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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 704: debated on Monday 22 November 2021

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Asylum Seekers: Hotel Accommodation

Residents of Tatton are concerned about the ongoing nature of supposedly temporary accommodation for immigrants who arrive in the local area. Some hotels are becoming full-time immigration centres and those residing there are in limbo in our town centres. What is the timescale for processing these individuals and for reverting the accommodation back into hotels?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in her comments. Through changes linked to the new plan for immigration we will end the use of hotel accommodation for asylum seekers, which was a result of the pandemic—we had to take decisive action to ensure that those seeking asylum in the UK were protected under covid measures. It was a short-term solution and the new plan for immigration includes long-term changes in the offing for asylum accommodation.

One big reason why we need to use hotels is that the asylum processing system has basically imploded. The share of applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019. What is the Home Secretary’s explanation for that?

There are a number of factors in terms of why there has been slowing down in the processing of asylum claims. In particular, because of the covid pandemic last year, decisions were not made and we had to change our accommodation policies in the light of Public Health England guidance, which is well documented and well known. That has put pressures on the wider system. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the proposals in the new plan for immigration on not only processing, fast-track removals and the changes we are making in legislation, but the digitalisation of the system. We will move from paper-based decision making to digitalisation and that work is already in train.

Asylum seekers are given somewhere to live while their application is being processed, along with £39.63 per person to pay for food, clothing and toiletries. It says on the Government website:

“If you’ve been refused asylum”

you will still be given somewhere to live and still be given

“£39.63 per person…for food, clothing and toiletries”.

Why on earth is the state still providing accommodation and money for people who have been refused asylum? Surely that is when Government support should be turned off.

If my hon. Friend has read the new plan for immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill, it will be abundantly clear to him that changes will be coming forth that will absolutely put an end to that.

We agree that hotel use should end, but we should go back to the community dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country. We need to ditch this ludicrous and dangerous idea that hotels are some sort of luxury for asylum seekers, because for very many of them the opposite is the case. The Home Secretary knows that the increased use of hotels has seen increased deaths in the asylum accommodation system. Why is the Home Office still placing large numbers of asylum seekers in unsuitable hotels in inappropriate locations, without so much as notifying the relevant local authority, never mind seeking its agreement or ensuring that appropriate levels of support are in place?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is, of course, because local authorities around the country, and particularly in Scotland, have not played their part in helping with dispersal accommodation. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself for coming to the House and making that point when the Scottish Government have done absolutely nothing to lift a finger in supporting the policy of dispersal accommodation. [Interruption.] In response to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), the answer in relation to Birmingham is because the rest of the United Kingdom is not playing its part.

That is one of the most outrageous answers that this incredible Home Secretary has ever given. Every single local authority in Scotland is anxious to play its part in resettling refugees. When it comes to dispersal accommodation, Glasgow has stepped up to the plate while other local authorities are withdrawing from the scheme, and they are doing so, quite rightly, because the Home Office refuses to put in place the support that is required to encourage them to do that. Instead of community dispersal, the Home Office is planning to press ahead with large-scale warehousing of asylum seekers in Napier-style accommodation centres. That is worse even than hotels. Will she confirm that the Home Office will, at the very least, seek local authority permission for building these centres in the middle of people’s local authorities and will not seek to bypass local democracy, as it did with Napier barracks?

We on the Conservative side of the House will take no lectures on bypassing democracy or local councils. For the record, 31 local authorities out of 32 in Scotland have refused to participate in the dispersal scheme. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to all Members of the House that, when it comes to changes to asylum accommodation, the whole of the United Kingdom needs to step up and play its part. That is how we will address the long-term issues with accommodation more widely. [Interruption.] I can hear the hon. Gentleman say, “You need to play your part.” On the funding side of matters, it is absolutely correct to say that the Home Office, working with the former Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has been doing everything possible to provide local authorities with financial support and assistance, but certain councils around the country still say no.

International Workers with STEM Qualifications

2. What steps her Department is taking to attract international workers with science, technology, maths and engineering qualifications to the UK. (904261)

Attracting international talent is a key component of our global, points-based immigration system, delivered as we promised the British public at the 2019 election. This system is designed to attract global talent, sponsored by employers, bringing the best scientists, engineers, academics, and other people with skills to our country.

Last week, I met the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, to discuss the challenges facing Britain as we seek to become a leading science superpower. He spoke of the need for cross-departmental support, including from the Home Office, to ensure that Britain is competing in the marketplace of global excellence. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what conversations her Department has had with UK Research and Innovation with respect to the global talent visa route, and how well she expects it to work?

This is an important area in developing global talent and making sure that we, as a country, are attractive and can become the science superpower that we aspire to be. The chief scientific officer has indeed been leading this work with the Home Office and with the Treasury. In response to my right hon. Friend’s question, I can say that there is a great deal of work taking place, that these routes are open and that he will hear a lot more about the applications and the numbers that are coming through, but I can assure the House that the Home Office and this Government are absolutely dedicated to making sure that we get the brightest and the best over to our country through this new route.

Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls

3. What steps she has taken to support local partnerships to help prevent violence against women and girls. (904263)

Our strategy is a whole-system approach, with different local agencies—for example, the police, healthcare and social care—working together to ensure more effective interventions. To that end, we have put in place guidance, training and online resources for the police and healthcare and educational professionals, and we will shortly be refreshing our national statement of expectations to support local areas in commissioning services.

The unacceptable and continued prevalence of misogyny and violence against women and girls highlights the need for multi-agency partnerships, but the funding is woeful, yet the challenge is great. Will the Minister ensure that the police, who are ever focused on crime detection rather than crime prevention because of the lack of resources, have the resources at hand to build the multi-agency partnerships that are vital to change the culture?

I reject what the hon. Lady says about funding and resources. In her area, the police are receiving their fair share of the 20,000 additional police officers we have pledged to hire. She will already see 114 additional officers in her area, and the police are receiving up to £171.7 million of funding—an increase of £5.5 million—so I suggest that she talks to her local police and crime commissioners and ensures that they are prioritising that funding in the right way.

Domestic violence is one of the ugliest and saddest outcomes of some of the measures that the Government were forced to introduce to handle the covid pandemic, but may I draw the Minister’s attention to the excellent work of the domestic abuse charity Atal y Fro in my constituency, which has encouraged GPs to follow the IRIS—identification and referral to improve safety—programme, enabling them better to identify some of the more prevalent symptoms among victims of domestic violence?

I thank my right hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to that excellent programme, which highlights the important role that frontline GPs have in identifying and getting help to victims. I have been informed that he ran the London marathon to raise funds for a charity in his area. I congratulate him on all the hard work that he is doing; I am sure that those services will benefit enormously.

I have a point about the funding. The Randox contract that was granted without any tender is five times the amount that we spend on domestic violence refuges for the entire country—just FYI.

In September, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services published a report making clear the current failings, and pushing for the implementation of its urgent recommendations to improve our national response to violence against women and girls. On 22 September, 18 October and 8 November, I asked the Minister if and when the Government would implement the recommendations in full. I am at risk of sounding like a broken record, as I ask again now: will the Minister today commit to keeping to the very detailed action plan commanded by the inspectorate within the timescale that it states? I do not want to hear again, or in a few weeks’ time, that the Department is still looking closely at the recommendations. Will she commit to them today?

If I may just make a point on funding, I am sure that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that the Government are providing £300 million of support for victims and witness support services this year.

No, that is not relevant. This is a very important subject, and victims and support services deserve to know that this Government are on their side.

Let me turn to the report referenced by the hon. Lady. This is not a broken record. These are the facts: we are responding and taking action, which is why the Home Secretary is leading on a ministerial group across Government, bringing together the whole of Government to bear down on the recommendations outlined in the report—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to listen to the Minister. We have also appointed Maggie Blyth to lead the work across the entire police force and criminal justice system that will focus on addressing violence against women and girls, which is a priority for this Government.

Channel Crossings

The UK Government are addressing the challenge of illegal migration for the first time in decades through comprehensive reform to break the entire business model of people smuggling. For the first time, whether someone enters the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim is processed and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.

At the referendum, us Brexiteers told the people that we would take back control. It is clear that, in this aspect, we have lost control. If we tell the most desperate economic migrants in the world, “We will provide a free border taxi service across the channel, we will never deport you and we will put you up in a hotel for as long as you like”, is it any wonder that more and more come? This is now a national emergency. Will the Home Secretary introduce an emergency powers Act to override the Human Rights Act, if necessary, and put people in secure accommodation now? Otherwise, we will not solve the problem.

My right hon. Friend will be well versed in the work that we are doing through the Nationality and Borders Bill, which speaks to the points that he has been making about asylum, processing, deportation and fast-track removals, and which, importantly, will ensure that we break the business model of traffickers who are smuggling people into the United Kingdom. I have always said—

Order. Home Secretary, it is easier if you face the Chair, not the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)—just to help each other.

My apologies, Mr Speaker.

As I was saying, the new plan for immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill are pivotal to the comprehensive reform of the entire system. There is no single solution, which is why the Bill is so important. I know that all hon. Members on the Government Benches will back the Bill, in stark contrast with those on the Opposition Benches.

Online Fraud

Online fraud can cause very serious harm to victims, both financial and emotional. We are determined to protect the public from these crimes and to go after those that commit them. The draft Online Safety Bill will be one important tool to enhance our abilities in that.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that update. Ofcom allows those who receive spam text messages to forward them to a service, 7726, to report the receipt of those messages. How will the law enforcement agencies use the data acquired to locate and to punish the perpetrators of those crimes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the 7726 service, because referrals to that help to build up the intelligence on SMS fraudsters or scam texters and can help to lead to take-downs. It is really important that law enforcement works both with regulators and directly with individual telecoms companies to protect victims and go after the criminals responsible.

Modern Slavery Offences

7. What recent assessment she has made of trends in the level of suspected modern slavery offences. (904267)

Modern slavery is a truly awful crime. Statistics for England and Wales show that police-recorded modern slavery offences increased by 2% in the year to June 2021, and live investigations also increased from 188 in December 2016 to 3,869 in October 2021. We are committed to tackling modern slavery and we have invested £15 million to strengthen the police response over the past five years.

Prosecution and conviction rates of perpetrators of modern slavery are surprisingly low. Evidence from Justice and Care’s victim navigator programme shows that with appropriate support more victims would have the confidence to help investigations, resulting in more prosecutions. Will the Minister please consider giving all confirmed victims at least 12 months’ support in the country so that they can feel empowered to engage with the justice process?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question; she has highlighted an important issue. The whole point of our modern slavery strategy is to be able to track down and prosecute those horrendous criminals who heartlessly traffic human beings into this country. The entire force of the Government’s policy making is devoted to that end.

Many people who are victims of modern-day slavery are those who have been illegally trafficked into this country across the channel. What are the Government doing to break up the criminal gangs dangerously smuggling people across the channel and bring an end to these illegal crossings?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that. There are a range of measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill. I very much hope that Opposition Members will support those measures so that we can break down these criminal gangs. We are also working very closely with the police and we have invested additional funds in our courts system to catch up from the backlog of the pandemic.

I have heard what the Minister has said, and we can all agree that perpetrators of modern slavery are committing heinous crimes and must be brought to justice. With that in mind, I wonder whether Government Ministers have read the independent anti-slavery commissioner’s recent article entitled “Rushed borders bill will fail victims of modern slavery”. Will the Government urgently act to address the failings in the Nationality and Borders Bill before it effectively tears up the Modern Slavery Act 2015, letting down victims and letting perpetrators get away with their crimes?

I can assure the hon. Lady that I meet the independent anti-slavery commissioner and she plays a very important role in informing the Government’s policy. I can also assure her that the Nationality and Borders Bill is going to strengthen the Government’s response and support for the victims of modern slavery. We have a world-leading system to support and protect victims of modern slavery that we have backed with significant Government resources and investment. The legislation that we are passing will enable us to respond more compassionately to those victims.

While the Minister is absolutely right to say that we lead Europe on modern-day slavery, the question asked by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) goes very much to the heart of the matter: if we want more prosecutions, we need more victims to come forward. The way to do that is that if they are coming into this country irregularly they need a year of leave to remain here so that we can get at these—please excuse this if it is not parliamentary—evil bastards. Will the Minister reply to the hon. Lady’s question: can we have that year?

I can reassure my hon. Friend and all Members in the House that those victims who are working closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are looked at on a case-by-case basis. Where they are assisting the police and the criminal justice system with their inquiries, they are permitted to stay in this country, and our legislation that we are bringing forward will clarify that further. [Interruption.] I have met victims of modern slavery, thank you, I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who is speaking from a sedentary position.

Order. Let us try to calm it down. We do not want another week like last week. When Members have asked their question, they do not need to continue.

I hope I have answered my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). I am happy to speak to him in more detail. I make it clear to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley that I have met victims of modern slavery. I have heard their stories, which are shocking, and we are putting all our efforts into preventing these crimes and dealing with the people who perpetrate them.

Tackling Violent and Sexual Offences

8. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of her Department’s policies to tackle violent and sexual offences. (904268)

15. What recent assessment her Department has made of the progress of its tackling violence against women and girls strategy. (904275)

Crimes of violence against women and girls are abhorrent and have no place in our society. Maggie Blyth has been appointed as the new policing lead for tackling violence against women and girls. We have launched a £5 million safety of women at night fund, and we will be launching a national communications campaign focused on targeting perpetrators, educating young people and ensuring victims can access support.

The sexual abuse and grooming of our young women and men is a heinous crime, and it is outrageous that victims should come into contact with their perpetrators after those perpetrators are released from prison. Successive Home Secretaries, including the present Home Secretary directly, have promised me that action would be taken where appropriate to deport those perpetrators. Can we know what progress has been made? If there has been no progress, will the Home Secretary agree to meet me?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated that she would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. We all recognise the need to tackle these absolutely disgusting crimes, and I am sure that the whole House would support what he is asking for.

Drugs, speeding and ineffective response times were top issues at the crime forum I held in Breightmet and Tonge with the Haulgh, but it was violence against women that gave me pause during that event. What is being done to tackle violence against women in Bolton?

I thank my hon. Friend for how he is focusing on this issue. We have a national programme to support women and girls’ safety and, as part of that, Greater Manchester has been awarded £1.5 million from the Home Office’s domestic abuse perpetrator programme fund. The fund works with perpetrators to get them to change their behaviour. It is very difficult but important work, and it is taking place specifically in Bolton. One of the partners is Talk, Listen, Change, which has been accredited by the organisation, Respect, as delivering very high-quality interventions.

Antisocial Behaviour

Police-recorded incidents of antisocial behaviour show a fall from 2.1 million in 2013-14 to 1.8 million in the year to June 2021. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides flexible tools and powers for local agencies to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Following Conservative cuts to the policing budget, the police stations in Penge and Sydenham have both closed. Meanwhile, reports of antisocial behaviour locally have been rising, and recently we have seen a sharp increase in thefts from cars. Will the Minister back Labour’s plan to roll out neighbourhood police hubs to help tackle crime and antisocial behaviour and provide a visible police presence, or will she continue to let down our communities?

The hon. Lady will know that our beating crime plan has set out that neighbourhood hubs are an integral part of the response. Policing in London is the responsibility of the Mayor of London. The Metropolitan Police Service is one of the best-funded forces in the whole country, receiving more than £3 billion in 2021-22, an increase of up to £132.4 million. It already has an additional 2,070 officers on the beat.

Last Thursday evening, I was at the Smallthorne Community Centre with the Smallthorne Village Residents Association, local Staffordshire police officers and police community support officers. One of the biggest issues that came up was the antisocial behaviour of a tiny minority of feral youths. Will the Minister tell me: what are we going to do about those youngsters and their parents, to get them out cleaning the streets and looking after the community so that they can pay back my local community for the lives they are ruining?

My hon. Friend strongly represents the views of his constituents. None of us likes to see that type of low-level disruptive crime, which has a devastating impact on communities. I thank him for championing his police force. Our neighbourhood crime plan is an integral part of tackling such crimes.

Antisocial behaviour is blighting communities: it has gone up by a woeful 70% across the country in the last year. Since the Conservatives took power, twice as many people say that they never see a police officer on the street. The Leader of the House said:

“I have often found…that a quiet word from a police community support officer can nip…antisocial behaviour in the bud.”—[Official Report, 13 May 2021; Vol. 695, c. 273.]

We totally agree. Will the Minister restore some of the 50% of PCSOs whose posts the Government have cut?

Before the Minister says that she is recruiting 20,000 officers, let me point out that we know that only 400 of the first tranche of 6,000 are in neighbourhood roles. Will she give victims of antisocial behaviour the same rights as other crime victims—if the Government ever get round to publishing the victims Bill—or do they still think that what she describes as “low-level” antisocial behaviour is not worth tackling?

The hon. Lady has taken my words out of context. Neighbourhood crime encompasses a vast spectrum of crimes that have a considerable impact on local communities, as I made clear at the Dispatch Box earlier. Those are a range of crimes that are at the centre of the Government’s response in our beating crime plan. We have made it clear that increasing the number of police officers on the beat is a priority. We are already more than halfway through our plan to deliver an additional 20,000 police officers on the street. The neighbourhood crime plan is part of our plan. It is for local forces to determine the operational priorities in their areas.

Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme

Through the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, the UK will relocate up to 20,000 at-risk people in the coming years. We are working urgently across Government and with partners such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to design the scheme. We continue to support the thousands of people successfully evacuated from Afghanistan under Operation Pitting, and we will continue to support those who come under the scheme when it opens.

It is now almost exactly three months since Operation Pitting came to an end. My constituent continues to update me on the situation facing her brother, who is in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife, mother and three small children. Since the evacuation ended, they have lost an uncle and a cousin, both murdered by the Taliban, and they have received numerous threatening messages. They live in daily fear for their lives, yet the Government will not issue papers to give them the best chance of safe passage to the UK via a third country. Does the Minister have any regret that we are three months on and the scheme has not yet opened? When will she give some hope to people in such desperate circumstances as my constituent’s family?

The hon. Lady has articulated the real dangers that many are facing in Afghanistan; I think we can all agree on that. The reality is, however, that the ever-changing security situation in Afghanistan means that we still have no UK consular presence or Army presence there. That is something that we and other countries around the world that are trying to help Afghan people are having to grapple with. We are working at pace and we want to set the scheme up as an example of a safe and legal route under the Government’s new plan for immigration.

Since mid-August, Germany, a country that has not had the military and overall engagement of the UK in Afghanistan, has flown more than 6,000 Afghans to Germany and provided them with protected status under its humanitarian admission programme. Can the Minister tell me what conversations she has had with counterparts in the European countries running such schemes to help to enable the quicker opening of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme? There is a real risk that the people whom the scheme is intended to help will die before it becomes operational.

I know the hon. Gentleman well, and I know that he will not have overlooked the 15,000 people whom we evacuated during the emergency conditions of Operation Pitting. Of course, there are still agreements carrying on with third-party countries for evacuating people—where it is safe to do so, where checks have been conducted and so on—each and every week. Not only do we have the ACRS in the process of being built, but we are meeting our commitment to those who have worked with the UK Government and the UK Army under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, so work is ongoing to protect people. We are working with international partners; indeed, I met the German delegation during the Conservative party conference to discuss with them the work the Germans are doing. However, we are very much in the hands of our international partners when it comes to opening up safe and legal routes through Afghanistan to us.

Special Constables

I am sure you agree with me, Mr Speaker, that special constables are among the most remarkable citizens in the land. We are bringing forward legislation to enable them to become members of the Police Federation, so that they can access the same support and protection as regular officers. We will also be introducing the police covenant in legislation shortly to ensure further support and protection for the police workforce, including special constables.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Special constables are often on shift during the busiest periods, as they tend to volunteer at weekends and in the evenings, and as a result are exposed to quite high levels of trauma. I give credit to the Stroud special constables, and ask what my right hon. Friend is doing specifically and actively to support their training for and meet the mental health needs of their unique roles?

I am grateful for the fact that the welfare of this special—in every sense of the word—group of people is at the forefront of my hon. Friend’s mind. She will be pleased to know that the Government continue to fund the national police wellbeing service, which provides support and particularly post-traumatic incident services to all police officers, including special constables. As I said in the earlier part of my answer, there is more that can be done, and by making sure that all special constables are full members of the Police Federation, they will be able to access the significant support that that organisation can provide.

Antisocial Behaviour

13. What steps she is taking to (a) tackle antisocial behaviour and (b) support victims of antisocial behaviour. (904273)

The beating crime plan laid out the Government’s commitments to working with local agencies to drive down antisocial behaviour, and we are committed to ensuring that victims of antisocial behaviour get the response they deserve. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced specific measures designed to give victims and communities a say in the way that complaints of antisocial behaviour are dealt with, and this includes the community trigger—an important safety net that gives victims of persistent antisocial behaviour the ability to demand a formal case review.

Does the Minister agree with me that if her Department was fit for purpose, local councillors in my constituency from her party as well as from mine would not be forced to find the funding for neighbourhood policing after 11 o’clock at night, because Government cuts have left the hard-working officers I have met so overstretched in the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour?

I am sure the hon. Member will agree that local councillors of all parties want to tackle the scourge of antisocial behaviour that affects their residents. Local areas have the powers and the funding from the Home Office. The Mayor of West Yorkshire, a Labour Mayor, is receiving up to £510.8 million of funding, which is an increase of £25.8 million on the police settlement of last year, and she has also been able to recruit an extra 619 officers to tackle these priorities.

County Lines Drugs Gangs

The Prime Minister issued an instruction that we should roll up county lines, and that is exactly what we have been doing for the last two years. Since 2019, we have invested over £65 million, including over £40 million committed this year. This has already resulted in the closure of more than 1,500 lines, over 7,400 arrests and the safeguarding of more than 4,000 vulnerable adults and children.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I was very pleased, recently, that a county lines dealer who had been flooding towns across Cornwall, including Truro, with drugs was jailed for five and a half years. There is a lot more to do in Cornwall, because we are seeing an increase in the impact of county lines drugs activity and all the crimes that go with it. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are aware of the issues in Cornwall and assure me that they are committed to working with our brilliant police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, and the six Cornish MPs to address the continued problems, in particular how the Government can support the wider roll-out of Project ADDER?

I am focused on the impact of drugs across the whole country, and particularly in areas such as Devon and Cornwall, where I know the chief constable, and Alison Hernandez, the police and crime commissioner, have been doing an enormous amount of work. This problem is so prevalent across the United Kingdom that every part has to work together, and I am pleased that Devon and Cornwall Police have been working closely, particularly with the Metropolitan Police and Merseyside Police, which are the two key exporting forces for drugs into my hon. Friend’s area. She might be interested to know that recently the British Transport Police, which plays a critical part in gripping the network that distributes the drugs, conducted a fixed-point pilot at Basingstoke Station. It intercepted drugs that were heading towards her constituency, and I hope she will soon feel the effects of that.

May I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory)? There have been very successful disruptions to county lines in my Wiltshire constituency, and I pay tribute to Philip Wilkinson, the police and crime commissioner, and to Wiltshire Police. It is great that they can work in partnership with all the Conservative PCCs across our region, and with the Government. The challenge now is to move one level down, below the cities to the market towns and rural areas, which is where the problem with drugs really manifests itself in my area. Will the Minister continue the efforts on county lines, and ensure real support for local efforts at disruption, not just at regional level?

My hon. Friend is exactly right, and as my constituency neighbour he feels the same impact on our rural towns and villages as I do. He is right: as I said earlier, this is such a comprehensive problem that market towns and villages must work with large urban areas, and we have to grip the transport network in between. Particularly key is that we aim to take out those who perpetrate this “business” while sitting in the comfort of their homes in a city. The great development in our effort against county lines has been the ability of the police in Liverpool, west midlands and London—the three big exporting areas—to find those guys and take them out.

Refugees: UK Resettlement Scheme

We have been welcoming refugees through the UK resettlement scheme since its launch in March 2021. That commitment will ensure that we continue to offer safe and legal routes to the UK for vulnerable refugees in need of protection, with our focus firmly on helping people from regions of conflict and instability directly.

I am proud that Liberal Democrat-run Richmond Council, and many of my constituents, stated early during the Afghan crisis that refugees are welcome in our borough, and that they would work hard to support and rehouse those evacuated. Over the past few weeks some £6,500 has been spent on family homes for evacuees from Afghanistan, but as yet no families have been resettled in those homes. Not only is that a waste of taxpayers’ money, but presumably there are many families in unsuitable hotel accommodation. What is the Minister doing to ensure that families who have been evacuated will be resettled quickly where accommodation is available?

The comments by Richmond Council certainly contrasted with the approach that the Lib-Dem leader of Torbay Council took when first asked to take part in the Afghan resettlement scheme, but it made a welcome U-turn and we will play our part. Work is being done across the Government to support those who arrived as part of the emergency evacuation back in August, and those who will arrive under the resettlement scheme, to ensure they can be housed quickly.

Removal of Illegal Migrants

Our new plan for immigration makes it easier to remove illegal migrants who have no right to be here. The one-stop process that we are introducing through the Nationality and Borders Bill will be fundamental to delivering on that in future. The Home Secretary has also been setting up a mix of formal and informal returns agreements with other countries, in order to tackle the drivers of illegal migration. Examples of that work include our new formal arrangements with India and Albania.

Does the Minister agree that when millions of people voted to leave the European Union, they did so to take back control of our borders—no ifs, no buts—and on our own terms, not only if the French agree? Does he also agree that, in a spirit of taking back control, we need to intensify our movements towards offshore processing, which we know was successful in Australia where, when it was introduced, the numbers fell of a cliff straightaway?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a passionate advocate for his constituents on this issue. I, too, was on the frontline of that campaign in 2016, and I am very sympathetic to the point that he makes. There is no one single solution to this problem. The measures that we are introducing through the Nationality and Borders Bill are comprehensive, but we also need that co-operation with our French partners, and to tackle this issue upstream.

Channel Crossings

22. What steps she is taking to (a) prevent and (b) speed up the removal of illegal migrants using small boats to cross the channel; and what recent representations she has made to her French counterpart on intercepting attempted small boat crossings. (904282)

Our Nationality and Borders Bill sets out comprehensive measures to deter illegal crossings, tackle the criminal gangs responsible and protect lives. We are using all available options to bring crossing numbers down. The Home Secretary and the French Interior Minister agreed to accelerate the delivery of their joint determination to prevent all crossings and make this deadly route unviable.

Given that we have given tens of millions of pounds to the French, including in night-vision equipment, automatic number plate recognition technology and access to drones, is it not completely disgraceful for large groups of French police to be pictured on the beaches in France waving large boats of migrants across the channel, as we have seen in recent days? If we are giving the French this money, please can we insist that they use it to stop this illegal flow?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for his question. The Home Secretary had a constructive conversation last week with the French Interior Minister. He has repeatedly said that the determination is to stop 100% of these crossings. We entirely support that endeavour, and we must work towards that end. Clearly, the policing response on French beaches is integral to that, but it is also welcome that, for example, there has been a greater effort to disband some of the camps that we have seen around beaches.

Topical Questions

The kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer was devastating. I am launching an independent inquiry into exactly what happened, and I am pleased to confirm to the House that the right hon. Dame Elish Angiolini QC has agreed to be the chair of that inquiry. Dame Elish is an exceptionally distinguished lawyer, academic and public servant. Her extensive experience includes a review of deaths in police custody, as well as a review for the Scottish Government of the handling of complaints and alleged misconduct against police officers.

The inquiry will be made up of two parts. Part 1 will examine how this monster was able to serve as a police officer for so long and seek to establish a definitive account of his conduct. The independent police inspectorate is already looking at vetting and counter-corruption capability, which will enable the inquiry to examine vetting and re-vetting procedures in detail, including his transfers between forces. Part 1 will also seek to understand the extent to which his behaviour rang alarm bells with his colleagues. The chair will report to me as soon as is practical. The Home Office will then publish the report, and I will set out the terms of reference for part 2, which will consider the broader implications for policing arising from part 1.

The inquiry will begin as a non-statutory inquiry, because I want to give Sarah’s family closure as quickly as possible. As Members know, statutory inquiries can be long-running, with limited flexibility; sometimes, recommendations are not made for a number of years. However, I will not rule out converting this inquiry to a statutory footing should Dame Elish feel that she is unable to fulfil the terms of reference on a non-statutory basis.

Sarah Everard’s life was ended too early by an evil man whose job it was to protect her. We owe it to her, and to her loved ones and her family, to prevent something like this ever happening again.

I thank the Home Secretary for her reply, and I very much welcome what she has said at length.

Eighty per cent. of the working-age population living in the Lake district already works in hospitality and tourism. The Home Secretary will see that there is therefore no reservoir of domestic labour available to fill the gap left by her restrictive new visa rules. Will she recognise that we have a special case in the Lake district? We are the biggest visitor destination in the country outside of London, with one of the smallest populations. Will she meet me, and tourism industry chiefs in the lakes and the dales, so that we can come up with a youth mobility visa with European countries to solve the problem and get our economy working again?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I would like to praise his hospitality sector. He represents a very beautiful part of the country. Of course, we want hospitality and tourism to thrive across the United Kingdom. I would be delighted, together with my colleagues, to meet him and his hospitality sector. Youth mobility is not just an EU matter; it is now a global matter. There is a great deal of work taking place on youth mobility schemes, including work that we are doing with countries outside the EU.

T2. Earlier this month, I met many of my local farmers through the National Farmers Union. They need agricultural workers and simply cannot fill vacancies from the domestic market. What work has my right hon. Friend done with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on a solution to this issue, so we can all enjoy these farmers’ excellent Cornish produce? (904286)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight her farmers’ excellent Cornish produce; I have sampled much of it, through her. First and foremost, through our reforms to the immigration system, there are routes in place already to provide support to the agriculture sector. I have been working with colleagues in DEFRA on that. She will be very familiar with the seasonal agricultural worker pilot scheme; as she will recall, we have increased the number of people who, through that scheme, can work in key agricultural sectors. Finally, she will be aware that a great deal of work is taking place in DEFRA to ensure more investment in people in the domestic labour market, so we are investing in skills.

I welcome the appointment of the chair of the inquiry set up following the terrible Sarah Everard case, but I say to the Home Secretary: put it on a statutory footing now. The Daniel Morgan inquiry was on a non-statutory basis, and it still took eight years, so time is not an argument for not doing that.

The year before the Home Secretary was appointed, 297 people risked their life crossing the English channel in small boats. This year, 25,700 have made that perilous journey. The Home Secretary has blamed the French Government for this, and the European Union. Over the weekend, there were even reports that she is yet again trying to shift blame to officials in her Department. A simple question: why will she not show some leadership and accept the responsibility that lies with her for this dangerous situation?

First and foremost, on the public inquiry that I have announced on the murder of Sarah Everard, I restate for the record and for the right hon. Gentleman that I will work with Dame Elish. I have also been very clear to Sarah Everard’s parents, who do not want this to drag on. We owe it to Sarah’s family in particular to make sure that the inquiry works for them, and that they are protected throughout the process. I have had conversations and dialogue with them about that.

On channel crossings, leadership absolutely is on the side of this Government. That is why we are bringing forward the new plan for immigration. The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that crossings do not happen automatically; they happen through migrant movements, and through people smugglers not just in France but further upstream, right back into Africa. A great deal of work is taking place across the whole of Government. Yes, we are trying to stop the crossings and break up the gangs—

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Government deal with the French authorities is failing. The Government have closed down safe routes, such as the Dubs scheme, and they have cut the aid budget, which was addressing the reasons why people flee their homes. They do not even have successor agreements in place to the Dublin III regulation. Last week, while chatting to journalists in Washington, the Home Secretary yet again vowed to make the channel crossing route unviable, but nothing happens, and ever more people continue to risk their life. Will the Home Secretary admit that the fact that the Cabinet Office has been brought in to try to sort this out is a sign that she has lost the trust of not only the country, but her colleagues?

Order. There are other people in this Chamber who matter. I have granted an urgent question in which most of this can be debated. Come on, Home Secretary.

T7. Every time we ask a question about channel crossings, the Home Secretary, whose instincts are entirely sound, refers us to the new legislation. What confidence can we have that when that legislation becomes law, the same human rights lawyers will not sink their teeth into it, leaving us back at square one? If this is such an emergency, why do we not rush the legislation through both Houses now? (904291)

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why the legislation has been put together in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, which has an important role in working with specialist immigration law firms and changing our laws. He will know the details of the Nationality and Borders Bill and the comprehensive work that is taking place.

T3. At the last Home Office questions, I raised the issue of the hardship that claimants under the Windrush compensation scheme are experiencing. Despite the supposed urgency of this for the Government, the average time that claimants are waiting for their final payment is 434 days. I raised the case of my constituent Anthony Bryan in particular; the Home Secretary told the House that she would meet me to discuss the case, only to revoke the offer later. Will she assure the House that she will fulfil her original promise to meet me? Will she also commit to publishing the guidance on how compensation claims are accelerated? (904287)

I am certainly happy to look into the matter and meet the hon. Member about the case to which she refers. We have put additional resources into the Windrush compensation scheme team to ensure that we can get the decisions that people deserve.

T8. I strongly welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe the Hamas terror group in its entirety. That will send the unmistakable message that the UK Government are committed to protecting our Jewish community and combating terrorism. The horrific murder of 26-year-old Eli Kay by Hamas terrorists yesterday in the old city of Jerusalem reinforces the importance of the decision. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the new designation will ensure that anyone spreading the terror group’s genocidal, antisemitic ideology, including by waving flags, will feel the full force of the law? (904292)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He clearly understands the importance and significance of proscribing Hamas in all its forms. When the motion comes to the House for debate this week, I hope that all Members of this House will support it, because clearly inciting and supporting terrorist activity is simply wrong.

T4. I have raised one constituent’s case with the UK Government 13 times; it relates to the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. I still do not know whether my constituent’s case is being progressed under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy or ACRS. Neither does he, and nor do his family; they are eligible for both schemes, but we do not know under which one his case is being progressed. Please could the Minister ensure that UK Visas and Immigration has answers to give Members and our constituents—and that individuals, particularly in Afghanistan, are getting updates about what is happening? (904288)

The hon. Lady will know that I cannot answer that question on the Floor of the House, but I am very happy to take the name of her constituent afterwards. I have to emphasise, however, that if people remain in Afghanistan, as I have set out on the Floor of the House and in my “Dear colleague” letter, we simply cannot casework them at the moment in the way that parliamentarians would expect, because of the security situation in Afghanistan.

T9. I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the work that she is doing on prosecuting those who participate in county lines drugs. We need cross-party consensus in dealing with dangerous drug gangs in our country, so does she share my disappointment that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Home Secretary are backing a policy of not prosecuting those who are found in possession of class A drugs such as heroin, crystal meth and crack cocaine? May I draw her on the issue, and on our party’s approach to dealing with it? (904293)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There should be no room for confusion in people’s minds: drugs are bad in all their forms, and this Government will do everything we can to restrict supply and deal with demand.

T5. Sistah Space supports black women and girls who have experienced domestic violence. It is campaigning for Valerie’s law, which would introduce mandatory training for police and other agencies, including on dealing with domestic violence in black communities. Will the Minister meet me and Sistah Space to discuss this important issue before the upcoming petitions debate? (904289)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the police force’s response to the domestic abuse of all victims. I will be very happy to meet her.

T10. Does the Home Secretary agree that successive studies, including even the 2017 Lammy review, have concluded that improving trust in—and the legitimacy of—our law enforcement officials and institutions, particularly in communities where those have historically been low, is essential to reducing crime everywhere? What further steps does she therefore intend to take to level up in that vital area? (904294)

My hon. Friend is right, and he will know that through the Uplift programme we are pushing hard to increase the diversity of UK policing so that the police force looks like the population whom it seeks to protect and represent. We have instituted a review of vetting across policing and, indeed, wider work on police integrity generally, but we are also talking to police leaders about the signal that they send internally within the force to create a culture that inspires trust and a sense of integrity in the British people. I should add that it is important that the police fulfil the basic expectations of every single subject in this land, and in doing so inspire the trust that my hon. Friend seeks.

T6. A harsh winter is about to hit Afghanistan, and the United Nations estimates that 23 million people will be at risk of famine. Surely it is a major dereliction of duty for the Government not to have the Afghanistan resettlement scheme in place. Many people have been left in limbo as a result, and aid agencies are looking for answers in respect of what is going to happen. (904290)

I entirely understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the House about the situation in Afghanistan, but the reality is as it is on the ground. We wish it were otherwise, but it is not, so we are working apace—but carefully—to ensure that when the scheme is launched it works well for the people who are eligible for it and works well over the years in which it will operate. There is, I am afraid, no quick answer to this; we must act carefully, and we must reflect the reality on the ground in Afghanistan.

A few moments ago the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), quoted the number of people who had crossed the channel in small boats, and used that number to attack my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the best way to deal with people crossing to these shores illegally is to support the Nationality and Borders Bill, and will she join me in condemning the Opposition parties who vote against every single measure?

My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. It is particularly staggering that in Committee the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), condemned the record of the previous Labour Government, who used to argue that people should not be making crossings of this sort, and that they should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. That is exactly what should happen.

There are many reasons why domestic abuse victims may not be able to report abuse and violence straight away, including the fact that that abuse and violence is continuing, but when they do, too often an unfair six-month time limit on prosecuting common assault domestic abuse means that they are denied justice and the perpetrators are let off. I tabled an amendment to lift the limit, and it is being debated this afternoon in the House of Lords. Will the Home Secretary now accept that amendment, and give justice to thousands of domestic abuse victims who are currently being denied it?

We have always been clear about support for domestic abuse victims. The right hon. Lady will recognise that in the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the work done in both Houses during its passage, and our response to everyone who has been a victim of domestic abuse. From a policing perspective, I should say that resources are there, and that we are doing everything possible to join up the system with the criminal justice system and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that all the necessary support exists for those victims.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement of the new chair of the Sarah Everard inquiry, but, as has been mentioned, even non-statutory inquiries can be very long. Can the Home Secretary assure us that the necessary steps on vetting and the treatment of and sanctions in relation to sexual misconduct allegations will be taken in the interim?

Absolutely, and that is why we are pressing ahead with the inquiry on this particular basis. Let me say to all colleagues throughout the House that throughout all the discussions, and in view of the obvious sensitivities surrounding the murder of Sarah Everard, much thought and consideration has been given to the timeframe, but we are looking at the most pressing issues to see what lessons can be learnt and applied to policing as soon as possible.

A number of Government Departments have withdrawn from the Stonewall diversity champion scheme over concerns about the misrepresentation of equalities law and the resultant failure to respect the rights of all protected characteristics. What are the plans of the Home Office in respect of its membership of that scheme?

I will write to the hon. and learned Lady and tell her what the overall position is across Government.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the single most important step any sovereign nation can take in protecting its own borders against illegal immigration is offshore processing?

It is fair to say that, through the Nationality and Borders Bill, we are putting in place a comprehensive package of measures to deal with this issue. Central to that work is the issue of offshore processing, and we reserve the position to do exactly that.

The Home Secretary will be acutely aware that Colin Pitchfork, the double child rapist and murderer, is now back behind bars. The fact that he was released in the first place shows that something is profoundly wrong at the heart of the system. What conversations is she having with the Justice Secretary to ensure that this never happens again?

This is a very important case, and many conversations are taking place across Government, particularly with the Justice Secretary, the Ministry of Justice and the Parole Board. I cannot add any more than that. Obviously there are some things out in the public domain, but a lot of discussions are taking place right now. This should never happen.