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Topical Questions

Volume 707: debated on Monday 17 January 2022

The Nationality and Borders Bill was overwhelmingly backed by elected MPs and is now being debated in the other place. Ahead of its Royal Assent, I am operationalising new changes on disrupting and deterring illegal migration, in line with the new plan for immigration which, as the House knows, was announced and published last week. We continue to work with our French counterparts. Law enforcement has achieved 67 small boats-related prosecutions since the start of 2020; we have dismantled 17 small boat organised criminal groups and secured more than 400 arrests.

I am reforming the entire asylum system to bring effective casework into decision making, speeding up processing and introducing fast-track appeals to remove those with no right to be in the UK. I have developed new operational solutions to deter illegal boat arrivals. That is a whole Government effort. As a result, I confirm that we have commissioned the MOD as a crucial operational partner, to protect our channel against illegal migration.

In the light of the news late last week about MP security, will the Home Secretary assure me that the Home Office is working with other Government Departments and devolved Administrations to protect our democracy from those who want to do it, and our country, harm?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come to my statement shortly, when I will talk about that issue in much more detail. There are important issues about protecting our democracy from our adversaries, individuals and countries that want to do us harm. That is a whole of Government effort.

I join the tributes to Jack Dromey, who was in our team and should have been with us today. His kindness, principles and determination mean we badly miss him.

On 25 January 2021, the Home Secretary commented on a Met police video of officers breaking up an illegal party in London. She said,

“This illegal gathering was an insult to those hospitalised with COVID, our NHS staff and everyone staying at home to protect them…Police are enforcing the rules to save lives.”

Why has she now changed her mind?

I welcome the right hon. Lady to her role; I did not get the chance to do that when we last met to debate the Nationality and Borders Bill. With regards to the coronavirus regulations, I stand by my comments, primarily because during the time of the virus and the pandemic, the entire country was doing incredible work to ensure that the virus was not being spread. My views have not changed on that; they are absolutely consistent. On policing throughout the pandemic, we asked the police to do extraordinary things. As she knows, however, the police are operationally independent of me. They were following the guidance issued by the Government at the time and did very good work to protect the public.

I am glad that the Home Secretary stands by her words and her defence of the police, but how on earth can she then defend the Prime Minister, who has publicly admitted breaking the rules? She is not even waiting for the Sue Gray report. Beth Rigby asked her:

“Are you reserving judgment until the Sue Gray report comes out?”

And she said:

“No. On the contrary, I have publicly supported the Prime Minister”.

Tens of thousands of fines were given out in the months when Downing Street was holding parties. She told the police to enforce those rules but she is now defending someone who has admitted breaking them. The Home Secretary’s job is to uphold the rule of law. Does she realise how damaging it is to public trust and to trust in the police to undermine the rule of law now?

Perhaps the right hon. Lady has forgotten that, in this country, the police and courts are independent of the Government, and I will always respect that principle. Rather than seeking to prejudge, pressure, smear or slander—as it is fair to say that she and perhaps the entire shadow Front Bench and her party clearly are—it is important to let everyone get on and do the required work. We should continue to support the police in the right way and let them do their job in an objective way. I find it pretty rich that she talks about upholding the rule of law on the day that in the other place her party is doing everything possible to undermine support for the police through its opposition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

T4. In the run-up to Christmas, hare coursing caused a huge problem across Leicestershire, no more so than in Bosworth. Hare coursing brings with it damage to property and crops, and the intimidation of farmers and residents, so it must stop. The National Farmers Union and local farmers came together with our new rural crime unit in Leicestershire to try to deal with it, but what more can the Government do to ensure that we clamp down on hare coursing in Leicestershire? (905058)

Like my hon. Friend, I have seen a rise in that kind of offence in my constituency. As the crops are cut and those animals become more apparent, it obviously becomes more of a problem. As I said earlier, I hope that he will see that in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which I hope the whole House will support, we are introducing a range of offences to deal with that crime which, for the first time, will attract a prison sentence of up to six months.

T2. To return to the Home Secretary’s answers to my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, in September 2020, she said that she would “call the police” if she saw her neighbours having a party in their garden. Is she confident that the Chancellor was aware of that advice? (905056)

If I may say so to the hon. Lady, I repeat the comments that I made earlier. I appreciate that she may be trying to demonstrate some humour, but the Prime Minister has apologised. At the same time, it is right that the police, who are operationally independent, get on and do their job in the right and proper way, as they have been doing.

T5. Historically, security-sensitive information has been shared with the Opposition Front Bench, but given last week’s revelations that a former Labour Front-Bench spokesman was in receipt of significant funding from a member of the Chinese Communist party, will there be a review of that arrangement? (905059)

I am conscious of the statement to follow, but my hon. Friend is right that those are concerning matters. In truth, they are not restricted to a single British politician or a single party. The security briefings that he mentioned continue to play an important role.

T3. Last week, at a briefing for Members with the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, Home Office officials indicated that while the Department is not introducing a specific family reunion route, there is some flexibility on visa requirements for Afghan family members of British citizens. Will the Minister confirm, as we were told, that there could be flexibility on visa fees, income requirements and demands for lost or destroyed documents, because that would offer real assistance to constituents who took Ministers’ advice to flee to third countries and are now trapped there? (905057)

To be clear, the wider immigration system obviously operates separately from the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, but we are carefully considering what the requirements are, and not least how we can ensure people can actually access the system to make applications because, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, for obvious reasons we cannot run our usual application centre that we would have in Kabul given the Taliban’s control of the territory.

T6. The Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust has identified a growing trend of theft or vandalism of defibrillators in Wales. I cannot imagine the despair somebody would feel on witnessing a cardiac event and rushing to get a defibrillator, only to find that it has been broken or stolen. Does the Minister agree that that is a deplorable crime, and will he meet me to discuss what steps the police can take to stop antisocial behaviour generally and this terrible crime in particular? (905060)

It must be hard for everybody to imagine what kind of twisted mind would think it was a good thing to do to break or steal a defibrillator, and I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to examine the problem in his constituency and, indeed, to see if it is a problem elsewhere.

T7. Between 2018 and 2021, there were 3,625 spiking reports across 15 police forces in the UK, but just 44 people were charged. Perpetrators are being let off, while victims are being let down. Will the Home Secretary give her backing to Labour’s amendment being voted on this evening in the other place for an urgent review into the incidence and reporting of this crime, as well as of the adequacy of police investigations and the impact on victims? (905061)

The hon. Lady raises the very important and, frankly, quite pressing issue of spiking and its impact across the night-time economy and, much more widely, across society. We are looking in much of the work we are doing in policing at how we can review the matter and how we can actually give the support required.

T8. The confirmation of the extension of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme is of course welcome. However, as things stand, those visas will be valid for only six months. Given the developments in technology and science in the horticultural sector, the seasons are much longer, so will my hon. Friend give consideration to extending the visas to nine months, helping alleviate the pressures farms face? (905062)

I have to point out to my hon. Friend that extending visas beyond six months comes with issues such as payment of the immigration health surcharge and the requirement to issue a biometric residence permit, where appropriate. There are some quite considerable issues with the request, but I am always happy to talk to him about how we can support the businesses in his constituency, and I would point out that visas are already not restricted to working at one farm.

The reality is that the seasonal agricultural workers scheme has been woefully inadequate. In the last few years, we have seen fruit and veg being left to rot in the fields. Why then do this Government think it is clever to introduce a further taper, making it worse, and does the Minister understand the damage he is doing to agriculture?

It is safe to say that we have not seen the maximum number of visas taken up. The hon. Member may want to have a think about some of the issues that might have affected international travel for seasonal work over the past two years—particularly relating to a global pandemic. Ultimately, our goal is the right goal, and I think it is fair. I think what the vast majority of people across the UK believe is that in the first instance we should actually focus on making sure that job offers go to our domestic workforce and that key workers are appropriately rewarded.

T9. Following the events that took place in Texas this weekend, will the Home Secretary provide an update on the UK investigation into the British perpetrator of the attack on the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, and on the measures taken to ensure the security of the UK Jewish community, and can I further ask whether the perpetrator was known to the security services? (905063)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question; this is a very important matter. Just prior to questions this afternoon, I had a bilateral call with my homeland security counterpart in the US. Let me say a few things. First, we are working with the FBI—in fact, we have been since the incident took place—and there is a great deal of intelligence sharing and work taking place. Of course, when it comes to our domestic homeland, a range of measures are being undertaken right now, including protective security for the Jewish community. The investigation is obviously live, so I am unable to talk about the specifics.

Child sexual, criminal and online exploitation are all increasing in this country; they can all be addressed by joined-up working by Government Departments, robust data collection on perpetrators and a police IT system that is fit for the 21st century. That all takes money, vision and leadership. Can the Home Secretary provide that?

Let me start by thanking the hon. Lady for her question and for her work in this area. In particular, she has worked a lot with me and my Department on the issue of grooming gangs and child sexual exploitation. A wide range of work across the whole of Government is taking place on this, including local authorities, social services and public health. That work is crucial, as is—I know she knows this and has seen it—the incredible investigatory capability of our National Crime Agency, as well as policing, to go after the perpetrators. That work is getting stronger and stronger.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), a month ago, Feras Al Jayoosi was convicted on four counts under the Terrorism Act 2000, including twice walking around Golders Green with a large rucksack on his back and a Palestinian Islamic Jihad t-shirt on. Three days ago, Tahra Ahmed was convicted of two charges of stirring up racial hatred, after a complaint about a Facebook post that claimed the Grenfell Tower fire was a “Jewish sacrifice”. My constituents face this daily, often by people from outside the area who are coming in to incite violence and outrage against them. Can the Home Secretary please advise, in addition to the measures she has mentioned about the disgraceful behaviour in Dallas, what my constituents can expect to receive from the police and security services?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this. Let me be very clear: in no way and under no circumstances are any of the acts that he has spoken about acceptable. They are thoroughly unacceptable and that is why the police in particular are doing everything possible to go after the individuals. As he will know, certain individuals have been on various watchlists, radars and so on, where we come together to ensure that the Jewish community, and his constituents in particular, are fully supported and fully protected.

The community in Keyham has serious concerns about the amount of pump action weapons being held in residential areas. Will the Home Secretary agree to meet a delegation from Keyham to discuss the concerns about how rules on holding pump action weapons in residential areas can be tightened?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a vital issue and I thank him for his work locally, and the work of his local authority and policing. I know he has been in contact with the Policing Minister on this issue. We will happily meet him and others from his community. I know this is a particular issue and it is something that we need absolutely to come together on and to work together to resolve.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, last year, the British public had £78 million stolen from them by clone scammers and people posing as legitimate companies online? Will she work with colleagues from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to set out in law robust identity checks that all online platforms should have to make, before letting people take out advertising on their site?

My hon. Friend is right about the scourge of fraud and its prevalence online. We brought fraud into scope for the draft Online Safety Bill. I am conscious of the issues that she mentions about advertising and we continue to work with colleagues from DCMS on that.

In our communities, we have asylum seekers who are ready and willing to work in sectors that are experiencing acute shortages, such as fruit and veg picking and HGV driving, but those occupations still do not appear on the shortage occupation list. When will the Government widen that list, or will they simply sacrifice the economy for their hostile immigration environment?

It is worth noting that those whose applications have been outstanding for over a year through no fault of their own can access jobs on the shortage occupation list, and we are expanding that to include care workers next month. This highlights an opportunity for 31 out of 32 local authority areas in Scotland to become part of the dispersal accommodation scheme, so that some of these people will be living in their communities.