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Topical Questions

Volume 725: debated on Monday 19 December 2022

Today I updated the House on the upcoming Protect duty, now to be called Martyn’s law. The threat from terrorism is complex and evolving, and we need to stay ahead of it, including in public places. There have been horrific incidents such as the Manchester Arena bombing, which claimed the life of Martyn Hett and 21 others.

Having carefully considered the views shared in the public consultation, we have taken a huge step forward. This will be the first legislation of its kind, placing proportionate security requirements on public venues to be better prepared and better able to respond in the event of a terrorist attack. I am extremely grateful to the heroic Figen Murray and the Martyn’s law campaign team, as well as to campaigners such as Brendan Cox; they have campaigned tirelessly and with great skill for this change. I also put on record my thanks to the Minister for Security for his work in getting us to this point.

Terror will never win. We will defend our values and be relentless in keeping the public safe. I hope that this new law is of some comfort to the families of victims, and a fitting tribute to Martyn, who I am sure would be proud of his mother’s achievement.

Carshalton and Wallington residents often raise concerns with me about antisocial behaviour involving vehicles, from trying car doors at night to using modified vehicles or riding mopeds dangerously. Will my right hon. and learned Friend update me on the Home Office’s work to tackle that specific type of crime and antisocial behaviour?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern about antisocial behaviour, whether it is vandalism, graffiti, loitering or burglary. I am pleased to say that neighbourhood crime has fallen by 20% since 2019. I am well aware that the activities he describes can really blight local communities: that is why tackling antisocial behaviour is a priority for me and for the Government. We have expanded the remit of our successful safer streets fund so that there is now dedicated funding for initiatives to combat antisocial behaviour.

We very much welcome the Protect duty legislation, which we have heard more about today, and look forward to seeing it. I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the families who have worked so hard to get us to this point.

The annual threat update from the director general of MI5 was explicit about the seriousness of the threat from Iran to some UK residents, yet there are still those in religious roles working and living here in the UK who are appointed directly by the Supreme Leader himself. There are also key players within the draconian Iranian regime who have business interests and assets here in the UK. What are the Government doing to make it explicit that the UK will have no part in being a haven, either for individuals or for money linked to—

Order. You know the game: the game is short questions in topicals. Please do not take advantage of the situation, because all the Back Benchers want to get in as well.

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has raised the question of the Iranian threat in the UK. As she knows very well, the head of MI5, Ken McCallum, has cited the issue that our country faces in this arena. He has also, however, prepared many different aspects of the National Security Bill, which will help to put the country on a much stronger footing. We have enjoyed strong cross-party co-operation on this, and I look forward to the hon. Lady’s co-operating further with the Government in ensuring that this country is in a much stronger position than it has been in recent years, particularly in facing the Iranian threat, which sadly has become all too great here, quite apart from the extraordinary brutality that we are seeing in Tehran today.

T8. Given that, under the 1951 refugee convention, if no legal and safe routes are available it is illegal to arrest and detain an asylum seeker landing on our shores at Dover, does the Minister agree that we can make as many statements and pass as many laws as we like, but unless we achieve a temporary derogation for the convention —and, if necessary, from the European Court of Human Rights on this particular issue—we will never solve the problem? (902874)

I appreciate the concerns that my right hon. Friend has raised. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will set out in more detail the Government’s response to the High Court’s judgment today on Rwanda, but it is the court’s opinion that the Rwanda policy is consistent with the UK’s obligations under both the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights.

T3. May I ask the Home Secretary whether, at the end of the year, she will reflect on the comments that she made in early October about sending asylum seekers to Rwanda? She will be aware that a 28-year-old woman from Eritrea who was 37 weeks pregnant as a result of rape was in line for deportation. Does not talk of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda being a “dream” or an “obsession” show all the sensitivity and compassion of Jeremy Clarkson? (902869)

I regret the attempt by the hon. Gentleman to lower the tone of this debate. What I will say is that I will not apologise for telling the truth about the scale of the challenge that we are facing when it comes to illegal migration, and I will also reiterate my absolute commitment to delivering on the groundbreaking agreement that we have with Rwanda. It is compassionate, it is pragmatic, and I invite the Opposition parties to support it.

T10. Last week the Prime Minister set out the measures that the Government will take to gain control over illegal migration, and I was pleased to note that as a result of today’s ruling the Rwanda plan will be part of that. Those proposals included options to house potential asylum seekers in more suitable accommodation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that will take pressure off communities such as Middleton in my constituency, and allow the hotels that are being used for this purpose to return to their proper function? (902876)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is disgraceful that millions of pounds are being spent on housing asylum seekers in hotels. We want to end that as quickly as possible and ensure that those individuals are housed more appropriately—for example, in large sites that offer decent but never luxurious accommodation. However, the root cause is the numbers crossing the channel, and that is why policies such as the Rwanda policy, which create a clear deterrent, are so essential.

T5. Notwithstanding the earlier contrary claim by the Immigration Minister, will the Home Secretary confirm that she fully respects the landmark 1999 ruling by the UK High Court—not some dodgy European ultra-woke ruling—in which it was confirmed that “some element of choice is indeed open to refugees as to where they may properly claim asylum”,and that a short-term stopover en route to another country should not cause them to forfeit the right to claim asylum on arrival at a destination? (902871)

I welcome the High Court judgment, which states that the overall policy relating to Rwanda is lawful. It is in line with our international law agreements, and it is a rational policy choice that the UK Government have taken. We look forward to working more closely with Rwanda to deliver it.

I warmly welcome the legal ruling on the Rwanda plan, and also the reforms to the modern slavery system as part of the overall work to deter those involved in small boat crossings. Does the Home Secretary agree that another way of tackling the backlog would be to speed up the local authority pilot programme for processing claims relating to child victims of modern slavery, many of them vulnerable county lines drug gangs children? Would that not improve support for those children as well as helping to clear the backlog?

My hon. Friend has been an eloquent and knowledgeable campaigner on this issue. She has spoken to me about how we can better ensure that young people who are exploited by criminal gangs are looked after properly. We will take forward more pilots with local authorities next year. I will take her advice under consideration as we design them.

T6. The success rate of asylum applications from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea stands at 98%, and at over 80% for those from Sudan and Iran. Can the Minister commit to an accelerated decision process, especially for people from those countries? (902872)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out last week that we will redesign and speed up the asylum decision-making process. There will be a particular focus on those individuals with the highest grant rate, and those with the lowest grant rates, such as Albanians, who should be removed from the country. What we will not do is institute a policy of blanket approval, which, in essence, is what John Reid and previous Labour Home Secretaries did.

In Essex, our excellent police, fire and crime commissioner and I are concerned that out of 2,500 reported rape cases last year, only 70 were prosecuted. Can the Minister encourage the police to work more closely with secondary schools to ensure that girls who have been victims of rape know that their privacy and safety will be protected if they come forward to give evidence?

We have allocated £125 million across England and Wales through the safer streets fund and the safety of women at night fund, including £550,000 to invest in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. She works very hard on this issue. Work and engagement are ongoing with schools in the Chelmsford area, including the delivery of awareness sessions on healthy relationships and consent, and work with 15 and 16-year-olds who attend Chelmsford City football club.

T7. When will the Home Secretary finally accept, rather than waffle about new laws, that the Home Office is a complete mess? Quite apart from the asylum shambles, people renewing their visas are waiting months or years. Then, they have to wait again to get their biometric residence permit card, if they get printed. Far too many people have lost holidays because of waits for passports. When will she get a grip of her Department? (902873)

I strongly disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s assertion, surprisingly. On crime, we have seen a 20% fall in violent crime and neighbourhood crime and a 30% fall in domestic burglary since 2019. We see record numbers of police officers on our streets—something that everyone on the Opposition Benches voted against. When it comes to migration, I am incredibly proud of what this Government have achieved so far: the groundbreaking agreement with Rwanda, which is compassionate, pragmatic and lawful; and a plan to go further and deal with the problem.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s work with the Prime Minister on tackling illegal immigration and the statement last week. The statement talked about fairness; I think she knows very well that Stoke-on-Trent feels that it has not been treated fairly. The Minister mentioned that Scotland could take a few more asylum seekers if they were really concerned about these things. Other parts of the country could do the same.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are almost as many hotels in use in Stoke-on-Trent as in the whole of Scotland, bar the city of Glasgow. Fair and equitable distribution involves Scotland paying its fair share. We are acutely aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend and her colleagues in Stoke-on-Trent. I met the leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council last week to hear them directly. We will do all we can to support them.

In the past decade it was normal to write to the Home Office about an immigration case and get a reply within six weeks. That went up to 10 to 12 weeks. It is now running at three to four months—not to get a decision, just an initial response. How sustainable is that?

I am always happy to take up cases for right hon. and hon. Members. I would just say, however, that the Home Office’s standards for visa applications are now back in line with its customer service standards. A large number of staff were taken off those cases in order to support the Homes for Ukraine and other humanitarian schemes, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree with, but the service standards are now being met.

A great many of my residents raise with me the issue of cross-channel migration. Following this morning’s High Court ruling, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Rwanda scheme, when it gets the green light, will be a fair scheme that will act as a deterrent and help to allay the concerns of Gedling residents?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point of the Rwanda scheme is to provide a significant deterrent, so that those coming here illegally never find a route to life here in the UK and so that we can focus our resources as a country on supporting those who really need to be here, through targeted resettlement schemes such as those for Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan.

The production of industrial hemp in my constituency offers real promise and opportunity for crop diversification and soil improvement, but the growers are limited by Home Office rules around tetrahydrocannabinol protections. There is no need to worry about that, so can I invite the Home Secretary to come and discuss the matter with my farmers and to ensure that the law is changed to let them produce not only the stalk and the seeds, but the flowers and the leaves?

The Government approach illegal drugs—or drugs of any kind—under advice from the Advisory Council on the Abuse of Drugs. If the hon. Member has detailed points that he would like to submit in relation to this, he can write to me and I would be happy to look into it.

I want to give credit to the Marling School students who got me in to talk about migration. Those smart, constructive young people really understand the complexities and I know that they will welcome the recent announcements, but they also expect me to keep pushing for improvement. I am concerned that MPs, councils and councillors are still some of the last people to find out when asylum seekers are placed in hotels in their constituencies. How is the Home Office working with the companies that have been contracted to source and organise hotels in rural areas, and is there day-to-day oversight?

My hon. Friend and I have worked together with respect to some accommodation in her constituency. We have now implemented far better engagement criteria with the Home Office, which will ensure that there should always be engagement with the Member of Parliament and the local authority in advance of placing asylum seekers in a particular place. But it is important to stress once again the immense pressure that our system is now under as a result of the number of people crossing the channel illegally, hence our need to take bold measures such as our Rwanda partnership.

My constituent’s wife is still stuck in Afghanistan with their two children, who are British citizens, and they cannot travel to safe routes for obvious security reasons. I have made untold representations to the Home Office about this. Will the Minister agree to look into this case on my behalf if I get the details to him today?

In 2010 and 2015, Dudley town centre was the scene of some very ugly riots, with the British National party, the National Front and the English Defence League converging on the town centre. On that basis alone, will the Home Secretary ask her officials to reconsider the proposals for siting up to 144 illegal immigrants in a hotel—the Superior Hotel—not 100 yards away from this location?

As a result of the good work undertaken by the Home Office in recent weeks to ensure that the Manston site in Kent is operating appropriately, we have now been able to implement some simple criteria, including risk to public order or disorder, when choosing new hotels. If there is compelling evidence in that regard, it should be taken into account by the Home Office, but there are no easy choices in this matter. The UK is essentially full, and it is extremely hard to find new hotels or other forms of accommodation.

Can the Minister confirm that no citizen will require an electronic travel authorisation to travel from one part of the United Kingdom to another part of the United Kingdom, and that there will be no equivalent to an Irish sea border for citizens travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain or for citizens travelling from GB to Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point, because concerns that need to be allayed have recently been raised in some quarters. There will be no checks at the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland for tourist and other visas. His other points are absolutely correct. It is important that we proceed with our own ETA, as the European Union will be proceeding with its own version next year. This will enable us to improve security throughout the UK by ensuring some dangerous individuals do not enter.