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Topical Questions

Volume 719: debated on Monday 5 September 2022

Since I became Home Secretary in 2019 I have pursued the people’s priorities: backed the police with a record £17 billion; expanded stop-and-search powers; better equipped the police; and introduced a police uplift programme that is well on the way to putting in place 20,000 additional police officers. Harper’s law is in place, as is the police covenant and the support the police need to make our streets, transport network and our public safe both publicly and online. We have taken back control with a new plan for immigration that rewards talent, welcomes refugees, allows EU citizens to settle here, makes it easier to remove foreign national offenders, attracts businesses and deals with the issue of people smugglers.

I have also overhauled the Windrush compensation scheme and fixed the outdated nationality laws, supported law enforcement and the security services in fighting terrorism, including through the superb National Security Bill, and worked with our Five Eyes partners, the G7 and our international allies. In addition, we have collectively been combating the evils of violence against women and girls and changing the laws on trespass. But keeping our citizens safe is the Government’s first duty and it has been my privilege to do so, serving in this Government but also in my service to our country.

This Government are planning to remove refugees to Rwanda who sought sanctuary in the UK from torture and trafficking. This is a new and despicable low even from this Home Office. Can the Home Secretary confirm whether she has read the medical analysis from the charity Medical Justice, and will she find some moral backbone, immediately release from indefinite immigration detention all those targeted with removal to Rwanda and finally abandon this shameful policy?

Absolutely not, because the immoral aspect is the role of people smugglers and the criminal trade that facilitates people smuggling. Not only is the migration and economic development partnership the first of its kind, but it is being looked at by other countries around the world. Our processes are not only legitimate but show that a deterrent factor can be achieved through this policy. It is absolutely right that we ensure that people are detained on the basis that they will be removed to Rwanda at the soonest possible opportunity.

T2.   Tens of thousands of migrants crossing the English channel in small boats is a potential security risk, increasingly unsustainable in terms of accommodation and housing, and costing the taxpayer ever growing sums. May I seek an assurance that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s Department will work with the Ministry of Defence on a push-back policy, to be implemented as soon as possible, and continue to pursue the Rwanda processing plan? (901282)

The rise in dangerous channel crossings is unacceptable, as my hon. Friend has said. Indeed, there is a push-back policy in place. Not only are these crossings an overt abuse of our immigration laws, but they risk the lives of vulnerable people who are being exploited by ruthless criminal gangs. Our new Nationality and Borders Act 2022 is breaking the business model of these evil criminals. We have introduced tougher sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country, with 38 people already arrested and facing further action since the Act became law.

As this may be the Home Secretary’s last question time, may I recognise the unseen work that she and all her predecessors have done on national security and on warrants, which often goes unrecognised? I also join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to Oliva Pratt-Korbel, Thomas O’Halloran and the other victims of devastating knife and gun crime, which has escalated this summer.

Stabbings are now 60% higher than in 2015, yet the number of violent criminals caught is at a record low.

“There is a serious problem in this country with gun crime…with gangs…with knife crime”.

Those are not my words, but those of the incoming Prime Minister, so why have successive Conservative Home Secretaries allowed it to get this bad?

The right hon. Lady knows perfectly well the Government’s record over many years in boosting police funding—which neither she nor the Labour party supported—including the work under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which has all the right deterrents in place to go after criminals and ensure that they are given the right kinds of sentences, supports serious violence reduction units, and extends the capabilities of stop and search. Those are the very tools and tactics that the police have, and it is this Government who have supported them every single step of the way—not just by backing, equipping and empowering them to go after criminals, but by working with the criminal justice system to ensure that the right sentences are given out.

But the Conservatives have cut the funding for policing and they have brought in lots of legislation that has not worked. Stabbings are up by 60%, and over 90% of violent criminals now get away with it. That is way higher than it was just seven years ago. The National Police Chiefs’ Council has said:

“Detection and charge rates for a range of crimes have fallen over the past five years. This has been impacted by austerity and the loss of thousands of police officers and staff…and…backlogs in the court system.”

That is a damning reflection on 12 years of Conservative policies on policing and crime. On her last day in the job, will the Home Secretary tell us whether she thinks that 43 police chiefs are wrong?

It is this Government who have delivered over 13,000 additional police officers. That is 69% of the 20,000 target that we have set to meet by March 2023. Not only that, but it is our Government who have been committed from day one to reducing serious violence by putting an end to tragedies. We have invested over £130 million in tackling serious violence, including £64 million for violence reduction units. It is important to remind the House, the public and the right hon. Lady that at every single step of the way, she and her party have voted against every single law enforcement measure that this Government have brought in, including our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. Quite frankly, I suggest—

Order. I need to step in now. We have to get through some topical questions: at this rate, we will not get any further. Can we get back to what topicals are meant to be—short and quick, both asking and answering? Anna Firth is going to give us a good example.

T3. Under this Home Secretary since 2019, our police have removed over 50,000 knives and offensive weapons from our streets, keeping us all safe. But in Southend, knife crime, including this summer— (901283)

Order. You have missed the point—[Interruption.] You have to sit down. It was meant to be a short question, not continuing. Who is answering?

I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend because she has been very strong on this issue. She is right: there is a great deal of work taking place. I would like to thank Essex police in particular for dealing with this issue in her constituency.

We were all shocked by the horrendous shootings in Liverpool and on the Isle of Skye over the summer and send our condolences to all who were affected. While our gun laws are comparatively robust by international standards, is it not now time for another comprehensive look at both policy and practice, to see what more can be done to stop guns getting into the wrong hands?

There are two points that I would like to make to the hon. Gentleman, who is absolutely correct. First, the introduction of safety and security declarations, to which the Government are committed, will help with that, by tracking fast parcels that come into our country, often containing goods and materials such as firearms. Secondly—and it is a point of assurance—there is a force-by-force review of firearms licensing taking place right now.

T6. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Mayor of London’s recent attempt to blame the heatwave and the school holidays for six murders in four days was as pathetic as his record of trying to help the police fight crime in the capital? (901286)

As of June 2022, the latest data for hospital admissions for under-25s for assault with a sharp object—our primary metric for measuring serious violence—was down 17% in London compared to June 2021. This financial year, we have provided £12 million of funding to the London violence reduction unit, which brings together key partners to tackle violence, and £8 million in Grip funding for the Metropolitan police service’s response to violence.

T4.   There are 10,500 Afghan refugees still in accommodation, and I heard the Minister’s answer earlier. When does he anticipate those 10,500 Afghan refugees will be in permanent accommodation? (901284)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are working constructively with councils. To be fair, I have to say that Glasgow is stepping forward, as always, to find accommodation. It is about finding suitable accommodation, not just any accommodation for them. We have also had constructive discussions with the Scottish Government—credit where it is due to Neil Gray—about where we may be able to go further in creating housing, particularly in Scotland, to accommodate many of those families; we all want them to be found accommodation in a permanent home.

Will the Minister help me get more alley gates, better CCTV and more street lighting to tackle the scumbags who blight alleyways across Stoke-on-Trent, dealing and shooting up drugs and fly-tipping all over the community?

Of course, as well as the additional police funding that has been made available for my hon. Friend’s force area, and the additional officer numbers through the uplift programme, it is fair to say that one of the important pieces of work that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been progressing is another round of the safer streets fund, which I am sure his area will be interested in.

T5. In April, a first-tier tribunal decided that the Home Office had incorrectly applied its own rules and that my constituent, Mr Simon Hagos, should indeed be joined by his family as he first asked back in February 2021. Despite that, UKVI failed to issue visas to his wife and son, disregarding both their wellbeing and the law. Can the Minister tell me when the Home Office will finally fulfil its legal obligations to ensure a clear and timely response in this long overdue process? (901285)

I am happy to pick up that with the hon. Lady outside the Chamber. She will appreciate that we do not discuss individual cases on the Floor of the House.

Last year, 28,526 people arrived illegally via small boats. So far this year 26,000 have done so, and it is clear that the previous record will be surpassed. Will the Home Secretary join me in asking the new Prime Minister to make tackling this issue a national priority so that we can finally take back control of our borders?

My hon. Friend is well aware of my views, so I do not need to add much more on that. This absolutely is a priority, on the basis of the new plan for immigration and making sure that is delivered, along with the legislation on reforming the national referral mechanism and the many other approaches we have spoken about.

T7. Can the Minister confirm how many fewer police officers there are in England and Wales today compared with 2010, and how long it will take for those police officer numbers to be restored, given that we lost over 20,000 officers under the Tories after 2010? (901287)

The bottom line—I know the hon. Gentleman does not like it very much—is that we have recruited over 13,500 new police officers as part of the uplift, and the fact is that his party has not been supportive of those efforts. We are putting more police officers out on the beat, catching criminals and deterring crime.

We are seeing the sinister rise of the vegan militia, which is seeking to hold to ransom families and farmers across the country. When the Public Order Bill comes forward, does my hon. Friend agree that we should legislate for farming sites, abattoirs and food production sites to be sites of national infrastructure?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this, and I know that she has been engaging proactively in her constituency of Rutland and Melton. I can say that the local police forces have been working with the sites affected to mitigate the risks of these protests, and we will of course keep under review the measures we introduce as part of the Public Order Bill, which is an important step change that we are going to bring forward.

T8. While the number of rapes reported to the police has hit a record high, the charge rate is at a record low. Does the Home Secretary agree that her Department has completely failed victims of this vile crime? (901288)

I am going to correct the hon. Lady on this, because the top four forces for the percentage of adult rape charges received—Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire—are leading the way, along with much of the work of Operation Soteria, of which she will be well aware. My team and I would be happy to discuss that with her, because these schemes are very successful in working with the CPS and getting charges brought.

I would like to thank the Met police for its very professional policing of the Notting Hill carnival. In the last week, my constituency has seen two murders and at least six stabbings. Can my right hon. Friend update me on what conversations she has had with the Mayor of London to really get rid of this epidemic of violent crime in London?

All-change is coming in London with the appointment of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and I have been working with him on his 100-day plan. My hon. Friend and her constituents can be reassured that the Mayor, in particular—through our dialogue during the recent work with Tom Winsor—will be held to account for delivery, and that the new commissioner will have a very forceful plan to deal with serious violence, including by ensuring that the application of stop and search continues and that more work is done to keep the streets of our brilliant city safe.

T10. Constituents in Lliswerry are hugely frustrated by the persistent dangerous behaviour of groups of e-scooter and e-bike users on local roads and pavements. What are the Government doing to improve awareness of the law relating to the use of e-scooters and e-bikes and to support the police in tackling their antisocial use? (901290)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right on this. Work is taking place with the Department for Transport very specifically on these scooters, and police forces—through the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council—are working on appropriate guidance to tackle not only the inappropriate use of e-scooters, but some of the criminality associated with them.

In Ashfield, I have pensioners who cannot get to the local library or the post office because of a lack of bus drivers, but there is no lack of bus drivers in Kent, shipping illegal immigrants to their four-star hotels. Is it not time that we declared a state of emergency?

My hon. Friend is well aware of the Government’s work to deal with illegal migration. That continues to be robust, with our removals policies and the removals agreements that I have with countries around the world—not to mention Albania, which I have touched on. He mentioned the lack of bus drivers. If I may, I suggest that he makes representations to the Department for Transport, because that clearly requires more training and the issuing of more bus driver licences.

Will the Home Secretary look at my ten-minute rule Bill on joint enterprise, which I will present tomorrow? Is it not a scandal that thousands of young people are in prison without a route for anyone to look at their case?

I commend the Home Secretary’s extensive and robust work to tackle the number of Albanian economic migrants arriving in small boats. However, what more can she do to keep our country safe?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her diligent and professional work in the Home Office, where she championed the safety of women and girls. She is absolutely right about the safety and security of our great country, and when it comes to the checking of illegal migrants, she is well aware of the detailed work taking place, much of which we cannot speak about publicly for security reasons. That robust work will continue.