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Topical Questions

Volume 712: debated on Monday 25 April 2022

The Nationality and Borders Bill is the vehicle for the new plan for immigration. That is how we will address the challenge of illegal migration for the first time in over two decades through comprehensive reform of our asylum system. Illegal migration is facilitated by evil people smugglers, and the British public despise those people smugglers and want their Government to act to remove foreign criminals as well as deal with the whole issue of illegal migration. The Bill will mean that we can better protect and support those in need of asylum, deter illegal and dangerous routes of entry to the UK and, of course, remove more easily those with no right to be here. The Bill has already been strongly endorsed by the elected House, and it is vital that the other place now works to ensure that it becomes law.

Last week, I met directors of the Lancaster business improvement district to discuss antisocial behaviour in our city centre. Will the Home Secretary accept my invitation to come to Lancaster to meet the directors of Lancaster BID and hear about the work they are doing to fund a BID warden to support police in Lancaster city centre to reduce antisocial behaviour?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. If I may, I would like to pay tribute to both her police force and the police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden. I was in Lancaster recently, about a month ago. I would be delighted to visit again, I really would. I want to emphasise the power of business improvement districts in dealing with issues such as antisocial behaviour, giving businesses the confidence they need and ensuring they have police support so they can carry on investing in their businesses and creating jobs locally.

T2. At the beginning of questions today, my right hon. Friend pointed out that as of last week over 70,000 visas had been issued to Ukrainians. Does she agree that, along with our £450 million package of military aid for Ukraine, the unprecedented package of sanctions against Russia, and world-leading aid provision, that demonstrates our unwavering commitment to the Ukrainian people in their hour of need? (906568)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a point to reflect on the United Kingdom’s contribution to the Ukraine effort. As well as the long-standing aid and military support, the Government’s commitment and the Prime Minister’s leadership, over 70,000 visas have been granted, and rightly so, to people who are fleeing war and persecution. And, of course, our schemes are completely uncapped.

I have been contacted about a pensioner who found nothing was done about serious harassment by her neighbours; shop owners who said nothing was done about someone who repeatedly smashed their windows; a burglary victim given nothing more than a crime number, and a rape victim who found herself being investigated rather than the rapist until the case was dropped—victims who are all being badly let down. Under the Conservatives, even though more crimes are being reported to the police, arrests and prosecutions have gone down sharply. Why is the Home Secretary letting so many more criminals off?

On the contrary, the right hon. Lady may want to back our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill when it comes to police, crime, courts and sentencing. She will also reflect on the fact that when the statistics for crime in England and Wales for year ending September 2021 were published, neighbourhood crime was 33% lower than the previous year, burglary offences were lower than the previous year, and other offences including robbery, vehicle offences and theft from the person were also down. This is a Government who have invested record sums in policing and training. Look at the work we are doing with police and crime commissioners across the country. There are a few other points that, if I may, Mr Speaker, I would like to make to the right hon. Lady. When it comes to courts—

Order. Home Secretary, I have to get through these topicals. I want to help you, so you need to help me.

The Home Secretary is out of touch with what is happening in communities across the country. Overall crime is up by 14%. Right across the country, fewer rapists, fewer thieves and fewer burglars are being sentenced because they are not being arrested or taken to court in the first place. Since 2015, arrests by the police are down by a third, charge rate is down by nearly two-thirds, and cautions and community penalties have more than halved. It does not matter what her rhetoric is, the reality is much more bleak. This is the equivalent of hundreds of thousands more criminals getting away with their crimes.

Order. I say to both parties that we really do want you to have good questions, but when with more substantial questions like that please ask them earlier and do not try to force them into topicals. All you are doing is stopping me calling the Back Benchers who did not get in earlier. So please, let us work to help each other.

When it comes to backing the police and sorting out the criminal justice system, if the right hon. Lady’s party was at all serious she would back the Bill, back the police and the back reforms to the criminal justice system.

T4.   Since Putin’s evil invasion of Ukraine, Poland has given refuge to well over 2 million people. When members of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union met our Polish counterparts recently, they said that one way in which we could help here was by setting up mayor-to-mayor twinning links. In the light of that, does the Home Secretary welcome the twinning arrangement between Pershore in West Worcestershire and Wyry in Poland? (906571)

I commend my hon. Friend on the initiative that she has shown through this twinning arrangement. It is incredibly important, and the House should pay tribute to our friends in Poland, and the Polish Government in particular, for everything that they have been doing to support Ukrainians.

T5. In 2017, the UK Government introduced a visa concession for offshore wind farm workers, which was extended for one year in July 2021. That visa concession effectively allows offshore wind farm companies to undercut the pay and conditions of British seafarers and exploit overseas workers. A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister committed to expanding offshore wind farms. In the light of the disgraceful decision by P&O Ferries to sack 786 British seafarers and replace them with exploited foreign labour, will the Home Office commit to ending the offshore wind farm worker concession to ensure that UK seafarers can compete fairly for these jobs? (906572)

The hon. Gentleman makes very important points. I am happy to pick that up directly with him. I do not have time to give him a full answer now, but I will happily speak to him about it.

T6. In recent months, we have seen an increase in totally unacceptable antisocial behaviour in Burnley and Padiham town centres, as well as dirt bikes racing up and down the Padiham Greenway. Will the Home Secretary meet me in Padiham to talk to businesses and residents about what more we can do to tackle that issue? (906573)

I would be delighted to come to his constituency to do exactly that. Perhaps we can have a conservation about the safer streets fund, which will certainly assist with that issue.

T9. I am getting sick and tired of the fact that every time any Opposition Member talks about our disgust with the “abandon people in Rwanda” scheme, Government Members start shouting, “What are your plans?” If they had paid any attention during the six full weeks of debate on the Nationality and Borders Bill or had read up on the multiple amendments that we tabled, which Conservative Members voted down, they would know what our plans are— (906576)

The main response to this issue should be safe and legal routes. The Government keep saying that they have them. I submitted a written question asking for the detail of all the routes available, and the detail of those routes fits on half a page, because there are practically none for the entire world.

If the hon. Lady has read the new plan for immigration—I hope she has—she will be very clear about the Government’s policy on safe and legal routes. I have outlined today a number of safe and legal routes to which the Government have committed, including two routes for Ukrainian nationals and the two routes for those who fled Afghanistan last year.

T7. People smugglers are evil. People have been exploited, beaten, robbed, raped and have even died, and we need to do everything that we can to stamp out this evil trade. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and the vast majority of Rother Valley residents that the Rwanda plan is not only the right thing to do, because it will cut down on illegal immigration and reduce pressure on public services, but will ultimately save lives? (906574)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although Opposition Members yell about the lack of support, I will come back to a number of points. First, doing nothing is not an option. We have to do everything that we possibly can to break up these evil people smugglers, who are unhinged and will stop at nothing to exploit individuals. Secondly, through the new plan for immigration and our wider work through the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is coming back to the House tomorrow, we want to bring our plan together and deliver for the British people.

On 31 March, Lord Harrington had to apologise for inadvertently misleading the other place when he said that a drop-down arrow was available on the form for Ukrainian refugees in the Ukrainian language. When he apologised, he said that that was “in train”. Will the Home Secretary ‘fess up and confirm that it is Home Office policy not to have a translated version of the form, or if it is, where is Lord Harrington’s severely delayed train?

For Home Office officials who work on the scheme, there is guidance about dealing with different languages in the applications, but I am very happy to pick the matter up directly with the hon. Gentleman.

T8. I very much welcome the fact that dozens of visas have already been granted by this United Kingdom Government for Ukrainians to come to the Scottish Borders in my constituency. Will the Home Secretary work with me to iron out the last remaining issues for some of my constituents with processing the applications, to ensure that more Ukrainians can come to the Scottish Borders? (906575)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Work is under way to ensure that we can bring more Ukrainian nationals through our two routes to Scotland. I am very happy to meet him and the Minister to discuss the matter further.

Today, my constituent Graham Hughes is doing his latest humanitarian run to Poland. He hopes to return with a Ukrainian refugee and her 11-year-old daughter, who recently managed to escape the horrors of Mariupol shortly before the evacuation routes closed but are now waiting anxiously in Lviv. Despite Graham and his partner having applied to sponsor them nearly a month ago, they have yet to be granted passage to the UK. Graham and Katherine are ready to bring these people to safety in Durham. Will the Home Secretary do everything possible to expedite that?

Through the hon. Lady, I would like to pass on our thanks to her constituent who is now travelling to Poland. I will need the details, if I may take them from her, to ensure that the visa side and the sponsorship side match up, and then we can pick this up.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Nottinghamshire police on hitting their recruitment uplift target a year ahead of schedule, so we now have more police officers in Nottinghamshire than at any time in the past 10 years? Can she commit to a date when the long-promised police funding formula review will start?

I commend Nottinghamshire police and their outstanding chief constable for all the work that the team have been doing. They have been really focusing on driving down crime through recruitment and the training of new officers. My hon. Friend rightly asks about the police funding formula, which is under way through the Minister for Crime and Policing. It is deeply complicated, as my hon. Friend will be well aware, but we are happy to report back on it.

One mother from Barnsley submitted her daughter’s passport application in January, five months in advance of their holiday next week, but she is yet to receive it. My office has had to wait two hours to speak to someone at the Home Office today. What is the Home Secretary doing to address the unacceptable delays in passport applications?

The hon. Lady will have heard the comments from the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), about work at the Passport Office. The hon. Lady said that her constituent submitted her passport application in January. If we can have the details, we will pick the case up, but that is a very unusual delay—there must be a problem.

Now then: the world-class Rwanda plan has been welcomed by anybody who actually lives in the real world, because it saves lives in the channel. Unfortunately, that lot opposite do not live in the real world. Does the Home Secretary agree that the Labour party now has a chance to either back the plan or back the criminals?

My hon. Friend, as ever, is very clear. It is world-class and a world first, and we are proud of it. It is a partnership that our partners in Rwanda are proud of as well; they have an exceptional history of resettlement of refugees. My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the British people want change—they absolutely do. We say to everyone today, “Back the plan, but also back the Nationality and Borders Bill.”

I am extremely concerned about the safeguarding of our young people at outdoor music festivals, which attract more than 7.1 million people, many of whom are under 18. There is currently more licensing provision for the recycling of a plastic cup than for our young people, who have suffered serious sexual assault, including rape, by spiking. Will the Minister work with me and others to create a gold standard of licensing for these events in order to protect our young people?

I am very happy to work with the hon. Lady—we have already spoken about the issue, and I am grateful for her interest in it. As the country gets back to festivals this summer, we all want young women and girls—and all young people—to enjoy themselves safely, so I will work with the hon. Lady across Government to take forward the asks that she has presented to us.

I have been alarmed to hear of large-scale and dangerous hare coursing in my constituency. Heavily armed people are coming on to farmers’ land and then livestreaming the chases to China, where they are the subject of heavy betting. Will my right hon. Friend support Thames Valley police in their efforts to tackle this appalling offence, and reassure farmers in Buckinghamshire that rural crime will always be taken seriously by this Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. He knows of the strength of feeling about it among Front Benchers and others on our side of the House, which is why we have the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill—we are urging all Members to back it. I commend Thames Valley police in particular for all that they are doing on this.