The Secretary of State was asked—
Before I answer the question, Mr Speaker, may I join you in paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer? Keith was a brave, brave office dedicated to his work and we will always remember him.
Following last week’s meeting of the crime and justice taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister, the Government have doubled the size of the safer streets fund, which will go towards neighbourhood measures designed to improve public safety and protection.
Knife and gang crime is sadly an issue in my constituency, but, at the same time, two police stations in the north of it are under threat. One is Notting Hill police station, which the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is planning to sell—he closed its front counter a couple of years ago—and the other is Lancaster Road, where the lease is due to expire. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given this Government’s huge investment in the police, we need physical police stations in London and in the north of my constituency?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to her because she is an incredible constituency MP. I spent time with her on patrol, where she joined me very much in backing and supporting the police. I am incredibly disappointed by what she said about police stations closing in her constituency. It is a fact that they are a vital lifeline to protect communities and the public. She will know that police and crime commissioners are elected to be accountable to the communities they serve, and with that, they also need to be a strong voice when it comes to fighting crime and dealing with, as she rightly highlighted, the issue of knife crime, drug crime and attacks on young people.
Last year, I oversaw the temporary creation of a mobile police station in Blyth marketplace. This was very well received by the local residents and retailers in the town, as well as being supported by our fantastic local police force. However, a more permanent fixture, as well as the installation of CCTV, would be welcomed by all. Will my right hon. Friend support me, the police and the residents of Blyth Valley in our endeavours to create a safer environment for all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I commend him because, again, he is a tour de force locally, giving strong voice and representation to safer streets and safer communities and, again, backing the police. He is right to work with the police locally to make sure that more community support and safety measures come into place. I will support and work with him in whatever way I can. He will also know that when it comes to the funding for these schemes, the money is there from central Government. I urge all police and crime commissioners to step up and make absolutely sure that they tap into that funding to ensure that these measures come into place.
May I associate myself with the remembrance today of PC Palmer and the other victims we lost on that day? I remember coming out of Westminster tube at exactly this time four years ago and seeing the aftermath of that dreadful terrorist attack.
I welcome the reopening of the call for evidence on violence against women and girls, which I believe now closes this Friday—26 March—and I encourage as many people to have their say as possible. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we listen to victims of violence and all women and girls to really understand their experiences in their daily lives, so that we can ensure that the strategy that the Government finally introduce does tackle violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I echo her call to continue to encourage people to respond to the survey. We have already had in excess of 135,000 people writing in to the survey since it has been reopened. But there is a fundamental point here: in having people join that consultation, that public survey, we want their views, because their views matter, but so do their personal experiences. I am talking about personal experiences and insights whether or not someone has been a victim, which is always a terrible, terrible thing, but also if someone has interacted with the system—it could be the criminal justice system, victim support services, the police or any aspect of the system. We want that to come together so that we can have the right type of approach that gives voice and strength to the type of policies and the legislation that we bring forward.
Over the past year in Aylesbury Vale, robberies have fallen by 35% and many more criminals have been brought to justice for violent offences. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the superb officers at Thames Valley police’s Aylesbury police station on those achievements, and can she tell the House how her Department will ensure that those officers can continue to keep those in my local community safe, especially women?
My hon. Friend will have heard me speaking with great praise for Thames Valley police and for its incredible work and dedication, of which there are many examples that we have spoken about in the past. He spoke about Thames Valley Aylesbury’s work on reducing crime within the community. That is very much down to great leadership, no doubt about that, and also to resourcing, with the money that the Government are putting in place, and to the new police officers, the visibility, the money that goes into crime reduction and the surge funding that has gone in. I absolutely stand with him and with his local officers who are doing outstanding work.
Many of my constituents in Bracknell have contacted me recently to express concern about antisocial behaviour. This includes nuisance neighbours, drug abuse, speeding cars and general disorder. Given that the Government have a responsibility to safeguard the law-abiding majority, could my right hon. Friend please confirm what is being done to curb this behaviour?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Knowing his constituency as I do from previous visits, and knowing the way in which the police work locally, we absolutely stand with them in our determination to stamp out criminality and also antisocial behaviour—the things that blight communities. Of course we stand on the side of the silent law-abiding majority—no question about that whatsoever. The funding that we have seen for more police officers within his force and his constituency, along with the money for the safer streets fund, will go a long way to delivering for his constituents.
Recently, gangs of bicycle and car thieves have been targeting the High Peak, travelling into the area from Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. Derbyshire police is working hard to try to tackle this problem, but can I urge the Home Secretary to do more to ensure that the different police forces, including the British Transport police, work more closely together to tackle the criminal gangs that operate over county lines?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the blended way in which forces should come together, because county lines cross boundaries. Whether it is the British Transport police, his own police or the neighbouring forces, we need them to pull together to deal with the level of criminality that he has spoken about. That is taking place on one of the biggest issues that faces our country, which is county lines drug gangs. He will know, from when we have spoken previously, of the great operational work that is taking place across our police forces and intelligence agencies to go after the criminals that are out there pursuing such high-harm crimes.
The shadow Home Secretary will speak about the violence last night in his remarks. I simply want to say that there is never an excuse for violence, and as shadow Policing Minister, my thoughts are obviously with the police who were on duty. I wish them a swift recovery.
Mr Speaker, I want to associate myself with the remarks that you made about PC Keith Palmer and, if I may, I would also like to send my best wishes to the Minister for Crime and Policing, the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse). I hope he continues to show no symptoms of covid-19 and that the virus was not passed on to anyone working in the Home Office. One would hope that this is a lesson to him of the importance of sticking to the rules.
Thousands of women across the land, including the Home Secretary, have spoken of the danger they feel on the streets and the harassment they have suffered. Now is the time for action. The number of stalking and harassment offences recorded by the police has more than doubled in four years, with 500,000 offences last year, and we know that this is the tip of the iceberg, as most women do not report street harassment. Will the Home Secretary work cross-party to introduce a law similar to the one introduced in France in 2018 to make street harassment a specific criminal offence?
I say to the hon. Lady that street harassment—in fact, all harassment against individuals, male and female, but particularly women and girls—is absolutely unacceptable. I have spent some time with campaigners who are campaigning to change the law on street harassment, so I am absolutely committed to working with everybody on this. This will be part of our strategy on violence against women and girls. The hon. Lady will know of the work that is taking place on the VAWG consultation right now, and we are going to build on that. We will look at all the calls that come in, and look at how we can have a proper strategy that will formulate legislation to bring about the changes that women and girls quite rightly want to see.
Asylum Accommodation: Northern Ireland
Home Office officials meet weekly with the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership to discuss intake, accommodation and other operational matters relating to asylum accommodation. That is supplemented by formal monthly meetings with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Belfast City Council, the voluntary and communities sector, public health colleagues and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Asylum seekers in Northern Ireland are disadvantaged by a lack of parity in specialist services such as trauma counselling and legal advice, but instead of plugging these gaps, this Secretary of State seems obsessed with introducing ever more punitive and dehumanising policies in her approach to dealing with people fleeing persecution. We have seen the outworkings of offshore processing in Australia, which cost lives and hundreds of millions of pounds; it was a human rights disaster. Will the Minister take the opportunity to confirm that the Department is not pursuing plans to use third countries as dumping grounds? Will the Government instead commit to establishing safe and legal routes, and housing with dignity those who need asylum in the UK?
It is disappointing to hear the tone of the hon. Lady’s question, given that the Belfast City Council area is the only part of Northern Ireland to act as a dispersal area. Securing suitable accommodation relies on local communities taking part. Perhaps she may wish to reflect on what more action could be taken by councils where the Social Democratic and Labour party has a presence to match her words.
Misuse of Drugs Act
Before I answer the question, may I reassure the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) that I did follow the rules? I urge her, and indeed all Members, to get themselves regularly tested on a random basis, whether they have any symptoms or not.
The Government currently have no plans to review the 1971 Act. Obviously, we keep drugs controls under review, in consultation with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but drugs legislation is only part of our wider approach to preventing drug misuse, which includes: focusing on education in schools; promoting treatment and recovery; and preventing the supply of illicit drugs.
As a former Metropolitan police officer, may I pay tribute to the memory of PC Keith Palmer?
The largest review ever undertaken of 349 research studies from across the globe, carried out by the Centre for Criminology at the University of South Wales in 2017, found that safe or supervised injection rooms significantly reduced drug-related harms and dramatically cut mortality rates. Will the Minister pay heed to this overwhelming evidence and support at least one pilot facility—preferably more—for safe drug consumption rooms in Scotland?
I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, given that Scotland currently has a drug death rate three and a half times that of the whole of the UK, and it is a matter that should be of concern to all of us. I have had extensive discussions with my Scottish colleagues, not least the new Scottish Minister for Drugs Policy, about how we could work together to try to tackle this problem. Although at the moment we do not envisage changing the rules to look at safe consumption rooms, there is a huge amount we can do together. I urge the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues north of the border to look at our groundbreaking ADDER— Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery—projects, which are bringing together the police and the most critical partner for drug recovery, the health service, in five areas across England and Wales to focus on this problem and try to shift the numbers.
Removing people who should not be here is vital in order to maintain the integrity of our immigration system. In particular, removing dangerous foreign national offenders is crucial to protecting our fellow citizens. In the year to June 2020, there were 5,208 enforced removals. However, that was significantly lower than in previous years, which is why we are going to be bringing forward proposals very shortly to reform the system to make sure we can better enforce our immigration rules.
I thank the Minister for his answer. My North West Durham constituents want genuine refugees to be supported, but they also want to see foreign criminals and bogus asylum seekers deported. Members of the local Labour party are spreading scare stories about the plans for the Hassockfield site, so will the Minister confirm that it will be a secure facility—essentially a category C prison—with around 80 females detained for as short a time as possible, and that recruitment for 200 local jobs will start as soon as possible? Finally, will he ignore the calls of the hard-left Labour activists who want to have open borders and would allow foreign criminals to stay in the UK, and ensure that those people who have no right to be here are deported as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend is right: when people have valid asylum claims, we should of course look after them, but when they do not, we should ensure that they leave. The Hassockfield centre is indeed designed for 80 female detainees and will be a secure facility. As my hon. Friend says, it will create local jobs, and only people with no right to stay in the country will be there. I join my hon. Friend in condemning the local Labour party in his neighbourhood, which appears to be against proper border controls.
My hon. Friend the Minister will well know of the frustration when violent criminals who are foreign nationals leave prison and are due to be deported, only for their lawyers to frustrate the process with last-minute appeals. Will he bring forward proposals to prevent such action and make sure that those dangerous criminals who are a threat to this country are deported at the end of their criminal convictions?
My hon. Friend is right: dangerous criminals, including murderers and rapists, should be deported once their sentence is over. I am afraid he is also right that we face legal challenges, often very late in the day and despite the fact that there have been many previous opportunities to make such claims, the vast majority of which—well over 80%—subsequently turn out to be totally without merit. It is for that reason that the Home Secretary and I will bring forward proposals in the very near future to address exactly that issue.
We learned this month that under this Government the number of foreign criminals living freely in the UK has exceeded 10,000 for the first time ever, while last year the number deported fell to its lowest level on record. However bad those numbers are, at least they exist, unlike—astonishingly, as I found out today—any figures on the rearrest of previously charged and potentially dangerous terrorist suspects. Does that not show how, for all their tough talk, this Government’s record is weak and their competence lacking? It is a totally unacceptable state of affairs when it comes to the safety and security of the British people.
Given the shadow Minister’s new-found concern about deporting foreign national offenders, we will find out whether his actions in the Division Lobbies match his rhetoric when we come to vote on legislation in the relatively near future. Why was it that when we brought forward a charter flight in December to deport dangerous foreign national offenders, Labour MP after Labour MP stood up to oppose that? That is completely wrong.
Fraud During the Pandemic
The Home Office has been working with policing, public and private sector partners to track and mitigate the risk of fraud during the pandemic. The National Cyber Security Centre has taken down tens of thousands of online scams and gov.uk is giving the public the advice that they need to spot scams and avoid falling victim to them.
Recent months have seen an increasing number of scams related to the coronavirus vaccine. As rumours swirl in the press about a delay to the vaccine in the UK, it is even more important that the Government take urgent action to stop fraudulent opportunists from exploiting the vulnerable. With one scam charging for a fake vaccine on the doorstep, will the Minister detail what steps the Government can take, in addition to what he has already mentioned, to tackle this dangerous fraud?
I can well understand the hon. Lady’s frustration and fear about this issue. For people to be duped by others offering fake vaccines is a disgraceful type of crime, particularly as we face this awful pandemic together. We are working closely with partners across health and law enforcement to make sure that we catch up with these villains as quickly as we possibly can. I have been reassured by the fact that the number of vaccine-related frauds that have been reported is, pleasingly, still quite low, but we continue to monitor the situation carefully. I urge people who come across this kind of instance to report it, please, to the City of London’s Action Fraud as soon as they can.
The Government are committed to recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers by March 2024. Ahead of that recruitment drive, we already have 6,620 more police officers. The hon. Lady will also be aware of the significant police funding that has come to her own police force.
The Home Secretary fails to recognise that Lancashire has lost 750 officers over the past decade and is under a huge amount of pressure as it simply does not have enough officers to investigate some crimes. This causes great concern to residents. Does she feel that that is fair on victims of crime and does she agree that justice delayed is justice denied? Is she concerned that the public could lose faith in the police unless those concerns are addressed urgently?
The hon. Lady fails to recognise the amount of police funding that her own local area of Lancashire has received. She also fails to recognise the number of new police officers who have been recruited and who are out there, day in, day out, protecting our streets and her constituents. She is right to speak about victims because support for victims is absolutely crucial, but she must reflect on the support that victims receive in relation to particular crimes and offences within the wider criminal justice system, and also on the role of the Crown Prosecution Service. On that basis, it is an absolute shame that she and her party failed to stand up for victims in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Second Reading last week.
Street Safety: Women
There is no place in our society for violence against women and girls. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are putting record levels of investment into the police and that there are more police officers on the streets. We as a Government are ensuring that those individuals who commit crimes against women and girls receive longer prison sentences, which was opposed by the Labour party.
Our hearts are with the friends and family of Sarah Everard after her tragic and brutal killing, which comes at a time when recorded rape has doubled since 2014 and when 99% of reported rapes are not charged. Will the Government now enable people instantly to report street nuisance and harassment from their mobile phones in texts and images to allow immediate police intervention? Will she also invest in immediate DNA same-day testing together with Nightingale courts to fast-track rape cases, so that women are safer and justice is done?
The hon. Gentleman has highlighted some important points around rape, sexual violence and abuse within the criminal justice. I can confirm that, as part of the work of the Crime and Justice Taskforce, the Government, with the Ministry of Justice and the courts system, are looking at a range of measures to see how we can do more to fast-track cases and also to make sure that victims are protected in the right kind of way, as the hon. Gentleman has said. Alongside that, a great deal of work has taken place across Government with the end-to-end rape review.
I am delighted to hear that the Home Secretary has finally joined up with us on trying to do better to address violence against women and girls, and that the taskforce was announced last week; we look forward to working with her. We are hopefully going to enter a new era on street harassment, thanks to the deeds of Labour women here in the Commons and in the other place, who pushed the Government to record misogyny as a hate crime. With that in mind, may I ask the Home Secretary what she intends to do to train police forces? Can she tell us why only half of English and Welsh forces have undertaken Domestic Abuse Matters training, even though research shows that where forces have received it, there is a 41% increase in coercive control arrests?
The Minister for safeguarding, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), said over and over again last week that police training was important in improving the dreadful and worsening outcomes for abused women in this country, so how come, under her watch and the watch of the Home Secretary, only half of forces have undergone the necessary, proven training? Will the Home Secretary tell the House what she has done to ensure that all are trained, other than just saying she wants them to be? We need deeds, not words; otherwise, her Home Office will keep releasing more and more violent perpetrators back on to our streets.
Order. We must make sure that questions are short, in order to get through the list, but I do appreciate how important this subject is.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has taken the tone that she has. [Interruption.] Well, many people are cross, but she should recognise that this should never become a partisan or party political issue. [Interruption.] I appreciate that she would like to chunter from the sidelines, but the fact of the matter is that when we look at the work done across this House and by all parliamentarians, no one individual holds the licence to determine the changes in outcomes that we collectively want to see for women and girls. If she was interested at all in getting justice and driving the right kinds of outcomes for women and girls, she would listen to what I have to say on this. A great deal of work is taking place. I am sorry she does not want to listen to the serious points that I am about to make about Government actions; she sits there pulling faces and nodding her head.
I have commissioned a thematic review of violence against women and girls in policing, which will be led by Her Majesty’s inspectorate. It will look at how the police deal with these issues. Over the last 12 months, through the National Policing Board, some very strong work has taken place across 43 police forces to look at the work and training in conjunction—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady like to listen to what I have to say, rather than the sound of her own voice? We are not just looking at the work of police forces; with the College of Policing, we are also looking at the training that is in place and where that training needs to be improved.
Of course, there are standards in the inspectorate, through which police forces are held to account. Those are important benchmarks of quality, but also outcomes; and it is outcomes that matter to the victims that we all care about. We want to ensure that there are fewer victims in the future, because all of us in this House—irrespective of our political party—want to ensure that women and girls, and victims, are safeguarded and protected in the criminal justice system.
We recognise the misery that some unauthorised encampments cause to local communities and businesses. Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are pleased to be delivering on our manifesto commitment to strengthen the powers of the police to arrest and seize the vehicles of those who set up unauthorised encampments and cause damage, disruption and distress.
My hon. Friend will have noticed that last week, in voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Labour party also voted against giving the police the powers they need to act quickly and effectively against illegal Traveller encampments. The key word there is “illegal”; illegal encampments are, by definition, illegal. With illegal encampments popping up across Milton Keynes, does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to prioritise the rights of criminals, and that we are right to be giving the police the powers they need to act and enforce the law?
My hon. Friend is exactly right; we have to balance the rights of so many Travellers to lead a nomadic life—and the vast majority do, in a legal way—with the rights of those who own property, live in communities, and deserve to live without the distress, aggravation and difficulty that comes from unauthorised encampments. He will know that we are a Government who do not tolerate law breaking of any kind. The measures that we are introducing will ensure that the police have the powers they need to tackle this problem—hopefully, once and for all.
I recently met a local business that transports food up and down the country from a warehouse in my constituency. It was disrupted by an unauthorised encampment and subjected to harassment and demands for cash payments. Will my hon. Friend confirm that our proposed new laws aim to prevent just that type of behaviour, and that, importantly, the vast majority of the Traveller community, who do not harass or disrupt the local communities they travel through, face no reduction in their rights?
My hon. Friend speaks the truth. I am very sorry to hear about the circumstances that afflicted the business in his community. I know that he works hard to ensure that his part of the world remains a great place for investment, and I hope that business managed to deal with the problem. The country is littered with businesses that have had to put boulders, huge logs or other barriers over their hardstanding or car parks. That is not a situation we can tolerate into the future.
As my hon. Friend says, the vast majority of Travellers go about their lifestyle in a perfectly legal manner, and we should facilitate and help them to do so, but those who do not and who cross the line into illegality need to be dealt with. We believe that the measures in the Bill will allow the police to do that with much greater efficiency.
Contingency Asylum Accommodation
During the pandemic, the number of accommodated asylum seekers has increased, because we have not been able to move people on from accommodation and continuing claims. That means we have needed to secure contingency accommodation options, including two Ministry of Defence sites. We await the inspector’s full report on contingency accommodation, which will lay in Parliament alongside the Department’s response after his inspection is concluded.
Many constituents have been in touch about the unhygienic conditions at Napier barracks, which risk spreading covid. I understand that the Home Secretary told the Select Committee that she had been following guidance, yet that seems to be the opposite of what Kent and Medway clinical commissioning group said. It stated that there were
“too many people housed in each block to allow adequate social distancing and to prevent the risk of spread of infection”.
Will the Minister once and for all decide that barracks are simply super-spreader venues that should not be used for anyone, let alone vulnerable asylum seekers?
We expect the highest standards from our providers and have instructed them to make improvements following the interim report from the independent chief inspector. In future, a core part of avoiding the pressures that result in the need for contingency accommodation will be fixing our broken asylum system, so that decisions are fair, prompt and firmer, and those whose claims are not genuine can be removed more easily.
The Home Secretary said to the Select Committee that
“advice around dormitories and the use of the accommodation was all based on Public Health England advice”.
However, the inspection report reveals that Public Health England had advised that opening
“dormitory-style accommodation at Napier was not supported by current guidance”.
Ministers have claimed that the barracks are
“good enough for the armed services and they are certainly more than good enough for people…seeking asylum.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 10.]
However, the report says that they are “impoverished, run-down and unsuitable”. When will those statements be corrected, and, more importantly, why did the Home Office not grasp that the use of dormitory accommodation in the middle of a pandemic was utterly reckless?
I note the hon. Member’s points, but I have already outlined that we expect the highest standards from providers and have instructed them to make improvements. A core part of being able to end the use of contingency accommodation in hotels and barracks is having more options and locations for dispersed accommodation. Sadly, Glasgow is the only location currently providing it in Scotland. Part of the solution might be for his council in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East to agree to be next on the list—something I hope he will reflect positively on.
It is well and good for the Minister to ask providers to make improvements, but it is a blindingly obvious fact that whatever is done with dormitory accommodation will not protect against coronavirus. I agree that to fix asylum accommodation, local authorities must have the powers and the funding they need for the job. The Home Affairs Committee has said that several times. If the Home Office agrees to do that, instead of launching the horrendous large-scale warehousing of vulnerable people, more local authorities will get on board and I will, indeed, encourage it. Will the Home Office make sure local authorities get the powers and the funding they need?
We can see from the contribution Glasgow makes that a range of support is already available. As I say, we want to end the use of contingency accommodation. It is just that—contingency. As the pressures have reduced, we have moved away from using the Penally site, for example. However, as has been touched on, the solution is for more areas to come forward, because we need local councils to back up some of what they call for with action.
The independent inspector’s report states very clearly that
“once one person was infected a large-scale outbreak was virtually inevitable.”
In addition, the Kent and Medway clinical commissioning group inspection report on Napier confirmed that some communal areas were cleaned just once a week; that staff were expected to sleep three to a room; and that there were people with pre-existing vulnerabilities, including diabetes, leukaemia and tuberculosis, accommodated there. The public health advice never supported the use of dormitories, so why is Napier barracks still open?
As I have already outlined, we have instructed our providers to make improvements, and we want to reduce the use of contingency accommodation through fixing our broken asylum system. I am sure many will be interested to note the Labour party’s sudden interest in, and enthusiasm for, securing improvements at Napier barracks now that they are no longer being used by our armed forces.
The Home Office, alongside other policing partners, continues to provide Cleveland police with the support it requires through Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services’ police performance oversight group, a meeting of which I was happy to attend a couple of weeks ago. Cleveland’s funding will increase by up to £7.2 million in the next year, and as of 31 December, it had recruited an additional 159 officers through our uplift programme, with a further 70 officers to be recruited in the coming year.
Our Conservative police and crime commissioner candidate Steve Turner is rightly calling for a review of the funding allocation formula, so that Cleveland can access future rounds of violence reduction unit funding and start to tackle this menace on our streets. Will my hon. Friend meet Steve Turner and me to discuss this issue and unlock violence reduction unit funding for Cleveland?
My hon. Friend is a doughty and, I have to say, given recent announcements, successful advocate for investment and funding for his part of the world, and I would of course be more than happy to meet him. He is right that Cleveland missed out on violence reduction unit funding last time, falling just outside the funding formula, but I would be happy to talk to him about what more we can do to help the police and crime commissioner—who hopefully will be a Conservative after the May elections—and the chief constable to tackle some of the violent crime that plagues parts of Cleveland, and bring peace and light into the future.
Border Force Dispute: Heathrow
The strike at Heathrow is over temporary arrangements that are designed to keep staff safe during coronavirus. There has been a large number of discussions between Border Force and the union, but I am frankly astonished that the trade union is striking over measures designed to protect the health and safety of its own members.
I am not surprised that the Minister is astonished, but as we all remember, Border Force staff have been on the frontline during the pandemic, and have played a pivotal role in keeping the country covid-secure. The imposition of a new roster at Heathrow airport is creating chaos. It is making staff feel less safe, as there are unavoidable covid-19 breaches; and as the Minister mentioned, there has been a 96% positive ballot result. The staff are set to walk out next week, at a time when the airport’s own workers are striking over the shameful fire and rehire abuses. Will the Home Secretary intervene to pause these counterproductive changes and allow proper negotiations to take place with the PCS union before Heathrow airport grinds to a halt over the Easter holidays?
These measures have been introduced on a temporary basis, for just a few months, to protect the health of the Border Force workers, and it is frankly astonishing that the union has decided to go on strike. These measures will cease to apply in July and over 90% of the affected Border Force staff now have rosters that they agree with, so I call on the PCS union to withdraw any proposal to indulge in this completely unnecessary, counterproductive strike against—absurdly—measures that are designed to protect its own members.
Immigration: Hong Kong
On 31 January, we launched a bespoke immigration route for British national overseas status-holders and their households, allowing them to come to the UK to live, work and study on a pathway to British citizenship. On 23 February, we also launched a fully digital application process, which will allow many applicants to apply from home using a smart device.
I congratulate the Home Secretary and her Ministers on the excellent work with Hong Kong BNOs, and long may it continue. On the wider point of asylum, may I thank the Secretary of State and her excellent ministerial team for the much-needed reforms to the asylum system that they are introducing, which will make the asylum system significantly fairer to the British people? These changes cannot come soon enough.
We appreciate my hon. Friend’s warm endorsement of the work done to create this route, which will give many millions the opportunity to make their home here in our United Kingdom, if they decide that that is the right choice for them and their family. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and with local councils and the devolved Administrations, to ensure a warm welcome across our United Kingdom for those who arrive here under the new settlement route.
Violence Reduction Units
The Home Office is working closely with the Treasury on the future funding of violence reduction units. In February, we announced VRU funding of £35.5 million for the coming year, bringing the total investment to £105.5 million over three financial years.
The Government’s own guidance for violence reduction units requires them to generate long-term solutions to violence reduction. Why, therefore, have the Government announced only piecemeal funding for violence reduction units, one year at a time, which makes it impossible to plan with certainty for long-term interventions? When do they plan to embed the work of violence reduction units within mainstream long-term funding commitments, so that this vital work, including with some of the most vulnerable and traumatised young people, can be guaranteed for as long as it is needed?
We recognise the need to put VRUs on a sustainable funding basis, and the hon. Lady is quite right that much of their work is multi-year, which needs to be reflected in the investment we make. We are working closely with Treasury colleagues and can hope for a multi-year financial settlement, which would allow us to move to that position. Having said that, it is also incumbent on the wider organisations involved in fighting violence, such as the Mayor of London, to embed this kind of work as part of their day-to-day addressing of crime, particularly working closely with young people. I would urge her to lobby City Hall to mainstream the violence reduction unit as part of its activity, rather than relying on Westminster funding, although we will of course support the capital substantially, as we have in the past.
Even when the promised 150 police officers are recruited to the Cleveland force, we will still have 350 fewer police than in 2010, and that in an area where the rate of serious violent crime is among the highest in England. Unlike other areas, Cleveland has not received additional funds to tackle it. The Government are now well known for their bizarre rationale for allocating funding for all manner of things in order to favour areas with Tory MPs, but will the Minister now do the right and mature thing and ensure that Cleveland gets the support that the area desperately needs?
As I said in a previous answer, I am meeting, certainly, a Conservative MP to talk about what more we can do to support Cleveland, and I think it is very unfair of the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the experience of his force in that way. We have put significant extra funding into Cleveland police to allow it to uplift the number of police officers. It is benefiting from wider money that we are spending across the whole country on things such as county lines—from which Cleveland sadly suffers, along with other parts of the country—to deal with that particular drugs problem. That is against an overall spending commitment for UK policing that is the largest we have seen for a decade and has been for two successive years, so I do not think anybody could accuse this Government of skimping on investment in the police; quite the reverse. I hope and believe that, as Cleveland police emerges from a difficult period in its history, with a strong chief constable, the hon. Gentleman will start to feel the benefit on his streets quite soon.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement following the incidents over the weekend, and particularly the anarchic and violent scenes that we saw in Bristol last night. We have been clear that to save lives and fight this pandemic people must not currently hold large gatherings. Too many this weekend selfishly decided that this did not apply to them. We will always give the police the support and protection that they need. It was sad that, as we saw last week, the Opposition voted against measures to protect our police and also introduce longer sentences. The scenes in Bristol yesterday were utterly shameful. We saw criminal thuggery and disorder caused by a minority who put lives at risk. Our exceptional and brave police officers put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. For them to face criminal violence against themselves while upholding the law is completely unacceptable. My thoughts are with the injured officers and their families. I hope that every single Member of Parliament in this House will join me in condemning the shameful actions of the criminal minority involved.
I am sure that everybody will join the Home Secretary in condemning what were evil and shameful acts yesterday—there are no two ways about that. The simple truth is that those evil and shameful acts demonstrated only too clearly the need for the police to have powers to deal with disruptive, dangerous actions masquerading behind the right to demonstrate, and she is right to promote that. That being said, many of us, I suspect including her, view the right to demonstrate peacefully as a foundation stone of our democracy. Can she give the House an undertaking that before we get to Report stage we will make sure that the right to demonstrate peacefully is absolutely guaranteed in our law?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the right to protest peacefully is in fact a cornerstone of our democracy, and it is one that this Government will always defend. He references a point in relation to the Bill that is coming forward. He will know my views. I will work with everybody to make sure that when the police need the powers to tackle the type of appalling thuggery and criminality that we saw yesterday, we will achieve that, while absolutely protecting the right to protest peacefully in our country.
First, I would like to pass on the thoughts of those of us on the Labour Benches to police officers and to local residents who were victims of the unacceptable and inexcusable violence we saw in Bristol yesterday. Officers should never face that kind of behaviour as they undertake their work to keep us all safe, and anyone involved in those violent and appalling scenes should face the consequences of their actions.
I would also like to pay tribute, along with the whole House, to the victims of the Westminster Bridge attack four years ago today, and to the memory of PC Keith Palmer, who was tragically killed outside this House protecting all of us and our democracy.
In recent weeks we have heard extraordinarily powerful testimony from women and girls about the level of violence and abuse they continue to face. Now is the time to act decisively to address the appalling behaviour on our streets that causes distress and intimidation. In answer to the shadow Crime and Policing Minister, the Home Secretary spoke about a strategy, which of course we all contribute to, to recommend legislation, but the need for action is urgent. So will she work with me to introduce a specific law on street harassment and tougher sentences for stalking?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the tragic attacks here in Westminster. I refer him to the comments I made earlier to the shadow Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). I am sorry that it has taken so long for the Labour party to contribute to the survey on violence against women and girls. This survey is fundamental, so that we take a balanced approach. It is all very well to say that we need action right now, but there is action taking place. It is important that we listen to people. It is also important that we engage with those affected by violence against women and girls, street harassment and the unacceptable harassment and abuse that takes place against women and girls.
We are going to work with everybody involved in this. I do not think that this should become a partisan or party political issue one bit. I would like our work, our strategy and the legislation we bring forward to build upon the work that this Government have led already when it comes to protecting women and girls, whether it is on issues such as stalking protection orders, sexual risk orders, the introduction of Clare’s law or the fact that we have a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill going through Parliament.
The problem is that the longer we wait, the worse the situation becomes. More than two years have passed since this Government announced their end-to-end rape review, and there has been no action. In that time, rape convictions have shamefully fallen to the worst on record—an all-time record low. Systemic change is needed, but action is urgently required, so I put another suggestion to the Home Secretary: will she commit to working cross-party to create new specialised rape and serious sexual offence units in every police force in England and Wales now?
The right hon. Gentleman disparagingly dismisses the end-to-end rape review that is taking place. [Interruption.] Yes, it has taken time, and once the right hon. Gentleman reads the review, he might understand why it has taken time. There is extensive work taking place with the individuals who are contributing and have contributed to the rape review. I am sure that he, of all people, will recognise many of the sensitive issues around rape and the handling of rape cases, and it is absolutely right and proper that we as a Government provide the time, the space and the ability for those who want to contribute to do so in a very candid way. That is how we can shape legislation to drive the right kind of outcomes, not saying that we need action now and coming up with ideas that will just make people feel better at this particular moment in time.
My hon. Friend has tapped into my affection for Stoke-on-Trent and done so with great flair. He is right: his constituents are brilliant individuals, and I have been to Stoke-on-Trent many times. They saw sense by voting for more Conservative Members of Parliament at the last election.
We are scoping new locations for a second site for the Home Office, and we are going to go beyond the conventional Government footprint and size. I can confirm that we are looking at long-term plans, and I will share our proposals with my hon. Friend and the House in due course.
I join the Home Secretary and shadow Home Secretary in paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life keeping us safe four years ago, and in sending support to the Avon and Somerset officers injured in the unacceptable violence in Bristol yesterday.
Scientists estimate that there are now up to 2,000 new cases of the South African variant a day in France. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many of the 15,000 people arriving in the UK each day are travelling here from France, and does she intend to put France on the red list?
The right hon. Lady will know that red-listing countries is a matter for my colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care. She is absolutely right to point to the prevalence of the South African variant in France. That is why we have effective measures in place at the border, with compliance checks and upstream checks for people who are travelling to the United Kingdom, alongside measures to test road hauliers, which, as she will be aware, we have been doing in Kent.
My hon. Friend raises what is an excellent point and an important one. If I may, I would like to praise the work of her police and crime commissioner for the work that she is doing around special constables. Currently, we have no plans to set up a formal police reserve. However, my hon. Friend will know we are seeing more and more special constables joining to become full-time police officers. We are working with them. We are also looking at new protections for them. Of course, it is absolutely right that local forces should have the ability to reward volunteers for their valuable contributions. That is something that I fully back.
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important issue around equality and the fair treatment of individuals in the justice system. There is a great deal of work taking place across both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, but specifically in relation to policing, this does come back to much of the police training, the work that we do with the college and the work that our forces do as well—not just when they recruit, but how they constantly train individuals. I would like just to say that I am very sorry about the time that it has taken for the Briggs family to receive justice. Seven years is far too long. Clearly, we want to stop such appalling time periods and families being left in limbo for such an unacceptable period of time.
I will absolutely meet my hon. Friend to discuss Charley Patterson’s case and, if the opportunity arises, meet the family as well. These are tragic cases and I am so saddened and sorry to hear of the case that my hon. Friend has raised. So much more work is required by social media companies. Extensive work is taking place across Government. In fact, I will also speak to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport because we are looking to introduce the online harms Bill and across Government we need to come together to hold these social media companies to account. It is a tragedy. So many of us have constituents and know of constituents who have suffered in the same way as the Patterson family and that is wrong. We need to stop that.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I thank her for raising the case. I will look at the specific case that she has spoken about, but she is right. There are many measures that we have undertaken to ensure that those from overseas who are on the frontline in the NHS are supported, and we have made various changes to ensure that they can stay, but I will happily look at the case she raises.
You bet—absolutely. My hon. Friend will know of the support that we are giving to Cleveland police in particular, which had a particularly difficult time, but I will join him and others campaigning to get absolutely the right outcome in the police and crime commissioner elections.
I am now suspending the House for two minutes to allow the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.