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Commons Chamber

Volume 725: debated on Monday 19 December 2022

House of Commons

Monday 19 December 2022

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]


Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 28th November, praying that His Majesty will reappoint Mr William Lifford to the office of ordinary member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority with effect from 11 January 2023 for the period ending 10 January 2026, was presented to His Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

New Member

The following Member made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:

Andrew Western, for Stretford and Urmston.

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

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.

Strep A Treatments: Supply

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will make a statement on the supply of strep A treatments.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know families are concerned about the recent outbreak of strep A in children. Although the vast majority of strep A cases are mild and can easily be treated with antibiotics, a small number of children have gone on to develop serious infections.

The UK Health Security Agency has already declared a national enhanced incident to co-ordinate our public response. Increased demand has led to some temporary supply issues, but I reassure Members on both sides of the House that we have stock of antibiotics and have taken a number of steps to deal with some of the supply issues.

First, we have worked at pace to help to ensure that there are supplies of vital medicines to meet the increased demand. Earlier this month, we convened roundtables with manufacturers of the preferred treatment, penicillin V, and with major UK wholesalers. We continue to work with manufacturers and wholesalers to boost supply to meet demand. The key issue is getting stock to pharmacies across the country. We have brought forward stock to make sure it gets to where it is needed, and we are expediting deliveries. Deliveries to wholesalers and pharmacies continues to be made, with more expected in the coming days and weeks.

Secondly, we have issued eight serious shortage protocols to allow pharmacists to supply not only alternative forms of penicillin, but alternative antibiotics. This will make things easier for pharmacists, general practitioners and, of course, patients. We have also added a number of antibiotics to our list of medicines that cannot be exported or hoarded.

Finally, we have updated advice across the board. Further guidance was given to GPs and pharmacists on Friday as part of the new SSPs. My Department has provided advice to colleagues in primary and secondary care on the management of the current supply issues. We have also held a cross-party briefing for MPs, and a “Dear Colleague” letter will go out later today.

I know this is a worrying time for families across the country, but I reassure them and people across the healthcare sector that we are managing the higher-than-normal number of strep A cases this winter and we have a range of medicines available.

Across the country, parents are worried sick about the sharp rise in strep A infections. Tragically, strep A has caused the death of at least 19 children since September.

Last Thursday, just a few days after insisting there were no shortages, the Government finally admitted that there were indeed serious shortages of three penicillin medicines and issued serious shortage protocols to give pharmacists emergency powers to deal with supply issues. Why on earth did they take so long?

The Government will have seen the data on the number of prescriptions for strep A antibiotics, which started to rise more than a month ago. Health professionals, including Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, have been raising the alarm publicly for more than two weeks, and I called for a strep A summit to resolve the supply issues. Because the Government did not come clean sooner about the shortage of antibiotics, parents who are worried about their children have been left to travel to multiple pharmacies, GPs have had to find time to rewrite prescriptions and A&E departments have been overwhelmed by anxious parents and children who cannot access medical help when they need it.

Why have the Government taken so long to act? Did they not look at prescription data, or did they just ignore it? Why did the Secretary of State insist on television that there were no shortages, when GPs, pharmacists, directors of public health and parents all said that there were? After shortages of lateral flow tests, hormone replacement therapy and so on—you name it—why are we in this position again? The Government seem incapable of forward planning, and we are stuck in a shortage groundhog day. Can the Minister update us on the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into the sharp rise in the prices of antibiotics?

Finally, we are in the lead-up to Christmas. Pharmacists have told me that some key contacts in the manufacturing companies are already on leave for the Christmas holiday. Families are making difficult decisions about the safety of their children and extended family. What action will the Government take now to ensure that families across the country can access the antibiotics they might need over the entire Christmas period?

I reassure the hon. Lady that we have not waited to act. We have already issued serious shortage protocols, which are routine mechanisms when there is pressure on supplies. We have the stock of antibiotics in the country—as I outlined in my opening remarks, it is about supply issues. We are seeing five to six times the amount of antibiotics being prescribed at the moment. That is because the UK Health Security Agency has issued guidance to GPs, A&Es and healthcare professionals to lower the threshold of when they would normally give antibiotics. We are seeing significantly increased use of antibiotics. That is in addition to the prophylactic use of antibiotics by directors of public health, if they have had an outbreak locally. That is why we issued the initial SSPs already a couple of weeks ago so that pharmacists had flexibility in how they dispensed that medication. It is why on Friday we issued the new SSPs, which allow amoxicillin, clarithromycin, flucloxacillin, cefalexin, co-amoxiclav and erythromycin to be issued instead, if pharmacists do not have Penicillin V on their shelves. We are being as flexible as possible to give pharmacists that scope.

We are monitoring this issue on a daily basis. May I reassure people that while these are higher than usual incidences for this time of year, overall for this season we are not yet at the 2017, 2018 levels, where we had a significantly higher number of deaths? Strep A occurs not just in—[Interruption.] Hon. Members do not want to listen. I think I have said enough.

I am pleased to hear that there are adequate supplies of penicillin and amoxicillin. My hon. Friend will be aware that some tetracyclines are less effective with certain ethnic groups. She is right in saying, is she not, that most strep A infections are not serious. Does she agree that we should be encouraging parents to give their children flu vaccinations? Usually, serious streptococcal infections occur when someone has been run down through a viral infection first.

My hon. Friend is right to advise people to take their flu vaccination. What I was trying to say, but the Opposition did not really want to hear, was that strep A occurs in all age groups. Actually, the highest number of deaths we see are in over-65s. It is important to get the message out that this issue does not just affect children. My hon. Friend is right. The flu vaccine is something that should always be recommended for winter. He is also right that the alternative antibiotics that I read out have been recommended by UKHSA, and we have taken its clinical advice.

May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all staff of the House a merry Christmas? I also thank the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) for securing this urgent question. I put on record my deepest condolences to the families of the children who have tragically passed away with strep A. The news that cases are surging has been deeply worrying for parents of children showing symptoms, and it comes at a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented pressure.

We first heard about shortages of antibiotics to treat strep A almost two weeks ago, but when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised the issue with the Prime Minister, he said:

“There are no current shortages of drugs available”.—[Official Report, 7 December 2022; Vol. 724, c. 333.]

At the same time, parents were going from pharmacy to pharmacy to find the antibiotics their children had been prescribed, and they simply were not available. Why did the Prime Minister not know that there was a problem, when it was plain to see for parents of young people across the country? Had the Government been aware of the problem sooner, surely they could have acted to secure supplies earlier? The Minister said that there has been no shortage, just a supply chain issue. For a parent turning up to a pharmacy and finding that it does not have the antibiotics, it does not make much difference whether this is called a shortage or a supply chain issue, as the antibiotics are not there. The Government must get a grip on this situation and be honest with the public about the reality on the ground.

In addition to the export ban, will the Minister tell the House exactly what the Government are doing to shore up supply of drugs needed to treat strep A? During the past couple of weeks, as desperate parents have been looking for antibiotics, prices have disgracefully shot up. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will come down like a ton of bricks on any company found to be exploiting this situation by jacking up prices for medication?

This is about access to not just medicine, but GPs and A&E. Parents concerned about symptoms are advised to seek prompt medical advice, yet about one in seven patients cannot get a GP appointment when they need one, a record 2 million patients are made to wait a month before they see a GP and A&E departments are overwhelmed. So will the Minister assure parents of children with symptoms of strep A that they will be able to see a GP when they need to? Finally, given that there are strikes planned in the NHS this week, may I ask the Minister whether the Secretary of State plans to update the House tomorrow and explain the Government’s disgraceful inaction on that issue too?

Let me reassure Members that, as I said in my opening remarks, there is no shortage of antibiotics to deal with strep A. There have been pressures on supplies; there have been five to six times the amount of prescriptions that are normally issued at this time of year. Let me give the House an idea of the sorts of figures we are talking about. This season, we have seen 74 deaths across all age groups in England, with 16 of them, unfortunately, having been deaths of children under 18—the vast majority have been among the over-65s. In the 2017-18 peak, we had 355 deaths of all ages, with 27 of those being deaths of children under 18. That just gives us an idea of the scale of the difference compared with the peak of 2017-18. We have put significant measures in place to expedite that supply. Manufacturers are ramping up production lines. Deliveries to pharmacies have been happening every day, but often when the supplies arrive there they go very quickly. That is why we have issued the SSPs already, so that pharmacies can allow the different medication to be dispensed, and the alternative antibiotics are there as well. May I also put on record my thanks to GPs and A&E staff, who have seen record numbers of people, particularly children, with concerns about strep A? We did lower the threshold to prescribe antibiotics and they have gone above and beyond in seeing as many children as they can, as quickly as possible.

Group A streptococcus has been associated as a trigger for PANDAS—paediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections—a distressing autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder in children. I welcome the planned PANDAS surveillance study, which will, no doubt, help assess the impact of this outbreak on children, but will the Minister meet me and other members of the all-party group that deals with this to discuss how we can develop and move towards a treatment pathway for PANDAS in the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important point. UKHSA is looking at the data on this outbreak and previous ones. I am happy to meet him to discuss that, particularly if he has details of treatment options he feels are not being pursued at the moment.

Does the Minister accept that no production lines in UK pharmaceutical suppliers are operating, because we have contracted out all our supplies to China and India, which manufacture all the drugs? Both countries have not signed up to the pharmaceutical inspection and co-operation scheme, which ensures homogenisation of good manufacturing practices. The UK manufacturers have to apply that whereas the overseas manufacturers do not. Therefore, we have over 10 manufacturers of pharmaceuticals who are not able to produce the right antibiotics because of the unfair discrimination against them by the Government. Will she ensure that this is put right before Christmas so that our local, British pharmaceutical manufacturers can produce the right antibiotics to give to all our children who need them so desperately?

Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman had not been heckling me throughout my opening remarks, he would have heard that we are working with manufacturers and wholesalers across the country. Manufacturers are opening up new production lines and those supplies will be hitting pharmacy shelves very soon.

I recently visited Broomfield Hospital and was concerned to hear that the paediatric A&E was seeing three times as many children as was normal for this time of year. Given that strep A is often a complication of flu, which can be harmful to children, and given that the vaccine take-up, especially of two and three-year-olds, is so low, will my hon. Friend join me in urging all parents, especially those of two and three-year-olds, to go out and get that protection against both flu and strep A by getting their child the flu vaccine?

My right hon. Friend is right to encourage parents to take their children for the flu vaccine. She is also right to highlight the level of demand in her local A&E. Parents are doing the right thing. If they are concerned about their children, they should get them seen as early as possible. For those in doubt about the symptoms: they are flu-like symptoms of sore throat, headache, fever, muscle aches and also a rash that can feel like sandpaper. If parents are concerned, they should seek medical advice.

It is currently suggested that parents contact 111 or book a GP appointment if they are concerned about strep A. Yet 111 workers are already stretched and millions of parents are struggling to get GP appointments, but with strep A there is no time to be wasted. What are the Government doing to ensure that diagnosis and treatment are expedited, because no more families should be facing the prospect of mourning this Christmas?

The hon. Lady is right to raise that matter. Every day, we monitor the number of appointments with GPs, A&E visits, pharmacy visits and the impact that those are having on our stock levels of antibiotics, and the number of incidents of positive cases. Scarlet fever is a notifiable disease, so we are able to track this fairly easily, but she is right on this. GPs and A&E doctors are going above and beyond to see as many as possible of the people coming forward with concerns.

It is good to hear that there is no shortage of antibiotics, and I know that many parents in my constituency will be reassured by that. None the less, from speaking to constituents, I do know that they have had to travel further than normal to get the antibiotics that have been prescribed by a GP. What steps are the Government taking to make sure that antibiotics are delivered to a range of places, particularly those areas where there is a larger outbreak, because that is where they will be needed the most?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. While we do not have a shortage, there are, as I have clearly outlined, supply issues. When deliveries are made to pharmacies, those pharmacies very quickly run out because of the sheer scale of demand. I say to parents that the new SSPs issued on Friday will allow pharmacists to replace the prescription antibiotic with a number of antibiotics. If they go in with a prescription for penicillin B and are given amoxicillin, clarithromycin, flucloxacillin, cephalexin, co-amoxiclav or erythromycin, for example, that is because they are recommended as alternative antibiotics that can adequately treat strep A.

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but you caught me unawares there. I was expecting to go up and down automatically until the very end.

I thank the Minister for her answers, but this is not only about strep A. Will she confirm that discussions have taken place with Army medics, so that they can step into the breach as GPs are under pressure? One parent in my constituency simply refused to leave the GP’s office until he was seen, and quite rightly so, as his daughter had scarlet fever and needed an immediate antibiotic injection. I do not blame the GPs, because it is clear that they need more support. Can this be made available? The Army medics are perhaps the solution.

I am sorry to hear about the problems that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent has had in accessing help. We do recognise that there are serious pressures. Winter is a busy time for GPs in the best of years, but this year, with strep A, UKHSA and officials are encouraging parents to come forward, and parents are doing exactly the right thing. We are working with GPs, and NHS England is reaching out to primary care colleagues to see what additional support is needed to meet that demand.

I think the Minister’s definition of a “shortage” is different from that of parents. One parent in my constituency got in touch with me last week. She was a local mum of a 13-month-old boy who has been diagnosed with strep A. After a frantic search for antibiotics—during which the doctors changed the prescription—she managed, in her desperation, to get a third of the necessary prescription. Since then she has been trying pharmacies repeatedly to get the remainder. Today, she runs out, and she still does not have the drugs that she needs. What is the Minister’s message for that mum trying to keep that little boy safe?

We recognise that there are supply issues with pharmacies. That is why pharmacists have had the flexibility since before last week to adjust doses and preparations. Since Friday they have also been able to issue alternative antibiotics. I would say to the hon. Lady’s constituent to go back to her pharmacist, who will be able to give her an alternative supply.[Official Report, 20 December 2022, Vol. 725, c. 3MC.]

Parents right across my constituency have been raising concerns with me about the rise in strep A cases. I spoke to a reception class teacher last week who told me that more than half the reception class were off with a variety of winter diseases, including strep A. Parents tell me that when they see the symptoms, they struggle to get a GP appointment because of the logjam in the primary care system. What steps is the Minister taking to make more GP appointments available so that parents are not left waiting?

Where there has been an outbreak in a local area, many directors of public health are starting children in classes or in schools with known cases on prophylactic antibiotics, preventing strep A in the first place. If the hon. Lady has a case in her constituency, I urge her to talk to her director of public health; it is a clinical decision, but they may be able to start pupils in those classes on prophylactic doses.

On Friday, with my local pharmaceutical committee, I visited Whitworth Pharmacy in Elswick in my constituency and saw the fantastic work it does to support health in the community. I also saw the empty shelves where the antibiotics that would normally be used to treat strep A should be. The Minister does not seem to realise that a supply issue means a shortage on the shelves. I learned too that pharmacies are being asked to pay up to £19 for a box of antibiotics that would normally cost £2, and there is no commitment from the Government to reimburse that amount. What immediate assurances can she give that local pharmacies will not be priced out of supporting their communities?

Let me be absolutely clear that no supplier should be using this as an opportunity to exploit the NHS. The Competition and Markets Authority is looking at any complaints about price increases and we are working with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee at pace to review the concessionary price arrangements and see how they can be improved.

If parents right across the country are reporting to their MPs that they are having to go from pharmacy to pharmacy to get the right antibiotics, there is a shortage. If pharmacies are reporting that they are running out of supplies as soon as they come in because they already have high demand, there is a shortage. It was not until last Thursday that the serious shortage protocols were introduced. I raised this issue with the Government on 6 December at health questions, and I was told that there was no shortage. As well as repeating her answer that there is no shortage, can the Minister give us an assurance that the antibiotics are available in liquid form, which is suitable for children?

Just to confirm, the five SSPs issued on Friday were in addition to the three issued previously. If colleagues are having problems with the pharmacies in their constituencies not getting stock, I must say that I held a cross-party meeting with MPs on this very issue not so long ago and a handful of colleagues attended. My door is open and, if people are having problems in their constituencies, I ask them to please come and see me, because we have mechanisms in place to deal with that—but I need colleagues to let me know when we hold cross-party meetings.

Last week Hannah, a young mum from the Runcorn part of my constituency, visited nine different pharmacies looking for the appropriate medication for her four-year-old little boy. It was not available, because there is a shortage. It is time to be clear and transparent about that. The Minister should not be in denial about the reality; she should give those parents and their children reassurance by getting a grip of the situation.

I can give parents struggling to get those antibiotics the reassurance that pharmacies are now able to dispense alternative antibiotics. I have read them out, but I can do so again: amoxicillin, clarithromycin, flucloxacillin, cefalexin, co-amoxiclav and erythromycin. We have taken action to make sure that those antibiotics are available to parents.

There appears to be some confusion about the difference between an insufficiency of stocks and supply difficulties. Just for absolute clarity, given that the Minister has reported to the House today that demand has gone up five or six times, are there currently sufficient or insufficient stocks in the country to meet that increased demand?

The deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s general practitioners committee told the Health Committee two weeks ago about the challenges faced by GPs in accessing appropriate pharmaceuticals. What are NHS planners doing to ensure that logistics are getting stocks to the appropriate place in a timely way? With strep A, we just cannot wait.

Absolutely. That is why wholesalers have expedited deliveries and increased the number of deliveries that are going to pharmacies. We are working with NHS England, with UKHSA and with pharmaceutical bodies to make sure that those supplies are getting to them. But we recognise that even with the expedited and extra deliveries there is still demand on supplies, which is why the SSPs have been issued—so that pharmacists can dispense not just alternative preparations of what has been prescribed, but alternative substitutes.

Parents in Barnsley are really worried. The Minister has said more than once that there is no shortage, but I say gently to her that that is not the experience of many of my constituents. They do not need her to refer to that simply as a supply issue; they want to hear what the Government are doing to tackle the shortage and to ensure that there are no regional disparities in access to medicine.

I do not want to repeat myself, but we have been clear. We have been working with manufacturers and wholesalers to up production and expedite deliveries to pharmacies, but we recognised fairly early on that that was not going to be enough to meet demand. That is why we already had SSPs in place, so that pharmacists had some flexibility. But we recognised that that was not enough, so on Thursday and Friday we issued five new SSPs so that pharmacists had the flexibility to dispense alternative antibiotics that are as good at dealing with strep A as penicillin V. We will go further. We have more manufacturing plans to increase supply, and we also have alternative provision coming onstream in the next few days, about which I can update the House as well, so we are not just resting on our laurels. We will do whatever it takes to get those antibiotics to those who need them.

The Minister said that there are supply issues but no shortage. I am trying to be helpful here, so may I make a suggestion to improve domestic supply? I recently visited Bristol Laboratories in Peterlee in my constituency—I pay tribute to its management and workforce for their hard work—which has the facilities and the flexible capacity to supply generic medicines to the NHS at relatively short notice. It would seem advantageous to meet Bristol Laboratories and similar manufacturers. UK domestic production capacity for such medications is vital, as was demonstrated during covid. If we do not protect our sovereign manufacturing capability, we risk the UK being at the back of the queue if and when the next global supply shortage or demand surge hits.

If the hon. Gentleman forwards to me the details, I will happily look at that. I would just point out that, as of 12 December, a number of European countries, including Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Sweden have indicated an increase this winter, particularly since September. Antibiotics and amoxicillin are both reported to be in short supply in those countries. This issue is not related solely to the United Kingdom.

Migration and Economic Development

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the UK’s migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda.

One hundred million people are displaced globally. Others want to move to a different country, often for economic reasons. This presents an enormous challenge for sought-after destinations such as the United Kingdom. Since 2015, this kind and generous country has welcomed nearly 450,000 people through safe and legal routes. The British people are eager to help those in need and they support controlled migration. They have opened their homes to refugees. But they do not want open borders.

For decades the British people were told that this was immoral and that their concerns and opinions did not matter. Even today we see from certain quarters an unhealthy contempt for anyone who wants controlled migration. Such an attitude is unhelpful. Moreover, it is fanciful. We do not have infinite capacity. Already we are struggling to accommodate new arrivals, meaning that we spend millions every day in hotel bills alone.

We cannot tolerate people coming here illegally. It is not legitimate to leave a safe country such as France to seek asylum in the United Kingdom. We have to break the business model of the people-smuggling gangs. Their trade in human cargo is evil and lethal, as we were tragically reminded very recently.

There is a global migration crisis and it requires international solutions. In April, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), backed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), signed a ground-breaking migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda. They deserve enormous credit for their work on this. We agreed that people who come to the UK via dangerous, illegal and unnecessary means can be relocated to Rwanda to have their asylum claims considered there. Those in need of protection will be given up to five years of support, including education and employment training, along with help with integration, accommodation and healthcare.

Being relocated to Rwanda is not a punishment but an innovative way of addressing a major problem to redress the imbalance between illegal and legal migration routes. It will also ensure that those in genuine need of international protection are provided with it in Rwanda. It is a humane and practical alternative for those who come here through dangerous, illegal and unnecessary routes. By making it clear that they cannot expect to stay in the UK, we will deter more people from coming here and make such routes unviable.

There has been a great deal of misinformation about Rwanda. I visited Rwanda myself several years ago. She is a state party to the 1951 United Nations refugee convention and the seven core United Nations human rights conventions. It is a safe and dynamic country with a thriving economy. It has an excellent record of supporting refugees and vulnerable migrants. The UN has used Rwanda for the relocation of vulnerable migrants from Libya—and this was first funded by the European Union. Many migrants, including refugees, have already built excellent lives in Rwanda. Our partnership is a significant investment in that country and further strengthens our relationship.

A myth still persists that the Home Office’s permanent secretary opposed this agreement. For the record, he did not. Nor did he assert that it is definitely poor value for money. He stated, in his role as accounting officer, that the policy is regular, proper and feasible, but that there is not currently sufficient evidence to demonstrate value for money. As he would be the first to agree, it is for Ministers to take decisions having received officials’ advice. Once the partnership is up and running, he will continue to monitor its efficacy, including value for money.

In June, the first plane was ready to relocate people to Rwanda. Our domestic courts—the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court—upheld our right to send the flight. However, following an order by an out-of-hours judge in the European Court of Human Rights, the flight was cancelled. The European Court of Human Rights did not rule that the policy or relocations were unlawful, but it prohibited the removal of specific people. This was a “without notice” order and the UK was not invited to make representations to oppose it. As a result, we have been unable to operate relocation flights pending ongoing legal proceedings, but we have continued to prepare by issuing notices of intent for those eligible for relocation, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently outlined a comprehensive new approach to illegal migration.

A judicial review was brought against the Rwanda partnership by a number of organisations and individual asylum seekers. The first part of proceedings considered a case that the partnership is unlawful; the second part argued that UK domestic processes under the partnership are unfair; and the third part argued that the policy is contrary to data protection laws. Today in the High Court, in a judgment spanning more than 130 pages, Lord Justice Lewis and Mr Justice Swift held that it is indeed lawful for the Government to make arrangements for relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda and for their asylum claims to be determined in Rwanda rather than in the United Kingdom. The court further held that the relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda is consistent with the refugee convention and with the statutory and other legal obligations on the Government, including the obligations imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998.

This judgment thoroughly vindicates the Rwanda partnership. Earlier today, I spoke to my Rwandan counterpart, Minister Vincent Biruta, and we confirmed our joint and steadfast resolve to deliver the partnership at scale as soon as possible. It is what the overwhelming majority of the British people want to happen. The sooner it is up and running, the sooner we will break the business model of the evil gangs and bring an end to the illegal, unnecessary and unsafe channel crossings. Now that our courts have affirmed its legality, I invite the Opposition to get behind this plan. I commend this statement to the House.

The Government have failed to stop criminal gangs putting lives at risk and proliferating along our borders; they have failed to prosecute or convict the gang members; and they have failed to take basic asylum decisions, which are down by 40% in the last six years. Instead of sorting out those problems, however, they have put forward an unworkable, unethical and extremely expensive Rwanda plan that risks making trafficking worse.

The Home Secretary describes today’s court judgment as a vindication, but I wonder whether she has read it, because it sets out evidence of serious problems in Home Office decision making. It also identifies the significant financial costs of the scheme and the very limited number of people who will be covered, and certainly identifies no evidence that it will act as a deterrent or address the serious problems that we face.

The court concluded that the Home Office’s decision making in each of the eight cases considered was so flawed and chaotic that those individual decisions have had to be quashed. There were cases of literally mixing up evidence and the names of individuals, so the Home Office was making decisions on the wrong people; there was confusion between teams in Glasgow and Croydon about who was deciding what and which information should be shared; and evidence of torture and trafficking was not considered. We also know that the Home Office attempted to send heavily pregnant women to Rwanda.

That is a damning indictment of the decision-making process in the Home Office, which we know is not working because no decision has been made on 98% of the small boat arrivals in the last 12 months. Ministers seem to have decided that they are so incapable of getting a grip on the asylum system and of taking asylum decisions effectively here in the UK that they want to pay a country halfway across the world to take those decisions for us.

On the lawfulness of the decision, the Court accepted that Rwanda does not have the processing capacity, including interpreters and legal support, needed to take asylum decisions, but it concluded that the agreement was still lawful because of two key points: the number of people Rwanda takes will be very limited; and lots more money will be provided by the UK Government. The Home Secretary did not tell us about any of those things. Will she now tell us, first, how many people she expects to send to Rwanda next year? Rwanda has said that it can accommodate 200 people. That is the people from 0.5% of this year’s channel crossings. The Home Office itself has said that there is no evidence that the scheme will act as a deterrent, and that the scheme is unenforceable and has a high risk of fraud.

Secondly, can the Home Secretary tell us the full cost? The Court said that significant additional funding would be provided. The Government have already written Rwanda two cheques this year: one for £120 million, and another this summer for £20 million. Millions more are promised—but how much more? How much will the scheme end up costing per person? It looks as though it will be more than £1 million per person.

Thirdly, the Court judgment says that there is no evidence that the UK Government sought to investigate either the terms of the Rwanda-Israel agreement or the way it had worked in practice. Why on earth not? That agreement was abandoned, and there is evidence that it increased trafficking and the activity of criminal gangs. Convictions for people smuggling have already dropped by 75% in two years; convictions for people trafficking are already pitifully low; and a former chief constable has warned that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 will make that worse. Time and again, the Government have failed to tackle the criminal gangs driving the problem, and to make them pay the price. Instead of pursuing this unworkable, unethical, extortionately expensive and deeply damaging policy, the Government should use the money that they are investing in it to go after the gangs that are putting lives at risk. All that they are doing, time and again, is chasing headlines, which is a damaging distraction from the serious hard work that is needed to tackle the gangs and sort out the asylum system.

The Home Secretary has said that the Conservatives are in the last chance saloon. Their policies put them there, and have let the country down. They are always ramping up the rhetoric, and never doing the serious, hard work, or using common sense. Britain deserves better than this. Britain is better than this.

I am very disappointed by the response from the shadow Home Secretary, and I am concerned that she is seeking to go against a legitimate, rigorous decision set out exhaustively by our independent judiciary, and is still suggesting that this is an illegitimate scheme. We see in the judgment that the scheme is lawful on several grounds. The judgment looked at the legislative authority for the scheme. It looked very closely at the claims that it breached articles 3 and 14 of the European convention on human rights, and article 31 of the refugee convention. It looked closely at whether it was fair, and at whether the right of access to justice was respected. It looked very closely at other public law grounds. On all those claims, the Home Office won. The Court concluded that it was and is lawful for the Government to make arrangements to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda, and for asylum claims to be determined in Rwanda, rather than in the UK. The judgment is a comprehensive analysis of the reasons why.

The right hon. Lady asks about the eight individual cases. We accept the Court’s judgment on those cases. We have already taken steps to strengthen the caseworking process, including revising the information and guidance given to individuals during their assessment for relocation, but we have been clear throughout that no one will be relocated if that is unsafe for them, and support is offered to individuals throughout the process to ensure that it is fair and robust.

The simple truth is that Labour Members have opposed every one of our efforts to deter illegal migration. They opposed the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, life sentences for people smugglers, and the removal of foreign national offenders, including drug dealers and rapists. All they offer is obstruction, criticism, the performative politics of opposition, and magical thinking. What do they actually offer? They say that we should return to the failed Dublin scheme—no matter that it was ineffective, and no matter that the EU does not want it. Labour Members want safe and legal routes as the answer, no matter that this Government have done more than any other in recent history, offering sanctuary to more than 450,000 people by safe and legal routes. No matter that Labour Members cannot define what routes they would stand up themselves, or that our capacity is not unlimited, and that there are more than 100 million people displaced globally. Would Labour give them all a safe and legal route to the UK?

We cannot indulge in fictions. A fundamental reason why Labour Members cannot articulate a plan is that they cannot be honest with the British public about what they really want. The shadow Home Secretary could not even decide whether she would repeal illegal entry, even though she voted against it. Labour’s solution would be to turn our crisis of illegal migration into a crisis of legal migration, with open borders by the back door. Unlimited safe and legal routes are simply open borders masquerading as humanitarianism. Last week the Prime Minister and I announced our plan to tackle small boats. Today the Court affirmed the legality of a central piece of that plan, and tomorrow Labour still will not have a plan.

Although the High Court ruled that the Rwanda policy is lawful, as has been said there were only eight asylum claimants. Those cases have all been set aside by the Court, which said in its ruling that the circumstances of each claimant had not been considered properly. Latest Home Office website figures currently show that more than 160,000 individual cases are outstanding. Furthermore, as the Home Secretary—in whom I have the greatest confidence—stated, the European Court judge who issued the injunction clearly did so without proper consideration of the Rwanda policy, and such rulings do not command our respect.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that for all those reasons it becomes more essential than ever to apply the “notwithstanding” formula to the new legislation that the Prime Minister has announced for mid-January? That must also distinguish in our own law between genuine refugees and illegal economic migrants, not only in the interests of saving life, but also to prevent organised criminality, and to assert UK parliamentary sovereignty, overriding the European convention on human rights, and at the same time dealing comprehensively with the current backlog of those 160,000 outstanding asylum cases.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The European Court of Human Rights did not rule on the lawfulness of our policy. It did not rule that the policy or relocations were unlawful, but it did none the less prohibit the removal of individuals on the 15 June flight, via interim and injunctive relief. We have a proud tradition of defending fundamental rights in this country, and we will always retain a robust approach to protecting and preserving human rights. However, that does not mean that we will have a migration system that can be abused and exploited by those who do not have legitimate claims to be here. As the Prime Minister announced last week, we will be bringing forward legislation to ensure that we have a robust migration system and secure borders.

This is a dark day indeed with this judgment, particularly when the Home Secretary comes to the House to imply that having morals is fanciful. Enver Solomon of the Refugee Council has called the policy

“wrong in principle and unworkable in practice”,

and I am certain that this will go to appeal as charities and those involved in the issue have stated. SNP Members will never get behind this policy—not in our name—and I remind Members that slavery, apartheid and marital rape were all lawful at one time, but none of them were right.

The Court found that the Home Office had failed to consider properly the circumstances of the eight who challenged the policy. How exactly does the Home Secretary intend to approach such cases now, and what will happen to those eight individuals? What happens to those who have already been issued with notices of intent, and what confidence can they have in a system that previously did not properly consider the cases of eight people?

The Home Secretary claims that this will be a deterrent. The Tories also claimed that the hostile environment would be a deterrent and that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 would be a deterrent. Now they claim the Rwanda policy will be a deterrent. None of them is working because they fail to recognise the desperate circumstances that drive people to come here in the first place. Safe and legal routes will work and prevent people from losing their lives in the channel.

The Home Secretary talked about the trade in human cargo. We all want to tackle the people smugglers who exploit people in the most vulnerable of circumstances. However, what else is the Rwanda policy but state-sponsored people trafficking? How many people are actually going to be removed to Rwanda? It is going to be a tiny proportion, so any deterrent effect that the Government claim is not going to be proper. What is the total cost of this unworkable scheme? How much money has been spent on it already? How much has gone on the legal case? How much of it would have been better spent dealing with the catastrophic backlog of cases that the Tories have created?

I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s ideological zeal is blinding and preventing her from taking a rational approach. I am proud of the fact that we have welcomed 450,000 people through safe and legal routes to this country since 2015. I do not think that anyone can claim that we are not forward-leaning on all of this. She and her party need to be honest about their position with the British people: they stand for open borders and uncontrolled migration.

Parliament has legislated, our courts have ruled. We are apparently stopped by a Russian judge, woken from a bar, to issue an injunction. Can this stand?

As always, my right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Neither the Prime Minister nor I are deterred from delivering on this policy, which is an essential part of our wider plans to break the business model to stop illegal migration. We have a legitimate basis for it. It has been upheld after being rigorously tested in our courts. We will continue to move quickly to honour the will of the British people.

The Home Secretary says that Britain has a proud tradition of supporting asylum seekers. That is true in part, but it is not true under her tenure. She is pursuing a vile policy, which is brutal towards the individuals concerned, and continually tells us that it is illegal to seek asylum. It is not; it is clearly there in all international conventions. Will she for once have a sense of humanity towards people who are desperate and victims of wars, environmental change and human rights abuse—and exploited to boot? Cannot she just hold out a hand of friendship and understanding towards these desperate people, rather than the brutal assertion that she is making?

The right hon. Gentleman talks regularly about safe and legal routes being a means to an end of illegal arrivals. The reality is that our safe and legal routes have already allowed 450,000 people to come here since 2015, with 300,000 in the last year alone—the highest number that we have seen in several decades. However, that needs to happen in conjunction with deterrent policies if they are to have any effect and if we are to stop the practice of people taking lethal and unlawful journeys across the channel, jumping the queue, undermining the British people’s generosity and breaking the law.

While the judgment is welcome, it will not solve the problem not just because of the relatively few numbers that can be deported to Rwanda but because each case must be fought individually, and human rights lawyers will fight every single case individually. That is the problem. Surely the only serious way in which we can deter migration across the channel is by having the legal right not just to process people when they arrive on our shores but to arrest them and detain them until their asylum application is dealt with. Does anything in the refugee convention stop us doing that? If not, why are we not doing it? If the Human Rights Act stops us doing it, can we not apply for a notwithstanding clause in our new legislation to deal with that problem?

This is exactly why the Prime Minister made an announcement last week, and the Immigration Minister and I are working intensively to prepare legislation, which will be introduced next year. It will deliver a scheme along the lines my right hon. Friend describes, whereby if you come here irregularly or illegally—on a small boat, putting yourself and others at risk—you will be detained and swiftly removed to a safe third country or to Rwanda for your asylum claim to be processed.

In her statement, the Home Secretary confirmed that the permanent secretary at the Home Office had concerns about the cost and that she overruled him. We have spent £140 million so far and not a single individual has been removed. When the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) was Immigration Minister, he said that the average cost of removing people would be £12,000—something that was not based on any fact. If she is so confident about the scheme that she took a decision to overrule the permanent secretary, will she not today publish all the costs of the scheme, so we can all take a view on whether it is a good use of taxpayers’ money, or whether it is simply a way of fulfilling one of her weird dreams?

The right hon. Gentleman needs to get his facts right because actually the agreement was struck between my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham, and the Rwandan Government. But I support the work she did and the achievement she struck. The agreement represents a long-term policy. It is expected to last for at least five years, and the costs and payments will depend on the number of people relocated, when that happens and the outcomes of the individual cases. Of course, we have been held up by litigation. Once the litigation process comes to an end, we will move quickly to deliver that and deliver value for money.

I am saddened that following last week’s tragic events neither the shadow Home Secretary nor the SNP Front Bench are prepared to say that people should not be getting into these boats in the first place. They should be claiming refuge and asylum in one of the 149 convention countries, many of which they will have gone through. I welcome today’s judgment from the High Court. Is it not even better than Rwanda that people stay safe on land in France and do not make the crossings in the first place?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People should not be making this journey, they should not be crossing through other safe countries and they should not be choosing to come to the United Kingdom via those means. The sooner we are able to deliver a policy that reflects that, the better.

The courts have been very clear: it is wrong to have a blanket approach to the treatment of refugees, just as it would be wrong to decide that everybody caught speeding could never drive again. What matters is treating each case on its merits. We have seen already how poorly the Government treat refugee children who are here. The Home Secretary talks about being honest, so let us finally have some honest, straight answers. For the avoidance of doubt, will the Home Secretary confirm whether she intends to deport children, or those who are looking after children and are here as refugees to Rwanda? Yes or no—will children be on those flights, Ministers?

We have been very clear that families are not subject to the Rwandan policy, but the broader point is this. The hon. Member’s reading of the judgment is different from mine. There has been an extensive and exhaustive analysis of the legal claims brought against the Government, and the Court has been pretty emphatic on the legality of the policy. It concluded that the scheme is compliant with our ECHR and refugee obligations.

Two months ago, I visited the Hope hostel in Kigali. Not only was the accommodation of a high standard, but the Rwandans I spoke to expressed hope that those coming would, in due course, obtain jobs and move out to their own homes, thus allowing more refugees to come and take their place. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this policy is not just lawful, but humane in that it offers refugees real hope?

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend reiterates a point dealt with extensively in the body of the judgment. I refer right hon. and hon. Members to that judgment, in which there is a complete analysis of the exact support that people will receive when they are in Rwanda, the monitoring that will go on to ensure that their welfare is safeguarded, and the track record that Rwanda has demonstrated in supporting refugees from the region in previous instances.

It is frustrating to sit here and listen to the Secretary of State, because none of us is denying that this is a legal ruling, but whether or not it is lawful, this plan is immoral, ineffective and incredibly costly for taxpayers. Does the Secretary of State agree that, instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on defending the policy through the courts, the Government should focus on stopping these dangerous crossings and tackling smugglers and trafficking by providing more safe and legal routes and sanctuary for refugees? Rather than dealing with the problem after people arrive here, we must deal with it at source so that they are never put in the position where they make a dangerous crossing over the channel.

As the justices made clear at the beginning of their judgment, they are not opining on the politics or the morality of the Rwanda scheme; they are simply opining on the lawfulness. That is why I have huge confidence in the judgment that has been handed down today.

If we are talking about the broader issues, I gently disagree with the hon. Lady, as the House would imagine. I think that what is actually unacceptable is that her party is peddling a mistruth to the British people. It is saying that we can have an unlimited and open borders policy, that we have unlimited capacity and that everybody is welcome. Unfortunately, the reality is that that is not the case. We have to take a pragmatic, measured and compassionate approach to our migration—that is what is sensible and is required by the British people.

Central to solving the crisis of illegal migration is the prevention of further loss of human life in the English channel, so I welcome not only today’s judgment, but the commitment that my right hon. and learned Friend made in her statement to delivering the Rwanda partnership

“at scale as soon as possible.”

However, it is clear that there will be continued legal challenges to it, either on an individual basis or on a whole-policy basis, so may I push the Home Secretary further on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash): that the legislation coming in the new year, which I look forward to supporting, really must include a “notwithstanding” clause to ensure that we can prevent the further loss of human life in the channel?

What is essential is that we introduce, consider and pass legislation that will be robust and resilient and actually deliver on our stated political objectives. That will require an exhaustive analysis of the legal methods but, simply put, we are in the process, we are in the sausage machine, as they would put it, so it is not a pretty sight, but nothing is off the table.

The Home Secretary said over the weekend that she is considering leaving the European convention on human rights in order to prevent people from claiming asylum. Is it possible to do that without breaking our commitments in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement?

What I think is clear is that there are evident challenges with the way in which international conventions and agreements relating to migration are working in the 21st century. I think there are legitimate questions that, at an international level, all nation states are grappling with; I have seen that at first hand when I have spoken to my counterparts in the Calais group or other international partners. There is an unprecedented scale of illegal migration and there is unprecedented pressure on domestic resources. I think that looking at how we can forge a new set of agreements to work better together is definitely a reasonable approach.

Were more safe and legal routes to be made available, they would quickly be taken up and the trade in small boats would then continue unabated—wouldn’t it?

Can the Home Secretary assure the House that if someone arrives on the shores at Dover to claim asylum in order to be able to join a child, a spouse or an elderly parent here in the United Kingdom under the right to family life, that individual will not be put on a plane to Rwanda and separated from his or her family for the rest of their lives?

Anyone arriving here irregularly will be eligible for consideration. We will consider every case on its individual merits. We have excluded families from the scheme, but we will also ensure that the decisions are made on a lawful and rational basis.

I welcome the ruling and the Home Secretary’s comments. It is clear from what we are hearing from Opposition Members that there is a great gulf between their views and those of the vast majority of the British people. Overwhelmingly, my constituents will want to see the Home Secretary’s and the Prime Minister’s proposals implemented as quickly as possible. In particular, there is genuine concern about the speed of the processing of the many cases. Although additional staff are being taken on, the pitiful number of cases with which they are dealing each week needs to be dramatically increased. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that action is being taken to ensure that that happens?

Processing asylum claims is one core element of meeting the challenge more broadly. That is why it is right that we are increasing the number of caseworkers, increasing their specialism and streamlining the process. Ultimately, we want to bear down on the number of people waiting for a decision from the Home Office.

The Home Secretary says that she is taking a deterrent approach, but it is plain that today’s judgment cannot and will not function as a so-called deterrent. The whole point of this vile policy of expelling asylum seekers to Rwanda is that expulsion was supposed to happen automatically and rapidly for anyone without a prior permission to come here via a refugee scheme. However, today’s High Court judgment found that each and every individual case must be assessed first, so there will be nothing automatic about it, and under this Government there will be nothing rapid about it either. Will the Home Secretary therefore put a permanent end to this useless cruelty, provide safe and legal routes, and ensure that such routes actually function? The one from Afghanistan currently does not.

Will the Home Secretary also stop saying that this policy has the support of the British people? According to a recent YouGov poll, just 10% of them support it. The British people are better than this vile British Government.

I think the reality is that we are supported in taking control of our borders. That was reflected in both the 2016 referendum and the 2019 general election. We have made it clear that we will do whatever it takes to ensure that we make progress on stopping illegal migration, bring an end to this lethal journey, and, ultimately, restore integrity to our immigration system.

I welcome today’s judgment, but I find it deeply frustrating that one isolated judge can delay this process for six or seven months. Will the Home Secretary give me some sense of the timescales following the judgment? When will the first flights take off? That is what we all want to see happening, and my constituents will begin to rest easy when they can see those flights taking off.

We will probably have to strike agreements with other countries. Can the Home Secretary assure me that when we do strike such agreements, they will not be delayed in the way in which this has been delayed, and we will not go through exactly the same motions, which take oh, so long?

My hon. Friend is right. We have always maintained that this policy is lawful, and today the court has upheld that. We know that further legal challenges are possible, and we will continue to defend this policy vigorously in the courts. However, once the litigation process has come to an end, we will move swiftly in order to be in a position to operationalise the policy and deliver on our promise.

Can I caution the Home Secretary gently against getting overexcited about a decision at first instance? Often, important constitutional decisions at first instance are overturned on appeal. A recent example was when the last Prime Minister but one unlawfully prorogued Parliament. I think an appeal is inevitable. In the meantime, removals to Rwanda cannot take place because of the interim measures issued by the European Court of Human Rights. Perhaps she would like to explain to some of her Back Benchers the concept of an interim order issued by a judge sitting alone to preserve the status quo, which happens, I believe, in English law regularly by way of injunction.

The Home Secretary seems to be implying that she will obtemper the order of the European Court of Human Rights issued under article 34 of the convention, which the United Kingdom is bound by. I know she is not a great fan of the convention, and a lot of her Back Benchers are asking her about the notwithstanding clause, so is it her intention to domestically legislate her way out of our international treaty obligations?