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Topical Questions

Volume 671: debated on Monday 10 February 2020

Last week, we were shocked and appalled by another terror attack on the streets of London. I pay tribute to the brave members of our police and emergency services who responded immediately. It is our duty to keep the people and public safe, and it is only right that the Government are now introducing emergency legislation to put a stop to these terrorist offenders being automatically released early with no checks or review.

Since I last addressed the House, Britain has made history by leaving the European Union, delivering on our promise to the British people. This is the dawn of a bright new future for our country. With that, I am also delighted to announce that our hugely successful EU settlement scheme has received 3 million applications. This will embrace an exciting new chapter in our history together.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to attract highly skilled scientists and engineers to come and work in our country and contribute to our successful future?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out that through our points-based system we are introducing new routes to attract the brightest and the best. Our fast-track immigration scheme will facilitate entry to the UK for more people with skills, including scientists, researchers and mathematicians. This is just the first phase of our reforms to send a signal that the UK intends to remain at the forefront of research and innovation.

Does the Home Secretary appreciate the widespread concern about the Jamaican deportation flight due tomorrow? Is she aware that Stephen Shaw, in his review of detention, suggested that we should not be deporting people who came here as children, but that many of the proposed deportees came here as children and have no memory of Jamaica? Does she accept that these deportations constitute double jeopardy, because the persons have already served an appropriate sentence for their crime? Is she aware that more than 170 Members of Parliament from all political parties have written to the Prime Minister calling for the deportation flight to be halted?

I am sure that the right hon. Lady is aware that under the UK Borders Act 2007 a deportation order must be made in respect of foreign criminals sentenced to 12 months or more in prison. Every person on the flight was convicted of a serious offence and received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. That means that, under the Act, which was introduced by the Labour Government in 2007, a deportation order must be made.

T3. I have received significant online abuse, intimidation and threats. I believe that that kind of abuse on social media, directed at me and others, is simply unacceptable. It puts off people from making a difference in public life. I have received considerable online support from many of my constituents, and for that I should like to show my appreciation. What are the Government doing to protect people who would want to stand for public office? (900700)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting and shining a spotlight on some of the most corrosive and abusive behaviour that people in public office—public servants—witness and experience online. That is simply unacceptable. The Government’s Online Harms White Paper makes it clear that we will absolutely tackle such corrosive behaviour: we will pull it off the online media, and we will introduce a regulatory regime to ensure that that kind of hatred cannot continue online.

On Friday the deputy chair of the local Conservative association was jailed for nine weeks for menacing communications, including these threats against me:

“I am already organising her to be hurt. Amazing what crackheads will do for £100. I’m gonna get her beat up.”

The chair of the local association wrote to me today expressing regrets and apologies for what he describes as the grave and unacceptable actions of its member, who has since been expelled. I welcome that letter and that support, but it concerns me that, thus far, no similar condemnation or sense of regret has been expressed by the national party. The national chair’s letter to me in response to the issue said nothing stronger than

“intimidating behaviour has no place in our politics.”

I am also disappointed that the neighbouring Member of Parliament chose to give a very positive character reference for that individual, without contacting me first. I have raised that with her directly, but I know that she was unable to be in the Chamber today.

I am still concerned about the fact that although I raised this case with senior members of the national party, the individual was still able to be at the general election count after he had been summonsed. May I therefore ask the Home Secretary to condemn these threats in the strongest terms, to look into her party’s response, and also to show leadership by urging all political parties to come together and draw up a new joint code of conduct against intimidation? Violent threats must have no place in politics in all parties.

I thank the right hon. Lady for presenting to the House the horrors of what she has endured, and for making the case, very strongly and robustly, that there is no place for threats and intimidation in society or in public life. Let me say now, on the Floor of the House, that that is categorically unacceptable and wrong. There is no place at all for intimidation in public life. As for the national party’s response, the right hon. Lady can take it from me, right now, that I am hugely apologetic for what she has had to put up with. It is simply unacceptable, and that is also something of which we should all be mindful, as representatives of major political parties. None of this should be tolerated.

The right hon. Lady referred to my colleague in the neighbouring constituency. My understanding is that her comments were in support of securing the help that that individual needed in terms of access to mental health. However—[Interruption.] I see that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) is chuckling away. This is a very serious matter. It is not a laughing matter.

I think it is fair to say, given that remark, that the insincerity sits with the hon. and learned Lady. The fact of the matter is that it is right that we come together. [Interruption.] Yes, we will see. It is a fact that it is this Government who are trying to deal with this type of issue. Members have already heard me speak about dealing with online harms and trolling, and have heard me call this unacceptable. I am absolutely sincere in my remarks, and I am so sorry—actually, I think it is shameful—that the hon. and learned Lady is herself being quite insincere in respect of the case that I am putting to her.

T4. My constituency has one of the fastest-growing populations of any constituency in the country, partly because it is such a wonderful place to live, but police numbers, which are partly based on lagging population figures, have not kept pace. Will my hon. Friend tell me what the Government are doing to increase police numbers in Cambridgeshire? (900701)

We have provided up to £10.6 million more funding, which will allow the police and crime commissioner to recruit another 64 police officers for the county. That is the first instalment of Cambridgeshire’s share of the 20,000 police officers. I hope that the good people of Cambridgeshire will reciprocate by electing a very good police and crime commissioner in May.

T5. When will the Home Office announce the immigration status of the EU students who are due to start courses here in 2021? (900702)

We will shortly confirm our policy on migration, and we will of course continue to have discussions across Government with the European Union to determine future status here in this country.

T8. Does my hon. Friend agree that Neighbourhood Watch is a vital asset to the detection of crime? Will he join me in putting pressure on the Mayor of London to continue to support Online Watch Link—OWL—the online system that is used by more than 100,000 London Neighbourhood Watch members and that has secured more than 1,200 hours-worth of sentences for criminals in my council ward in my constituency alone? (900705)

I am more than happy to endorse my hon. Friend’s remarks. He has been a champion for his part of London for a long time before coming to this House. He is quite right to have high expectations of the Mayor of London, whose efforts on crime have sadly disappointed during his time as Mayor thus far.

T6. Glasgow has had plans for a medically supervised drug consumption room since 2016, and the evidence worldwide points to the efficacy of such rooms, so when the UK Government hold their drugs summit in Glasgow later this month, will they act on the evidence and bring in solutions for urgent change, or will it be more of the same from this Government? (900703)

I am sure that the issue of drug consumption rooms will appear in the discussions during the drugs summit, but I repeat what I have said to the Scottish Affairs Committee on this matter, which is that the Scottish National party’s obsession with drug consumption rooms is a distraction from the major effort that can be put into this issue. The irrefutable evidence from across the world is that treatment is by far and away the best way to prevent drug deaths. However, it is no surprise that the SNP should seek to distract in this way, not least because the SNP Government have cut drug treatment funds in Scotland over the past few years.

T9. Over the weekend, a large number of illegal migrants were detained trying to cross the channel. Last summer, the Prime Minister warned migrants crossing the channel that the United Kingdom would “send you back”. I have read that few of these migrants are actually sent back, because they have claims for asylum, but surely if they leave a perfectly safe country such as France and try to enter our country illegally, they should not be able to claim asylum. Will the Home Office get a grip and send these people back, in order to stop this illegal trade? (900707)

I share my right hon. Friend’s concerns, and we have been clear that people should make their asylum claim in the first safe country they reach. We work under the Dublin regulations and we will continue to discuss our future participation in that regard, post Brexit, but we will be tackling this because we want to end the scourge of trafficking that puts so many lives at risk.

T7. In the west midlands, violent crime is up 27%, the homicide rate is rising and, in Birmingham, drug crime is at a six-year high. The Home Secretary admitted last week that some communities had been “neglected and left behind”. Given the rises in violent and drug crime in Birmingham, will she accept that her comments include my city, and will her Department finally step up to the plate and do something about this? (900704)

I had the privilege of visiting the west midlands two weeks ago and participating in an early-morning drugs raid. The scourge of serious and violent crime is absolutely one that we have to deal with, and this Government are fully committed to that. We are providing all the necessary resources—the money, the equipment and the powers—to the police to enable them to get on top of this.

Just this weekend I received a report of masked intruders on a farm in my constituency. Could my right hon. Friend update the House on what is being done to tackle the intimidation of farmers and rural crime such as fly-tipping and theft, and could she also reassure my constituents that preventing and prosecuting rural crime will be a focus of this Government?

I reassure my hon. Friend that we absolutely view rural crime as totally unacceptable. It blights communities and, whether it is fly-tipping or organised crime related to waste crime in particular, she and all other Members who represent rural communities know that it has to be tackled. We are currently working on that through our serious organised crime strategy and across Government.

How many EU citizens who have been living here for more than five years, entirely legally, and have applied for settled status have been given only pre-settled status?

Pre-settled status is granted to people who have not been in the country for five years. By definition, an EU citizen who has been living in the country for five years or more and can evidence that will be granted full settled status. For clarity, according to the most recent set of official figures, I think only five people have been refused status, all on the grounds of criminality.

When a secular psychopath threatens to run amok and kill indiscriminately, we treat him as criminally insane and detain him indefinitely in a high-security psychiatric unit. Why do we not do the same for a religious psychopath who threatens to do exactly the same thing?

My right hon. Friend raises very important issues. The Government will address them in tomorrow’s emergency legislation and the forthcoming counter- terrorism Bill, which will consider appropriate sentences for people who seek to do a great deal of harm to our country.

I just want to reassure the House that, in fairness to the Home Secretary and me, we took very seriously threats made against MPs and candidates during the last election, so much so that we were constantly in touch to make sure that support was being given. That support will continue to be available to all MPs. Please, if a threat is made to any MP, make sure that you report it. The House and I and the Home Secretary will ensure that your safety comes first. Please do not shy away from reporting any incidents.