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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 681: debated on Monday 28 September 2020

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cross-Channel Migrant Trafficking

What steps her Department is taking to help bring to an end the cross-channel trafficking of migrants. (906704)

The whole House expresses its condolences following the murder on Friday of Sergeant Matt Ratana.

The UK Government are working with law enforcement and intelligence networks to address the issue of illegal migration and the cross-channel trafficking of migrants. Our work continues, and we are arresting and prosecuting those responsible for the illegal trafficking of people.

May I, from the Back Benches, associate myself and, I am sure, all colleagues with the condolences expressed in relation to the death of Matt Ratana?

All the children, women and men who seek to cross the channel are the victims of criminal activity. Further to her answer, can my right hon. Friend tell the House how many perpetrators of these vile crimes, in either France or the United Kingdom, have been arrested and sentenced? Can she also tell us what discussions she has had with her German counterparts to seek to prevent the provision of the outboard motors and inflatable dinghies used in these crossings that I understand emanate from Germany?

My right hon. Friend raises important points about the illegal trafficking of people via small boats. We have arrested 179 individuals, resulting in 24 convictions relating to people smuggling this year. There have been a further 296 disruptions of organised criminal gangs and individuals who are responsible for the organisation of immigration crime, 124 of which related to people smuggling. We also have 176 live investigations of illegal maritime activity.

My right hon. Friend mentions Germany. It is not just Germany. Discussions are taking place with counterparts in not just Germany but France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The issue of boats also relates to criminal upstream activity. When it comes to convictions, we are of course working with the courts, the Crown Prosecution Service and our intelligence networks to ensure that more work is taking place to pursue those who are responsible.

May I extend the condolences of the Scottish National party to the family, friends and colleagues of Sergeant Matt Ratana, and mark our horror at this terrible crime and our acknowledgement of the debt we all owe to police officers across these islands?

On 4 November last year, when the Home Secretary was still a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee found:

“A policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.”

Does she still agree with that statement, and, if so, does she recognise that safe legal routes for people with a connection with the United Kingdom must be part of the answer to the problem we face in these channel crossings?

I fundamentally agree that we need safe legal routes, and that is part of the work that the Home Office is currently looking at and working on. The fact of the matter is that too many individuals are coming to the United Kingdom and, it is fair to say, to other EU countries, because over recent years we have seen the mass movement of people. People are being exploited and that exploitation is fundamentally wrong. We owe it to everyone, including those individuals who are being trafficked, those who are vulnerable and those who are being exploited, to ensure that there are safe legal routes, but at the same time we have to go after criminals—the perpetrators of illegal migration and exploitation—and it is right that we do. We want to ensure that our asylum system is not abused by those who, quite frankly, are not genuine asylum seekers.

Online Hate Speech and Extremism

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling online hate speech and extremism. (906705)

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling online hate speech and extremism. (906722)

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling online hate speech and extremism. (906742)

As a Government, we are committed to vigorously countering extremist ideology by making sure that every part of government is taking action. That includes ongoing conversations between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office on the implementation of the online harms framework to tackle hateful content. We will continue to work across Government to challenge extremism in all its forms.

At a Home Affairs Committee session last week, the national lead for counter-terrorism, Neil Basu, warned of growing numbers of young people being drawn towards right-wing terrorism. During this pandemic, social media have done much to amplify hateful extremism. What steps will the Minister take to prevent young people from being drawn into extremism?

The hon. Gentleman highlights an important point about the exploitation of the online world to attract the unwary and what that can lead to, which is why we are working with the companies concerned to see that such content is removed. I highlight the online harms work, which will lead to a new regime to put new responsibilities on those companies to provide support in respect of the challenge of extremism and content that might not be illegal but is profoundly harmful.

A recent Home Affairs Committee session heard that Facebook had deleted 9.6 million posts about hate speech in the first quarter of this year. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-Committee, on which I serve, has considered online disinformation during covid. What assessment has the Minister made of the links between hate speech and disinformation? Is there discussion between his Department and the DCMS?

As I indicated in response to the previous question, we are in discussion with the DCMS about these issues. It troubles me that sometimes this disinformation and these conspiracy theories can be used to galvanise more extremist behaviour. We are very alive to that in terms of working with our colleagues at the DCMS and in terms of our broader work in the Prevent space where this issue can move into terrorism. The issue of the extreme right-wing and far-right extremists seeking to exploit the online world and trap some quite young people is something we are very focused on and conscious of.

For two weeks running, we have seen anti-lockdown conspiracy theorists clashing with police throughout the country, with four people having been arrested in Newcastle over the weekend. This behaviour is being fuelled online by far-right opportunists and some high-profile individuals, such as Ian Brown of the Stone Roses. Will the Minister outline what his Department is doing to build trust in Government information, and in respect of scepticism and concern about vaccination?

I highlight to the hon. Lady the work that is being led by the DCMS, with which we are working on the cross-Whitehall counter-disinformation unit, which has been stood up during this time of acute disinformation to challenge some of the conspiracy theories and false information. I assure her that there is extensive work across Government to analyse and then work with the companies to take false or misleading information down. Clearly, it is an ongoing challenge, but we are determined to take firm action where false narratives are being perpetrated.

The scale and accessibility of hateful extremist content online is deeply worrying and causing serious damage to society, and it needs to be identified speedily and dealt with. Last week, in her evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the commissioner for countering extremism called for a more rigorous classification system for assessing hateful extremist material in the online harms Bill to get to grips with the vast spread of extremism online. Does the Minister support this call, and does he agree with the commission’s report last year that the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, drawn up in 2015, is insufficient, too broad and out of date?

The 2015 strategy was the first of its kind in the world in having a unit dedicated to countering extremism. I pay tribute to the work of the commissioner, and I read very carefully her words to the Select Committee last week. We will work with the commissioner—indeed, the Home Secretary met her last week—and we are working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Ofcom to consider the appropriate design for the regulatory framework. We will continue to develop this as we prepare to introduce the legislation, and we will consider the commissioner’s proposals as part of that work.

Domestic Abuse Victims

During lockdown, we continued to legislate on the Domestic Abuse Bill. This vital Bill and our non-legislative programme of work will support and protect victims and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. In response to covid-19, we have worked with charities, the police, local authorities and the domestic abuse commissioner to adapt to the pressures of lockdown and local restrictions, including additional funding for charities and the launch of the national advice campaign, #YouAreNotAlone.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. It is no secret that lockdown was a time of heightened risk for victims of domestic abuse. I pay tribute to local charity Crossroads Derbyshire for the important work it does in providing support for people in my constituency. May I ask the Minister to provide an important point of clarification on the latest covid rules: can those individuals who are at risk of domestic abuse still leave their homes even if there are local covid restrictions in place?

I thank my hon. Friend sincerely for his question. The answer is yes, they absolutely can leave their homes to seek help. Of course, if anyone is in immediate danger, they must dial 999 and the police will help. For longer-term advice and guidance, we have set out a range of services on the website, but please can we all send the message to our constituents that, wherever they are in the country, they can seek help if they need it if they are victims of domestic abuse?

I echo the calls of the Minister to get people to reach out, and we have to make sure there is help when they do so. On a call last week with the children’s sector, professional after professional told me that the availability of specialist community support for child victims of domestic abuse is at worst non-existent and at best patchy. Can the Minister tell the House whether her Department has a strategy in place that will enable every child in this country who lives in an abusive household to access the support that they need? Can she share that strategy with the House, not just read out funding sums from her folder that she and I both know cover only certain select areas for a short-term period? Perhaps she could enlighten us all on how we can access the support for the children in our constituencies, because for many in this place services for child victims in their area do not exist.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She knows just how carefully the Government consider the role and the victimhood of children in abusive households. She will know that we have recently announced £3 million to help specifically charities that work with children who are victims of domestic abuse. [Interruption.] I know she writes that off as yet another funding announcement, but I think that the funding of these charities is very important. In addition, we have a range of strategies and funding across the Department for Education, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office to help the most vulnerable children, and I am sure she welcomes the work that the domestic abuse commissioner is undertaking to map domestic abuse community-based services across the country so that we can build a sustainable programme of support for victims, whether they are adults or children.

Police Officer Numbers

The Home Office, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing and all forces are working flat out to recruit 20,000 new police officers, supported by £700 million from the taxpayer.

This Government were elected on a pledge to recruit 20,000 more frontline police officers—something that is very important to people in Fylde. Will my hon. Friend update the House on how many people have joined the police since the recruitment drive was launched? Will he confirm that we are on target to deliver on that promise?

I well understand my hon. Friend’s impatience for his area to see an increase in police officers. That impatience is shared by me, the Home Secretary and probably everybody in the country. He will be pleased to hear that we have now received more than 100,000 applications and recruited a little over 4,300 police officers. We are ahead of schedule.

With the tragic death of rugby player Sergeant Matt Ratana, we are reminded of the very dangerous work that police officers do on our behalf. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to Warwickshire’s Conservative police and crime commissioner, Philip Seccombe, who has used his own powers on top of additional Government funding to bring in an extra 216 officers, with new officers in vehicle crime teams and enhanced safer neighbourhood teams, more detectives and more 999 response officers?

My hon. Friend is quite right: it has been a sombre weekend for us all, with the tragic events of Friday reinforced by National Police Memorial Day just yesterday. I am pleased to congratulate Philip Seccombe, with whom I have had many meetings in the last year or so, on his efforts to increase the number of police officers out there, which will make everybody in Warwickshire and, indeed, across the country safer.

Police Funding

The Government have announced a police funding settlement that sets out the biggest increase in funding for the policing system in a decade. In total, we are increasing the funding available to the policing system by more than £1 billion this year.

Rural and wildlife crime sadly continues to affect our local communities. Theft of farm machinery, burglary, animal theft and cruelty, antisocial behaviour and vandalism are just some of the issues facing our rural areas. Cumbria has the excellent Cumbria Farm Watch scheme, a partnership between people and Cumbria police. What reassurances can my hon. Friend give my constituents in Penrith and The Border that the Government are supporting the police and communities in the fight against rural and wildlife crime?

As a rural Member, I know exactly the type of concern to which my hon. Friend refers; it is shared by people in my constituency. Obviously, the provision of significant extra numbers of police officers to Cumbria police will help the chief constable in deliberations about where to put those resources. Although that is an operational matter, one would hope that some of it will be devoted to rural crime. I certainly hope that will happen in Hampshire. On wildlife crime, I am pleased to report that we are putting £136,000 into the National Wildlife Crime Unit so that it can continue its valuable work.

The extra policing that my hon. Friend mentioned is very good news. In Wiltshire, we are thrilled because we are getting more than 100 new police officers for Wiltshire police and even more police and community support officers to help with all the crime we import from Hampshire. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, so often, funding formulas designed in London have urban places in mind and sometimes that sadly applies to police funding formulas as well? Will he update the House on any work that is being done to review the police funding formula to ensure that rural areas are properly treated?

I am grateful to my constituency neighbour for his question, though not for the aspersions he casts on my fellow county residents. I thought crime flowed in the other direction. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is right that the formula, while the best available funding formula we have, is quite old now and needs to be reviewed. It contains several indicators that skew funding towards urban areas and in the next couple of years we have to reflect on the fact that crime has changed and that rural areas are experiencing more crime than they have perhaps been used to. Doubtless the Home Secretary and I will work on some form of funding formula review before the next election.

Cross-Channel Illegal Migration

The Government are committed to ending completely these dangerous crossings facilitated by ruthless criminals. These crossings are also unnecessary because France is a safe country. Our clandestine channel threat commander, newly appointed, is working closely with his French colleagues to stop these embarkations in the first place, and we are also working tirelessly to return people who have made this journey.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Can he say when legislation will be introduced to update immigration and asylum law, and whether it will contain provisions such as stopping those who enter the United Kingdom illegally subsequently applying to stay in this country?

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the legal system. It is quite frankly not fit for purpose when it comes to asylum and immigration enforcement matters. We are often frustrated by repeatedly vexatious legal claims, often made at the last minute with the express intention of frustrating the proper application of the law. I can confirm that we are working at pace on legislative options in the way that he describes, and that everything is on the table.

My constituents in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton are rightly angry at the images that they are seeing of people arriving on our shores illegally, often in small boats. To solve this crisis in the long term will require co-operation, and, whereas we in this country seem to be gold-plating a lot of the regulations that would enable us to solve this problem, many of our European partners are not. What representations is my hon. Friend making to our European partners to ensure that they actually follow up the obligations that they have made?

We are working at the moment with other European countries to return people to those European countries where they have previously claimed asylum. Indeed, return flights went last week and are going this week as well. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that leaving the Dublin regulations creates new opportunities. We have already tabled a draft readmissions agreement for consideration by the European Commission, but he can rest assured that once we are out of the transition period on 1 January, this Government will be redoubling their efforts to make sure that people who come here from safe countries, for example, are rapidly returned.

I know the Minister is working tirelessly to bring the criminals facilitating the illegal channel crossings to justice and to tackle this exploitative crime. Does he agree that, while we must uphold our obligations to genuine asylum seekers, there can be no justifiable reason for migrants to be crossing the channel, putting themselves and our Border Force at risk when France remains a safe option?

My hon. Friend puts it very well. We are pursuing the ruthless criminals who facilitate this wicked process. Twenty-four of them have been convicted so far this year. He is right to say that, where people are in genuine fear of persecution, we should protect them. Indeed, we do so, and our resettlement scheme has been the leading such scheme in Europe over the past five years. He is also right to say that, when people are in France, they are already in a safe country, and if they want protection they can obtain it by applying to the French Government.

The channel-crossing route is clearly being promoted by people smugglers as an easy route in. These individuals do not give a damn about the welfare of those whom they exploit or the lives that they put in danger. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that this route becomes entirely untenable and illustrates loud and clear to organised crime gangs that Britain’s border is closed to such illegal crossings?

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that our objective, and the Home Secretary’s objective, is to make this route completely unviable, so that nobody attempts it in the first place. It is dangerous, it is illegally facilitated and it is unnecessary. We are working with the French to prevent the embarkations happening in the first place. We are looking at tactics that we can deploy at sea to prevent the crossings from happening, and we are looking at what more we can do to return people once they have made the crossing. Those measures, taken together, will make this route unviable and end these crossings.

People across Stoke-on-Trent are extremely concerned about the number of people we are seeing crossing the English channel illegally. Does my hon. Friend agree that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country and that we should deport those here illegally?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. France is a safe country and, as I said, people who wish to claim protection from persecution when they are in northern France should do so by claiming asylum in France. There is no need at all to attempt this dangerous and illegally facilitated crossing. When people do make the crossing, we are using all the legal means available to us to ensure that they are returned—for example, to countries where they previously claimed asylum under the Dublin regulation—and flights doing that took place last week and will take place this week.

Refugee Resettlement

The United Kingdom, over the past five years, has, I am proud to say, run Europe’s leading resettlement scheme; we have resettled more people directly from conflict zones than any other European country. It is currently paused owing to coronavirus, but as soon as we are safely and properly able to resume activity, we will do so.

The UK’s refugee resettlement schemes have been a lifeline to many thousands of people who have come to the UK after escaping some of the world’s most brutal conflict and regimes. However, the Government have still not allocated any funding for these schemes beyond September 2021. What assurances can the Minister give me that the UK will continue to provide safe sanctuary to those fleeing war and persecution after that date?

The hon. Member will know that we are going through a spending review process, where questions of funding will be considered. Although the resettlement programme is currently paused owing to coronavirus, it is our intention to recommence it appropriately when circumstances allow. I thank her for the tribute that she paid to the scheme that has operated for the past five years. As she said, it is the leading scheme anywhere in Europe.

Rural Crime Reduction

We are determined to drive down crime in rural and urban areas, which is why we are recruiting an extra 20,000 police officers and, by the way, investing £85 million in the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that the criminal justice system can deal with the results.

Will the Minister join me in thanking the Sussex rural crime team, which I had long campaigned for and which was set up by police commissioner Katy Bourne in June this year? It is now doing excellent work, protecting our rural communities, farmers and isolated towns and villages in Arundel and South Downs.

I am aware that my hon. Friend has made a huge impact in his constituency since he was elected recently, and that this is a result of something that he has campaigned on for some time. I applaud Katy Bourne—who is one of our leading police and crime commissioners and is always innovating—for the establishment of this unit, and I hope that it will make a big difference.

I am reminded with rural crime of that interesting philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a crime happens and no one reports it, do the police see it? I urge my hon. Friend to encourage his constituents, particularly in rural areas—we have had a number of questions on rural crime today—to report every single crime, because modern policing is driven by data, and if a crime is not reported, as far as the police are concerned, it probably never happened.

As a Croydon MP and the shadow Policing Minister, I pay tribute to Sergeant Matt Ratana for his years of service in my community. Our community spoke as one on Friday in our grief, but also in our gratitude for the many years of service from a wonderful officer, who was the very best of us, and we will not forget him.

Community policing is the bedrock of our communities, but it has suffered deep cuts. Those cuts have an acute impact in our rural areas, where vulnerability and isolation can be particularly severe. Only one in 14 crimes leads to court proceedings. Most victims get no justice at all. The Government have overseen a cut of nearly 50% in the number of police community support officers, and there are no plans to replace them. What does the Minister say to the victims of crime who deserve justice but under this Government are just not getting it?

I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s words about the awful events of Friday. I know that it hit home hard in Croydon for her; I think she was due to visit that very custody suite that day or the following day. It was a terrible time, and hopefully justice will follow that awful crime.

On the hon. Lady’s wider point, she and I have had this discussion a number of times over the Dispatch Box. Although repetition is not infrequent in this Chamber, I urge her to reflect on the fact that for the first half of the coalition and then Conservative Government, we were struggling with a difficult financial situation nationally, and crime was falling. That required a different kind of response to the one we see today. She is right to point to the fact that we have seen a rise in crime over the past couple of years, albeit different kinds of crime from those we have seen previously. That is why we are massively increasing police capacity and bringing enormous focus, through the National Policing Board, the Crime Performance Board, which I lead, and the Strategic Change and Investment Board at the Home Office, to the national systemic problems that she raises in the hope that, over the next three years, we can drive them down significantly.

Asylum Seekers: Resettlement and Relocation

What her policy is on the resettlement and relocation of refugees and asylum seekers to the UK from (a) Greece and (b) other countries. (906713)

If she will relocate a number of unaccompanied refugee children affected by the recent fire at Moria refugee camp on Lesvos from Greece to the UK. (906714)

As another Croydon MP, I would like to add my words to those of my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), and pay tribute to Sergeant Ratana and his long track record of service to our local community. Everybody in the borough, from north to south, feels it deeply. Our sympathy and condolences go to his family at what must be an agonising and heartbreaking time.

On the question of resettlement, we are continuing to welcome family reunion cases, as we are obliged to do under the Dublin regulations, including those from Greece—in fact, particularly those from Greece. Already this summer, three flights have brought in refugees to reunite them with family members in the United Kingdom, so we are continuing to discharge our obligations.

Conditions on the Aegean islands were an overcrowded living hell for asylum seekers, even before the fire at Moria left 13,000 homeless. Given what the Home Secretary said to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) about the importance of safe legal routes, surely the Government must now join Germany and France in offering to relocate some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers from the Aegean islands, even beyond those for whom they have responsibility under family reunion rules.

We are investigating ways that the United Kingdom Government can help our colleagues in Greece. That includes the possibility of using overseas aid money to assist them, as well as looking at people who are entitled to be relocated to the UK under the Dublin regulations, and at what we can do to assist and expedite that process.

I have some numbers to put this issue in context. Some 13,000 refugees are without any shelter as a result of the recent fires in Greece, and 3,800 of them are children. There are 21 confirmed cases of covid in the camp, which has a quarantine capacity of just 30. Ten countries, including France, Germany, Croatia and Portugal, have already agreed to take some of the hundreds of unaccompanied young minors in the camp. At present, we have taken just 16, but this place promised to take 3,000 under the Dubs scheme. Will the Minister give me and others who are concerned about this issue just one meeting to discuss what more we can do in respect of our obligations to those vulnerable young children?

We have fulfilled our Dubs obligation in full: 380 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been brought to the UK from European countries, in addition to 3,500 who came here last year. That is higher than the number in any other country in Europe. In addition to that, we are honouring our Dublin obligations to Greece. That number is not 16; well over 100 people have been taken from Greece directly back here. Where we have further obligations, we will do everything we can to make sure we meet them. In addition to that, as I said in response to an earlier question, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is looking at ways that we can help to provide the kind of shelter that the hon. Lady referred to. There is a lot that the Government have done and will continue to do. If she would like to meet me to discuss that, I would be delighted to do so.

I understand that on 15 September partner agencies were notified that the Home Office was lifting a ban on asylum evictions with immediate effect. I appreciate that the pause in the system cannot continue indefinitely. However, to evict people into destitution and homelessness as we enter a second wave of infections completely undermines public health efforts to keep everyone safe from the virus, especially in areas like mine that have local restrictions in place. Can the Minister share with us the plan to ensure that these risks do not become a reality?

As the shadow Minister says, on 27 March we paused cessations whereby people leave asylum accommodation when their decision is made positively or negatively. On 11 August, we resumed those for positive cases where they have been granted asylum, in a very phased, very careful, week-by-week, step-by-step way, moving them, where necessary, into local authority and other kinds of accommodation. We are now just beginning the process for the negative cases where asylum has not been granted, because clearly we cannot accommodate people at public expense indefinitely when their asylum claims have been rejected. We are doing this in a very careful, phased, week-by-week way to make sure that the sorts of risks that she describes do not come to pass. Where there are safe routes home to the country of origin for people whose claims have been rejected, we are working to make sure that those safe routes home are taken.

Public Order: Covid-19

Throughout the pandemic, our police officers have been on the streets every single day working tirelessly to stop the spread of coronavirus. I am in contact, virtually every day now, with the National Police Chiefs Council and policing leaders to ensure that we have the right plans and the right approach to make sure that the police play their role in stopping the spread of the virus and maintaining public order.

During the lockdown in Runnymede and Weybridge, we saw a huge community response and support to get through some of its real challenges. Unfortunately, though, a small minority have been making life miserable for people through antisocial behaviour. I have already heard that, with the new measures coming in, this is starting up again. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the importance of tackling antisocial behaviour and assure me that the police have the support and resources necessary to do so?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the full impacts of antisocial behaviour previously that are manifesting themselves again. That is why police leaders are working with local authority partners to address many of these issues. He is also right to point out that we must back the police so they have the tools, the powers and the support that they need. We will back them all the way to make sure that we deal with issues such as antisocial behaviour.

Emergency Services: Assaults

I have said this before in the Chamber and will say it again: in my view, anybody who lays a malicious finger on a police officer, or indeed any emergency worker, should face swift and severe retribution through the criminal justice system. We recently announced our intention to double the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency workers.

I am encouraged by the Minister’s response. Last week, Sussex MPs met the south-east coast ambulance service team, and we were disturbed to hear of an increase in assaults in which drink and drugs seem to be a factor. Can the Minister, through his Department and across Government, work to ensure that when it comes to policing, prosecution and sentencing of these individuals, drink or drug abuse is an aggravating factor, not a mitigating factor, and that we stand by our ambulance personnel and ensure that those who abuse them go behind bars?

There is absolutely no excuse for assaulting any kind of emergency worker, whether one is on drink or drugs or completely sober. I have to confess that I do not comprehend what goes on in the twisted mind of someone who would commit an assault, particularly on somebody in an ambulance who is coming to the medical aid of a fellow citizen. My hon. Friend raises a good point about aggravating factors. When we shortly consider, hopefully, the doubling of the sentence in legislation, I will certainly take that into account. The Sentencing Council is about to start a review of sentencing for assault, and I urge him and others to make a submission to that forum on aggravating factors.

Asylum Accommodation: Covid-19

As I have mentioned, during the coronavirus pandemic we have been allowing people to remain in their asylum accommodation even after their asylum decision has been made, positively or negatively. We started cessations in August for positive cases, and more recently in England for negative ones. As a result, the number of people we have been supporting has gone up hugely, from about 48,000 to about 60,000 across the UK. That has put enormous strain on the system, but we have been working night and day to accommodate that strain.

As covid’s second wave hits, the Minister must recognise that evicting asylum seekers into destitution will be a disaster for both asylum seekers and the communities into which they are evicted. Will she reverse these utterly reckless plans and confirm whether public health directors and bodies were consulted about this specific decision, and what they advised?

I am a he, not a she. We will not reverse the decision, because we need to make sure that when their asylum decisions have been made, people are moved on into the community. We cannot accommodate people indefinitely. As I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s first question, the number of people we are accommodating has gone up from 48,000 to 60,000 as a result of our stopping move-ons over the summer. The system is under huge strain, and it is not reasonable to ask the taxpayer to accommodate people on an indefinite basis. We are doing this in a very careful and measured way. We are not doing it all in one go; we are doing it week by week, very slowly and carefully, and at all times in consultation with public health bodies.

I wonder whether the Minister could make me two promises today: first, to publish in Parliament the report of his evaluation of asylum accommodation and support in Glasgow, including the use of hotels and the tragic deaths that have occurred; and, secondly, to provide a copy of that report to the Lord Advocate, who is considering whether to initiate a fatal accident inquiry into the tragic deaths of asylum seekers in Glasgow during the lockdown?

As the hon. and learned Lady says, formal investigations are going on, and of course the Home Office will support them in any way that we are asked to. In relation to the internal review that is taking place, I have not received that report yet, but when I do, I will look at it carefully and consider how best to proceed thereafter. On the question of hotel use, I think we all agree that it is not ideal. We are working as rapidly as we can to reduce and eventually end the use of hotels, not just in the city of Glasgow but across the whole United Kingdom.

Topical Questions

Last Friday, we saw the senseless murder of police sergeant Matt Ratana while he was on duty in Croydon. His tragic death in the line of duty is a reminder to us all of the risk that our brave officers take each and every day to keep us all safe. I know the House will join me in paying tribute to his courage and service, and also in sending our sincere and heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

A murder investigation is now under way, and I remain in regular contact with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police. The entire policing family are grieving, and they have my full support. I will continue to do everything in my power to protect them, including spearheading work to double sentences for attacks on emergency workers, and legislating to introduce a police covenant to enshrine in law support for our officers and their families.

The PCS union has raised fears that Serco could be handed contracts to carry out the very sensitive interviews of people who are seeking refuge here in our country. Serco’s disastrous handling of much of our test and trace system shows once again why such giant outsourcing companies should not be running key public services. Does the Home Secretary accept that we must protect vulnerable people who are seeking asylum, and that that means not handing sensitive asylum interviews over to Serco, or other private contractors, to make money from?

As the hon. Gentleman has already heard throughout oral questions, the fact of the matter is that we are totally committed, and rightly so, to protecting the way in which those who seek asylum are treated in our system. He has already heard about strains and pressures, and it is right that we undertake all interviews in the right and proper phased way. That is exactly what we are doing, in a responsible manner.

Proportionately, the UK is not a major destination for asylum seekers, but those who have a legal claim here face a Catch-22 situation. Currently, someone must be in the UK to establish a claim, but what plans does my right hon. Friend, and her Department, have to create safe legal routes, so that we are able robustly to disrupt traffickers who are trying to bring people in illegally? (906677)

My hon. Friend is right about the greater need for safe and legal routes, but it is right that as a Government we pursue those individuals who are facilitating criminality. Hon. Members have already heard the figures for arrests and numbers of convictions, and we will continue with that. We are working right now to look at new, safe and legal routes for the protection of those who need our help.

I know that I speak for the whole House in saying how devastated we all were to hear of the death of Sergeant Matt Ratana on Friday. The tributes we have heard have been heartfelt and deeply moving, and our deepest condolences are with his friends, family and fellow officers, and indeed the wider community in Croydon. His death gave National Police Memorial Day yesterday particular poignancy.

The level of violence against police officers is worrying and it is rising. As John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said at the weekend,

“we are seeing more firearms out on the streets and we are doing a lot to try to combat it… More and more are being seized.”

What additional steps are being taken to deal with that increase in the possession of firearms and keep our officers safe?

I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments following the appalling death of Sergeant Matt Ratana. I spoke yesterday to the chair of the Police Federation, John Apter, on a number of issues. First and foremost, I restated this Government’s commitment and determination to address assaults on emergency workers. Like many others, he was right to point out—we know this when it comes to policing—the risks that our officers face every day, which also relate to the number of firearms in circulation.

The Government are working to address the issue of firearms entering our country, and we are working with our national intelligence agencies and services, as well as the National Crime Agency. A great deal of work is taking place on firearms that have been imported to our country—not just weapons, but component parts—as well as on ways that criminals who are facilitating firearms, and the harm that they cause, can be intercepted and tackled. We are developing greater legislation to look at more police powers, and at ways that they themselves could do more work to tackle serious violence and high levels of harm, including that caused by firearms.

I, too, praise the work of the National Crime Agency, and we will of course carefully consider any legislation that comes forward. However, as I am sure the Home Secretary appreciates, help is needed now. The work of our police has become harder and harder as numbers have fallen, and violent crime has risen in every part of our country. I have written to the Home Secretary pointing out that the violent crime taskforce has not met for more than a year. It has not been replaced by a similar, specialist body, which leaves a vital strategic element of addressing violence missing. Will the Home Secretary commit to working on a cross-party basis to convene a replacement strategic taskforce that can address violent crime and the issues that drive it?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, issues of serious violent crime are addressed on the National Policing Board. We are looking at those issues and working on them day in, day out. The Government are not just committed to that; we are spending and investing the money. We have the serious violence reduction taskforce, and right now, funding is going directly to policing, and money has been materialised and operationalised on the streets of our country. We are tackling serious and violent crime, and leadership is also coming from the National Policing Board.

What steps is the Home Office taking to tackle the demand from sex buyers that drives the sex slave industry? Will the Home Secretary meet me and colleagues from the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission who have produced a report on this subject entitled “The Limits of Consent”? (906679)

I welcome the hon. Lady’s question and also the report that she is referring to. We have seen the report and I will absolutely commit to a meeting with her and her colleagues. It is quite clear that we as a Government and we as individuals are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that is associated with prostitution. Of course our priority is to protect those who are exploited and to protect vulnerable people, and there are certainly some very practical ways in which we can do that.

I join the tributes to Sergeant Matt Ratana. No one should ever underestimate the bravery of police officers and the risks they take to keep us all safe.

Last week, the Select Committee heard evidence from the counter-extremism commissioner and the national counter-terror chief on the way in which extremists have exploited the covid crisis, and they called for new, co-ordinated action against extremism to be set up through a taskforce led by the Home Secretary. That is something that was first recommended over a year ago. Does the Home Secretary agree that we need this co-ordinated action as part of the vital work to protect our national security, and if so, why has the taskforce not yet been set up? Why has it not yet met?

I met Sara Khan last week and had a very constructive discussion with her about ways of working—not just the work of the taskforce but the entire field of counter-extremism, the work that is associated, and the lessons to be learned from the past. Obviously we are using the expertise of the Committee itself to look at learnings and how we can address the threat spectrum across the board. We have many experienced practitioners in this field, and I am working with Sara Khan and others to develop learnings and look at the approach that we are going to take.

We owe our frontline police officers a debt of gratitude. I recently saw at first hand the great work that they do when I joined Thames Valley police for a night shift as part of its ride-along scheme in Bracknell. Home Secretary, is it now time to enshrine the police covenant in law? (906680)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to Thames Valley police. It is an exceptional and outstanding police force, and I know his community is served well by it. He has heard my remarks on the police covenant, and it is absolutely right that we do much more to protect our frontline officers and their family members and provide the welfare support that they all need as well. I absolutely concur with all Members of the House in recognising that Friday’s murder highlights why we need to put that into law.

My constituent Angela was detained in 2011. She was abandoned in the UK as a child with a man who imprisoned her. He and others beat and repeatedly raped her until she escaped as a teenager. Two clinical professionals and a human trafficking expert have reported to the Home Office that her story is credible. The Home Office refuses to consider this evidence, insisting that Angela is covering up her true identity, and it has attempted to deport her. Will the Home Secretary conduct an urgent review of Angela’s case, please? (906675)

I ask the hon. Member to contact me directly with the background and history of this particular case, and I will look into it.

This summer, my constituency has seen a real spate of antisocial motorcyclists causing real distress and potential danger to my constituents. Does the Home Secretary agree that such dangerous driving needs to be robustly challenged? (906681)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to his police force in particular, and his police chief, for the outstanding work they do. I know that rural crime was mentioned earlier, but when it comes to tackling nuisance driving and, frankly, the wrong kind of driving—speeding and all those types of issues, including on mopeds and scooters—we need to ensure that people can go about their daily lives. We are already providing more funding for more police activity through police uplift, and the police have powers under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Police Reform Act 2002 to seize vehicles that are being driven illegally.

Last year, the Treasury Committee reported on economic crime, finding that an estimated £90 billion of dirty money was laundered through the City of London every year. As the Home Secretary will know, economic crime is not victimless; it includes human trafficking, child sexual abuse and exploitation, the sale of illegal drugs and firearms, and much else. In the light of the recent FinCEN—Financial Crimes Enforcement Network—report, as reported by “Panorama”, what action will the Home Secretary take to redouble her efforts to get a grip on this kind of financial crime? (906676)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She has highlighted the gross severity of what is taking place, not just with economic crime, but with how our financial systems are associated with the facilitation of dirty money. Of course, we as a country do not want to be associated with that, and much more needs to happen. The FinCEN example was a very strong indication of where there have been gaps in the system, and extensive work is taking place right now. I would be more than happy for her to discuss with officials more of the work being undertaken in this area, because there are far too many sources of illegal economic finance and perpetrators of economic crime. There is no doubt that, through our international financial system, we can all do a lot more.

Our frontline police officers have performed an incredible service throughout the pandemic, keeping us safe while putting themselves in the line of danger, as we saw so tragically with the killing of Sussex officer Matt Ratana. That job is not made any easier when groups of demonstrators take it upon themselves to flout social distancing regulations and take their anger out on the police. Does the Home Secretary agree that there is no excuse for such irresponsible gatherings at this time, however worthy people think their cause is, and that they should desist? May I also echo the calls by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) for us speedily to enshrine the police covenant in law? (906682)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right to point out a number of key facts. Assaults on police officers are thoroughly unacceptable, and I am afraid that this weekend alone we saw a range of assaults on officers serving in the Metropolitan police when they were policing protests. Those were ugly and unacceptable scenes, and there is simply no excuse for assaults.

The other point to make is that we are in a national emergency—we are still in a health pandemic—and the police are working valiantly to attempt to stop the spread of the virus. The public are acting brilliantly by being conscientious, undertaking the measures and safeguarding in the right kind of way. It is right that we all play our own role, but to turn our fire on the police is completely wrong. It is inappropriate at every level, and the public, not just when it comes to protest but in their conduct in respect of coronavirus, must be conscientious and respect the police in every way.

Order. I am sorry, but that was the final question, given the length of time we have taken. May I just advise Members that questions and answers should be short and punchy, as we are defeating the idea of topicals, which is why we have not got very far today? I hope that we can learn from today.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).