Topical Questions

Home Department – in the House of Commons am ar 26 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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

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.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

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?

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

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.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Ceidwadwyr, Aylesbury

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?

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

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.

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

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?

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

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.

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

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?

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

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.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Ceidwadwyr, Tewkesbury

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?

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

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.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

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?

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

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.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Ceidwadwyr, Dudley North

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?

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

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.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

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?

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

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.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Ceidwadwyr, North Norfolk

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?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

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.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

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?

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

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.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Ceidwadwyr, Wrecsam

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?

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

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.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

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?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

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.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Ceidwadwyr, Northampton North

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” with

“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?

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

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.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

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?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

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.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Ceidwadwyr, South Derbyshire

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.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

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.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

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.

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

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.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

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?

Photo of Laura Farris Laura Farris Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

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.

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

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?

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration)

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.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department

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?

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

I share my hon. Friend’s view. As the former Attorney General my right hon. and learned Friend 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.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

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?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

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.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Ceidwadwyr, Buckingham

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?

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

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.