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Home Department

Volume 719: debated on Monday 5 September 2022

The Secretary of State was asked—

Overdose Prevention Centres

1. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on licensing overdose prevention centres. (901256)

11. If she will make an assessment of the potential merits of implementing a pilot project to evaluate the effectiveness of drug consumption rooms. (901266)

Welcome back, Mr Speaker. I endorse everything you have just said. We enjoy the right to lawful, peaceful protest, but we enjoy the right to open democracy as well. Those who behave in this way should feel the full force of the law.

Before I answer these questions, I will briefly remark on my three years as Home Secretary under Boris Johnson’s prime ministership. A written ministerial statement in my name was tabled this morning—[Interruption]—shut up—outlining the work of the Home Office over the last three years to meet our manifesto commitments, which include some of the biggest reforms on security, migration and public safety, about which Mr Speaker has just spoken. I am proud to have served in this Government, and I thank the Prime Minister, Home Office Ministers past and present, and a wide range of officials.

Drugs are a scourge on society that destroys lives, blights communities and fuels crime. There is no safe way to take dangerous drugs, so I do not support legalising drugs. Importantly, the drug strategy led by this Government will tackle drug supply, reduce demand and provide world-class treatment to those in need of help.

Tragically, York saw a number of deaths over the summer caused by substance misuse. There were 4,859 drug deaths in England and Wales last year, up 6.2% on the previous year, and Dame Carol Black’s second report highlighted that intervention services are not fit for purpose. It is important that we see change based on evidence. Will the Government look again at the impact of overdose prevention units and pilot them in places such as York?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point about the tragedy of drug deaths, and she highlights the incredibly important work of Dame Carol Black. I pay tribute to the work of Dame Carol Black, including everything she proposed on the drug strategy and treatment programmes. She also highlighted where funding needs to come together across the whole of Government, and a great deal of work is taking place on that.

The hon. Lady is correct. Not only does more work need to be done, but we need to have bottom-up solutions. Dame Carol Black has presented some strong proposals to the Government, and the Prime Minister and I have backed and supported them. It is right that that legacy continues, as it will help to save lives and re-establish rehabilitation programmes across the country.

Last week I spent an evening in Glasgow with families who, like me, have lost someone to drug addiction. They and I accept that the ideal situation is that people will conquer their addiction, but does the right hon. Lady accept that they can do that only if they do not die first? Does she also accept that, for those who continue to use, we should enable them to do so as safely as possible and as close to medical assistance as possible? The Royal College of Nursing supports drug consumption rooms. Will she support them? And will she support the families and the memory of all those who have lost their life to drugs? Will she give the go-ahead for just one pilot project?

I totally recognise and understand not only the hon. Lady’s remarks, but the scale of drug addiction and drug deaths—we have discussed this many times before in this House and it is tragic. Conquering addiction is not easy, which is why I stand by the work of Carol Black. It is pivotal in terms of putting forward long-term treatment programmes, because long-term treatment is really required. My views on drug consumption rooms, in particular, are known, but there are no easy solutions to this, because people who are addicted to drugs have taken drugs for a wide range of reasons. It is important that we seek to support them to conquer addiction and help them to rebuild their lives.

Knife Crime and Serious Violence

The Government take a dual approach, combining tough enforcement with programmes that steer young people away from crime. Since 2019, we have invested £170 million in the areas worst affected by violence to boost the police response. In those same areas, we have also invested another £170 million to develop violence reduction units, to tackle the root causes of violence. Those programmes have prevented 49,000 violent offences in their first two years.

Over the summer we had two very high-profile knife attacks in Ipswich. We know that this is inter-gang violence—it is often members of each gang who are targeted—but it often erupts in a public space and has a chilling effect within communities. I am pleased that we have secured extra funding from the safer streets fund and that we are getting our uplift to the 20,000, but does the Minister agree that our UK shared prosperity fund bid to get even more police presence during the day would help to tackle knife crime? Does he also agree that it is right that we look at the national police funding formula in order to provide long-term fairer funding for Suffolk police?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who pays laser-like attention to crime and policing issues in his area. He was at the forefront of arguing the case for the safer streets bid, which has, fortunately, been successful. It is very welcome that his area is seeing £8.9 million of additional police funding and we have seen 114 extra officers recruited. Building on the work that is already happening, those resources will come together to help to continue to drive down crime in his area. That is a priority for this Government, as it is for him, and I know he will continue to follow this closely.

Last February, a constituent of mine, a young man, was attacked in the street by a man wielding a machete. There have been a number of further incidents since then, including last month on the streets of Leeds, where video shows two gangs squaring up to each other and holding these weapons. Why on earth is it still legal for anyone over the age of 18 to go into a shop and buy a machete?

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. It is important to note that since 2019 we have seen 72,000 weapons taken off our streets, but we cannot be complacent on this, which is why Ministers are looking at this issue of serious weapons, with a serious weapons review. I will want to see its conclusions as quickly as possible, but he can be absolutely assured that our drive and determination is to get these weapons off our streets wherever possible. It is not acceptable to have any life lost to crime in this way.

Deterrence is more important than almost anything else, and the Minister knows well of the tragic case in my constituency of Ellie Gould, who was murdered by a knife-wielding boyfriend. People there are rightly of the view that we must find ways of improving and increasing the sentences for knife murder if we can. So what discussions has he had with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, who are currently looking at guidelines for sentencing? When can we expect the results of that consultation to come out?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We do have Ministers who are joint between the Home Office and the MOJ, which means that we have been able to look at some of these issues in the round. What I hope can give him some reassurance is the fact that, through serious violence reduction orders, which we are introducing through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, we are seeing a greater likelihood of people being caught, of being before the court and of receiving a custodial sentence. I think the whole House can welcome that.

It was alarming enough to find out that foreign intelligence played a role in the trafficking of Shamima Begum and other British children to ISIS, but to find out that our Government were aware of this is incredibly disturbing and raises questions on the decision to revoke her citizenship. So will the Home Secretary tell us exactly when—

I know. That is why you cannot ask the question. In which case, I will now call the shadow Minister, Sarah Jones.

The current Home Secretary says that her “record…speaks volumes”. On her watch, far more people are a victim of crime, far more criminals are getting away with it, nine in 10 serious violent offenders never see the inside of a court, police officers are forced to use food banks, and the police have declared no confidence. What does the Minister think the Home Secretary is most proud of: criminals laughing in our face as they get away with it, or thousands more people across this country blighted by crime?

I think it is fair to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who I believe has done a sterling job in the role, can be proud of seeing burglary down by 24% nationally, neighbourhood crime down by 33% and vehicle offences down by 28%. We have got 72,000 weapons off our streets since 2019. Leicester, which I visited a couple of weeks ago, has a hugely successful violence reduction unit that is driving down criminality, steering young people away from that course. Some 49,000 offences have been prevented nationally, with a return that means that in the round we are seeing benefits to society: violent crime is not happening, because it has been prevented by the work that my right hon. Friend has done.

War in Ukraine

The UK Government rapidly created the UK visa scheme to support Ukrainians seeking refuge from Putin’s barbaric invasion, each for a three-year period with full access to work, public funds and services. The Ukraine family scheme was the first of its kind to be operational anywhere in the world, and we should be proud of the role that our country has played in helping.

The UK was the first country anywhere in the world to operationalise its Ukraine visa scheme, welcoming thousands of people to this country. May I congratulate the Home Secretary and her officials on this feat, which was undertaken in a matter of days back in March? May I ask her to reaffirm that this country will continue to offer the support needed by Ukraine and its brave people, as she has always shown during her time at the Home Office?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are consistently working hard to maximise the number of people in sponsorship schemes, as well as those coming through the visa routes. It is also worth noting that there has recently been an uptick in the number of people applying for these visas. That is because the scheme is not only successful, but generous, and is helping people who are in need of support right now.

I recently met one of the many refugees in my constituency. He was full of praise for how the system has worked for him, but concerns were raised about the lack of affordable housing in the south-west. What work is the Department doing with other Departments to ensure that there are no issues down the line?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: housing remains a challenge, as we have always found through all the schemes that we have run, particularly the resettlement and refugee programmes. Work has taken place across other Departments, particularly the Cabinet Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which is responsible for housing. I think that reflects the fact that the sponsorship scheme has worked because of the generosity of the British public, who have been housing Ukrainian nationals. Of course we hope that the scheme will continue to be as vigorous and strong in that sense.

Many six-month placements under the Homes for Ukraine scheme are coming to an end. For many reasons, not least the cost of living crisis, lots of them will not be extended, yet the Government have not set out a clear plan for what happens next. Families risk being placed in temporary accommodation miles away from where they have begun to rebuild their lives. Will the Home Secretary take urgent action to ensure that host families are properly supported and that measures are put in place to ensure that where a placement cannot continue, families are assisted into decent rented accommodation or accommodation with another host family?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right—there is no dispute there whatever. Other Departments are involved in housing, working with local authorities and ensuring a smooth transfer and transition. The Homes for Ukraine scheme, clearly, was there for six months; the transition period is taking place now, in many cases. A whole-of-Government effort is being co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office, working with other Departments. I think we should always reflect on and recognise the generosity of the British public, but also how Departments and local councils in particular have been providing support to make sure that that continues.

Prior to the implementation of the UK family visa scheme, to which the Home Secretary has referred, some concern was expressed by the Government that there needed to be additional checks because not everyone coming from Ukraine could be relied on. Can she give us an update on how those checks have proceeded and how many people coming from Ukraine were identified as fraudulent?

Those checks are there for very good reasons—there is no question about that. When we look at the volatility and the instability in the region and many of the national security concerns, we can see that that those checks are absolutely legitimate. The record is clear in terms of the number of Ukrainian nationals who have come here. There are people who have been refused on legitimate grounds involving national security concerns, which we do not discuss publicly.

Antisocial Behaviour

Antisocial behaviour is a menace to society. This Government have committed to stamping it out everywhere that it occurs. In our communities, we have already ensured that local agencies have the flexible tools to tackle it through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Of course, people are not just subject to abuse offline; despicable instances such as the racism online following the Euro 2020 final are why this Government will also tackle harmful content online through the Online Safety Bill.

Portsmouth police go above and beyond to keep communities safe as I saw at first hand when I joined them on patrol at the Camber and the Hotwalls last month. However, they face an uphill battle following a 10% drop in the region’s police community support officers and police officers since 2015. Will the Minister confirm today when the Conservatives will finally get tough on crime and give my local force the resources that it so desperately needs?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very clear about ensuring that, with the police uplift programme, there are 20,000 more police officers, and that is making a huge difference. Local police and crime commissioners are responsible for working with local authorities to ensure that they tackle antisocial behaviour locally, so I think that the hon. Gentleman should direct his comments to his local police and crime commissioner.

The boundaries between antisocial behaviour, gangs, drugs, and knife crime are increasingly blurred. An unwelcome recent trend in my constituency of Gloucester is that of an increase in young people’s involvement. None of us wants to see children criminalised, but we need to act, not least in order to protect other young people. Can the Minister arrange a meeting where best practice on how to tackle this growing problem can be shared with many of us in this Chamber who have similar problems?

I know the work that my hon. Friend has done to try to reduce antisocial behaviour within his own community, and I know that he has been working hard. He supports violence reduction units. There is a huge amount of money and investment going into sharing best practice among forces to ensure that we also protect these individuals. We know the huge problems that county lines are creating up and down the country, and there has been a massive investment in breaking county lines on which this Government have been leading the way.

While the Conservative party has spent the summer infighting, our country and our communities have been left fearful about the plight of antisocial behaviour that is rife across Britain. Because of a lack of legislative support, families and the most vulnerable in our communities are left suffering from fireworks and nuisance into the early hours of the morning without any help, including in my constituency of Bradford West. Car theft has gone up, burglary has gone up, individual theft has gone up, car crime has gone up, and dangerous driving has gone up, and all the while families are feeling unsafe to walk the streets of Britain. The Government have simply gone and are nowhere to be seen. Can the Minister explain why, after 12 years in Government, the Conservatives have failed so badly?

I am astonished. The reality is that antisocial behaviour in the year to March 2022 is down 37%. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends may also be intrigued to hear that, nationally, burglary is down 24%, neighbourhood crime by 33%, and vehicle offences by 28%. That has been made possible by the commitment the Government have made to increasing police numbers by more than 20,000. Perhaps the answer is that Conservative police and crime commissioners deliver for their communities.

County Lines Drug Gangs

14. What steps she is taking to tackle the exploitation of children and young adults by county lines criminal networks. (901269)

Through our drugs strategy, we are investing up to £145 million in the county lines programme to tackle ruthless gangs harming our communities. That includes providing specialist support to victims of county lines exploitation and their families. Since 2019, police activity funded by the programme has resulted in more than 2,400 line closures, 8,000 arrests and 9,500 individuals engaged through safeguarding interventions.

Over the summer recess I was proud to join our brave Staffordshire police officers on a drugs raid of a suspected county lines operation, sweeping the scrotes and their drugs off the streets of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. Sadly, we have seen an increase in filthy drug thugs peddling their dirt on our streets. It is because of this that I ask my hon. Friend to join me in supporting the campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) to have monkey dust reclassified as a class A substance and increase the prison sentence on the parasites who plague our community.

I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to talk about this issue in more detail. Monkey dust is a street name for certain cathinones. The Government recognise the harm of cathinones, which is why they are controlled under class B of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The penalty for supplying a class B drug is 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. There are no plans to reclassify those drugs, although the Government keep drug classification under review and will seek to take account of any new evidence of harms.

Over the summer I met residents and parents in North Shropshire who are concerned about the presence of county lines drug networks in our market towns. Our local police force has done a superb job in breaking up some of those lines, but more needs to be done. The Government promised an additional 311 police officers in West Mercia, but at the moment we are only at 165—far off target. Can the Minister reassure me that those additional police officers will be recruited into West Mercia to tackle the ongoing county lines problem, which exists in rural areas as well as urban ones?

I thank the hon. Lady for approaching this issue so constructively, because the matter of county lines gangs is of huge concern to communities both urban and rural, as she alludes to. The team in the Home Office will work very constructively and intensively with her force to ensure that we see the uplift programme through, so that her constituents feel the maximum benefit of the highest number of officers possible out on the streets, catching criminals and deterring crime.

Thanks to the work of the Home Office, British Transport police are working alongside Hampshire Constabulary to help tackle the appalling problems we have with county lines in north Hampshire. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether that is a project that he continues to see moving forward? I have seen at first hand that it is an essential way of tackling the appalling movement of drugs from different parts of the south-east into my county of Hampshire.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the way she approaches this issue and her positive advocacy for that initiative, which we are committed to. It is about continuing to roll out the county lines programme, with £145 million over the next three years, to tackle what is the most violent and exploitative distribution model yet seen. It is about safeguarding vulnerable people from being exploited, arresting and charging those running the lines, and stopping them exploiting people.

Local police have told me that they have seen a worrying rise in teenagers going missing, and there is inevitably an increase in county lines activity. Given the huge issues with county lines drugs gangs exploiting vulnerable children, will the Minister confirm whether the Government will be implementing the definition of child criminal exploitation in law and assessing whether police have the resources on the ground to deal with this terrible issue?

It is fair to say that what is happening in London is a considerable increase in police officer numbers, running at nearly 3,000 already recruited through the uplift programme, as well as additional funding in the millions and millions of pounds. The Mayor of London has the resources he requires to tackle these issues and this criminality. It is important that the hon. Lady has strong dialogue with him on that and, of course, the Home Office will continue to monitor progress on the issue.

Protestor Activity: Risk to Infrastructure and Public Safety

6. What steps she is taking to ensure that activities by protestors do not create excessive risk to national infrastructure and public safety. (901261)

We live in a vibrant, open country, where we all enjoy the right to lawful, peaceful protest. However, I, the public and, no doubt, my hon. Friend are increasingly incensed by the attention-seeking antics of a small band of publicity-hungry lawbreakers intent on causing disruption for the law-abiding majority. We have a proud tradition of upholding the rule of law, and those who trespass and cause criminal damage should face the full force of the law.

As the Home Secretary says, the right to protest is fundamental to our democracy, but this new activity of gluing oneself to parts of our national infrastructure—indeed, gluing oneself to your Chair, Mr Speaker—is absolutely unacceptable. Does the Home Secretary need to give the police more powers to deter such activities?

My hon. Friend raises some really important points, and this comes back to your opening remarks, Mr Speaker, about the season of protest that seems to be taking place, which has actually become an annual thing, particularly with Extinction Rebellion and others. First and foremost, she asks about police powers. I give credit and pay tribute to the police, because they use specialist skills to de-glue or de-bond. But had we not seen the measures introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 earlier this year thrown out by Labour Lords, the police would have had the powers to deal with these types of protests. Of course, the Public Order Bill, which is going through the House right now, will absolutely double down and reaffirm those powers.

Small Boat Crossings

7. What steps her Department is taking to reduce the number of people crossing the English channel in small boats. (901262)

Our new laws, brought in through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, mean that we have legislated to introduce long-term solutions and to address legal entry into the UK. Of course, that means tackling the number of people coming over in small boats, but also introducing tougher criminal sentences. As my right hon. Friend will know, all these measures were opposed by the Labour party.

In view of the uncertainty as to who will fill the Government Front Bench in the coming days and weeks, I will break the rules a bit by asking the Home Secretary to accept my thanks for her robust management of the most difficult Department of State. That is not to say that we always agree on everything, particularly on Rwanda, but we do agree that we must take back control, or keep control, of our own borders. The Australian experience demonstrated that pushback works, and we can learn from that. We can learn from the necessary increase in surveillance, we can learn from the increase in control and command by both the Australians and Frontex, and we can learn from the application of international maritime law. If we do all those things, I have no doubt that pushback will work with Belgium and France too.

Despite the chuntering from the Opposition Benches, my right hon. Friend speaks a lot of common sense on these issues. This is important, primarily because when it comes to tackling channel crossings, we have specifically reviewed the whole Australian model, which, for the benefit of Opposition Members, is called Operation Sovereign Borders. That is effectively what the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 was built upon, including the proposition of pushbacks at sea—something that has been developed by the Home Office but has not been operationalised by the Ministry of Defence—surveillance tactics and many other measures.

Finally, for the benefit of our colleague on the Opposition Benches, there is no single solution to this issue, which is why, as my right hon. Friend pointed out and as I have said at the Dispatch Box many times, it takes multiple solutions to come together, including reform of the asylum system, deterrents and criminal sanctions, which the Opposition completely voted against.

I agree with the Home Secretary that it takes multiple ways of looking at the problem of channel crossings. In July, the Home Affairs Committee produced our report on channel crossings. We were very keen to discuss the report with the Home Secretary but, sadly, she cancelled her appearance before the Committee. However, we hope that she will, in whatever capacity she holds in the coming weeks, attend the next Committee hearing in September to discuss her time at the Home Office. One of our key recommendations was to pilot providing UK asylum assessment facilities within France, enabling the juxtaposed consideration of claims in the same way that we already have juxtaposed immigration and passport controls in Dover and Calais. I wonder whether she might say what her solution to the problem would be.

I would be very happy to attend the right hon. Lady’s Committee. I think the date of 21 September has been set, although I am not sure whether that has been shared with her.

This is all about collaboration and working with our French counterparts—

They are our friends. In fact, I spoke to my French counterpart last week. In that conversation, as ever, a range of issues on UK co-operation were discussed. Those discussions continue right now, including on work on deterrence and interceptions—points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) would support. A range of issues, such as processing, are always under discussion.

Instead of the cruel and utterly failed Rwanda policy, or resurrecting impossible and dangerous pushbacks, we need safe legal routes, investment, asylum and modern slavery processing, and, as the Home Secretary has alluded to, close co-operation with our French allies. On that note, will she join me in stating clearly that President Macron is very much a friend rather than a foe, and will someone have a quiet word with the incoming Prime Minister about how important it is to work with France and avoid unhelpful, attention-seeking and counterproductive comments about our allies?

With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, we clearly have a different stance on the policies and tactics. We debated these issues—and accommodation, refugees and so on—many times during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. I have worked closely with my counterparts in the French Government for three years, and I restate for the record that, on the basis of the discussions I had last week, of course they are our friends. It is important to say that in international co-operation on anything to do with migration—particularly illegal migration, at a time when 100 million people around the world are on the move because of global migration pressures—it is always right that we work in a united way with our international colleagues.

Albanian Migrants

8. What steps she is taking to fast-track the removal of Albanian migrants without a right to be in the UK. (901263)

Over the last calendar year, I have overseen the enforced removal of more Albanian nationals than any other nationality. We regularly return Albanian criminals and immigration offenders to Albania via chartered flights, a process that is aided by the returns agreement that I have signed with the Albanian Government.

Recent reports suggest that despite passing through many safe countries en route to the UK, when the very large numbers of Albanians who have been crossing the channel in small boats in recent weeks land on our shores, they claim not only asylum, but modern slavery protection. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time to reform our modern slavery laws to prevent an increased abuse of our good will?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is correct that over the summer the majority of arrivals in small boats from France—about 60%—have been Albanian nationals. He will be delighted to hear about the work that I have led on reform of the national referral mechanism, a key component of the reforms to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which has been committed to within this Session of Parliament.

Afghan Citizens: Asylum Policies

9. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of her asylum policies on Afghan citizens seeking refuge and humanitarian protection in the UK. (901264)

Our United Kingdom has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need through our resettlement schemes. The new plan for immigration will ensure that our resources can be focused on those in most need of resettlement around the world, including in Afghanistan, rather than on those who can pay a people smuggler.

Does the Minister share my concern regarding the findings of nine expert groups last month, including Humans Rights Watch, which found the UK Government’s resettlement schemes to be “unjustifiably restrictive”, and that it is deeply concerning that the UK Government are not offering a safe route for many Afghan women and girls, or to oppressed minority groups?

Well, I look at our record, which includes last year’s evacuation—the largest since the war—to bring people to safety here in the United Kingdom, and at the work we are doing week in, week out with colleagues, particularly in the Ministry of Defence, to bring more people to safety. We need to focus our efforts on those who need resettlement and safety and are under threat in Afghanistan, rather than on those who prefer to be here than in another safe and democratic country.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government still hold in a special place in their priorities those Afghans who assisted the British armed forces when they were present in Afghanistan? May I thank the Minister and the Home Secretary for the work of those in the specialist hub, whether in Portcullis House or remotely, who have done outstanding work in enabling MPs on both sides of the House to help people fleeing from persecution?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks about the work that has been done by Home Office teams via the hub. Those people who worked with UK operations, particularly the military operation in Afghanistan, would liaise primarily with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, who hold the records and will do the relevant checks under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme. We then look to work with them to facilitate the relocation of those people to the UK, where that is deemed appropriate.

We owe loyal-to-Britain Afghans a debt of gratitude and honour, yet with 10,000 of them still stuck in bridging hotels, at huge cost to their mental health and a cost of £1.4 million a day to the taxpayer, it looks as though Operation Warm Welcome has become operation cold shoulder. It is little wonder that the Minister for Refugees resigned yesterday in despair. Further still, the Government have broken their promises to vulnerable Afghan groups such as women judges and LGBT activists. Can the Minister therefore tell us why, if British Council employees and Chevening scholars can apply for asylum in the UK from within Afghanistan, pathway 2 of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme does not allow women judges and LGBT activists to do the same? Does he accept that these failures put Afghan lives at risk, bearing in mind that the Taliban have already conducted at least 160 reprisal killings?

I know that whoever takes office this week can look forward to plenty of attacks but few alternatives from the hon. Gentleman. We are proud of what we have done. As I said, last year we arranged one of the biggest evacuations since the war years and a rapid process to bring people here. About 7,400 people have moved into new homes since the first ARAP flight in June, which is an unprecedented pace of resettlement. Yes, there is more work to do; we are working with local authorities to do that and to find more homes, but we have to be clear: it is about working with local communities, particularly given the size and scale of accommodation, particularly family accommodation, that needs to be provided across the country.

UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership

12. What recent progress she has made on delivering the UK and Rwanda migration and economic development partnership. (901267)

I have secured a world-first migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda, and our innovative partnership means that illegal migrants will be relocated to Rwanda to build a new and prosperous life there. The number of people who can be relocated there is unlimited, and they will have support and care while their claims are considered.

Does credible evidence of the use of violence and torture by the Rwandan security authorities not give the Home Secretary any pause for thought?

First and foremost, as well as all our work with the Government of Rwanda—even prior to the announcement of this policy and the work that went into this partnership—plenty of in-country work has been undertaken. That is part of our country report and planning work, and all the advice that is taken in-country and across Government. With that, however, it is important to recognise that this partnership is very clear in terms of standards, the treatment of people who are relocated to Rwanda, the resources that are put in, and the processing of how every applicant is treated.

There are various reports—not all of them accurate—about the limit on the number of people who can be processed under the partnership agreement with Rwanda. What action is being taken to increase capacity in Rwanda to accept more asylum seekers so that the full benefits of the partnership can be realised?

It is important to emphasise again that the number of people who can be relocated is unlimited and, importantly, they have the support and capacity in-country—that is part of the resources that we have put in, and part of the programming approach that has been developed directly with the Government of Rwanda.

Deaths following Domestic Abuse

13. What steps her Department is taking to support the families of women who have died in (a) domestic abuse-related suicides and (b) suspicious deaths following domestic abuse. (901268)

Every domestic abuse-related death is a tragedy, leaving too many families in grief. This is why, in the tackling domestic abuse plan, we committed to significant reforms of the domestic homicide review process to ensure that lessons are learned, victims are supported appropriately and deaths are prevented in the first place. The Home Office is also providing £250,000 in funding to the charity Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse to deliver specialist and expert advocacy to families affected by domestic homicide, domestic abuse-related suicides and unexplained deaths linked to domestic abuse.

The Government’s latest domestic abuse plan confirms the stark truth that action on domestic abuse is getting worse, with fewer domestic abusers being prosecuted. Three in four recorded domestic abuse cases are closed due to evidential difficulties or because the victim is unable to continue. I hope the new Prime Minister takes the issue more seriously than she did as Minister for Women and Equalities. Will the Minister commit to bringing forward plans to support victims taking action and introducing a domestic abuse perpetrator register?

I commend all the work that has been done on domestic abuse, and all the issues we have to face are not taken lightly. A central count of domestic abuse fatalities is crucial to building the evidence base for effective interventions and preventing future tragedies. This Government have been counting all domestic homicides, domestic abuse-related unexplained or suspicious deaths, and suspected suicides of individuals with a known history of domestic abuse victimisation since March 2020.

On 20 June, I stood at this Dispatch Box and asked the then Minister, the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), where the Government’s response to the domestic homicide sentencing review was. I said then that 105 women had been killed during the period of delay to that response. The then Minister—to be fair to the current Minister—assured me that she would write to me on the issue; she did not. Since I asked in June, there have been 18 more victims of femicide counted by the organisation Counting Dead Women, which will not account for the cases referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) because those are not as well known. May I ask what exactly is causing the Government such delay in responding to the QC-led report? They have had it for months and have promised the grief-stricken families of Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey Waterhouse that it will be delivered. Does the Minister wonder how many other women will have died by the time they finally respond?

Such cases, whenever we hear of them, are always a great tragedy. There has been no delay, but I do give my commitment that we will get a response to the hon. Member—[Interruption.] We will get a response to her. I give her my guarantee.

Violence against Women and Girls

15. What steps she has taken to tackle violence against women and girls in the last 12 months. (901270)

We have published our tackling domestic abuse plan, which invests more than £230 million to tackle this heinous crime, and launched the “Enough” national communications campaign, which educates young people about healthy relationships and ensures victims can access support. We have been driving transformation in how the police and the Crown Prosecution Service respond to rape cases, with 19 forces participating in Operation Soteria, and we also continue to fund the specialist helplines that supported over 81,000 people in 2021-22.

On 17 September, it will be one year to the day since the brutal, sexually-motivated murder of Sabina Nessa in my constituency. In the year she was murdered—to the end of March 2022—an astonishing 70,330 rapes were recorded, which is up from 16,000 in 2010, yet we have a charge rate of just 1.3%. Does the Minister not think that we owe it to the memory of people such as Sabina to improve those figures?

These are all tragic circumstances, which is exactly why we are working on the reforms. Tackling violence against women and girls is a Government priority, and it is unacceptable that this preventable issue, which blights and limits the lives of millions, is allowed to continue.

Afghan Citizens: Asylum Policies

16. What steps she is taking to support Afghan citizens relocated to the UK under the (a) Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and (b) Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy. (901271)

Together with our colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities we provide a range of support in accessing public services including essentials such as school places for children and housing. Around 7,400 people have moved, or are in the process of being moved, into new homes since the first ARAP flights in June 2021, an unprecedented rate of resettlement.

Of those who have arrived in the UK, around 10,000 Afghans remain stuck in hotels up and down the country at a cost to the public of £1 million a day. Most of them have been there for a year now, left in limbo due to the Government’s failure to work effectively with local authorities. Will the Minister commit to opening up safe and legal routes so that those in Afghanistan who are at risk can come to the UK? That also requires working constructively with local authorities so that Afghans in this country can finally start their new lives properly, in a home rather than a hotel room.

We are working constructively with 350 local authorities to ensure people get the accommodation they need. Given the cohort, that is clearly a challenge as there are large families and a balance needs to be struck with local authorities meeting their housing duties to local people. This also involves working with others, but we are grateful to see the number of local authorities taking part; their reaction is far better than that of the Lib Dem leader of my local council who initially, until he made a U-turn, refused to take part.

Police Officer Recruitment: London Region

As I said earlier, data to 30 June shows that 2,952 additional officers have been recruited by the Metropolitan Police Service as part of the police uplift. In addition, City of London Police has recruited 60 additional police officers as part of this unprecedented recruitment drive.

In his most recent letter to me, Mayor Khan admitted that the Met police now has more officers than at any time in its history thanks to the national uplift under this Home Secretary. He has also confirmed that he will push ahead with plans to sell Hornchurch police station, the only base for officers in my constituency. Since a major review is now under way into the Met on his watch, will the Minister encourage the Mayor to use this moment to reflect on his own performance and whether he is doing enough to make sure every part of the capital has bases from which officers can operate?

It is welcome that the incoming commissioner has a 100-day plan. As my hon. Friend set out, the fact is that the Mayor has 3,000 new officers in London over and above what he had previously as a result of the uplift, and his resources are up by £164 million compared with 2021-22. The bottom line is that he has the resources to get on and do it and it is time for the Mayor to show up and deliver.

Topical Questions

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.