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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 645: debated on Monday 16 July 2018

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

British Citizenship Fees: Children

2. What assessment he has made of trends in the level of fees his Department charges for registering children as British citizens. (906451)

The Home Office sets fees for border, immigration and nationality services at a level that ensures that they make a substantial contribution to the cost of running the immigration system, thereby reducing the burden on the UK taxpayer. Although the economic impact assessments that are published alongside immigration fees legislation do not separately consider child-registration fees, they show the impact of fee increases on the volume of applications to be minimal.

The Home Office charges more than £1,000 for children—including children who were born here and those who moved in infancy—to register as British citizens. Is this not profiteering at the expense of young people who seek to pledge their future to Britain? Is this not another Windrush scandal in the making, with people not getting the documents now that officials will rely on in future? The Home Secretary knows that he faces a legal challenge on this issue, so will he do the right thing and end these excessive charges now?

I will not speak about the legal case, for obvious reasons, but I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. It is right that there is a balance between the costs faced by the individuals who make applications and those faced by the taxpayer. It is sensible to keep those costs under review, and it is right that Parliament makes the decision on whether costs are changed.

23. Is the Home Secretary really proud of making more than £100 million of profit for the Home Office in the past five years from these charges? Given that the number of applications is going down while fees are going up, is he absolutely certain that the fee is having no implications for people’s decisions on whether to apply for citizenship? (906472)

The hon. Gentleman talks of it as profit, but the revenue generated is used not just to provide public services to those people who make applications but to support wider public services. As I said, it is right that we have a balance between the costs of an application and the costs to which the taxpayer is exposed.

UK Visas and Immigration

3. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of UK Visas and Immigration against its target times for responses to members of the public. (906452)

The UKVI contact centre has set contractual targets for the commercial partner that delivers contact-centre services on its behalf. The achievement of those targets is monitored daily through the service-management team, to assure achievement. The team holds formal board review meetings monthly to review performance against the set key performance indicators.

Is the Minister satisfied with the current target times and does she think they are appropriate? My constituent made an application in November 2017 and has not heard a single thing since—nothing.

It is important to note that service standards are met in the vast majority of cases. If applications are not straightforward, we do not set a service standard, because we think it is right that applications should be considered thoroughly and in detail.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the chorus of complaints from countries such as Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, where businessmen who want to come to do trade deals with us—indeed, in some cases Members of Parliament or Government Ministers from those countries—are facing lengthy delays in obtaining visas, and in some cases outright refusal? Will she have another look at the issue? It is doing real damage to our relations with those countries.

UKVI issues 2.7 million visas every single year and, as I said, the vast majority are done within our service standards. I am happy to look into my right hon. Friend’s point, because in a Britain that is outward-looking, global and open for business, it is important that visas are issued efficiently.

The Home Affairs Committee report on Home Office delivery of Brexit found that a lack of experience among staff resulted in life-changing consequences. What is the Department doing to improve the recruitment and retention of staff to make sure that, while targets are met, the quality of decision making is still ensured?

The quality of decision making is of course important. We work closely with our caseworkers to make sure that they have the right level of training. In many instances, we sit senior caseworkers with those who are more junior, until such time as they can be confident in the decisions that they make.

There is of course a mixture of resources. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the fees that are levied for the UKVI service make a contribution towards the cost of that service and towards the wider border costs in general. It is important that we have the right number of staff and that they work efficiently, and we are taking steps to ensure that that is the case.

Is the Minister aware that delays in responding are one of the biggest problems for the public, for business and for Members of Parliament trying to help their constituents? I have innumerable such cases, including that of Ms Rettie Grace Downer, who submitted an application for further leave in 2005 and whose application is still outstanding 13 years later. Does she recognise the danger of sounding complacent on this issue, and what will she do to further bear down on these unacceptable delays?

Although I cannot comment on individual cases, the right hon. Lady has, of course, pointed to a case that was started in 2005 under a previous Labour Administration. I am sure that she will be pleased to hear—[Interruption.] She can shout at me from a sedentary position, but I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that, at a recent away day for border and immigration staff, I made it very clear that one of my highest priorities is making sure that responses to Members of Parliament and the public are of the highest priority so that we see prompt responses.

Knife Crime

The Government are very concerned about the increase in knife crime and the devastating impact that it has on victims, their families and communities. That is why we published a serious violence strategy in April, setting out action to tackle knife crime, including new legislation in the Offensive Weapons Bill, the launch of the £1 million community fund and continuing police action under Operation Sceptre.

I welcome the Offensive Weapons Bill, which will put tough legislation in place and make it harder than ever before for people to get dangerous weapons. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that banning the delivery of bladed articles to residential addresses will not prevent the legal pursuits of tradesmen and hobbyists?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I am happy to confirm that the Bill provides defences for a number of items that otherwise would be prohibited, especially those that otherwise would have been delivered to a residential address. This includes bespoke knives and bladed products and those that might be used in re-enactment activities. I can assure him that he will still be allowed to toss the caber in the Highland games.

This Wednesday, the Youth Violence Commission will publish its interim policy report. Last year, knife crime increased by 22% and, in London, we have had another tragic spate of stabbings over the weekend. We must urgently seek long-term solutions. Will the Secretary of State commit to engaging with the recommendations of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission?

First, the hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. I can assure her that we are doing everything we can working not just across parties, but with a number of groups that have a lot to contribute. We have already made a commitment to work with the all-party parliamentary group. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), is doing just that, and we are very happy to listen to its suggestions.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, often in restraining suspects with knives, service animals such as police dogs are injured. It is very welcome that the Government are supporting my private Member’s Bill, the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill, but does he agree that the recent consultation by the Secretary of State for the Environment is also an important step forward in trying to increase the sentence so that this sort of knife crime is really put down?

I very much agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I would like to see an increase in sentencing for those who engage in terrible cruelty to animals. May I also take this opportunity to thank him for his Bill and say that we are very happy to support it?

I am sure that the Home Secretary does not want to trivialise this issue, but the fact of the matter is that the real concern—the deep roots of this issue—is very often the emergence of gangs in all of our towns and cities and in our schools. What will we do to combat not just knife crime, but the gangs that seem to promote it?

Again, this is an important issue in this debate. There is a lot more that we can do both in Government and in working with other organisations, including community organisations, especially in terms of early intervention and prevention. The funding that was allocated, such as the £11 million on early intervention and youth grants, will make a difference as will the new national centre to co-ordinate action based on county lines.

I wonder whether the Home Secretary has decided to accept the suggested amendments that I made on Second Reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill, not least the one where, currently, the offence of threatening somebody with a knife applies only to public places. Does he agree that the offence of threatening with a knife should apply to everywhere it is done, including in private places as well?

I remember that debate very well. I thought that my hon. Friend made a thoughtful and valuable contribution. I listened carefully to the suggestion he made then, which is why I am considering it.

The law governing what type of knife people can buy across the counter in Scotland is different from the law in England, yet a knife can kill regardless of whether it is English or Scottish. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with the Scottish Government with a view to bringing these laws more into line?

We have been having extensive discussions with the Government in Scotland, and they have indicated that they will be supporting the measures in the Bill through a legislative consent motion.

Knife crime is often associated with county lines. I asked the Security Minister at a recent Home Office questions how the national county lines co-ordination centre was to be funded and was told that it would be through the police transformation fund. I then received a letter saying that

“it does not come from the Police Transformation Fund…and I apologise if this is the impression given.”

But the same letter says that

“projects and programmes funded through the PTF will support the strategy’s aims.”

So how are the Government funding their anti-county lines programme? Is it all from new resources or not?

First, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of dealing with the whole issue of county lines and welcomes the new co-ordination centre. It will be funded through the commitment of £40 million into the serious violence strategy, and the centre’s funding specifically will be £3.6 million over the next two years.

Immigration: Skilled Workers

5. What steps he is taking to ensure that the immigration system facilitates the hiring of sufficient skilled migrant workers for the UK’s needs. (906454)

11. What steps he is taking to ensure that the immigration system facilitates the hiring of sufficient skilled migrant workers for the UK’s needs. (906460)

13. What steps he is taking to ensure that the immigration system facilitates the hiring of sufficient skilled migrant workers for the UK’s needs. (906462)

The Government are committed to an immigration system that operates in the national interest and ensures that businesses can attract the talented migrants that they need. From 6 July, we removed all doctors’ and nurses’ posts from the yearly cap of 20,700 places, ensuring that the NHS is able to recruit the clinical staff that it needs.

The hot weather means that apples and pears may be ready to harvest early this year, as was the case last year when growers in my constituency struggled to harvest their crops. Will my right hon. Friend update me on the prospects for a seasonal agricultural workers scheme to ensure that farmers have the workforce that they need to harvest British fruit and vegetables?

I am very sympathetic to the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. As we design our future immigration system, I want to ensure that it takes into account the seasonal demand for labour not only in agriculture, but also perhaps in hospitality. That is why we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to look at this issue. We will see what we can do when the committee reports back.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to support a better controlled and fairer migration policy. I wonder whether he can tell me when the long-delayed White Paper on the subject will be published, so that the public know that we are taking it seriously.

I know that my hon. Friend will agree that it is fantastic that we will now have an opportunity—for the first time in decades—to design our own immigration system. We should take that seriously, as we are. It will be led by the White Paper, which will come out soon after the summer recess, and an immigration Bill that will make all the changes that are recommended and debated in Parliament.

I am glad that doctors and nurses have been excluded from the cap on skilled workers, which will free up many additional places for other highly-skilled occupations. Will my right hon. Friend give an assessment of how these regulations have worked since they have come into force?

I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the changes and for his support. It is a bit too early to give an assessment, since the changes only came into play on 6 July. Like my hon. Friend, I am confident that they will not only help to provide some of the high skills that our economy needs, but will actually go on to create jobs.

Ministry of Justice figures show that half of immigration cases that go to appeal in England and Wales are overturned. Does the Secretary of State agree that the situation needs urgent attention and that those flaws need to be addressed before the European citizens who are in the UK have to apply for settled status?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we get tens of thousands of applications each year. Unfortunately, in many cases not all the information that is asked for is provided in the first instance. Officials will chase that up, and they will do so in a way that is as helpful as possible. If people want their application to be looked at in a timely manner, it is always helpful if all information is provided up front.

We have had numerous debates and countless questions on this issue. Is it not about time that the Home Office got together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and sorted this problem out? It is estimated that last year we ploughed back into the ground about 10% of our fruit and vegetables: what is it going to be this year?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Home Office works very closely with DEFRA, as with other Departments, on issues affecting migration. With regard to making sure that we have the talent and skills we need for our agricultural sector, working with DEFRA is exactly what we are doing.

Scotland needs more than those termed “skilled” under the immigration rules. The continued availability of workers from other EU countries is vital to employers across the Scottish economy. Is not the comprehensive economic and trade agreement-style mobility framework suggested in last week’s White Paper a recipe for disaster for employers other than London-based multinationals?

Maintaining and increasing Scotland’s working-age population is vital for Scotland’s continued economic prosperity. Last week’s White Paper says that the UK Government will design a mobility framework that works for all parts of the United Kingdom. When is the Home Secretary going to meet his Scottish Government counterparts and engage in how the future immigration policy will impact on Scotland?

I am sure that the hon. and learned Lady agrees that we want an immigration system that serves the national interest—that brings immigration down to sustainable levels but also gives the skills that we need for the entire UK, of course including Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister is planning to visit Scotland this summer to meet Ministers.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend is working on a new UK-based migration policy to hit the Government’s targets. Does he accept that we might need this as early as 30 March next year if we leave without an agreement?

As always, my right hon. Friend makes a very important point. While we are working on the basis that we will not need it as early as 30 March, he is absolutely right to point out that we should be prepared for all eventualities, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Firefighter Training

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of changes to fire services’ staffing levels on the capacity of those services to deliver firefighter training. (906455)

It is extremely important that every firefighter receives the right level of training for the very demanding work that they do. The new national framework makes a requirement for every single fire service to have a strategy, as all 45 do, and now independent inspection will help us to get a better view of what good looks like and where training is not good enough.

Across Greater Manchester in the past year we have seen a 31% increase in the number of special service calls to our fire service, including many calls to reports of cardiac arrests. This is placing an enormous strain on our talented and dedicated firefighters. What will the Government be doing to resource fire services to provide the support and training needed to cope with this additional pressure?

With respect to the hon. Lady, I do not think it is an issue of resources, because fire budgets have been held flat in cash terms despite a backdrop of a 50% fall in fires over the past decade. The fire system has found the flexibility in its budgets to move over a quarter of a billion pounds-worth of taxpayers’ money into research. However, it is absolutely important in this next phase that we have a better understanding of how consistent good training is across the system.

Firefighter staffing in Northamptonshire will soon be the responsibility of the new combined police and fire commissioner. Will the Minister work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that Northamptonshire County Council, which currently governs the fire service, hands over to the commissioner the correct financial resources to get the new organisation off to a good start?

The short answer is yes. My hon. Friend and I both understand the historical context to this and some of the difficulties and complexities. I am sure that the council will want to co-operate fully with the new arrangements.

Firefighter Michael Dowden told the Grenfell inquiry that he had not received any familiarisation training before his inspection of Grenfell Tower in 2016. With cuts to 11,000 fire service jobs, station closures and privatisation of training delivery, our overstretched fire services—despite the Minister’s usual comments about resources—are struggling to complete the training they need. With all this in mind, what specific measures is he taking to ensure that fire services have the capacity to deliver the training that our firefighters need to keep both themselves and our communities safe?

It is the responsibility of each fire chief to ensure that their local teams are properly trained. They have the resources to do that, as I made clear in my earlier answer.

Immigration and Nationality: Fees

7. Whether he plans to change the fees for immigration and nationality applications; and if he will make a statement. (906456)

The Home Office reviews all immigration and nationality fees annually, with any changes normally implemented in April each year. We currently have no agreed plans to change fee levels, but the process for considering whether any changes are necessary commences in the summer and parliamentary approval has to be gained before any changes are made.

The Minister will be aware that immigration fees for limited leave to remain have increased by 79% in four years to £1,033 per person, with no reduction for children. Does she appreciate that the cost can be crippling for families with a number of children going through that process, and will she at the very least look at reducing fees for children so that they cover processing alone?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am of course alive to the points made at recent Home Affairs Committee meetings and in the recent Lords debate on child citizenship fees. In due course, I will also consider the findings of the scheduled review by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration.

Will immigration fees and policy be changed after we leave the European Union so that we seek the brightest and best from around the world without fear or favour, be they from India, China, America or, indeed, the European Union?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will of course have heard me say that fees are reviewed annually, and we will continue with that policy. He is right, however, to point out that we will still seek to attract the brightest and best, and our future immigration Bill will set out exactly how we intend to do that.

Does the Minister agree with Mark Thomson, the director general of UK Visas and Immigration, who said at a recent MPs’ casework meeting that those who pay for premium services but do not get their visas on the same day should have their fees returned to them?

I was not present at that meeting, so I cannot comment on that specific case, but I am very conscious that Her Majesty’s Passport Office and UKVI work very hard to ensure that we deliver within service standards. Where fees are looked at and there is a genuine case for a refund, we do make refunds.

The Home Affairs Committee’s recent report on the Windrush scandal shows that the whole immigration and nationality application service is hugely complicated, very bureaucratic and needs completely overhauling and streamlining, and that fees bear no relationship to the service’s efficiency or cost. Will the Minister guarantee that the additional costs of sorting out the Windrush scandal will not be used as an excuse, under full cost recovery, to jack up fees yet further?

Of course, the lessons learned review that is commencing into Windrush will be an important opportunity for us to review all practices across UKVI and ensure that such an appalling scandal cannot happen again. My hon. Friend will have heard comments about reviews of fees, which happen annually, but I point out that we passed primary legislation in 2014 that allows the Home Office to charge fees that not only recover the cost of individual applications but contribute to the whole borders and immigration system, thus helping to secure our borders and ensure that we are safe.

Immigration Detention: Children

8. What his policy is on the treatment of children whose parents are under immigration detention. (906457)

The welfare and safeguarding of children is at the heart of the family returns process, and our policy is clear that we do all we can to keep families together. Other than in exceptional circumstances, a child will not be separated from both parents for immigration purposes. Detention is used sparingly, for the purposes of public protection and removal. We encourage those with no right to remain in the UK to leave voluntarily, and all detainees have the right to bail, which is decided by a judge.

Despite compelling evidence of the harm caused to children by the indefinite detention of their parents, the Home Office continues to separate them in an arbitrary and cruel manner, but its replies to my questions show that it has no idea how many children are currently separated. The Department paid £50,000 in compensation after a three-year-old girl was unlawfully separated from her father, who was placed in immigration detention. She was reunited with him just days before she was due to be placed for adoption. What is the Minister doing to get a grip on the situation, stop this unlawful practice, tell us how many children are affected and reunite them with their families?

In the case raised by the hon. Lady, the Home Office acknowledged its mistakes and indeed paid compensation. It is worth remembering that more than 1,000 children went into detention in 2009, whereas only 44 did so in the last year for which figures are available. The Home Office has taken significant steps to ensure that children are not detained with their parents, and they can be in an immigration removal centre only when they can be removed within 72 hours.

This year, Bail for Immigration Detainees has represented 155 parents separated from their children while in immigration detention, yet the Prime Minister states that that is not the Government’s practice. Can the Minister condemn the practice and finally stop it?

There is clear and published guidance on how a family unit may be defined, and on the separation of individuals from their family group for immigration reasons. Cases may involve pre-existing separation of family units for non-immigration reasons. For instance, in the case of foreign criminals, children might already have been taken into care when the individual received a custodial sentence.

The Prime Minister has condemned Trump’s family separation policy, but this Government’s hostile environment separates parents from their children every day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) pointed out, last week the Home Office was forced to pay £40,000 in damages for falsely imprisoning a father, unlawfully separating him from his daughter for three months. The Home Office failed at every stage of the process. The Home Secretary has said that he will pause the hostile environment, but immigration detention is a key part of it. Will the Government look again at indefinite detention, and at the use of detention more widely, and publish the Shaw review in good time for us to examine it before the summer recess?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that some cases might involve pre-existing separation. As I have highlighted, back in 2009 there were more than 1,000 children in detention, and that number has now been reduced to 44. The Home Office has acknowledged the mistakes that were made in the case he mentioned, but it is important to reflect on the role that detention plays in ensuring that those who have no right to be here and no right to our public services are removed in a timely manner.

Police Officer Numbers

9. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of changes in the number of police officers on the level of serious crime. (906458)

12. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of changes in the number of police officers on the level of serious crime. (906461)

In April, we published our serious violence strategy, which sets out a range of factors driving increases in violent crime. Our analysis shows that changes in the drugs market are a major factor behind the recent increases in serious violence.

South Yorkshire police have seen their budget reduce by £66 million in real terms since 2010, and they expect more to come. In Sheffield, knife crime has increased by 41% over the past year. Does the Minister agree that reducing police numbers has a direct effect on this staggering upward trend in violent crime, which has led to many tragic deaths and left many families grieving?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. She will know that the South Yorkshire constabulary is receiving an extra £5 million this year and that the Government have protected police funding since 2015. Indeed, police constabularies across the country will see up to £460 million more in funding with the help of police and crime commissioners. Serious violence has to be tackled as part of a national strategy, which is exactly what we have set out.

Bedfordshire police are under unprecedented pressure: violent crime is up; they face the third largest terrorist threat in the country; and they have had to support the visit of President Trump and deal with an increase in mental health cases. Can the Secretary of State explain how the police can keep the people of Bedford safe when they do not have the resources to attend 999 calls?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would agree with me that the way in which Bedfordshire is kept safe is through the excellent work of its police officers and its Conservative police and crime commissioner, who has managed to increase officer numbers in her constabulary by 6.5% over the past year.

Has the Minister read the evidence produced by the Home Office for the serious violence strategy, which shows that it is highly likely that police cuts have contributed to the rise in violent crime? If she has not, will she publish it?

This rather demonstrates the difference between this Government and the right hon. Gentleman’s party. We are concerned with answering the question that the public ask us: how can we make our country safer? We have taken a cold, hard look at the rise in serious violence, and we have drawn together, from a range of parties, including the police, healthcare providers, schools and so on, the serious violence strategy, and it is through that strategy, with the help of those providers, that we will tackle this issue.

Today, the Daily Mail published the results of an exclusive survey, which showed that 57% of people say that police officers have surrendered control of our neighbourhoods and criminals have no fear of being caught; a quarter of people do not feel safe going out at night; and more than half of respondents who reported a crime did not have a police officer attend. Does the Minister accept any responsibility for those figures, or does the Home Office still labour under the dangerous delusion that its cuts have not affected community safety?

I gently remind the hon. Lady that the Government have provided £460 million in additional funding for the police this year, which I understand she voted against. Again, we have to look at this as a strategy. The problem cannot be solved by police officers alone, vital though they are. Early intervention and tackling young people before they get dragged into criminality are key, and I hope that the Labour party will support the Offensive Weapons Bill, which gives the police the powers they need.

Air Weapons Review

10. What the timetable is for the publication of his Department’s response to its air weapons review of October 2017. (906459)

Our review of air weapons regulations received about 50,000 representations. We are just finalising our consideration of those and my intention is to publish our conclusions as soon as possible after the summer recess.

The hallmark of this Question Time is delay. The review was announced in response to my Adjournment debate last October, following the shooting of 18-month-old Harry Studley in my constituency. The family submitted a response on 5 February, which was acknowledged on 22 February. Already, almost five months have passed and they have had nothing in return. Such a delay is insensitive and unacceptable to victims of such crimes. What assurance can the Minister give the Studley family that, over the next few months, they will be treated with more respect by the review?

I assure the hon. Lady that it is not a question of respect. I know how strongly she feels about the matter, not least on behalf of the Studley family. She knows that the review was in response to a recommendation by the coroner in another case. She also knows that the issue divides opinion and that many people have strong views about it. I hope that she agrees that the most important thing is to get this raised. Once we have finalised what we are going to do, I will be happy to sit down with her and discuss it.

The targets for those who use air weapons are not only people. Last year, the RSPCA had 900 calls about attacks on animals. Is the Minister considering increasing the penalties for people who are caught and convicted of that heinous crime?

I assure my right hon. Friend that we are looking at all our options on a spectrum. We have a set of regulations on the use of airguns, but we are considering how we can strengthen them in a proportionate way that gives greater protection particularly to children and, to answer my right hon. Friend’s point, animals, which are often the victims of those guns.

British Passport Fraud

The Home Office shares reports of the loss or theft of UK passports via Interpol to prevent the illegal crossing of borders. We also work closely with partners here and overseas to share information and intelligence on that threat and the websites that purport to sell false and genuine documents for criminal purposes.

There have been some very worrying reports in the past month that British passports have been stolen and sold for large sums of money in countries around Europe. How many passports have been stolen and subsequently suspended in the past year? Does the Minister agree that it is crucial to co-operate through Europol as well as Interpol to ensure that those stolen identity documents are not used?

In 2017, less than 1% of passports were reported stolen, but to tackle the threat and the abuse of stolen passports overseas, we have based immigration enforcement officials at international locations—embassies, high commissions and key transit points—to work not only with law enforcement to try to catch the people committing the fraud, but with airlines and border points so that they can spot what a false passport looks like.

The Home Office has confirmed that it takes on average 73 days for people to report lost and stolen passports and that many countries do not regularly use Interpol’s stolen and lost travel documents database to check lost and stolen passports. What are the Government doing to encourage the true utilisation of both methods to stop the illegal trade of those documents?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is why in 2014 the Passport Office introduced an online tool for reporting. Since then, the number of passports lost has increased annually by 33%, so it is much easier to ensure they are reported and then picked up when being used.

Immigration Refusal and Deportation

15. What his Department’s target is for the length of time between a person’s immigration application being refused and their being deported from the UK. (906464)

There is no set time, as each case progresses on its own merits. Wherever possible, we afford people the opportunity to arrange a voluntary return to their country of origin. If someone does not comply with our directions to leave the UK, we will pursue an enforced removal. Again, timescales will depend on individual circumstances.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response, but can she reassure me that the Department is balancing the need to tackle illegal immigration with the need to protect those who have migrated to Britain legally?

My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right to point out how important it is that we distinguish between people who settle here legally and those who are here illegally. It is vital that the compliant environment protects vulnerable people and that appropriate safeguards are built into the measures. We remain committed to tackling illegal immigration and to encouraging compliance with our rules and laws.

This weekend, we learned of an Ethiopian asylum seeker who was removed even before his application had been decided, requiring a court to order his return here. How did that happen, and is it not now time to hand asylum decisions over to an independent body?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong in the final part of his question. It is important that UK Visas and Immigration continues to work to establish people’s right to be here on a fair and humane basis. The Home Office is absolutely committed to making sure that we consider each case on its own merits.

Windrush Compensation

I am committed to establishing a compensation scheme as quickly and as carefully as possible to help address what has gone wrong. The design of the scheme is naturally complex. I am therefore determined that we get it right and that we properly listen to those affected before taking final decisions on the design.

The Windrush scandal and the Government’s wider hostile environment policy have created an urgent need for independent advice for Windrush citizens seeking to confirm their status and access compensation. As there is no trust in the Home Office, the Black Cultural Archives in my constituency has for several months been running legal advice clinics for Windrush citizens, staffed by volunteer lawyers. They have seen hundreds of people and there remains unmet need. This essential work should not fall to volunteers. Does the Home Secretary recognise the need for independent advice from trusted organisations such as the Black Cultural Archives, and will he provide funding to enable independent advice to be available to everyone who needs it?

When I became Home Secretary, I said it was my first priority to help those affected by the Windrush situation. That is why one of the first things we did was properly staff the taskforce, and over 100 officials now work on it, ensuring that people are listened to and that applications are processed quickly. More than 2,000 applications have already been processed, most of them in a single day. Last week, we announced that some 584 applications for citizenship have been granted. I think we are dealing with this appropriately. I am always happy to listen to fresh ideas, but I think this is being taken very seriously by the Government.

A couple of months ago, I raised the issue of Raj Unalkat who was thrown out of Uganda and came to live in Taunton Deane for 40 years. As with the Windrush cases, he was welcomed to the UK but then told that he was going to be thrown out because he had no passport. Great news: today we have heard that he has got his passport. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking everyone who helped and in praising our fast-track system, which is absolutely working? Will he work with me to try to get compensation for the work days Raj has missed?

I happily join my hon. Friend in welcoming that outcome. Of course mistakes are sometimes made in an organisation as big as the Home Office, with tens of thousands of applications to deal with each year, but it is appropriate that when mistakes are made they are corrected.

The Home Secretary’s letter to the Select Committee on hardship issues appears to suggest that members of the Windrush generation have been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements to get financial help before the full compensation scheme comes in. Will he confirm whether that is the case? If so, how many people have been asked to do so? Does he agree that it would be shocking if people who have been wronged by the Home Office are now being gagged by the Home Office to get the hardship support they need?

Let me be very clear that we are in the process of designing a compensation scheme. There has already been a call for evidence, and I will shortly be launching a consultation. Its design is going to be overseen independently by Martin Forde QC, and there will be no question with respect to the compensation scheme—no one will be asked to sign any kind of non-disclosure agreement or anything like that.

Asset Recovery Regime

17. What steps the Government are taking to confiscate money from criminals; and how he plans further to strengthen the asset recovery regime. (906466)

We have recovered £1.6 billion under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 since 2010 and frozen many hundreds of millions more. The Government are also implementing the recommendations made in the Public Accounts Committee report of 2016. Our asset recovery action plan, to be published shortly, sets out how we will strengthen the regime by making the best use of new and existing powers, improving operational systems and ensuring that efforts are targeted effectively.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Lincolnshire police have been working hard to reduce hare coursing. The removal of dogs has been the most effective deterrent, but kennelling costs are now running to tens of thousands of pounds for Lincolnshire police. Will he look at what can be done to ensure that these costs, too, can be recovered from the criminal, rather than being borne by the taxpayer?

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, police and prosecutors have the power to recover either profit or money accrued by those criminals from those processes. When they take that money, under ARIS—the asset recovery incentivisation scheme—50% of it or more will be released back to law enforcement prosecutors so that they can invest.

UK Visas and Immigration: Religious Literacy

18. What steps his Department is taking to improve religious literacy among UK Visas and Immigration staff. (906467)

The UK Government value the role of faith in public life in the UK, and protecting religious freedom abroad is important, including in achieving the UK’s vision of a more secure and prosperous United Kingdom with its overseas partners. Within UK Visas and Immigration asylum casework, we continue to engage a range of faith groups to improve our policy guidance and training provided to decision makers, so that we approach claims involving religious persecution and conversion to a particular faith in the appropriate way.

Will the Minister set up a specialised unit in the Home Office so that we can have some religious literacy on this matter? Nuns and priests seeking to come from Iraq have been asked why they do not have a bank account, with officials seemingly unaware that they have made vows of poverty. A sister from Qaraqosh in Iraq is a perfect example: seeking to visit her sick sister, she was asked why she had not visited her since 2011. Officials were seemingly unaware that ISIS had forced her to flee from her convent and to flee for her life. Please may we have more religious literacy from our officials?

When it comes to visitor visas, it is of course important that each case is decided on its own merits, but my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am very happy to work with him, so that there can be better training for visa caseworkers so that they understand the specific points he makes about those from religious communities who may have taken a particular vow of poverty.

The Minister was here for Prayers, so I am sure she will be able to answer the question asked of one of my constituents, whom the Home Office initially wanted to send back to a country where he was persecuted: how many books are there in the Old Testament?

I very much regret that despite a good convent education we studied only the New Testament, and I simply do not know.

It was very useful nevertheless to learn about the Minister’s educational journey, which she regales the House with in a candid spirit.

Topical Questions

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.