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Topical Questions

Volume 733: debated on Monday 22 May 2023

Fraud is a despicable crime that accounts for more than 40% of all crime in England and Wales. The Government’s fraud strategy will do far more to block fraud at source by working closely with the private sector and law enforcement. The Online Safety Bill obligates tech platforms to protect users from fraud, and we will consult on banning cold calling for financial products and clamp down on number spoofing. We will ban devices that let criminals send mass scam texts or disguise their number when making scam calls. New powers will take down fraudulent websites.

I have told police forces that I want tackling fraud to be a priority, and a new national fraud squad with 400 new investigators will go after the worst fraudsters. We will change the law so that more victims of fraud get their money back, and Action Fraud will be replaced with a state-of-the-art system.

My constituents Mrs L and Mr M, from Hong Kong, came to the UK on a British national overseas passport. They came to see me because they had been paying into a pension for the whole of their careers and sold their home before coming to the UK, but because of their BNO visa status, their bank account was frozen at the direction of the Chinese state, in contradiction to Hong Kong law. They are not alone; the Home Office has issued BNO visas to more than 160,000 Hongkongers who have moved to the UK. Does the Home Secretary think it is right that at the behest of the Chinese communist party, BNO passport holders are being denied access to their own money, from their own bank accounts—

Order. Topical questions have to be short. People cannot have full questions on topicals, please. I am sure you have come to the end and that the Home Secretary will have a grip of the answer.

I am very concerned by the issue the hon. Lady raises. We have welcomed more than 100,000 people from Hong Kong via our BNO scheme. We have also had similar reports and we have heard from a group of BNOs who have raised concerns of a similar nature. My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, and potentially the Security Minister, will get back to her on the details, but I share the concern she is raising.

T2. For a long time, businesspeople in Africa have sometimes found it difficult to get visas for short visits to this country, because the system has been centralised and there are sometimes small errors on their application. Not only they but we lose business because of that situation, so will the Minister examine it to see what can be done to improve the system? (905060)

I would be happy to take a further look and to learn from my hon. Friend’s experience. I am pleased to say that UK Visas and Immigration is now processing all new visit visa applications within the service standard of 15 days, with 323,000 applications from those with African nationalities last year.

On a difficult anniversary, I pay tribute to the brave soldier Lee Rigby and to the innocent children, women and men who lost their lives, and the many more who were injured, at the Manchester Arena, as well as to their families, who remind us of the commitment to never let hatred win.

At the heart of the Home Secretary’s responsibility is to ensure that laws are fairly enforced for all. But when she got a speeding penalty, it seems that she sought special treatment—a private course—and asked civil servants to help. She has refused to say what she asked civil servants to do, so I ask her that again. Will she also tell us whether she authorised her special adviser to tell journalists that there was not a speeding penalty when there was?

As I said earlier, in the summer of last year I was speeding. I regret that. I paid the fine and I accepted the points. At no time did I seek to avoid the sanction. What is serious here is the priorities of the British people. I am getting on with the job of delivering for the British people, with a record number of police officers and a plan to stop the boats, and by standing up to crime and for policing. I only wish the Labour party would focus on the priorities too.

The trouble is that the Home Secretary is failing to deliver for the British people too, and everyone can see that she is not answering the basic factual questions on what she said to the civil service and to her special adviser. It matters because it is her job to show that she is abiding by the ministerial code, which she has broken before, on private and public interests, and to enforce rules fairly for everyone else. Time and again, she seems to think that she is above the normal rules: breaching security even though she is responsible for it; trying to avoid penalties even though she sets them; reappointed even after breaking the ministerial code; and criticising Home Office policies even though she is in charge of them and is failing on knife crime, on channel crossings, on immigration and more. The Prime Minister is clearly too weak to sort this out. If the Home Secretary cannot get a grip of her own rule-breaking behaviour, how can she get a grip on anything else?

I have some gentle advice for the right hon. Lady. The person who needs to get a grip here is the shadow Home Secretary and the Labour party, as they have wholly failed to represent the priorities of the British people. When, Mr Speaker, will the Labour party apologise for campaigning to block the deportation of foreign national offenders? When, Mr Speaker, will the Labour party apologise for leaving this country with a lower number of police officers—

T4. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration will know that Portland port, although in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), is very close to the constituency border of West Dorset. My constituents in Chickerell and wider West Dorset are becoming increasingly concerned about the absence of information on the risk assessment and on the additional resources that will be made available to Dorset Council and Dorset police. Has he any further information that he can share with the House today? (905062)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the manner in which he has defended his constituents on this difficult issue. Although housing asylum seekers in more rudimentary accommodation such as barges is undoubtedly in the national interest, we are acutely aware of the challenges faced by the local communities in which they will be moored. That is why we are working closely with Dorset Council, with the hon. Gentleman and with my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax).

My heart and the hearts of all those on the SNP Benches go out to those affected on the anniversary of the Manchester Arena tragedy, particularly the family and friends of Eilidh Macleod whose memorial trust stands as a legacy to her love of music.

Speeding can affect a person’s eligibility for leave to remain in the UK, so should not the same motoring offence and, indeed, the further breaches of the ministerial code by attempting to get special treatment affect the Home Secretary’s right to remain in her job?

As I said earlier, in the summer I was speeding. I regret that I was speeding. I accepted the points and I paid the fine. At no point did I seek to avoid the sanction. What I find regrettable, however, is the SNP’s wholesale failure to deliver for asylum seekers, to deliver for justice and to deliver for vulnerable people. Its Members are opposing our Bill to stop the boats, they are opposing support to break the people smuggling gangs and they are opposing a pragmatic approach.

T5. Will the Home Office ensure that the contracts for the use as asylum hotels of the Rothwell House Hotel and the Royal Hotel Kettering are terminated as soon as possible? (905063)

I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this issue. I will of course look into those contracts, but the enduring solution to this issue is to stop the boats in the first place. That is why we brought forward the Illegal Migration Bill.

T3. Members of Turning Point UK have protested three times in my constituency in recent months, attempting without success to spread hatred and division in our community. Does the Home Secretary have any concerns about this organisation and how it receives its funding? (905061)

I thank the hon. Member for her question. Full details should be coming to us to look into that. However, the Government take hate crime of any sort extremely seriously, which is why we have done basic policing and increased the number of police officers to more than ever before—over 200,000.

T8. The right to protest is a fundamental right in this country, but that right does not extend to deliberately blocking roads and stopping people going about their daily lives. Therefore, will the Minister support the police if they choose to use their full range of powers to stop those who abuse the right to protest? (905066)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The right to protest emphatically does not extend to trying to ruin or disrupt the lives of fellow citizens who are trying to get to hospital for treatment, to get their children to school or to get to their place of work. That is why this House recently legislated with the Public Order Act 2023. It is a great shame that the Opposition voted against it. This Government stand on the side of law-abiding citizens, and we fully support the police in using those powers.

T6. The more the Home Secretary tries to evade the question, the more the British public will conclude that something underhand and fishy is going on. Will she answer a simple question? Did the Home Secretary ask civil servants to arrange a private speed awareness course? (905064)

As I have made clear, last summer I was speeding, and I regret that I was speeding. I was notified of the matter, I paid the fine and I took the points. At no point did anything untoward happen and at no point did I try to avoid the sanction.

T9. Antisocial behaviour is a blight on the lives of too many of my constituents, and their frustration is often exacerbated because it is not always clear whether it is the local council or the police who can resolve their problem, despite the best intentions of both to help. How can my right hon. Friend ensure that people are not passed from pillar to post, and that when they make complaints about bad behaviour it is tackled swiftly? (905067)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Government recently published our antisocial behaviour action plan. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and her colleague the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are jointly chairing a taskforce to ensure that action is taken. We are setting up a number of hotspot patrols around the country to ensure that the blight of antisocial behaviour is heavily policed against and that, where it occurs, it is dealt with quickly and thoroughly and no one is left behind.

T7.   If the Home Secretary insists on exempting private landlords from minimum housing standards for asylum seekers, local councils and fire authorities will not be able to enforce basic safety and overcrowding standards. Does that not mean that the worst landlords, instead of improving their properties, will make a fortune from Government funding while exploiting vulnerable families and young children who are waiting years for a decision on their asylum application? (905065)

I can assure the hon. Lady that our intention is that there will be no diminution in accommodation standards, whether for asylum seekers or anybody else, but it is critical that we get those people out of hotels, saving the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds per year, and house them in the most appropriate forms of accommodation.

My constituents are rightly appalled by the organised nature of so much immigration crime. Can my right hon. and learned Friend set out what work is being done to tackle those organised groups’ operations at source, and what impact that is having in reducing the numbers of arrivals of illegal immigrants?

Part of our plan to stop the boats focuses on causal factors such as serious organised immigration crime gangs, which are networked and highly resourced. We have had some success in arresting hundreds of people involved in those gangs and disabling several such gangs, but we are employing more resource in our National Crime Agency and increasing the numbers of officers working with the French so that we can clamp down on the problem at cause.

T10. In her previous resignation letter, the current Home Secretary wrote:“Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics.”Was she right? Has she made a mistake? Will she accept responsibility? Will she resign? (905068)

As I said earlier, in the summer of last year I was speeding. I regret that I was speeding. I paid the penalty and I accepted the points. At no time did I seek to avoid any sanction or consequence.

Given the 56% rise in transphobic hate crime between 2021 and 2022, are the Government concerned, and what strategies will they put in place to get that horrifying number down?

Transphobic crimes are hateful and, although people do not realise it, they represent as much as 3% of all hate crimes recorded. The Government are determined to stamp it out, which is why we are funding groups such as True Vision that are working hard in this area—I know my hon. Friend is working hard too—and funding initiatives such as the national online hate crime hub, an essential capability designed to allow individuals to have specialist intervention and work. We are also working on education, with £3 million of funding going to five anti-bullying organisations between August 2021 and March 2024. It is only with better education and the work of my hon. Friend that we will make progress in this area.