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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 712: debated on Monday 25 April 2022

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Safe and Legal Routes to UK: Nationals of Ukraine and Afghanistan

1. What steps her Department is taking to increase the number of safe and legal routes to the UK for nationals of (a) Ukraine and (b) Afghanistan. (906542)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your statement.

The Government have introduced two new safe and legal routes for Ukrainian nationals: the Ukraine family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. As of 21 April, more than 71,000 visas had been issued under both schemes. Under the schemes, neither route is capped, and the Ukraine extension scheme permits Ukrainians who are already in the UK to extend their stay.

Members from throughout the House have called on the Government to make it easier for people from Ukraine to seek sanctuary in the UK. Will the Home Secretary explain why the schemes for those who try to flee the Taliban are so limited and why, according to her own Department, the Nationality and Borders Bill does not establish safe and legal routes for those fleeing war, conflict or persecution?

First, the new plan for immigration spells out absolutely the Government’s approach to safe and legal routes. As I have said many times in the House, every safe and legal route needs to be bespoke, based on the crisis that we are seeking to address.

Secondly, in response to the hon. Lady’s question about Afghanistan, she will know that under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme we will welcome up to 20,000 at-risk people who have been affected by the most appalling events in Afghanistan. That scheme was announced last year and will include women and girls and members of minority groups, given their vulnerability.

A family who are still in Ukraine have been reporting back to their Homes for Ukraine sponsors in Halifax that they have been able to hear the bombs getting closer every day of their 29-days-and-counting wait for a visa. The family in Ukraine have twins under the age of 10 who have, remarkably, had their visas processed at different speeds. A Home Office whistleblower has described the scheme as “designed to fail”. Government figures show that 40,000 visas have been issued under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, yet just 6,600 Ukrainians have actually arrived in the UK, because families who need to travel together cannot do so because the visa of just one family member, often a child, is delayed. Will the Home Secretary explain why, if 40,000 visas have been issued, so few Ukrainians have arrived in the UK? What is she doing to correct the situation?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question because she makes an important point. There are a number of points to make in response.

First, on the reason why low numbers have come to the UK, as I have already said, more than 71,000 visas for both schemes have been granted. The Minister for Refugees, Lord Harrington, went to the region just 10 days ago to find out why and what more could be done to bring over families who have been granted their visas to come over. First and foremost, as we have heard repeatedly from the Ukrainian Government and from Governments in the region—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady like to stand up and respond? First of all, those families want to stay in region. That is a fact and that is exactly why we are working with the various Governments in region.

The hon. Lady made an important point about families and younger children. Much of that is down to the checks, because they are not always travelling with parents. Safeguarding checks are being undertaken to ensure that they are all linked members of families. They are important checks that have to take place.

Less than half of 1% of Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war have so far found shelter in the United Kingdom. There are currently more sheltered in Ireland than are sheltered here, despite our neighbours being 13 times smaller in terms of population. The real reason for this situation is the unnecessary, inappropriate and shambolic visa system that the Home Secretary has decided to impose. Approximately 140 other countries allow visa-free access. Surely, even at this late stage, the Home Secretary must lift visa requirements for all, or at least some, Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war and get things moving.

I have repeated many times the reason why we have checks and visas. I appreciate the political difference between the Government and the hon. Gentleman’s party, but we are not members of the EU; we do not have open borders. I acknowledge that he has a fundamentally different point of view when it comes to open borders and not having checks on those who come to our country but, in this case, security checks are vital.

Illegal Immigration

There is a whole of Government effort to counter these dangerous and unnecessary crossings. That effort is reflected in the recent changes that the Government have made to operational primacy. We continue to work closely with the French to prevent crossing attempts, guiding vulnerable migrants in France towards support there, and tackling the vile criminal gangs that profit from them.

I have raised small boat crossings with the Department on a number of occasions, and I am grateful for the continued efforts to bring the crossings to an end and to ensure that we control illegal immigration. Does the Minister agree that it is important that we use every single power we have to prevent these illegal crossings, which continually put lives in danger; to clamp down on the gangs that facilitate them; and to continue to provide the legal routes by which so many people have already made safe crossings?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the distinction between illegal entry into this country and people coming via safe and legal routes. I know that his constituents in North Warwickshire and Bedworth feel very strongly that the Nationality and Borders Bill needs to pass into law. We need its comprehensive measures to build on our existing powers, to get to grips with this issue, and to tackle it fairly but robustly. I am sure that he will join me in encouraging the other place to get on and pass the Bill this week.

The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are delighted with this groundbreaking economic and development partnership with Rwanda, which will help to break the business model of vile people smugglers once and for all. Does my hon. Friend share my concern and that of my constituents that the Labour woke warriors are quite happy to stick with the status quo, meaning that more people are going to leave safe mainland France, risking their lives and putting thousands of pounds in the hands of smuggling gangs, which will mean more death in the channel and illegal economic migrants continuing to enter the United Kingdom?

One thing we absolutely know is that my hon. Friend’s constituents are very perceptive. They will recognise that the Labour party has no credible alternative that recognises the scale of the challenge and all its complexities. We need the measures in the Bill; we need the Rwanda model to come to fruition. We are getting on and delivering on that priority.

To avoid desperate Ukrainians being added to those trying to cross the channel, the Government’s schemes for Ukrainians need to work. Can the Minister explain why the very helpful Members’ hub in Portcullis House has been stopped from issuing permission-to-travel letters to MPs? I dealt with a family last week. For two of the family members, the letters were sent to me and I could let the family and their host family here know, and they were all happy about it. For the third family member, the system was stopped at the end of the last week, and officials are saying that they are now no longer allowed to issue MPs with those permission-to-travel letters. It is a complete shambles. Will he sort it out?

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that I am not the Minister with direct responsibility for the refugee scheme, but I will gladly ensure that his feedback is heard by my noble Friend Lord Harrington. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to share details of those specific cases, we will gladly look at them at pace.

Despite this Government continually patting themselves on the back, there remain far too many cracks in the Homes for Ukraine scheme. In a recent article published by The Guardian, an anonymous whistleblower has revealed that he dealt with numerous cases in which UK visas had been issued for an entire family apart from just one child, effectively stopping the family from travelling to safety. Over the past few weeks, I have been in contact with a constituent who has been doing all she can to help a family from Ukraine who are in that exact scenario, but she is getting nowhere. What is the Minister doing to plug those gaps and to ensure that entire families, not just individuals, can reach the UK safely?

If the hon. Lady can provide the specifics of that case, I will happily ensure that that is looked at quickly. It is also fair to say that the number of caseworkers dedicated to this work has been increased, and we try to ensure that cases are grouped so that families are processed consistently together, which makes sense, but I would be delighted to look at the specifics of this case.

The deeply misjudged Nationality and Borders Bill and the Rwanda offloading plan will not only make cracking down on criminal people traffickers much more difficult, but make the cost to the British taxpayer criminally expensive. The British people deserve to know how their taxes are being spent, not least because the failed Australian model ended up costing £1 million per refugee. I ask the Home Secretary how many refugees she expects to send to Rwanda each year. The Prime Minister says it is tens of thousands; is that correct? How many can they house in the detention centres? What will the cost per single refugee be? What will the £120 million be spent on? Finally, given that her most senior civil servant refused to sign off on the plan, when will the Home Secretary publish a comprehensive cost forecast of her unworkable, extortionate and profoundly un-British Rwanda offloading agreement?

The hon. Gentleman clearly did not pay much attention to the statement last week and the responses given. The British people deserve to know what his alternative is. I would politely suggest there is none.

I thank the Home Secretary, the Minister and all her team for bringing about the so-called Rwanda plan. I know the whole of Dudley is behind her, as is the rest of the country—unlike the Labour party, which has no plan. I ask the Home Secretary and her team to continue with the same steely resolve that I know she must have applied to get here as they move on to delivery and implementation.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the policies we are bringing forward. He recognises the gravity and importance of the issues we are dealing with. We will not rest while people continue to put their lives in the hands of evil criminal gangs, whose only concern is to take a profit from those individuals. They do not care whether people get here safely. That has to stop, we have a plan to stop it and we are going to get on and deliver it.

The Minister claimed that the Rwanda scheme will be a way of diminishing the small boats crossing the channel, but he will be aware that at least one Member of this House does not support his scheme: the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who is not only a former Prime Minister, but a former Home Secretary. Can he explain to the House why he disagrees with his colleague, and what makes him so sure that his scheme will not fall in the courts?

I have huge respect and admiration for my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). The bottom line here is that there is no single intervention that will resolve the issue, but we must strain every sinew. We believe this is an important policy intervention that will shift the dynamic and help to preserve lives. That is a fundamental imperative and we cannot put a cost on it. I am convinced that this policy will deliver, along with the wider package of measures we are introducing. I encourage the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) to be in the right Division Lobby this week and to pass the Nationality and Borders Bill into law.

Violence Against Women and Girls

Tackling violence against women and girls is a top priority for this Government. Since publishing our cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy last July, we have launched a communications campaign to challenge perpetrators and to drive rejection of these awful crimes. We have supported the introduction of a new national policing lead and provided more than £27.5 million for 79 local projects to improve women’s safety in public spaces.

Violence against women and girls is both horrific and, unfortunately, endemic. It must be stopped. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming our plans such as the tackling domestic abuse plan, which, alongside the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will play a vital role in stamping out these horrific crimes?

I thank my hon. Friend for his astute observations and strongly agree that that Bill is absolutely vital as part of our package of measures to respond to violence against women and girls. The House will like to be reminded, no doubt, that it contains measures to ensure that serious criminals, including sex offenders, will be punished more harshly and spend longer in prison. It strengthens management of sex offenders, introduces more electronic tagging, and ends the automatic halfway release from prison for serious and violent sex offenders. It is therefore a shame that Labour Members persist in voting against the Bill. I very much hope they will change their stance at the next opportunity.

The Home Affairs Committee recently published its report on rape investigations and prosecutions. We very much welcome the Government’s making male violence against women and girls a strategic policing requirement. However—following on from the news today about sexual offences taking record times to get to court—we also recommended that all police forces should have specialist rape and sexual assault units, as there is clear evidence that they investigate better, make better decisions and, very importantly, communicate with complainants far more effectively. When will the Government make sure that all police forces have specialist RASSO—rape and serious sexual offences—units within their constabulary?

I thank the right hon. Lady for all the work that she is doing, across the piece, on tackling violence against women and girls. She is right to say that this is a huge priority for the Government. On training for police forces, she will know of the work that we are doing in the end-to-end rape review. We are taking a forensic look across the whole system, including through the work of Operation Soteria across all the police forces. That includes a strategic and comprehensive approach to training police officers. We want to go further than ever before in training and equipping our fantastic policemen and women to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes.

In the Home Office’s violence against women and girls consultation last year, viewing violent pornography was linked to aggressive attitudes towards women. What action is my hon. Friend taking to address that really worrying issue, particularly given the Online Safety Bill that is currently going through the House?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her continuous involvement in and advocacy on these issues. She will know that the Online Safety Bill includes a range of measures to make the internet much safer for everybody. Everybody should have a right to view the internet without coming across this disgusting material. In addition, our domestic abuse plan and our tackling violence against women and girls strategy include significant funding for tackling the perpetrators and deterring them from entering into these forms of behaviour in the first place.

Shocking new figures today show that sexual offence victims face the longest ever wait for their day in court, with some rape victims waiting four years. The Conservatives seem to have given up on law and order and given up on victims. That is because their leader has given up on obeying the law. Of the 300 rapes committed today, fewer than three perpetrators will make it to the inside of a courtroom, let alone the inside of a prison cell. Is it not the case that under the Tories dangerous perpetrators are being let off and vulnerable victims of this awful crime are being terribly let down?

This is exactly why we have introduced to the House the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. If the hon. Lady was listening to my earlier remarks, she would have heard me setting out the stronger sentences, the increase in electronic tagging for these perpetrators and the raft of protections to keep women and girls safer. She will also know through the many exchanges that we have had in this House of the work that we are doing on the end-to-end rape review across Government. This is a cross-Government effort bearing down on the very challenging issue of rape prosecutions. We are determined to return those prosecutions to a much better rate and we are working across Government to do that.


Fraudsters should have no space to operate, and later this year we will publish our renewed strategy on how we protect the public and businesses, reduce the impact on victims, and increase the disruption and prosecution of fraudsters.

The Minister knows that fraud accounts for more than a third of all crime. Last year, Thames Valley police in Chiltern and South Bucks, which covers my constituency, had 194 Action Fraud victim care reports. One constituent told me, with great distress, that they had stopped reporting scams, because they think that Action Fraud has become a crime reporting agency and is no longer a crime investigation agency. We need a new service dedicated to effectively tackling online fraud, not just recording it. Will the Minister commit to establishing a new online crime agency to do just that?

I can confirm to the hon. Lady that we are making constant improvements to Action Fraud through the City of London police, and are also investing in a wholly new Action Fraud system for 2024. In the meantime, I encourage her constituent and all our constituents to report fraud. One particularly striking statistic is that more than 76,000 scams have been automatically taken down as a direct result of our constituents forwarding scam emails to the suspicious email reporting service.

In 2021, fraud and computer misuse increased by 47%. In 2020, an estimated 99.99% of total cyber-crime went unpunished. Just weeks ago, academics at the University of Oxford estimated that during covid alone, £37 billion—or one third of the total NHS annual budget, and twice the annual budget for policing—is likely to have been lost to fraud. When working families are facing rising energy costs and a cost of living crisis, and are paying more and more taxes and more for services, can the Minister tell me why, under this Tory Government, gangs of criminals are getting a free run at the public purse?

Gangs of criminals certainly do not get a free run, and we will be investing and doing more than ever before to bear down on fraud. During the covid era—the trend had started already, but it accelerated then—while other forms of crime got depressed, there was a boost to some of this distanced crime that people do over their computers. Crime overall across the world is changing, and our response must change in a way that is commensurate to that. We must ensure that we take the most effective action. Part of that is the spending review commitment that has just been made; there is also the new economic crime levy, which represents an additional £400 million over this spending review period.

Fuel Supplies: Environmental Protests

5. What recent discussions she has had with police forces to help ensure that oil depots are able to supply fuel to petrol stations in the context of recent environmental protests. (906546)

In advance of the recent irresponsible and self-defeating protests, there has been regular engagement with the police, local authorities and industry to ensure that these protests can be managed effectively, and that there is no risk to fuel supply. All fuel supply points are fully operational, and we will continue to work closely with the police and industry to ensure that supplies are maintained.

Does the Minister agree that while the right to protest is a fundamental liberty, this type of behaviour just infuriates the public, whom we need to get on side with our net zero campaign? It is particularly unfair to the self-employed. If they cannot get fuel for their vehicles, they cannot get to work and they do not get paid. Will he ensure that the police and the law stay on the side of the law-abiding, so that everyone can earn an income?

I certainly will ensure that, and my hon. Friend is right to point out the impact, particularly on those who rely on their vehicles for their work, of these irresponsible and self-defeating protests, many of which have been extremely dangerous. It is worth also reflecting on the other impact, which is that hundreds of police officers are pulled away from policing neighbourhoods across the UK, because forces provide each other with mutual aid. We have brought police from as far away as Scotland, the south-west and Wales to help deal with these protests, and that has a direct impact on crime in all our constituencies. We are all committed environmentalists and want less use of fossil fuels, but this is not the way to achieve it.

UK Airport Passport Control Delays

Easter saw Border Force maintain a secure and effective border, with minor inbound border control disruption, in a period with one of the highest levels of international travel in the past two years. Before Easter, in February and March 2022, more than 85% of queue measurements were under 45 minutes for non-EU passengers.

I thank the Minister for that response. I recently wrote to him regarding the experience that my constituents, the Collins family, had at Newcastle airport when returning from holiday at a quarter to 11 at night a week or two ago. The father is a British-born citizen, and the mother has settled status and is of German origin. The children are both British and German citizens. They describe Border Force, which was not allowing the little boy, Nico, who is five years old, into the country, as being “hostile” and “unpleasant”, and as having an “unsympathetic manner”. That is not the way that anyone should be treated by Border Force, certainly not a five-year-old child. The child had his German passport; his British passport was waiting at home. When the family showed Border Force an email that they had received saying that, they were eventually allowed in—a five-year-old child, who is a British citizen, was eventually allowed into his home. What has the Minister to say? I think an urgent investigation and an unreserved apology to the Collins family are required.

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing that experience to the Floor of the House of Commons. I am, of course, sorry that any such distress was caused to a family, and particularly to a child so young. She will understand that it is difficult for me to talk about a particular case at the Dispatch Box without having all the facts available, but I will be happy to follow up with her separately.

It appears that travellers are experiencing severe delays not only at passport control, but with processing passport applications and renewals. Although I fully understand that the Minister has set out the pressures that staff are facing, can he reassure me that backlogs will be addressed and airport issues will be sorted out before my constituents go on their summer holidays?

I reassure my hon. Friend that, in spite of the fact that there has been a surge in demand, as she would expect considering the patterns that we have seen in the past couple of years and the fact that international travel is now returning, that is absolutely something that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who leads on passport issuing, is across to ensure that the necessary capacity is there.

Passport delays are affecting our constituents’ ability to take holidays and take up jobs abroad. There are ever-lengthening queues at passport control, and generous constituents who signed up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme are having their first experience of the Home Office’s chaos. When will the Home Secretary realise the impact that her Department’s appalling record on managing the gateways into and out of our country is having on the UK’s reputation, here and across the world?

I take extremely seriously the experience of passengers coming through British airports and seaports. There is a distinction between outbound and inbound—

No, there really is. When we talk about Border Force and passport control, that is about inbound. As I said in my answer to the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), there are times when queues grow, and I do not like to see that happen. Sometimes it is because of factors beyond our control, such as so-called flight bunching when lots of flights arrive together or when flights are late. Border Force is working extremely hard to try to project demand as best it can to ensure that the staffing is there, and it is taking considerable measures to match up to that demand.

Border Force

Border Force officers work tirelessly, not just to secure our borders but on all sorts of security work to safeguard our borders, and to intercept illicit and counterfeit goods at airports and at sea. That work covers more than 140 major sea and airports across the UK. I have commissioned an independent review of Border Force to identify ways in which its operation can be improved.

My Ynys Môn constituents are concerned about illegal immigration. Will my right hon. Friend thank Border Force—its staff in Holyhead have increased from 20 to 60—for its work? Can she reassure people across Anglesey that the Government remain committed to giving refuge to all those who need it, while acting compassionately and swiftly to remove those who do not?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I, too, have seen the work under way and what the teams do at Holyhead, which is incredible on many fronts; there is not only passenger work, but commercial work. She is right to highlight the issue of illegal migration and the work that Border Force does on that. The House has discussed some of that today. Holyhead is the second busiest port in the UK, and as a result of Brexit the team has expanded—she will know that; she has met them, as have I—from 20 to 60, meaning more skilled local jobs for her constituents.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that as the Government rightly help those most in need from Ukraine, they will continue to make the security of the British public a priority through the use of biometrics and other security checks for refugees entering the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. First and foremost, we have security checks for very good reasons to do with the domestic safety of our homeland. At the same time, work is under way, as he will be aware, on the digitalisation of our borders, which is part of the post-Brexit global Britain work that is taking place. In fact, all Ministers from not just the Home Office but the Cabinet Office are heavily involved in that work.

Drinks Spiking

The Government take this issue extremely seriously. We are taking a range of actions, including reclassifying GHB and related substances from class C to class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. These are the so-called date rape drugs that have been used in drug-facilitated crime, and we are of course considering the case for a specific criminal offence to target spiking, should it be required.

A constituent who has got in touch with me has had the dreadful problem of having her drink spiked. It has been a dreadfully traumatic experience, but on top of that, she can no longer go out and socialise with her friends because of the anxiety it has caused. What tougher sentencing we can introduce, and what preventive measures can we take to stop this dreadful crime ever happening again?

My hon. Friend is right that drink spiking and needle spiking have a very serious impact. I fully understand the anxiety of his constituent, and of course all our hearts go out to her. I very much hope that she will take some reassurance from the funding that the Government have provided to the Norfolk police and crime commissioner. He has been granted £427,000 for a range of practical initiatives designed to keep women safe on the streets at night, including drink spiking kits, taxi marshals, street pastors and more. I am sure his constituent will be pleased to know that there is already a range of offences under which people can be imprisoned, and some of those offences attract a life sentence.

HM Passport Office: Service Standard Times

9. What steps she is taking to ensure that HM Passport Office meets the service standard times for processing passport applications. (906550)

During the pandemic period, over 5 million people delayed applying for a British passport. This has led to unprecedented passport demand. To meet this, we have increased output to unprecedented levels. Since April 2021, HMPO has introduced a range of contingency measures, including technical improvements and a bolstering of its resources. This has helped to deliver record output, with over 1 million applications processed last month alone.

My experience cannot be unique; I think it is echoed by other Members in the House. This Easter, families and children in my constituency lost holidays due to the Passport Office failing to meet its service standard times. In telephone communications with the Passport Office, my staff and I have been misadvised and hung up on, and have received a series of broken promises. MPs once had valuable and effective links with passport offices to resolve complaints. Notwithstanding the contribution of the Home Office Parliamentary Private Secretaries—I thank them for their interventions—why can I not deal with my excellent local Durham passport office to resolve complaints, instead of waiting for hours, and failing to make progress, on so-called bespoke MP hotlines?

I would just point out that between January and March, over 90% of cases were completed within six weeks, but we advise people to allow up to 10 weeks for their application. Again, we are getting through this, but I recognise the point that the hon. Member makes about MPs’ contacts. That is certainly a point we will pick up; we need to make improvements there.

The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) is certainly not alone: all our constituents are having to cancel holidays, miss funerals and rearrange visits, with even the new 10-week target routinely being missed. What will be done to avoid that predictable mess getting worse? Can we be assured that the 10-week target will not be lengthened further as we approach the summer?

I go back to the fact that we dealt with 1 million passport applications last month alone. To put that in context, we usually deal with 7 million in a whole year. Where there are compelling and compassionate circumstances, such as a funeral, applications can be expedited. For some time we have advised people to allow up to 10 weeks for an application to be processed. Last year we sent 4.7 million texts reminding people whose passports had expired to renew them. We have no intention of further extending the standard. We are processing most passports well within that time, but this is a virtually unprecedented surge in demand, and if people are planning to travel this summer, we advise them to get their application in as soon as possible.

“Unprecedented” might be true, but the surge should absolutely have been foreseeable. I hear what the Minister says; my constituents tell me that in their experience, the process has been either very good or an absolute shambles. I agree with what the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) said: there needs to be a better interface between Members of Parliament and the Passport Office. Constituents going abroad for a family funeral, for a holiday or for business reasons are not getting through to the office, and are lied to by officials when they do. Something needs to be done to arrest that, and quickly.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Early in January, we were processing about 60,000 passports a week, and by mid-March we had nearly trebled or even quadrupled the output of the service. I agree that we must review the performance of the hotline for MPs, particularly for instances where there are compelling or compassionate reasons for expediting an application.

Refugee Convention 1951

10. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s implementation of the 1951 refugee convention. (906551)

Part 2 of the Nationality and Borders Bill defines the key provisions of the refugee convention. In developing this policy we have considered factors such as the law in other jurisdictions, case law and academic works. All provisions of the Bill, as well as our asylum policy framework, are a good-faith, effective interpretation of the refugee convention and are compatible with it.

The Nationality and Borders Bill as it stands does not comply with the 1951 refugee convention. Former Supreme Court judge Lord Brown has said of the Bill that

“several of these provisions flagrantly breach our obligations as interpreted by the UNHCR”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 April 2022; Vol. 820, c. 1882.]

Lord Brown has tabled an amendment to ensure compliance with the convention. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will support Lord Brown’s amendment?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. Under the Vienna convention, it is for Parliament to interpret our international obligations. We will always act in accordance with our international obligations; we have made that consistently clear. The Bill has been through appropriate due diligence, and we will get on and deliver it.

Economic Crime

Tackling economic crime is a key Government priority. We have expedited legislation—the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022—to crack down on Russian dirty money and corrupt elites in the UK. We have also set up a new dedicated kleptocracy cell in the National Crime Agency to target sanctions evasion and corrupt assets hidden in the UK.

I thank the Minister for that answer. GPT Special Project Management was fined roughly £28 million by Southwark Crown Court last year for bribery offences. The key whistleblower in that case was my constituent, Ian Foxley. He has had 11 years without a single penny in income because he blew that whistle, as nobody will employ him now, of course. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we want to crack economic crime, we must incentivise whistleblowers to come forward, and protect them when they do? Will he listen carefully what my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) says tomorrow in introducing her 10-minute rule Bill, when she will set out the case for whistleblower reform?

My hon. Friend is right about the value of whistleblowers, who should be able to come forward without fear of recrimination. We have continued to improve the whistleblowing framework, including by extending eligibility for protections and introducing a reporting requirement for prescribed persons—the bodies to whom people can make a whistleblowing disclosure. My hon. Friend has campaigned consistently on this matter and is expert in it, and I am keen to meet him to discuss his points further.

Operation Pitting Evacuees

We continue to support those who were evacuated under Operation Pitting—the UK’s largest evacuation operation in some decades—in particular with the search for permanent accommodation, based on working with local councils to identify that.

Operation Pitting has evacuated some 15,000 Afghanis. Altogether, refugees and asylum seekers are costing the UK a surprising £4.7 million a day in hotel accommodation, of which £1.2 million is spent on Afghan refugees, but hotels are clearly not the best option for education and schooling of children. We would like to have those refugees in the north of Scotland and the highlands, and they would like to come to the highlands. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can expedite that?

I am delighted to hear that housing is available in the highlands to support these people. We would be keen for them to make their new home in the highlands, which is a fantastic part of our United Kingdom. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member to discuss how we can get those families on the way to a permanent home in a welcoming community.

Operation Pitting was a remarkable success in evacuating Afghans, but also remarkable is the number of Afghan women seeking refuge who have been left behind and are now on the Taliban hit list. I have been trying to chase updates on a number of Afghan women but have been unable to get any response from the Home Office. It has been made clear to those women that the Taliban will kill them unless they can escape Afghanistan. Will the Minister meet me to try to help me to progress their cases?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those women’s cases. Of course, through the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme we are working with groups such as the UNHCR to identify those who would be particularly affected by Taliban rule.

Asylum Seekers: Relocation to Rwanda

13. What estimate she has made of the cost to the public purse of the Government’s policy to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda. (906554)

Our world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda will be a major boost to Rwanda and allow us to focus our efforts on people in need, not those who have the ability to pay people smugglers to make dangerous, illegal journeys from safe countries such as France.

The policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is unworkable and unethical, and it will either cost billions or result in so few people being sent to Rwanda that it will not act as a deterrent to all the evil people smugglers. Will the Home Secretary tell me how much the policy will cost per person, or what her maximum budget is?

We have discussed this several times in the House in the last week. The UK is providing an initial investment of £120 million of support for the partnership as part of the new economic transformation and integration fund. I heard what the hon. Member’s party said—Labour Front Bench Members were chuntering about this last week—in calling the policy extortionate and unworkable. Of course, that is completely illogical because if it is not workable, it will not cost the British taxpayer money.

The Home Secretary deserves immense credit for her plan and her robust approach to deterring illegal immigration. The fact that we have not seen any small boat crossings in the last three days is evidence that some of the pull factors are being removed. Does she agree that if that trend continues, the cost of the policy will take care of itself?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and comments. First, Labour is still trying to work out that doing nothing is not an option at all, because people have died. Secondly, the policy is exactly that: it is all about deterrence as well as ensuring that we can provide the right safe and humane approach for people who need our asylum system while cracking down on people smuggling gangs.

Topical Questions

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.