Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 730: debated on Monday 20 March 2023

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Illegal Migration Bill: Asylum Seekers

1. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of the Illegal Migration Bill on the wellbeing of people claiming asylum. (904157)

We must stop the misuse of our asylum system so that we can focus our resources upon those who really need our help, not those who can afford to pay people smugglers to transport them from safe countries.

The Illegal Migration Bill is yet another example of the Tories scapegoating asylum seekers to distract from their incompetence. It will not be compatible with our legal obligations under the Equality and Human Rights Commission and it will leave asylum seekers, such as those from Iran, in limbo so that they will be deemed permanently inadmissible to our asylum system. We need more safe and legal routes now, not after the boat crossings have stopped, as we know that the Bill will never achieve that. Why will the Home Secretary not seek to provide safe and legal routes for everybody now?

We always place a high priority on the wellbeing of asylum seekers, which is why we are also committing to rolling out safe and legal routes as part of our plan.

While I have the attention of the hon. Lady, may I take this chance to invite her to apologise to the nation? She campaigned in 2020 to stop the Government from deporting a serious foreign criminal. Thanks to her efforts, together with those of 70 Labour MPs, the Government were subsequently stopped from removing Ernesto Elliott, who went on to murder in the UK. Mr Speaker, will—

He has appealed his sentence, and I do not need any lectures from the Front Bench either. I look forward to an apology. Am I going to get an apology?

Thank you. Home Secretary, will you take the advice that I have been given? I know you do not like it, but I am only working on the facts of the case.

Well, I will still say that what Labour MPs have done is outrageous, and I encourage them to apologise.

Last week, the Italian Defence Minister made a direct link between the rise in asylum seekers coming to Europe by small boats and the activities of the Wagner Group in Africa. Given the atrocious activities of the Wagner Group in Ukraine and elsewhere, will the Home Secretary proscribe it?

We keep the list of proscribed organisations under review. We do not routinely comment on security and intelligence matters, but where a group meets a test of being a terrorism concern and where it meets our legal criteria, then a group can be proscribed, if it is necessary and proportionate to do so.

What is more frightening than this toxic Bill that locks up the most vulnerable people who walk this planet, imprisons innocent children and pushes trafficked women back into the hands of their perpetrators, is that this Tory Government are peddling their divisive rhetoric because the Home Secretary has failed to govern or to provide communities with the support they need. Before she others the innocent, will she not admit that she is blaming the destitute to mask her own failures?

The only people who have failed here are Labour and Opposition Members who have failed to stand up for the British people and failed to support our measures to stop the boats. All they want is open borders and unlimited migration.

The Government have identified 57 countries deemed safe for the removal of asylum seekers, but there are no actual agreements in place to facilitate that legally. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on when those legal agreements will be in place? They will be good for the welfare of the asylum seekers and very good for the welfare of my constituents, because we can have our hotels back.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this is about enabling the Government to properly help the most genuine and vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees who come to this country. Currently, because of the influx of illegal migrants, and because our modern slavery and asylum system has been overwhelmed thanks to the efforts of the people smuggling gangs, we are unable to help those genuine victims to whom we owe a clear duty.

The Government’s new asylum legislation is a sham that is set to worsen the backlog, because they do not have the facilities to detain tens of thousands of asylum seekers, or a returns agreement in place with the EU to send back those deemed inadmissible. For all her taxpayer funded photo ops this weekend, the Home Secretary has seemingly failed to bung the Rwandan Government enough money for them to increase the number of asylum seekers they are ready to take this year. For a deterrent to be effective, it has to be credible, yet these plans are just empty threats. Will she tell us where she expects to detain the tens of thousands of asylum seekers forecast to arrive this year, where she expects to remove them to, when Rwanda clearly has no intention of taking more than a very small proportion of those who she expects to arrive this year, and when this Government will get out of the way, so that Labour can deliver its five-point plan to stop the boat crossings?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his approach to entertaining the House today, but let us compare what the Labour party has done over the last 10 days with what the Government have done.

In the last 10 days, the Prime Minister and I have secured a big deal with the French to increase cross-channel co-operation. I have presented and we have voted on measures to detain and swiftly remove illegal migrants. This weekend, I met refugees who have successfully been resettled in Rwanda and saw the accommodation that people will be using.

What has the Labour party done? Well, the shadow Home Secretary has been on Twitter. She is very good on Twitter. She has tweeted, in the last 10 days, Labour’s paltry excuse for a plan. Half of it is stuff we are already doing; the other half is its plan for open borders and unlimited migration. What I suggest Labour Members do is get off Twitter and get to Rwanda, and I will show them how to stop the boats.

Freedom from Torture has talked about the impact on torture survivors of the anti-asylum Bill, calling it

“a betrayal of the commitments made following the Shaw Review”.

Seven babies born to mothers in Home Office accommodation since 2020 have died, so it is no surprise that Women for Refugee Women and the Royal College of Midwives have opposed the Home Office’s plans. Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner has warned that the plans to detain and remove children breach this Government’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child. There is nothing about protecting asylum seekers’ welfare that the Bill will fix, so does the Home Secretary accept the harm that she is causing?

We take very seriously our duties to everybody who is within our care. Our measures will always, of course, ensure that proper wellbeing and welfare provision is available to those who are vulnerable, but let me say this: the hon. Lady has absolutely no right to lecture this Government on how to support asylum seekers when her own nation royally fails to take any or sufficient numbers into Scotland.

That is simply not correct. The Bill is not about helping asylum seekers; it is about banning asylum seekers. What does it say about the Home Secretary’s morals that she believes that Rwanda would be “a blessing” for asylum seekers, but when they come here she calls them a swarm and an invasion?

The problem that the hon. Lady is labouring under is that in opposing our plans, she sides with the people-smuggling gangs. She actively encourages, in effect, co-operation with the evil practice of exploitation of vulnerable people coming into this country. Vote for our measures, stop the people-smuggling gangs and stop the boats!

Asylum and Immigration Applications Backlog

2. What steps she is taking to tackle backlogs in (a) asylum and (b) other immigration applications. (904158)

The Prime Minister made a commitment on 13 December to clear the legacy backlog of asylum applications over the course of this year. I am pleased to report that we are on track to deliver that. We have already doubled the number of caseworkers, and we are on course to double the number again. We are streamlining processes to reduce unnecessary paperwork while maintaining robust standards. The productivity of caseworkers has more than doubled since the start of the year.

My constituents Mr and Mrs Leeson have UK residency but are American citizens. They live in my Livingston constituency and are highly skilled, but they have had huge issues with getting their niece Karissa, who they have guardianship over, a visa to come to Scotland. A US court has ruled that they are her guardians, but they are being told that they will have to wait six months for an administrative review. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the case? My constituent and her niece are currently stuck in the US, and the family are being separated.

I would be happy to look into the case that the hon. Lady raises. With respect to visas, I would just say that the UK visa service is now meeting or exceeding every one of its service standards, so the Government are providing a good service generally, but I would be happy to look into that case.

The Minister says that the Government are providing a good service, but that is not my experience, either of asylum cases or across the piece. There are so many cases of work visas, visitor visas and so on being delayed for longer than I have seen in the 18 years I have served as an MP, which have included serving in the Minister’s role. When will he get a grip? It is all very well saying that he is dealing with asylum, but it is like whack-a-mole: he puts effort into one area, and another area goes badly wrong. When is he going to get a grip?

I prefer to trade in facts, and the fact is that in every single one of the visa categories the UK visa service is at or exceeding the service standard. It is true that we moved a number of people away from work and visit visa duties to ensure that we met the demands of the Homes for Ukraine scheme last year, but those people are now back on the job and the service is performing well. If the hon. Lady wants to give specific examples, I shall be happy to look into them.

The backlog of asylum seekers is increasing the need for accommodation. We have just heard outrage expressed by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress that the Scottish Government are making on housing numbers of asylum seekers similar to the numbers housed in the rest of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the outrage of the Scottish National party is entirely confected. There are almost no individuals in initial and contingency accommodation in Scotland; in fact, there are fewer hotels in Scotland than there are in Kensington. However, it is not just members of the SNP who should hang their heads in shame, but Labour in Wales, because in the whole of Wales there are only three hotels. There are more hotels in Earl’s Court than there are in Labour Wales.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the sudden influx over, say, a bank holiday weekend of thousands of migrants who have crossed the channel in small boats causes substantial infrastructure problems in Kent. If we are to stop this dangerous trafficking of people across the channel, we must not only crack down on the gangs but demonstrate that it is a futile practice which will not lead to a shortcut into the asylum system in the UK.

My hon. Friend has cut to the nub of the question. We cannot build ourselves out of this issue by creating more hotels or large sites. The only sustainable answer is to break the people smugglers’ model, and that is what the Illegal Migration Bill sets out to do. We on this side of the House are on the side of the British people, while those who vote against the Bill are on the side of the people smugglers. It is only by stopping people crossing the channel, by creating a genuine deterrent—for instance, sending people to a safe third country such as Rwanda—that we will achieve that.

Violence against Women and Girls: Charge Rates

3. What steps her Department is taking to improve charge rates for perpetrators of violence against women and girls. (904159)

We are committed to holding perpetrators of violence against women and girls to account, as has been demonstrated by the rape review, the tackling violence against women and girls strategy and the tackling domestic abuse plan, which includes violence against men and boys. To improve the police response, the Home Office is providing £6.65 million to develop the national operating model for rape investigations through Operation Soteria, and has funded domestic abuse training specifically for investigators.

Disabled women are twice as likely to be victims of domestic abuse as non-disabled women. I am currently dealing with the case of a woman who has ended up in hospital as a result of abuse from her partner. She has had no direct contact with the police, no personal statement has been taken, and she feels completely let down. I appreciate that thousands of women go through this, and I also appreciate that Greater Manchester police are doing the very best they can, but what is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that these women have the necessary confidence and trust to feel able to report such abuse to the police?

The confidence of any victim of abuse must be increased, and to that end the Government are spending unprecedented amounts on training not only new but existing police officers in how to deal with victims. Disabled victims are no different from any other victim, and they are entitled to the same number and quality of responses. I should add that police guidance dictates that officers will visit the scene of every reported instance of domestic abuse, the only exception being when it is unsafe for them to do so. The hon. Lady is right to raise this important issue, which we take very seriously.

I welcome last week’s announcement by the Government which will lead to tougher sentences for domestic abusers who kill their partners or ex-partners. Can my hon. Friend confirm that this Government will always do everything possible to protect vulnerable women and girls and deliver justice to those who attack or threaten them?

This Government are made up of the party that believes in law and order, and wherever we can, we will continue to review sentences. Strictly speaking, this is a matter for the Ministry of Justice, but I know that the Deputy Prime Minister, and also the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, are thoroughly committed to reviewing this sort of offence.

Fraud Strategy

The fraud strategy will be published very shortly, and it will set out how the Government will work with industry to remove the vulnerabilities that fraudsters exploit.

Over 70% of scams originate online, showing that tech and social media companies are not only significant to enabling fraud but key to preventing it. Given that tech and social media companies are currently driving the problem, will my right hon. Friend compel their sector to be part of the solution by going after frauds and fraudsters on their own platforms, as well as upping all our defences in the upcoming national fraud strategy?

I know that my hon. Friend is well versed in this subject. I read the article that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) recently wrote. It is a very good piece, which I recommend to the House. The article referred to the increase in scam adverts on social media, and I agree with him that social media companies must take greater responsibility for the safety of their users online by stopping more of these frauds at source. The Online Safety Bill is a welcome first step towards that goal, but it is right that we continue to consider what more can be done.

Fraud now accounts for nearly half of all crimes, yet very few of those crimes are investigated and only 0.1% of them go to court. While it is welcome that we will eventually get this fraud strategy, what more are the Government doing to ensure that the police have the resources and expertise to tackle crimes of fraud and that the criminal justice system speeds up so that many more such cases get not only investigated but heard in court?

The hon. Member makes the case for me, and I am grateful to him for doing so. The reality is that we are seeing an explosion of fraud, not just in this country but around the world, and we have to deal with it. That is why bringing together the intelligence resources, the policing elements and the will is so important. I was in Manchester on Thursday where I met the chief constable and others who are doing so much to tackle fraud, not just connected to the garment industry where I was on Cheetham Hill, but linked to human trafficking and, sadly, to state threats and even terrorist financing.

Illegal Migration Bill: Compatibility

5. What recent assessment she has made of the compatibility of the Illegal Migration Bill with the refugee convention. (904162)

11. What recent assessment she has made of the compatibility of the Illegal Migration Bill with the European convention on human rights. (904170)

I refer the hon. Lady to the statement in my name that appears on the front of the Bill. I would add that I am satisfied that the provisions of the Bill are capable of being applied compatibly with the human rights convention and compliant with our international obligations, including the refugee convention.

Apparently the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees does not agree with the Home Secretary. They have said that this legislation amounts to an “asylum ban”, adding that it would be a

“clear breach of the Refugee Convention”.

Does the Home Secretary not realise that the very nature of human rights is that they are universal and that it is not for Governments to pick and choose which rights apply to which groups of people?

I refer the hon. Lady to article 31 of the refugee convention, which makes it clear that there is not an absolute duty on states to offer provision to asylum seekers, particularly if they have come from a safe country. It is important to note that the Bill applies to people who have come here illegally from a safe country. It is important that we instil a framework that enables us to detain and swiftly remove them so that we can stop the boats and stop the people smuggling gangs.

When introducing the Bill, the Home Secretary said that she was

“confident that this Bill is compatible with international law.”—[Official Report, 7 March 2023; Vol. 729, c. 152.]

She then immediately confirmed that she could not make a declaration of compatibility under section 19 of the Human Rights Act. That followed her previous comments that she thought that it was less than 50% compatible. Can the Home Secretary please confirm to the House today which of these three views she holds?

I do not think the hon. Lady has quite got the point of the Human Rights Act. Section 19(1)(b) is designed for exactly these purposes. Although the Government believe our provisions are capable of being compliant with the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights, we are, none the less, testing legal arguments and legal bases, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, a previous Labour Administration also introduced legislation carrying such a section 19(1)(b) statement.

The SNP is all talk and no action. Although Scotland makes up 8% of the UK population, only 1% of the UK’s asylum seekers are housed in contingency accommodation in Scotland. It is very easy for the SNP to make all the right noises, but it has taken zero action to stop the boats.

The 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol are fundamental foundations of how humanity deals with refugees at times of crisis, but there are questions to be asked about whether the convention and the protocol remain robust enough, effective enough and sufficient to meet the challenges of refugees in the decades to come. Will my right hon. and learned Friend have the courage, as Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, to lead international discussions on this topic?

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly powerful point, and I agree with his sentiment. The historic conventions to which we subscribe are fundamentally challenged by modern travel and a global migration crisis in which more than 100 million displaced people are on the move today. It is right that western and democratic nations, which take pride in our duty and track record of offering refuge to vulnerable people, start a conversation to ensure that we strike the right balance.

I am a strong supporter of the Illegal Migration Bill, on the grounds that it is the only practical solution to stop the wicked people-smuggling trade across the channel. Does the Home Secretary agree not only that those who compare this Government’s policies to those of 1930s Germany are appallingly ill-informed, but that it represents a grotesque slander against the victims and survivors of the holocaust?

Many people have commented on this. All I will say is that people who resort to such analogies have already lost the argument.

Police Funding Formula

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important topic. The Government are committed to reviewing the police funding formula, in which there are some unfairnesses. The police funding formula is historical and somewhat out of date, and we intend to consult on it in the near future.

Will the new funding formula be crime based, rather than just population based? Will it be implemented immediately for the winners, to stop the gross unfairness of the current formula to forces such as Bedfordshire?

The intended consultation will cover topics such as the demand drivers of crime and how we should take account of the different costs of providing a police service in different parts of the country. In the meantime, Bedfordshire’s excellent police and crime commissioner, Festus Akinbusoye, is working incredibly hard to spend his budget effectively and to drive down crime in Bedfordshire.

Is the Minister aware that many police forces are struggling to obtain good forensic science facilities? Is he further aware that the Westminster commission on forensic science, with which I am involved, is deeply concerned about the instability of forensic science in our country?

Forensic science is critically important, as the hon. Gentleman says. The Home Office is continually discussing forensic science provision with our colleagues in the policing family to make sure there is adequate provision. We are always looking at the funding arrangements and the range of providers, so I can assure him that this topic is the subject of continual scrutiny.

Antisocial Behaviour

We are committed to tackling antisocial behaviour and to recruiting 20,000 additional police officers, which will take us to our highest number ever. We expanded the safer streets fund to include the tackling of antisocial behaviour as one of its primary aims, and last year we published the ASB principles to establish a strong and effective partnership response to antisocial behaviour.

One challenge we have in Crewe and Nantwich on antisocial behaviour is groups of people at bus stops, on high streets and in other public spaces drinking alcohol all day long. That puts off families and elderly people, in particular, from making use of those public spaces. In theory, public spaces protection orders should work, but they can be burdensome to get into place. May we meet to discuss how we might make it easier for them to be enacted, in order to reduce that kind of behaviour in towns and cities?

My hon. Friend is right to focus on the blight that antisocial behaviour causes to communities. He mentions existing powers that the police have. We are keen to ensure that those are streamlined and improved so that they are more effective. I am pleased that his local force of Cheshire has more police officers on the beat—316 in the force. Following my visit, I was pleased to meet his outstanding local chief constable last month.

We have seen significant antisocial behaviour and crime issues in Longton town centre. With Staffordshire police and the city council, we have been working up plans to improve CCTV and to gate up a number of alleyways. However, we need additional funding to deliver that, so will my right hon. and learned Friend update us on when the next round of the safer streets fund will open for bids?

I am pleased that those in my hon. Friend’s constituency are starting to draw up plans for the next round of the safer streets fund. He will know what a difference safer streets has made to Stoke-on-Trent, with neighbourhood crime down by 26% since 2010. I cannot give him a precise date on the next round, but I can assure him that we hope to be able to say something more about safer streets in the near future.

Government austerity measures led to Northumbria police losing more than 1,100 police officers and to a huge increase in antisocial behaviour in my constituency, with thefts in local shops in East Boldon and Hebburn, and off-road motorbikes in Wardley and Boldon. The incident levels are so high that this week I am having a specific surgery with the police and crime commissioner in Wardley. When will Ministers allow recruitment to vacant policing posts, invest in our communities and tackle antisocial behaviour?

I am pleased that Northumbria’s police and crime commissioner has received just under £3.9 million from the Government through safer streets to date. That has included £3.5 million in the current round to fund projects such as community engagement, target hardening and guardianship interventions. Those are measures where Government funding targeted in local communities, in response to input from local leaders, is making a difference to safety in our communities.

I recently attended an open meeting in Oswestry in my constituency, where residents expressed concern about escalating antisocial behaviour in the town centre. The police and crime commissioner was there, but I am afraid to say that he was a little dismissive. Will the Home Secretary assure me that when the new police officers materialise, they will be properly allocated to market towns in rural places such as North Shropshire, so that the antisocial behaviour is dealt with effectively?

It is thanks to this Government’s commitment to increasing the number of police officers that we will have many more resources on the frontline in forces throughout the country to tackle antisocial behaviour. I only wish that the hon. Lady would get behind our plans.

I see from the weekend papers that the Conservatives are about to introduce an antisocial behaviour strategy. After 13 years of doing nothing, of dismissing antisocial behaviour as low level and unimportant, apparently the strategy will include Labour’s plan to tackle fly-tipping, Labour’s plan to tackle graffiti and Labour’s plan for community payback. May I ask the Home Secretary which other Labour policies she is going to adopt? Would she like me to arrange a full briefing from the Labour party?

It really is, isn’t it, Mr Speaker? May I point out that Labour-run Croydon Council has just cut the graffiti cleaning team? Will the hon. Lady just give us some advice on how that has worked?

Illegal Migration Bill

8. What recent assessment she has made of the potential impact of the Illegal Migration Bill on levels of (a) modern slavery and (b) sex trafficking. (904165)

Let me be clear: the UK Government are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and to supporting victims. We continue to invest in the police to support them to improve the support they offer victims, and to drive up prosecutions. A total of £16.5 million has been provided by the Home Office since 2016, including £1.4 million last year for the modern slavery and organised crime unit.

First, my thoughts and prayers are with my constituents the Gentle family, who lost their son Gordon during the Iraq war. We should remember all those military families who lost loved ones during that conflict.

Is the Salvation Army correct when it points out that detaining trafficking victims as they arrive and then removing them will simply deliver vulnerable people back into the hands of the criminal gangs that exploited them in the first place, and that that does nothing to break the cycle of exploitation but only further fuels the profits of these criminal gangs?

No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Illegal Migration Bill makes it clear that we want to break the cycle of the human traffickers. We will do that by carefully considering cases and returning those people who can be returned to their home country, where it is safe to do so. In cases such as Albania, we have worked closely with the Government to put in place the procedures necessary to ensure that those people are carefully looked after and not at risk of re-trafficking. If that is not the case, they will be taken to a safe third country such as Rwanda where, once again, their needs will be looked after.

Just to correct the Minister, it was not the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) who made that criticism, but the Salvation Army, which the Home Office employs as its main contractor on trafficking.

I asked the Prime Minister this, and I got no answer, so I am trying again. When I worked on a Home Office contract, I met many women and children who had been brought here illegally to be repeatedly raped as sex slaves. The Prime Minister tweeted that such victims would be denied access to support from our modern slavery system—a tweet that will be an absolute delight to traffickers. How will we help to prevent a woman who is brought here illegally from being repeatedly raped if she is denied access to our modern slavery system?

The hon. Lady and I agree that we want to do everything we can to support the victims of human trafficking, but we disagree on how we do that. She is content for people to be brought across the channel in small boats at the behest of human traffickers. We want to break that cycle once and for all, and we believe that that is the fair and the moral thing to do. Today, a majority of the cases being considered for modern slavery are people who are coming into the country—for example, on small boats. We are seeing flagrant abuse, which is making it impossible for us to deal appropriately with the genuine victims, to the point that 71% of foreign national offenders in the detained estate, whom we are trying to remove from the country, are claiming to be modern slaves. That is wrong, and we are going to stop it.

Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre

9. Whether she has had recent discussions with the Scottish Government on the operation of the Dungavel House immigration removal centre. (904167)

There is regular contact between Dungavel House immigration removal centre and relevant local stakeholders, as necessary, on issues relating to the day-to-day running of the centre. Although immigration is not a devolved matter, we will keep the Scottish Government informed should there be any significant changes.

I share my constituents’ shock at the distasteful photoshoot of the Home Secretary outside the transportation camp in Rwanda. Will she set out the following in regards to Dungavel? How will this whole process work? How many refugees at Dungavel House are earmarked for transportation to Rwanda? How many are children or pregnant women? If the Home Secretary cannot give us those numbers now, I am happy to receive a letter later.

Well, I share the disappointment at those who peddle misinformation of any kind. However, with respect to Dungavel House, it is an immigration removal centre and it is used routinely to detain, prior to removal, foreign national offenders and those who have entered our country illegally and whom we are seeking to remove. The hon. Gentleman and I may disagree on this issue. We on the Government side of the House want to remove foreign national offenders. We do not want them to remain in the UK. We also do not want to close detention centres. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) campaigned to be Leader of the Opposition on a pledge to close detention centres, but we want to get dangerous offenders such as murderers and rapists out of this country.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

12. What steps her Department is taking to close facilities used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the UK. (904171)

As I outlined in my statement to the House on 20 February, we are taking increasing steps to address the threat from Iran—but, I should make clear, not to address the welcome we extend towards the Iranian people. Today of all days, we should say, “Nowruz etan Pyrouz.”

There are three—if not seven—cut-outs of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps operating here in the UK, silencing critics of the ayatollah, inciting hate, celebrating terrorists and recruiting for a terrorist state. The Government know that this House wants the IRGC proscribed, but in the immediate term, will they please protect us from transnational repression by shutting down these cut-outs of the Iranian state? I also ask the Home Secretary or the Security Minister to meet Vahid Beheshti, who is on day 26 of a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office because he wants the IRGC proscribed. I am seriously concerned about his health, and it would help if the Government were to meet him.

I would be very happy to meet him and, indeed, anybody else who takes the threat of the IRGC in this country as seriously as we do. We have had this work ongoing for a number of months now, and my hon. Friend will be aware that asking for actions to be taken means we must be legally compliant with the responses. That is where we are getting to; we are increasingly at the point where we are taking more and more action against the IRGC. So may I say, in the words of Omar Khayyam, in his poem for new year:

“No words about last winter can bring cheer;

don’t speak of yesterday—rejoice today.”?

I thank the Minister very much for that. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is involved in all sorts of unspeakable activities in Iran—abuse of people, persecution of Christians and other ethnic minorities, and attacks on women—but here in the United Kingdom it is also involved in subversive activities through the buildings it has. I think that everybody in this House wants to see it proscribed, so can the Minister give us some indication of when that will happen?

The hon. Gentleman knows very well, sadly, that we cannot discuss individual proscriptions, so I will not go down that route. However, he has been a voice for freedom of religion and belief in this country and around the world for many years. He will be aware of the brutality not only against women and the LGBT community in Iran, but against people of faith, Baha’i, Jews and Christians, who have seen their lives destroyed by an extraordinarily brutal regime. This Thursday is the beginning of Ramadan, and I am sure everybody in this House wishes every Muslim in our community Ramadan kareem and the blessings of the season. The reality is that this is a time for communities to come together, yet in Tehran it is time for the regime to ignore the Islamic faith and to tear people apart.

Knife Crime

Tackling knife crime is a priority. That is why, since 2019, we have not only spent £340 million on diverting young people into alternative activity via the violence reduction units, but had targeted Grip hotspot policing in areas where knife crime is particularly prevalent. That has led to a 19% reduction over the last three years in hospital admissions with a bladed weapon injury, and since 2010, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, violence is down by 38%.

Last year knife crime in Salford fell, thanks to the extensive work with young people by the Salford community safety partnership and Greater Manchester police operations to remove weapons from circulation. Sadly, since January this year there has been a spate of serious knife crime incidents that have destroyed lives and distressed the community. We need urgent Government support to implement a wider proactive reduction strategy. Will the Minister commit to ringfencing dedicated funding today for knife crime reduction initiatives and for lifesaving bleed kit roll-outs across Salford?

That is a very fair question. We are already directing ringfenced money towards Greater Manchester and other areas via the Grip hotspot funding, which we are going to at least maintain and possibly increase next year, and the violence reduction units, which try to get young people on to a better path. I am visiting Greater Manchester a week today and look forward to discussing those initiatives and more with Chief Constable Stephen Watson, who I must say is doing a very good job, and others in Manchester.

Deterrence through tough sentencing must play an important part in dealing with the scourge of knife crime, such as that committed against my constituent Ellie Gould some years ago. I very much welcome Ms Wade’s report, which came out on Friday, about sentencing in murder cases involving knives, but I am disappointed that the Government have so far accepted only three of the 17 recommendations. Will the Minister speak to his colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to ensure that all 17 of the recommendations are implemented?

I know that my hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner on this topic over many years following the appalling murder of his constituent. Yes, I will raise the issues that he mentions with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, who I am sure will be extremely receptive.

This week, the five young men who murdered a 17-year-old boy from Poplar using knives were pictured for the first time. Those young men were sentenced to a total of 93 years in prison. Although sentencing is a form of justice, the reality is that this Government have lost their grip on preventing such violent crimes. Time and again, they have failed to act until it is too late—sticking-plaster politics at the heart of power. When will the Secretary of State show some leadership and lay out a proper plan for crime prevention?

As I set out to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), the Government have spent £340 million in the last three years directly to tackle knife crime, and, contrary to the hon. Lady’s question, that is yielding results. Hospital admissions for injuries caused by knives have dropped by 19% in the last four years, and violent offences, as measured by the crime survey—the only statistically approved measure of crime—have come down by 38% since the last Labour Government left office.

Topical Questions

Like the public, I want common-sense policing focused on keeping people safe and driving down crime. The disproportionate recording of non-crime hate incidents must not be used to inhibit free speech. We must be very careful about what is kept on an individual’s record. That balance has not always been struck, so I introduced a new code of practice on non-crime hate incidents and the recording and retention of personal data. It introduces new safeguards so that personal data may be included in an NCHI record only if the event is clearly motivated by an intentional hostility and where there is a real risk of significant harm to a group or an individual. Those changes are endorsed by outstanding police leaders such as Stephen Watson, the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, and I hope that the whole House will get behind the draft code.

Last summer, teenagers abused hundreds of canisters of nitrous oxide along Southend seafront. Today, firefighters have reported cutting people out of vehicles because of nitrous oxide abuse behind the wheel. Given the severe effects of such abuse, will my right hon. Friend consider taking tougher action to restrict the sale, possession and abuse of nitrous oxide in the UK?

I know that my hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate on this subject, as well as on the issue of dangerous weapons, and I pay tribute to her for her brilliant work. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 provides police with the powers to clamp down on the supply of nitrous oxide for non-legitimate use, but she is right, and I am clear, that the use and proliferation of nitrous oxide is unacceptable, and we will announce new measures soon.

We welcome the Home Secretary back from her expensive interior design tour.

The Louise Casey review will be published tomorrow and is expected to be damning, with far-reaching findings. The Home Secretary has known about failures on standards and vetting in policing for a long time, so why has she repeatedly refused to bring in mandatory vetting standards and automatic suspension for officers under investigation for domestic abuse and sexual assault?

I regret the tone that the shadow Home Secretary adopts when it comes to Rwanda. I encourage her to ditch her outdated and ignorant views on our friends in Rwanda.

When it comes to the Casey report, which I have read, it is clear that there have been failings within the Met. That is why the commissioner is right to accept those past failings, and that is why he has my total backing in moving forward to turn around performance and standards in the Met, so that every citizen in London has total confidence in those who wear the badge.

The problem is that the Home Secretary’s response is too little and too late. We should all back the commissioner to take urgently needed action in the Met, but confidence in the Met has dropped sharply and confidence has also dropped nationally. The system for national standards that the Home Secretary presides over is far too weak, with no proper regulations or requirements and no proper intervention when things go wrong. Neighbourhood policing, which sustains confidence, is being hollowed out. That is damaging for communities and for the vital work that the police do. Will she now commit to urgent legislation and a full overhaul on standards? The proud British tradition of policing by consent is in peril unless the Government act urgently.

I am proud of this Government’s track record on reducing crime and increasing the number of police officers. Since 2010, violent crime is down, robbery is down, neighbourhood crime is down and burglary is down. When the right hon. Lady talks about the Met, what I would gently say is that London has a Labour Mayor—as well as a Labour police and crime commissioner—who has failed to hold the Met to account properly. I am afraid I must encourage her to speak to her Labour colleague and ask him to do a better job of holding the Met to account.

Order. I say to both sides that topical questions are for Back Benchers. If people want to ask a longer question, they should be called earlier and not wait for topicals.

T2. As a host to Ukrainian refugees, I have been able to witness at first hand the difficulty and hardship when someone is separated from their family. My constituent Hazel Randall hosts a 24-year-old, Katya, who wanted to help her family reunite briefly in the UK, but they were faced with a £100 per person visa fee and a 200-mile round trip to the application centre to be able to travel to the UK. Will my right hon. Friend consider temporarily waiving tourist visa fees for Ukrainians wanting to visit their families? (904184)

Last week marked the first anniversary of the launch of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which my hon. Friend took part in, and it is a powerful rejoinder to anyone who says that the UK is anything other than generous and compassionate to those in need. I have listened to his remarks, and I have had a conversation with His Excellency the Ukrainian ambassador in that regard. We have taken an important step in the past month by reopening our visa centre at our embassy in Kyiv, so that Ukrainian nationals can begin those processes in their home territory, rather than having to leave and go to Warsaw.

T3.   Reports in today’s edition of The Times about the extreme activities of those promoted by the Islamic Centre of England, a UK-registered charity funded by the Iranian authorities and under the direction of the UK representative of the Iranian supreme leader, are just the latest evidence of the threat that Iran poses in the UK. The Security Minister has already told the House about the very real threat that Iran has made to UK-based individuals, including the Jewish community. Does the Minister agree that it is finally the time to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? (904186)

The hon. Member will well know that the work we have been doing against the Iranian threat in the United Kingdom has not diminished—in fact, it has increased in recent months. He is right to talk about cultural centres. Sadly, the Islamic Centre of England is not alone. Indeed, the work of the IRGC is not limited to those Iranian proxy organisations. We have to ensure that we have the resources and the attitude, and that is exactly what this Government are pulling together and exactly what we are deploying against this vile threat that has taken over a country and is now threatening ours.

T5. What guidance is the Department planning to issue on policing the provisions of the Public Order Bill, especially relating to preventing people from being arrested in a public place for what they are thinking about or for silent prayer? (904189)

My hon. Friend knows my position on that issue. He also knows about the guidance we have issued on the policing of non-crime hate incidents. He will note from the announcement recently that we are encouraging the police to strike a better balance, so that freedom of speech is more protected in their efforts to keep the public safe. The College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council will be working on new guidance to reflect the new offences in the Public Order Bill, but I reassure him that we are doing everything to ensure that the sensitive balance is struck, so that freedom of speech is protected while safeguarding the public.

T4. The Refugee Council estimates that if 65,000 people crossed the channel this year, it would cost £219 million to detain them for 28 days, or £1.4 billion to detain them for six months. Are figures such as those the reason for the Home Secretary’s refusing to share the economic impact assessment of the Illegal Migration Bill with the House? (904188)

The hon. Lady makes a powerful case for deterrence, which is exactly what the Illegal Migration Bill does. It will deter people from crossing the channel and break the model of the people smugglers.

T7. Tomorrow is the 80th anniversary of the formation of the Dambusters 617 squadron at RAF Scampton. Will the Home Secretary have a conversation with her Minister for Immigration about the meeting I had this morning with him, West Lindsey District Council and Scampton Holdings, in which the Minister was told in terms that if the Home Secretary goes ahead with her plan for 1,500 migrants to be placed there, it will scupper the long-term retention of the runway and the £300 million-worth of investment by Scampton Holdings? (904191)

I had a helpful and constructive meeting with my right hon. Friend and his constituents. No decision has been made with respect to RAF Scampton, and we will consider all of the things that were said in that meeting extremely carefully as we come to a final decision.

In 2021, only about 10% of rape allegations were referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service. The figure is even lower when we take into account other sexual offending. Has my hon. Friend ever received a satisfactory explanation from the police for such a lamentably poor referral rate?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this really important issue. The nub of the issue is that historically police officers have not developed a new way of dealing with rape in a modern, digital world, among other things. I am pleased to say that the Government are investing extra money in education in this field. For example, the Government are supporting the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing to design and pilot a new rape and other sexual offences investigative skills development programme for police officers, to make sure they know how to deal with victims. Chief Constable Crew, down in Avon and Somerset, is doing similar work.

In my constituency, I have employers who are struggling to recruit staff living next door to asylum seekers who are not allowed to work. Last week’s Budget talked about boosting employment. Does the Home Secretary agree that lifting the ban on work for asylum seekers would help to boost employment?

We do not agree with that: we do not want to see any further pull factors to the UK. We want to see deterrence suffused throughout our approach, and one element of that is ensuring that those who come illegally are detained and then removed from the country.

I was encouraged by the answers that my right hon. Friend the Security Minister gave earlier in relation to Iran, and the evidence put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), as well as the report in The Times this morning that has been referred to. Does the Security Minister therefore agree that that reflects a deliberate attempt by the Iranian regime to use whatever foothold available in our national life to spread conspiracy theories, extremism and radicalisation?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we have seen from the Iranian regime, sadly, is that overlap of crime, state threats and the use of terrorism to threaten the British people and our allies around the world. This Government will absolutely not allow those to flourish, and will stand extremely firmly against any such threats in this country.

Indecent exposure and non-contact sexual offending can be gateway offences to very much more serious offending against women and girls, as in the cases of Libby Squire in Hull and of Wayne Couzens, as we heard in his sentencing last week. When are the Government going to act on these early warning signs?

This is a really important issue, and I am grateful that the right hon. Lady has raised it. We all know from new academic research that indecent exposure can lead to far more serious crimes, and it is now the time that the police chiefs and also the College of Policing take it more seriously. Again, with the extra money that we are spending in this field, with education and allowing police officers to know what they are dealing with, I expect a lot more progress to be made in this area.

We have seen a number of murders recently in Walsall as a result of knife crime, but we have seen no sign of the Labour police and crime commissioner. Does the Minister agree that it is important that the police and crime commissioner visits all part of the west midlands, rather than simply staying in Birmingham?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Police and crime commissioners, particularly the one in the west midlands, should visit all parts of their patch. I was also rather concerned to hear that the Labour PCC in the west midlands is formulating plans to close up to 20 police stations, despite having received a 10% increase in funding over recent years, which I think is pretty shocking.

On the back of last week’s Budget, I made a speech about industrial hemp. The industry is telling me that it can create 105,000 jobs and pay £1 billion in tax if it is allowed to grow—pun intended. I will be writing to the Minister to explain this in detail, but it would be really helpful if I could sit down with the relevant Minister and industry representatives so they can make their case.

Mr Speaker, I will take this question. The hon. Member and I have had a number of discussions on this topic. We are always happy to engage, discuss points of detail and hear industry representations, so if he would like to meet face to face to discuss it further, I would be very happy to do that.

It was great news in the Budget last week that Dinnington High Street got £12 million for regeneration, knocking down the burnt out building and opening up the marketplace. What we need now is a police station to combat antisocial behaviour. Will the Minister support my campaign to reopen the police station on Dinnington High Street, which will clamp down on antisocial behaviour, and use some of the underspend in the Labour police and crime commissioner’s budget to do that?

I think my hon. Friend has formulated an excellent plan. I notice that South Yorkshire next year is getting an extra £10.7 million in funding, and the idea he suggests sounds like a good way of spending some of that.

Today I heard harrowing testimonies from the Turkish community in Coventry North West who have lost family members in the tragic earthquake. They would like to be reunited with the family members they have left, hopefully via a family visa scheme, so what steps is the Home Office taking to provide support to those affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria?

Our sympathies go to all those affected by the tragic events in Turkey. The UK Government are doing a number of things, including sending specialists to help with those who have been trapped in the wreckage. We have a range of visa options, including family reunion and visit visas, so that those people who have strong family ties to the United Kingdom can come here.

Last week, I raised with the Foreign Secretary that, for the past 15 months, I have been trying to bring to safety five British children in hiding in Kabul after their British father was blown up by the Taliban. They are too young to travel alone, but the Home Office will not grant their Afghan mother a visa, unless she passes an English test. However, she is not allowed to access education in Afghanistan. The Foreign Office tells me it is a Home Office issue. The Home Office is not responding to my correspondence, so will the Minister grant me a meeting to discuss this case?

I would be happy to look into the case. I would just say that over 25,000 individuals have been brought safely to the United Kingdom since Operation Pitting and that is something we should all be proud of.

Children are regularly detained in police cells for long periods and for too long without an appropriate adult being present, despite that being both a requirement and an essential safeguard for children. Will the Minister confirm today that, when police powers and procedures data is published later this year, it will include the number of minutes taken for an appropriate adult to arrive and the duration of time present—and if not this year, when?

The hon. Lady is raising a very important question. The case of Child Q is of course on our minds as we consider this. Some revisions are being made to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code of practice—it is code C—that are relevant in this area. In relation to the reporting question she asks, I can certainly undertake to look into that.

Far-right Islamophobic Danish politician Rasmus Paludan has said he is going to travel from Denmark to Wakefield for the sole purpose of burning a Koran in a public place. Mr Paludan was previously jailed in Denmark for his hateful and racist statements. He is a dangerous man who should not be allowed into this country. Can the Home Secretary assure me and my community that the Government are taking action to prevent this?

I inform the House that Mr Paludan has been added to the warnings index. Therefore, his travel to the United Kingdom would not be conducive to the public good, and he will not be allowed access.