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Topical Questions

Volume 704: debated on Monday 22 November 2021

The kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer was devastating. I am launching an independent inquiry into exactly what happened, and I am pleased to confirm to the House that the right hon. Dame Elish Angiolini QC has agreed to be the chair of that inquiry. Dame Elish is an exceptionally distinguished lawyer, academic and public servant. Her extensive experience includes a review of deaths in police custody, as well as a review for the Scottish Government of the handling of complaints and alleged misconduct against police officers.

The inquiry will be made up of two parts. Part 1 will examine how this monster was able to serve as a police officer for so long and seek to establish a definitive account of his conduct. The independent police inspectorate is already looking at vetting and counter-corruption capability, which will enable the inquiry to examine vetting and re-vetting procedures in detail, including his transfers between forces. Part 1 will also seek to understand the extent to which his behaviour rang alarm bells with his colleagues. The chair will report to me as soon as is practical. The Home Office will then publish the report, and I will set out the terms of reference for part 2, which will consider the broader implications for policing arising from part 1.

The inquiry will begin as a non-statutory inquiry, because I want to give Sarah’s family closure as quickly as possible. As Members know, statutory inquiries can be long-running, with limited flexibility; sometimes, recommendations are not made for a number of years. However, I will not rule out converting this inquiry to a statutory footing should Dame Elish feel that she is unable to fulfil the terms of reference on a non-statutory basis.

Sarah Everard’s life was ended too early by an evil man whose job it was to protect her. We owe it to her, and to her loved ones and her family, to prevent something like this ever happening again.

I thank the Home Secretary for her reply, and I very much welcome what she has said at length.

Eighty per cent. of the working-age population living in the Lake district already works in hospitality and tourism. The Home Secretary will see that there is therefore no reservoir of domestic labour available to fill the gap left by her restrictive new visa rules. Will she recognise that we have a special case in the Lake district? We are the biggest visitor destination in the country outside of London, with one of the smallest populations. Will she meet me, and tourism industry chiefs in the lakes and the dales, so that we can come up with a youth mobility visa with European countries to solve the problem and get our economy working again?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I would like to praise his hospitality sector. He represents a very beautiful part of the country. Of course, we want hospitality and tourism to thrive across the United Kingdom. I would be delighted, together with my colleagues, to meet him and his hospitality sector. Youth mobility is not just an EU matter; it is now a global matter. There is a great deal of work taking place on youth mobility schemes, including work that we are doing with countries outside the EU.

T2. Earlier this month, I met many of my local farmers through the National Farmers Union. They need agricultural workers and simply cannot fill vacancies from the domestic market. What work has my right hon. Friend done with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on a solution to this issue, so we can all enjoy these farmers’ excellent Cornish produce? (904286)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight her farmers’ excellent Cornish produce; I have sampled much of it, through her. First and foremost, through our reforms to the immigration system, there are routes in place already to provide support to the agriculture sector. I have been working with colleagues in DEFRA on that. She will be very familiar with the seasonal agricultural worker pilot scheme; as she will recall, we have increased the number of people who, through that scheme, can work in key agricultural sectors. Finally, she will be aware that a great deal of work is taking place in DEFRA to ensure more investment in people in the domestic labour market, so we are investing in skills.

I welcome the appointment of the chair of the inquiry set up following the terrible Sarah Everard case, but I say to the Home Secretary: put it on a statutory footing now. The Daniel Morgan inquiry was on a non-statutory basis, and it still took eight years, so time is not an argument for not doing that.

The year before the Home Secretary was appointed, 297 people risked their life crossing the English channel in small boats. This year, 25,700 have made that perilous journey. The Home Secretary has blamed the French Government for this, and the European Union. Over the weekend, there were even reports that she is yet again trying to shift blame to officials in her Department. A simple question: why will she not show some leadership and accept the responsibility that lies with her for this dangerous situation?

First and foremost, on the public inquiry that I have announced on the murder of Sarah Everard, I restate for the record and for the right hon. Gentleman that I will work with Dame Elish. I have also been very clear to Sarah Everard’s parents, who do not want this to drag on. We owe it to Sarah’s family in particular to make sure that the inquiry works for them, and that they are protected throughout the process. I have had conversations and dialogue with them about that.

On channel crossings, leadership absolutely is on the side of this Government. That is why we are bringing forward the new plan for immigration. The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that crossings do not happen automatically; they happen through migrant movements, and through people smugglers not just in France but further upstream, right back into Africa. A great deal of work is taking place across the whole of Government. Yes, we are trying to stop the crossings and break up the gangs—

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Government deal with the French authorities is failing. The Government have closed down safe routes, such as the Dubs scheme, and they have cut the aid budget, which was addressing the reasons why people flee their homes. They do not even have successor agreements in place to the Dublin III regulation. Last week, while chatting to journalists in Washington, the Home Secretary yet again vowed to make the channel crossing route unviable, but nothing happens, and ever more people continue to risk their life. Will the Home Secretary admit that the fact that the Cabinet Office has been brought in to try to sort this out is a sign that she has lost the trust of not only the country, but her colleagues?

Order. There are other people in this Chamber who matter. I have granted an urgent question in which most of this can be debated. Come on, Home Secretary.

T7. Every time we ask a question about channel crossings, the Home Secretary, whose instincts are entirely sound, refers us to the new legislation. What confidence can we have that when that legislation becomes law, the same human rights lawyers will not sink their teeth into it, leaving us back at square one? If this is such an emergency, why do we not rush the legislation through both Houses now? (904291)

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why the legislation has been put together in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, which has an important role in working with specialist immigration law firms and changing our laws. He will know the details of the Nationality and Borders Bill and the comprehensive work that is taking place.

T3. At the last Home Office questions, I raised the issue of the hardship that claimants under the Windrush compensation scheme are experiencing. Despite the supposed urgency of this for the Government, the average time that claimants are waiting for their final payment is 434 days. I raised the case of my constituent Anthony Bryan in particular; the Home Secretary told the House that she would meet me to discuss the case, only to revoke the offer later. Will she assure the House that she will fulfil her original promise to meet me? Will she also commit to publishing the guidance on how compensation claims are accelerated? (904287)

I am certainly happy to look into the matter and meet the hon. Member about the case to which she refers. We have put additional resources into the Windrush compensation scheme team to ensure that we can get the decisions that people deserve.

T8. I strongly welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe the Hamas terror group in its entirety. That will send the unmistakable message that the UK Government are committed to protecting our Jewish community and combating terrorism. The horrific murder of 26-year-old Eli Kay by Hamas terrorists yesterday in the old city of Jerusalem reinforces the importance of the decision. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the new designation will ensure that anyone spreading the terror group’s genocidal, antisemitic ideology, including by waving flags, will feel the full force of the law? (904292)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He clearly understands the importance and significance of proscribing Hamas in all its forms. When the motion comes to the House for debate this week, I hope that all Members of this House will support it, because clearly inciting and supporting terrorist activity is simply wrong.

T4. I have raised one constituent’s case with the UK Government 13 times; it relates to the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. I still do not know whether my constituent’s case is being progressed under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy or ACRS. Neither does he, and nor do his family; they are eligible for both schemes, but we do not know under which one his case is being progressed. Please could the Minister ensure that UK Visas and Immigration has answers to give Members and our constituents—and that individuals, particularly in Afghanistan, are getting updates about what is happening? (904288)

The hon. Lady will know that I cannot answer that question on the Floor of the House, but I am very happy to take the name of her constituent afterwards. I have to emphasise, however, that if people remain in Afghanistan, as I have set out on the Floor of the House and in my “Dear colleague” letter, we simply cannot casework them at the moment in the way that parliamentarians would expect, because of the security situation in Afghanistan.

T9. I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the work that she is doing on prosecuting those who participate in county lines drugs. We need cross-party consensus in dealing with dangerous drug gangs in our country, so does she share my disappointment that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Home Secretary are backing a policy of not prosecuting those who are found in possession of class A drugs such as heroin, crystal meth and crack cocaine? May I draw her on the issue, and on our party’s approach to dealing with it? (904293)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There should be no room for confusion in people’s minds: drugs are bad in all their forms, and this Government will do everything we can to restrict supply and deal with demand.

T5. Sistah Space supports black women and girls who have experienced domestic violence. It is campaigning for Valerie’s law, which would introduce mandatory training for police and other agencies, including on dealing with domestic violence in black communities. Will the Minister meet me and Sistah Space to discuss this important issue before the upcoming petitions debate? (904289)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the police force’s response to the domestic abuse of all victims. I will be very happy to meet her.

T10. Does the Home Secretary agree that successive studies, including even the 2017 Lammy review, have concluded that improving trust in—and the legitimacy of—our law enforcement officials and institutions, particularly in communities where those have historically been low, is essential to reducing crime everywhere? What further steps does she therefore intend to take to level up in that vital area? (904294)

My hon. Friend is right, and he will know that through the Uplift programme we are pushing hard to increase the diversity of UK policing so that the police force looks like the population whom it seeks to protect and represent. We have instituted a review of vetting across policing and, indeed, wider work on police integrity generally, but we are also talking to police leaders about the signal that they send internally within the force to create a culture that inspires trust and a sense of integrity in the British people. I should add that it is important that the police fulfil the basic expectations of every single subject in this land, and in doing so inspire the trust that my hon. Friend seeks.

T6. A harsh winter is about to hit Afghanistan, and the United Nations estimates that 23 million people will be at risk of famine. Surely it is a major dereliction of duty for the Government not to have the Afghanistan resettlement scheme in place. Many people have been left in limbo as a result, and aid agencies are looking for answers in respect of what is going to happen. (904290)

I entirely understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the House about the situation in Afghanistan, but the reality is as it is on the ground. We wish it were otherwise, but it is not, so we are working apace—but carefully—to ensure that when the scheme is launched it works well for the people who are eligible for it and works well over the years in which it will operate. There is, I am afraid, no quick answer to this; we must act carefully, and we must reflect the reality on the ground in Afghanistan.

A few moments ago the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), quoted the number of people who had crossed the channel in small boats, and used that number to attack my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the best way to deal with people crossing to these shores illegally is to support the Nationality and Borders Bill, and will she join me in condemning the Opposition parties who vote against every single measure?

My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. It is particularly staggering that in Committee the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), condemned the record of the previous Labour Government, who used to argue that people should not be making crossings of this sort, and that they should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. That is exactly what should happen.

There are many reasons why domestic abuse victims may not be able to report abuse and violence straight away, including the fact that that abuse and violence is continuing, but when they do, too often an unfair six-month time limit on prosecuting common assault domestic abuse means that they are denied justice and the perpetrators are let off. I tabled an amendment to lift the limit, and it is being debated this afternoon in the House of Lords. Will the Home Secretary now accept that amendment, and give justice to thousands of domestic abuse victims who are currently being denied it?

We have always been clear about support for domestic abuse victims. The right hon. Lady will recognise that in the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the work done in both Houses during its passage, and our response to everyone who has been a victim of domestic abuse. From a policing perspective, I should say that resources are there, and that we are doing everything possible to join up the system with the criminal justice system and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that all the necessary support exists for those victims.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement of the new chair of the Sarah Everard inquiry, but, as has been mentioned, even non-statutory inquiries can be very long. Can the Home Secretary assure us that the necessary steps on vetting and the treatment of and sanctions in relation to sexual misconduct allegations will be taken in the interim?

Absolutely, and that is why we are pressing ahead with the inquiry on this particular basis. Let me say to all colleagues throughout the House that throughout all the discussions, and in view of the obvious sensitivities surrounding the murder of Sarah Everard, much thought and consideration has been given to the timeframe, but we are looking at the most pressing issues to see what lessons can be learnt and applied to policing as soon as possible.

A number of Government Departments have withdrawn from the Stonewall diversity champion scheme over concerns about the misrepresentation of equalities law and the resultant failure to respect the rights of all protected characteristics. What are the plans of the Home Office in respect of its membership of that scheme?

I will write to the hon. and learned Lady and tell her what the overall position is across Government.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the single most important step any sovereign nation can take in protecting its own borders against illegal immigration is offshore processing?

It is fair to say that, through the Nationality and Borders Bill, we are putting in place a comprehensive package of measures to deal with this issue. Central to that work is the issue of offshore processing, and we reserve the position to do exactly that.

The Home Secretary will be acutely aware that Colin Pitchfork, the double child rapist and murderer, is now back behind bars. The fact that he was released in the first place shows that something is profoundly wrong at the heart of the system. What conversations is she having with the Justice Secretary to ensure that this never happens again?

This is a very important case, and many conversations are taking place across Government, particularly with the Justice Secretary, the Ministry of Justice and the Parole Board. I cannot add any more than that. Obviously there are some things out in the public domain, but a lot of discussions are taking place right now. This should never happen.