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Work of the Department

Volume 667: debated on Monday 4 November 2019

Today I am updating Parliament on the work of the Home Office since 2010.

The first duty of Government is to protect the public. Since 1782, the Home Office has led work to keep the country safe from those who seek to do the country and its citizens harm. In doing so, we make a vital contribution to the Government’s plan for a stronger, fairer and outward-looking country.

The Home Office has a responsibility to tackle crime, fight terrorism, and secure our borders.

Crime, Policing and Fire

The Government have promoted public safety by strengthening policing capabilities, our response to serious violence, domestic abuse and extremism, strengthened our response to fires and civil emergencies and the harm that they cause and strengthened the safeguards on which vulnerable people rely.

We have strengthened the local democratic accountability of police forces through the introduction of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in 2013, enabled greater collaboration between emergency services by providing powers for PCCs to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services (Policing and Crime Act 2017), provided powers for PCCs, and supported strong and integrated city regions with Mayors performing the role of a PCC.

We have supported our frontline police officers by providing £7.5 million to fund the national police wellbeing service and a £10 million fund to support the deployment of tasers. We announced at the Queen’s Speech plans for a Police Protection Bill to put the police covenant on a statutory footing—giving legal protection to police drivers when pursuing a subject or responding to an emergency, and allowing special constables to join the Police Federation.

We responded to increased demands on our police, by providing the best police funding settlement in a decade in 2019-20, with total funding increasing by over £1 billion (including council tax) and by launching a recruitment campaign for 20,000 additional police officers over the next three years. £144 million was awarded, over a five-year period, for an uplift in armed policing capability and capacity in England and Wales to ensure we can respond more quickly and effectively to a terrorist attack (2017-18).

We have tackled the harm caused by drugs and serious violence through a new drug driving offence (Crime and Courts Act 2013), new powers to seize drug cutting agents (Serious Crime Act 2015), tackling “legal highs” (Psychoactive Substances Act 2016), tougher controls on knives and corrosive substances (Offensive Weapons Act 2019), funding £100 million in 2019-20 to support a surge in police operational activity and investing in violence reduction units. Establishing the national county lines co-ordination centre that has led to over 2,500 arrests, over 3,000 individuals engaged for safeguarding, and significant seizures of weapons and drugs. We have also changed the law to allow specialist clinicians to prescribe medicinal cannabis in 2018. For the first time in the UK, expert doctors have been given the option to legally issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicines when they agree that their patients could benefit from this treatment. However, we are clear that this does not pave the way towards legalising cannabis for recreational use.

We have also introduced measures to reduce and prevent crime to ensure people feel safe in their homes and communities. We have invested £22 million to support early intervention programmes that prevent and tackle serious violence, and an additional £200 million in 2018 for the youth endowment fund to support important work in the community to prevent vulnerable children and young people from being drawn into crime and violence. We also launched a £25 million safer streets fund this year to help areas put measures in place to prevent burglary, theft and other offences in crime hotspots.

We have protected people from harm and supported victims, by tackling forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) through the creation of FGM protection orders and criminalised breach of forced marriage protection orders (2015), a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM (2015), extended extra-territorial jurisdiction over FGM offences committed abroad (2015), and brought in a new FGM mandatory reporting duty (2015). We have protected people from domestic abuse by providing access to information through “Clare’s law”, committing £100 million (£80 million announced in 2016; an additional £20 million announced in 2017) to tackle violence against women and girls. We also announced at the Queen's Speech that we would strengthen the protection and support for victims and their children through the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill.

We have tackled the harm caused by extremism through empowering 253 locally-led projects to challenge extremist narratives and increase the resilience of communities as part of our “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme that has awarded around £9 million of Government funding since 2015, and through establishing the commission for countering extremism in 2018 to drive innovative thinking on how best to tackle extremism. We also launched the first counter-extremism strategy in 2015 to protect communities from the wider social harms caused by extremism. We also increased our funding for security measures to protect religious institutions from hate crime. We have awarded approximately £1.5 million to protect over 130 places of worship through our places of worship protective security programme.

We have published plans to ensure we can keep the public safe online. Working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), we published the online harms White Paper earlier this year that sets out our plans for world-leading legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. This package comprises of legislative and non-legislative measures and will ensure companies have appropriate systems and processes in place to deal with harmful content to keep their users safe.

We have supported fire and rescue services to protect the public from fire in England, with the “Fire Kills” campaign contributing to a sustained fall in the number of fires and casualties, strengthening national capabilities to respond to major incidents including flooding, wildfires, or terrorist attacks, and providing stronger national leadership and accountability through the creation of an inspection regime (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, HMICFRS) in 2017, a new independent Fire Standards Board (2018) and a Fire Protection Board (2019).

Serious and organised crime

The Home Office has also strengthened its response to tackling serious and organised crime.

We created the National Crime Agency (NCA) in 2013 to lead and co-ordinate UK law enforcement’s response to serious and organised crime by strengthening the UK’s borders, fighting economic crime, fraud, corruption and cyber-crime, and protecting children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse. Since 2013, NCA operations have led to over 12,800 arrests in the UK and overseas, and over 8,200 children safeguarded. We also have disrupted serious and organised crime by establishing a network of regional organised crime units (ROCUs).

We published a new serious and organised crime strategy in 2018 to tackle the evolving threat and the increasing resilience and adaptability of criminal networks. The overarching strategic aim is that there will be no safe space for serious and organised criminals to operate. On 29 October we announced a review that will enhance the response to serious and organised crime. The review will look to identify ways of bolstering the response to threats such as county lines, people trafficking and drugs.

We have tackled the harm of modem slavery by becoming the first country in the world to introduce dedicated modern slavery legislation (Modern Slavery Act 2015) that included slavery and trafficking prevention and risk orders, by ensuring perpetrators can receive a maximum life sentence for these appalling crimes and by establishing the UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner. We have also invested £33.5 million into the modern slavery fund, delivered an ambitious package of reforms to the national referral mechanism (NRM), and launched the single competent authority in 2019. We have seen a six fold increase since December 2016 in the number of police led modern slavery operations (over 1,200 live operations as at the end of 2018-19).

We have made a significant investment in tackling all forms of child sexual exploitation and abuse in recent years and the step change in our response is already drawing this hidden crime out of the shadows as demonstrated by a 227% increase in reporting of child sexual abuse offences to police since 2013. We have announced an additional £30 million to safeguard children from child sexual exploitation and abuse. This additional funding, taken together with an additional 20,000 officers and more money for prosecutors and prison places, will help us redouble our efforts to tackle child sexual abuse. The additional funding will build on our significant investment in recent years, which included £40 million in a package of measures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation in February 2017 and a further uplift of £21 million to improve how our law enforcement agencies reduce the volume of offending and pursue the most dangerous and prolific offenders, announced in September 2018. In 2016 all UK police forces, and the National Crime Agency, were connected to the child abuse image database, allowing them to identify and protect victims quicker than before. We are also leading international efforts to tackle what is a cross-border crime through the Five Country Ministerial and the UK-funded WePROTECT Global Alliance summit.

We have tackled cyber-crime through launching cyber-crime units in each of the 43 police forces across England and Wales, and teams to tackle illicit use of the dark web across regional and organised crime units. We also established the national cyber- crime unit in 2013, a powerful new unit within the National Crime Agency to collaborate with partners to fight cyber-crime, protect the public and reduce harm to the UK from online crime.

We have recognised the impact that economic crime has on the public and how this underpins serious and organised crime. The national economic crime centre (NECC) was established to act as the national authority for the UK’s law enforcement response, which froze £65 million worth of assets in the first year and in 2018-19 almost £217 million of the proceeds of crime was collected. The global standard-setter for anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing, the financial action task force, assessed in 2018 that the UK has the strongest regime of over 60 countries assessed to date. Since 2014, the joint money laundering taskforce has provided a mechanism for law enforcement and the financial sector to share information and work more closely to tackle money laundering and economic crime. In January 2019, the Government established a new public-private partnership to tackle economic crime, and in July 2019 we published a new asset recovery action plan and a public-private economic crime plan. We also introduced new legislation, the Criminal Finances Act 2017, that improved our ability to tackle money laundering and corruption and recover the proceeds of crime and counter-terrorist financing. This included the creation of unexplained wealth orders that required those suspected of corruption to explain the sources of their wealth, and helped to facilitate the recovery of illicit wealth, stopping criminals using the UK as a safe haven for the proceeds of international corruption.

Security and counter-terrorism

The Home Office is responsible for keeping the United Kingdom safe from the threat of terrorism.

We have equipped our law enforcement and emergency responders with capabilities to protect citizens against the threat from terrorism and provided an additional £160 million for counter-terrorism policing this year (2019-20) taking funding for counter-terrorism policing to over £800 million. From July 2010 to June 2019 there have been 2,661 persons arrested, with 1,667 charged for terrorism-related activity under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation. In addition, we continue to provide executive oversight of MI5, under the Security Service Act 1989 (amended in 1996).

We have introduced legislation which balanced new powers to help the UK respond to the threat of terrorism and protect the public with safeguards for civil liberties. We introduced the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 to close gaps in existing counter-terrorism legislation and ensure compatibility with the digital age, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 increased the legal powers and capabilities of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorism and prevent individuals from being radicalised, and the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (TPIMs) introduced a new system to replace the control order system.

We strengthened our response to tackling terrorism following the attacks in 2017 that claimed 36 lives and changed the lives of many more. We launched a strengthened counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) in 2018; introduced the victims of terrorism unit to ensure support to all those affected by terror attacks in the UK and overseas; and both MI5 and counter-terrorism policing conducted reviews to learn lessons and improve the operational response.

The Home Office has stopped and prevented dangerous groups from harming UK citizens. We have added 33 groups to the list of proscribed organisations, extended the proscription of Hezbollah and implemented 10 name change orders covering 20 aliases. The Home Office has also hardened the country’s defences against hostile state activity. Following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in March 2018, we worked with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to expel 23 Russian diplomats who had been identified as undeclared Russian intelligence officers. The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 included a power for the police to stop individuals at UK ports and the Northern Ireland border area to determine if they are or have been involved in hostile state activity, and we are currently considering whether further primary legislation is required in this area. We have also ensured the removal of people who pose a threat to this country to keep our citizens safe. We enabled the deportation of Abu Qatada and removal of other terror suspects who pose a risk to the safety of this country and whose presence would not be conducive to the public good. We achieved the extradition of Abu Hamza to the US where he has been convicted of serious terrorist charges.

We have ensured that communities are safe by preventing vulnerable individuals from radicalisation and rehabilitating them where necessary. We have provided support to individuals assessed as being vulnerable to radicalisation through the Channel programme. During 2017-2018, a total of 7,318 individuals were referred to the Prevent programme with 1,314 individuals referred on to, and supported by, Channel. We have also worked with civil society organisations to deliver Prevent local projects to around 300,000 people from 2014 to build resilience to terrorist and extremist ideology.

We have worked to ensure that we tackle terrorism and protect our citizens by working with tech companies to remove illegal terrorist content from the internet. We showed global leadership by playing a key role in the establishment of the global internet forum to counter terrorism to ensure international co-ordination on this issue, and we announced in 2018 the development of new technology to automatically detect terrorist video content on any online platforms.

We have developed and implemented robust investigatory capabilities with strong privacy protections enabled by the world-leading Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which maintains essential powers and enhances safeguards to underpin intelligence agency and law enforcement operations to protect the public. We have signed the world-first data access agreement with the US, which will strengthen and speed up investigations into organised crime, child abuse and other serious crimes. We have also established a world-leading oversight regime through the office of Investigatory Powers Commissioner (IPC) to oversee the use of these powers, and the Office for Communications Data Authorisations, under the remit of the IPC, which independently authorises requests for communications data. On encryption, we have led international efforts to stop companies designing out their ability to access communications, even where this access is necessary to save lives.

We have also published the world leading counter-unmanned aircraft strategy in October 2019 that will allow us to harness and safeguard the economic and social potential drones can bring to the UK and to protect the public from malicious or negligent use.

Border, immigration and citizenship system

We have tackled illegal immigration by doubling the maximum penalty for employing an illegal worker to £20,000, simplifying right to work checks and strengthening the ability to collect unpaid penalties (Immigration Act 2014). These measures allowed us to deport foreign criminals under “deport first; appeal later”. We have shut down bogus colleges; and cracked down on illegal working and sham marriages. We also introduced the Immigration Act 2016 provided new powers for councils to crack down on unscrupulous landlords and evict illegal migrants more quickly, extended the successful “deport first; appeal later” measures, and created a new offence of illegal working which means people who are here illegally cannot benefit from working.

We have tackled foreign national offenders, deporting almost 50,000 since 2010, and are legislating to increase the penalties for those seeking to enter in breach of their deportation order. In 2018-19, immigration enforcement made 593 disruptions (of these 71 were major) against individuals and organised crime groups (OCGs) involved in the exploitation of people through modern slavery and organised immigration crime. This is an increase of 42% and 41 % respectively on the previous year for the number of total disruptions and major disruptions.

The Immigration Act 2016 also introduced the immigration health surcharge to ensure migrants coming to the UK for a time-limited period contribute to the national health service, and the immigration skills charge that placed a levy on businesses to help improve the skills of British workers.

We have transformed our visa operations with the same-day super priority visa service, the only European country to offer a visa decision in 24 hours. We have also reformed the study visa system to tackle abuse, while at the same time the UK remains the second most popular destination in the world for students. University sponsored applications increased by 11% last year to over 202,000—the highest ever level, and 31 % higher than in 2010-11. We have worked with the scientific community to develop a new fast-track visa route for the brightest and best, with a view to launching it later this year. The fast-track immigration route will be designed to attract elite researchers and specialists in science, engineering and technology, ranging from those at the very start of their careers to the winners of internationally recognised prizes and fellowships.

We have tightened up our controls on borders and immigration ahead of and in preparation for our departure from the EU by recruiting up to 1,000 additional Border Force staff. We have committed to end to freedom of movement between the EU and the UK and pave the way for a new points-based system. We have extended ePassport gates to nationals of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States showing that global Britain is already open for business.

We have strengthened our borders to help tackle the trafficking of drugs and illegal goods. Border Force made 43,930 drug seizures from financial year 2010-11 to 2017-18, with an increase in annual drug seizures from 3,954 in 2010-11 to 6,545 in 2017-18.

We successfully developed and launched the EU settlement scheme in March 2019, a free scheme enabling EU citizens resident in the UK to obtain the status they will require to live and work in the UK in future. The latest internal figures show there have been over 2.2 million applications and more than 1.8 million people have been granted status. We are processing up to 20,000 applications a day.

We have reduced asylum claims made in Britain from a peak of 84,000 in 2002 to around half that. In order to dissuade people from making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, we have resettled 17,000 of the most vulnerable refugees affected by the conflict in Syria since 2015 and are on track to reach our commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020. We also increased the amount of money we pay to local authorities to look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children by up to 33% in May 2019. We granted protection to 18,519 people in year ending June 2019 (up 29% from the previous year).

The Government deeply regret what happened to some members of the Windrush generation and have made it clear that responding to this is a priority. On 24 May 2018 the Home Office announced the Windrush scheme, which ensures that people affected directly, their children born in the UK and those who arrived in the UK as minors can apply for citizenship, or various other immigration products, free of charge. In total, 8,124 individuals have been granted some form of documentation, either under the initial arrangements put in place prior to the establishment of the Windrush scheme or under the Windrush scheme itself.