The Secretary of State was asked—
Covid-19 Restrictions: Large Gatherings
We continue to work closely with the police to provide them with the powers, support and resources they need to ensure compliance with the coronavirus regulations. We have quadrupled the penalties for those attending illegal indoor gatherings of more than 15 people in England, and have created a fine regime to ensure that we can absolutely enforce the regulations and that people are following the rules.
Despite clear guidance on large gatherings last month, hundreds of cars and spectators descended on my Southport constituency for an illegal car meet-up that involved cars travelling at excessive speeds. Will my right hon. Friend do everything she can to ensure that these events are stopped and that the organisers of such events receive the maximum penalty?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; these breaches are serious, as are some of the practices that we have seen with illegal car rallies. He will understand that the policing powers and the operational decisions on how these rallies are tackled are very much with the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, but of course the police have the necessary powers. There are also road traffic offences that can and should be applied when they are committed. I am sorry to say that we have seen far too many of these rallies recently and they are in breach of the covid regulations.
Windrush Compensation Scheme
In December, I overhauled the Windrush compensation scheme to pay people more money more quickly; that has now taken place. We have now paid six times more than the total amount paid previously. That means that we have offered almost £30 million in compensation, of which £20.4 million has been paid to approximately 687 claimants.
I heard what the Secretary of State said, but the recent National Audit Office report into the Windrush compensation scheme that was published on 21 May stated that just 4% of the 15,000 people who may be eligible for the scheme had received payments—way below the numbers forecast and a small fraction of the total expected payout. I have constituents in Warwick and Leamington who have been patiently awaiting compensation for almost 18 months. Given that the process takes an extraordinary 15 steps and an average of 154 staff hours, will the Secretary of State detail how many full-time time caseworkers are dealing with the compensation scheme, and how many caseworkers she estimates are required to expedite this scheme in the next two years?
First, it is important to reflect on how the scheme has fundamentally changed since December. I have already highlighted the levels of payment and the speed at which the claims are being dealt with. It is important to recognise that the changes I put in place in December have had an immediate effect; within six weeks of making the changes we had offered more in terms of payout and compensation payments than were made in the first 19 months of the scheme. I say openly to the hon. Gentleman and all Members of the House who have constituents who are awaiting claims: provide me with the details and I will look into those cases.
The fact of the matter is that we have been reaching out to those who are entitled to compensation. We are working across the board. We have overhauled the team; we have more caseworkers than ever. Another £9 million has been offered to claimants, and we are awaiting responses from those individuals.
“Sitting in Limbo”—a drama about my constituent Anthony Bryan, who had his life turned upside down by the Windrush scandal—won a BAFTA yesterday. At the time of its release, the Home Secretary rushed to meet Anthony and told him that he would be given a voice. Yet it was not until two days ago—18 months after he made his claim—that Anthony finally received an offer of compensation. Will the Home Secretary tell us how long the hundreds of others like Anthony will have to remain in limbo before the Home Office gets its act together?
If the hon. Lady heard my earlier remarks, she will have heard that fundamental reform of the Windrush compensation scheme has taken place. She will also recognise that when the scheme first launched, it was put together very quickly, but in consultation with members of the Windrush generation and representatives from the community. She asked me how long it takes for people to be paid. Due to the changes that I have put in place, it now takes an average of three weeks from receipt of an acceptance to payment. Finally, I am delighted to hear that the hon. Lady’s constituent has finally received the payment that he deserves.
Police Officers: Harm in the Line of Duty
The Government are completely committed to ensuring that our brave police officers receive the support and protection they deserve. We have proposed legislation to enshrine in law a police covenant and to double the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency workers. We also continue to invest in direct support to the police through the National Police Wellbeing Service.
I welcome the commitments this Government have made to cut crime and to get more police on to our streets. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that our police have the tools to tackle violent crime and antisocial behaviour in Bury, Ramsbottom, Tottington, and throughout the country?
I know from conversations with my hon. Friend that he is a powerful supporter of the police, particularly in his own constituency, and he wants more of his constituents to meet more of the police officers who are being recruited into his local force at some rate of knots. While it is true that having the police officers will make a huge difference, so will giving them exactly the kind of tools that he has talked to me about in the past to do their job, as will the support of Members of Parliament such as him. Police officers out on the frontline doing an incredibly difficult and challenging job need to know that we stand with them in defending them and promoting them.
The latest figures from the National Police Chiefs Council show that on this Government’s watch, assaults on police officers have been rising since 2015 and there has been a 26% increase in assaults on emergency workers in the months leading to April 2021 compared with the same period in 2019. There have been 30,000 assaults on police officers in England and Wales in a year. I am glad that the Government have finally listened to calls from Labour to increase sentences for people who assault emergency workers, but why are they doing absolutely nothing to stop the assaults in the first place? If I was in government, I would commission Home Office research into exactly who is assaulting our officers and why, I would tackle single-crew patrols, and I would make sure that officers have the right kit to be protected. Will the Minister do the same?
You will have to advise me, Mr Speaker, on whether it is in order for a Member to speak in support of something she voted against, but I welcome the hon. Lady’s belated support for the doubling of sentences for assaults on emergency workers, which was included in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, against which the Opposition voted. She is right, though, to raise the issue, which has been of serious concern to us for some time, of the rise in assaults on emergency workers, and particularly on police officers. Sadly, during the pandemic we saw, in particular, the awful phenomenon of people coughing or spitting at police officers and claiming that they were infectious when they did so. Happily, we saw a number of significant sentences handed out for that particular offence and the courts dealt with them quickly. But there is always much more that we can do. Under the police covenant, which again the hon. Lady voted against, one of the key planks of the work that we will be doing is looking at safety, welfare and support for police officers.
Foreign National Offenders
Foreign national offenders who abuse our hospitality by committing crime absolutely should be deported and removed from the United Kingdom, and our determination and resolve is to do exactly that. Since January 2019, we have removed nearly 8,000 foreign national offenders, and our new plan for immigration will make it easier for us to deport those who harm others and have no right to stay in the United Kingdom.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her very firm position on removing people from the UK who have no legal status to be here and indeed abuse our hospitality. Can she confirm that the proposed one-stop-shop appeals process will reduce the number of baseless claims that continue to frustrate our courts—and indeed, I am sure, all those involved in the Home Office who wish to deport these foreign criminals who have no place here in our society?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have already referred to our new plan for immigration, which will reform the system to bring in a one-stop shop to tackle the endless appeals that come forward and also the various claims that prevent us from removing foreign national offenders. It is also worth reminding him, and the House, that Labour has consistently opposed every single attempt, such as when we had charter flights to remove foreign national offenders, to do the right thing by the victims of these awful individuals who have caused so much pain and harm.
EEA Nationals: Settled or Pre-settled Status
With permission, I will answer these questions on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who is dealing with a family bereavement today.
I am glad to say that the EU settlement scheme is going extremely well. So far, 4.9 million people have been granted status. Only 1% of applications have been refused. It is a true United Kingdom success story. Those who have applied prior to 30 June will keep their status until such time as their applications are decided, so I strongly encourage anybody who is eligible to apply for EUSS status before 30 June to make sure that their status is indeed protected.
The reality is that the Minister will know that covid has impeded outreach work to EU nationals who are still to apply. Covid has also caused other issues, such as hampering my constituent’s efforts to travel to London to renew his passport at his embassy. That caused real anxiety. If the Minister will not heed our call to grant automatic status, will he at least look at extending the deadline for a year in order to avoid another Windrush scandal?
Of course, the EUSS has been open since March 2019, so it has been over two years now and significantly predates covid. There are a number of documents people can use if for any reason they do not have their passport or European ID card, and we have given grant funding of £22 million to 72 organisations to help people who need assistance in making the application. I would just say to anyone in the United Kingdom who is entitled to EUSS status to please apply by that deadline. Even if their status is not decided by 30 June, providing they have applied by that deadline, their status will be protected until the decision is made.
Many of the tens of thousands of essential NHS EU workers across the UK may not even be aware that there is a problem with their lack of settled or pre-settled status until their employer or landlord, or another agency, tells them. Does the Minister not agree that there should be an obligation or duty on organisations to signpost individuals to independent advice on the possibility of a late application whenever they encounter an EU national who may be eligible?
I am not sure I entirely agree with the hon. Lady’s suggestion that somebody may not have noticed Brexit happening. But, quite seriously, we have grant-funded 72 organisations with a total of £22 million to do outreach and to make sure that people who are vulnerable or require assistance, including outreach, are helped to make the application, and 5.4 million people have applied already, which shows that the scheme has been an enormous United Kingdom success story. However, I repeat that anyone who is eligible should please apply by 30 June. It is about three weeks’ time. Now is the time to apply if they have not applied already.
We have already heard about IT problems, meaning that EEA citizens have been unable to prove their settled status, which the Home Office only allows them to do by digital means. The UK Government are happy providing printed proof of vaccination for those who have no smartphone, or letting people print a PDF if they want back-up in case their phone dies at the airport, so why can something similar not be done for EU settled status?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Fundamentally, this is a UK success story. This system is working, as evidenced by the 5.4 million applications and the 4.9 million grants. To be honest, given all the prognostications of gloom and doom that we heard a couple of years ago, this has been an astonishing success story. If any Member of Parliament has any particular case where a constituent has encountered difficulties, please send it in to my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, or to the Home Secretary, and we will make sure it gets dealt with quickly. We are completely committed to making sure that everybody who is entitled to EUSS status, which is many millions of people, gets that status, which they deserve.
First, we pass on our condolences and best wishes to the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and his family.
Despite our fundamental disagreements about the design of the scheme, we do all want it to succeed, but we are concerned that a lot of questions still remain outstanding at this late stage. One of the most fundamental is what happens when tens—possibly hundreds—of thousands put in a late application and have to wait for a decision? Will an EU national still be able to keep working as a carer in our NHS in the meantime, for example, or to rent the flat that they are staying in while they are waiting weeks and possibly months for a decision? Surely the answer to that must be yes. But is it?
The answer is yes. Providing the application is received by 30 June, while the application is being considered—and if it is made on 30 June, clearly it will be decided after 30 June—that particular person will be able to continue working and living as normal with status. So the critical point is to make sure that the application is made by 30 June.
On 26 May, in response to a question from the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry), the Prime Minister told the House that the law would be “merciful” to any EU citizens left in a “difficult position” after the EU settlement scheme deadline passes on 30 June. Further to that, I note that today the Home Office website says that late applications to the scheme will be accepted if there are “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline. Can the Minister assure me that the mercy that the Prime Minister spoke about will guarantee that no one who is entitled to EU settled status but has missed the deadline will lose their rights or access to benefits, or be forcibly detained or removed? Can he tell me how long the late application provision to the scheme will remain open for?
I reiterate the critical point that people should apply before the 30 June deadline, which is already six months after the end of the transition period. The shadow Minister is right and, indeed, the Prime Minister was right as well. If somebody does apply late and there are reasonable grounds for them to have done so—for example, they might have been ill—then latitude will be shown. There is no hard time deadline to that. A reasonable approach will be taken, but again, the best thing to do for any constituent who is entitled to EUSS is to apply for it before 30 June.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this. People smuggling is a wicked and vicious activity that puts lives at risk. Indeed, a young family tragically drowned in the channel last autumn. We are prosecuting people who are involved in people smuggling. Since the beginning of 2020, there have been 65 prosecutions related to small boat crossings for those people facilitating that sort of activity. We are now explicitly going after the people who drive these boats, and our objective is to prosecute as many of those wicked facilitators as we can get our hands on.
Does the Minister recognise the public anger at us being made fools of in this? Border Force is little more than a taxi service for illegal migrants—it is ridiculous. Will the Minister assure me that he will use his powers under the Immigration Act 1971 to arrest all illegal immigrants, put them in detention, prosecute them, imprison them and deport them, so that we can stop this horrible trade dead in its tracks?
I completely share my right hon. Friend’s anger at the situation, and the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister do as well. As I say, we are actively prosecuting the facilitators. In the forthcoming sovereign borders Bill, as part of the new plan for immigration, we plan to significantly strengthen the section 24 illegal entry offence in the 1971 Act, to which he refers, to make it easier to use and easier to implement in practice. At the same time, we will increase the sentence for illegal entry and the sentence for facilitation under section 25 of the Act. I look forward to working with him on getting that Bill passed as quickly as possible and then implemented.
EU Citizens: Settled Status
It is my lucky day today, Mr Speaker. It is, of course, open to EU citizens with indefinite leave to remain to apply for EU settled status. Some of them choose to do so because the rules are slightly better for EUSS in terms of the ability to leave the country for a particular period and the family reunion rules. There is no obligation on people with ILR to apply for EUSS, but it is a choice that each individual may or may not choose to make according to their own personal wishes and circumstances.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, and I would like to offer my condolences to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster).
Many constituents of mine who have previously been granted indefinite leave to remain have received letters suggesting that they should apply for EU settled status instead. This has created a great deal of consternation and a fear that their indefinite leave to remain status may not be valid in the future. Can the Minister tell me why those letters were sent? It is not clear to people whether or not they should be applying for EU settled status. Could he give a clear answer to my constituents on this matter?
My understanding is that those people with ILR who are also eligible for EUSS can continue to enjoy ILR whether or not they apply for EUSS. Letters were sent out to people who might be eligible for EUSS, but I believe those letters did make it clear that someone who received those letters who was already naturalised as a British citizen or indeed had ILR needed to take no further action. If the hon. Lady thinks those letters were unclear, I will be happy to look into it further, but I understand that they were worded in such way as made it clear that no further action was taken in the circumstances she describes.
Investigations into Police Conduct
Last year, the Government introduced wide-ranging reforms to the police complaints and discipline system, including a 12-month trigger requiring the investigating body to provide a written explanation for any delays. Significant improvements have already been made, and we will continue to monitor the timeliness of investigations conducted by both forces and the Independent Office for Police Conduct through data collection.
Even under the new Home Office system, only around 80% of police conduct investigations are resolved within 12 months. The remaining cases linger on far longer, with a detrimental effect on those involved. Does the Minister agree with the Police Federation that we need action to fix the system now—not, as the Minister has said, allowing it to bed in—as no one benefits from long drawn-out investigations?
I share the hon. Lady’s view that no one benefits from long drawn-out investigations, and it is absolutely our aspiration to shorten investigation times as much as we possibly can, bearing in mind the impact on both the officer who is under investigation and those who are making the accusation. It is worth bearing in mind that delays in investigations often happen for complex reasons, particularly in very difficult investigations, which are not necessarily within the control of the investigating body. While I understand and sympathise with the Fed’s desire to shorten investigation time, it is worth bearing in mind that our overriding interest should be in quality and thoroughness, rather than in hitting some kind of arbitrary deadline. However, I do meet regularly the director general of the IOPC and we do monitor very closely how long investigations are taking. It did inherit 538 investigations from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which it has now managed to get down to three, and I think currently it only has 30 investigations that have taken longer than 12 months.
New Sentencing Powers: Levels of Crime
This Government are serious about fighting crime and making sure the criminal justice system is one the public can have confidence in. That is why the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through this House sees the sentences for causing death by dangerous driving being increased to life. It is why many of the most serious offences, including rape, will see the perpetrators spend longer in prison, while at the same time we make sure that those people with drug and alcohol addictions get the treatment they deserve. I hope my right hon. Friend will agree that these are measures that will build public confidence and keep the public safer.
I want to congratulate the Government on their plans to extend sentences for the deplorable crime of assaulting our emergency workers. Is not it now time for a specific offence of assaulting shop workers and other customer-facing frontline workers, given that the number of assaults on them since this pandemic started has doubled?
My right hon. Friend is right: we are of course doubling the sentence for assaulting—for the common assault of—an emergency worker from one year to two years, which I think is widely welcomed across the House. In relation to other people who deal with the public—not just retail workers, but transport workers, teachers, postmen and women and other people who deal with the public—that is already taken account of in the Sentencing Council guidelines, which makes it an aggravating factor if the victim deals with the public. Therefore, judges can reflect that when handing down sentences. There is a Westminster Hall debate later on today on this very topic, and I am very much looking forward to discussing it in more detail then.
EU Settlement Scheme
In relation to EU citizens who are granted EUSS status, where their family who are not EU citizens reside in the United Kingdom, they can apply for EUSS status as well. For close family members who are not in the United Kingdom at present, they are able to join the person who is granted EUSS status. If it is a child under the age of 21, that is automatic. If it is parents, grandparents or children over the age of 21 where there is a degree of dependency, they can join as well. So I think those are extremely generous arrangements—far more generous than the arrangements for other cohorts of people.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Even where the guidance provides a route back to status, it will not protect EU citizens who missed the deadline from hostile environment policies, or prevent them from being denied access to homelessness assistance and free NHS care, as recently confirmed by other Departments. Will the Minister assure the House that EU citizens and non-EU family members who miss the deadline will maintain the right to such assistance, and be able to continue working without fear of criminal liability?
On the deadline, I will repeat what I said earlier: the critical thing is to encourage constituents, very strongly, to apply by that deadline. If somebody misses the deadline, of course they can apply where they have reasonable grounds to do so. Guidance is about to be published on precisely what will happen to those who miss the deadline. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government intend to take a reasonable and proportionate approach, and I ask him to wait just a short time until that guidance is published.
Immigration: British Armed Forces Interpreters
The Government owe an immense debt of gratitude to the brave interpreters who worked alongside our armed forces overseas. In April we launched the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, under which any current or former staff members in Afghanistan who are at risk are offered priority relocation to the United Kingdom, regardless of their employment status, rank, role, or length of service.
It is a real pleasure to submit a question asking for a change in policy, and for that to happen one week later, so I congratulate the Government, and particularly the Home Secretary, on this long overdue change of heart. It is right that we accelerate the relocation scheme for Afghan interpreters and their families—people who have protected us and our country so well for so long. In view of worrying reports in the press last week, will my right hon. Friend clarify that not only Afghan interpreters directly employed by the Ministry of Defence but sub-contracted interpreters will share the right to those Afghan relocations?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the entire House should pay tribute to those who worked alongside our armed forces in Afghanistan, in harrowing conditions. The Defence Secretary and I were determined to ensure that this policy went through. In light of what is taking place in Afghanistan now, with further withdrawal and drawdown, it is right that we reach out to those who, as my right hon. Friend said, are part of that wider support network and have worked with our armed forces.
The Home Office is working across Government to tackle online harms though the online safety Bill and other measures. That Bill will be a truly world-leading and much needed piece of legislation to make the UK the safest place to be online. Although the draft Bill will be scrutinised by Parliament, the Government continue to work nationally and internationally to tackle online harms, including through the G7 and Five Country Governments.
The ease with which even primary school-aged children can access extreme but legal pornography is frightening, and it is warping a whole generation’s view of healthy sexual relationships. Will the Minister assure me that the longstanding issue of age verification for legal pornography will finally be addressed in the online safety Bill?
This issue concerns many Members across the House, and it has been voiced by many parents across the country. We must consider not just the online safety Bill, but the wider question of education and ensuring that our children are taught what is a healthy relationship and what is not. The hon. Lady will know the massive progress made by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which set out clear parameters regarding the so-called rough sex defence as well as non-fatal strangulation. She will know that discussions are ongoing with the Departments for Education and for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about how we can cement that approach in legislation and, crucially, through education.
The director general of MI5 has said that Facebook is giving terrorists a “free pass” by introducing end-to-end encryption, which effectively blocks the security and intelligence services from monitoring suspects and potential plots. Despite what the Minister said, the online safety Bill is very vague—in fact, some might say it is a bit wishy-washy—when it comes to measures to counter these dangerous activities, so will she commit today to treating this matter with the seriousness and urgency that it requires and that Ken McCallum has demanded?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands the seriousness with which the Home Secretary, and also the Prime Minister and the Government, take such matters. I do not agree with his description of the online safety Bill. Indeed, he will note the confidence with which the Government have put it forward as a draft Bill in order to allow Parliament to scrutinise it. On Facebook and its activities, it should be in no doubt that under the new Bill as it stands at the moment, it will be held to account for its activities. The development of its systems is a matter for it, and it must justify that to the public and to this Government.
Child Safety Online
I, too, am earning my salary this afternoon, Mr Speaker! We are working across Government and internationally to ensure that children are safe on the internet. We continue to encourage companies to endorse and implement the voluntary principles to counter online child sexual exploitation and abuse, which we launched in March last year in collaboration with Five Country Governments, and we are engaging the G7 on how we go further in our collective response to protect children. We have published our draft online safety Bill, and companies will be required to take stringent action to tackle the growing and evolving threat of child sexual exploitation and abuse on their platforms.
Will the Minister please outline the support that her Department is giving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport with the online safety Bill and confirm that internet companies that break the law will be heavily prosecuted and heavily fined?
Indeed. Of course the Home Office has been working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, at both official and ministerial level, in developing the draft Bill. We remain fully committed to making the UK the safest place to be online while defending freedom of expression, and we believe that the Bill achieves that. The strongest protections in the Bill are reserved for children, and I can confirm that Ofcom, the independent regulator, will have a range of tough enforcement powers to use against companies that fail to fulfil their duties. Those include fines of up to £18 million or 10% of qualifying annual global turnover, whichever is greatest.
Allegations of Rape: Effective Investigations
Supporting victims of sexual violence and abuse is an important priority for this Government. In the past five years, we have seen a significant decline in the number of charges, prosecutions and convictions for rape. That is why we have carried out a robust end-to-end review of the criminal justice response. The review will be published shortly and will set out clear action to reverse this trend and to ensure that victims receive the support they deserve and that perpetrators face justice.
There is currently a backlog of 57,000 cases in the Crown court, with victims of rape and serious sexual violence often left to wait years to go to trial. Sadly, they are the minority who received sufficient support to bring a case forward in the first place. Will the Minister commit to bringing forward urgently proposals for the fast-tracking of rape and serious sexual assault cases? Will he also confirm the creation of specialist rape and serious sexual violence units in every police force to ensure that cases are brought against alleged perpetrators?
Two of the key planks of the work that we will be undertaking in this area—indeed, we have started already—are, first, yes, to shorten the timeframe between a report and a case getting to court, and secondly, to develop expertise throughout the system to ensure that victims get the justice they need, but in particular that investigations focus on perpetrators.
To follow up on what has just been said, rape prosecutions in England and Wales are at their lowest on record. One third of all the violent crime recorded by the police is domestic abuse-related, and now only 1.6% of rape cases are even being charged, let alone convicted. That is all according to the latest figures from the Home Office. This situation is untenable and it is worsening on the Home Secretary’s watch. The Government are leaving dangerous rapists and violent offenders on our streets and in our communities, so will the Minister and the Department back calls to ensure that violence against women and girls is included in the definition of serious violence in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, including domestic abuse-related violence and all sexual violence?
In the urgent question that I answered on this subject not two weeks ago, I expressed serious regret about the conviction numbers that the hon. Lady mentions. It is not a situation that any of us should be happy with, and we have confirmed as a Government that we will do our utmost to turn that around. She will understand, I know, because she is from the west midlands, that we will need the assistance of police and crime commissioners and chief constables to do so. I hope that she will join us in urging them to play their part in what will be the enormous task of turning this particular challenge around.
As for the serious violence duty, that will no doubt be debated by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), during the Bill Committee, but I would hope, whether or not there is a statutory duty for everybody to play their part in dealing with this problem, that all those other organisations—whether that means health or local authorities, or, indeed, police and crime commissioners—will step forward anyway, because the moral case is strong and I know that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) will make it with us.
Immigration Detention for Women
The use of detention, including the detention of women for immigration purposes, has reduced significantly over the past few years. In particular, for women who have survived torture, rape or trafficking it is used extremely sparingly, if ever. There is an adults-at-risk policy, which makes sure that people who have suffered in that way are detained only in extremely rare cases where the vulnerability is outweighed by very serious risk, for example, to public safety. Those exceptions are extremely rare.
The Minister says that these cases are extremely rare, but an immigration removal centre for women is set to open in the north-east on the former Medomsley detention centre site, despite, as he said, the Home Office previously committing to reducing its use of detention for women. Research shows that many detainees are survivors of torture, rape or trafficking, and detaining women in this way severely impacts on their mental health. Does he agree that reopening the Medomsley site should be reviewed and that immigration cases can be resolved more humanely and at less cost in the community?
First, I remind the hon. Lady again that the use of detention in general and for women in particular has reduced very significantly already over the past few years. Secondly, Hassockfield is replacing the Yarl’s Wood facility, which is being converted for mainly male use and, therefore, the number of female places for immigration detention as a result is going down dramatically. Thirdly, no, we are not going to review the use of Hassockfield—first, for the reason I have just mentioned, it actually represents a reduction in total numbers, and, secondly, because the adults-at-risk policy very actively, carefully and thoughtfully weighs up vulnerability against questions of detention. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) has been fully engaged on this issue. The new centre will create local jobs, and, as I said, it will also represent a reduction in the women’s detention footprint.
EU Settlement Scheme: Children in Care
We will take steps to ensure that children in care are handled sensitively. As I mentioned in answer to previous questions, if someone misses the 30 June deadline, where they have reasonable grounds for doing so—that could conceivably very well apply to children in care—discretion will be exercised and a late application accepted.
I welcome the Government’s commitment that we will learn lessons from Windrush and ensure that vulnerable people, especially children, do not find themselves with a question mark over their status in years to come. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the offer of support to care leavers making applications out of time includes those who were aged 18 to 25—and therefore had care leaving status under the Children Act 1989—before 31 December 2020, not just those who were under 18 at the time? Will he consider tweaking the case study provided in the Home Office guidance to make that absolutely clear?
As I mentioned earlier, we are doing a great deal of active outreach via grant-funded organisations, in particular with local authorities, to make sure that vulnerable people of the kind my hon. Friend describes are reached. I can give him an assurance that the care leavers he describes are potentially included, because the reasonable grounds provision potentially applies to anybody. Anyone who misses the deadline, whether they are a care leaver or, indeed, anyone else, can make the case that they have reasonable grounds for having missed the deadline, so they are absolutely included. The list of case studies is, of course, non-exhaustive; it is designed not to list everything, but to give a few examples. Anybody can apply for the reasonable grounds exemption. I repeat that anyone who thinks that they are eligible should apply by 30 June. That is the best way to make sure that their case is handled properly and fairly.
Since the House last met for Home Office questions, the anniversaries of several terror attacks have passed. I know that the House will want to join me in marking them and remembering those who have lost their lives in these terrible atrocities.
On 29 April 2013, Mohammed Saleem was stabbed to death as he returned from worshipping at his mosque. On 22 May 2013, Fusilier Lee Rigby was murdered near the Royal Artillery barracks in Woolwich. Exactly four years later, a bomb at the Manchester Arena killed 22 concertgoers and wounded hundreds more. On 3 June 2017, eight people were murdered and many more were wounded around London bridge and Borough market. Another anniversary is imminent: that of our much-loved and widely admired colleague Jo Cox, who was murdered on 16 June 2016. Last month saw the verdict of the inquest into the terror attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019, which claimed the lives of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones.
The Government and our operational partners have taken action to strengthen the supervision of terror offenders on licence and end the automatic release of terrorist prisoners. We have improved information sharing and established world-leading counter-terrorism operation centres.
We all recognise how truly evil all those acts were, because they were directed at innocent people going about their daily lives, who were worshipping, listening to music or seeing their friends, as well as—at their best—doing public service for others. Yet the outpouring of grief and love that followed, the heroism of the first responders and the resolute way in which the British people refused to be cowed have shown the best of our country. Terrorists can hurt us, but they will never win. We will always honour those who were killed and the people who love them, and the Government will continue to give every support to the police and security services, who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe.
Does the Home Secretary recall that I wrote to her on 20 April on behalf of Aid to the Church in Need about the case of Maira Shahbaz? I still await a reply. Maira is a 15-year-old Christian girl from Pakistan, who was raped, abducted and kidnapped, and is now in hiding. We need to help her. Will the Home Secretary meet Aid to the Church in Need and me?
My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important case. I have been working with colleagues in the House on this for a considerable period of time. I would be very happy to meet him and others. There have been some barriers around the case in the past, but I give him an assurance that we are proactively looking at all the help that we can provide.
I join the Home Secretary in remembering all the victims of terrorism to whom she referred. We send out a strong message from across the House that those who seek to divide us with hatred will never win. The words of our late friend and colleague Jo Cox that we have
“more in common than that which divides us”
seem particularly apt as we remember all those victims.—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.] I would also like to pass on my condolences to the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster).
Yet again, on the weekend, there was briefing about the easing of restrictions on 21 June possibly being put back to 5 July. It is the delta variant, first discovered in India, that is causing such great concern, after the Government dithered and delayed in adding India to the red list. Now we have had dangerous mixed messaging about the amber list. The Opposition have warned about this time and again. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many travellers from India arrived between 9 and 23 April, and how many people have arrived here from amber list countries since 17 May?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. Specifically with regard to health measures at the border, he will recognise that throughout this pandemic the Government have taken all the essential and necessary steps to protect the public and to help prevent the spread of the virus, and even more so as we emerge from the incredible vaccine roll-out programme.
The right hon. Gentleman will also recognise that we have the most stringent border measures in the world to protect public health because of that vaccine roll-out programme, and we have always followed scientific advice. That absolutely relates to the Indian variant and to the very strict border measures that have been backed by strict enforcement measures, along with compliance checks, not just by Border Force, who are checking 100% of all passengers coming into the country and leveraging fines of up to £10,000, but by the isolation assurance service. I would also point out that after topical questions, the Health Secretary will be making a further statement on covid and covid restrictions, which the right hon. Gentleman will be interested in and will want to pay attention to.
I did not detect an answer to either of my questions in that response, and the Home Secretary knows perfectly well that we do not have the most stringent border measures in the world. The only reasonable conclusion is that the Government are not learning from their mistakes and that our border protections are in chaos. It is a clear and dangerous pattern: late to home quarantining; late to mandatory testing at the border; late to hotel quarantining; and today, she cannot even say how many people arrived in the UK from India as the delta variant was taking hold. This is a Government who like to talk tough on borders, but is it not the truth that when it comes to protecting people from covid and its variants, this Government’s policy is weak, weak, weak?
It goes without saying that I fundamentally disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I disagree with his assertion, which is absolutely incorrect, that the UK’s border measures are lax. From January last year, the Government set out a comprehensive set of measures ranging from Foreign Office advice and guidance right through to the development of the passenger locator form and the managed hotel quarantine service. That service now includes not only Heathrow airport but a range of airports such as Birmingham and Manchester because of the level of red-listing since April, which we have rightly taken seriously, and because of the Indian variant. We have followed all the scientific advice that has come from Government advisers with regard to the red-listing of India. This is well-trodden ground, and alongside that, all the facts have been published on the number of passengers who have come to our country from red-listed countries and the way in which the Government lists red countries and amber countries.
My hon. Friend is already making the case for a Bill that has yet to be introduced in Parliament, which contains the new plan for immigration. The date is coming for its introduction and Second Reading. He is absolutely right: the British public are fed up and demoralised by what we have been seeing. I have been very clear to my Department over the last 12 months about operational activity from Border Force, and I have now asked the Department to urgently investigate the circumstances behind the incidents at the weekend that have been reported on. My hon. Friend makes a fundamental point, which is that people who are seeking to claim asylum should claim asylum in the first safe country. They should not be making these dangerous crossings, which, as we have heard today, have led to catastrophic and devastating loss of life too many times.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. When I asked the Home Secretary in February whether she followed public health advice when putting people in large dormitories in Napier barracks in the middle of a pandemic, she told our Committee that it was
“all based on Public Health England advice”
“we have been following guidance in every single way”.
Last week, however, a damning court judgment said:
“The ‘bottom line’ is that the arrangements at the Barracks were contrary to the advice of PHE… The precautions which were taken were completely inadequate to prevent the spread of Covid”.
It stated that the outbreak was “inevitable”. Will the Home Secretary now correct the record and explain why she did not follow public health advice in the middle of a pandemic, thus putting people’s health and lives at risk?
First, let me be very clear to this House that at every single stage I have been clear about the need to protect public health and to stop the spread of the virus, and that is in relation to Napier barracks, which the right hon. Lady is referring to. Of course we will study the judgment and, in the light of that, look at various measures we may need to bring in. However, the Department did work fully with Public Health England—I have maintained that, and I still maintain that point. When it comes to delivery and putting in place the wide range of covid-compliant measures that were in place—everyone in this House and across the country would expect that of the Home Office—we were absolutely dealing with the pandemic in the right way, working with PHE and other stakeholders. For the benefit of the House, let me say that that also included rigorous cleaning, hand sanitiser, social distancing and a range of healthcare provisions and welfare provisions that were put in place at Napier. So I come back to the point that at every stage I was clear about—
My hon. Friend is absolutely right again on this point. I have mentioned that in my own instructions, I have been very clear with my Department and with the commander who oversees these Border Force operations that they should not be going into French territorial waters—that is absolutely wrong and there is now an investigation into that. Fundamentally, our work with the French continues, but, working with our counterparts in Belgium and in the Netherlands, where I was last week, we have to work upstream to stop these illegal crossings and break up the gangs who are facilitating illegal migration.
May we have apologies from the Home Secretary, first, to the thousands of destitute asylum seekers across the UK who have endured days and weeks without any support because of the botched handling of the Aspen card handover and, secondly, to the people she placed in danger, including through an inevitable coronavirus outbreak, by sending them to Napier barracks, against clear PHE advice? What has been done to fix these latest asylum system scandals?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments I made earlier about Napier barracks. Let us be clear that the Government are absolutely doing everything possible—I make no apology for this—within my powers, to meet our legal duties to provide shelter and accommodation to those in need during the exceptional times of this coronavirus pandemic. Of course, that is in line with the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, and that also refers to the way in which we financially support and house asylum seekers.[Official Report, 17 June 2021, Vol. 697, c. 4MC.] When it comes to Napier barracks, the provisions had been put in place in terms of welfare, catering, accommodation, cleaning, laundry facilities and non-governmental organisation support, along with other recreational facilities, such as yoga classes, and migrant helplines. That is all in line with our statutory duties and responsibilities, so I simply do not agree with the representation of the hon. Gentleman.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are working with our French counterparts—I will be very clear about that—and we should recognise that upstream migration flows into France are a serious issue. But, of course, asylum seekers should be claiming asylum in the first safe country; that does include France, and it includes many other EU member states that, because of the open borders policy across the EU, people are just transiting through. Our French counterparts absolutely must do more, and we are constantly impressing this point on them.
That is absolutely incorrect in terms of the misrepresentation from the hon. Lady. I have already made it abundantly clear that I have been vigorous in following and making clear the need to protect public health and stop the spread of the virus. Not only that: I make no apology for doing everything in my power to fulfil our legal duties to provide shelter to people who otherwise would have been destitute; to provide accommodation to people who otherwise have been sleeping in dirty, makeshift tents in France and in other European countries, on the streets; and to provide them with beds, food, clean sanitation, access to healthcare and access to welfare provision. That is not putting forward squalid conditions.
My hon. Friend makes a very important, and in fact poignant, point about some of the reforms we will be making through our new plan for immigration, which will absolutely tackle many of these issues, bringing in a one-stop shop and stopping the appeals that we face again and again, which stop us actually removing individuals who should not be claiming asylum in the United Kingdom or who are here illegally. Fundamentally, these reforms, when they come through the House, will absolutely set the tone for reform of our asylum system and send a very clear message to those seeking to claim asylum and come to our country illegally that they should be claiming asylum in the first safe country and not taking dangerous and perilous journeys across the channel.
Can I just say that I really am disappointed that we only got 10 questions in within 15 minutes? All Members deserve an opportunity to get their question in. I hope that those Members who took longer than normally expected will think about others next time. So please, Front Bench, we need speedier replies.
We are now going to suspend the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.