Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 737: debated on Monday 18 September 2023

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Refugee and Asylum Seeker Accommodation

1. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to ensure an adequate standard of accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers. (906413)

The asylum accommodation support contracts ensure the provision of safe, habitable, fit-for-purpose and correctly equipped accommodation for destitute asylum seekers. The contracts also require compliance with the law, local authority licensing and best practice guidance. We have been working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to minimise the potential impact on homelessness, and have agreed an asylum placement funding for local authorities.

We hear the Government talking about £6 million per day being wasted on hotels, but we do not hear about the billions being forked out on private companies such as Serco and Clearsprings Ready Homes, both of which have seen scores of complaints, including about unsanitary conditions, a lack of safeguarding, and sexual abuse. Does the Home Secretary think that it is appropriate to entrust those companies with taxpayers’ money to run asylum accommodation in hotels and former Ministry of Defence sites?

The safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers in our care is of paramount importance at the Home Office. We expect high standards from all our providers, and we have robust governance frameworks in place to manage the service delivery of asylum accommodation. What we definitely do not do, and do not propose to do, is willingly accept thousands more illegal migrants into the UK from the EU, housed presumably in more hotels across the country, as Labour is proposing. I campaigned for Brexit to take back control of our borders, not for Labour to surrender our sovereignty to the EU.

One of the justifications for using service accommodation such as RAF Scampton was that it was supposed to be cheaper, but we now know the figures: it is more expensive over two years, and over three years the savings are absolutely derisory. The figures are, frankly, being fiddled by overcapitalising the value of the base, and are not based on surveys. The Home Secretary’s officials are now ripping out services. The council has issued a stop order on it. I give notice that I will report the Home Office to the Comptroller and Auditor General for misapplying and wasting public money, because using the base will cost more than hotels. The base is Crown land, so the local authority cannot enter it. Does she accept that she would be acting illegally and is liable to be sued if her officials disobey the stop order?

I have had several discussions with my right hon. Friend about the proposed asylum accommodation at Scampton. I thank him for his very energetic campaigning on behalf of his constituents. I very much appreciate the challenges that this nationwide mission poses for us all. I do not agree with his assessment; we have assessed the proposal at Scampton to be value for money. Ultimately, it is not right that we continue to house tens of thousands of migrants in hotels, in towns and cities across the country, costing the taxpayer £6 million a day. That is why our work to roll out large sites is moving swiftly, and we propose to move asylum seekers on to them as soon as possible.

It has been more than a month since all 39 asylum seekers were hauled off the 500-capacity Bibby Stockholm because of the detection of legionella, but the Home Secretary is yet to give a date for when the barge will actually be ready for use. We still do not know why she chose not to wait for the legionella results before ploughing ahead, and why her Minister was so slow to act once the results came in. We are still yet to hear a denial from the Home Secretary that it is one of the most lethal strains of the bacteria, as reported in the media. Today, will she set out her responses to those questions and confirm the exact cost of the barge? Half a million pounds per month to house zero asylum seekers on this floating symbol of failure feels utterly extortionate. Why is it that the only boat this Government have managed to stop is their own?

I am somewhat surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s change of tune: he is on the record in the media as supporting our use of the barge, so a change of heart is welcome. We have assessed the barge—it has been under constant scrutiny—and we will be re-embarking people on to that barge as soon as is practical and possible. What is clear is that the hon. Gentleman simply has no answers for how to solve the broader problem. The truth is that Labour’s policy has not survived contact with reality: it has been denounced by the EU, its shadow Ministers are making it up as they go along, and the leader has had to backtrack—and it has not even been a week. Only the Conservative party has a plan that is based on reality, deterrence and delivery, and it will stop the boats.

OpenDemocracy recently revealed the extent of self-harm and suicide in immigration removal centres—in particular, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, where 24 self-harm incidents occurred in March, which is more than over the three previous months combined. Emma Ginn, director of Medical Justice, has said:

“We are not confident that the Home Office considers the value of the lives of those in its care in detention as fully human.”

What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that those in Home Office immigration removal centres do not face such desperate circumstances that they seek to take their own lives?

As I said, the safety of all of those in our care is a priority for the Home Office, and the standard of habitation—whether that is in our asylum accommodation estate more broadly, or specifically in our immigration removal centres—is one that always, as far as the law requires, meets high standards. Those standards are rigorously scrutinised and monitored, and those who have concerns have avenues to make complaints via the migrant helpline.

Police Resources

I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our very sincere condolences to the family of Sergeant Graham Saville, who a week or two ago so tragically lost his life in the line of duty, saving another in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. He made the ultimate sacrifice, and we are grateful to him.

To answer my hon. Friends’ questions, total police funding this year stands at £17.2 billion, a record level. Frontline policing received an extra £550 million this year compared with last year, and I am pleased to report once again that we have a record number of police officers across England and Wales: 149,566, which is 3,500 more than we ever had under the last Labour Government.

As always, the devil is in the detail. In Durham, we see funding pressure on both police and fire services, which is not helped by our local tax base being so low: we have A to C in most regions. The fire service has a coherent—albeit very challenged—programme, but the Labour police and crime commissioner knew 10 years ago that Newton Aycliffe police station was going to be moved away from the fire station, and she is still scrambling around. Does the Minister agree that good plans help cost-effective delivery, and will he meet me to discuss funding and programme delivery for the police and fire services in Durham that cover my Sedgefield constituency? Does he also agree that electing Robert Potts, the Conservative candidate for the next PCC elections in May, would be a far better outcome for the police in Durham?

I will certainly meet with my hon. Friend, and yes, I do agree. I am very disappointed to hear what he has to say about his Labour PCC’s performance, which contrasts with what Conservative PCCs have done. Only today, PCC Donna Jones in Hampshire announced that she would be opening 10 new police counters, an example of what happens when we have sound Conservative policies in operation.

My right hon. Friend will recall his recent visit to Uxbridge. Will he join me in calling for the Mayor of London to guarantee the future of Uxbridge police station as fully operational, including a full custody suite and a 24/7 front counter for my constituents?

I welcome my hon. Friend to his very well-deserved place. Of course, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had planned to close down Uxbridge police station, along with many others, until my hon. Friend forced him into a humiliating U-turn before he was even elected—that is more than most of us achieved prior to coming to Parliament. I join him in calling on the Mayor of London to keep Uxbridge police station open and to add that custody suite, but also to confirm the future of all those other police stations around London that he had threatened to close just a few years ago.

In my constituency, we have experienced a real escalation in antisocial behaviour and quite violent disorder in recent years, particularly around bonfire night. Last year, police had to deploy 100 officers to just one area of my constituency where local communities were being terrorised. What consideration has the Minister made of additional powers or resources for areas up and down the country that are anticipating further unacceptable disorder ahead of this year’s bonfire night?

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise this issue. Antisocial behaviour concerns everyone. There are a number of powers available to local police, such as community protection notices, and to local authorities—I am thinking in particular of public space protection orders—so I strongly urge her to work with her local authority and, if she is concerned about a particular area, to put in place a public space protection order ahead of bonfire night. Our antisocial behaviour plan envisages strengthening various antisocial behaviour powers. As of next April, we will also be funding every single police force in the country to have antisocial behaviour hotspot patrols. I am not sure whether her force is one of the 10 pilot areas, but every force will have that funding from next April, and the sort of situation that she describes sounds like the ideal use for those ASB hotspot patrols.

The same shops and newsagents on Kilburn High Road in my constituency are constantly targeted by criminals, who shoplift but also intimidate staff. When I raised the issue with the police, they said they receive 1,000 calls a day from central north London alone, limiting their ability to deal with it. What plans does the Minister have to increase the resources to deal with this sort of crime, especially retail theft?

I strongly sympathise with those affected by shoplifting on Kilburn High Road. I was the prospective parliamentary candidate in that constituency in 2010, and I remember walking down Kilburn High Road with Dominic Grieve when a shoplifter ran out of Poundland and straight into our arms. It is a serious issue. The Metropolitan police has a record number of police officers—about 35,000—and I have recently been in discussions with Amanda Blakeman, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead, to increase patrolling in shoplifting hotspot areas and to have a more comprehensive response from the police in terms of investigation, such as always following up CCTV footage where it is available. This is an issue not just on Kilburn High Road but around the country. As I say, we will shortly announce further action, in partnership with police.

Drugs Policy: Scotland

3. Whether she has had discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on further devolution of drugs policy to Scotland. (906415)

I have not had discussions on the devolution of drugs policy, which is of course reserved to this Parliament, but I do have regular discussions about co-operating with colleagues in the Scottish Government. I had a discussion with the new Minister just a few weeks ago, and I think we are going to be meeting in Cardiff in just a few weeks’ time with Ministers from the three devolved Administrations to discuss how we can work constructively and collaboratively together.

The Minister will know that the Lord Advocate in Scotland has issued a prosecution statement saying that she will not prosecute anyone in possession of controlled substances in any pilot safe consumption or overdose prevention facility that might be established in Scotland. Can he confirm what the Secretary of State for Scotland indicated in the House last week—that the UK Government will not seek to use any administrative or legislative means to frustrate or block the establishment of such a pilot facility?

First, it is important to make it clear that the UK Government’s position on drug consumption rooms in England and Wales is that we do not support them. We are concerned that they condone or even encourage illegal drug use. I want to put that on the record straightaway. Of course, we respect the independence of the Lord Advocate as Scotland’s prosecutorial authority. Providing that that power is exercised lawfully, of course we are not going to stand in the way of it, as my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary set out last week. I understand that plans may involve a strong integration with treatment and some consideration of each case on its individual merits, but we do not plan to interfere with the lawfully exercised prosecutorial independence of the Lord Advocate.

I am glad to hear what the drugs Minister says. The Home Affairs Committee’s report on drugs highlighted good practice in Scotland, in particular with the naloxone roll-out and the medication assisted treatment standards for same-day treatment. Academic evaluation has also found our enhanced drug treatment service, Scotland’s only heroin-assisted treatment service, to have been successfully implemented, in particular with a group with very complex backgrounds. Will the Minister visit Glasgow to hear more about what Scotland is doing to reduce harm and save lives?

As I said to the hon. Lady at the Bar of the House last week, I am due to be in Edinburgh in early December, so I would be delighted to accept her invitation to visit the facility in Glasgow.

Knife Crime

This Government are determined to fight knife crime. We have invested over £110 million in 2023-24 to fight knife crime, including investing in 20 violence reduction units, and funding hotspot policing in the most seriously affected areas.

I welcome the news that the Government are seeking to close the legal loopholes around the sale of so-called zombie knives, but does my right hon. Friend agree that stop and search and the like are powerful tools for the police to get knives off the street and to save lives? Will he also look closely at scan and search to help to detect such weapons?

My hon. Friend is quite right that we are looking to tighten the law. The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 contains a loophole, essentially, which means zombie knives without threatening writing on the blade are not illegal. We are going to close that loophole. I agree with him that stop and search is a vital tactic to keep our streets safe when used, of course, respectfully. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner tells me that about 400 knives are taken off the streets every month using stop and search in London alone, so it is an important power. I also agree with my hon. Friend’s second point. The use of scanning technology has the huge potential to enable officers to scan people for knives at a distance without having to physically stop them and search them manually. The technology is not ready to deploy just yet, but I hope it will be in the relatively near future.

In 2021, two police officers were attacked with machetes in West Bromwich town centre. In the same year, a 19-year-old boy was stabbed and killed in Great Barr. In 2022, a teenager from my constituency was stabbed on his way to college in Birmingham. While the Minister said we have already banned the sale of zombie knives, that has not stopped people purchasing these dangerous weapons, so I thank the Government for taking the next steps to close the loophole. Will this change be brought forward as soon as possible?

The change certainly will happen as soon as possible. Some of it requires primary legislation, but other elements require secondary legislation, and we are definitely going to do that as soon as we can. As for the sale of these knives, once the Online Safety Bill passes Parliament—I hope very soon—the sale of these knives via online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace and Amazon will also be prohibited, addressing my hon. Friend’s point about sales.

We absolutely do need to get a grip on knife crime, which is up by 70% since 2015 alone. Is the Minister content with the fact that only 5% of crimes of violence against the person actually make it to court? If he is not, what is he doing about it?

On the crime statistics, the Crime Survey of England and Wales is the only long-term data series endorsed by the Office for National Statistics. Since the hon. Gentleman asked about data, since 2010—just to pick a date arbitrarily—violence is down by 46%. That is to say, violent crimes were double under the last Labour Government compared with now. Knife-enabled crime was 7% lower in the latest year compared with the year ending December 2019, according to police recorded crime. But we would like to do more, hence the “Grip” hotspot patrols, hence criminalising these remaining zombie knives.

To actually answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I want that figure for prosecutions be higher, and that is why the Home Secretary and I, together with policing leads, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, announced two or three weeks ago that the police are now committing to always follow all reasonable lines of inquiry where they exist.

Order. I love the full answers, but I am really struggling to get even part-way down the Order Paper.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the sad fact that most MPs have had the tragedy of knife crime in our constituencies. We had a dreadful incident in Huddersfield. Is it not time that we understand more the culture that produces it? This is about the way in which young people communicate on the internet and the fact that we no longer have many youth clubs or youth services. We used to have wonderful police going into schools to talk about these issues. Can we have that back?

I will try to be brief. We have violence reduction units designed to provide those activities. We are also funding research. We have a social media hub in the Met police that monitors social media—it is based in Lambeth, and I have been to it. The things that the hon. Gentleman asks for are being done, because it is essential that we tackle knife crime.

Rapes at knifepoint are at a record high this year. The number of cases has more than doubled since 2015. I am currently supporting a case of a woman violently raped using weapons, and the detective on the case told me that he is the only detective in his team working on serious sexual violence. The Police Foundation describes the current number of detectives as a “chronic shortage”, highlighting a staggering 7,000 vacancies. Is it any wonder that there has been a 60% drop in the overall proportion of crimes being charged since 2015, including almost 1 million violent crimes and 36,000 rapes? The Labour party has proposed requiring all police forces to have a scheme that directly recruits detectives with relevant professional backgrounds, so what are the Government doing about this chronic shortage of detectives and the abysmal charge rate that they preside over?

The rape charge rate is a serious matter, and Operation Soteria Bluestone, which the hon. Lady will be familiar with, has been rolled out around the country under the supervision of the safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines). In the forces that adopted that measure early, rape charge rates dramatically increased by two to three times. As that rolls out around the country, those charge rates will increase, but we would like to go further.

On the question of specialist trained officers, now that we have record numbers of officers across England and Wales as a whole, we will be targeting individual forces with training and recruiting a specified number of specialist officers to make sure that those people are in place to properly investigate these issues, because we want to do a lot more in this area.

Police: Compensation

6. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the adequacy of compensation for police officers injured in the course of their duties. (906418)

16. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the adequacy of compensation for police officers injured in the course of their duties. (906430)

The police injury benefit scheme provides ongoing and one-off payments to former police officers who have been injured or disabled in the line of duty.

I was recently shocked to discover that police officers are entitled to official compensation only if they are injured while taking an exceptional risk, and a risk is considered exceptional only if it would not normally be expected. That sounds strange, does it not? With more than 40,000 assaults against police in the past year, and many officers ineligible for injury compensation because of that rule, does the Home Secretary agree that these guidelines effectively normalise violence against police and must be changed?

We certainly do not want to see violence against police normalised. That is why we legislated to double the maximum sentence for assaults against emergency workers just a year or two ago. My understanding is that the payments under the police injury benefit scheme can go up to 85% of salary, but since the hon. Lady has raised the point, I will take a look at it.

Over recent years, a number of police officers have tragically died in the line of duty, and I acknowledge the service of PC Nicola Hughes, PC Fiona Bone and Sergeant Graham Saville. Labour has supported calls for a posthumous medal for fallen officers. Why will the Minister not do the right thing and acknowledge those who gave their lives to keep us safe?

We do acknowledge that, and it may well be that posthumous awards are made. We obviously do not comment on individual cases and potential awards prior to their being made, but if I say that I strongly sympathise with what the hon. Lady just said, I think she will understand what I mean.

Crime Reduction

Our communities are safer than in 2010, with overall crime on a like-for-like basis down by 54%. We have put 20,000 more police officers on our streets—a record number—which is enabling us to take action across the board to bring more offenders to justice, to better protect victims and to equip our police with the powers they need to prevent crimes.

The fall in crime is welcome, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the police would deter and solve even more crimes, such as burglaries, the use of quad bikes and general antisocial behaviour in places such as Hatfield, Doncaster, Rossington and Thorne in my constituency, if they started putting more bobbies on the beat and stopped promoting unscientific ideologies?

My hon. Friend is quite right. We pay the police to fight crime. Whether that is to focus on the antisocial behaviour, the nuisance bikers or the burglaries he mentioned, they are there to keep people safe. We do not pay them to wave flags at parades, to dance with drag queens or to campaign. That is why I finally ended all association with Stonewall at the Home Office and why I expect all police and crime commissioners and chief constables to focus on cutting crime and rebuilding confidence, not playing politics.

I thank the Home Secretary, who recently came to Warrington to meet the chief constable, Mark Roberts, and our police and crime commissioner, John Dwyer. We are now at record numbers of police officers, and alongside that we are at record numbers of arrests. Cheshire had the second-highest charge and summons rates in England and Wales for all crime in the last 12 months. One of the concerns raised by constituents at a recent surgery was the increase in cyber-crime. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to bolster action against fraud and online scams?

My hon. Friend has been an indefatigable champion for his community, and I very much enjoyed joining him at his local police station to meet his excellent chief constable, Mark Roberts, with the PCC. Cheshire is an example of common-sense policing and protecting the public. With those arrest rates and a focus on domestic abuse, on which Cheshire constabulary has achieved some excellence, it deserves all the praise that it gets.

When it comes to tackling online scams and online fraud, which are a feature of modern-day crime fighting, earlier this year, with the Prime Minister, I announced our fraud strategy. One hundred million pounds from the 2021 spending review has gone towards tackling fraud. A portion of that will fund a new national fraud squad of 400 specialist fraud officers across policing and the National Crime Agency, who will investigate the most harmful fraudsters targeting the UK public.

Since 2015, the proportion of crimes that result in a perpetrator facing a punishment has gone down by two thirds. Is that because the Government had a policy of cutting 21,000 police officers?

I am incredibly proud of the increased resources for policing, the increased powers for policing, with the 20,000 new officers on the frontline that the Government have delivered for the British people—a record number; we are at historic levels—and the overall fall in crime since 2010. Yes, there is more to do, but on all those measures, how did Labour vote? It voted against them and against the British public.

The Home Secretary talks about tackling online and telephone scams, and she is right to do so. Age UK recently came out with research that showed that 43% of people aged over 65 have been victims of online or telephone scams of some kind. Will she talk about how she will use that research and extend the resource she gives to police authorities such as in Cumbria, as well as working with banks and other outfits, to ensure that more people are not victims of this outrageous uptick in scams?

The hon. Member is absolutely right—online crime and fraud has become a grave feature of today’s criminality. That is why our fraud strategy is all about targeting this emerging threat. Whether that is through the national fraud squad that I just mentioned, banning SIM farms, increasing specialism on the frontline, or our police forces working with the National Crime Agency, other agencies and, importantly, the tech and banking sectors, we will prevent fraud from becoming a reality as well as detecting it and enforcing against it further down the line.

The Home Secretary seeks to paint a rosy picture on crime. In reality, retail crime is, as described by the Co-op, “out of control”, and with 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and police community support officers, that is no surprise. Across all retailers, there are more than 850 acts of violence or abuse every single day. The Co-op also reports that even when it detains someone suspected to have committed a crime, 80% of the time it has to let them go again because the police are stretched too thinly to come and make the arrest. When will the Home Secretary drop this pretence that things are going well and actually stand up for our shop workers?

We take these matters incredibly seriously. That is why my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister met the Co-op and other major retailers recently to discuss this issue in detail. Shoplifting and retail theft have become a challenge for retailers and our community, which is not right. That is why, a few weeks ago, we made a nationwide commitment whereby all police forces have agreed to follow every reasonable line of inquiry. That will mean that CCTV footage, online evidence of resale and other actionable evidence will be followed up by the police, leading the investigations and justice process.

Illegal Motorcyclists

The illegal use of motorcycles can cause distress and be dangerous to the public. The police have all the powers they need to police that, and such use of motorcycles is illegal. The College of Policing’s authorised professional practice provides advice to the operationally independent chief constables, whom I urge to use their powers to the full.

Dangerous motorcyclists are out of control in my area. We have had one death and one life-threatening injury. We now have six year olds riding pillion on motorbikes, and people doing wheelies down roads, pavements and amenity areas, with not a helmet in sight. My police tell me that they need urgent guidance on safeguarding officers who try to apprehend them, and an urgent review of section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2022 on the requirement that officers be present in uniform at the time of offending. Would the Minister get on to those specific issues, please?

I would be happy to look into those specific issues. The police have powers to pursue, even where the motorcycle rider is not wearing a helmet. We had similar issues with mopeds in London four or five years ago. For a time, the police did not pursue them, and moped crime shot through the roof. They now pursue them, and it has gone back down. I urge Bedfordshire police to use those powers, but I will certainly look into the questions that my hon. Friend has raised.

Children in Custody

9. What recent guidance her Department has issued to the police on upholding the rights of children in custody. (906422)

Children should be detained only when necessary, and must be provided with an appropriate adult. The College of Policing provides operational guidance for police, and the concordat on children in custody supports police and local authorities to meet their statutory responsibilities. HM inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services also sets expectations for the treatment of children in custody.

When a child is arrested, they must choose if they wish receive legal advice, just like an adult. But children are not adults, and no one should expect a child aged 10 or above to decide whether to exercise their right to a solicitor. Will the Minister explain why the Government believe that children should be forced to make such a decision?

I remind the hon. Lady that children are involved in crime. Children detained in police custody must have an appropriate adult—statistics shows that that happens in 99% of cases—who can be of assistance. I want that to be 100%. Police custody remains a core part of the criminal justice system. It is critical for maintaining police confidence, bringing offenders to justice and keeping the public safe. We must ensure that adults do not abuse children and are not attracted to making children get involved in criminal activity because the police are too scared to put them into custody if necessary.

Substance Misuse: Harm Reduction Model

10. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of introducing a substance misuse harm reduction model to tackle acquisitive crime. (906423)

We have not had any specific discussions on that, but we have a 10-year drug strategy, which includes spending an extra £582 million over three years on 55,000 extra treatment places. We want to treat people who are addicted, particularly to opioids, to get them off drugs and fully recovered.

A large number of people are being exploited into criminal activity, whether through drug gangs or acquisitive crime. They need help and support from the state. Will the Minister look at how to put a harm reduction model in place for those individuals, rather than criminalising them, so that they can get the support they need to change the direction of their lives?

There is a twin-track approach. There is a comprehensive effort to ensure more addicted people get treatment, being diverted to it from police custody, from the court system and when they leave prison. As I say, there is an extra £582 million over three years. We are in the second of those three years at the moment. But enforcement, particularly against drug gangs and organised criminal gangs, is important at the border and in the case of county lines. It is a twin-track approach: enforcement, together with treatment.

Antisocial Behaviour

On 27 March, the Government announced the antisocial behaviour action plan, backed by £160 million of new funding. Police and crime commissioners are being supported to increase hotspot policing and to run immediate justice pilots. In July, we announced round 5 of the safer streets funding to deliver a range of ASB and crime-prevention measures.

I thank the Home Secretary very much for her recent visit to Southend, where she met the excellent police, fire and crime commissioner Roger Hirst and our excellent chief constable B-J. Harrington. She heard about how Southend’s revolutionary Operation Union has driven down antisocial behaviour across our city by over 50%. That will be assisted by the Government’s steps last week to tackle nitrous oxide—I thank her very much for tackling that menace. However, constituents are raising with me antisocial behaviour in and around pubs, including drug-related incidents, so can my right hon. and learned Friend tell me whether she has any specific plans to help local police deal with that particular problem?

I was very pleased to join my hon. Friend in Southend, and to meet her chief constable and the office of the PCC. She is right that the success of Operation Union has helped to drive down ASB, but there is more to do to tackle the ASB that blights communities. That is why I am pleased that her force, Essex, has the most police officers ever and is doing very well with its progress on the hotspot policing pilot.

My hon. Friend talks about drugs. Part of our plan on ASB is to expand drug testing on arrest, so that police can now test for more substances, class B and C, when they arrest someone on suspicion of drug possession.

Unfortunately, there are instances of antisocial behaviour in the centre of Keighley—mostly around the bus station, but of course there are other hotspot areas. The police and the local community are having to deal with this issue on an ongoing basis. I am very pleased that the Government made extra resources available to our West Yorkshire police via the antisocial behaviour action plan, but will the Home Secretary join me in urging our Labour West Yorkshire Mayor, who is responsible for setting local police strategy and our crime reduction action plan in Keighley, to be more laser-focused on antisocial behaviour, so that we can all ensure that the issue is tackled once and for all?

I urge the PCC to take heed of my hon. Friend’s warning and advice. The Government, through our safer streets fund, have awarded the South Yorkshire police area over £4 million in recent years—funding that has gone towards tackling ASB and reducing crime. It is up to the PCCs to apply in the next round for funding to put forward projects that can have a focus on reducing crime, protecting victims and securing safety for communities.

On occasion, people using Wrexham bus station have been subject to antisocial behaviour perpetrated by a small band of disaffected youths. I would like to compliment Inspector Luke Hughes and the Wrexham city police team for their appropriate use of dispersal orders. Will the Home Secretary join me in praising North Wales police, despite being slowed down to 20 mph by the Welsh Labour Government, for their pragmatic and no-nonsense approach to upholding public safety?

I am afraid the litany of ridiculous policy announcements by Labour is reaching record levels. I mean, we only have to look at the last two days. A period of silence from the Labour party would be welcome. The 20 mph zone is ridiculous. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Dispersal orders are a regrettable but necessary power that the police have at their disposal. We are going even further with our antisocial behaviour action plan by expanding police powers such as public space protection orders and community protection notices, enabling the police to take rapid and effective action to disperse people and to stop nuisance and criminal antisocial behaviour.

Over the summer, I have spoken to many people in Leyland who, although we have managed to get the police station reopened, are still reporting problems involving antisocial behaviour in Broadfield, Worden and Seven Stars. I have been out with the local bobbies, who are benefiting from the Government’s police uplift, to see what is being done to tackle those problems. Operation Centurion—our police and crime commissioner’s attempt to use money seized from criminals to boost local policing temporarily in order to address antisocial behaviour—is about to hit Leyland, but does the Home Secretary agree that we need a whole-agency approach, and that councils should use the powers at their disposal to issue community protection notices and work with the police to end this blight on the people of Leyland?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has been able to work closely with her excellent police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden, who is another example of effective leadership at the police force in Lancashire and whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. It is also good that Lancashire is one of the pilot areas for hotspot policing: it is currently delivering 2,000 hours a month of additional patrolling in antisocial behaviour hotpot areas, and that is set to increase. However, I urge the Labour council to listen to my hon. Friend’s sensible words and ask the police and local authorities to use all the powers at their disposal to tackle antisocial behaviour through, for instance, public space protection orders and community protection notices.

Constituents, including pupils at Lliswerry High School, constantly raise with me the antisocial and dangerous use of e-scooters and e-bikes. I held a debate on this last December, but little has happened since, and legislation needs to catch up with the growth in their sales. Will the Home Secretary talk to Ministers at the Department for Transport to see what can be done to address the problem?

The behaviour of nuisance riders, or boy racers—whatever we want to call them—is antisocial behaviour plain and simple. It is criminal, it can be harassing, it can bring fear to communities, and it can cause criminal damage. The police, working with local authorities, have the necessary powers to end these problems, and forces around the country have organised pilots that have led to success. I encourage the hon. Lady’s local police force to look at the good practice that is currently taking place around the country.

Let us get this exactly right: over the next four years, police numbers in Scotland are due to fall by 2,000. The highlands and islands police chief has said that “something has to give.” I had thought that Barnett consequentials would lead to an increase in Scotland’s police numbers rather than a decrease. When it comes to antisocial behaviour, what a grim message this is for some of the most vulnerable in society.

Unfortunately—it is incredibly tragic—the Scottish National party’s obsession with separatism has led to the highest number of alcohol and drug-related deaths in Europe on their watch. Falling police numbers in Scotland when numbers are rising in England and Wales—that is what the SNP brings us, and only good government from the Conservatives can stop crime and protect victims.

Irregular Migration: Channel Crossings

12. What steps her Department is taking to reduce the number of small boats transporting irregular migrants across the English channel. (906426)

We remain determined to stop the boats and deter people from making these dangerous journeys to the UK, and we are making progress. We have by no means reached the finishing line, but the number of arrivals is 20% down, the legacy backlog has nearly halved, and the number of Albanian arrivals has fallen by 90% this year. While Labour proposes to take thousands of illegal migrants from the EU every single year, letting Brussels decide who comes here, we are determined to stop the boats with our Rwanda plan and our Illegal Migration Act 2023, which Labour opposed.

A hotel in my constituency is housing illegal migrants. They receive local NHS dentistry services and hospital access, and, of course, their living costs are met. Constituents write to me pointing out that they do not have access to all those services. What can my right hon. and learned Friend tell them about how soon the use of hotels for illegal migrants will end?

It is totally unacceptable that too many towns and cities around the country now house the 45,000 asylum seekers who are in hotels, costing the British taxpayer £6 million a day. That is why we are standing up large sites and vessels around the country. We are also maximising the use of hotels, so that we can open fewer hotels. It is not right that the British taxpayer is forking out the cost. What we are not doing is the ridiculous plan set out by Labour Members. They are either grotesquely naive about the problem or they have a betrayal plan to rejoin the EU. After all, most of them wanted a second referendum. Either way, we can all see it for what it is: a plan for open borders, unlimited migration and rejoining the European Union. It is the same old Labour on the wrong side of the argument.

It is good to be back, Mr Speaker. The number of people arriving on dangerous small boats is now 150 times higher than it was five years ago. Meanwhile, convictions of people smugglers are 30% down. Our border security is not working. The Home Office has already spent £140 million on a flawed Rwanda scheme, but would not taxpayers’ money be better spent recruiting hundreds more police and investigators to defeat the criminal gang networks and prevent the dangerous boat crossings?

The reality is that we need a robust and honest approach to dealing with this problem. Opening our doors to thousands of migrants from the EU is not the solution. We need a deterrent, and that is why our agreement with Rwanda will work. It is based on what has worked in other countries such as Australia, and I am confident that we will be able to deliver our Rwanda plan as soon as possible. What is clear is that the Labour party does not even seem to know what its policy is on small boats. Previously, it had no plan; now it has tried to put a plan together, but half its shadow Ministers do not even know how it works. It is only this Government that have a plan, will deliver Rwanda, have delivered our groundbreaking legislation and will stop the boats.

Topical Questions

I will make a short topical statement. The range of threats our country faces is ever evolving, so I want to set out what we are doing to get ahead of it. We have refreshed our counter-terrorism strategy, especially by overhauling the Prevent strand so that it recognises and can counter the driving force of ideology. Our counter-terrorism operations centre is truly world class and fit for the 21st century. However, the security threat is wider than terrorism, and that is why we have passed the National Security Act 2023, which also addresses the evolving nature of the threat and contains several measures to modernise counter-espionage laws. Our comprehensive economic crime plan and legislation have cracked down hard on the Russian oligarchs upon whom Putin relies. We will give our courageous and capable intelligence and security services all the powers they need to keep us safe.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that statement. She will know that there is continuing widespread concern about the threat to our national security from the whole-of-state approach that the Chinese are taking to espionage activities in our country. I urge her to ensure that our response will mirror that, and that China is in the enhanced tier of the foreign influence registration scheme.

National security is our overriding priority as a Government, particularly at the Home Office. As Home Secretary, it is my job to oversee the protection of the UK from all types of threats to our national security. As the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report has said:

“The Chinese Intelligence Services target the UK and its overseas interests prolifically and aggressively.”

I will not shy away from calling out the threats from China for what they are or from making it clear that its agencies regularly engage in hostile activity towards the UK. We are currently reviewing the countries that should go into the enhanced tier of FIRS. There is a strong case to be made for China being put into it, but I do not want to prejudice the process by which those determinations will be made, and—

Order. We really do have a problem, don’t we? Home Secretary, I am talking to you. I am bothered, because these are topical questions and there are people here who want to catch my eye. You cannot carry on making statements to every question. Topical means topical. We are going to be here for some while, so I hope you understand. I call the shadow Home Secretary.

On 7 March, the Home Secretary emailed Conservative supporters saying

“today we’re changing our laws—and bringing the small boat crossings to an end.”

Since then, 20,000 more people have arrived. She is not applying her own law, because it does not work. The use of asylum hotels is up, with no date to end their use, and foreign criminal returns are down. The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has said:

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

He is right, isn’t he? Is that why the Home Secretary is getting rid of him?

I am incredibly proud of the landmark legislation passed by this House, which was opposed by the Labour party every step of the way. This will allow us to detain those who arrive here illegally and remove them to a safe country like Rwanda.

The point is that at least we have a policy. I am not sure that anyone on the Labour Front Bench knows what Labour’s plan is for stopping the boats. Shadow Ministers certainly seem to be making it up as they go along. There were quotas and then no quotas. The EU has made it clear that we would be expected to take thousands more migrants from the EU. Will there be family reunion? We already have a scheme for family reunion. They are making it up because they do not have a plan. I think the British people can see exactly what Labour’s plan is—

Order. I do not think the Home Secretary understands what “topical” means. Could the Whips please explain to their Front Benchers that we have to get through the Order Paper? You are not helping me, and I do not know why.

What the Home Secretary said is total waffle. She has no answer on the inspector because she is afraid of scrutiny. There was no answer on her failure, just invented garbage about Labour. The Home Office’s immigration director, asylum director, borders director and accommodation director are all going or gone because the only people she removes are the people she needs to do the job. There has been a 40% increase in the use of asylum hotels since she became Home Secretary. When will she end the use of asylum hotels? When will she deal with this shambles, stop the gimmicks and get a grip?

The right hon. Lady talks about a shambles, but the last four days have been a great example of a shambles. The EU has called her party “delusional” when it comes to its grand plan for stopping the boats. Labour disagrees with the National Crime Agency on how to solve the problem. The reality is that Labour is on another planet on how to stop the boats. It is not based in reality, it is not grappling with this challenge and it is not being honest with the British people.

T2. Constituents and businesses are being impacted by illegal car racing and meets. The Labour council is dragging its heels on implementing a public spaces protection order and Kent police have been working hard to tackle it, but resources are precious. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at how Kent police are funded? They are having to deal with increasing activity in this area and, being so close to London, we are seeing increasing burdens from criminality. (906439)

I thank my right hon. Friend for her tireless campaigning on behalf of the people of Rochester and Strood. Kent has record police officer numbers at 4,261, which is about 10% more than it ever had under the last Labour Government. We intend to review the police funding formula. I strongly urge Medway Council to get on with putting that PSPO in place.

T3. Since we left the European Union, my constituent—a UK citizen from birth, as was confirmed by the British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Act 2023—has been repeatedly stopped by UK border guards and had his citizenship questioned. Is this British Government satisfied that the customs and immigration system is so chaotic that their own citizens are being othered by the Department’s officials, just because their parents were born in the EU? (906440)

T6. Over the summer, dozens of Traveller caravans have been illegally pitched in my Warrington South constituency, impacting playing fields in Appleton Thorn, Bewsey and Dallam, and costing thousands to clear up. Warrington’s Labour council has avoided bringing forward proposals, despite having money in its budget. Does the Minister agree that local authorities need to play their full part so that the police can be effective in using the legislation passed by this House? (906443)

Yes, I do agree; local councils should be robust in using the powers this House granted them, as should the police in terms of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The police do have strong powers under the amended Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and I urge police forces up and down the country to use those powers.

We heard a little about retail crime earlier and it is a real issue in Birmingham, where a number of ugly, violent assaults on staff have taken place at Co-op stores in my constituency. I was pleased to hear the Minister’s earlier response. However, with less than 4% of about 8 million crimes actually recorded by the police, when can we expect to see the tougher measures he hinted at earlier?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I met representatives of the Co-op just a week or two ago and his chief constable, Amanda Blakeman, who leads on this for the National Police Chiefs’ Council. At my request, the police are working up a plan to make sure that they always look into the CCTV footage to try to get a facial recognition match, in order to arrest and prosecute shoplifters, and that they patrol a lot more regularly in areas where shoplifting is a problem.