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Topical Questions

Volume 748: debated on Monday 15 April 2024

We have increased the volume of asylum cases processed. We successfully met a ministerial commitment to close over 50 asylum-seeker hotels by January 2024, and we had closed over 100 by the end of March.

Last year, I brought forward measures to make legal migration fairer and to radically reduce the numbers; 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would not now be eligible to do so. Anyone who wants to bring a family from abroad must be able comfortably to support them financially.

In the Budget, the Government put forward £75 million to roll out violence reduction units and hotspot policing across England and Wales, and £230 million for technology that will save the police time and money and make sure that police officers are on the frontline doing the job that they were recruited to do.

May I add my condolences, Mr Speaker?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that police numbers in Essex are at record levels and that overall crime is down. However, there has been a rise in vehicle thefts. Will he therefore welcome the efforts of our excellent police, fire and crime commissioner, Roger Hirst, in establishing a stolen vehicle intelligence unit that has so far recovered £14 million-worth of vehicles? Will he look at what further support can be given to Roger Hirst to tackle this crime?

My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the fantastic work of Roger Hirst and the stolen vehicle intelligence unit. A number of large-scale seizures have been made against attempted vehicle exports. The Government have reduced vehicle-related crime by 39% since 2010, and we seek to go further through the Criminal Justice Bill. We want to see more innovative approaches like the one taken by Roger Hirst, which is why I am very proud to campaign alongside him. He has done fantastic work to protect the people of Essex.

Mr Speaker, I remember the kindness that your father showed me and our long discussions on rugby league. I add my condolences.

The Hillsborough tragedy was 35 years ago to the hour. We remember the 97 who were lost and support the families’ campaign for a Hillsborough law.

We strongly condemn Iran’s attack on Israel this weekend, and we must do everything we can to prevent further escalation in the middle east, but there are also domestic security issues in relation to Iran. The Iran International journalist Pouria Zeraati was attacked on the streets of London a few weeks ago following repeated Iran-related security threats on British soil, including threats to kidnap and kill. Does the Home Secretary believe it is now time to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the UK?

The right hon. Lady will know that we keep our response to Iran under constant review, and of course we have done so in the light of the attack in Wimbledon. We do not speculate about future designations or sanctions, but she will know that the IRGC is sanctioned in its entirety and a number of its members are sanctioned as individuals. As she knows, we will keep this under constant review.

The Home Secretary will know that we have raised this many times. I understand the complexity of the issue. The proscribing legislation was drawn up more than 20 years ago to address terrorist threats such as al-Qaeda, rather than state-sponsored threats that have both domestic and international security objectives. Our bottom line must be keeping this country safe, which is why Labour has proposed new security legislation to allow the Government to put appropriately targeted proscription-style restrictions on the operations of state-linked organisations such as the IRGC. The Government previously resisted this, but will he look at it again in the light of recent events and work with us on any legislation that is needed to keep this country safe?

We have the National Security Act 2023 and a range of tools at our disposal. Defence against state threats is one of the Department’s priorities, and my right hon. Friend the Security Minister leads on its practical implementation. I can reassure the shadow Home Secretary and the House that we constantly review the range of options at our disposal and deploy those that are most appropriate. Protecting the UK and the people living and working here against state threats will always be a priority of this Government.

T4. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire support the excellent initiative of a number of Conservative police and crime commissioners to include filling in potholes as part of the community payback initiative for convicted offenders? Will he apply pressure on the Ministry of Justice to get this up and running as soon as possible? (902345)

T2. I offer you my condolences, Mr Speaker.The former chief inspector of borders and immigration recently produced a report stating that 275 certificates of sponsorship were granted to a company that used forged documents and purported to be a real care home. Such Home Office failures clearly leave people at risk of exploitation and modern slavery, so what steps is the Minister taking to make the system more robust and to protect vulnerable people who come here to work in our care system? (902343)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. We responded within the eight-week deadline to that ICIBI report and accepted the recommendations made to us in it. We are working through them, but work was already in train, particularly in collaboration with the Care Quality Commission, on better accreditation practices for care providers when we are matching people to those visas.

T6.   Outdated laws are allowing child sexual predators and offenders to enter or leave our country while in possession of illegal material on their digital devices because Border Force does not have the power to access them. Will my right hon. Friend work with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to consider the merits of a new offence of wilful obstruction, under which an individual could be prosecuted if they fail to unlock their devices to allow them to be properly searched? (902347)

I thank my hon. Friend for her work in this area. The issues that she raises are of direct importance to intelligence gathering and child protection. My officials have been working closely with Border Force to ensure that its powers keep pace with the digital age. When the next legislative opportunity arises, if not before, we will carefully consider giving Border Force powers to compel individuals to submit to searches of their devices, if they are suspected of holding child sexual abuse material.

T3. The murder of Gracie Spinks in Chesterfield sent shockwaves through the town, and the report on Derbyshire police’s handling of this desperately unhappy situation was salutary. There is still far too much inconsistency in how stalking and violence against women are handled, so will the Home Secretary back Labour’s plan to bring in mandatory national standards, and mandatory training on tackling violence against women, so that we see consistency in policing on stalking right across the country? (902344)

I reassure the hon. Gentleman and the House that, under my leadership, the Home Office and policing across the UK will maintain its focus on preventing violence against women and girls. We have a roll-out of police guidance and training when it comes to women and girls. I will listen carefully to the proposals he has put forward, because we want to make sure that women and girls feel safe in this country.

T7. This Government champion fantastic animal welfare standards. My constituents would like to see alternatives to animal testing wherever possible, and would be keen to hear a vital update from the Department. (902349)

Given that interest is about to switch in this House to a different matter, I will be brief. I promise to write to my hon. Friend on this, but she should know that this Government have already doubled spending on finding alternatives to animal testing. We will continue to make sure that the inspection regime is as strict as possible, to make sure that when animals need to be used, the conditions are as humane as possible.

T5. Will the Home Secretary tell us what level of auditing there will be of the hundreds of millions of pounds being sent to Rwanda? In particular, will he guarantee that no UK taxpayers’ cash will, either directly or indirectly, be used to fund the M23 militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? (902346)

All our overseas expenditure, whether it is through official development assistance or through contractual relationships, such as the ones with Rwanda, is always robustly policed to ensure that it is spent exclusively on the issues that it is designed to address. We have a strong, good working relationship with the Government of Rwanda, who are absolutely committed to being the exporter of solutions to global problems, rather than the exporter of problems.

The people of Romford are angry that they are not getting the police cover from the Mayor of London that we pay for. We are seeing a crime wave across Romford, including in Gidea Park, and we have seen a stabbing in the town centre. We have had enough. Will the Minister please ensure reform, so that Essex towns such as Romford get the service that Roger Hirst gives to the people of the historic county?

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the contrast between the excellent work done by Roger Hirst in Essex and the appalling job being done by Sadiq Khan in London. Sadiq Khan is the only one of the 43 police and crime commissioners to have missed his recruitment target and, tragically, police officer numbers are falling in London, in contrast to the rest of the country. Londoners will have a chance to cast their vote on 2 May, and I hope that they kick him out.

T8. My constituent Maysara is a British citizen, and his parents live in Gaza. His parents successfully applied for visas to visit him in the autumn last year, but they were unable to travel after 7 October, and their visas expired. I contacted the Home Office on Maysara’s behalf to ask if those visas could be extended, but I was told that his parents would have to make new applications. However, there are no functioning visa application centres in Gaza, so will the Minister explain what exactly my constituent’s parents should do? (902350)

I am more than happy to look at the details of the case. The hon. Gentleman has to understand that the circumstances on the ground changed dramatically after Hamas’ brutal mass murder rampage on 7 October, and our security posture in the region has had to be enhanced. I am not making any implications about his constituent’s family, but he and the House will understand that we must be careful in everything we do when it comes to accepting people who are leaving Gaza in these circumstances.