Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 743: debated on Monday 15 January 2024

This year, the Home Office will continue to build on our progress on the public priorities: a 36% fall in small boat crossings last year, 86 arrests of small boat pilots, 246 arrests of people smugglers, the biggest-ever international operation resulting in 136 boat seizures and 45 outboard motors being seized, the illegal migration package announced, more than 2,000 county lines drugs lines smashed and the introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill to give police leaders more powers. We are relentlessly focused on delivering community safety on behalf of the British people.

Now that we have the Home Secretary here to answer for himself, can he tell us whether he is aware that the police are receiving more than 560 reports of spiking every month, and in December the Home Office said that the reason the crime is so prevalent is that it is seen as funny and a joke? How can we have any confidence in the Home Secretary to deliver action on spiking when he thinks it is a joke?

I am the Home Secretary who has actually introduced action on this. In my first week in the job, I visited Holborn police station to see the work of the Metropolitan police in tackling violence against women and girls. I made it clear to the Home Office that my priority was the protection of women and girls. I am taking action on this issue, and I am absolutely determined to continue doing so.

T3. I am sure the Home Secretary would agree that anti-extremism training in Departments is extremely important. What more can the Government do to ensure that it is training to tackle extremism, rather than anti-Government and party bias training? (900941)

My hon. Friend will have seen recently a pretty extraordinary report on allegations about extremism and the failure to train properly, and what is going on in universities around the United Kingdom. In one recent problematic case, it was said that it is very hard to define what a terrorist is. We know what a terrorist is, the law knows what a terrorist is and this Government know what a terrorist is, and that is exactly why we have just proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir.

We welcome the proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Five more lives were tragically lost in the channel this weekend. As criminal gangs profit from those dangerous boat crossings, it shows how vital it is to stop them, but we need the Home Office to have a grip. The Home Secretary gave no answer earlier on the 4,000 people he has lost from the Rwanda list. Can he tell us if he has also lost the 35,000 people he has removed from the asylum backlog? How many of them are still in the country?

I join the right hon. Lady in expressing sadness and condolences for those who lost their lives in the channel. That reinforces the importance of breaking the people-smuggling gangs. The fact is that we are driving down the numbers of people in the backlog: we are processing applications more quickly and ensuring that decisions are made so that those who should not be in this country can be removed either to their own country or a safe third country. That is why the Rwanda Bill is so important, and why we will continue working on these issues.

Returns have dropped 50% since the last Labour Government. The Home Secretary is still not telling us where those missing people are. He appears to have lost thousands of people who may have no right to be in the country, and lost any grip at all. In the ongoing Tory asylum chaos, we have Cabinet Ministers, countless ex-Ministers and the deputy Tory chair all saying that they will oppose the Home Secretary’s policy this week—a policy that we know he and the Prime Minister do not even believe in. If the deputy Tory chair this week votes against the Home Secretary’s policy, will he be sacked, or is the Prime Minister so weak that he has lost control of asylum, lost control of our borders, and lost control of his own party, too?

Conservative Members of Parliament are absolutely united in our desire to get a grip of this issue. I am not the person who has held up a sign saying, “Refugees welcome”; I am not the person whose colleagues oppose each and every rhetorical flourish. Until the Labour party comes up with a credible plan, I will not take its criticism any more seriously than it deserves.

T4. The British people welcome people who come to this country to work and contribute to our economy. But those who abuse our hospitality, commit violent offences and are then sent to prison need to be deported at the end of their sentences. Will my right hon. and learned Friend update the House on how many were deported last year, and what action he will take to ensure that foreign nationals who are violent offenders are automatically deported when they leave prison? (900942)

We are clear that foreign criminals should be deported wherever possible, and we will continue to do so, in stark contrast to the calls to stop the deportation of foreign national criminals from the Leader of the Opposition and the Labour party. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that foreign national offender returns have increased by 19% in the last 12 months.

T2. My constituents often have to wait months to elicit a response for their asylum or Home Office queries. Given the Conservative Government’s persistent failure to effectively manage the asylum system, resulting in a backlog of almost 100,000 cases and the excessive use of expensive hotels, does the Home Secretary not feel that now is the time to adopt Labour’s comprehensive plan, which would end the use of expensive hotels within 12 months and significantly reduce the backlog? (900940)

I think the hon. Gentleman means Labour’s non-existent plan. The fact is that last year, we made 112,000 initial decisions; if the hon. Gentleman has specific cases that he wishes to raise with me as the Minister, I am very happy to have a look at those, but the productivity improvements that we saw last year carry through a lot of learning as we now get on and deal with the backlog. A lot of positive work has gone on, and he should recognise that point.

T7. Humber-side police now has over 800 more officers than in 2010, which obviously enables it to provide a better service to my constituents. Crucially, it also has top-class leadership, currently provided by Jonathan Evison, the police commissioner, and until recently by Lee Freeman, the former chief constable—I am sure his successor will also provide that leadership. Does the Minister agree that top-class leadership is important, and what is he doing to ensure improvements are made to the present leadership training scheme? (900945)

I join my hon. Friend in commending Humberside police force on the progress it has made, particularly under recent chief constable Lee Freeman. In terms of improving leadership, of course, Lee Freeman is now one of His Majesty’s inspectors, and he can apply what he learned and put into practice in Humberside across the whole country.

T5. On 17 October, the Government pledged in the House to make changes to the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme pathways 1 and 3. When can the House expect an update and a plan? (900943)

Of course, we are continuing to work very collaboratively across Government on the response to the situation in Afghanistan, fulfilling the commitments we made to provide that sanctuary in the way that we all want to see. We will say more about those efforts as soon as we are able.

T8. We heard earlier about the effectiveness of the safer streets fund. Falmouth in my constituency, where most of the students live, recently received £67,000; in addition, our brilliant police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez has been working with Dawn Dines, who helped to successfully change the law on spiking. Can my hon. Friend demonstrate to my Truro and Falmouth constituents how those positive changes will improve conviction rates in the Devon and Cornwall area? (900947)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and congratulate her police and crime commissioner on the excellent work she is doing. My hon. Friend will be aware that we have amended the Offences against the Person Act 1861 so that the offence of spiking is captured specifically and comprehensively in law, in part because we want more victims to come forward, but we are told time and again by the police that the most significant barrier to conviction is the length of time between the offence taking place and a toxicology report being received. We are therefore investing in rapid drink testing research, and we hope to bring testing capacity on site.

UKHospitality estimates that 95% of skilled worker visas that were gained last year would be lost under the new regulations. That is a vital sector for my local economy in Edinburgh and for Scotland, so when will the Government recognise that the revision to the salary level was not sufficient and bring it down to a reasonable level?

I disagree with the hon. Lady’s interpretation of the situation. We should be working in a collaborative cross-Government way, particularly to support domestic employment wherever possible. Comprehensive steps are being taken through the back to work plan to help deliver on that, and there are many people here on other routes who are perfectly able to work and, with the right support, would be doing so. That is precisely where we are going to focus our efforts.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to provide advice to police forces across the country to help them support communities during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas?

My hon. Friend is right to ask that question, because sadly, we have seen an absolutely vile upsurge in antisemitism on our streets. We have seen people who claim to be speaking out for equality and justice actually defending people who take slaves, who violate women’s and girls’ rights, and who here in our own country make the Jewish community feel uncomfortable. That is exactly why this Government have committed £18 million to the Community Security Trust. Very sadly, we have also had to commit £7 million to academic security, because there has also been a massive increase in antisemitism in universities. We are combating all of that.

How many times must a demonstration in the same cause be repeated, week in and week out, before the well-funded organisers become liable to pay for at least part of the policing costs?

Of course, we recognise that there is legitimacy to public protests. We also recognise that the unprecedented and unwarranted pressure that this is putting on policing around the country is having an impact on communities. My view is that the organisers have made their point, and repeating it does not strengthen their argument. Unfortunately, we are also seeing some deeply distasteful people weaving themselves in among those protesters, who are protesting on issues that they feel passionately about, but whose good will is being abused by others.

Will the Home Secretary urgently meet his hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) and me to speak about why it is that, although the whole House passed the Public Order Act 2023 with an amendment to ensure safe access zones for women using abortion clinics, this is now subject to a consultation that would gut the legislation? Can he meet us urgently? The consultation is due to end on 22 January, and it would not actually do what all MPs in this House voted for.

If the hon. Lady writes to me on this issue, I will endeavour to find out the details of the point she has made.

Last week, the Home Secretary produced a report on safe and legal routes to comply with section 61 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the amendment I tabled last year. It is very long and generous on the existing legal routes, but can he tell me how my 16-year-old orphan from an east African country with links to the UK, who is a genuine asylum seeker, will be helped to come legally and safely to the UK by what the Government have published so far?

My hon. Friend is a very passionate advocate on this issue, and we had a conversation last week about this very point. The fact is that, since 2015, we have welcomed over half a million people through our safe and legal routes. We are introducing the cap precisely because we want to see that generosity extended in the years ahead, but the pressures of illegal migration in particular make that very challenging and difficult. This is precisely the sort of issue I want to study with him as we move forward with the cap, to make sure that we continue to help the most vulnerable people from around the world, working particularly with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others.