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Topical Questions

Volume 716: debated on Monday 20 June 2022

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.