Today I am updating Parliament on Home Office delivery over the last 12 months.
Dealing with the effects of covid-19 has been a challenge for the entire country, but it has also brought out the best of us as communities stepped up to deal with those challenges. Few have played a more important role than our emergency service workers and I put on record my particular thanks to the police officers and firefighters who have continued selflessly to serve the public in sometimes trying circumstances, as well as all Home Office staff and Border Force officers who have played their part in the fight against covid-19.
Despite covid-19, the Home Office has continued to deliver on the people’s priorities and as we recover from the pandemic, we will continue to build back safer in 2022.
Cutting crime and law enforcement
We are delivering our manifesto commitment for new police officer recruitment, having recruited more than 11,000 of the 20,000 new police officers we have pledged for England and Wales to help cut crime and protect our communities. Every region in the country has more police officers keeping our streets and communities safer day and night—both beating crime and preventing crime.
The College of Policing has continued to connect all those working in the police and law enforcement, with the chair of its board, Lord Herbert of South Downs, launching a fundamental review of the College’s work. This is important if we are to ensure that it continues to meet its potential and that its work and role within policing is valued across the service.
We have published several landmark strategies on the safety and security of our nation.
Our beating crime plan establishes how the Government will ensure the public is better protected across all parts of the country, with each neighbourhood having contactable, named police officers who know their area and are best placed to ensure that persistent crime and antisocial behaviour is tackled.
Our tackling violence against women and girls strategy set out plans to increase support for victims and survivors, increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice and reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls in the long term. The need for the strategy became all the more stark following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard and immediate measures taken included the creation of the new online tool “StreetSafe”. This provides women and girls with a way to anonymously and quickly pinpoint areas where they have felt unsafe and say why—an innovative crime prevention tool. The appointment in September of Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth as the national police lead for violence against women and girls means that police action in this vital area is now being co-ordinated across England and Wales.
In June we published the end-to-end rape review report on findings and actions, in which we committed to deliver lasting improvements to the way we investigate and prosecute rape so that victims are properly supported and they—and the public—can have confidence that perpetrators of this sickening crime will feel the full force of the law.
The Domestic Abuse Act, which gained Royal Assent this year, provides for the first time in history a wide-ranging legal definition of domestic abuse and delivers important new protections and support for victims, such as ensuring that abusers can no longer directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts. It also gives police new powers, including domestic abuse protection notices which provide victims with immediate protection from abusers.
We also published our tackling child sexual abuse strategy—a first-of-its-kind national strategy to protect children from all forms of child sexual abuse in which we set out how the Government will use new legislation and enhanced technology to stop offenders in their tracks and bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice.
We have also enhanced our work tackling the scourge of drugs with a new cross-Government 10-year strategy which includes pursuing and closing down the ruthless gangs who exploit and threaten the most vulnerable in society for financial gain through the illegal drugs trade. We have already closed down 1,500 county lines and this new crackdown aims to dismantle a further 2,000, as we seek to continue driving down crime and delivering safer streets for all.
During the course of this year, we have also expanded Project ADDER, the programme which seeks to ensure that more drug users get effective treatment, with enhanced treatment and recovery provision. Its overarching aim is to reduce drug-related deaths, reduce drug-related offending and reduce the prevalence of drug use while disrupting high-harm criminals and networks involved in the supply and importation of drugs. Having launched the programme in January 2021 in Blackpool, Hastings, Middlesbrough, Norwich and Swansea Bay, in July 2021 it expanded to take in Bristol, Newcastle, Wakefield, the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, and three local authorities in Liverpool city region.
Meanwhile, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill—legislation to restore confidence in the criminal justice system—is approaching its concluding stages in the House of Lords. Once enacted, this will give our police officers more of the powers and tools they need to keep themselves and all of us safe, while introducing tougher sentencing for the worst offenders and ending automatic halfway release from prison for serious crimes. Following recent antisocial protests which have caused misery and disruption for countless road users and citizens going about their lawful business, the legislation will give the police the power to stop and search people in order to seize items such as glue and chains intended to cause serious disruption by “locking-on”. It will also introduce mandatory life sentences for those who kill an emergency worker in the course of their duty.
Following the mass shooting in Plymouth in August, a review of police firearms licensing procedures was completed, including a review of licences which had been surrendered, seized, revoked or refused, only then to be returned following further checks or appeals. Following this review, eight of these returned licences were either re-surrendered or revoked, providing further reassurance to the public that their safety remains our priority.
We have also continued to establish what needs to be done to protect people from being exposed to harmful content online, whether that be publishing incitement to terrorism or images of the sexual abuse of children. I will continue to hold technology companies to account for the harmful content they host on their platforms and if they neglect public safety when designing products; and in due course our Online Safety Bill will place on those technology companies a binding duty of care to their users—and end-to-end encryption will not release them from that duty. This is fundamental to ensuring public safety and keeping people safe from evil.
Figures published last month show a 14% decrease in total crime (excluding fraud and computer misuse) across England and Wales for the year ending June 2021, compared with the year ending June 2019. This includes an 11% decrease in the number of homicides, a 6% decrease in the number of police recorded offences involving firearms and an 8% decrease in offences involving knives or sharp instruments.
Controlling our borders
Following the UK’s exit from the European Union we have been able to take back control of our borders by ending free movement and introducing our new points-based immigration system, which has now been in operation for over a year. We have also created new routes to attract the most talented and highly-skilled workers and global leaders in their fields to the UK.
These include the graduate route, which will allow talented international graduates who have been awarded their degree from a UK university to stay in the UK and work, or look for work, at any skill level for at least two years, and the new fast-track international sportsperson route, which will make it easier for professional athletes across sports to work in the country.
Additionally, we have improved the employer sponsorship system to enable UK businesses and educational institutions to become sponsors and attract global talent faster, while adding more illustrious prizes to the global talent visa, making it simpler for more of the world’s most gifted minds to come to the country.
We have also created an immigration route for British nationals overseas status holders in Hong Kong, reflecting our historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong who have had their rights and freedoms restricted. As of 30 September, since the route launched on 31 January 2021 there had been 67,300 applications with 57,300 successful grants.
Recognising the considerable public concerns about illegal migration, the Nationality and Borders Bill is a critical piece of legislation whose aim is to deter illegal entry into the UK and reduce the pull factors. It was given its Third Reading in the House of Commons by a majority of 67 earlier this month.
This legislation will deliver long-overdue reform to our broken asylum and immigration system and will be critical in making unviable the business model of the people smugglers who threaten the lives of every person from whom they take money to then place in unseaworthy vessels to cross the English channel.
Once enacted, this legislation will: make the system fairer and more effective so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum; deter illegal entry into the UK and save lives by breaking the business model of those criminal trafficking networks; and remove from the UK those with no right to be here.
We have also continued to work closely with our international partners on tackling this shared problem emanating from the global migration crisis and specifically signed a new agreement with the French Government to strengthen UK-France co-operation on tackling illegal immigration across the channel.
The tireless work of the National Crime Agency tackling organised immigration crime has also played an important role in helping bring to justice people smugglers, having been involved in more than 140 arrests in the first 11 months of this year and with around 50 ongoing investigations linked to organised immigration crime. (The NCA has also played a critical role in other areas, such as keeping children safe online throughout the pandemic and disrupting high-risk offenders.)
We have also signed a new agreement with the Albanian Government to remove Albanian nationals who have no right to be in the UK, and established a new migration and mobility partnership with the Indian Government, supporting people coming to the UK through legal routes, while stopping the abuse of the system and speeding up the removal of those who have no right to be in the UK.
Protecting the homeland
Most of the work of our counter-terrorism police and security agencies is done out of public sight for good reasons, but they play an essential role in keeping the public safe.
They constantly review where threats exist and take the necessary action to clamp down on those with malign intent. To that end, this year Parliament has proscribed the entirety of Hamas, the militant Islamist terrorist movement, as a terrorist organisation, as well as Atomwaffen Division and The Base, predominantly US-based white supremacist groups.
During the year, the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act received Royal Assent, further protecting the public by completely ending the prospect of early release for anyone convicted of a serious terror offence and forcing them to spend their whole term in jail. It also enhances the tools available to counter-terrorism police and the security services to manage the risk posed by terrorist offenders and individuals of concern outside of custody.
The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act was also given Royal Assent, providing a clear and consistent statutory basis so that our intelligence and enforcement agencies and public bodies have the right tools to keep us safe. This longstanding critical capability supports the work of undercover agents in preventing and safeguarding victims from serious crimes, including terrorism, by ensuring they can gain the trust of those under investigation.
This year also saw the unveiling of the first elements of the new counter-terrorism operations centre in London, including a cutting-edge counter-terrorism operations suite which is now fully operational and helping to keep the public safe.
During the summer, the Home Office stepped up to help in the evacuation of people from Kabul airport—the largest evacuation mission undertaken since the second world war, which involved getting more than 16,000 people out of the Afghan capital. The Home Office’s dual priorities during this evacuation were to save as many lives as possible while keeping the British public safe and I am very proud of all who worked on that immense response.
Likewise, I was proud of all the Home Office teams, police and our partner agencies who were involved in safely delivering the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November—the largest international event the UK has hosted since the 2012 Olympics—as well as the G7 summit earlier this year. UKVI staff and Border Force officers efficiently processed and welcomed tens of thousands of visiting delegates from around the world; meanwhile, police officers from across the UK and our security agencies kept attendees and the public safe throughout—as they do without fanfare across the UK every day of the year. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
In September I chaired the G7 Interior Ministers in London, showing how the UK is taking a lead on the international stage in the spheres of counter-terrorism and illegal migration, as well as tackling child sexual abuse and exploitation online. We agreed to work together to take action to prevent and combat violent extremism and terrorism; to protect people against harms enabled or exacerbated by the internet; to ensure security is not undermined by the threat of serious and organised crime; to support global action to confront emerging issues for national and border security; and to strengthen international action against corruption and kleptocracies.
Throughout the year I and ministerial colleagues have engaged with numerous counterparts from around the world. In November I visited Washington, where I met with senior members of the US administration, and it was agreed that the UK and US security services will undertake joint work to further strengthen the vital counter-terrorism relationship between our two nations.
EU settlement scheme
Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, a considerable number of our EU friends and neighbours decided to make the UK their home and secure the status to which they are entitled through the hugely successful EU settlement scheme. By the end of November 2021, more than 6.3 million applications had been received, with over 5.9 million (94%) applications concluded. We have continued to work as quickly as possible to conclude applications, as well as supporting people with late applications, and the scheme remains opens indefinitely for late applications.
Finally, this year, we have continued to put right the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation under successive Governments. Following the overhaul of the compensation scheme I announced in December 2020, it is now easier for people to get higher payments more quickly, and as a result of my changes, more than £38 million has been paid or offered in compensation.
We simplified the application process, including changes to the primary claim form, designed in consultation with stakeholders, to make it easier to complete and easier for caseworkers to process; and for those who need support, we have funded an organisation to provide free, independent claimant assistance to individuals for the duration of the scheme.
We have also worked at pace to implement the recommendations of the Windrush lessons learned review, with Wendy Williams having recently returned to the Home Office to undertake a progress review on delivery of her recommendations.