Topical Questions

Home Department – in the House of Commons on 14th November 2022.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

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

The UK is working closely with France to reduce illegal small boat crossings over the channel. Over the past year, those efforts have produced results. Today, I was in Paris with my French counterpart, Gérald Darmanin, to agree a more integrated and strengthened approach aimed at making that lethally dangerous route unviable, with world-class law enforcement teams from both countries working even more closely together. That is a positive step forward.

For the first time, UK officers will join French law enforcement teams as embedded observers, sharing real-time information on the ground and in command HQ. We will provide investment of up to £62 million this year, supporting cutting-edge surveillance technology, the expansion of the UK-France joint intelligence cell, and more French officers patrolling the French coast. This is an international problem; it requires an international solution.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

May I raise a question about the Afghanistan citizens resettlement scheme on behalf of a constituent whose father has played a prominent role in women’s education, achieving recognition and awards from the United Nations? The ACRS is a clearly structured scheme, but may I request a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to discuss the very special circumstances of my constituent’s father?

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

The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, which commenced on 6 January 2022, will see up to 20,000 at-risk people resettled to the United Kingdom. If my hon. Friend sends me the details, I will ask the relevant teams to look at that case.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On Friday, a commission established by Refugees for Justice and led by Helena Kennedy KC concluded that the 2020 stabbings and shooting at asylum accommodation in Glasgow’s Park Inn could have been avoided, and recommended important asylum reforms. Will the Home Secretary or the Minister for Immigration agree to meet Baroness Kennedy—with whom I spoke this morning—and Refugees for Justice to discuss that important report?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and the Baroness to discuss her report. We take safety at immigration removal centres extremely seriously. If I may, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the immigration enforcement officers and others who responded to the recent disturbance at Harmondsworth in London. Their hard work in difficult circumstances was much appreciated by all of us.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I welcome the agreement that the Home Secretary has signed with the French Government. It is a contribution to dealing with the asylum crisis and therefore allowing hundreds of hotels, including some in my constituency, to go back to doing their proper job. Does she recognise that we also need an asylum system that can process applications quickly? If the figures remain at 1.5 decisions per week per decision maker, as they are now, or at four a week, as in the Government’s latest pilot, we will never see an end to the backlogs and delays, so may I urge the Government to be more ambitious?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question and his advice on this matter. We want to increase the productivity of our Home Office staff so that cases are not being decided to the tune of one per person per week, but at four, five or six per person per week, as they were a few years ago. We have had a positive pilot in our Leeds office, and we now intend to roll that out at pace across the country.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

We have 8,000 fewer PCSOs, 6,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers, and people can see for themselves that there are fewer uniformed officers on our streets. No doubt the Home Secretary will deny yet again that the Government have cut police. In the vain hope that the public might be reassured by something that this Government say, I will ask again: will she commit to matching Labour’s plan to recruit 13,000 more neighbourhood police officers? No more smoke and mirrors: yes or no?

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

There is no need for smoke and mirrors when the police budget this year is £1.1 billion higher than last year, and there is no need for smoke and mirrors when on completion of the police uplift programme in just a few months’ time, there will be more uniformed police officers on our streets than at any time in this country’s history.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

What steps are the Government taking to increase charging rates for offences of rape, serious sexual offending and harassment against women and girls?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for his serious question, and I know he works hard in Bury North to talk about the issue. The Government are committed to tackling violence against women and girls. We are taking action through the rape review and the tackling violence against women and girls strategy and tackling domestic abuse to improve the police’s response to these crimes. Charge volumes for rapes are up 8%. It is not enough, and there is a lot more to do, and we are working hard with schemes such as Operation Soteria in the hope that these good practices will progress throughout the country.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

We have cases marked urgent not responded to within two months and weekly phone calls with MPs’ offices being cancelled at short notice. When will Ministers get a grip of officials and make sure that Members of this House are treated with respect, so that we can represent our constituents?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman and I have already spoken about this matter, and it is absolutely right that officials at the Home Office treat Members of Parliament and their staff with the respect they deserve and that we ensure they get the relevant meetings and decisions. Anything I can do to facilitate that—for him or any other colleague—of course I will do.

Photo of Mark Eastwood Mark Eastwood Conservative, Dewsbury

Having completed the course, I thank Sergeant Richard Neeves and West Yorkshire police for organising my participation in the parliamentary police and fire service scheme. Does the Minister agree that Members from across the House should be encouraged to take part in the scheme if they want to gain a greater understanding of the pressures and challenges our police officers face day-to-day?

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

I join my hon. Friend in thanking Sergeant Richard Neeves for the work he did in encouraging and helping my hon. Friend to participate in the parliamentary police and fire service scheme. Yes, I do agree: Members from right across the House should engage in that scheme.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

When 172 men, women and children who were asylum applicants in Acton were bussed suddenly to Ashford in Kent, 80 miles away from their schools, NHS networks and faith communities, it made the TV news. It happened because the private provider of hotel accommodation wanted it back. Will the Home Secretary look into that case, because there is a human cost to uprooting families at the drop of a hat, as well as the waste of taxpayer money in shifting people from hotel to hotel when they could be contributing and paying in if they were processed faster?

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

The reality is that the accommodation pressure that we are seeing today is a symptom of the broader problem of unprecedented numbers of people arriving here illegally, at a level that we have not seen before. That is putting pressure on the system to find and provide accommodation for these people, as we have a duty to accommodate them. We need to stop the crossings, which will ease pressure on accommodation.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I recognise the agreement reached this morning with the French to stop illegal migrants crossing the English channel in small boats, but what else will my right hon. Friend do to take lessons from other European countries? Germany and Sweden, for example, do not recognise refugee applications from Albania. Countries such as Italy and Poland are physically stopping people from crossing their border illegally. What more will be done to tackle this problem?

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

My hon. Friend is right that there is a real need for a multi-pronged approach. It is not quite right that countries like Germany or Sweden do not accept asylum applications; rather, they may have higher burdens of proof or thresholds that need to be met. We need to change some of the regimes that govern asylum and some of the rights being claimed, in a large number of cases, unmeritoriously. We will make an announcement on the measures that we are taking in due course.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I welcome the Minister for Immigration to his place. Will he meet me to discuss an Afghan spousal visa case that I have been dealing with for over a year? Pakistan will not grant her a visa so that she can travel to her biometrics appointment.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I would be very happy to look into that case for the hon. Lady.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Conservative, Bromsgrove

Of all the issues that the Home Secretary has to deal with, few are more harrowing than child sexual abuse. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse recently reported that there were 8.8 million attempts to access such imagery online in the UK in a single month. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Online Safety Bill will include a provision for UK companies to report such content to the National Crime Agency? Will she work with her colleagues to bring forward the Bill this year?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

This issue is very close to my right hon. Friend’s heart and to mine. The Government are committed to tackling all forms of child sexual abuse to keep children safe at home, outside and online. There is a lot of good work being done by the NCA and GCHQ. In relation to timing, I am hopeful that we will have some news imminently.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

When it comes to immigration policy, it is “Oui, oui, oui” to working with the French Republic, but when it comes to bespoke policies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deal with demographics and labour shortages, it is “Non, non, non.” What is the difference? Why are we not allowed bespoke policies in his Government, working with the Scottish Parliament, to enable us to do that?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

Because we are all blessed to live in one United Kingdom. There is no material difference: Scotland’s unemployment rate was 3.3% and its economic inactivity rate was 21% in recent figures, compared with the UK average of 3.5% and 21%, respectively. It is more important that we work together as one UK. Those are exactly the terms on which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has just concluded this very important agreement.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

While co-operation with the French is no doubt welcome, is it not the case that since 2015 the British taxpayer has subsidised the French police force to the tune of £200 million? Since then, a record number have been intercepted but an even higher record number have made it across the channel. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is nothing in the agreement that obliges the French police to detain and arrest anyone they intercept and that, therefore, they are free to come back the following night and try again? Are we not throwing good money after bad?

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

I do not believe that this is throwing good money after bad because, as I said, this year alone we have seen 30,000 successful interventions by the French to stop attempts to leave France and come here illegally. That is a very impressive record but is not enough, because it is not fixing the problem. Increasing the number of gendarmes as agreed under the deal, the embedded observers, and joint working at a real level on the ground between the UK and the French, will, I believe, take us forward in combating the scourge.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

There is a huge problem with the over-policing of black children due to adultification, which is where minors are treated as adults. Some 799 children aged between 10 and 17 were strip-searched by the Met between 2019 and 2021 without any being arrested. We need an urgent independent investigation into the over-policing of black children. Will the Minister commit to one?

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I know this issue is dear to the hon. Member’s heart. The police must use their powers carefully to target the right sort of offenders. It is of concern that that can sometimes appear to be disproportionate. Nobody should be stopped and searched because of their age, race or ethnicity. There are codes of conduct in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and there is the use of body-worn video data. About 40% of stop-and-searches that take place in London are of young men—

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

The announcement today is clearly a good thing, but is the Home Secretary entirely confident that she will have sufficient aerial surveillance assets in place so that we can do our half of the job properly?

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

I have visited our clandestine command and control team, headed up by Dan O’Mahoney and Border Force officials, and we have a military presence. Some very impressive technology is being used, such as surveillance drone technology, to enable and facilitate better co-operation with the French.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Labour, Kingston upon Hull East

Why do the Government continue to extend the temporary offshore wind workers concession? The industry is not even asking for it. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. The extension was reviewed by the Government and, on the basis of the representations made to us by the industry, we extended it to April 2023. If he has heard other representations, I would be pleased to hear about them.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

On Friday, we found out that Ipswich Borough Council’s temporary injunction to prevent the Novotel being used for up to 200 economic migrants was unsuccessful. More to the point, the owners are now saying they might have them for 12 months not six months. I heard in the media that the Government might move away from hotels to temporary accommodation such as Pontins. Can the Minister give me an update on the plan for moving away from hotels to much more basic and cheaper accommodation?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

We want to exit hotels as soon as possible, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and move to simple but decent accommodation that does not provide an additional pull factor to the UK. The challenge is considerable, however, as 40,000 people are making that perilous crossing every year, which places immense pressure on our asylum system and prevents us from providing the kind of humane and compassionate response that we want to provide to people coming here in genuine peril.

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

Last week, the new Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley came to Twickenham to meet community representatives. He said that one of the biggest pressures facing his officers is dealing with large numbers of mental health cases; sometimes, multiple officers are spending entire shifts with people in mental health crisis because the NHS does not have a bed for them. Will the Minister outline what his Department is doing to work with the NHS to ensure that provision is in place so that officers can be out dealing with burglaries and catalytic converter theft, which is what my constituents are worried about?

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

The hon. Lady makes an important and valid point. I had a similar conversation with Sir Mark a couple of weeks ago and I was out with officers in my borough of Croydon the week before last where the emergency response team told a similar story. Sir Stephen House is looking at this topic as part of his review into police productivity, but I also plan to have discussions with colleagues across Government, including in the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England, to find out what more we can do. The issue that she raises is certainly real.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

It is vital that our police forces draw on the best talent in our communities, including people who excel outside the classroom. Following our discussions, can the Home Secretary update the House on future plans for entry routes into policing?

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

I thank my hon. Friend and other honourable colleagues for their important campaigning to ventilate this issue. He speaks not only with passion, but with a deep understanding of the issue. I very much agree with him. I think that there are people from all walks of life who do not necessarily have a degree or want one who can be very good police officers. That is why I have asked the College of Policing to consider options for a new non-degree entry route to complement the existing framework. The current transitional arrangements will be extended in the meantime, and I am very clear that the police force must be open to those who neither have or want a degree.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

In Batley and Spen, we continue to face serious problems of antisocial behaviour, reckless driving and dangerous parking. Ultimately, behaviour change is key, but in the short term, neighbourhood police and local councils need the resources to catch and punish those who show no respect to our communities. When will the Government properly invest in neighbourhood policing, and when will they stop cutting already stretched council budgets so that councils can use their power to tackle dangerous parking?

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

Council budgets are obviously a matter for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and they will be set out in the local government funding settlement in a few weeks’ time. When it comes to police budgets, which are the Home Office’s responsibility, as I have said once or twice already, the budget this year is £1.1 billion higher than it was last year—it stands now at £16.9 billion—and by April next year, when the police uplift programme is complete, we will have more uniformed police officers recruited than at any time in our country’s history.