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Home Department

Volume 725: debated on Monday 19 December 2022

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police: Efficiency and Resourcing

Our police force is one of the best in the world and, as we approach Christmas and the new year, I wish to take this opportunity to thank all of them for their heroic efforts this year.

I want to empower our policemen and women, stripping out unnecessary bureaucracy and boosting their numbers. That is why I asked Sir Stephen House to report back to me on productivity, with a focus on mental health. That is why I am also pleased that Cumbria police now has more than 1,000 police officers and will have the highest number in its history once its recruitment drive is complete next year.

I thank the Home Secretary for her response and for the good news about Cumbria police as well—that is always welcome.

Around 40% of the crimes committed today are fraud, but only about 1% of the police’s resources are dedicated to tackling that as an issue. Policing leaders have repeatedly told the Home Affairs Committee that a new policing model is needed to address this growing threat. Organisations such as the Royal United Services Institute have pointed the way to sensible and achievable plans for how we might be able to grow the skills, capacity and capability in policing that is needed to turn the tide not just on an epidemic of fraud, but on what is now a national security concern. Can my right hon. and learned Friend please outline what steps are being taken in the Home Office to review that capability and resourcing, and when we can expect to see the fraud plan published?

My hon. Friend speaks very powerfully about the prevalence of fraud and online crime when it comes to modern-day crime fighting. Tackling it requires a unified and co-ordinated response from Government, from law enforcement and from industry. We will publish the fraud strategy very shortly setting out the response. It will focus on prevention and on bolstering the law enforcement response. None the less, some good work is already going on. I applaud the Metropolitan police on the largest anti-fraud operation relating to the iSpoof website, which was responsible for more than 3 million fraudulent calls in 2022, and there have been 100 arrests so far. There have also been some other high-profile successes relating to fraud, but there is much more that we can do.

I warmly welcome the investment that means Thames Valley Police has already taken on more than 600 new officers. However, because most of them have to enter on a graduate programme, they are currently required to spend 20% of their time on training courses away from the police station, meaning they are not available to answer 999 calls or patrol neighbourhoods. I am delighted that, thanks to my right hon. and learned Friend’s intervention, it will after all no longer become compulsory for new police officers to have degrees. Can she explain what progress she is making to achieve that change and how it will benefit policing in Aylesbury and beyond?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this issue. I want policing to be open to the best, the brightest and the bravest, and that does not always mean that new entrants need to have a degree. I have listened to concerns from police leaders and various people in the sector that we risk getting too academic when it comes to policing. That is why I instructed the College of Policing to design options for a new non-degree entry route, increasing choices for chief constables when it comes to recruitment and ensuring that we build a police force fit for the future. That is what common-sense policing is all about.

Across Barnsley local people are concerned about antisocial behaviour, from fly-tipping to arson. With police forces having seen cuts in the past 12 years, what are the Government doing to support them so that they have the personnel and resources to tackle antisocial behaviour in local communities?

Antisocial behaviour is a real focus for neighbourhood policing. Ultimately it depends on local police forces having increased numbers of policemen and women on the frontline, responding quickly to neighbourhood crime, antisocial behaviour, burglary, vandalism and graffiti. That is why I am glad that across the country we are seeing increased numbers of officers recruited to our ranks.

The police in my constituency work tirelessly to keep local residents safe, but every year they are asked to do more with less. We have lost Richmond police station, we have had budgets stretched further every year and our local officers are increasingly being pulled out of the community at short notice to support events in central London. Does the Home Secretary agree that a visible, regular local presence would help the Met Police to build trust with Londoners, and will she support the Liberal Democrats’ call for a return to community policing and put an end to police station closures?

The hon. Lady should take up some of her concerns about London’s policing with the Mayor of London, who I am afraid has a very disappointing track record when it comes to rising crime in London, particularly knife crime. I urge the Lib Dems to stop their meaningless opposition and get behind the Government’s plan to recruit police numbers and ensure they have the right powers.

The Home Secretary likes to talk about back to basics policing, but last week’s police grants saw core Government funding for the police fall by £62 million, with more of the budget funded through council tax, shifting the extra burden onto struggling households during the cost of living crisis. In the meantime, funding for core priorities such as fraud and serious violence has been cut by £5 million and £4.5 million respectively. Can the Home Secretary explain these cuts, or is this just a case of her Government’s abject failure to grow the economy, back our police and keep our streets safe?

I am sorry, but the hon. Lady needs to get her facts right. This Government are proposing a total police funding settlement of up to £17.2 billion in 2023-24, an increase of up to £287 million compared with 2022-23. Assuming that there is full take-up of the precept flexibility, something this Government introduced, overall police funding available to PCCs will increase by up to £523 million next year—a welcome increase and one that I hope she would support.

Fire Cover: Nottinghamshire

The level of fire cover in Nottinghamshire is a matter for the Nottinghamshire and City of Nottingham Fire Authority, but I would observe that in Nottinghamshire the Labour-controlled fire and rescue service has cut firefighter numbers by 11% since 2016, despite its funding settlement having been about the same as other fire and rescue services, which, nationally have seen only a 1.6% reduction.

The Nottinghamshire and City of Nottingham Fire Authority is proposing to cut the night shift at West Bridgford fire station despite the fact that it will save no money, the station has higher night-time call-out rates than other stations in the county, and it will leave Rushcliffe as the only borough in Nottinghamshire without full-time fire cover at night. Can the Minister advise me on the options Members of Parliament have to challenge the decision-making of local fire authorities when it is clear that they are letting down our constituents and the brave firefighters who serve them?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for her campaigning on the issue of Nottinghamshire fire services, which she has raised with me a number of times. There is certainly no financial excuse for what the fire and rescue authority is doing. This year, it received a 5.2% funding increase and, thanks to my hon. Friend’s campaigning, when the figures are published tomorrow, there will be further good financial news for the Nottinghamshire and City of Nottingham Fire Authority. On how the fire authority’s decisions might be queried, any concerns she has can be raised with the inspectorate and taken into account when the fire service is next inspected. Otherwise, the fire and rescue authority is made up of local authority representatives, who are accountable, periodically, via the ballot box.

Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is well led and staffed by excellent firefighters and non-firefighting staff alike. They keep our community staff in increasingly difficult circumstances. They would like to meet the Minister to discuss their challenges, particularly in relation to funding. Will the Minister take that meeting with them and with local MPs?

Yes, I would be very happy to meet the hon. Member and his colleagues from Nottinghamshire, perhaps early in the new year, to discuss this issue. As I said, Nottinghamshire fire services got a 5.2% funding increase in this current year, and I think good news can be expected when the full settlement is published tomorrow. I would observe that, in common with the rest of the country, the number of fires in Nottinghamshire has substantially decreased by 45% over the last 12 years.


The Government are committed to tackling burglary. Domestic burglary, as measured by the crime survey, has fallen by 53% since 2010—a statistic that Opposition Members seem remarkably reluctant to discuss. We are hiring many extra police officers—the Metropolitan police force, which covers my hon. Friend’s constituency, has a record number of officers—and thanks to the Home Secretary’s intervention, police across the country are working to ensure that every single residential burglary receives an in-person visit from police officers.

I congratulate the Home Secretary for stepping in where the Mayor of London has failed by pushing for police officers to attend all burglaries, and I congratulate the Metropolitan police for listening to that call and implementing Operation Tenacity, as this was a concern that I heard from many Carshalton and Wallington residents. Can my right hon. Friend, at this early stage, give me an indication of how successful the operation has been for burglary arrest numbers?

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the Home Secretary has acted, ensuring that there are record numbers of police in London, whereas the Mayor of London very often simply plays politics. In relation to Operation Tenacity, and the police commitment to attend every residential burglary, I am pleased to report that the Op Tenacity activity has been extremely successful. In fact, it saw 1,700 arrests in just six weeks.

We now live, under this Government, in one of the most unequal countries in the world. Christmas is particularly hard for many people. Although I wish everyone in the House a happy Christmas, can we make sure that the police have the resources, back-up and backroom staff, without whom they cannot catch burglars? We need to stop burglary and reduce poverty in this country simultaneously.

As I said, I am pleased to remind the House that since 2010, according to the crime survey of England and Wales, domestic burglary has fallen by an astonishing 53%. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about making sure that the police have adequate resources. That is why, as the Home Secretary said a few minutes ago, police and crime commissioners will receive next year up to £523 million in additional funding. By March next year, we will have an extra 20,000 police officers. Never in this country’s history have we had so many police officers, which is something that, I hope, people across the House can welcome.

Asylum Backlog

Last week we set out plans to clear the initial decision backlog of asylum legacy cases by the end of next year. Over the summer and autumn, the Home Office reduced the number of older asylum cases by 11,000, and the number of asylum caseworkers has doubled.

Last week the International Development Committee heard from organisations working closely with refugees in the UK. I was disappointed but not surprised to hear Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, say that it was not consulted about the proposals, announced last week, to tackle the backlog. Why have the Government neglected to widely consult experts, and would the Minister be willing to consider their recommendations if I was to write to him?

I would be interested in the views of any of our stakeholders, but the Prime Minister set out a very compelling case last week to radically re-engineer the end-to-end process, with fewer interviews, shorter guidance, less paperwork, specialist caseworkers by nationality, including tackling Albanian cases, and reforming modern slavery by reducing the cooling-off period from 45 to 30 days—all steps to clear the backlog as quickly as possible.

One of my constituents arrived in the UK from Afghanistan and claimed asylum in September 2021. Despite my caseworkers making regular inquiries since August 2022, we have received no updates regarding the status of his application. He tells us that the situation has made him seriously depressed. Does the Minister agree that excessive wait times can have a hugely detrimental impact on mental health, and will he agree to look at this case in further detail?

I would be happy to look at that case and any others that are brought to my attention. The backlog, however, is a symptom of the problem, which is that far too many people are crossing the channel illegally, and that is what this Government are determined to tackle. The hon. Lady and her Opposition colleagues have voted against every tough measure that we have sought to take in recent years. I hope that she will now get behind the measure that we are taking, the statement the Prime Minister made last week and, of course, our world-leading Rwanda partnership, which the Court today gave its agreement to.

Will the Government introduce urgent legislation to strengthen control of our borders, and could that include a notwithstanding clause to guide the courts against using other laws that undermine the fundamental principle of the Prime Minister’s policy?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out last week our intention to bring forward legislation early next year, and at the heart of that legislation will be a simple point of principle that we on this side of the House believe: no one should gain a right to live in this country if they entered illegally. From that, all things will need to flow. Nothing is off the table. We will take our obligations to deliver on that policy very seriously. That is in stark contrast to the Labour party. At the weekend, the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), could not even say whether illegal entry to this country should be an offence. That says it all. We believe in securing our borders and in controlled migration. The Labour party is the party of mass migration.

We in Wiltshire are proud of the fact that some 900 Ukrainians will be enjoying Christmas dinners with us, and that we have entertained a large number of Afghan people who looked after us so well during the war. However, we were very surprised when last Friday 82 young Albanian men were moved into the very rural, very distantly located Wiltshire golf club without any notice at all being given to the neighbouring retirement village. Does the Minister agree that this is an inappropriate location for people of this kind, who are very probably economic migrants, and will he seek to advance them elsewhere as soon as he possibly can?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. We do not want to use hotels in any part of the country; we want to tackle the issue at its source. I understand his constituents’ concerns with respect to the hotel in Wiltshire. As I understand it, a smaller number of individuals have been accommodated there than he has perhaps been advised and the local authority was informed in advance, but that does not diminish his constituents’ concerns. I am happy to talk to him to see what we can do to end that at the earliest opportunity.

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 is profoundly counterproductive legislation, as illustrated by the fact that, since it was passed, the number of dangerous crossings has reached a record high. The Act includes the so-called inadmissibility clause, but the fact that the Government have failed to negotiate a returns agreement with a single European country means that just 21 out of 18,000 inadmissible people have been returned. Sending 300 asylum seekers to Rwanda will not even touch the sides of that 18,000. Does the Minister recognise the inadequacy of the legislation? Will he explain why the Government’s utterly self-defeating approach has led directly to the British taxpayer footing an extra bill of £500 million?

First, whatever the inadequacies of the current system, they would be far worse if the Opposition were in power—in fact, the backlog of cases was 450,000 when the last Labour Government handed over to us. They have opposed every tough measure that we have taken, including the Nationality and Borders Act. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that Act did not go far enough, I will welcome his support next year when we bring forward further and even tougher legislation. We will make sure that we secure the borders and control migration. He cannot see the difference between people genuinely fleeing persecution and economic migrants. He is testing the will of the British people; we will take action.

My casework in Glasgow Central speaks to the fundamentally broken asylum system, and a failing immigration system more widely, as other types of applications are regularly delayed and people are left waiting for years. The barrister Colin Yeo suggests that, to get the asylum backlog down to 20,000, the Home Office would need to make 8,000 decisions a month. In the year to September, only 16,400 decisions were made in total, so precisely how will the Minister meet his target?

Last week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out our plan to re-engineer the process and hire more decision makers. It is about not just people and resource, but ensuring that the process is faster and less bureaucratic, and that the guidance is cut and simplified. If the hon. Lady wants to help us with the issue, perhaps she will get on to her colleagues in the Scottish Government, because today in Scotland, in contrast with the rest of the United Kingdom, only one city—Glasgow—is doing its fair share and taking asylum seekers. In the whole of Scotland, only a dozen hotels outside of Glasgow are taking asylum seekers, which is not fair and equitable. She might sound pious, but her words and rhetoric are not matched by action from the Scottish Government.

Local authorities in Scotland are reticent to take more because they know that the UK Government are not funding asylum seeker provision properly, and that pressed budgets due to another round of austerity are coming down the road, as the Minister knows just fine. Can he confirm that the Home Office is recruiting asylum decision makers from people in customer service and sales positions at McDonald’s and Aldi who have no prior experience of the asylum system, who are consulting Lonely Planet guides for knowledge of applicant countries, and who have described being

“left to fend for themselves”

after two days to conduct complex interviews and make life or death decisions? Is that really an adequate way to conduct sensitive decision making?

I do not recognise anything that the hon. Lady just said. The problem with the current system is that it is too complicated and too bureaucratic. We want to simplify that, speed up those decisions and make sure that the teams are more productive. To come back to her first point, the Scottish Government are refusing to take any of the asylum seekers who are arriving in the UK on small boats, which is not right. There is a widening gulf between the actions of the Scottish Government and their rhetoric, which I ask her to consider.

Asylum System

We are taking immediate action to accelerate decision making and improve our asylum system by streamlining and modernising it, including by shortening interviews, removing unnecessary interviews, making the guidance more accessible, and dealing with cases more swiftly when they can be certified as manifestly unfounded.

The Home Office is placing vulnerable, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels in local authority areas. It is directly commissioning those hotels and other services, because it knows that local authorities do not have the funding or capacity required. Will the Home Secretary finally admit that these vulnerable children are legally the Home Office’s responsibility, so that they are not left in legal limbo? Will she ensure that her Department takes a strategic approach that addresses the placement shortage, rather than its current ad hoc approach, and will she ensure that the police do all that they can to keep searching for those children who have gone missing and have yet to be relocated?

We take very seriously the position of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—and indeed of children, full stop. Safeguarding them is of the utmost importance to all authorities, and to the Home Office, when it comes to decision making. We will shortly look at the funding arrangement for local authorities’ support of these children, so that their needs are properly met.

Potentially one of the best parts of our asylum system is the safe route created for Afghans who helped British forces during the war in Afghanistan. They are often full of professional skills, speak good English, and could make a huge contribution to this country, if they were allowed to move on with their life. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give me a report on progress on getting more of these Afghan citizens out of hotels, and allowing them to get on with their life and to contribute to our society?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We support those who have come to the United Kingdom through designated schemes such as the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, and those people who supported allied forces in Afghanistan. Far too many of those Afghan nationals are being accommodated in hotels; on that, he is right. That is why we are moving very quickly. We are working with the Ministry of Defence, and are looking at all options, including, for example, service family accommodation, to properly accommodate a cohort of Afghans, so that they can move on with their life and settle peacefully here.

In 2020, the Home Office secured just 12 convictions a month for people smuggling into the UK. In 2021, that fell to eight a month and, in the first half of 2022, it fell to just three a month. The smuggler gangs have proliferated, and the dangerous boat crossings that put lives at risk are up twentyfold, yet the number of criminals paying the price for their crime has collapsed. Why has the Home Secretary totally failed to take action against the criminal gangs?

Let me point out who has totally failed to take any action against the criminal gangs: the right hon. Lady and the Labour party. I am really enjoying the shadow Home Secretary’s reinvention over the past weeks and months, but despite her trying to sound tough on illegal migration and people smugglers, Labour voted against our new offences for prosecuting the people smugglers who are causing the problem on the channel. Labour voted against tougher sentences that enable us to deport foreign rapists and foreign drug dealers. Labour would scrap our Rwanda scheme. Yesterday, the right hon. Lady did not even know whether illegal entry was an offence. The reality is that Labour has no plan whatever on illegal migration; it is against our plan, and all it wants is open borders.

The Home Secretary had no response on the total collapse in prosecutions, and she has had 12 years in charge. She says that the asylum system is broken; well, who broke it? Minsters have been running the system for the last 12 years, in which they have made things worse. Since the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 came into force, the number of people arriving by dangerous boat has reached a record high, so their legislation has not worked. The Prime Minister promised extra money for the National Crime Agency, but two days after he made that announcement, the Home Office does not know how much that money is, and the Treasury has not agreed anything. Can the Home Secretary tell us how much additional funding there will be for the National Crime Agency, and where it is coming from? On the Conservatives’ watch, a multimillion-pound criminal industry has grown along our border, and while Ministers faff around, gangs are making profit and people are drowning.

I am proud of the announcement that the Prime Minister made last week, setting out a comprehensive, methodical and compassionate approach to dealing with illegal migration and stopping the boats crossing the channel, dealing with the asylum backlog, responding to the cohort of people who have come here illegally from Albania, operationalising our Rwanda agreement and ensuring that ultimately we crack down on the people smugglers through better operational command on the channel. The right hon. Lady needs to get with the programme. I invite her to reverse her opposition to our plan, come up with a methodical plan and then let us have a proper conversation.

Tier 1 Investor Visas: Review

This question has been raised on many occasions, including, funnily enough, by me in a former incarnation. I am pleased to say that we are approaching the moment when I will be able to satisfy not only the hon. Gentleman’s but my desires.

Sounds fascinating, Mr Speaker, but the Minister—whom I congratulate on his role—knows that this review was commissioned nearly five years ago, so it is pathetic not to be able to give us a direct answer on when it is coming. Contrary to today’s rhetoric on securing borders, can he confirm that this scheme quickly became a security risk to this country, with no fewer than 10 Russians who were approved under the scheme now being sanctioned by the UK, and that more than 6,000 others granted tier 1 visa status are now being reviewed as a security risk to this country?

The hon. Member makes some solid points about the dangers of the involvement of certain states—in this case, Russia—in the United Kingdom. He should also be aware that the visa scheme closed in February 2022, and the response to Russian aggression or Russian influence in this country has been pretty robust. Indeed, since 2019, we have increased spending on the National Crime Agency by 30% and £200 million extra has gone in. As he knows, there is a long way to go and that is exactly what I am going to be doing over the next few years.

Asylum Seekers: Support

Appropriate support is provided to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute while applications are outstanding. Asylum seekers have access to the NHS, and children in family units to full-time education. They can obtain further assistance via the Migrant Help support line.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and British Red Cross have highlighted how 13,000 individuals have been trafficked into modern slavery, and the fact that they are not in regular employment being a risk. As a result, will the Minister ensure that local authorities have the funds to put on a full programme for asylum seekers while they are waiting, but also that there are pilot schemes so that those people can have access to the labour market?

The hon. Lady and I have met to discuss this issue, and I am grateful to her for her thoughts and for the good work that has been done in York. We do not agree that those awaiting asylum decisions should have access to the labour market. We think that that could be a further pull factor to the UK. However, there are other ways in which asylum seekers can make a positive contribution to society, for example, through volunteering, and we want to work with local authorities and other stakeholders to see whether we can pursue those.

No one would deny that France is a safe country, so should not those genuinely fleeing persecution be claiming asylum in France, rather than paying people traffickers to bring them across the channel in small boats in dangerous circumstances?

As ever, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those claiming asylum should do so in the first safe country they pass through, and France is demonstrably a safe country. The system that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I want to build is one whereby those who come here illegally have no route to a life in the UK and are taken for their claims to be heard in third countries such as Rwanda, and we focus our resources as a country on targeted resettlement schemes and safe routes, like those that we have done so well in recent years in respect of Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria.

Ukrainian Nationals: Visas and Support

Applications for the UK’s three bespoke Ukraine schemes are online, have no fee and no salary or language requirements. Nearly 150,000 visas have been issued to Ukrainians since the start of Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion. The UK Visas and Immigration service aims to decide those applications within five days, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Generally, we are now meeting that standard.

Ukrainian MPs who have met colleagues here have repeatedly asked for improvements to UK visit visa processes. Visitors from Ukraine must either go to Poland twice—first for biometrics and then to collect the visa—or wait there for several weeks. Will the Minister look at what can be done to make it simpler for those brave politicians and other Ukrainian citizens visiting their families here to access the necessary visa?

I am in contact with a number of Ukrainian politicians who have raised exactly that point with me and, indeed, the issue of those serving in the Ukrainian armed forces who might wish to visit relatives here while on a short period of leave. I am giving that further consideration.

Immigration Policies: Impact on Scotland

11. What assessment she has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the Government’s immigration policies on the (a) population of and (b) availability of labour in Scotland. (902855)

Our points-based system, with a wide range of eligible occupations spanning many economic sectors, works for the whole of the United Kingdom by welcoming people to fill skills gaps, support our public services and boost our economy. As noted by the Migration Advisory Committee’s annual report, immigration policy cannot be a complete solution to population movements within the UK, or labour shortages. It is for the Scottish Government to use their policy levers to address those issues more effectively.

One of my constituents is a renewable energy researcher from Syria, and he is struggling with the Government’s restrictive policies on the employment of asylum seekers. He is unable to work or pursue further study in his field. Given that the shortage of labour impacts all sectors of the economy, does the Minister agree that the UK Government should make the rules on asylum seekers seeking employment less restrictive to support the Scottish labour market?

No, I do not, because we want to ensure that deterrence is diffused throughout our asylum system. That means making the UK a significantly less attractive destination for asylum seekers, and particularly for those asylum shopping, than our EU neighbours. For that reason, we do not want to see asylum seekers working in the British economy. We want to see their cases decided as quickly as possible. If they are approved, of course they should be welcomed into the UK and make a positive contribution to British society. If they are declined, they should be removed.

County Lines

The Government are determined to crack down on county lines gangs who are exploiting our children and devastating communities. That is why we have invested £145 million in our county lines programme over three years. That is delivering results. Since 2019, the programme has resulted in over 2,900 drug dealing lines being closed down, including over 8,000 arrests. That is important work and it is continuing.

I recently took part in a dawn raid with Watford police officers as part of a national operation to crack down on serious organised crime. There are of course clear victims involved in crime but, as I wore my stab vest, I contemplated the dangerous situation that we were about to enter. Can my right hon. Friend confirm what support is being put in place to keep our brave police officers safe in such situations, including mental health support for the horrific scenes that they may see in their jobs daily, and support when they encounter dangerous criminals?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for taking part in the dawn raid, which I hope was a resounding success. I share his concerns about the mental health of police officers, who are often exposed to dangerous conditions and situations. The police covenant board, which I chair, met just a few weeks ago, and many of the work streams are designed to help police officers deal with mental health pressures. We have instituted a new chief medical officer position to look after serving and retired police officers, which is extremely important, and I am working closely with the Police Federation to ensure that the right support is in place.

In Burnley, our neighbourhood policing taskforce has been doing great work breaking down doors, disrupting gangs and arresting those responsible for dealing drugs. A key driver of that is the Government’s combating drugs strategy, but most of the new funding under the strategy is geared towards treatment and prevention, which, while important, will not be effective without the deterrent of tough enforcement. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and the Lancashire police and crime commissioner to talk about what more we might be able to do to make the strategy even better?

I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Lancashire. He is quite right that there are three elements to the combating drugs strategy. One is treatment. It is important to treat drug addiction, which is the underlying cause of a great deal of offending behaviour. In addition to ensuring that we are treating people, we need to enforce, too. That is one reason why we are recruiting more police officers. I think his local Lancashire force already has an extra 362 officers, which is well on the way to the extra 509 officers it is due to have by March next year. We are also increasing resources in Border Force to stop drugs getting into the country. There are now, I think, over 10,000 Border Force officers, up from about 7,500 in 2016. So, lots of extra resources are going into enforcement and policing, as well as treatment, but both are important.

Smashing the county lines business model and breaking up the gangs has to be a top priority, but of course it is still attractive to far too many young people. At the heart of the model is the exploitation of vulnerable young children. What more cross-agency work does the Minister think could be done that is not yet being done to ensure that a life of criminality is not a viable option?

I agree entirely with the sentiment that the hon. Gentleman expresses. It is vital to stop younger people, perhaps early and mid-teenagers, falling into gang culture. Very often that is because they have suffered from family breakdown or are in difficult social circumstances. One action we are taking, which we need to accelerate and increase, is introducing violence reduction units. They are designed to identify individual young people at risk of falling into gangs, including county lines activities, and to take interventions, whether through social services, education or other interventions, to try to put them back on the right track. That is a Home Office-funded programme that we intend to continue, but the diagnosis the hon. Gentleman makes is exactly right.

On that very point, last week I met an inspiring group of young students at West Thames College who are studying full time and having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. It has not been easy for them. The message they asked me to bring here was that the best way to protect young people from going down a different route and getting sucked into county lines and violent crime is to have adequate, accessible and fully funded youth services. Does the Minister therefore regret the Government’s cuts to local councils since 2010, which have led to the decimation of universal youth provision?

I have already referred to the significant amounts of money being put into violence reduction units, including funding some of the activity that the hon. Lady refers to—although it is not just that, it is much wider. It is important to divert younger people away from a life of crime and a gang culture that can all too easily take hold. It is for precisely that reason that we have established the well-funded violence reduction units, including in the London constituencies that both she and I represent.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Merry Christmas to you and to all the staff.

Contrary to the current rhetoric on modern slavery, thousands of British children were enslaved for sex and crime, such as county lines gangs, this year. Of the thousands of children identified as potential slaves this year, more British children were identified as potential child slaves than any other nationality. Last year, there was one conviction for modern slavery offences involving children. A woman I work with was left waiting by the Home Office for two years to be classified as a victim of slavery after she was groomed for sex and criminally exploited in a county lines gang since the age of 13. Referring to the Home Office written statement on the national referral mechanism, can the Minister confirm what “objective factors” to evident slavery means? If the Department thinks it is easy to prove slavery, why was there only one conviction last year?

A lot of work is going on in the area. We have provided £145 million of funding to investigate and tackle county lines. That work has included 2,900 county lines being shut down. Critically, it has also included 9,500 individuals, most of whom are children, being engaged with safeguarding interventions.

Essentially, the national referral mechanism is currently being overwhelmed with a large number of claims, many of which are connected with immigration proceedings. One reason that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration wants to introduce objective criteria is to ensure that we focus our resources on genuine cases like the one that the hon. Lady describes. Rather than having the system overwhelmed by many unmeritorious claims in connection with immigration matters, it is important that we focus our attention on genuine cases like the one to which she refers.

Topical Questions

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.