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Topical Questions

Volume 626: debated on Monday 3 July 2017

There is substantial interest in the House about this Government’s policy about removing counter-terrorism online, and I want to update the House briefly.

Last week in Ottawa, we secured support from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US for the Government campaign to take terrorist material offline. Together, we announced that companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter would form a new global industry forum to tackle terrorist use of the internet. We made it clear that hateful content used to recruit and radicalise should not be allowed on their platforms and must be removed faster and more proactively. The commitment from fellow “Five Eyes” members to a shared approach and their backing of a new industry group is a vital step forward. I plan to travel to the west coast of America to continue discussions with major technology companies and to see what progress they are making on the forum, and I will share these findings. The key to successful action here is to make sure that we have a truly global initiative engaging other countries and the international headquarters of these businesses.

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors have all said that Scotland requires a different immigration policy for its unique demographic needs. Will the Home Secretary consider the report by Professor Christina Boswell of the University of Edinburgh that evaluates the options for a differentiated approach to immigration policy in Scotland?

I do not think that we should have a different immigration policy for different parts of the United Kingdom, but I do think that we should have a fair, open and inclusive immigration system that will attract the brightest and the best, the right students and the people who are legitimately coming here to join their families. We will ensure that when we consult stakeholders and businesses over the summer, we have Scotland and other parts of the country in mind.

T3. In the light of the recent cyber-attack on Parliament and the National Crime Agency’s announcement that, because of under-reporting, the scale of cyber-crime is significantly underestimated, will the Secretary of State outline the specific steps that the Government are taking to tackle this threat? (900107)

Through the national cyber-security programme, we are investing £1.9 billion in cyber-security. We are investing in the National Crime Agency, the National Cyber Crime Unit and the National Cyber Security Centre, as well as the regional organised crime units at local level to ensure that there is a regional response. We have also given an extra £10 million to improve Action Fraud’s response to constituents. At the same time, the Government are trying to consolidate and ensure that there is a consistent message in Cyber Aware so that all colleagues and members of the public understand what they need to do to keep themselves safe online.

Following the wholly avoidable tragedy at Grenfell Tower, will the Home Secretary tell us why the review of the building regulations, which was promised by Gavin Barwell in the wake of the deadly Lakanal House fire, has failed to materialise? Mr Barwell was the Housing Minister at the time; did he suppress the review?

I do not think there is any evidence that our former colleague suppressed any review. There was plenty of work ongoing into the simplification of regulations. I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said before, that the Grenfell tragedy should never have happened, and what we have found out since about the fire safety of the building means that we have to do a root and branch review not only of the regulations but of inspection and risk management.

T4. When I was a district councillor in West Oxfordshire, I helped to settle six Syrian refugee families in the area. I have seen those families regularly, and one of the most heartening things is how they have integrated in our society in terms of school places and employment. Will the Minister please tell us what steps the Government are taking to ensure that such integration takes place swiftly and efficiently? (900108)

I know that my hon. Friend’s constituency area has generously welcomed a number of families. So far, we have accepted 7,000 under this scheme. Today, additionally, I can confirm that we are taking advice from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on widening the eligibility for the scheme for vulnerable refugees so that we can include people of any nationality who are affected by the Syrian crisis. This will be good for families and good for ensuring that we truly help the most vulnerable in the region.

Merseyside police have had to cut £87 million and more than 1,000 officers and staff since 2010 and, notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s bizarre claim earlier that police budgets had been protected, they are now being expected to cut a further £18 million over the next three years, leading to 540 staff and officers being placed under threat while tackling a gun crime wave that has involved 100 shootings in the past 18 months. Will the Home Secretary agree to meet me and a delegation of Merseyside MPs to discuss why her Department has just turned down a bid for extra resources to deal with this, which she and her Ministers themselves invited?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this question. We did meet; I met her and the other Merseyside MPs, and I have met the chief constable, Andy Cooke. I can absolutely confirm that the National Crime Agency and the regional organised and serious crime units are giving a great deal of support to help to tackle the appalling increase in gun crime in Merseyside. We will continue do everything we can to support the police there.

When I spent some time on the night shift with the local police, they told me that when they arrest a person they spend most of the remainder of the shift filling in forms relating to that arrest. The police obviously have to be accountable when depriving somebody of their liberty, but that system can surely be speeded up.

As my hon. Friend knows, we have done a lot to cut police targets and bureaucracy so that they can focus on what really matters. Post-arrest administration has not been raised to date in my meetings with the police, but I will ensure that I raise it in any future meetings.

T5. Under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, 480 unaccompanied refugee children were expected to come to the United Kingdom. We learned in the House of Lords last week that only 200 have arrived. What are the Government doing to ensure that the other 280 vulnerable children at risk of exploitation are able to come to the safety of our shores promptly? (900109)

It is a very good question. I am aware of those numbers. We have made it clear to the countries that currently provide a home to those children—largely Italy and Greece, but some are in France—that we are ready and stand able to take those additional children. We will continue to engage with those countries to try to do that. Part of the issue is that some of those children have already settled in the country where they are, but we remain engaged with those countries to see what else we can do to help those children. Where we can, we would like to bring over those who have not settled and whose interests are truly best served by coming here.

Kent continues to be one of the main points of entry to the UK for illegal workers. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what steps the Government are taking to make it easier for businesses in Kent and elsewhere to identify whether someone is working here illegally?

We implemented the Immigration Act 2016 to make illegal working a criminal offence so that the profits can be seized as the proceeds of crime. The Act also introduces new, stronger sanctions against employers of illegal workers. There is a balance to be struck in ensuring that people are checking whether someone has a passport, if they are from the EU, or has leave or the right to work here, if they are not from the EU. If businesses have done those checks, they are in a position to defend themselves against any action, which is appropriate.

T6. Ann Jones, the Welsh Assembly Member for Vale of Clwyd, successfully steered through Welsh Government legislation to make it compulsory to have sprinklers in new-builds and to retrofit them in refurbished residential buildings. Will the Home Secretary follow the Welsh Government’s example and work with her Cabinet colleagues towards making that a UK-wide policy? (900111)

I refer the hon. Lady to what I said before. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is making a statement this afternoon, and the Prime Minister has made several statements about the way forward in reviewing regulations, guidance and the whole inspection and risk-monitoring regime, which will include guidance on sprinklers. As the hon. Lady will know, sprinklers have different applications in different locations; there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Yesterday evening, Gatwick airport had to close its runway on several occasions, leading to the cancellation of quite a few flights, owing to the irresponsible use of a drone. Will the Minister say whether the Government will consider reviewing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles around airports?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the dangers that drones can pose to aircraft, but drones are also used illegally to supply drugs to prisons and they are used by terrorists and criminals further afield. That is why this Government set up a group chaired by me and the Ministry of Defence about a year ago to look at measures that we can put in place not only to deal with the technological challenge that drones present, but to ensure that we counter drones in a way that fits with the idea of an open society in which law-abiding citizens can continue to use drones for their pleasure or for their work.

T7. The prohibitive cost of testing for novel psychoactive substances is causing considerable expense to police forces in enforcing the current law. The present law on novel psychoactive substances simply is not working, so will the Home Office team please initiate an immediate review of it? (900113)

I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 has proved to be an incredibly useful tool for police officers to identify really harmful substances and keep people safe.

Following the very tragic and fatal stabbing the weekend before last in my constituency, will the Home Secretary update the House on the plans being undertaken to tackle knife crime?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the very, very tragic case of James Brindley, who was so brutally knifed and killed in her constituency. The local police force’s investigations are well under way, and a huge amount of work is being done to tackle knife crime. The local police force, West Midlands police, often takes part in Operation Sceptre, with the next operation happening in July. Every Member has an important role to play in going out there to tell young people in their communities about the real dangers they are presenting to themselves by carrying knives.

Having lost more than 800 police officers and almost a quarter of its funding, Northumbria police have just announced that they are closing every single Newcastle police station front desk outside working hours. Given all the reassurances we have heard today, why is Northumbria police still being obliged to make operational decisions based on cost cutting, and not on preventing and detecting crime?

I say to all colleagues on both sides of the House that we have protected police spending—[Interruption.] Hon. Members can have their own views; they cannot have their own facts. These are the cases. As long as individual councils use the maximum precept of 2%, they can raise the money. Additional support is available from the police transformation fund, and we will always make sure that we use it to keep communities safe and to provide the best policing available.

In Northamptonshire our excellent police and crime commissioner, Stephen Mold, is dramatically investing in police buildings by, for example, opening the new command centre in north Northamptonshire. Does my hon. Friend agree that, actually, it is the investment in buildings that are fit for purpose for operational policing and the modernisation that are so important for driving outcomes?

Through my hon. Friend, may I congratulate Stephen Mold on the impressive leadership and innovation that he is showing? I look forward to visiting him.

West Yorkshire police are still reeling from cuts dating back to 2010, when they lost 20% of their force. Will we look again at budgets so that they can restore the number of police officers on our streets and give them a fighting chance of dealing with demand?

I take this opportunity to clarify once more the situation with regard to police funding. From 2010 to 2015 there were indeed cuts, but what was so remarkable is that the good work of local policing and the good work of local communities meant that crime came down by a third. Between 2015 and 2020 we will continue to protect police money to ensure that crime continues to come down and that policing and communities get the necessary support.

What progress has been made to improve the co-operation between Action Fraud and individual police forces to ensure that, as in the case of a couple of my constituents, people are not passed from pillar to post when they seek information from one of those organisations?

My hon. Friend is right, and he has raised the issue before. That is why we have given some extra funding to Action Fraud to improve the process of managing the triage. At the same time, through the national cyber strategy, we are starting to see money going into the investments we require. Working with senior police leadership, whom I met last week, we are also trying to make sure that the response from forces to cyber-crime is consistent because, as he knows, it is very inconsistent at the moment. For too long, some forces have thought that cyber does not belong to them while other forces have done a very good job. We want to make sure that there is a consistent response right across the board.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) pointed out that 30% of applications for permanent residence are turned down, to a large extent because of the complexities of the process. Would it not be sensible to simplify the process now, instead of waiting until next year for the new system?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is correct that the system we are currently using is not the one that was designed for leaving the European Union and for allowing EU members here to apply for settled status. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that we will be providing a new system, which will be available by the end of next year; we are allowing people to make sure that they get additional information as it comes along and that their name is registered so that they get sent that information, but we need the time to build that system. We are confident it will be ready by the end of next year and provide a streamlined, effective online system for those applications to go through.

In last month’s birthday honours list, Alex Murray, who until very recently was Solihull’s police commander, received an OBE for his work. Will the Minister join me not only in congratulating Alex, and indeed all police in Solihull, who do such a tremendous job, but in recognising the need for a fair funding settlement for West Midlands police?

I am delighted to congratulate Alex Murray on his well-earned OBE—and all the other police officers and constables whose work was so rightly recognised. Perhaps we could also, from this House, recognise the good work that has been done by all police and emergency services, particularly over the past three and a half months, given the tremendous strains there have been on the work they have been having to do.

The provision of accommodation for asylum seekers is the responsibility of the Home Office and its contractors. What recent discussions have they had to ensure that such accommodation complies with fire prevention and safety regulations?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I visited some of those centres just last week, when I raised that very issue. I am writing to all suppliers across the country to raise that point, to make sure that they are fully aware of their duty of care and work to make sure that fire safety is of paramount importance for them.

Order. I am sorry but we must move on; demand has exceeded supply, as is very often the case in this place.