Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 716: debated on Monday 20 June 2022

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Knife Crime and Serious Violence

The Government work to steer young people away from crime through tough enforcement and dedicated programmes. We have supported the police with investment of over £170 million in the areas worst affected by violence, and on stop-and-search powers. A further £170 million will support violence reduction units, which are fundamental in tackling the root causes of violence.

Knife crime and antisocial behaviour is, sadly, all too prevalent in Southend, as the weekend’s events showed. Our excellent local police want state-of-the-art, portable electronic knife polls, which are cheaper and more effective than knife arch systems. Does the Secretary of State agree that having those in place by the holiday period must be a priority for Southend police?

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the assiduous way in which she has made representations to me and the Home Office directly on this issue? She has a great relationship with Essex police, which is a very robust police force on this issue. She highlighted a practical solution in terms of how knife crime can be and is being addressed through knife polls, and I have seen in her constituency some of the exceptional work taking place on that.

The National Crime Agency is responsible for tackling the organised crime gangs who drive up so much of the knife crime, violence and drug abuse that we see on our streets. Why, then, has the Home Secretary asked it to draw up plans for 20% cuts?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. There are no plans to cut National Crime Agency funding. Its budget has increased every year since 2019-20 and, as part of the 2021 spending review, we secured a settlement over the period of more than £810 million. For the benefit of the Labour party, there are no plans to cut NCA funding.

Support for People Fleeing War in Ukraine

This week, we mark Refugee Week. The UK has a long, proud history of welcoming refugees and the Government have introduced two new, safe routes for Ukrainian nationals—the Ukraine family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme—as part of our commitment to the people of Ukraine during the awful conflict with Russia. Arrivals under those schemes will be able to live and work in the UK for up to three years and, of course, they will have full and unrestricted access to benefits, healthcare, employment and other support. We have also introduced the Ukraine extension scheme, permitting Ukrainians already in the UK to extend their stays.

I am proud that a large number of my constituents have welcomed Ukrainian families into their homes as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and I am pleased to have been able to help a number of those families now living in the High Peak to navigate the visa application process. However, some of those children have had their applications for local schools rejected. May I urge the Home Secretary to have urgent conversations with the Department for Education on solving this issue so that children who are here having fled a war zone can continue their education?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. If I may, on behalf of all of us in Government, I will thank and commend all members of the British public who have been supporting our schemes. It is important that we do everything we can across Government to support the education of children in our schools. In April, the Secretary of State for Education got in touch with every single local authority chief executive officer as well as directors of children’s services to outline clearly the requirements on schools and the funding coming from Government. I will of course pick up any points that my hon. Friend has from his constituency and raise them directly.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our compassionate approach to refugees from Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan can be maintained with public confidence only if we are also robust in dealing with illegal channel crossings, and the human traffickers who peddle in human misery?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct: this is about deterring those dangerous crossings, deterring people smugglers, and carrying on with the long-standing and assiduous work that is taking place through our intelligence and security services and the National Crime Agency, and also upstream. This is about public confidence in the system. We are a generous country, but to maintain that means that we take action, so that we can be fair to those who come to our country, and firm on those who, quite frankly, are exploiting our country.

More than 70 Ukrainians have now found a place to call home in the safety of the Scottish Borders through the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. What support is being offered to local authorities in Scotland to assist their new residents?

My hon. Friend raises an important point about local authority support. This is a whole Government effort, as well as a UK-wide effort to support families and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. With that, the Government have been clear, as has the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, about funding through that Department of more than £10,500 per person arriving under the scheme. We must ensure that we are supporting local authorities, and that the scheme is fair and equitable. In addition, we are ensuring that local authorities undertake all the necessary checks and safeguarding provisions that are required.

Last Wednesday I was honoured to welcome my constituents Mark Rumble and Lucy Needham to Parliament, alongside Alina, the Ukrainian refugee who they are hosting. Mark and Lucy praised the ease and speed of the visa application process, but raised some concerns that they were given very little information about how to support Alina in settling in with things such as registering with a GP, completing her biometric checks, and getting a national insurance number. Will the Home Secretary consider Mark’s suggestion of producing a clear and comprehensive welcome pack for every Ukrainian refugee, so that they and their host families can ensure that the refugee settles in as quickly as possible?

My hon. Friend raises an important question, as well as some practical points that are constantly being addressed through the scheme. Welcome packs have been provided, and the Departments for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, for Education, and of Health and Social Care have, through local authorities, received support and guidance from central Government. I thank my hon. Friend’s constituent for what he is doing, and for his suggestions. Much of that information is on, but if there is more we can do—it sounds as if there is—we will join this up, and I will pick up that representation directly.

Last week the Home Affairs Committee met Ukrainian MPs who told us that they had had to travel 11 hours to get their visa from the visa application centre in Poland, then 11 hours back, and then again to have the visa stamped. They wanted me to ask the Home Secretary about young people and children travelling with grandparents and elder siblings, who are not eligible for visas under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Will the Home Office look at that again, because all the necessary paperwork is there to ensure that those children are travelling with their parents’ consent?

The right hon. Lady and many other colleagues have raised this point over recent weeks and months. We are looking at this issue, and a lot of work is taking place across the Home Office with the Minister for Refugees and DLUHC, regarding the safeguarding aspects. We are going to make changes and, without pre-empting any of those now, a lot of work is taking place, primarily because the focus has to be on the safety and wellbeing of those children. We must ensure that they get here in the right way and are supported. We will report back on that issue, because a lot of work is taking place on it right now.

The small village of Golspie in Sutherland will shortly be hosting seven families from Ukraine. There is no lack of people in the Highlands volunteering to put up those good people, who are getting as far as the UK but seem to be getting blocked in hotels and not getting to the families in the Highlands. Will the Home Secretary talk to the Scottish Government with a view to sorting out that logjam?

Absolutely. If the hon. Gentleman would like to share any details with me regarding where the barriers are, we will definitely pick that up. The whole point about Homes for Ukraine, and the work across the whole Government, is that where there are bottlenecks we must unblock them and ensure a safe passage. We must ensure that people are welcomed in the right way, so that they can be settled and their needs met as soon as they come to our country.

Further to the point from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), my constituent contacted me on 9 May regarding a child trying to enter Ukraine with a legal guardian. Her visa has been blocked because she has been classified as an unaccompanied minor, because she is travelling with a legal guardian and not a parent. My office has raised this with the Home Office and I have written directly to the Secretary of State. Please can she look into this case urgently?

Yes, I will pick up this case directly following questions today. As I have said, there are some measures coming together now on this, because we have to do it in the right way, but I will come back to the hon. Lady.

On Friday, when I visited my local food bank, I met a young woman who had fled Ukraine with her two-year-old son. While she is waiting for her universal credit payments to come through, she has been left without anything, and she was queueing to get food and nappies. How can this be right when they have fled the horror of war? What will the Home Secretary do with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that every Ukrainian refugee who arrives here gets the support they need immediately?

The hon. Lady has raised not only a very serious case, but some of the challenges that people are facing. She has asked me directly what I will do with the DWP. In fact, there is a cross-Government taskforce on this, bringing all Departments together—it is not just DWP. The hon. Lady has already heard me speak about DLUHC and the money that has gone directly to local authorities to support individuals. If I can pick up with her post-questions directly on this case, we will follow that up, but I also think she has illustrated how the system needs to come together at a local level.

It was a great privilege to join the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), last week in meeting Ukrainian MPs who had arrived in London after meetings in Dublin. Given nobody had checked their passports between visa-free Ireland and here, they rightly asked, “How on earth can the UK’s visa scheme possibly be justified on the grounds of security when Ukrainians can properly travel to Ireland visa-free and then onwards to here?” I emphasise that their main concern was this lack of a policy to ensure that children accompanied by relatives other than parents can come to the UK. I recognise that the Home Secretary has said that this is being looked at, but I also understand the policy has been promised for some time—can we get it urgently?

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, the policy is being worked on urgently and it is across Departments right now, which is why it is taking some time to come together, but we will report back on that. On the issue of travelling from Ireland, as we have debated in this House many times, it is right that we hold up the integrity of the checks in our systems, and this Government have done that consistently for all overseas nationals coming to the United Kingdom. That has been applied consistently, even during the Afghanistan crisis, and that is this Government’s policy.

Antisocial Behaviour

The beating crime plan set out the Government’s enduring commitment to driving down antisocial behaviour. Home Office statutory guidance supports local areas to make effective use of the powers available to them. That includes advice on the community trigger—an important safety net for victims —and we have also provided funding for local initiatives to tackle antisocial behaviour through the safer streets fund.

As the Home Secretary will be aware from her recent visit to Keighley, where she met our hard-working neighbourhood policing team, antisocial behaviour is unfortunately an undeniable problem and is having a detrimental impact on many businesses, residents and those going about their day-to-day lives. I was therefore delighted to see the Government launch round 4 of the safer streets fund with a specific focus on antisocial behaviour. Can my hon. Friend confirm that this will help drive a positive change in Keighley and beyond?

I very much thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know that my colleague the Home Secretary very much enjoyed her visit, and we all wish to thank the neighbourhood policing team for all that they do. We are aware of the impact that antisocial behaviour has, and that is why this Government have introduced round 4 of the safer streets fund, as my hon. Friend said. That is a practical set of initiatives to tackle that behaviour, and it includes improved street lighting, increased CCTV and training to change attitudes and behaviours, all of which tackle antisocial behaviour. I expect to see some real change in his area.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her response. Unfortunately, antisocial behaviour continues to blight my residents in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton, nowhere more so than in the Laburnum Road area of Tipton which has seen a spike in reports. Will my hon. Friend touch a little more on the cross-working that she is doing, particularly with stakeholders in the Black Country, such as West Midlands police and Sandwell Council, to ensure we really do have a community-led approach to tackling antisocial behaviour?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is a multi-agency and community approach. Yes, of course, the police are responsible for tackling and dealing with antisocial behaviour, which is why we are providing £695 million funding to West Midlands police, an increase of £40 million. The force has also been able to recruit over 1,000 additional officers. It is also the case that we have provided the police with additional powers. It is vital that the police work with their local police and crime commissioner and other agencies with responsibility for tackling this behaviour.

In Bristol, we have a successful e-scooter rental pilot, but we also see people using e-scooters illegally and using rental e-scooters on the pavement. That can be very scary for people trying to walk along the pavement while that is happening. I know the Government are looking to legalise and regulate private ownership, but how will the Home Office team work with the Department for Transport team to ensure the police have the powers to stop them being misused in a way that scares people who are just trying to go about their daily business?

The hon. Lady speaks of an issue that both she and I have some experience of—when I was in the Department for Transport, she was my shadow. The Department is introducing new legislation to deal with some of these issues. Until that is on the statute book, however, it is the responsibility of the police to deal with the issue, and they have clear guidance: riding an e-scooter on the pavement is illegal in all circumstances. We welcome new forms of transport, but of course they must be introduced safely and ridden responsibly.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) is right to ask the Government what they are doing to tackle antisocial behaviour. In his constituency total recorded crime went up by 59% from 2011-12 to 2020-21, which highlights the Conservative Government’s track record, a damning one at that. No wonder crime is up. Action on antisocial behaviour is down since his Government took out 7,000 neighbourhood police officers—a cut of 30%—so the 1,000 the Minister just mentioned does not quite cut it. Will the Minister tell the House why the Government do not believe in neighbourhood policing, as they have clearly given up on it with the cuts they have made?

The hon. Lady is completely wrong in the contention she puts forward to the House. This Government introduced the beating crime plan, which puts tackling antisocial behaviour at its heart. This is the Government who are increasing funding to the police, bringing more officers on to the streets to tackle this and other issues. I remind her that her area in West Yorkshire has 589 additional officers and we have increased funding by £31 million. It is for local police and crime commissioners, including the Labour Mayor of West Yorkshire, to use that funding and the powers they have been given to tackle this issue.

National Security

Our national security is the first responsibility and priority of the Government, and we are ensuring that our world-class security and intelligence services and counterterrorism police are supported in their work with the tools and the legislative framework they need to keep us safe. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to them for all they do.

When it comes to the Rwanda policy, the Labour party is all over the shop. The left hand does not know what the far left hand is doing. The other day the Leader of the Opposition’s spokesman said that they could not rule out maintaining this policy, while the shadow immigration Minister told the BBC that they would definitely scrap it. While the Labour party works out if it has a policy at all, can I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance that we will be working to break the vile business model of people traffickers by making sure that the Rwanda flights get off the ground soon?

My hon. Friend is quite right that we hear plenty of opposing from the Opposition, but not much proposing: they complain, but they do not have a plan. Our partnership with Rwanda is strong and supports a proportionate, humane approach. We are determined to deter the wicked people smugglers and the great damage that they bring to human life.

The MI5 director general recently said:

“It must be right that Parliament looks at modernising the powers the State has to protect us all from the full range of today’s threats.”

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that we are heeding the director general’s advice, and that our National Security Bill will protect us from a range of emerging threats, including cyber-attacks and interference in elections?

I can. May I take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for all his work in support of our national security while he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary in the Department?

The National Security Bill will keep pace with the changing threat and will make the UK an ever harder target for states that seek to conduct hostile acts against us. It will be an offence for foreign powers to improperly interfere with the UK’s democracy. The Bill will address the serious threat from state-backed attacks on assets, including sites, data and infrastructure critical to the UK’s safety or interests.

Has the Home Secretary considered the dangers to freedom of the press that the National Security Bill presents? Many of my constituents are concerned that measures that could prevent journalists from publishing stories of public interest are undemocratic.

No, I do not see a danger to journalistic freedoms. Indeed, the Government are taking stringent steps to ensure, for example, that in the Online Safety Bill journalistic rights and freedoms are absolutely to the fore, because of the vital and irreplaceable role that a free and sometimes boisterous media plays in underpinning and challenging us in our democracy.

Canada, one of our Five Eyes partners, recently announced sanctions against Alexander Lebedev as one of 14 people who

“have directly enabled Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine and bear responsibility for the pain and suffering of the people of Ukraine.”

I have asked this question of the Government six times now, but I have not had anything resembling an answer: did the Prime Minister meet Alexander Lebedev without officials and without close protection during the Salisbury poisonings in April 2018—yes or no?

I do not know the detailed contents of either individual’s diary. What I can tell the hon. Lady and the House is that this Government have acted on sanctions against Putin-linked elites—the people who have propped up and supported that regime—without fear or favour. That extends to more than 1,000 individuals, entities and subsidiaries, and we will do more as required.

Points-based Immigration System: Labour Shortages

5. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of the points-based immigration system on labour shortages. (900579)

Our immigration system works in the interests of our whole United Kingdom by covering a broad range of occupations across many sectors for firms looking to attract the talent that they need, while ensuring that the domestic labour market is supported—yet recruitment issues are not unique to the UK, and immigration must not be seen as an alternative to improved pay, conditions and training for key workers.

There is a severe shortage of care workers around the UK. In St Andrews in my constituency, a social care business had to shut down recently because of staffing issues. My inbox is increasingly full of messages from people who are waiting for care-at-home packages. One way of helping would be to allow asylum seekers to work while their claims are being processed: it would allow them to support themselves and would mitigate the worst of the shortages. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister consider that?

That is an interesting one. Those whose asylum claim has been outstanding for more than a year can take jobs on the shortage occupations list, which has included care workers since February. One of the slight issues, of course, is that until very recently, 31 out of the 32 local authority areas in Scotland, including the hon. Lady’s, refused to be part of the dispersal accommodation system. Now that we have made the change to full dispersal, some of those people will actually be living in those areas.

If I give the Minister the details, will he kindly take a personal interest in the unusual plight of two young Russian charity volunteers who are now stranded in my constituency through no fault of their own? They are not supporters of President Putin. They have the opportunity to work as care workers, but in their present plight they cannot do so. They cannot be the only people caught up in such a situation. I would be very grateful if the Government looked sympathetically on their plight.

My right hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot give comments and pledges from the Dispatch Box, but I am very happy to meet him, and he highlights a valid point. Russia is not Putin. Putin likes to say that he embodies everything Russian, but he does not. There are plenty of Russians who have suffered under his regime and are vehemently opposed to his illegal and disgraceful actions in Ukraine.

The reality out in the country is that we have labour shortages across multiple sectors, 1.3 million job vacancies, the most persistent post-pandemic drop in employment in the G7, operations not being carried out in our hospitals, restaurants and the hospitality industry being unable to recruit staff, and a shortage of drivers to drive produce around the country. Why will the Minister not act pragmatically and immediately, introduce more work visas where are there shortages, lift the ban on asylum seekers working and have an independent review of the impact of ending freedom of movement?

The hon. Member might benefit from taking some time to look at the labour markets across most of the developed world, including the European Union. He will see that shortages in many areas, such as hospitality, are not unique to the United Kingdom. I find interesting his calls for the resurrection of free movement, given what we understand his party’s emerging policy to be.

Visa Processing Times

7. What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of processing times for visas applied for by people from countries other than Ukraine. (900581)

UK Visas and Immigration is prioritising applications in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the invasion of Ukraine, so applications for other visas are taking longer to process, particularly when combined with surging demand globally for visitor visas. We understand the impact of delays to customers, so resources are being returned visa routes impacted by these prioritisation decisions, with a focus on visit, work and study routes. We will also prioritise any compelling or compassionate cases.

I recognise the extraordinary efforts that the Department has made to process tens of thousands of visas for Ukrainians, and I pay tribute to the staff who have based themselves in Portcullis House to provide updates to Members. My office is dealing with many applications from people from other countries, such as Afghanistan and India, and they are not getting the updates and information that applicants from Ukraine are getting. Will the Minister consider applying some of the positive lessons to make sure that other applicants at least know that they are not being forgotten, and so that they get updates on their cases?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, and I know the team in Portcullis House will appreciate his praise. We are looking at the learnings from the hub-style approach in Portcullis House, which I think has been useful. Feedback from across the House has been very positive about its ability to chase up casework for Members. As we modernise our immigration system, we are also looking at how to give people an experience like that on our modernised routes—for example, the skilled worker route and applications from European economic area nationals via AUK2—which provide a range of updates automatically without applicants having to ask for them, and we are considering how we can apply that when hon. Members or customers get in touch. We want to make the process much more automated, so that there is less need for people to request updates.

Passport Application Processing Times

8. How many and what proportion of passport applications that were received over 10 weeks ago have not yet been processed. (900582)

12. How many and what proportion of passport applications that were received over 10 weeks ago have not yet been processed. (900586)

17. How many and what proportion of passport applications that were received over 10 weeks ago have not yet been processed. (900591)

Across March, April and May, Her Majesty’s Passport Office completed the processing of approximately 3 million passport applications, with 98.5% of those from the UK being completed within the published processing time of up to 10 weeks.

It is quite remarkable, is it not, that six days on from an Opposition day debate where the Minister was asked that very question three times and failed to give a figure for the size of the passport backlog, he is still unable to give us an answer? I put it to him that perhaps the thing that would most cheer those who are languishing in that backlog—the one official piece of documentation that he could ensure is issued quickly—is his own ministerial P45.

As we saw last week, those who have nothing to offer by way of policy like to go personal. To help the hon. Member, the question was about the proportion of passport applications received. He got an answer to it, but his supplementary makes it clear that he has no ideas of his own to offer.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents the staff at Her Majesty’s Passport Office, has commented that the backlog is due to a number of issues including

“lack of staff, poor management and failures”

on the part of contractors. Rather than blaming staff or suggesting more privatisation, will the UK Government meet union representatives in order to learn what action is needed to ensure that the Passport Office is properly funded and staffed?

We are certainly grateful for the hard work that staff are putting in, and, as I said last week, it is a pity that we are seeing their efforts being rubbished for political ends. We have been recruiting more staff at the Passport Office and investing in the modernisation of processes, and we engage regularly with senior HMPO officials, as well as ensuring that union officials can have their say. We should bear in mind the current record output from the Passport Office, which is dealing with a surge of applications. I must say that it is striking to note the sudden interest expressed by Opposition Members who said very little about this last year.

Civil servants working in the Passport Office are under huge pressure, and staff morale is reported to be understandably at an all-time low, owing to a lack of Government preparation for the up to 9 million passport applications or renewals expected following lockdown. Meanwhile, my constituents face intolerable delays and the prospect of missing much-needed holidays and family events. We have been promised repeatedly in this Chamber that things will improve, but the 10-week target continues to be too often missed. How much longer must we wait for passport offices to be fully staffed and resourced, so that my constituents are not subjected to yet another aspect of Backlog Britain?

Dearie me! In fact, we have been increasing the number of staff at the Passport Office rather than reducing it as the hon. Lady has implied. We have dealt with 3 million applications in three months, and soon we will have dealt with more in six months than we did in the whole of last year. It was fairly obvious that 5 million passports had not been renewed during the pandemic, and we started to plan for this last year. In April 2021, we changed and clarified the service standard and began preparations to deal with the surge. We hear these attacks from Opposition Members, but what we never hear from them is an idea.

A month ago, a dozen passport cases a day were pinging into my office. That number has now fallen to just two or three a week, and my caseworker Zach and I are very grateful for the improvement that the Home Office has brought about. However, once those passports are handed over by the Home Office to the private delivery companies, can the Home Office do more to ensure that each one reaches the intended household rather than a random neighbour, a random bush or indeed a random river, which is where these passports seem to end up?

It is concerning to hear of those examples, because there are clear standards and procedures for how passports are delivered: they cannot, for example, just be left in a communal area. We have engaged DHL, which is normally our international agent for domestic deliveries, and have also used Royal Mail to return documents. However, I should be interested to hear some specific examples from my hon. Friend, and I am grateful for his comment that he and his caseworker have noticed improvements in recent weeks.

I know that the Minister has worked hard to reduce the backlog, and I am grateful to him for that, but, as I am sure he knows, there are still some issues. Can he tell us what proportion of Passport Office staff are back in the office, and, while he is at it, can he help me with the case of Wendy, who is still waiting for a passport? Her father died suddenly abroad, and in order to attend his funeral she needs to have her passport today. After the Minister has finished his duties in the House, would he mind helping me to chase up Wendy’s case so that she can try to get to her father’s funeral?

As we have said a couple of times before at the Dispatch Box, people involved in the passport operation have been back in the office for some time. However, we are happy to expedite cases like that of my hon. Friend’s constituent, when there are reasons for travel that are both compelling and compassionate. I am very sorry to hear of the bereavement that Wendy has suffered, and will be happy to look into how we can get the passport expedited for her.

Departmental Morale

Home Office staff can be proud of the work that they do to keep our country safe, but also proud of the large amount of operational work that we have just been discussing. The Home Office has launched a five-year plan to deliver an engaged, motivated and productive workforce, which will include new efficiencies, new technology, and ways of helping staff to improve their performance.

That sounds very impressive until we come to my part of West Yorkshire, where I talk to the police, to probation officers, to prison staff and to firefighters. Their morale is at rock bottom. Whatever the Home Secretary is doing in the Department, will she for goodness’ sake get out into the country and meet real people, who are depressed and demoralised by this Government’s cutbacks?

Can I politely say to the hon. Gentleman that getting out and about the country is not an issue for me? I meet police officers, fire workers, representatives from local councils and local authorities and all the partners we work with, and that cuts across the criminal justice system as well. I also do a great deal of work with victims and others to keep our country safe and deliver vital public services, and it is important that we respect them, support them, empower them and pay tribute to them. I would be very happy to come to the hon. Gentleman’s patch and meet some of the people he has referred to.

Relocations to Rwanda

10. What progress her Department has made in relocating individuals to Rwanda under the migration and economic development partnership. (900584)

As the House will be aware, despite the detailed deliberations and judgments received in various domestic courts that heard the case, the European Court of Human Rights’ out-of-hours judge granted last-minute interim measures. The Government are seeking greater transparency from the ECHR on the reasons for its judgment. A full judicial review is expected to be heard in July. I want to be clear that this partnership is fully compliant with our international obligations.

Unbelievably, £5 million a day is being spent on housing asylum seekers in hotels. That is money that my constituents would rather see invested in the west midlands—for example, supporting the 1,500 additional police officers that the Department has helped to recruit across the region. Can my hon. Friend confirm that he will press ahead with our Rwanda partnership, to end our dependency on this expensive accommodation and crack down on the people smuggling gangs once and for all?

My hon. Friend absolutely hits the nail on the head in explaining why our new plan for immigration is so important, and we are determined to deliver on it. It is a comprehensive package of reform, including the Rwanda proposals, and we are going to get on and deliver on it. The Prime Minister has said that we will work through these issues, and that is precisely what we are now doing.

On World Refugee Day, we pay tribute to all the fantastic refugees who have made utterly amazing contributions to our society and who were, thank goodness, able to have their claims heard here and rebuild their lives here instead of being dumped and offloaded thousands of miles away. The full hearing on whether the Home Secretary’s policy in Rwanda is lawful will take place in July, as the Minister said. Surely, if the Home Secretary has an iota of respect for the UNHCR and the importance of the refugee convention, she will confirm that she will wait for the outcome of that hearing instead of gambling on another reckless, degrading and expensive attempt at these removals.

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings. We have had this debate many times, but what I would say is that every day that this new partnership is not in operation is a day that people continue to risk their lives in the channel. That is not acceptable or sustainable, which is why we are taking the steps we are.

Domestic Abuse

This Government are committed to tackling violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse, and that is why we introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021. In March this year we published our tackling domestic abuse plan, backed by more than £230 million of funding, including £75 million for tackling perpetrators and multi-year funding for interventions and support. The plan also includes expanding the roll-out of Domestic Abuse Matters training for police officers and, importantly, projects to protect children.

I welcome the tackling domestic abuse plan, which focuses on the perpetrators of a disgusting and destructive crime. Can I also stress the need for prevention and particularly for educating the next generation of children in schools about the importance of healthy relationships so that we do not continue to see this in the future? Can the Minister confirm that that is included in the plan as well?

My hon. Friend is right that prevention is the first pillar of our plan. We have set out how we are tackling perpetrators with specific programmes that are proven to prevent this disgusting crime from happening in the first place. It has to start very early, which is why relationships, sex and health education is now a statutory part of the curriculum so that children are taught the importance of respectful relationships.

Reports of domestic abuse now account for 24% of all calls to Norfolk police. Is the criminal justice system the right route for all these calls? If not, will the Minister set out how more appropriate steps can be taken to free up police time?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. As I said in my previous answer, tackling perpetrators is a vital part of our work, but our response goes wider than just the criminal justice system. That is why we are funding perpetrator interventions that reach out to tackle some of these unhealthy behaviours at source. We are investing more than £75 million over three years to achieve that end.

In July 2021, the Government announced that a domestic homicide sentencing review will look at unfairness in the sentencing of intimate partner domestic homicides. According to Counting Dead Women, at least 105 women have since been killed. The family and friends of these women face immeasurable pain from their loss, so where is the domestic homicide sentencing review, which is now six months late? For the sake of the women who will definitely be murdered next week, may I ask why there is such a delay?

The hon. Lady will know from our many debates in the House on this issue that we set out our holistic response to domestic abuse in the domestic abuse plan. If she looks at that, she will see all the work we are doing on the domestic homicide review. This matter crosses a number of Departments, and I am happy to write to her on the specific issue, but we are bearing down on people who murder their partners. That is why we introduced the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, why we are reforming the entire system and why we are putting multimillion pounds-worth of funding into tackling perpetrators, as I said to my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) and for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew).

Topical Questions

We do not make policy by mob rule in this country. The Public Order Bill will enable us to overcome the guerrilla tactics that bring misery to the hard-working public, disrupt businesses, interfere with the emergency services, cost taxpayers billions and put lives at risk.

The Public Order Bill will also stop protesters targeting major transport projects and infrastructure, and it will introduce new criminal offences of locking on and going equipped to lock on. It will also extend the police’s stop and search powers to allow them to search and seize articles related to protest-related offences, and it will introduce serious disruption prevention disorders and a new preventive court order that targets protesters who are determined to inflict repeated disruption on the public. Breaching these orders will be a criminal offence.

This Government are committed to being on the side of ordinary working people. It is a shame that the Labour party continues not to support such measures.

My Luton South constituents are deeply frustrated at the Home Office’s huge backlogs. My office is currently waiting for responses from the Home Office on 35 passport cases, 21 asylum cases, and 45 visa cases, with visa applications going back to the start of the year. With a proposal to cut the number of civil servants by 20% on the horizon, how will the Secretary of State fix the mess that her Government have created?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) has just spoken about passports and the number of staff who have been recruited, contrary to the hon. Lady’s comments. She will recognise that, when it comes to visas, the Government prioritised the Ukrainian visa scheme above other visas and, of course, it has now been switched over to ensure that all applications are processed in good time.

New analysis today shows that in half of communities no burglaries have been solved in three years. Meanwhile, the proportion of all crimes reaching court has plummeted to 5.8%. Why is this Home Secretary letting so many more criminals off?

Let me respond directly to the right hon. Lady. First, the reports today on burglary statistics are deeply troubling. Working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, we are effectively getting more detailed information, force by force, but I would like to remind her that burglary is down by 24%, neighbourhood crime is down by 33% and vehicle offences are down by 28%. With that, it is worth highlighting—in fact, I would like to thank—some of the outstanding Conservative police and crime commissioners such as those for Bedfordshire and for Nottinghamshire, for example, who have effectively pledged and had specific operations to target burglary within their regions.

I am glad that burglaries fell in lockdown but they are now going back up, and overall crime is 18% higher and prosecutions are 18% lower on this Home Secretary’s watch. This is the first time in 25 years that any Home Secretary has presided over both such a big rise in crime and a big drop in the charge rate. So how does it feel to be responsible for the weakest Government performance on crime in a quarter of a century?

For the education and information of the right hon. Lady, may I restate to the House that burglary is down by 24%, neighbourhood crime is down by 33% and vehicle offences are down by 28%? [Interruption.] I appreciate that she does not want to hear the facts and that she struggles with listening to facts and grappling with factual information and data. This is why the Government’s beating crime plan will go even further, so that, force by force, the Government can absolutely ensure that every single police force is held to account, which the Labour party should welcome, along with many of the resources that this Government have put into beating crime.

T2.   I know that in the past few weeks there have been significant improvements in dealing with passport applications, but I am still dealing with a few outstanding cases where constituents are waiting beyond the 10-week period, so will the Minister provide further reassurance to me and to my constituents that we will be able to deal with their cases and get them completed as soon as possible? (900600)

We have already recruited another 650 staff and are in the process of recruiting another 550. Obviously, where people have been waiting over 10 weeks and have travel booked, we will look to expedite their application for free.

T5.   We should all be concerned about the length of time and the frequency with which minors are detained in police cells. Cells are made for adults, yet minors are being detained in them for as long as adults and data shows that the average time spent in police custody is increasing. That is despite legislation saying that minors should be detained only for the shortest appropriate period. What are the Government doing and how do they plan to re-address that? (900604)

In the past few years, we have been working closely with the police across the whole of the UK to drive down the number of minors held in custody and the duration of that. As the hon. Lady will know, the appropriate adult scheme is in place to make sure that minors who are detained are accompanied by adults who, as I say, are appropriate. If she has specific cases she wants to raise with me, I would be more than happy to look at them, but thus far the trend has been improving.

T3. Last week, I was delighted to hear the Home Secretary recognise the national success of Southend police’s Operation Grip and call for it to be rolled out around the country. Does she agree that Southend police’s Operation Union, which adopts an events mindset to policing our seafront, should also be rolled out nationally, especially to coastal areas? (900601)

My hon. Friend is right on the national Grip funding roll-out, which originated from a visit I made to Southend two years ago, where I was so impressed by the data-driven hotspot work that we managed to get the money out of the Treasury to spread it further. I certainly look forward to seeing the results of Operation Union. If it is equally successful, I do not see why we would not roll that out too.

T9. It is quite ironic that while we have been in the Chamber we have received an email to say that the Home Office MP inquiry line has collapsed because of heavy use. I am quite tempted to run through my 200 outstanding cases that are waiting for answers from the Home Office; instead, perhaps a Minister could confirm to me that Zill-e Huma, who is waiting for a spousal visa for her husband, will get that processed before her baby is born at the end of July. (900608)

I am happy to take the details of that individual case from the hon. Member. We are aware of an issue with the MPs’ hotline this morning; the hub and email are unaffected. Home Office Digital, Data and Technology is currently working on a solution and we expect the issue to be resolved shortly.

T4. When we delivered Brexit, we made a promise to take back control of our borders. That was about not just ending freedom of movement but cracking down on small boat crossings of the channel. The Secretary of State and her team have done an awful lot of work to try to clamp down on such crossings. Does she agree that our partnership with Rwanda is critical to breaking the economic model of the people-smuggling gangs? Will she confirm that the Department will do everything it can to get the scheme moving? (900602)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are introducing whole-system reform in the new plan for immigration, and we have the partnership with Rwanda and are readily signing new returns agreements. Of course, we are seeing greater international co-operation, including with the French—for example, 50% of crossings are not originating in the first place. That is important progress. We are continuing to work round the clock on the issue and my hon. Friend can be assured that we will continue to do so.

This week, musicians from the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra are applying for visas to the UK to perform here next month, but there are real concerns about delays in their getting the visas and about the £18,000 that it will cost the musicians—funds they just do not have in time of war. Every other European Government have waived complex visa requirements for the musicians to perform in their country. I have asked the Prime Minister about this and written to the Home Secretary about it twice. Will the Home Secretary agree today to look at expediting the visa process and waiving the fees, so that Ukrainian musicians can come to the UK to perform?

I am happy to meet the hon. Member to discuss this matter. As other colleagues will know, I have already dealt with a number of groups in relation to Ukraine, and there are exceptional circumstances in which the process may need to be expedited.

T6. In the past few weeks, not a day has gone by on which my team and I have not helped a constituent with a passport issue. Although most of the issues have been resolved, it should not take the intervention of someone’s Member of Parliament for them to get their passport. Will the Home Office consider bringing back the old British visitor’s passport, which was issued by post offices for a 12-month period, to help to reduce the backlog? (900605)

A lot of work is being done to catch up on passports. I think it is safe to say that to go back to a system that was fundamentally paper-based would bring quite a range of security issues, not least at the border—that is why it was discontinued. I assure my hon. Friend that a wide range of work is being done and, as I have said, we are still doing roughly 98.5% of passports within the advertised 10-week service time.

I was pleased to see that the Home Office finally published details of the remaining pathways for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, but just hours later the Ministry of Defence revealed that around 10,000 people—many of whom are at risk because they stepped forward to serve when we asked them to do so—were still left behind but eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme. What additional capacity is going to be put into the Department, both to clear the backlog of outstanding applications and to process thousands of new ones?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. To be clear, the MOD processes ARAP applications and deals with eligibility. Given our expertise in that area, we are certainly happy to offer what support and assistance we can from UK Visas and Immigration to help to get applications through, because like the hon. Gentleman we do not want to see stuck in Afghanistan people who bravely stood alongside our forces.

T7. British people have voted consistently for controlled immigration and the right to secure borders. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that we have heard absolutely no practical solutions from the Labour party to combat the problems of illegal immigration? (900606)

It is fair to say that the plan we are advancing is the only credible plan to address the issue. It is comprehensive and will end the dangerous channel crossings, preserve life, get illegal migration back under control and, of course, bring sustainability to the related finances.

My constituent faces losing her job with the NHS and is unable to visit a seriously ill close relative abroad because the Home Office has failed to deal with her visa, which was requested last year. I have raised this four times with the Home Office urgent inquiry line and have received no response for two months. Will the Minister look at this particular case, which I wrote to the Home Secretary about last week, and, more generally, at the service, or lack of service, that the urgent inquiry line is providing to MPs?

T8. After repeated calls to the Labour South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner to reopen police stations in our towns and villages, he has reopened the station at Edlington, with a population of 8,000. I have been leading a campaign for the return of a police station to Dinnington, with a population of 13,000. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a town of that size must have a police station and that the commissioner should reopen the premises in Dinnington without delay? (900607)

As usual, Mr Speaker, it is no surprise to hear my hon. Friend standing up for his constituents and fighting for their interests. He is right to look for greater police presence in his constituency, and when we finish recruiting 20,000 police officers, we will need somewhere for them to put all their stuff. Having that somewhere in his constituency would make sense.

A total of 5,279 children were strip searched by the Metropolitan police between 2019 and 2021, 75% of whom were from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. This data covers only children who were strip searched after an arrest, which means that the number of children strip searched among those not arrested will be even higher, such as in the case of Child Q who was never actually arrested. The Home Office will require police forces to provide this data on strip searches only on a voluntary basis. Can the Home Secretary say why she will not commit to making it mandatory for police forces to produce this data?

Although the case of Child Q was deeply regrettable and the Metropolitan police have offered their apologies in that case, I am sure that the hon. Lady will accept that, sadly, there are circumstances where these kind of searches of all manner of people are warranted. She raises a good point about transparency, and I know that all police chiefs across the country have it at the forefront of their minds that their legitimacy is built on public confidence about what they do and I will certainly explore the idea that she suggests.

Neighbourhood crime and antisocial behaviour is better tackled with the police visibility and responsiveness that a town centre police station can provide. Will my right hon. Friend give his support and encouragement to efforts by north Wales police to reopen a police station in the centre of Prestatyn, possibly at the redeveloped old library site?

I am more than happy to support my hon. Friend in seeking the best for his constituents, as I did on Friday in Tiverton where the front counter of the police station is due to open in November. I hope and believe that his constituents will benefit from the significant uplift in capacity and funding that we are giving to police forces, which will allow them to do exactly as he asks.

When the Joint Committee on Human Rights visited Strasbourg last week, we were told that the United Kingdom sends fewer cases to the European Court of Human Rights per capita than any other signatory state. We were also told that UK Government Ministers have repeatedly given the Council of Europe assurances that Britain will not withdraw from the convention. Will the Home Secretary withdraw the rather intemperate remarks that she made as reported at the weekend because she was displeased by the Court’s decision to temporarily halt the flights to Rwanda last week?

In light of the hon. and learned Lady’s comments, it is important to put it on record that Britain upholds international standards and all aspects of the law. Our policies are proving that is the case when it comes to illegal migration, as demonstrated by the domestic courts. As I said have repeatedly, I will not comment on ongoing legal cases.

On 3 May, a convoy of vehicles left Blyth Valley heading for the Polish border with a fire appliance, a support vehicle and a 4x4. The staff of West Hartford fire station volunteered to drive almost 2,000 miles to help the people of Ukraine, leaving their families and loved ones behind. Does my right hon. Friend agree that local fire and rescue teams can play an important role in bringing communities together? With that in mind, will she please visit Blyth Valley so that we can show her these amazing teams and everything we have done?

I would be delighted to come and support my hon. Friend in Blyth Valley, but there is a serious point here: over recent months, the fire and rescue service across the entire country has come together in such a compassionate way to provide essential kit and equipment to help the people of Ukraine, and I am pleased that his constituency has done that.

The unprecedented cuts to North Yorkshire fire & rescue service will result in longer response times in York, Scarborough and Harrogate. Will the Secretary of State meet me, the police and crime commissioner and the Fire Brigades Union to talk about those cuts and how we can ensure that fair funding goes to our fire services?

I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady. Having previously discussed this in North Yorkshire, on a visit that took place last year, I have seen the incredible integrated working across police and fire in North Yorkshire and the exceptional service they provide to her constituency and across the county, particularly in the remote and rural areas. However, as I say, I would be happy to have a conversation with her.

Now then, when we had a Labour police and crime commissioner and a Labour MP in Ashfield, the only thing they ever did of any note was to close our local police station. Since we have had a sensible Conservative MP in Ashfield, we have two new Operation Reacher teams, safer streets funding for the New Cross area and more bobbies on the beat, but will the Home Secretary please back our latest bid to the safer streets fund for the forgotten town of Eastwood?

I am very conscious of the great support in my hon. Friend’s constituency—in fact, I have visited it a couple of times now and seen not only the police officers on the front line, but the way the community is coming together on safer streets. I have absolutely heard his request for this particular bid.

The school holidays in Wales and England start on 22 July. There are nearly 30 million visits abroad by air in quarter 3, which includes those school holidays. To help families get away, will the Passport Office backlog be cleared by 22 July?

We have already made clear the actions we are taking. Since April last year we have been advising people to allow up to 10 weeks for an application, although 91% of people get their passport back within six weeks of applying. The hon. Member will also be aware that in some instances, such as school trips, collective passports can be used, subject to those being accepted by the country they are travelling to.

Earlier in the year, Parliament repealed the antiquated Vagrancy Act 1824. It was an important step in our journey to ending homelessness for good. Imagine my surprise when I reviewed the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to see that that repeal was repealed and that the Secretary of State will be given unlimited and unspecified powers to recriminalise homelessness. I know my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary cares about this, and she has been superb in supporting me and other Ministers in this mission. May I ask her to deal with this and ensure that we can get on with the job of ending homelessness?

Absolutely. I pay tribute to and thank my right hon. Friend for all his support and work in this particular area. I will reach out and speak to him and we will join up on this.

Residents in Osterley contacted me last week. They have been suffering for months from antisocial behaviour, drug dealing and assaults, which came to a head last week. Councillors and local police have been working together to try to tackle the issue, but their efforts are hamstrung because there just are not enough police officers to do regular patrols in hotspots. Does the Home Secretary regret the 10 years of police cuts that leave my constituents and many others feeling unprotected?

I am quite surprised to hear that given that I believe the hon. Lady is a London MP and the Metropolitan Police currently have more police officers on their roster than they have ever had in their history.

My team and I have been fighting for many hours to get a visa for a little Ukrainian girl, Alisa. She has been classified as an unaccompanied minor, although her aunt Viktoria provided evidence that she is her legal guardian many weeks ago. The situation is now grave as the family’s 90-day Polish visa is about to expire and they will have to return to the war zone. That is unacceptable. I know that an unaccompanied minors policy was finally agreed last week, but I fear that a failure to process these applications swiftly enough will soon lead to a humanitarian emergency for this family and others like them. Can my right hon. Friend please tell me what can be done to resolve this case and finally bring this family to safety in Hartlepool?

I know that the Minister has been following up this case, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it. I have already said in response to earlier questions that the policy on this is changing, but she has asked a specific question and I will address it.