Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 645: debated on Monday 16 July 2018

On Thursday, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Police Bravery Awards. The top award of the night went to PC Keith Palmer who was fatally stabbed outside Parliament and to PC Charlie Guenigault who ran towards three terrorists who attacked the public at London Bridge. The awards were a reminder of the courage and dedication of our emergency services, which we have also seen most recently in Salisbury and Amesbury. Across the UK, police acts of bravery, both big and small, take place every single day. I am sure that the House will want to join me in taking this opportunity to say thank you to our police officers for their extraordinary bravery, hard work and sacrifice.

I join the Home Secretary in those tributes. I asked the Immigration Minister in the House last week to offer students whose visas were cancelled for allegedly cheating in TOEIC—test of english for international communication—English tests a new secure test to see whether they can resume their studies. Her reply was:

“It is, of course, an issue that we are considering very carefully.”—[Official Report, 12 July 2018; Vol. 644, c. 1121.]

Will she indicate to the House when she expects to reach a decision?

This is an important issue and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised it with the Immigration Minister. She is looking at it very carefully. She has asked for extra advice and expects to respond very shortly.

T2. Declaring an interest as someone who used to prosecute for Oxfordshire trading standards, I know the immense distress caused to the elderly by rogue traders. Disturbing research suggests that up to 1 million people are on what are called “suckers lists” of people who are known to be vulnerable and are repeatedly visited. What are Ministers doing to ensure that banks and trading standards link up and can help those who are known to be vulnerable? (906476)

My hon. Friend asks an important question. We have set up the joint fraud taskforce, bringing trading standards and the private sector, including banks, on board, along with law enforcement agencies, to make sure we work together. For example, it has produced a banking protocol under which banks train till staff to spot vulnerable people being exploited. So far, that work has prevented £21 million from being taken out of bank accounts and led to 180 arrests.

Five months after the interim guidance on discretionary leave for victims of modern slavery, published in response to the PK (Ghana) judgment, too many victims are still being left in limbo. Do we know how many victims have received temporary status or even know their status? When will the Government update their guidance and end this human Russian roulette?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government are looking to review and reform the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which is world leading, to ensure that its practices stay in track with the criminal gangs that support modern slavery. She will also know that we have announced substantial reforms to the national referral mechanism that I hope will address the points she has raised.

It has made significant preparations. We are looking at issues around security, borders and people. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely right to ask all Departments to step up preparations. It is the prudent thing to do—that is why we are doing it. We want to prepare for all outcomes. It is very important that we send a strong message to the European Union that, while we want a deal, we will not accept a bad deal.

T4. My constituent Duc Nguyen was a victim of human trafficking to the UK. Despite the Home Office recognising that fact, he was detained and sent to a detention centre at Heathrow. Luckily, he has now been released, but is it not against Home Office policy to detain victims of trafficking? If it is, will the Minister investigate this case to understand why it happened? (906478)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that when detention is being considered every case must now go through a single detention gatekeeper, but I will undertake to look very closely at the case he raises. Our adults at risk policy, which Stephen Shaw recently reviewed, will be part of the response that the Home Secretary will bring forward before the recess.

T6. On Thursday, the Brexit Secretary, when discussing the number of people coming to our country post Brexit, said: “we will assert stronger security checks at the border”—[Official Report, 12 July 2018; Vol. 644, c. 1157.]What discussions and agreements have been made with the Irish Government to strengthen the common travel area in a similar way? (906480)

The common travel area was in existence long before the EU and all parties have agreed and signed up to continue those historical arrangements. In Northern Ireland, for example, we have always done checks in respect of immigration, customs and duty and, of course, simple criminal movement of individuals. That has always gone on and will always do so.

T5. I have repeatedly raised with Ministers the shameful condition of the refugee accommodation provided in my constituency by Jomast. Now it is forcing vulnerable asylum seekers into shared rooms with people wholly unrelated to them—a victim of male trafficking forced to share with an older abusive man, for example. Will the Government take action to protect those who have suffered so much or give Newcastle City Council the ability to do so? (906479)

I was very pleased to meet elected representatives and officials from Newcastle City Council last week, when we discussed dispersed asylum accommodation. The Home Office has worked closely with our providers to improve property standards over the lifetime of the current asylum accommodation contracts and ensure that they continue to provide accommodation that is safe, habitable, fit for purpose and adequately equipped. We will thoroughly investigate any reports of poor property standards.

T9. Last Wednesday, a lady had her handbag stolen in Dunstable late at night. Although the thief was apprehended by two doorkeepers from a nearby nightclub, no police were able to attend, so the thief got away. That is just one example of the impact of “damping” on the funding of Bedfordshire police, combined with the removal of a 24/7 first responder presence. Does the Minister agree that fresh thinking is needed on how areas such as central Bedfordshire are funded, so that they can regain the 24/7 first responder presence that they have lost? (906483)

My hon. Friend and I have had many conversations, and I know how strongly he feels about the adequacy of policing in his constituency. He will be aware that a further £3 million has gone into Bedfordshire’s policing this year, so there is a conversation to be had about resources, but we need to ensure that the 2019-20 funding settlement and the next comprehensive spending review provide for our police forces—including Bedfordshire’s—to be properly resourced.

T7. Offshore wind projects such as Rampion, off the coast of my constituency, should provide an opportunity for good jobs in Britain, but the Home Office is continuing to provide immigration rule waivers to allow crews from outside the European economic area to work here. Why is the Home Office undermining good maritime jobs off our coast? (906481)

Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman. The Home Office is not undermining good maritime jobs; it is working with all partners to ensure that as we leave the EU there are appropriate employment opportunities, which will be set out in the forthcoming immigration White Paper.

I know that, in seeking to tackle terrorism, the Home Secretary will always ensure that the security services have the resources and powers that they need, but will he reassure me on one point? Does he agree that, in ensuring that there are no safe spaces for those who wish to do us harm, we should consider tackling the incitement of terrorism in private as well as public settings?

I do agree with my hon. Friend. As he will know, the House is considering the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which gives us a fresh opportunity to review the possibility of loopholes in earlier legislation.

T8. Perseid School, in my constituency, is an outstanding special-needs school for those with severe learning difficulties, but it is hard for it to recruit special needs teachers because they were removed from the shortage occupation list in 2013. It has spent thousands trying to get a teacher from Canada. When will special needs teachers be returned to the list? (906482)

We constantly keep the shortage occupation list under review and work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee to ensure that the appropriate occupations are indeed on that list.

My constituency grows more than 30% of Scotland’s soft fruit. Will the Home Secretary meet me so that I can discuss the issues that my local farmers are facing, and we can arrive at solutions sooner rather than later?

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue—the need to ensure that we have seasonal agricultural labour—and I should be happy to meet her and other colleagues to discuss it further.

T10. In 2016, my constituent’s son Lee Bennison was killed when a motorist collided with his motorbike. The motorist was found to be driving under the influence of drugs. Only days earlier, he had been stopped by police and had undergone blood and urine tests. The results of such tests take three weeks to come back from the lab. If roadside evidential testing for drugs had been available, Lee Bennison would be alive today. Will the Department introduce such testing? (906484)

Tomorrow, my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) will lead a debate in Westminster Hall on labour shortages in the inshore fishing industry. Will my right hon. Friend consider reintroducing a concession in the current visa rules that would allow non-EEA fishermen to come to this country to work within the 12-mile limit and support the regeneration of our inshore fishing fleets?

Not only will there be that debate tomorrow, but there was an Adjournment debate on the subject last week. I said then, and I repeat now, that we will work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee, whose report is due in September, to understand the specific needs of the fishing industry. I have also offered to meet representatives in Scotland this summer.

Simon Chesterman of the National Police Chiefs Council has suggested that police officers in rural communities could be routinely armed to avoid the provision of funds for specialist armed response units. Will the Minister provide the funds that those units need, rather than eroding public trust by arming police officers?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the model of British policing has non-armed officers at its core, but where an operational need arises specialist armed officers should be available to be deployed. He will also know that we are investing £144 million of taxpayers’ money to upgrade that capability.

Emergency services around the UK know how brave and expert our cave rescue services are in the way they support emergency services in this country. Does the Home Secretary share my admiration for two of my constituents who were involved in the Thai cave rescue, along with the other two British rescuers, who did such brilliant work to bring those 12 boys and their coach out alive last week?

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in commending the courage and bravery shown by those cave rescuers in saving lives: Robert Harper, Chris Jewell, Jason Mallison and Tim Acton. This whole House commends them.

Last week, a much loved grandmother, Riasat Bi, was murdered in her own home during a knife fight; she was 86. West Midlands police are doing everything they can to respond to the growing spiral of violence in east Birmingham, but they need help. The force is at its smallest size since 1974: it needs new investment and we need new investment in youth services. Will the Home Secretary listen to our experience in east Birmingham as he prepares his bid for the Budget later this year?

The right hon. Gentleman rightly raises an important issue, and it reminds the whole House how much more needs to be done to fight the rise in serious violence that we are seeing. Our serious violence strategy is dealing with much of that; it will take time as the issues are complex, but it is right that we work more closely with West Midlands police to see what more we can do.