Topical Questions

Home Department – in the House of Commons am ar 3 Gorffennaf 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Ceidwadwyr, Rochester and Strood

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am going to make a short topical statement. The information that Meta and other tech companies give to UK law enforcement helps to protect around 1,200 children and leads to over 100 arrests of suspected child abusers every month. However, Meta plans to roll out end-to-end encryption soon, without safeguards, and it will no longer proactively detect and alert authorities to child grooming and abuse material on Facebook, Messenger and Instagram Direct. This will be a huge boon to anyone who wants to hurt a child. The Online Safety Bill will hold tech firms to account, but indifference to abuse is intolerable. I have written to Mark Zuckerberg—together with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Tom Tugendhat, children’s charities and campaign groups—to outline our profound concerns. Last week, I was in New Zealand at the Five Eyes security conference where there was widespread support for working together to ensure that social media companies put child safety first.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Ceidwadwyr, Rochester and Strood

Following recent knife crime incidents in my constituency and in the Medway towns, will my right hon. Friend meet me and our Kent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, to discuss funding and how the Home Office can further support Kent police with the increased challenges we are facing in Kent due to our proximity to London?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I very much appreciate the particular challenges in Kent relating to knife crime. That is why I am glad that since 2019, Kent has received £5.5 million in core violence reduction unit grant funding, and £730,000 in additional support for targeted youth interventions. I have met the police and crime commissioner, and Chief Constable Tim Smith. They are both excellent at leading their forces, and there is now a record number of police officers in Kent. I am sure the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, my right hon. Friend Chris Philp, will meet my right hon. Friend to discuss that issue. We have made a lot of progress, but we can do better.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Home Secretary will be aware of the documentary last week on the relationship between Boris Johnson and others, and former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev, and about the meeting in an Italian villa, the ignoring of security advice on Lords appointments, and the decision not to sanction Alexander Lebedev. Given the importance of national security, will she tell the House whether she has any concerns about those reports? Will she set up an independent investigation into what happened, into who knew what, and into how far the security risk spreads?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

At the Home Office, the Minister for Security and I take seriously the threats posed by hostile state actors. That is why the Minister for Security is chairing the Defending Democracy Taskforce, bringing together agencies and Departments in a cross-Whitehall approach to tackling the serious threats that we all face as parliamentarians and facing those in public office. I gently remind the right hon. Lady that one of her own parliamentary colleagues has a very dubious track record when it comes to working with the Chinese Communist party.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Ceidwadwyr, North Devon

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that police funding reflects rurality and the huge uplift in population experienced in remote coastal locations during the summer tourist season?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

As I said in response to an earlier question, the Government intend to consult in due course on a new police funding formula, and part of that consultation will involve looking at the factors that should be taken into account. Those might include things such as population and crime levels, but things such as rurality, sparsity and seasonality, particularly seasonal tourism, are likely to form part of the new formula. I encourage Members across the House to engage closely with that consultation when it comes forward, to ensure that those factors are properly accounted for.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In recent weeks, the media have carried stories of patients who were receiving medical cannabis on private prescriptions, and who are now having their prescriptions paid for by the NHS. On the surface that is a great leap forward, but parents of children with intractable epilepsy who have been asking for such things for years are still being ignored. Will the Home Office consider reopening the 2018 licensing scheme to enable those children who are already being privately prescribed medical cannabis to have access to it via their NHS GP?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

Many cannabis base compounds were moved wholesale to schedule 2 a few years ago, enabling them to be prescribed. The question that the hon. Gentleman asked about NHS prescription is perfectly reasonable and fair, but prescriptions on the NHS are a matter for the Department of Health and Social Care and for the NHS, including the NHS in Scotland. I would be happy to pass on his inquiry to them.

Photo of Gordon Henderson Gordon Henderson Ceidwadwyr, Sittingbourne and Sheppey

May I assure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the majority of my constituents in Sittingbourne and Sheppey understand that sending illegal migrants to Rwanda for processing is key to stopping small-boat crossings in the channel? Will she assure them that despite concerted opposition from the Labour party, she will deliver her plan?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. We are disappointed by the judgment of the Court of Appeal, but we are determined to follow through. He is right to say that we have to add deterrence to the system, as it is only by breaking the business model of the people smugglers that we will stop the boats.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

My constituents want community policing. Kim McGuinness, the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, has put in place a redeployment programme to get an extra 134 officers into neighbourhoods, but that will not make up for the 1,100 officers and the £148 million that we have lost due to budget cuts. And before the Minister mentions “plans”, that will still leave us 400 officers short. Why have the Tories failed so badly to get police officers on to the beat?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

As I mentioned in earlier answers, across England and Wales we now have record police numbers of 149,572. The previous peak was 146,030 in 2010, so we have 3,500 more officers than we have ever had before across England and Wales. In Northumbria, the number has gone up by 512 since 2015. Of course, many of the powers sit with the PCC, including powers over the precept. It is entirely open to police and crime commissioners to use those powers.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Ceidwadwyr, Burnley

Today, Operation Centurion has started across Lancashire, utilising £2 million from the Government to put more police officers on our streets tackling antisocial behaviour. In my constituency, that means almost 2,500 extra hours of police patrols in Padiham. It will have a major impact, but we can do more. Can I ask the Home Secretary whether the safer streets fund will have another round so that we can make physical changes, as well as getting more officers on the streets?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am delighted with the progress being made to tackle antisocial behaviour in Burnley and Padiham. As my hon. Friend will know, we have allocated almost £1 million to roll out pilots of ASB hotspot response in 2023-24. A new round of safer streets will be announced soon. I take this opportunity to thank Lancashire police, which has launched an ASB problem-solving unit. It ran Operation Propulsion, which involved more officers patrolling locations dealing with motor nuisance and boy racers, and it has had a real good crackdown on residential burglary thanks to Operation Defender. Neighbourhood crime has fallen by 26% in Lancashire. Tribute must be paid to Chief Constable Chris Rowley and the police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Scottish National Party, Edinburgh East

Given the exchanges earlier, I am obliged to ask the Home Secretary whether she understands the difference between using a cruise ship for the temporary accommodation of Ukrainian refugees, with a shared language and experience, and who have the right to work and are being actively relocated in the community, and using it essentially as a prison ship for the indefinite long-term detention of asylum seekers, who have no right to leave, no right to work, no right to benefits and no recourse to public funds. Does the Department appreciate the difference?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. He knows perfectly well that the proposition was not a prison ship. This is a ship that will be used in exactly the same way as the SNP Government did in Scotland, and in exactly the same way as the Belgian and the Dutch Governments are doing in their respective areas. If I may say, in Edinburgh today, there are 37 asylum seekers. That is disgraceful. If the SNP cared about this issue, it would step up, support asylum seekers and back our Bill.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

People in Southend West want to see a tough, but just policy on illegal immigration that stops people unfairly jumping the queue, that stops evil people smugglers and above all stops vulnerable people drowning in the channel. Will my right hon. Friend therefore agree that we must continue to send a strong signal that it is this Government —not unelected lawyers or criminal gangs—who will decide who comes to this country?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

At the core of this question is: who decides who comes to this country? Is it for the Government and Parliament, or is it for people smugglers and human traffickers? Those of us on the Government Benches know exactly which side of the debate we are on; we want to stop the boats, and we want to secure our borders.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The family of my constituent who fled Sudan have been stuck in Egypt for more than two months awaiting a spousal visa. Four of the group of five have UK passports. Can the Minister tell us how long he would expect people to be waiting in this kind of situation when they have suffered such distress and anxiety?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I would be happy to look into the case for the hon. Gentleman, but I can say to him that we are processing applications in third countries within service standards. We have closed the visa application centre in Khartoum for obvious reasons to protect the security of our staff and contractors, but we have teams in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and in other close countries who are there to support applicants, such as his constituents.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Ceidwadwyr, Chipping Barnet

Given this morning’s U-turn by the Mayor of London on selling off Uxbridge police station, does the Minister believe that the Mayor should also act to save Barnet police station? If he does not, the Mayor’s decision on Uxbridge looks like cynical political gameplaying and interference in a by-election.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I and many other Londoners were concerned when, I think in 2017, Sadiq Khan announced plans to close 37 police stations. Thanks to the resolute campaigning of local councillor Steve Tuckwell in Hillingdon, Sadiq Khan has executed a last-minute handbrake U-turn under pressure, which I am sure is entirely unconnected with the upcoming by-election. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that if Sadiq Khan is to have any credibility at all with Londoners—he currently has pretty much none—he should reverse not just that one police station closure plan but all his police station closure plans.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Shadow Minister (Defence)

Using the maximum police precept on council tax, having to tap into half a million pounds of reserves and yet again relying on grant funding shows that the Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner has failed to secure the long-term funding that our force desperately needs. Now he is off pursuing his personal ambitions as the next Tory candidate for Mid Beds. The review of police funding is welcome, but when will the House see it? Will it be before the summer recess?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I cannot set out a precise timeframe—it is being actively worked on—but I point out that Festus, the police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire, is doing a fantastic job for the people of that county. It is thanks to his active, energetic, persuasive and eloquent interventions that Bedfordshire has received these special grants. Its base budget has also gone up by £6.1 million this year thanks to his fantastic work.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Ceidwadwyr, Haltemprice and Howden

Last week, Nigel Farage publicised the cancellation of his bank account under the politically exposed persons regulation, but he is only the latest of a number of people to have had their lives wrecked by that regulation. Recently, Lords in the other place tried to correct the policy, but with only partial success, because, I understand, of pushback from the Home Office and the security services. Will the Minister explain why that is and what he will do about it?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am delighted to be asked a question. Yesterday, the Treasury and the Home Office came together and agreed various things that were announced in the House of Lords: the PEPs agreement. Such a closure on political grounds, if that is indeed what has happened—after all, we have only the allegation of it at this point—should, therefore, be completely unacceptable. PEPs is there to prevent the corrupt use of banking facilities by politicians in corrupt regimes. It is not there to silence individuals who may hold views with which we may or may not agree.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

In the chief inspector of borders and immigration’s latest report on the Home Office system to remove foreign national offenders, he said

“the Home Office does not have a firm grip on its caseworking operations”, and

“This is no way to run a government department.”

He also said

“I found the Home Office’s inability to provide reliable or consistent data and management information of particular concern.”

Given that, will the Minister explain how the Department will cope with the increase in casework, detention and removals planned under the Illegal Immigration (Offences) Bill?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

We take that report, as we do all others, very seriously. The right hon. Lady is right to say that there are lessons to be learned. However, returns are increasing as a result of deals such as the one we have done with Albania, as a result of reforms such as those we have made to the national referral mechanism and as a result of the 50% increase in illegal working visits that we have secured this year alone.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Ceidwadwyr, Erewash

Despite repeated assurances from the Dispatch Box and it being nearly eight months since I first raised the issue with the Minister, the Home Office continues to operate two wholly inappropriate accommodation centres in my constituency, putting an unbearable strain on public services. Will my right hon. Friend expedite a clear timetable to close the centres permanently and restore the hotels to their intended purposes?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend and I have discussed this on many occasions. She has doggedly campaigned for the closure of these centres as well as supported the steps that we are taking as a Government to stop the boats in the first place. I will be happy to have further conversations with her, but she has my assurance that we are working as fast as possible to clear all hotels, including those in her constituency.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence)

Last week, the Government rejected a number of recommendations from the inquest into the tragic mass shooting in Plymouth in 2021, which has caused serious concern among some of the families of the victims. Will the Minister explain why he rejected the coroner’s recommendations and whether all those on which he is consulting will be implemented by the end of this calendar year?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman for our meeting with the families a few weeks ago. As I said to him on the phone last week, whenever he and the families are ready to have further discussions with Home Office officials, they will be ready. The timing of that will be guided by the hon. Gentleman. On the substance of the Government’s reply, we have committed to doing some things straight away. For example, the National Police Chiefs’ Council has been funded to set up an accredited training programme for firearms officers—that was one of the recommendations. In due course that will become mandatory.

The inspectorate will conduct a thematic inspection of all firearms licensing next year. As I said to the House a few months ago, I asked it specifically to reinspect Devon and Cornwall’s firearms licensing. It is doing that and it should report back by the end of July. The vast majority of the recommendations made by the coroner, the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the Scottish Affairs Committee in connection with the Isle of Skye shooting are being openly and neutrally consulted on.

The Government do not have a position; they will consult openly and respond once we have replies to the consultation. There were two recommendations that the hon. Gentleman referred to that the Government did not feel were appropriate, for the reasons set out in the document, but the vast majority are being openly consulted on. We have taken action on some of them already. I thank him again for his campaigning on this issue, which I know the families are grateful for.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Ceidwadwyr, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

I recently visited Uxbridge police station to hear about the valuable work its officers do to serve my constituents as well as those in Uxbridge and South Ruislip. When the Mayor announced its closure in 2017, Hillingdon Council offered to buy the site at market rate and provide a £500,000 revenue contribution and leaseback arrangement, so that those valuable services could continue to be available. The Mayor said that that was completely impossible. Other than the relentless campaigning of Hillingdon Conservatives and Councillor Steve Tuckwell, could my right hon. Friend suggest any reason why the Mayor decided to keep it—

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. The answer is no, I cannot think of anything other than the campaigning by Councillor Steve Tuckwell and others, which forced the Mayor into a last-minute, self-interested, screeching U-turn. I would like the Mayor to do a U-turn on all the other police stations he is threatening with closure.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Is the Home Secretary concerned by recent revelations about the investigation into the Stephen Lawrence murder and what happened in the Brink’s-Mat aftermath? Is she concerned about some of the out-of-work organisations that our police belong to?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The recent reports on the Stephen Lawrence case are an operational matter for the police, which I cannot get involved in, nor should I. That is a judgment for the police on operational and casework decisions, within which we do not interfere. We have a good track record on the Met turning around performance. Mark Rowley’s turnaround plan and leadership efforts to restore confidence and rebuild trust with London are working. We need to back him to get the best results possible in London.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Ceidwadwyr, Don Valley

There is a tweet going around regarding a man who identifies as a trans woman. The tweet reads that the trans-identified man who

“appeared in an @itvnews report about ‘mothers’ has posted an image ‘breastfeeding’ a baby. Do you think it’s ok to mock women like this?”

I think that is a valid question, but I am also extremely concerned for the welfare of the child. Will the Home Secretary’s Department look into that for me, please?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

While we respect all the rights of those in the trans community, it is clear that biological men cannot breastfeed. It is remarkable that we are in a position where the Labour party leader cannot define a woman. I think he said something like 99.9% of women do not have a penis. On that basis, we cannot rule him out from running to be Labour’s first female Prime Minister.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

My constituent Sarah has been waiting more than six months for a biometric resident’s permit, during which time she cannot work, access free healthcare or leave the country. Will someone do something to get her the status she deserves, so that she can go on with her life?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I would be happy to look into the case for the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

The number of foreign national offenders eligible for deportation has now reached a record almost 12,000. Almost 4,000 of those left prison more than five years ago and even those volunteering for deportation are still here. Will the Minister get a grip on the deportation department within the Home Office and make sure those people are chucked out of our country?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want those individuals to leave the country as swiftly as possible. The published figures show that FNO returns increased following the pandemic—by 14% in the latest 12-month period ending December 2022 compared with the previous 12-month period—but, quite clearly, there is more work to be done.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Llafur, Liverpool, Riverside

Liverpool is a city of sanctuary. Currently, we have 237 Afghan families who have been languishing in a hotel for two years. The council must rehouse the families by 11 August. Can the Minister say what will happen if we are unable to find suitable accommodation? Will they be made homeless and thrown out on the street?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend Johnny Mercer and I launched a programme that provides significant support to councils like Liverpool to help individuals find alternative accommodation. That might be in the private rental sector or it might be in social housing, but I think we can all agree on the principle that it is not right for individuals or families to live in hotel accommodation for over two years. We need to help those people out of the hotels this summer.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

The Immigration Minister’s earlier claim will come as news to the Labour and Conservative coalition which runs North Lanarkshire Council and a surprise to a director of Mears who confirmed to me that North Lanarkshire Council houses not just asylum seekers but refugees. The Immigration Minister has now given factually wrong information to this House three times. When will he apologise to the House, and will he come back to it to give proper information?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I do not think I have given factually wrong information. They may not be the facts the hon. Gentleman wants to hear, but they are the facts. I did not mention North Lanarkshire, but there are six asylum seekers there. I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is more to be done.