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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 735: debated on Monday 3 July 2023

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Net Migration

Net migration is too high, and this Government are determined to bring it down. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why I voted and campaigned to leave the European Union in 2016. Last month, I announced measures to reduce the number of student dependants coming to the UK, which has soared by 35%, and to stop people transferring from student visas to work visas. We expect net migration to return to sustainable levels over time, and immigration policy is under constant review.

The Labour-Plaid coalition in Cardiff has declared Wales a “sanctuary for all.” The world is welcome. However, its Ukrainian super-sponsor scheme fell apart due to a lack of accommodation and planning, with families still crammed into single rooms. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Welsh Labour Government about the collapse of their super-sponsor scheme? Does she know how many families are still inappropriately placed?

We are very proud of this country’s track record on providing sanctuary to people in need, and I am very proud of the support that the Government have given to Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s barbaric war. But when it comes to broader accommodation costs relating to asylum seekers, it is clear that we are spending far too much—£6 million a day, or £3 billion a year—on housing asylum seekers in hotels.

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. She speaks frankly to Labour’s abject failure to offer any viable plan for support. Labour is naive about the problem, and it is unrealistic about the solution. Labour has no idea and no plan, and it is letting Wales down.

Do the Government have any plans to amend the minimum salary requirement for the skilled worker visa scheme?

We always keep the salary threshold under review but, as I said, net migration is too high and we need to get overall numbers down. How do we do that? Well, employers need to recruit more people who are already here, rather than advertising abroad so much. We also need to get more people off welfare and back into economic activity, and our welfare reforms will help with that objective. We cannot ignore the pressure that record levels of people coming to the UK puts on housing supply, public services and community relations. That is why we need to focus on lowering net migration.

Of course, net emigration is the problem in some parts of the UK. Will the Home Secretary pay attention to the plight of our economy in the lakes and dales, where almost two thirds of businesses are failing to meet demand because of a lack of workforce? I have been speaking to the Minister for Immigration about a youth mobility visa scheme, negotiated bilaterally with other countries in Europe, to solve our economic needs so that our hospitality and tourism industries can survive. How is the Home Secretary getting on with those discussions?

Migration is a very complex issue, and of course we have to balance the needs of the labour market. That is why we are very pleased to support well-crafted youth mobility schemes. There is one with India, and I have just come back from New Zealand, where we have expanded our youth mobility scheme. They are great schemes that allow the exchange of young people, who can come here to serve and work in our economy.

It is very clear that the issue of migration must be settled and sorted out. At the same time, it is important to note that those who have come from eastern Europe, the middle east and Africa are contributing to the economy of my Strangford constituency. I think the Secretary of State is committed to ensuring that continues, but what discussions has she had with the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that we continue to have the workers we need?

No single measure can control net migration, but as the Prime Minister has been clear, net migration is too high. That is why I recently announced a series of measures aimed at reducing the number of student dependants, which has risen exponentially over the past few years, and ensuring that students come here in a more proportionate and balanced way.

Will the Home Secretary wish the deputy chairman of the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), a speedy recovery from the terrible bug that I understand has, this morning, prevented him from launching an entirely different Conservative immigration policy from the policy of the Conservative Home Secretary? Does she agree with him that social care visas should be cancelled—yes or no?

The sorry fact of the matter is that Labour wants open borders and unlimited migration. There is a malaise descending upon the Labour party, and it does not even know what it thinks. Labour’s Sadiq Khan has said that he wants more migration. Labour’s party chairman has confirmed that numbers could rise under a Labour Government. When the shadow Home Secretary was asked whether she wanted net migration to rise or fall, she, in the characteristic style we have come to know and love, could not even answer the question. That is what we always get with Labour—

Order. May I just say that you have no responsibility for the Labour party and, in fairness, this is Home Office questions?

The Home Secretary could not answer the question: does she support her own social care visas or not? She spent all weekend briefing that she agrees with her Back Benchers, but today she cannot even answer the basic question. Making up stuff about the Labour party will not help her when her party has been in power for 13 years and when work visas have doubled, exactly because the Government have failed to tackle skills shortages or issues in the labour market.

This is total chaos. We have a Rwanda policy that is not removing anyone; an impact assessment that says her policies will not work and will cost much more; a 50% drop in removals of foreign criminals—the inspector says this is because the Home Office cannot even identify who can be removed; a record number of people in hotels; a record high asylum backlog; and Back Benchers writing the Home Secretary’s immigration policy because they do not think she is up to the job. It has been a humiliating few weeks for the Home Secretary—

Order. Sorry, but you are not going to take advantage of me in that way—that is totally unfair. I cannot pull one side up and allow the other to take advantage of it. I expect all the Back Benchers to be able to get their questions in today. This is about everybody having the same opportunity to get involved, so please do not do that again.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We all know that only the Conservative party and this Prime Minister have a serious plan to stop the boats and stop illegal migration, and that Labour stands for only one thing: open borders and unlimited migration. Labour Members would rather spend their time campaigning to block the deportation of foreign criminals than back our Illegal Migration Bill. They are on the side of the criminal gangs, not on the side of the British people.

Industrial Hemp Licensing

2. Whether her Department has had recent discussions with the industrial hemp industry on licensing. (905732)

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the two of us met just a few weeks ago, on 17 May, together with industry representatives, to discuss hemp licensing. I thank him for taking the time and trouble to organise that meeting. As he knows, there is a light-touch process for licensing industrial hemp. Since 2013, the number of hemp licences has increased from six to 134.

I recollect the conversation well. We have an opportunity within the UK to grow hemp on an industrial scale and so feed many growing industries that use hemp to produce environmentally friendly products. The growth of these industries has been hampered by overly complicated regulations and a poor application process. Meanwhile, foreign companies are racing ahead in this arena. To protect UK farmers and encourage UK industry, will the Minister consider giving the licensing process over to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and making the process farmer friendly?

It is, of course, important to make sure that UK industry can compete globally, and a light-touch regulatory framework is important in that. We should be aware that some parts of the plant contain high levels of THC—tetrahydrocannabinol—and do need regulation, which is the Home Office’s concern. I will be meeting DEFRA colleagues in the near future to make sure that our approach to regulation is as light-touch as possible, because, like him, I want to see our domestic industry flourish and I do not want any excessive regulation.

Police Funding Formula

The Government have said they will be reviewing the police funding formula, and I hope to have news for the House in the relatively near future about initiating the consultation process. The formula is quite out of date and it needs overhauling, and we are working on that.

The record number of 1,455 police officers in Bedfordshire and the recent £6 million special grant are both very welcome indeed, but does the Minister recognise that it is simply not fair or right to go on funding a force with a series of one-off special grants that really need to be part of core funding?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I should take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner, Festus Akinbusoye, who has done a fantastic job for the people of Bedfordshire. He advocated for more funding via the special grant and was successful. He is a great representative for the people of Bedfordshire and I am pleased that he has delivered record police numbers in Bedfordshire, just as the Government have delivered record numbers of police across the whole of England and Wales.

The chief constable of West Yorkshire police, John Robins QPM, recently told the BBC that his force does not have the resources that it needs to deliver the service that the public expect. Cutting through the spin, he said that the force was down 2,000 staff and £140 million since 2010. He said his force could deal with major incidents and crimes, but only at a cost to neighbourhood policing. This comes from a force that was rated outstanding in planning and the use of resources in its latest inspection by His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services. Which bit of policing does the Minister think should not be done because forces simply do not have the resources?

The shadow Minister will know that in the police funding settlement for this year, 2023-24, there is around about £500 million extra—in fact, it is slightly over £500 million—for police forces up and down the country. That has enabled us to deliver a record number of officers ever. There are 149,572 officers—about 3,500 more than there were under the last Labour Government. In West Yorkshire, which the shadow Minister asked about, neighbourhood crime is down by 30% since 2019 and overall crime—excluding fraud and computer misuse, which came into the figures only recently—is down by 52% since 2010. I am still waiting for the shadow Home Secretary to apologise for being a member of a Government who presided over crime levels that are double those we have today.

Asylum Application Backlog

We are making good progress, and the latest Home Office statistics show that asylum decisions are up, with a 35% increase since last year in the number made. Productivity has increased, and we are on track to have 2,500 decision makers by September, which represents a quadrupling of the number of case workers.

Like many Members from all parties, I am constantly contacted by refugees who are desperate to know what is happening to their asylum claim after years of waiting, so I asked the Home Office how many refugees in Newcastle had been waiting for one, two, three, four and five years. The answer came back that the Home Office does not know—it does not even record the data. Instead of indulging in unworkable, unethical, illegal and unaffordable flights of Rwandan fantasy, why does the Home Secretary not focus on her day job and fix the asylum backlog?

As I just said, we are making good progress on reducing the asylum backlog. Important though the reducing the backlog is, however, it cannot be the totality of a plan. This is the point that the Labour party does not seem to understand: we have to stop the boats coming in the first place. That is the only sustainable way to tackle the issue. Even if we grant our way out of this problem, as the shadow Home Secretary seems to propose, the pressures on the state still remain; they are simply transferred to local authorities and the benefits system, and the British taxpayer continues to pick up the bill.

The Minister has an interesting definition of being “on track”; did the number of decision makers not fall between January and May this year, from 1,333 to 1,280?

A constituent recently passed on to me a letter from a firm of local solicitors that said:

“All possible avenues have been considered to avoid this situation but regrettably, the Home Office’s long term failure to progress asylum claims, and current Government immigration policy, has made it financially unsustainable for”

these solicitors

“to continue Legally Aided work.”

How does it help us as MPs on both sides of the House in our constituency offices, and how does it help with the backlog that the Home Office says it wants to reduce, to make sure that people do not have the legal representation they need to unblock the system and allow progress in asylum cases?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the problem with our asylum system is not a lack of lawyers; there are plenty of legal representatives around. We have had strong overall progress on the backlog, and I am pleased to say that the early data that I have received suggests that last week saw the best performance in four years.

I know how seriously the Minister takes dealing with the legacy backlog, but, as the Home Secretary showed at the recent Home Affairs Committee, in order to deal with that backlog in the timeframe that the Government have set themselves it would require at least a quadrupling of the number of cases being dealt with as from 1 June. Even with the extra 500 staff appointed at Stoke, that will be challenging. Will the Minister give me an assurance that, if we have not managed to clear the backlog before the end of the year, it will not be done by a blanket amnesty?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and I explicitly chose not to pursue the blanket amnesty approach that the previous Labour Government pursued. Instead, we put in the hard yards to improve productivity by streamlining processes, reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, ensuring that, where appropriate, interviews were conducted in a timely fashion, and recruiting more decision makers. Since my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary appeared before the Committee, I am pleased to say that the data coming out of our caseworking team is very strong. We are seeing significant progress. As I just said, early indication suggests that last week was the best for over four years.

I am a bit mystified. Given that 95% of these applications are successful, is it not the case that, if we speed up the process and make it easier and easier, more and more people will come? Is not the only solution to detain people and to deport them—offshore them? Those who suggest anything else are living in cloud cuckoo land and every single county will face what we face in Lincolnshire with thousands of illegal migrants having to be housed in unsuitable places. Let us have an answer for once.

The approach that the Home Secretary and I have taken has been both to ensure that, where there are high grant rate nationalities, cases are pursued swiftly, and where there are low grant rate nationalities, such as Albanians—individuals from a safe European country—who can and should be returned as quickly as possible, we do just that. At this point last year, 30% of those arriving on small boats were coming from Albania; today, it is less than 2%. That arrangement is clearly making good progress. None the less, my right hon. Friend makes an important point: those who suggest that we can simply grant our way out of this problem are, I am afraid, hopelessly naive. The idea that the individuals coming across on small boats will, in most cases, make a significant net contribution to our economy is wrong. The costs to the taxpayer are very significant. The ongoing costs of education, access to welfare and community cohesion are very significant, which is why we need to stop the boats in the first place.

The Government’s destruction of their own asylum system can best be described as an act of arson and their plans to fix it are utterly farcical. They have sent more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers to Rwanda. They sent the Prime Minister on a victory lap in Dover, apparently failing to notice that the weather improves over the summer and the boat numbers increase. And they were in such a flap about losing votes on their bigger backlog Bill that they resorted to dragging Lord Lebedev of Siberia into the Division Lobby. Now the Court of Appeal ruling has revealed that Rwanda is able to process only 100 claims per year—around 0.3% of those who arrived on small boats last year. Can the Minister tell me what he is planning to do with the remaining 99.7%, and does he therefore agree that the prospect of the Rwanda plan actually deterring any migrant from crossing the channel is close to zero?

I used to say that the Labour party does not have a plan, but the truth is that it does have a plan, but it is a plan that would make things significantly worse. It is a plan that would ensure more granting of cases; more safe and legal routes, so even more individuals would come here; more hotels; and more cost to the British taxpayer. What is so disgraceful is the level of hypocrisy. We only have to look at the record of Welsh Labour to see that. In Wales, the Welsh Minister for Social Justice declared on 15 occasions in the Senedd that Labour-run Wales was “a nation of sanctuary”, but across the same period, Labour-run Wales accommodated 176 fewer asylum seekers. In fact, the latest published data shows that Labour-run Wales has taken just half the number of people that it should per capita.

Illegal Migration Bill: Devolved Administrations

5. Whether she has had recent discussions with the devolved Administrations on the Illegal Migration Bill. (905735)

I have engaged regularly with the devolved Administrations on the Illegal Migration Bill since its introduction in March, in addition to my periodic meetings with my ministerial counterparts on a variety of immigration issues. Most recently, I met the Scottish Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees in May. Looking ahead, the Bill is on the agenda for the inter-ministerial group for safety, security and migration, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will chair later this month.

The Bill will place restrictions on the powers of Scottish Ministers, removing the entitlement for victims of human trafficking and exploitation to access Scottish Government-funded support services, and will undermine the Scottish Government’s ability to deliver on their trafficking and exploitation strategy. We know what route the Government’s damaging ideology is dragging them down, but why should Scotland’s elected Parliament and the devolved Administrations be dragged down the same route, when it is abundantly clear that we want no part of the hostile environment ideology?

If the Scottish Government cared so deeply about this issue, they would accommodate more asylum seekers. The SNP Government are accommodating just 4.5% of the total asylum population being accommodated in the UK, when Scotland makes up 8.1% of the UK population. I took the time to look at some of the statistics for those local authorities in Scotland where the SNP is the largest party: Clackmannanshire, zero asylum seekers; Dundee, zero asylum seekers; East Ayrshire, zero; East Dunbartonshire, zero; Midlothian, zero; North Ayrshire—want to take a guess, Mr Speaker? —zero; North Lanarkshire, six—

Order. No, no, no—you are going to get my drift. We cannot read out phone numbers. This is not the “Yellow Pages” advert. One or two statistics are fine, but when we get to five I really do worry. Let us have the SNP spokesperson.

The Minister clearly thinks that that is a very clever line, but he knows well that Glasgow takes more refugees per head of population than any other local authority in the United Kingdom. The line he is trotting out is simply wrong and it is insulting to all those in Scotland who have opened their homes to Ukrainians, the communities across the country who have welcomed Syrians and the volunteers in the big cities who work with asylum seekers every day, helping them to overcome trauma. If he wants Scotland to do more to welcome refugees, when is he going to devolve the power and the financial levers that would allow us to do so?

For good reason, immigration is a reserved matter, but the statistics I have just read out make the point as clear as can be. The SNP tries its very best to undermine the Government’s work to stop the boats, but it refuses to accommodate these people when they arrive, and the costs of its fake humanitarianism are borne by everyone but itself. That is not just hypocrisy; it is deeply irresponsible, and the public have had enough.

It is not the Scottish Government’s policy towards immigration, refugees and asylum seekers that has been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal. If the Minister wants the system to work and he wants the Scottish Government to do their part, he must take more action to clear the backlog, as we have heard; there must be proper safe and legal rights for people to arrive; and they must be given the right to work when they get here, because then they can pay for their own accommodation and they will not cost the taxpayer money.

Just the other day, the Home Office suggested to the Scottish Government that a vessel that had been used to house Ukrainian refugees in Leith could be used for others who are asylum seekers—the same vessel, the same port, the same provider, the same package. What did the SNP say? No.

Illegal Migration Bill: UN Refugee Convention

6. What recent assessment she has made of the compatibility of the Illegal Migration Bill with the 1951 UN refugee convention. (905736)

While I am pleased that the Court of Appeal found that the Government are not in breach of our obligations under the refugee convention, I fundamentally disagree with the judgment that Rwanda is not a safe place for refugees and we are seeking permission to appeal. The Government take our international obligations very seriously and we are satisfied that the provisions in the Illegal Migration Bill comply with the refugee convention. The fundamental principle remains, however, that those in need of protection should claim asylum at the earliest opportunity and in the first safe country that they reach.

The Home Secretary and the Government website say that they are satisfied that the provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill comply with the 1951 UN refugee convention. I am looking for clarity from the Home Secretary. What exactly is it about persecuting the most vulnerable groups, creating a hostile environment and stripping people of their right to seek safety that complies so well with the UN refugee convention?

As I have made clear, we take our international obligations very seriously, and we are satisfied that the Bill complies with the refugee convention. With respect to the hon. Lady, I will not take lectures from the SNP on this matter. SNP Members are, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) said, the phoney humanitarians in this debate. They are happy to support asylum seekers as long as they are nowhere near Scotland. When they stop opposing the vessel in Leith, which will house more asylum seekers, then we can have a serious conversation.

The UN Refugee Agency has its own asylum seeker relocation programme: it flies asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda in a scheme part-funded by the European Union. How on earth can Rwanda be deemed not to be a safe country if the UN Refugee Agency itself is using it as a safe haven?

As always, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and I could not agree with him more. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees runs an extensive scheme in Rwanda, and supports the resettlement of many thousands of migrants. I met some of them in my recent visit to Rwanda. They are happy and grateful for the generosity and welcome that Rwanda has offered them, which has allowed them to restart their lives. I am frankly very disappointed by the constant smears and assumptions, which are based on outdated and ignorant views, denigrating our allies in Rwanda. I am nothing but grateful to our partners in Rwanda for the continued co-operation.

Street Crime by Young People

I am pleased to report that, according to the crime survey, violence is down by 41% and criminal damage is down by 68% since 2010. But we would like to do more. That is why we now have record numbers of police and why we are investing in the safer streets fund, £200 million in the Youth Endowment Fund and £170 million in violence reduction units. We have also launched our antisocial behaviour strategy, about which the Home Secretary will speak in a moment.

Now is a good time to put on the record an intervention made by Mr Speaker in his capacity as the Member of Parliament for Chorley. Thanks to his recent intervention with me and the chief constable, Chorley town centre is one of the areas that will receive antisocial behaviour hotspot patrols, and I am sure that the people of Chorley are very grateful to Mr Speaker for the intervention that he made on their behalf.

Well done, Mr Speaker!

I thank the Minister for his reply. Some young people who are arrested because they are guilty of antisocial behaviour, or so-called low-level crime, are released without charge because there is a reluctance to criminalise them. Too often, those youngsters go on to commit further multiple crimes, and are arrested and released without charge each time. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to end this roundabout of unpunished crime and ensure that young people who repeatedly break the law are not released without charge but are treated as what they are—criminals?

We want to see tougher action on things such as antisocial behaviour and public drug use; we should have zero tolerance for any of those things. As part of the ASB strategy we are launching instant justice, whereby people who perpetrate acts of antisocial behaviour will rapidly—ideally within 48 hours—be made to do clean-ups and those kinds of things in their local area, to pay back visibly, publicly, rapidly and with enforcement. We are trialling that in 10 police force areas, starting this month, and it will be rolled out to every police force in the country, with funding, by April next year. I completely agree with everything my hon. Friend said.

The Minister may not be aware that I was chair of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission. We published an interim report in 2018 and a final one in 2020. Our first recommendation was for the Government to adopt a public health approach to tackling violence through regional violence reduction units and long-term strategies. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that violence reduction units have the long-term funding that they need to achieve the best possible outcomes?

I agree with the approach that the hon. Lady sets out, and we have already taken action. She asks about long-term plans. She will be aware that the Youth Endowment Fund of £210 million is a 10-year programme, and that violence reduction units—called violence reduction partnerships in some places—have so far received £170 million, and receive funding each and every year, including an allocation this year. The kinds of things that we find work include diversionary activities for young people. In fact, when I asked the chief executive of the YEF what the most effective intervention is, he said that it was cognitive behavioural therapy, which gets used as well. I repeat one statistic that I mentioned earlier: since 2010, violence is down by 41% and criminal damage by 68%.

A report today found that nearly half of women who experienced or witnessed a crime in the past year chose not to report it because they did not believe that the police would treat it seriously. His Majesty’s inspector, in his latest state of policing report, said that the police were experiencing one of their biggest crises in living memory, there were widespread systematic failings and they were simply not getting the basics right.

Having pushed our British model of policing by consent to the very brink, do the Government take responsibility, do they agree with the inspector that substantial reform is essential, and will they back Labour’s plans to restore neighbourhood policing, halve serious violence and raise confidence in every force—or is the Minister happy to keep twiddling his thumbs while the criminals get away with it?

I must say, in the gentlest terms, that my constituency neighbour has a bit of cheek to talk about reducing crime, given that according to the crime survey, crime levels under the last Labour Government were around double what they are today. [Interruption.] She shakes her head, but that is from the Office for National Statistics, and it is the only statistically recognised long-term measure of crime. If she does not like the ONS figures, she can go and argue with it. She might not like them, but those are the figures.

In relation to the hon. Lady’s serious question about RASSO—rape and serious sexual offences—particularly on women, the proportion being reported is much higher than it was a few years ago, which is welcome. There is a lot more to do, which is why there is a rape review and a rape action plan. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), are working hard on that. Operation Soteria Bluestone was fully rolled out at the end of June, just a few days ago, and we have seen a significant increase in the number of relevant charges. They are still too low, and they need to be higher, which is why we have invested in more RASSO specialist officers, and that work is continuing.

Antisocial Behaviour

Earlier in the year, I launched the antisocial behaviour action plan, which includes increasing funding for police and crime commissioners by over £100 million, delivering stronger and swifter punishment, increasing police visibility in response, and banning nitrous oxide. Antisocial behaviour is not a low-level crime. It blights communities, and that is why the Government are committed to tackling it effectively.

Today, to coincide with Anti-social Behaviour Awareness Week, the all-party parliamentary group on antisocial behaviour has published a report with the charity Resolve ASB, which demonstrates, among other things, that 1.7 million people a day experience antisocial behaviour. Some 58% believe that the Government are not doing enough. Will the Home Secretary meet members of the all-party parliamentary group and me to look at the recommendations in that report?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work on the all-party parliamentary group, and I am sure that the Policing Minister and/or I will meet him to learn more about the vital work that he has led. May I take the opportunity to applaud the officers of Cheshire police force in the hon. Gentleman’s area? I have had the pleasure of meeting the excellent chief constable, Mark Roberts. I applaud the Conservative police and crime commissioner, John Dwyer, who has rolled out a scheme on antisocial behaviour that provides more CCTV and increases the first-responder response. There is a record number of police officers in Cheshire, and the force has received over £3 million-worth of safer streets funding. The results are a 26% fall in neighbourhood crime and a 17% fall in drugs offences in Cheshire. That is common-sense policing, thanks to the police officers and Government support.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary is one of the lowest-funded police forces in the UK, and with a decade of cuts to youth services, antisocial behaviour has been left to thrive under this Government. We have seen the consequences at South Parade pier, the Camber and many other places in Portsmouth. Neighbourhood policing is vital in cracking down on ASB, which ruins so many lives. Therefore, what explanation can the Home Secretary provide for halving the number of police community support officers over the past 13 years?

The hon. Gentleman and I represent constituencies that are served by the same police force, and I am really proud of the track record in Hampshire. I am really proud of how the new chief constable, Scott Chilton, has assumed his role, with a real focus on back-to-basics policing; I am really proud of how the Conservative police and crime commissioner, Donna Jones, has led initiatives so that every community in Hampshire will have named, dedicated police officers and PCSOs serving them, bolstering neighbourhood policing and building confidence; and I am really proud of the fact that Hampshire has seen a 15% fall in neighbourhood crime since 2019—common-sense policing serving the community.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that some of the principal victims of antisocial behaviour are young people? The Government are absolutely right to bring forward new measures to tackle antisocial behaviour to make our streets, parks and public spaces safer for the vast majority of young people who do not engage in those negative behaviours.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. There is such a need for greater diversion and greater support for young people, so that they do not spend their time loitering in shopping centres, causing a nuisance in car parks or harassing members of the community. That is why our antisocial behaviour action plan commits considerable funding—over £160 million of new funding—including for an increased police presence in ASB hotspot areas and to support the roll-out of diversionary resources to support young people so that they do not fall into crime and antisocial behaviour.

Yet again, in Ilkley and Marley in my constituency, Travellers have set up camp, caused damage and intimidated residents, which just last weekend resulted in Ilkley pool having to close temporarily. When they have gone, they leave a complete mess, which all has to be cleaned up at taxpayers’ expense. Will the Home Secretary meet me to discuss what additional support West Yorkshire police and our local council can get to address this ongoing issue?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point about illegal encampments and Travellers who blight communities by causing a nuisance and who, in some cases, threaten communities—it is unacceptable behaviour. That is why we legislated in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 to toughen up the powers and measures available to the police, so that they can take more robust steps in relation to this issue, but I am very happy to speak to my hon. Friend about what more can be done locally.

Asylum Accommodation: Hotels

10. What recent progress her Department has made on reducing the use of hotels as contingency asylum accommodation. (905740)

15. What recent progress her Department has made on reducing the use of hotels as contingency asylum accommodation. (905746)

The Home Office seeks to end the use of hotels and to move asylum seekers to less expensive, more suitable accommodation. To support that, we are bringing into use large, disused military sites and vessels, which will provide adequate, safe, secure, non-detained accommodation for asylum seekers and also reduce the pull factor to the United Kingdom.

I recently received an email from the Home Office that said that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is “inappropriate”, and that reliance on them must be reduced. In the same email, the Home Office informed me that it planned to increase the use of hotel accommodation for asylum seekers in my constituency of Erdington by 159%—the single biggest increase in the whole of Birmingham. How on earth can the Minister expect the country to trust him when he cannot even keep his policies consistent within the same email?

The policy that we have adopted is one of maximising the capacity of the hotels that we have for as long as we have them. That is saving the taxpayer at least a quarter of a billion pounds and reducing reliance on hotels elsewhere in the country. I do appreciate that there are pressures on the hon. Lady’s local authority, and I also appreciate that some Labour local authorities, such as Westminster City Council, say that asylum seekers must be housed in individual, ensuite bedrooms. We do not agree with that: it is a gross waste of taxpayers’ money that would make the UK a soft touch.

In my constituency, I have had the same experience as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton), but the question I want to ask is about unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Home Office still has not explained how it is going to find the children missing from asylum accommodation, so will it set out the plans to do that and find these vulnerable people?

We have been very clear that we and the police take extremely seriously any young person who goes missing from a hotel or any other form of accommodation. Local police forces and Home Office personnel treat that exactly as they would any other child going missing and they conduct a full missing person inquiry. However, the only sustainable answer to young people living in hotels is to stop the boats in the first place. Doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing will lead to more young people living in those hotels and being exposed to human traffickers.

While I do very much welcome the Minister’s determination to move away from hotels and towards other accommodation, will he give particular attention to the Wiltshire hotel and golf club in my constituency? The number there has gone up: there are now 120 people there, and they are all crammed into very small accommodation. It is not only bad from the point of view of the golf club members and neighbouring long-term residents with them in housing next door, but it is an extremely bad place from the point of view of the asylum seekers. They have nowhere to go and nothing to do. They have no education facilities and no religious facilities. They are stuck in the middle of the countryside with no transport, and it is quite the wrong place for them to be. Will the Minister please give particular attention to the Wiltshire hotel?

I am familiar with the hotel in my hon. Friend’s constituency and the concerns he has raised. I will take a look at that, but as I have said previously, the answer to this challenge is to stop the boats coming in the first place. That is why we all need to support the Illegal Migration Bill. Those who want more hotels would oppose it. The Labour party’s policy will see more hotels, and the shadow Home Secretary will end up with more hotels to her name than Paris Hilton.

I do not know how to follow that, Mr Speaker.

All Members would like to see a reduction in the number of hotels used for asylum accommodation—I am sure that is true—but will the Minister spend a moment to congratulate the community of Sharnbrook, and in particular Rev. Paolo Di Leo and Councillor Doug McMurdo, on providing a welcoming environment for people who are put in such accommodation? I think there are signs across the country that communities do come together in these difficult circumstances to achieve an outcome that is beneficial for everyone.

I would be very happy to put on record my view of the good work being done by my hon. Friend’s constituents. He is right to say that there are voluntary and community groups, charities and churches right across the country that support asylum seekers while they are in this form of accommodation, and we and our providers facilitate that wherever possible.

Topical Questions

I am going to make a short topical statement. The information that Meta and other tech companies give to UK law enforcement helps to protect around 1,200 children and leads to over 100 arrests of suspected child abusers every month. However, Meta plans to roll out end-to-end encryption soon, without safeguards, and it will no longer proactively detect and alert authorities to child grooming and abuse material on Facebook, Messenger and Instagram Direct. This will be a huge boon to anyone who wants to hurt a child. The Online Safety Bill will hold tech firms to account, but indifference to abuse is intolerable. I have written to Mark Zuckerberg—together with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), children’s charities and campaign groups—to outline our profound concerns. Last week, I was in New Zealand at the Five Eyes security conference where there was widespread support for working together to ensure that social media companies put child safety first.

Following recent knife crime incidents in my constituency and in the Medway towns, will my right hon. Friend meet me and our Kent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, to discuss funding and how the Home Office can further support Kent police with the increased challenges we are facing in Kent due to our proximity to London?

I very much appreciate the particular challenges in Kent relating to knife crime. That is why I am glad that since 2019, Kent has received £5.5 million in core violence reduction unit grant funding, and £730,000 in additional support for targeted youth interventions. I have met the police and crime commissioner, and Chief Constable Tim Smith. They are both excellent at leading their forces, and there is now a record number of police officers in Kent. I am sure the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), will meet my right hon. Friend to discuss that issue. We have made a lot of progress, but we can do better.

The Home Secretary will be aware of the documentary last week on the relationship between Boris Johnson and others, and former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev, and about the meeting in an Italian villa, the ignoring of security advice on Lords appointments, and the decision not to sanction Alexander Lebedev. Given the importance of national security, will she tell the House whether she has any concerns about those reports? Will she set up an independent investigation into what happened, into who knew what, and into how far the security risk spreads?

At the Home Office, the Minister for Security and I take seriously the threats posed by hostile state actors. That is why the Minister for Security is chairing the Defending Democracy Taskforce, bringing together agencies and Departments in a cross-Whitehall approach to tackling the serious threats that we all face as parliamentarians and facing those in public office. I gently remind the right hon. Lady that one of her own parliamentary colleagues has a very dubious track record when it comes to working with the Chinese Communist party.

T2. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that police funding reflects rurality and the huge uplift in population experienced in remote coastal locations during the summer tourist season? (905758)

As I said in response to an earlier question, the Government intend to consult in due course on a new police funding formula, and part of that consultation will involve looking at the factors that should be taken into account. Those might include things such as population and crime levels, but things such as rurality, sparsity and seasonality, particularly seasonal tourism, are likely to form part of the new formula. I encourage Members across the House to engage closely with that consultation when it comes forward, to ensure that those factors are properly accounted for.

T5. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In recent weeks, the media have carried stories of patients who were receiving medical cannabis on private prescriptions, and who are now having their prescriptions paid for by the NHS. On the surface that is a great leap forward, but parents of children with intractable epilepsy who have been asking for such things for years are still being ignored. Will the Home Office consider reopening the 2018 licensing scheme to enable those children who are already being privately prescribed medical cannabis to have access to it via their NHS GP? (905761)

Many cannabis base compounds were moved wholesale to schedule 2 a few years ago, enabling them to be prescribed. The question that the hon. Gentleman asked about NHS prescription is perfectly reasonable and fair, but prescriptions on the NHS are a matter for the Department of Health and Social Care and for the NHS, including the NHS in Scotland. I would be happy to pass on his inquiry to them.

T3.   May I assure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the majority of my constituents in Sittingbourne and Sheppey understand that sending illegal migrants to Rwanda for processing is key to stopping small-boat crossings in the channel? Will she assure them that despite concerted opposition from the Labour party, she will deliver her plan? (905759)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. We are disappointed by the judgment of the Court of Appeal, but we are determined to follow through. He is right to say that we have to add deterrence to the system, as it is only by breaking the business model of the people smugglers that we will stop the boats.

T7. My constituents want community policing. Kim McGuinness, the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, has put in place a redeployment programme to get an extra 134 officers into neighbourhoods, but that will not make up for the 1,100 officers and the £148 million that we have lost due to budget cuts. And before the Minister mentions “plans”, that will still leave us 400 officers short. Why have the Tories failed so badly to get police officers on to the beat? (905763)

As I mentioned in earlier answers, across England and Wales we now have record police numbers of 149,572. The previous peak was 146,030 in 2010, so we have 3,500 more officers than we have ever had before across England and Wales. In Northumbria, the number has gone up by 512 since 2015. Of course, many of the powers sit with the PCC, including powers over the precept. It is entirely open to police and crime commissioners to use those powers.

T4.   Today, Operation Centurion has started across Lancashire, utilising £2 million from the Government to put more police officers on our streets tackling antisocial behaviour. In my constituency, that means almost 2,500 extra hours of police patrols in Padiham. It will have a major impact, but we can do more. Can I ask the Home Secretary whether the safer streets fund will have another round so that we can make physical changes, as well as getting more officers on the streets? (905760)

I am delighted with the progress being made to tackle antisocial behaviour in Burnley and Padiham. As my hon. Friend will know, we have allocated almost £1 million to roll out pilots of ASB hotspot response in 2023-24. A new round of safer streets will be announced soon. I take this opportunity to thank Lancashire police, which has launched an ASB problem-solving unit. It ran Operation Propulsion, which involved more officers patrolling locations dealing with motor nuisance and boy racers, and it has had a real good crackdown on residential burglary thanks to Operation Defender. Neighbourhood crime has fallen by 26% in Lancashire. Tribute must be paid to Chief Constable Chris Rowley and the police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden.

T9. Given the exchanges earlier, I am obliged to ask the Home Secretary whether she understands the difference between using a cruise ship for the temporary accommodation of Ukrainian refugees, with a shared language and experience, and who have the right to work and are being actively relocated in the community, and using it essentially as a prison ship for the indefinite long-term detention of asylum seekers, who have no right to leave, no right to work, no right to benefits and no recourse to public funds. Does the Department appreciate the difference? (905765)

I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. He knows perfectly well that the proposition was not a prison ship. This is a ship that will be used in exactly the same way as the SNP Government did in Scotland, and in exactly the same way as the Belgian and the Dutch Governments are doing in their respective areas. If I may say, in Edinburgh today, there are 37 asylum seekers. That is disgraceful. If the SNP cared about this issue, it would step up, support asylum seekers and back our Bill.

People in Southend West want to see a tough, but just policy on illegal immigration that stops people unfairly jumping the queue, that stops evil people smugglers and above all stops vulnerable people drowning in the channel. Will my right hon. Friend therefore agree that we must continue to send a strong signal that it is this Government —not unelected lawyers or criminal gangs—who will decide who comes to this country?

At the core of this question is: who decides who comes to this country? Is it for the Government and Parliament, or is it for people smugglers and human traffickers? Those of us on the Government Benches know exactly which side of the debate we are on; we want to stop the boats, and we want to secure our borders.

The family of my constituent who fled Sudan have been stuck in Egypt for more than two months awaiting a spousal visa. Four of the group of five have UK passports. Can the Minister tell us how long he would expect people to be waiting in this kind of situation when they have suffered such distress and anxiety?

I would be happy to look into the case for the hon. Gentleman, but I can say to him that we are processing applications in third countries within service standards. We have closed the visa application centre in Khartoum for obvious reasons to protect the security of our staff and contractors, but we have teams in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and in other close countries who are there to support applicants, such as his constituents.

Given this morning’s U-turn by the Mayor of London on selling off Uxbridge police station, does the Minister believe that the Mayor should also act to save Barnet police station? If he does not, the Mayor’s decision on Uxbridge looks like cynical political gameplaying and interference in a by-election.

I and many other Londoners were concerned when, I think in 2017, Sadiq Khan announced plans to close 37 police stations. Thanks to the resolute campaigning of local councillor Steve Tuckwell in Hillingdon, Sadiq Khan has executed a last-minute handbrake U-turn under pressure, which I am sure is entirely unconnected with the upcoming by-election. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that if Sadiq Khan is to have any credibility at all with Londoners—he currently has pretty much none—he should reverse not just that one police station closure plan but all his police station closure plans.

Using the maximum police precept on council tax, having to tap into half a million pounds of reserves and yet again relying on grant funding shows that the Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner has failed to secure the long-term funding that our force desperately needs. Now he is off pursuing his personal ambitions as the next Tory candidate for Mid Beds. The review of police funding is welcome, but when will the House see it? Will it be before the summer recess?

I cannot set out a precise timeframe—it is being actively worked on—but I point out that Festus, the police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire, is doing a fantastic job for the people of that county. It is thanks to his active, energetic, persuasive and eloquent interventions that Bedfordshire has received these special grants. Its base budget has also gone up by £6.1 million this year thanks to his fantastic work.

Last week, Nigel Farage publicised the cancellation of his bank account under the politically exposed persons regulation, but he is only the latest of a number of people to have had their lives wrecked by that regulation. Recently, Lords in the other place tried to correct the policy, but with only partial success, because, I understand, of pushback from the Home Office and the security services. Will the Minister explain why that is and what he will do about it?

I am delighted to be asked a question. Yesterday, the Treasury and the Home Office came together and agreed various things that were announced in the House of Lords: the PEPs agreement. Such a closure on political grounds, if that is indeed what has happened—after all, we have only the allegation of it at this point—should, therefore, be completely unacceptable. PEPs is there to prevent the corrupt use of banking facilities by politicians in corrupt regimes. It is not there to silence individuals who may hold views with which we may or may not agree.

In the chief inspector of borders and immigration’s latest report on the Home Office system to remove foreign national offenders, he said

“the Home Office does not have a firm grip on its caseworking operations”,


“This is no way to run a government department.”

He also said

“I found the Home Office’s inability to provide reliable or consistent data and management information of particular concern.”

Given that, will the Minister explain how the Department will cope with the increase in casework, detention and removals planned under the Illegal Immigration (Offences) Bill?

We take that report, as we do all others, very seriously. The right hon. Lady is right to say that there are lessons to be learned. However, returns are increasing as a result of deals such as the one we have done with Albania, as a result of reforms such as those we have made to the national referral mechanism and as a result of the 50% increase in illegal working visits that we have secured this year alone.

Despite repeated assurances from the Dispatch Box and it being nearly eight months since I first raised the issue with the Minister, the Home Office continues to operate two wholly inappropriate accommodation centres in my constituency, putting an unbearable strain on public services. Will my right hon. Friend expedite a clear timetable to close the centres permanently and restore the hotels to their intended purposes?

My hon. Friend and I have discussed this on many occasions. She has doggedly campaigned for the closure of these centres as well as supported the steps that we are taking as a Government to stop the boats in the first place. I will be happy to have further conversations with her, but she has my assurance that we are working as fast as possible to clear all hotels, including those in her constituency.

Last week, the Government rejected a number of recommendations from the inquest into the tragic mass shooting in Plymouth in 2021, which has caused serious concern among some of the families of the victims. Will the Minister explain why he rejected the coroner’s recommendations and whether all those on which he is consulting will be implemented by the end of this calendar year?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for our meeting with the families a few weeks ago. As I said to him on the phone last week, whenever he and the families are ready to have further discussions with Home Office officials, they will be ready. The timing of that will be guided by the hon. Gentleman. On the substance of the Government’s reply, we have committed to doing some things straight away. For example, the National Police Chiefs’ Council has been funded to set up an accredited training programme for firearms officers—that was one of the recommendations. In due course that will become mandatory.

The inspectorate will conduct a thematic inspection of all firearms licensing next year. As I said to the House a few months ago, I asked it specifically to reinspect Devon and Cornwall’s firearms licensing. It is doing that and it should report back by the end of July. The vast majority of the recommendations made by the coroner, the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the Scottish Affairs Committee in connection with the Isle of Skye shooting are being openly and neutrally consulted on.

The Government do not have a position; they will consult openly and respond once we have replies to the consultation. There were two recommendations that the hon. Gentleman referred to that the Government did not feel were appropriate, for the reasons set out in the document, but the vast majority are being openly consulted on. We have taken action on some of them already. I thank him again for his campaigning on this issue, which I know the families are grateful for.

I recently visited Uxbridge police station to hear about the valuable work its officers do to serve my constituents as well as those in Uxbridge and South Ruislip. When the Mayor announced its closure in 2017, Hillingdon Council offered to buy the site at market rate and provide a £500,000 revenue contribution and leaseback arrangement, so that those valuable services could continue to be available. The Mayor said that that was completely impossible. Other than the relentless campaigning of Hillingdon Conservatives and Councillor Steve Tuckwell, could my right hon. Friend suggest any reason why the Mayor decided to keep it—

Order. Mr Simmonds, I think you need an Adjournment debate, not a topical question. See if you can pick the bones out of that, Minister.

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. The answer is no, I cannot think of anything other than the campaigning by Councillor Steve Tuckwell and others, which forced the Mayor into a last-minute, self-interested, screeching U-turn. I would like the Mayor to do a U-turn on all the other police stations he is threatening with closure.

Is the Home Secretary concerned by recent revelations about the investigation into the Stephen Lawrence murder and what happened in the Brink’s-Mat aftermath? Is she concerned about some of the out-of-work organisations that our police belong to?

The recent reports on the Stephen Lawrence case are an operational matter for the police, which I cannot get involved in, nor should I. That is a judgment for the police on operational and casework decisions, within which we do not interfere. We have a good track record on the Met turning around performance. Mark Rowley’s turnaround plan and leadership efforts to restore confidence and rebuild trust with London are working. We need to back him to get the best results possible in London.

There is a tweet going around regarding a man who identifies as a trans woman. The tweet reads that the trans-identified man who

“appeared in an @itvnews report about ‘mothers’ has posted an image ‘breastfeeding’ a baby. Do you think it’s ok to mock women like this?”

I think that is a valid question, but I am also extremely concerned for the welfare of the child. Will the Home Secretary’s Department look into that for me, please?

While we respect all the rights of those in the trans community, it is clear that biological men cannot breastfeed. It is remarkable that we are in a position where the Labour party leader cannot define a woman. I think he said something like 99.9% of women do not have a penis. On that basis, we cannot rule him out from running to be Labour’s first female Prime Minister.

My constituent Sarah has been waiting more than six months for a biometric resident’s permit, during which time she cannot work, access free healthcare or leave the country. Will someone do something to get her the status she deserves, so that she can go on with her life?

The number of foreign national offenders eligible for deportation has now reached a record almost 12,000. Almost 4,000 of those left prison more than five years ago and even those volunteering for deportation are still here. Will the Minister get a grip on the deportation department within the Home Office and make sure those people are chucked out of our country?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want those individuals to leave the country as swiftly as possible. The published figures show that FNO returns increased following the pandemic—by 14% in the latest 12-month period ending December 2022 compared with the previous 12-month period—but, quite clearly, there is more work to be done.

Liverpool is a city of sanctuary. Currently, we have 237 Afghan families who have been languishing in a hotel for two years. The council must rehouse the families by 11 August. Can the Minister say what will happen if we are unable to find suitable accommodation? Will they be made homeless and thrown out on the street?

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) and I launched a programme that provides significant support to councils like Liverpool to help individuals find alternative accommodation. That might be in the private rental sector or it might be in social housing, but I think we can all agree on the principle that it is not right for individuals or families to live in hotel accommodation for over two years. We need to help those people out of the hotels this summer.

The Immigration Minister’s earlier claim will come as news to the Labour and Conservative coalition which runs North Lanarkshire Council and a surprise to a director of Mears who confirmed to me that North Lanarkshire Council houses not just asylum seekers but refugees. The Immigration Minister has now given factually wrong information to this House three times. When will he apologise to the House, and will he come back to it to give proper information?

I do not think I have given factually wrong information. They may not be the facts the hon. Gentleman wants to hear, but they are the facts. I did not mention North Lanarkshire, but there are six asylum seekers there. I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is more to be done.