Home Department – in the House of Commons on 20th March 2023.
Like the public, I want common-sense policing focused on keeping people safe and driving down crime. The disproportionate recording of non-crime hate incidents must not be used to inhibit free speech. We must be very careful about what is kept on an individual’s record. That balance has not always been struck, so I introduced a new code of practice on non-crime hate incidents and the recording and retention of personal data. It introduces new safeguards so that personal data may be included in an NCHI record only if the event is clearly motivated by an intentional hostility and where there is a real risk of significant harm to a group or an individual. Those changes are endorsed by outstanding police leaders such as Stephen Watson, the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, and I hope that the whole House will get behind the draft code.
Last summer, teenagers abused hundreds of canisters of nitrous oxide along Southend seafront. Today, firefighters have reported cutting people out of vehicles because of nitrous oxide abuse behind the wheel. Given the severe effects of such abuse, will my right hon. Friend consider taking tougher action to restrict the sale, possession and abuse of nitrous oxide in the UK?
I know that my hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate on this subject, as well as on the issue of dangerous weapons, and I pay tribute to her for her brilliant work. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 provides police with the powers to clamp down on the supply of nitrous oxide for non-legitimate use, but she is right, and I am clear, that the use and proliferation of nitrous oxide is unacceptable, and we will announce new measures soon.
We come now to the shadow Home Secretary.
We welcome the Home Secretary back from her expensive interior design tour.
The Louise Casey review will be published tomorrow and is expected to be damning, with far-reaching findings. The Home Secretary has known about failures on standards and vetting in policing for a long time, so why has she repeatedly refused to bring in mandatory vetting standards and automatic suspension for officers under investigation for domestic abuse and sexual assault?
I regret the tone that the shadow Home Secretary adopts when it comes to Rwanda. I encourage her to ditch her outdated and ignorant views on our friends in Rwanda.
When it comes to the Casey report, which I have read, it is clear that there have been failings within the Met. That is why the commissioner is right to accept those past failings, and that is why he has my total backing in moving forward to turn around performance and standards in the Met, so that every citizen in London has total confidence in those who wear the badge.
The problem is that the Home Secretary’s response is too little and too late. We should all back the commissioner to take urgently needed action in the Met, but confidence in the Met has dropped sharply and confidence has also dropped nationally. The system for national standards that the Home Secretary presides over is far too weak, with no proper regulations or requirements and no proper intervention when things go wrong. Neighbourhood policing, which sustains confidence, is being hollowed out. That is damaging for communities and for the vital work that the police do. Will she now commit to urgent legislation and a full overhaul on standards? The proud British tradition of policing by consent is in peril unless the Government act urgently.
I am proud of this Government’s track record on reducing crime and increasing the number of police officers. Since 2010, violent crime is down, robbery is down, neighbourhood crime is down and burglary is down. When the right hon. Lady talks about the Met, what I would gently say is that London has a Labour Mayor—as well as a Labour police and crime commissioner—who has failed to hold the Met to account properly. I am afraid I must encourage her to speak to her Labour colleague and ask him to do a better job of holding the Met to account.
Order. I say to both sides that topical questions are for Back Benchers. If people want to ask a longer question, they should be called earlier and not wait for topicals.
As a host to Ukrainian refugees, I have been able to witness at first hand the difficulty and hardship when someone is separated from their family. My constituent Hazel Randall hosts a 24-year-old, Katya, who wanted to help her family reunite briefly in the UK, but they were faced with a £100 per person visa fee and a 200-mile round trip to the application centre to be able to travel to the UK. Will my right hon. Friend consider temporarily waiving tourist visa fees for Ukrainians wanting to visit their families?
Last week marked the first anniversary of the launch of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which my hon. Friend took part in, and it is a powerful rejoinder to anyone who says that the UK is anything other than generous and compassionate to those in need. I have listened to his remarks, and I have had a conversation with His Excellency the Ukrainian ambassador in that regard. We have taken an important step in the past month by reopening our visa centre at our embassy in Kyiv, so that Ukrainian nationals can begin those processes in their home territory, rather than having to leave and go to Warsaw.
Reports in today’s edition of about the extreme activities of those promoted by the Islamic Centre of England, a UK-registered charity funded by the Iranian authorities and under the direction of the UK representative of the Iranian supreme leader, are just the latest evidence of the threat that Iran poses in the UK. The Security Minister has already told the House about the very real threat that Iran has made to UK-based individuals, including the Jewish community. Does the Minister agree that it is finally the time to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?
The hon. Member will well know that the work we have been doing against the Iranian threat in the United Kingdom has not diminished—in fact, it has increased in recent months. He is right to talk about cultural centres. Sadly, the Islamic Centre of England is not alone. Indeed, the work of the IRGC is not limited to those Iranian proxy organisations. We have to ensure that we have the resources and the attitude, and that is exactly what this Government are pulling together and exactly what we are deploying against this vile threat that has taken over a country and is now threatening ours.
What guidance is the Department planning to issue on policing the provisions of the Public Order Bill, especially relating to preventing people from being arrested in a public place for what they are thinking about or for silent prayer?
My hon. Friend knows my position on that issue. He also knows about the guidance we have issued on the policing of non-crime hate incidents. He will note from the announcement recently that we are encouraging the police to strike a better balance, so that freedom of speech is more protected in their efforts to keep the public safe. The College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council will be working on new guidance to reflect the new offences in the Public Order Bill, but I reassure him that we are doing everything to ensure that the sensitive balance is struck, so that freedom of speech is protected while safeguarding the public.
The Refugee Council estimates that if 65,000 people crossed the channel this year, it would cost £219 million to detain them for 28 days, or £1.4 billion to detain them for six months. Are figures such as those the reason for the Home Secretary’s refusing to share the economic impact assessment of the Illegal Migration Bill with the House?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful case for deterrence, which is exactly what the Illegal Migration Bill does. It will deter people from crossing the channel and break the model of the people smugglers.
Tomorrow is the 80th anniversary of the formation of the Dambusters 617 squadron at RAF Scampton. Will the Home Secretary have a conversation with her Minister for Immigration about the meeting I had this morning with him, West Lindsey District Council and Scampton Holdings, in which the Minister was told in terms that if the Home Secretary goes ahead with her plan for 1,500 migrants to be placed there, it will scupper the long-term retention of the runway and the £300 million-worth of investment by Scampton Holdings?
I had a helpful and constructive meeting with my right hon. Friend and his constituents. No decision has been made with respect to RAF Scampton, and we will consider all of the things that were said in that meeting extremely carefully as we come to a final decision.
I call Neale Hanvey—not here.
In 2021, only about 10% of rape allegations were referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service. The figure is even lower when we take into account other sexual offending. Has my hon. Friend ever received a satisfactory explanation from the police for such a lamentably poor referral rate?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this really important issue. The nub of the issue is that historically police officers have not developed a new way of dealing with rape in a modern, digital world, among other things. I am pleased to say that the Government are investing extra money in education in this field. For example, the Government are supporting the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing to design and pilot a new rape and other sexual offences investigative skills development programme for police officers, to make sure they know how to deal with victims. Chief Constable Crew, down in Avon and Somerset, is doing similar work.
In my constituency, I have employers who are struggling to recruit staff living next door to asylum seekers who are not allowed to work. Last week’s Budget talked about boosting employment. Does the Home Secretary agree that lifting the ban on work for asylum seekers would help to boost employment?
We do not agree with that: we do not want to see any further pull factors to the UK. We want to see deterrence suffused throughout our approach, and one element of that is ensuring that those who come illegally are detained and then removed from the country.
I was encouraged by the answers that my right hon. Friend the Security Minister gave earlier in relation to Iran, and the evidence put forward by my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns, as well as the report in The Times this morning that has been referred to. Does the Security Minister therefore agree that that reflects a deliberate attempt by the Iranian regime to use whatever foothold available in our national life to spread conspiracy theories, extremism and radicalisation?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we have seen from the Iranian regime, sadly, is that overlap of crime, state threats and the use of terrorism to threaten the British people and our allies around the world. This Government will absolutely not allow those to flourish, and will stand extremely firmly against any such threats in this country.
Indecent exposure and non-contact sexual offending can be gateway offences to very much more serious offending against women and girls, as in the cases of Libby Squire in Hull and of Wayne Couzens, as we heard in his sentencing last week. When are the Government going to act on these early warning signs?
This is a really important issue, and I am grateful that the right hon. Lady has raised it. We all know from new academic research that indecent exposure can lead to far more serious crimes, and it is now the time that the police chiefs and also the College of Policing take it more seriously. Again, with the extra money that we are spending in this field, with education and allowing police officers to know what they are dealing with, I expect a lot more progress to be made in this area.
We have seen a number of murders recently in Walsall as a result of knife crime, but we have seen no sign of the Labour police and crime commissioner. Does the Minister agree that it is important that the police and crime commissioner visits all part of the west midlands, rather than simply staying in Birmingham?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Police and crime commissioners, particularly the one in the west midlands, should visit all parts of their patch. I was also rather concerned to hear that the Labour PCC in the west midlands is formulating plans to close up to 20 police stations, despite having received a 10% increase in funding over recent years, which I think is pretty shocking.
On the back of last week’s Budget, I made a speech about industrial hemp. The industry is telling me that it can create 105,000 jobs and pay £1 billion in tax if it is allowed to grow—pun intended. I will be writing to the Minister to explain this in detail, but it would be really helpful if I could sit down with the relevant Minister and industry representatives so they can make their case.
Who wants it?
Mr Speaker, I will take this question. The hon. Member and I have had a number of discussions on this topic. We are always happy to engage, discuss points of detail and hear industry representations, so if he would like to meet face to face to discuss it further, I would be very happy to do that.
It was great news in the Budget last week that Dinnington High Street got £12 million for regeneration, knocking down the burnt out building and opening up the marketplace. What we need now is a police station to combat antisocial behaviour. Will the Minister support my campaign to reopen the police station on Dinnington High Street, which will clamp down on antisocial behaviour, and use some of the underspend in the Labour police and crime commissioner’s budget to do that?
I think my hon. Friend has formulated an excellent plan. I notice that South Yorkshire next year is getting an extra £10.7 million in funding, and the idea he suggests sounds like a good way of spending some of that.
Today I heard harrowing testimonies from the Turkish community in Coventry North West who have lost family members in the tragic earthquake. They would like to be reunited with the family members they have left, hopefully via a family visa scheme, so what steps is the Home Office taking to provide support to those affected by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria?
Our sympathies go to all those affected by the tragic events in Turkey. The UK Government are doing a number of things, including sending specialists to help with those who have been trapped in the wreckage. We have a range of visa options, including family reunion and visit visas, so that those people who have strong family ties to the United Kingdom can come here.
Last week, I raised with the Foreign Secretary that, for the past 15 months, I have been trying to bring to safety five British children in hiding in Kabul after their British father was blown up by the Taliban. They are too young to travel alone, but the Home Office will not grant their Afghan mother a visa, unless she passes an English test. However, she is not allowed to access education in Afghanistan. The Foreign Office tells me it is a Home Office issue. The Home Office is not responding to my correspondence, so will the Minister grant me a meeting to discuss this case?
I would be happy to look into the case. I would just say that over 25,000 individuals have been brought safely to the United Kingdom since Operation Pitting and that is something we should all be proud of.
Children are regularly detained in police cells for long periods and for too long without an appropriate adult being present, despite that being both a requirement and an essential safeguard for children. Will the Minister confirm today that, when police powers and procedures data is published later this year, it will include the number of minutes taken for an appropriate adult to arrive and the duration of time present—and if not this year, when?
The hon. Lady is raising a very important question. The case of Child Q is of course on our minds as we consider this. Some revisions are being made to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code of practice—it is code C—that are relevant in this area. In relation to the reporting question she asks, I can certainly undertake to look into that.
Far-right Islamophobic Danish politician Rasmus Paludan has said he is going to travel from Denmark to Wakefield for the sole purpose of burning a Koran in a public place. Mr Paludan was previously jailed in Denmark for his hateful and racist statements. He is a dangerous man who should not be allowed into this country. Can the Home Secretary assure me and my community that the Government are taking action to prevent this?
I inform the House that Mr Paludan has been added to the warnings index. Therefore, his travel to the United Kingdom would not be conducive to the public good, and he will not be allowed access.
That completes questions.