighting crime, and along with the Home Secretary—who was previously chair of the all-party parliamentary group on victims and witnesses of crime—have shown enormous commitment to this issue over a prolonged period, and that will continue into the future.
Crime has not stopped because of covid-19. After a brief respite during the first lockdown, the Department’s own figures show that overall violent crime is rising, and that drug and firearms-related offences are back at previous levels. The Government received the findings of Sir Craig Mackey’s review into serious and organised crime last February and told the House in June that the recommendations were being considered, but, as of today, they still have not come forward with them. So can I ask what we are waiting for and what it is that Ministers have been doing for the last year?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been dealing over the past year with a pandemic—it might have passed him by, but it has not the rest of us. That pandemic has had a significant impact on UK policing, its disposition, what it has been involved in and, critically, the types of crime and the trends in crime that it has been dealing with.
The hon. Gentleman is correct that post the second lockdown we saw a surge in violence for one particular month. That number has stabilised since, and we are trying to understand, by research and analysis, what the implications of the pandemic have been for crime and therefore what they are for the police. Alongside that, we have been in conversations with our partners at the National Crime Agency, with chief constables involved in serious and organised crime and with territorial forces about what the disposition of serious and organised crime should look like into the future, and we will be making announcements about how it will be disposed in the near future.
I am proud to say that on 31 January the Government launched the Hong Kong British national overseas immigration route. The commitment to create this route was made following the Chinese Government’s imposition of the new national security law in Hong Kong. It is an unprecedented and generous offer and reflects the historical and moral commitment of this country to the individuals who retained ties with the UK at the point of Hong Kong’s handover.
Through this route, we will welcome BNO status holders and their family members to the UK on a pathway to citizenship. From 23 February, those with a BNO, Hong Kong special administrative region or European economic area biometric passport will be able to apply for the route through the fully digitalised process, using new technology developed through the UK’s points-based immigration system. I am clear that we must give BNO status holders every opportunity to thrive in the UK, and officials are working with colleagues across Departments to look at integration. This absolutely speaks about global Britain and how we will always stand up for what is right in the world, welcoming those who come to the UK in the right and proper way.
On 20 January, my constituent Andy Aitchison, an accredited journalist who had taken photographs that morning at the demonstration at Napier barracks in Folkestone, was arrested by five police officers at his home, charged with criminal damage and held for questioning for seven hours. The police confiscated his mobile phone and photo camera card. Last Friday, the charges were dropped and the case closed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be a review of the guidance given to police before such actions are taken against accredited journalists, and does she agree that Mr Aitchison should have a clean record, as he has committed no offence?
Regarding the case that my hon. Friend has highlighted, he will know that Kent police were called following a report of a particular protest and an incident. All decisions on arrests are an operational matter for the police, and the police make arrests in line with their duties to keep the peace and to protect communities. I am afraid at this stage that is all I can say, because an arrest has been made, but I have no doubt that Kent police will continue to keep all interested parties, including my hon. Friend, updated on this particular case.
I would like to begin by wishing the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) a swift recovery following his recent surgery.
Hotel quarantine for travellers will be introduced on a far too limited basis for 33 red list countries on 15 February, more than 50 days after the South African variant was discovered in the UK. To prevent a variant reaching our shores that could threaten the vaccination programme, that should be a comprehensive policy. Worse still, analysis over the weekend showed that, of the 41 countries that have confirmed they have cases of the South African strain of the virus, 29 are not subject to the hotel quarantine controls. Neither are a further six with the Brazilian variant. When will the Government publish the specific scientific basis for their existing red list?
The hon. Gentleman and I have spent some time at this Dispatch Box discussing this particular issue, and I think it is important that I make a couple of points to emphasise the work of the Government. The new health measures at the border are necessary to protect public health and our world-class vaccination programme. We have throughout the pandemic kept all measures under review, and that is absolutely right. He mentions new variants. However, I do want to emphasise, in the light of the many discussions that have taken place at the Dispatch Box between the hon. Gentleman and me, and colleagues from other Government Departments, that the Labour party has repeatedly flip-flopped on hotel quarantining measures. The Government have been very clear about measures that will be announced, some in due course, because a lot of operational and logistical planning is taking place around these measures. At the same time, it is worth recognising that there are many people on the frontline looking at the implementation of this policy, which is based on the advice by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and other Government advisers. It is important that we take time to absolutely make sure that these measures are put in place in the right way.
First, the Labour party has not flip-flopped on this. The 14-day blanket quarantine was only necessary because of the Government’s own failure on testing. Secondly, although the Home Secretary and I have had plenty of discussions about it, she was very clear about her own views last March that the border should have been closed, and we have all seen that on the video.
Is it not true that Ministers have been behind the curve throughout? There was no formal quarantining system until June last year, and when it was introduced, it proved ineffective. The South African variant is already here. Border testing was only introduced in recent weeks. On the hotel quarantining policy, we hear today that no formal contracts have been agreed—too little, too late. Is not the truth that the borders policy is a gaping hole in our defences against the virus? When is the Home Secretary going to take charge of this situation and put in place the proper protective measures that she knows are needed to protect the health of the British people and safeguard the vaccine roll-out?
I appreciate that it has been a while since Labour has been in government, and Labour Members will obviously fail to realise that there is cross-Government work on the delivery of these measures. We are in a pandemic. Just to restate this to all colleagues in the House, health measures at the border have been in place since January last year. Those measures have been developed, as everyone would expect, as the situation changes; they are calibrated measures. I think it is an absolute shame to see the hon. Gentleman joining his colleagues in playing party politics with this crisis while attacking the Government, because although he originally welcomed the measures on the border that we brought in last year, he then wrote to me calling for the “blunt tool” of our border quarantine to be lifted quickly. Labour’s behaviour throughout this pandemic has shown the British public that it has no interest in being constructive or acting in the national interest, and that is exactly what we can see right now, while the Government are getting on and dealing with this hotels policy.
My hon. Friend makes some very good, strong and important points that, absolutely, the British public support the removal of foreign national offenders, those who come to our country to cause harm, and also those who are, quite frankly, making asylum claims that are not legitimate. We intend to introduce legislation later this year. I have spoken frequently about the need for a firm but fair asylum system, with fairness to target those who genuinely need our help. I have already spoken about one new safe and legal route that this Government have supported. Absolutely, fairness is needed, and firmness is needed to stop abuse of our system and to make sure that we remove those who come to our country to create harm and participate in criminality. I should remind my hon. Friend—he will know this—that Labour has been campaigning against that over the past 12 months.
The South African variant has now been identified on many continents, and the risks to the vaccine programme are concerning. Can the Home Secretary confirm, following her letter to me last week, that even under her future plans, the majority of passengers will not be covered by hotel quarantine, no one will be tested on arrival before going on public transport, and less than one in four travellers will get a follow-up phone call check? Is this worrying information correct, and why are there all these gaps?
The answer to the question is no, because as I have repeatedly said in this Chamber throughout the pandemic, all our measures are kept under review. We already have 100% compliance checks taking place at our airports. Ironically, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) was complaining at me three weeks ago about queues at Heathrow airport, but those queues were there because compliance checks were being undertaken. It is absolutely right that those checks take place, including through the passenger locator form, the pre-departure testing, and the impacts and liabilities that are now on the carriers.
I have already stated that my colleagues across Government will report to the House on the subject of hotel quarantining, but it is really important to say that, yes, there are concerns about new variants. We are working across Government—and, I have to say, a lot of people are working valiantly on the frontline—on vaccine roll-out, but we keep all our measures under review, obviously to protect the vaccine but also to ensure that as the number of passengers coming into the country reduces, full checks are in place.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has already heard me speak about the amazing work of people on the frontline, which includes our police officers but also our serving fire officers, who are working in local resilience forums to deliver and safeguard the vaccine and make sure people are getting vaccinated—including, no doubt, at local sites in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The British public are fed up of seeing egregious breaches. It is the police on the frontline, day in and day out, who are not only protecting the public but putting themselves in harm’s way, and we are absolutely right to support them.
It is absolutely right that we provide accommodation—the right kind of accommodation—for people who have come to our country to claim asylum, and we have a statutory duty as a Government to do so. No one would dispute that at all. With regards to Napier, I spoke to one of the ward councillors at the weekend, and I have been in touch with local MPs and representatives from the local authority. We are working with everyone to make sure that base is secure, which it absolutely is; that it is covid compliant, which it has been from day one; and that all the suitable accommodation measures are put in place, which is absolutely correct.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, we have already mentioned this afternoon that the legislation will soon be coming before this House, and I am sure that his constituents and many other constituents will welcome the change. I would like to give my hon. Friend and his constituents reassurance that the legislation we will bring forward will address many of the issues related to groups that have that disproportionate impact on the local community.
First, on misinformation and disinformation on the vaccine, as I said earlier, we are working across Government to ensure that the right information is being put out. With specific reference to refugee groups, we have health facilities, and refugees have access to medical help and support, and obviously that has continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic. When it comes to people getting the vaccine, as I said earlier, everyone should ensure that when their turn comes, they take the jab and ignore this misinformation. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member is shaking her head; everyone across Government is working night and day to deal with misinformation. I have said it many times; I hope that all colleagues in the House will unite across the board and forget political divisions to ensure that everybody who should get the jab absolutely takes a jab.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I look forward to coming back to Wolverhampton, obviously when circumstances permit. I also thank him for the great work he is doing with local groups, organisations and police to protect the victims of crime, but also to do much more on preventing crime. The police uplift, more police officers, the record sums of cash that we are putting into policing—all of this will go towards preventing crime, but also ensuring that victims are safeguarded.
As I have said several times already, all measures are under review. Colleagues across Government are working to implement the hotel quarantine policy and the logistics involved in that, but this is not just about hotels. This is absolutely about compliance and enforcement, and we have measures in place at our ports and airports to ensure that people are being checked and to ensure compliance.
My hon. Friend and I have spoken about this previously, and I very much recognise the pressures experienced in his constituency. Obviously we have had accommodation pressures throughout the pandemic, and we are implementing a recovery programme, with which he is familiar. Within that, we are looking to accelerate, where we can and in a covid-compliant way, working with Public Health England and all the relevant organisations that he is familiar with, the movement of people out of contingency accommodation and into much more dispersed accommodation across the UK.
The hon. Gentleman will know my very strong views on this—I have spoken about it previously. Last year when the pandemic started, we saw the most appalling abuse and attacks on shop workers. We are working with colleagues in Government, so please let me give the hon. Gentleman my assurance on that. This type of violence and abuse should never, ever be tolerated at all, and we will also continue to work with employers to ensure that they are doing everything possible to protect shop workers—their employees.
My hon. Friend raises such an important point. He is right to say that throughout the pandemic we have seen criminality manifest itself and reinvent itself—and, quite frankly, become far too agile and a bit clever as well. Cyber-security and cyber-crime absolutely top the list when it comes to criminality, and there is a lot of work. We now have a new national cyber-security strategy supported by almost £2 billion of investment. Through the national cyber-security programme we are constantly bolstering our police and law enforcement response at a national level, working with those organisations at grassroots level—local levels and regional levels—deemed to be vulnerable. I am afraid there are far too many vulnerable organisations that absolutely need to step up and enhance their own cyber-security.
First, it is important that the House recognises we always work constructively with the PCS union when it comes to the protection of Border Force staff. Secondly, the rosters were changed to enhance covid-compliance measures and so that there was fairness across all staff, who could be protected in their shift work. We continue to work with the union, and we are committed to doing that, but my absolute priority is to ensure that Border Force staff are protected, because they come into contact with members of the public every single day.
My hon. Friend will know the details of the scheme and the numbers that were published six or so weeks ago. We are working on the new scheme with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which as the lead Department will look at the roll-out with seasonal agricultural worker providers. We have a number of providers, and he will be familiar with them, but we are happy to provide him with a written update because I know that is of great interest in his constituency.
The scheme has only just been launched. I reassure the hon. Lady that we are working with all sorts of civil society organisations, and I have spent a lot of time in dialogues and roundtables with a range of representatives. Therefore, having just launched the scheme, which is a bespoke humanitarian route created for BNOs, we are absolutely looking at how we can ensure that the route works well. We are also engaging with non-governmental organisations and civil society to ensure that we do not miss people.
Given that planning permission for the asylum seekers temporary accommodation at Penally in Pembrokeshire is due to run out at the end of March, can the Home Secretary confirm that the local community will this time be fully consulted on the camp’s future and that all new transfers to the site will cease in the intervening period?
If I may, this is an important point that the Minister responsible for immigration compliance and the courts, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), touched on. I am so disappointed to hear that colleagues across the House are not supportive of asylum accommodation, when many local authorities fail to co-operate with the Home Office to identify sites in their constituency. Quite frankly, the hypocrisy of basically saying, “We don’t want asylum seekers here, send them elsewhere.” is simply not acceptable. We consult with everybody—I can assure the right hon. Lady—
We know that Greater Manchester police are in special measures and that the chief constable is on gardening leave. We know that victims of crime in Greater Manchester are at risk. We even know that police officers going out on calls are at risk, because they are not getting the information. The Mayor of Greater Manchester tells us that he is not getting the information from the police. I know that the Home Secretary has previously replied that she is not getting the information from Greater Manchester police. Can she tell the House when she expects to get the information from Greater Manchester police that will enable us to know if there is an improvement in the appalling situation?
The hon. Gentleman is right: it is an absolutely appalling situation. He will also know that the Mayor’s responsibility is to ensure that Greater Manchester police act immediately on the force improvement plan. My hon. friend the Minister for Crime and Policing has been working assiduously on this and has met the deputy Mayor and the acting chief constable. We have a force improvement plan and we intend to use it to get information and data as well as to hold everybody to account over what has happened with that failure in data collection and, ultimately, the impact that has had on victims.