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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 746: debated on Monday 26 February 2024

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Knife Crime

As we have said often in debates this House, knife crime is a terrible crime; it tears families apart and all too often takes young people from us. As the House will know, violent crime overall has reduced by 51% since 2010, but there is more we can do. That includes funding violence reduction units—Manchester’s VRU has £20 million of funding for the coming financial year—and running hotspot policing in areas where serious violence and antisocial behaviour are a problem. The £66 million of funding for that across England and Wales is in addition to the existing police funding settlement.

In September 2021, my constituent Rhamero West was chased across Manchester, stabbed and killed—he was just 16. His mum, Kelly, has worked tirelessly to make sure that no other families have to face the suffering she and her family have faced, including by raising money to fund a network of bleed kits across Greater Manchester and a youth project in Fallowfield. She wants to tell Rhamero’s story to help save other young lives, so will the Minister agree to meet her?

Yes, of course. It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is campaigning bravely, as so many parents do, to try to bring some good out of a terrible personal tragedy, so I would be delighted to meet him and his constituent.

May I quickly put on record my thanks to the Security Minister and the Policing Minister for their efforts in upgrading MPs’ security?

Across the UK, ever more young people are choosing to carry knives. Sadly, that is the case in Bournemouth as well. Violence reduction units are dedicated police units that have a proven track record of reducing knife crime in town centres in other parts of the country, not just through increased policing, but by working in the community, including at schools, to educate youngsters on the dangers of carrying a knife. I am grateful for the increase in police numbers in Dorset, but will the Minister ask the Chancellor to see whether extra funds can be provided specifically for a VRU for Bournemouth?

I will convey my right hon. Friend’s request to the Chancellor, and I put on record my thanks for his tireless campaigning and that of other Dorset MPs for resources for that county and its police force. Dorset police will receive about £11 million more next year than it received the previous year. Thanks to the campaigning of my right hon. Friend and other Dorset MPs, it also received an exceptional special grant last year of £600,000 to help campaign against violence.

My right hon. Friend is right to say that violence reduction units have a very positive effect. In the next financial year, £55 million will be spent on them for the 20 police force areas judged to have the most significant violence problems. Dorset is not among those 20, but I will pass his message to the Chancellor and I know that through our work with the police and crime commissioner, Dorset police and the PCC will do everything they can to combat knife crime not just in Bournemouth, but in Dorset as a whole.

With incidents up by 70% since 2015, the public are looking for leadership on knife crime. Earlier this month, the Government would not support our plan, which includes broadening the ban on zombie knives to include ninja swords; an end-to-end review of online sales; and criminal penalties for tech execs who allow their platform to be used for illicit sales. The Government rejected our plan, but what they have in place simply is not working, so we will push again during the remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill. Will they accept it then?

The shadow Minister should be aware that according to the crime survey of England and Wales —the only reliable long-term indicator for volume crime trends, according to the Office for National Statistics—violent crime is down by 51% since 2010. He asked about online knife sales. He should be aware that when the Online Safety Act 2023 is fully in force, very strong action will be taken, for example against online marketplaces, and the illegal sale of knives online will become a priority offence under schedule 7. He will also know that we are bringing forward legislation to ban a range of machetes and zombie-style knives. We define them in relation to the features they have. For example, knives over 7 inches in length with two cutting edges and serrations will be banned. Those are just some of the measures we are taking, all of which have helped to bring down violent crime by 51% since 2010.

Policing Homelessness and Rough Sleeping

3. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Criminal Justice Bill on policing homelessness and rough sleeping. (901612)

The Government are committed to ending rough sleeping. Huge amounts of money are being invested in getting people off the streets. Rough sleeping levels in England are 35% lower than they were in 2017. Criminal sanctions where rough sleeping is causing a problem, for example for businesses, are very much the last resort in the Criminal Justice Bill. The first resort is giving people the support they need to find accommodation.

As I walked here today, I passed several rough sleepers in doorways and in tents. The police already have the ability to move rough sleepers on under a number of different pieces of legislation, including the Public Order Act 1986, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and the Highways Act 1980. Does the Minister understand my concern that what is suggested in the Criminal Justice Bill criminalises rough sleepers and does nothing to help them? The police already have the powers but are failing to use them.

The powers in the pieces of legislation my hon. Friend lists are not precisely the same as those in the Criminal Justice Bill. The Bill does not criminalise rough sleeping in general; it criminalises particular types of rough sleeping when it causes a nuisance. That said, as I have signalled privately to various hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), the Government are willing to look at the way those provisions are drafted, to ensure that they are tightly and narrowly drawn, because out intention is that the first stop will always be to offer support. Criminal sanctions are appropriate only as a last resort if rough sleeping causes a serious problem, for example for businesses.

As drafted, the Bill is a new vagrancy Act with bells on. Rough sleeping is up 75% since 2010. Rather than criminalise people who happen to be rough sleeping, should we not provide support and build the houses they need?

As I said, my colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are providing extremely comprehensive packages of support. Rough sleeping is down by 35% since 2017 and by 28% since before the pandemic in 2019. The Government are willing to look at changes to make these provisions tightly defined and narrow. The intention is to use criminal sanctions only as a last resort where rough sleeping is disrupting a business, for example, and preventing it from operating. It is a last resort—the first resort will always be offering help and support.

Legal Migration

On 4 December, the Government announced a package of new measures to further reduce net migration, including but not limited to stopping overseas care workers bringing family dependants, increasing the salary threshold for skilled worker visas to £38,700 and raising the minimum income requirement for family visas in stages to £38,700. The changes are being introduced gradually from early 2024 and are not retrospective.

I welcome the measures taken to reduce abuses of the immigration system, but I also recognise the need to exempt critical occupations where we have a specific shortage from the new minimum salary, for example health and care workers. However, in the Migration Advisory Committee’s interim review of the immigration salary list, published on Friday, several occupations have been removed because a discounted salary of around £31,000 is well above the going rate for such occupations. Given the vital and growing importance of food security across the country, will my hon. Friend commit to a review of those occupations which, although not the highest tech or highest paid jobs in our economy, are none the less critical for our food sector and our rural and coastal communities?

There is no stronger advocate for the fishing industry in this House than my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that we have received that return from the MAC. We will look very carefully at its recommendations, but my hon. Friend knows that as a Government we have been consistently flexible in responding to the needs of the fishing sector. I would argue that there is more we can do to promote domestic employment, but let me take this matter away and consider his representations.

A key issue often raised by my constituents is the desire to see a dramatic reduction in legal migration. Bearing in mind that the Opposition appear to have no plan in that regard, can my hon. Friend reassure me that he will look at new ways to stop this migration, that he will make sure that everybody has the right to work in this country and that we will not decrease wages by bringing in cheap labour from abroad?

My hon. Friend is very supportive of the holistic approach that the Government are taking on this issue. The measures that we have announced and are taking forward will reduce the inflows by 300,000. It is important to consider this against the back to work plan that the Department for Work and Pensions is delivering to encourage more people to take on these roles domestically. She should be absolutely certain that we as a Government will deliver on these measures and will continue to keep them under review to see whether we can go further. That stands in stark contrast to those on the Opposition Front Bench, who have no plan at all.

To cut a long story short, a constituent’s skilled work visa application was mistakenly withdrawn by the Home Office. The error has resulted in him no longer having the right to work in the UK, forcing him and his wife to leave their jobs. His wife is five months pregnant and, although they pay their NHS surcharge, the Home Office error means that they are again getting healthcare bills. The situation is increasingly desperate, so I ask the Minister to meet me to look into this case and ensure that this Home Office error does not do any more harm than it already has for this young couple.

The hon. Lady will appreciate that I do not have the specifics of the case to hand, but if she kindly shares them with me, I will look into the case as a matter of urgency.

I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to recognise that the right to claim asylum is allowed under international law and that, therefore, there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. On that basis, perhaps he can tell us whether he or any Minister has met people with lived experience of the system and whether he will meet the people at the Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow North to discuss these issues.

The hon. Member will recognise that, in an answer to one of his hon. Friends, I said that I would be willing to meet him and his Glasgow colleagues to discuss some of the challenges. I have made an undertaking to him that that meeting will happen, and I will make sure that it happens at the earliest possible opportunity. I am keen to understand what the challenges are and to make sure that the support that we are providing to help facilitate move-ons, for example, is meeting the needs that exist.

Since our last Home Office questions, the list of Government failures on immigration has continued to grow relentlessly: 30,000 asylum seekers stuck in limbo, unable to be processed due to the Prime Minister’s legislative fiasco; 250 visas awarded to a care home that does not actually exist; net migration trebled; and criminals free to fly into our country undetected on private jets. Having just sacked the independent inspector of borders and immigration, is the Home Secretary sitting on 15 different reports by the inspector because he is checking for typos, or is it because he is utterly terrified of what those reports will tell us about this Government’s shambolic and failing immigration system?

Let me answer that point very directly: having given proper consideration to those reports, we will be responding to them. As I said in the House last week, we will do so very soon. The shadow Minister mentioned the Government trying to dodge scrutiny. When it comes to the general aviation report, for example, it was our officials who asked the inspector to take it forward. Far from dodging scrutiny, we have invited it in that area. We will respond properly and thoroughly to that report in exactly the way that I undertook to do last week.

People who come here to work, study and live make a significant impact on Scotland’s economy and society, so reducing their number is entirely self-defeating. Reunite Families UK has highlighted the disproportionate impact that Tory changes to visa income thresholds will have on women. I have asked the Minister this before, and I have yet to have an answer: when will he publish the full equality impact assessment on this damaging policy?

We will publish the equality impact assessment associated with the policy in due course. The hon. Lady will appreciate that the Government’s position is clear that the current levels of net migration are not sustainable. We need to take forward a set of policy measures that deal with that and that promote domestic employment wherever possible. There is a strong moral case for the approach that we are taking. None of the measures being applied is retrospective, but we are convinced that this is the right thing to do. The British people think that action is needed, and action is what they are getting.

I spent a lot of time this weekend with members of the Glasgow branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, which put on a major demonstration and a service in Glasgow cathedral at the weekend to mark two years since the escalation of Russian aggression in Ukraine. The Government’s changes to the Ukraine scheme came with very little notice and caused a great deal of uncertainty and distress in that community. Will the Minister tell me whether, for example, a wife whose husband has been injured fighting on the frontline against Putin’s war machine will be able to sponsor her husband to come here under these restricted rules?

As we said when we debated this issue in the House last week, the Government are very proud of the amazing response from people across this country who have opened their homes to Ukrainian refugees. There will continue to be an out-of-country route through the Homes for Ukraine scheme to facilitate people being able to come here from Ukraine. Ukrainian refugees here in the UK will be able to extend their visas. We gave that certainty way ahead of the curve, when compared with our international partners. Ukrainian nationals who would have qualified under the Ukraine family scheme will still be able to apply under Homes for Ukraine.

Transnational Repression by Hostile States

5. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of steps taken by his Department to tackle transnational repression by hostile states. (901615)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is aware that the Government are continually assessing the potential threats to individual rights and freedoms and to safety across the United Kingdom. I thank her for the efforts she made to represent her views to me in a different forum.

Whenever we identify such threats, we will always use every measure at our disposal, including our intelligence services, to mitigate any threat to individuals. In the first instance, I urge anyone concerned for their safety to contact the police. The hon. Lady will no doubt be aware that the National Security Act 2023 includes measures to tackle foreign interference, including transnational repression. The defending democracy taskforce is reviewing the UK’s response to develop our understanding of the issue and ensure a system-wide response.

Transnational repression to silence dissent in democracies is extremely serious. In recent months, Five Eyes nations have raised concerns about the actions of agents with links to India targeting Sikh activists in the United Kingdom. Most disturbingly, there have been alleged assassinations and foiled assassination plots. The US and Canadian authorities have taken the lead at senior levels to publicly call out this challenge to their sovereignty, the rule of law and their democratic values. Given the reports of British Sikhs facing similar threats, what steps are the Government taking to secure their safety? Will the Minister show the same strength as our partners do in publicly defending their democratic rights?

Let me be completely clear: if there are any specific threats against any British citizen by any foreign power, we will take immediate action. The Sikh community should be as safe as every other community in the United Kingdom. All British citizens are equal, whatever their colour, creed, faith or political allegiance. The reality is that we have taken all the action we believe is appropriate at this stage. We of course maintain a very close relationship with our Five Eyes partners, and we are absolutely clear that if the situation changes and we need to take action, we will do so.

Russia’s deadly poison attack in Salisbury, Iran’s intimidation of Iran International journalists and China’s secret police stations have long showed the need for a robust strategy to counter transnational repression on British soil. The Minister mentioned that a review is under way into the UK’s approach to transnational repression. When will it be published, and will it be part of a wider strategy to counter hostile state activity in this country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The review is under way, and it includes many different elements from communities from around the world who are now settled happily in the United Kingdom. He will understand why I will not go into individual details. Certain communities have been targeted, such as the Hong Kong Chinese community, which is now very welcome in the United Kingdom under a policy that this Government introduced—I am very proud of the number who have claimed asylum and taken the opportunity as British nationals overseas to settle here—and we are looking at others. We are open to any reports of transnational repression, and we are listening.

Violent Crime: Young People

8. What steps his Department is taking to identify young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime. (901618)

19. What steps his Department is taking to identify young people most at risk of being drawn into violent crime. (901630)

Since 2019, we have invested £160 million in 20 violence reduction units across England and Wales, and a further £55 million has been committed this year. Violence reduction units have reached more than 270,000 young people. They bring together specialists from health, the police, local government and community organisations not just to tackle violent crime, but to identify the young people who are most at risk of being drawn into it and provide evidence-based interventions to support them.

I am grateful for that answer. Children as young as 12 are being recruited by local drug dealers in the central wards of Stockton, and are provided with pocket money—huge sums for them—to carry and deliver class A and class B drugs. Many of them are in thrall to their balaclava-wearing controllers, who largely act with impunity. Although the police and other agencies work hard to combat such organised crime, Cleveland has the highest crime rate in the country, and police and councils do not have the fair funding needed to deal with criminals or provide good diversionary activities for those vulnerable young people. What will the Minister do to sort that out?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, under our tackling organised exploitation programme, we are keenly aware of the difference between victims and criminals, and that children are being drawn into criminal enterprises and gangs at ever-younger ages. I want to provide reassurance that where we have evidence of that happening, the child should be referred through the national referral mechanism—the framework for identifying victims of exploitation by county lines groups and equivalents. That can be done with or without the child’s consent, and it provides the police with a vital tool not just to protect the child but to disrupt the criminal activity in which they are being enlisted.

Last week, Bedfordshire police reported that two drug dealers who had trafficked a vulnerable 15-year-old child from Luton to sell drugs were sentenced under modern slavery laws. Although that conviction is of course welcome, I think we can all agree that this is not just slavery; it is the despicable act of grooming children into a life of drugs, gangs and violence. Why do not the Government back our plans for a new specific offence to lock up such criminals for exactly what they are doing and stop them exploiting children and young people for a life of crime?

I agree with much of what the hon. Lady says. The Prime Minister implemented new measures to deal with child sexual exploitation in April of last year, but part of that deals with organised exploitation, which goes wider. I am glad to hear that those two criminals were convicted under modern slavery laws. I want to reassure her that, under our Criminal Justice Bill, which is making its way through the House, grooming gangs will receive enhanced sentences.

It is deeply disturbing when children and young people are involved in violent crime. Experience from around the world shows that a whole-of-Government approach is crucial in tackling the problem, as has been acknowledged in successive Government strategies. Will the Minister give us an update on how the Government are ensuring that that is delivered?

If I have understood my right hon. Friend’s question correctly, I can tell her that we are doing a huge amount on child exploitation. Only last week, we implemented the No. 1 recommendation of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, for mandatory reporting, and we have more to come. This remains a Government priority.

The Minister says that the Government are doing loads, but since 2018 there has been a huge increase in the number of weapons seized in schools in some areas of the country, with knives and Tasers found in some instances. Our young people continue to bear the brunt of the Tories’ decision to hollow out youth services and prevention work in our communities. Meanwhile, ninja swords and other weapons remain just a google search away. Parents should not fear for their children’s safety at school. When will the Government match Labour’s ambition for a Young Futures programme and prioritise the safety and opportunities of our young people?

I make no apology for the success of our violence reduction units and the difference that they have made to young people’s lives since 2019. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire made the point that the crime survey for England and Wales shows that there has been a 51% fall in violent crime since 2010. More than that, our violence reduction units, working in conjunction with our Grip hotspot policing, have delivered a statistically significant fall in violent injuries. Hospital admissions for knife crime and equivalent have fallen by 25% since 2019, and overall knife crime has fallen nationally by 5% since 2019, all in the life in this Parliament. We have banned zombie knives and cyclone knives, and our Criminal Justice Bill will give the police more powers to make pre-emptive seizures.

Police Bail Curfew Conditions

9. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of levels of compliance with post-charge police bail curfew conditions. (901619)

Decisions on bail conditions are set, enforced and monitored locally, but it is very important that where police bail conditions are set down, they are adhered to, in order to protect the public.

Three members of my constituent’s family were killed in an appalling dangerous driving case. The offender was on police bail at the time, with curfew conditions, for a separate offence. Given that legislation does not allow for tagging in such cases to enforce those curfew conditions, will my right hon. Friend consider bringing forward changes to the law so that electronic monitoring can be used for offenders released on post-charge police bail?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, informed by a tragic case in his own constituency. He is right that, as it stands, the legislation does not allow for tagging of people who are simply on police bail—that is to say, before their first appearance in court. There are some considerations to do with whether tagging constitutes a form of punishment and whether that is appropriate prior to a court hearing. However, my hon. Friend raises a reasonable point informed by a constituency case, and I am happy to take it away and look at it with him.

I thank the Minister very much for that response. Obviously, with a renewed and reinvigorated Northern Ireland Assembly and a Minister in place, we in Northern Ireland are very keen to work alongside the Minister on some of the suggestions he has referred to. Will he contact the policing and justice Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that what is going to happen here can happen to us in Northern Ireland, and that we can all gain the advantage?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. It is, of course, very good news that the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have been restored. Policing is devolved, so the Assembly and Executive can set their own policy. However, if they would like any information about the policies we are pursuing in the England and Wales jurisdiction, I would be very happy to share that information and work constructively and collaboratively with all the devolved Administrations, including in Northern Ireland.

Local Policing

We have very regular discussions with chief constables across the country about local policing—in fact, just this morning I had a discussion with the chief constable of Staffordshire Police about some local policing issues in that county. It is a dialogue that happens on a regular and ongoing basis. Police chief constables are, of course, operationally independent, but we work very closely in partnership with them.

Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Houghton Regis are the third, fourth and fifth largest towns in Bedfordshire, yet they have a fraction of the police officers that are based in Luton and Bedford. Will the Minister speak to the chief constable to ensure that we get a fairer allocation of the record number of police officers we have in Bedfordshire, spread across the county and with a 24/7 first responder presence?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his part of Bedfordshire. He is quite right to say that Bedfordshire, in common with many other parts of the country—and indeed with England and Wales as a whole —has a record number of police officers. In the case of Bedfordshire, the number is 1,456, and across England and Wales as a whole we now have over 149,000 officers: that is more than we have ever had before, and over 3,000 more than we had under the last Labour Government.

I speak regularly to Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst and the excellent police and crime commissioner in Bedfordshire, Festus Akinbusoye. Of course, how they deploy their record headcount is a matter for them, rather than for Government, but I will certainly mention the issues that my hon. Friend has raised when I next speak to them—I think we are having a meeting quite shortly—and I know that my hon. Friend will mention these issues as well.

At the weekend I had to seek extra police support, due to the far-right abuse that I have suffered, which has been inspired and unleashed in part by the conspiracy theories and racist, Islamophobic, anti-Muslim hate peddled by the Members for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), for Fareham (Suella Braverman) and for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). [Interruption.]

It was peddled by Members of the Government party. Does the Minister agree that there is no place in this House or society for such divisive language? One Member has had the Whip removed. Does the Minister agree that other Members should also have the Whip removed, or does he agree with the points that were made?

This House as a whole should be clear that hatred based on religion or race has no part in a civilised country, whether it is directed towards the Jewish community, who have suffered a surge in antisemitism, or the Muslim community. The Conservative party is prepared to act extremely quickly, as we did at the weekend—a great deal faster than the Labour party when it had an issue in Rochdale.

I am pleased that the Minister made reference to his meeting with the chief constable of Staffordshire Police after a disgusting hate mob appeared outside a Stoke-on-Trent Conservative fundraiser on Friday. It appears that a police officer allowed members of the public, who were spewing their hatred, into the venue’s private function room, where they sought to intimidate, harass and bully members old and young—some as young as 11 years old. One individual involved used to be a member of the now proscribed terrorist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir. Is it not about time that we in this House stood up— because, I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but the actions of last week emboldened these individuals to take such action—and said with a clear voice that democracy will not be subdued in this way?

Yes, that is important. We make it clear in this House that Members of Parliament, elected councillors or anyone engaging in political activity, including attending political events, should be able to do so without intimidation and without harassment. No one in this House should feel that they have to change their vote, or change procedure, as a result of external pressure.

What happened in Stoke city on Friday evening was completely unacceptable. A political meeting was disrupted, and indeed closed down by protest. That is unacceptable. This morning, I met the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner of Staffordshire to make that clear. I also spoke this morning to the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Chief Constable Gavin Stephens, to make the same point. I am pleased to report to the House that four people have now been arrested in relation to the incident in Stoke city—[Interruption.]—on charges under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 and section 68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994—

Has the Minister had a chance recently to talk to the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall Police, which has been in special measures since 2022, and is now being sued by seven former and serving women police officers for failing to deal with rapes, emotional abuse and beatings over a number of years? What can he do to reassure the public in Devon and Cornwall that these allegations will be thoroughly independently investigated and any wrongdoing acted on?

Of course, we have the Independent Office for Police Conduct to make sure that there is an independent body available to investigate serious allegations about police forces or their conduct of particular investigations. On the Engage process, the chief inspector of constabulary chairs regular meetings of the policing performance oversight group, where forces in Engage are looked at and overseen. Devon and Cornwall is one of those forces, along with the West Midlands and London.

Local policing is really important. I have had some good news from my police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, which is that Liskeard is to have a new police inquiry office. Would my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming this, and will he look at what further funding is available for this to happen in other towns?

I pay tribute to the excellent police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, for the work that she has done to get the Liskeard centre open, and of course I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her tireless work campaigning on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police. Devon and Cornwall Police now has 3,718 officers, which is a record, and next year it will be receiving £28 million more funding compared with the current financial year, providing plenty of money to invest in services, as my hon. Friend quite rightly requests.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for everything you do to keep Members of Parliament safe. I know that so much of it goes unseen.

I know, from talking to residents in Hull West and Hessle, that they are deeply concerned about the rise in antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour is not trivial; it has a huge impact on neighbourhoods and on the mental health of the people subjected to it. So why are the Government failing to take it seriously?

With great respect, that is complete nonsense. The Government published an antisocial behaviour action plan just last year. From April of this year, in just a couple of months’ time, every single police area in England and Wales will have funding—£66 million in total—to run hotspot patrols in areas where there is antisocial behaviour or serious violence problems. We have 10 force areas running pilots for immediate justice, where people committing ASB have to do immediate reparations, and we banned nitrous oxide on 8 November last year. So an action plan is being implemented, and every single police force is having money to run hotspot patrols to combat ASB.

Asylum Accommodation: Safety and Wellbeing

11. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers in asylum accommodation. [R] (901621)

We continue to provide safe, habitable and fit-for-purpose accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. The Home Office has established procedures to hold contracted accommodation providers responsible for the provision of the safety, security and wellbeing of asylum seekers. In addition, asylum seekers have access to a 24/7 helpline to raise concerns and make formal complaints.

Recent tragic events demonstrate that even those who are at risk of suicide are ignored after repeatedly raising concerns about their mental health in asylum accommodation. Why have Ministers changed the allocation of asylum accommodation policy to make it harder for people to prove that they are at risk of harm at a particular site? Will they learn the lessons from December’s tragic incident?

I do not accept the depiction that the hon. Lady paints of the situation. We of course make appropriate case-by-case decisions about accommodation arrangements for individuals, reflecting the needs they have and with proper referrals made, as one would rightly expect, to any other agencies that may be required to ensure somebody’s health or wellbeing, and that any safeguarding issues are properly addressed. Migrant Help support is of course available for people to access 24/7 and raise any issues.

Illegal Migration: Co-operation with France

Joint working with our French partners is crucial to stopping the boats. Thanks in no small part to that joint working, small boat crossings were down by 46% last year.

My spies tell me that my hon. and learned Friend was in France just nine days ago. Were there any lessons to be learned from the French authorities about more co-operation that can go on to stop the boats even further?

My hon. Friend is right: I was in France nine days ago. Even while I was there, a boat was seized, but he is right to say that more needs to be done. Personnel, equipment and technology are key to breaking the business model of the criminal gangs. Having met the new Préfet du Nord, I am in no doubt that this is a joint mission.

Will the Minister update the House on the number of illegal migrants who have crossed the channel and are currently being accommodated in hotels at the expense of the public purse? How does that compare with the number of UK nationals who are currently homeless or sleeping rough?

I can confirm that the Government have beaten our target of closing 50 hotels by the end of January, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to welcome.

Asylum Hotels

The Home Office has been clear that the use of hotels was a temporary and short-term measure to ensure that we met our statutory obligation to accommodate destitute asylum seekers during a period of unprecedented numbers of small boat arrivals. We are making significant progress in closing hotels, with more than 64 closed by the end of January.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Shrewsbury has more listed buildings than any other town in England, and we benefit from beautiful architecture that attracts a huge amount of tourism from across the United Kingdom and overseas. Our top hotel in the centre of Shrewsbury is being used to house illegal migrants. We were given an assurance that the hotel would be taken out of that use, yet we have heard nothing further from the Minister or his Department. When will the Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury revert back to its normal use, which is housing tourists?

It is certainly the case that I have not given an assurance to that effect, but I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we are tracking ahead of profile when it comes to closing hotels, and the number of people accommodated in hotels is going down. We will continue to make progress in order to allow more closures. I hear his representations about the hotel in his constituency. We are committed to this. We are making progress and we will see it through.

Obviously the overwhelming majority of those seeking asylum here and who are in residential accommodation desperately do not want to be in that accommodation. They want their application to be heard and processed quickly. The Minister knows that around three quarters of those people will be granted asylum in this country. Does he agree that part of the process, while a person is waiting for their hearing and for their decision to be made, surely should be looking at integration? Given that, is not time to give asylum seekers the right to work in this country? That would be good for them morally, but also good for the Government and the taxpayer, because they would contribute to their own upkeep.

It is fair to say that such an approach would make a mockery of our legal migration system and people playing by the rules, lodging applications and paying the appropriate fees. It is right that where people are granted asylum, we support them to be able to move on as quickly as possible. Work is a key part of that. I just wish the hon. Gentleman had the same energy to try to help more of our people domestically to be able to take on these roles, rather than saying that we should resort to migrant labour all the time.

Neighbourhood Policing

14. What recent assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of neighbourhood policing levels. (901624)

Figures for local policing started to be published in 2015, with 61,083 roles at the time. The most recent figures for March last year show that the number had increased by 6,000 to 67,785.

With a growing number of my constituents not even reporting crimes because they do not have access to a public police station, will the Minister reconsider additional funds to ensure that local police stations, such as Tamworth’s, are reopening public-facing police desks?

Staffordshire constabulary will receive an extra £16 million next year compared with the current financial year, which is a significant increase. They now have more than 2,000 police officers due to our uplift programme, which has seen record police numbers across England and Wales.

One of the most commonly reported crimes in Rother Valley is burglary, either to rob homes or to break into homes and steal car keys. Does the Minister agree that every area, especially South Yorkshire, should have a dedicated burglary police team to deal with those particular issues and ensure we clamp down on those awful crimes?

The previous Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) was successful in securing a commitment from police to ensure that every residential burglary has a visit from the police, but my hon. Friend’s idea for a dedicated burglary taskforce is excellent, and I commend it to all police and crime commissioners.

Topical Questions

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a brief statement. Over the past few weeks, we have seen disgraceful attempts to intimidate this House, to undermine the democratic process and to spread fear among those who have been elected to represent our country. That is unacceptable. It must end.

To this House, I want to say clearly that the Government will defend our democracy. We are working with the police and with Parliament to ensure that disagreements are resolved in this House through debate, not outside with threats of violence. To those who seek to threaten this House, I say this: we will not be cowed; we will not be intimidated; and we will not be silenced. We will do whatever is necessary to protect those elected to represent us, to safeguard our freedoms and to protect our rights. I know I speak for colleagues across the whole House when I say we will always act in the interests of our constituents and our country.

I thank the Minister for that answer. He will be aware that there has been a 335% increase in Islamophobic hate cases in the UK since 7 October, and a 589% rise in antisemitic incidents compared with 2022. That is affecting our most marginalised and vulnerable groups. What steps is the Minister taking to protect worshippers and faith schools and to reduce unprecedented levels of hate across these islands?

Over the past year this Government have increased the funding to the Community Security Trust by around £3 million, taking the total to around £18 million. We have spent a similar amount on other places of worship—only last week I approved spending on security measures to mosques and churches around the country, exactly to counter the kind of hate crimes that the hon. Member described. We have engaged with not just the Community Security Trust but organisations such as Tell MAMA, which do a fantastic job of engaging with us on anti-Muslim hatred. It is extremely important that we all work together, not just to support and protect every religion and community in our country but to ensure that we lower the tension so that we can all be free to express our views.

T2. Stealing from small convenience stories is causing concern because of both the financial impact on owners and the threat of violence towards staff. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting colleagues and me to discuss this last week. I pay tribute to the Thames Valley police and crime commissioner Matthew Barber for his excellent retail crime strategy. Will my right hon. Friend set out how the Government plan to tackle those thefts and threats? (901636)

This is a very serious issue. The Government have a retail crime action plan agreed with police, which includes making sure that the police always attend when a suspect is detained, when police attendance is needed to secure evidence or when there has been an assault. It also includes always following up every single line of inquiry when retail crime occurs, including running footage of the offender through the facial recognition database, and identifying and going after the criminal gangs that often are behind shoplifting.

Last week, Tell MAMA reported that anti-Muslim hate incidents have trebled. That follows recent reports that antisemitic incidents have hit a record high. We all must challenge all forms of threat, prejudice, racism and hate. Having heard the words from the former deputy chair of the Conservative party of a Muslim Mayor, who said that his “mates” are Islamist extremists and that he has been taken over by “Islamists”, is any Home Office Minister now prepared to stand up and say not only that those words about the London Mayor are wrong, but that they believe they were Islamophobic and should be condemned as such?

Within 24 hours of those words being used, this Prime Minister took immediate action by removing the Whip from that individual. If only all leaders of every political party were as quick to remove the Whip from those who spread hatred in our community. As Rochdale sadly demonstrates, they are not.

I am sorry that the Minister, who I know takes issues seriously, chose not to respond to my question. Rightly, on all sides of the House we have called out and condemned antisemitism, and we must continue to do so. If Government Ministers cannot openly challenge Islamophobia, they play into the hands of extremists—both far right and Islamist. The Minister will know that hate crime fuels extremism. If the Government took any of this seriously, they would not have just ditched plans for a new hate crime strategy or left it nine years to update the countering extremism strategy. Does he agree that it is not just their inability to say the words but their failure to act that is leaving our communities exposed?

I am sorry that the right hon. Lady does not see the action as clearly as others in this House. The Whip was removed immediately because anti-Muslim hatred is wrong. There is no hierarchy in hatred or racism. It is all wrong. Anti-Muslim hatred is wrong. The support that some have given to Islamist communities in our country is tragic and this Government will work against it. That is exactly why we have proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir—because we will work against hatred from whichever community, in whatever way it comes.

T4. I understand that the Government are looking to further restrict the ability of sex offenders to change their name. Should we not impose at least the same restrictions, or perhaps an outright ban, on those convicted of murder, because they can continue to be a threat to the families of those they murdered? (901638)

The Home Office explored whether a name-change ban should be extended to murderers and determined that the operational need did not exist. Anyone convicted of murder automatically receives a life sentence. If they are released from prison, they are managed by probation for the remainder of their life and they remain under an obligation to notify probation within 72 hours of any change of their name. Should they fail to do so, they face immediate recall to prison and up to an extra five years behind bars. So far, we feel that that is working adequately.

T3. Next month, it will be four years since the publication of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission report, which recommended violence reduction units. However, knife crime and serious violence are soaring across the country. Does the Minister accept that his Government’s severe cuts to police numbers, which mean we are at the bottom of international ranking tables, is leaving our young people and communities without the protection they need? (901637)

Perhaps I have not said often enough in this Chamber that we now have record numbers of police officers across England and Wales, including in the Metropolitan police area, which has the highest number of police officers per capita of any police force in the country. Despite that, I was disappointed to see in the recent figures published that, while across the rest of the country excluding London knife crime went down, on Sadiq Khan’s watch in London it went up.

T5. In 2010, the period of service to be eligible for a police long service medal changed from 22 years to 20 years. Sadly, no decision was made to award it retrospectively, meaning that people such as Sedgley resident Guy Hewlett, who served with distinction for 20 years, were excluded. This seems to be fundamentally unfair. Will the Home Secretary agree to look into that unfairness, as a simple remedy could be found to recognise officers who served for the minimum 20 years pre 2010? (901639)

Changes of this nature are generally not applied retrospectively. I will look at that matter again. Normally, when a length-of-service period has changed it applies prospectively rather than retrospectively, but I will look at the issue.

T6. Last month, tragically, a young man was stabbed to death at Strawberry Hill station in my constituency. The Minister will know that the key to tackling violent crime is intelligence-led community policing, but despite his previous answer we have seen police officers cut by a third since 2015 and regular abstractions from my constituency into central London. When will the Minister ensure that my constituents have a visible policing presence again so they feel safe? (901640)

I am sure that is a question the hon. Lady will be posing to London’s police and crime commissioner, Sadiq Khan, in the course of the upcoming mayoral election. Thanks to Government funding, the Metropolitan police, in common with England and Wales, now has record police numbers. In the case of the Met there are about 35,000, and in the rest of the country there are about 149,000. In fact, not only does London have the highest per capita funding of any force in the country, it has the highest number of officers per capita of any force in the country, so Sadiq Khan really has no excuse at all.

Under the new changes, the minimum income threshold for family visas is being raised incrementally over the next year. However, the only date we have been given so far for that threshold increase is 11 April 2024. For people like my constituents who are planning to get married and are making wedding plans, will the Minister set out when we will have further clarity and an update on the timetable for announcing the future thresholds?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I recognise his desire for certainty. What I can say is that we expect to complete the reform in early 2025, with further staging posts to come. We are, of course, carefully monitoring the implementation through the period of delivering the initial increase. It is right that we go about it in that incremental way to give certainty to people.

T7. In Bristol, we have sadly seen a number of young people killed by knife crime in the last few weeks. We have a Conservative police and crime commissioner, but unlike the Minister I have no desire to party politicise this. What is he doing to work with the Department for Education to ensure schools are involved in trying to lead the fight against knife crime and young people getting involved, whether as victims or perpetrators? (901641)

The Youth Endowment Fund, led by Jon Yates, has received a £200 million endowment. Its mission is to work with young people—and that includes working with schools in the way that the hon. Lady has described —to identify the most effective interventions that could stop young people getting on to the wrong track, a track that can often have tragic consequences. The youth endowment fund is working with violence reduction units in the 20 police force areas most affected, which are spending £55 million a year, to make the necessary interventions, for instance in schools, to keep our young people safe.

During a recent night out in Wrexham, where I am known as a nurse as well as the Member of Parliament, I was asked to help police with a man who had collapsed. As I was beginning cardiac resuscitation, the emergency call handler said that the first responder would be with us in an hour and 15 minutes. Fortunately the man was stabilised, but then came the wait. We are well used to the level of service provided by the Welsh Labour Government, but has the Minister made any assessment of how much time is lost by the police attending emergency services?

I thank my hon. Friend for her work in helping the community: her service has been exemplary. The police will of course help when there is a threat to life or safety or when criminality is involved, but when the emergency is purely medical, for instance when someone is undergoing a mental health crisis, it is for the NHS to respond, and the nationwide roll-out of the Right Care, Right Person model across England—and soon, I hope, across Wales as well—will ensure that a medical response comes when it is needed.

T8. Yew Lodge hotel in the north-west Leicestershire village of Kegworth continues to accommodate 230 male illegal migrants. How much longer will this blight be inflicted on my constituents by the Government? (901642)

The hon. Gentleman makes no mention of the fact that one of the hotels in his constituency is being closed, but he might like to welcome that. He should actually be backing the Government, because we are getting on with closing these hotels. We are tracking ahead of profile in that regard, and we also have a credible plan to reduce the inflow of people crossing the channel by illegal means.

In respect of the projection of an antisemitic, terrorist-originating slogan on to the Big Ben tower last week, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner claims that he is powerless. That is utter nonsense, Among other options, the police could use section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, which refers to the use of

“threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour”


“intent to cause…harassment, alarm or distress”.

It was behaviour, and it was insulting to Jews and many others. The police could also have reasonably feared a breach of the peace, ordered the removal of the projection machine, and, if there was non-compliance, arrested the individual for obstructing a constable under the Police Act 1996. I have personally prosecuted people for these offences. Police who fail to do their duty can be disciplined for neglect of that duty. Will the Minister act?

I am sure that all Members were horrified when those political statements, one of which, by implication, called for the destruction of Israel, were beamed on to the Big Ben tower. It was totally unacceptable, and, incidentally, it was also a breach of planning law. I do expect the police to take action; my right hon. and learned Friend, a former Attorney General, has set out a number of grounds on which it could have been taken, and he can rest assured that I have forcefully communicated that to the commissioner already.

T9. One of my constituents has been waiting for his asylum substantive interview for well over 18 months. He sat for four hours waiting for an interview to start, but it was then cancelled with no explanation. There are clearly systemic issues, but can the Department look at this particular case so that it can be resolved? (901643)

I know that the hon. Lady will welcome the improvements that we are making in the processing of asylum claims, which are reflected in the way in which the legacy backlog has been dealt with, but if she can give me some specific details, I will certainly ask the team to have a look at it as soon as possible.

May I thank my hon. Friend for not only closing the four-star Newton Park asylum hotel at the beginning of February, but doing so 26 days early? The villagers and the people who use the V3 bus service are extremely grateful for this exceptionally good practice.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work in representing the views of her constituents on this issue. She firmly backs the Government’s plan, which is allowing us to get on with closing hotels such as the one in her constituency, and we will continue to make progress to deliver on our commitments.

Banking protocols clearly state that banks should contact the police when they detect fraud. HSBC rightly prevented a vulnerable constituent of mine from conducting a bank transfer to fraudsters in South Africa. However, owing to a failure to notify the police, the fraud continued, and as a result my constituent lost more than £32,000, transferred with the use of Apple gift cards. What advice can the Minister give? What recourse has my constituent to recover the money from HSBC? If it had followed the protocols laid down, appropriate safeguards would have been put in place.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. Fraud is a blight on our society and leaves many people feeling vulnerable and extremely nervous about using online services and the wider economy. I am delighted to say that fraud is already down by 13%, and there is more we are doing on this issue. I urge his constituent to follow the advice of the advertising campaign we are launching, which is Stop! Think Fraud. This is a huge issue on which we are working with police forces around the country, which is why we have 400 new police officers in the national fraud service and the national fraud intelligence unit.

Last September my private Member’s Bill, which made public sexual harassment a criminal offence, received Royal Assent. Will the Minister say when that Act of Parliament will be commenced and when guidance to police forces will be issued?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. It was a pleasure to support his Bill as it went through the House. I cannot say exactly when it will be commenced, but I hope he will be reassured to hear that I had a meeting with officials about commencement earlier this month.

Last week, the Home Secretary fired the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration after losing confidence in him when he went public with his concerns. As the Home Office failed to publish 15 reports from the inspector despite an agreement that it would publish them within eight weeks of receipt, and with matters of border security at stake, is Mr David Neal actually a whistleblower?

As the right hon. Lady knows, Mr Neal’s appointment was terminated after he breached the terms of his appointment and lost the trust of the Home Secretary in relation to the reports that she mentions. As she would expect, reports and recommendations are always considered carefully by Ministers, and they will be published in due course.

The slogan that was projected on to Big Ben last Wednesday was extreme and antisemitic. To many, it calls for the destruction of Israel and is seen as a genocidal statement. Decent people around the country—not just Jews—find that appalling. Does the Minister agree that there are criminal offences that could be used for prosecutions, and will he reiterate his calls for the police to prosecute those responsible?

I share my hon. Friend’s view. As the former Attorney General my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North (Sir Michael Ellis) pointed out a few minutes ago, there were a number of bases on which the police could have acted to prevent that projection. Big Ben is not a canvas for political campaigning, particularly where the slogans are deeply offensive in nature, and that is a view I have made very clear to the commissioner.

Last week, I raised on a point of order the case of my constituent Marte Prenga and her two-year-old daughter, who are stuck overseas, and I was assured that those on the Treasury Bench would pass on to Home Office Ministers the details of their plight. Can I please have a meeting with an Immigration Minister, as this issue is still unresolved?

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that we Ministers are always approachable and accessible, and I would be happy to speak to him about that matter.

Thames Valley police have consistently set the pace on combating rural crime, and next year’s budget includes provisions to effectively double our rural crime taskforce. Will the Policing Minister join me in congratulating Thames Valley police on all they are doing and, more importantly, ensure that the Home Office learns from their best practice so that it can be applied across the country?

I pay tribute to Thames Valley’s excellent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Barber, for the work he is doing in combating rural crime and crime more widely. We have funded a rural crime unit within the National Police Chiefs’ Council, but I am happy to look at the excellent work in Thames Valley to ensure that lessons are learned across the country.