Before we come to Question 1, I wish to inform the House that there is an error on the call list. Cat Smith’s Question 14 is listed as asking about the dismantling of county lines drug gangs. In fact, her tabled question was about steps taken to ensure that Border Force staff are trained on exemptions from requirements for covid-19 testing. I understand that Ministers have been informed and that the correct question will be answered when we reach that point.
The Secretary of State was asked—
All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has a robust legislative framework to respond to it. We are absolutely clear that the cowards who commit these hateful acts should feel the full force of the law. We will of course work with the Law Commission on its review of hate crime legislation.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about the complete unacceptability of hate crimes. The dictionary defines misogyny as “dislike or contempt for”, or indeed, “prejudice against” women. Every year, tens of thousands of women in this country face emotional and physical violence, often prompted by exactly that sort of prejudice. Making racially and religiously motivated crimes aggravated offences has helped the police to tackle them, but the law does not provide the same protections against gender-based hate crimes, so does the Home Secretary agree that, if the Law Commission recommends improvements in those areas, they should be a matter of priority?
First, let me acknowledge the points that the hon. Lady has made. She is absolutely right about hate crimes, misogyny and crimes against women in particular, and some of the most appalling and corrosive attitudes against women that we have seen across our society for too long. On the Law Commission report, we are waiting for its findings. I can give her and the House every assurance that we will work with the Law Commission. Alongside that important point, we will be publishing very soon—in the next few weeks, in fact—our strategy on violence against women and girls. I want to go on the record to emphasise that any form of violence, oppression, sexism or hatred against women and girls is thoroughly unacceptable and this Government are absolutely adamant in dealing with it.
Fire and rescue professionals work tirelessly to protect their communities. Currently, the National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services is responsible for negotiating the pay and conditions of fire and rescue authority employees, and central Government have no direct role in this process. The Home Office will be launching a consultative White Paper on fire reform later this year.
This Government should salute the courageous men and women of the fire and rescue service, who are the envy of the world, not constantly attack them. It is universally recognised that trade union membership and collective bargaining rights for workers are among the most effective ways to reduce inequality. “Brexit will not be used to reduce labour standards” was the constant cry from Government Ministers. Prove it, Home Secretary. Commitment after commitment has been given to protect and promote collective bargaining. Deliver it, Home Secretary. Stand by your word and confirm that the collective bargaining rights of firefighters within their chosen trade union will not be diminished in any way.
The hon. Gentleman has a long association with the trade union movement, which I know he has found rewarding in every sense of the word. As I said, we are not, as a Government, involved in pay bargaining for the fire service. There is a national joint council, where the Fire Brigades Union is represented 50:50 with employers. As I am sure he will know, the FBU has accepted a pay offer for the coming year that will be payable from the 1st of this month. There will be a White Paper looking at reform in the future and we will see what comes out of that consultative process.
From 2019 to 2022, this Government will have provided more than £242 million across the 18 areas that account for the majority of knife crime and other serious violence incidents. This money is funding violence reduction units, which will draw together all key partners to address the root causes of violence as well as targeted police action to deter and disrupt knife crime. The House has recently approved the serious violence duty in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and we are investing more than £200 million over the next decade in the youth endowment fund to help interventions to divert young people away from serious violence.
In Nottinghamshire, our violence reduction unit has played a key role in strategic planning and supporting practical local work to protect our young people from harm. Can the Minister provide any reassurance that VRUs will continue to form part of our local response to serious youth violence, supported by Home Office funding?
This Government take extremely seriously the harm that serious violence causes all people across society, but particularly young people who are dragged into gangs by gang leaders. That is why, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we have introduced, as I said, the serious violence duty. We are also increasing sentences for the most violent offenders. VRUs remain a key part of our work to tackle serious violence, as demonstrated by our £2.6 million invested in Nottingham alone.
Youth clubs and groups teach young people valuable skills and help to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. Will the Minister join me in praising the neighbourhood policing teams in Clwyd South, who work in partnership with youth services and local councils, including in the Ceiriog valley, where together they are involving more young people in the local rugby club and hiring a mobile BMX course?
I am very pleased to join my hon. Friend in praising his local police, but also the local charities and other services that are working together to help young people to escape a life of crime. Sport can have many benefits. With our £200 million youth endowment fund, over the next 10 years, we will see the benefits of sport programmes, but also of other types of intervention to help to remove young people from the clutches of gang leaders. I am delighted also that my hon. Friend’s police force has received almost 100 new police officers as part of this Government’s commitment to tackling violent crime and making our streets safer with 20,000 new officers.
Does the Minister agree that one way to stop young people from becoming involved in crime is to give them more opportunity to be active? Would she support the efforts of people such as Sean Ivey, who, despite suffering personal attacks, including having his home, car and caravan torched, is now leading efforts to support his community in attacking antisocial behaviour? Will she look at how we can support his efforts through targeted funding for distressed communities, and can I encourage her to come to Wingate in Sedgefield to see for herself the efforts being made?
I join my hon. Friend in commending and thanking Mr Ivey for all his efforts in his constituency to support others in Sedgefield and to tackle antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour, particularly of the sort that my hon. Friend has described, is absolutely unacceptable. Next week, we have a week of awareness raising on the perils of antisocial behaviour and the tools available to our councils, the police and, indeed, to us as Members of Parliament to tackle antisocial behaviour in our communities. As a Government, we have committed an additional £7.3 million in funding, and almost 90 new officers have been recruited to help to keep County Durham’s streets safe. I am very pleased to receive my hon. Friend’s invitation, and I will of course accept.
I had the pleasure of visiting Calderdale’s early action team on Friday, where West Yorkshire police and partner agencies are delivering some exemplary work, keeping children and young people safe from crime and exploitation. However, for all the positive work they do, chronic backlogs in the criminal justice system mean that it is taking anywhere up to 18 months for cases to be heard, delaying restorative justice for often young victims. Only with a swift and effective criminal justice system will these agencies be able to do their best work in protecting young people from criminality, so what is the Government’s plan to deliver a dynamic and effective youth justice system that is fit for purpose?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I know her own commitment in this area. The Government are taking a whole system approach to how we tackle serious violence. The journey of a young person who is involved in serious violence may start in seemingly tiny steps. It may be the offer of a new pair of trainers or the offer of a meal. That is how gang leaders ensnare young people into their gangs to go around the country selling drugs and so on. As part of the Government’s work, we are investing not only in very tough enforcement action, but in early intervention programmes. The youth endowment fund has just launched its toolkit, which will help local commissioners to discover which programmes work and have the best impact on early intervention. I commend that to the hon. Lady. I very much look forward to working with her and her local police force in helping to prevent serious violence among young people.
This year, we are investing more than £130 million to tackle serious violence at local level. That includes funding violence reduction units, which draw in all key partners, including the police, local authorities and the community, to address the root causes of violence, as well as targeted police action to deter and disrupt knife crime. It also includes up to £23 million for new early intervention programmes that will help stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place.
Yesterday, I spoke to Cindy, whom I met three years ago as we both worked to support her friend whose son had been murdered with a knife. She phoned to tell me that a 16-year-old son of another friend had also been stabbed and killed this weekend. She told me:
“I haven’t called his mum yet, I don’t know how I will bear hearing her screams in my ears.”
Knife crime has risen in every police command area across the country in the last decade, doubling since 2013. Lives are being lost, families devastated and communities traumatised every single week, yet the Government have disbanded the serious violence taskforce. Why are they so complacent about the loss of young lives?
May I try to correct the hon. Lady? First, clearly everyone in the House has heard the account she has given of her constituent and the families affected in her constituency by knife crime. We understand and we express very seriously our commiserations to the families involved. However, I do think the hon. Lady has perhaps missed the news about the violence reduction units, which we are funding, particularly in London, to help the police work together with other agencies, local authorities, local groups and so on to try to tackle serious violence both with enforcement and, importantly, with local intervention projects. Again, I very much welcome the opportunity at some point of sitting her down to talk about the youth endowment fund, for example, and to explain how that will help young people in her local communities. This Government are not complacent about serious violence or the deaths she has described. We are working very hard with the police and with local communities to ensure that these terrible crimes stop.
The Government have stated that they are committed to a public health approach to tackling violence affecting young people and the Minister has just mentioned the violence reduction units, yet our 18 violence reduction units only receive short-term funding settlements. The work these units do is extremely important in tackling the root causes of violence, but they cannot formulate long-term strategies without long-term funding, so what is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the comprehensive spending review delivers on that?
As the hon. Lady knows, because we have discussed this many times in the past, violence reduction units are a key part of our work to tackle serious violence. We are constrained within the current spending review, with the wider problems of the pandemic and the impact that has had on Government spending, but she will know that the Government have invested record amounts in these units to get them working across the country in the 18 areas most hit by serious violence. However, we are going further than that, because through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are imposing a serious violence duty on every single local area across the country, so that every single area is taking the public health approach that she so commends, and rightly so.
Michael Jonas, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, Jay Hughes, Levi Ernest-Morrison and Tashawn Watt are all young children and young people who have been stabbed to death in my constituency over the past few years. Words cannot do justice to the grief and anguish this has caused their families and the wider community. The Government say they are committed to a public health approach to youth violence, but youth centres, schools, health services and children’s centres have all had their budgets decimated over the past 10 years. My constituents cannot wait any longer. When will the Government reverse these cuts and take urgent action before more lives are lost?
The hon. Lady rightly raises the names of those who have been murdered in her constituency, and of course our thoughts go to the families and friends affected by that. Of course, serious violence does not just affect the individual family; it affects the whole community. That is why we are taking this whole-system approach: very tough law enforcement, but critically, also trying to intervene at an early stage to help young people to avoid gangs, which will have an impact on the streets more widely. That is why the serious violence duty is so very important. I really hope that, on the next occasion the Labour party has to vote in support of the serious violence duty, it takes the opportunity to do so. Working together with schools, hospitals, other healthcare agencies, the police and local authorities is how we are going to help ensure that the sorts of incidents she describes do not happen again.
As we have been watching the incredible achievements of the England football team, the epidemic of violence on our streets has been growing, with younger and younger boys losing their lives in horrific murders, including a 16-year-old we are mourning in my constituency. Many of our football heroes had tough upbringings and have spoken out about the importance of role models and mentors—adults in their lives who helped them unlock their talent. I want all our young people to be able to unlock their talent, including that small group of vulnerable people at risk of being gripped by crime, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) says, many of those adults—in youth work, in education, in social care, in the health service—have disappeared following a decade of extreme cuts. Our summer holidays should be flooded with youth work, mentorship programmes, sports clubs and mental health support, as well, of course, as good neighbourhood policing. The scale of the problem deserves an appropriate response, so will the Government today recognise the potential of our whole nation and commit to helping every vulnerable child this summer?
May I join the hon. Lady in acknowledging the sportsmanship, the talents, the dignity and the joy that the English football team have brought so many people over the tournament? They have been the very best of us; and they have been the very best of us while facing some horrific abuse—absolutely horrific racist abuse—during the tournament, and that is not acceptable.
The hon. Lady is quite right to raise the question of role models. I know from my own son’s adoration of many of the England footballers just what powerful role models many of those footballers are to younger people. Sadly, of course, we cannot incorporate a Sterling or a Harry Kane into every youth project, but what we can do is build the structures around them. That is precisely what we are doing, with increased investment both through the Department for Education funding over the summer and through our own work in funds such as the trusted relationships fund, which is helping young people to build positive relationships with positive role models. I join the hon. Lady’s cri de coeur that we should pay full credit and respect to our footballers. They themselves tell the tale that if you have the belief and you have the talent, my goodness you can make it.
Since 2019, we have invested over £65 million to tackle county lines and drug supply, including £40 million committed this year. Through our county lines programme, we have become smarter in our activity against these ruthless gangs, resulting in more than 1,000 lines being closed, more than 5,800 arrests and more than 1,500 vulnerable adults and children safeguarded.
Drug dealing is a despicable crime that preys on the vulnerable, damages communities and causes misery to so many. Locally, the Burnley and Padiham neighbourhood policing team has set up a taskforce to tackle this issue. Will the Minister confirm that local police forces will continue to have the resources and support they need really to tackle this issue and rid our communities of it? Will he meet me and our police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden, to see what more we can do?
I am always happy to meet police and crime commissioners and their Members of Parliament to talk about fighting crime, and I am very pleased that my hon. Friend is so embedded in the collective mission to reduce crime in his constituency. He is quite right that we are having enormous success with county lines, and that is off the back of significant Government investment. I am hopeful that police and crime commissioners can see the wider benefits of that programme in suppression of violence in their areas and will supplement the work that we are doing, but he should be assured that we will be making a very strong case in the spending round for continued investment. The one thing I have learned about the Treasury over the past few years is that it likes investing in success, and we are certainly having that with county lines.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He mentioned that the Home Office and officials are getting smarter, but so are gang members. They are getting so smart that even during lockdown they had the sheer audacity to use our young people to carry drugs up and down the country dressed as key workers. They are always one step ahead. They will continue to exploit our children until we have a clear definition on child criminal exploitation. It is estimated that over 4,000 teenagers in London alone are being criminally exploited. What additional steps will the Minister be taking to ensure the Government put their full weight behind addressing this real and serious issue?
The hon. Lady rightly highlights one of the truly despicable aspects of county lines, which is the horrible exploitation and often victimisation of young people who are driven into the awful activity. She might be interested to know that we are very focused not necessarily on them but on those who control and victimise them. Much of the activity taking place in the three big forces we are funding—Liverpool, London and in the west midlands—is in targeting those line controllers who drive that exploitation. Interestingly, more and more of them are now not just being prosecuted for drugs importation or distribution, but for modern slavery or under child grooming legislation. That means that when they are convicted, they are put behind bars in the sex offenders wing, which is something not even they see as desirable. It is proving to be a very strong deterrent.
One of the key aspects of our work is gripping the transport network, in particular rail. We are finding that where we shut down their ability to use rail and they divert to roads, their likelihood of using young people, who cannot drive and are more likely to be arrested, is dropping. All our effort is being focused not just on restricting the supply of county lines across the country, but on rescuing and preventing young people from getting involved.
There have been a number of illegal cannabis farms busted recently by Staffordshire police. Many are in derelict and abandoned buildings, including the empty former Woolworths building in Longton, which was raided for the second time in under two years recently, finding 1,500 marijuana plants. Will my hon. Friend look at what more can be done to tackle the use of empty and derelict buildings by organised gangs to cultivate drugs?
My hon. Friend is known for his innovative approach to policy and he certainly raises something that merits further investigation. He is quite right that we have seen a growth in the number of cannabis farms across the country in all sorts of buildings. Notwithstanding the drugs they produce, there is very often disgusting oppression and victimisation taking place inside—people who are trafficked across the world to tend the plants—and we need to do something about that as well. He might be interested to know, however, that in their off-hours when police helicopters are not dealing with other crimes, one thing they do is circle around using thermal imaging cameras to find houses that are strangely heated to full blast in the middle of summer, indicating that there may be something afoot. That has been a very rewarding way of investigating those farms. I will look at his idea and pursue it further.
Comprehensive guidance and training plans have been developed and are continually reviewed to ensure that all Border Force and frontline officers are trained in new policy, process and system changes relating to covid-19 border health measures, including those set by the devolved Administrations. That comprehensive guidance includes training and shift briefings.
RDI Trucking based in Preesall in my constituency provides international logistics for Formula 1 and other racing industries. Under coronavirus legislation, they are international transport workers. Therefore, as essential workers the legislation applies slightly differently to them, providing an exemption from the requirement for a negative test prior to cross-border travel. However, they have been having some issues in applying that. Will the Minister take the time to meet me and my constituent Baz Scott to discuss some of the issues he is facing in his industry?
I am certainly happy to look into that if the hon. Member provides the detail. She will appreciate that Border Force’s first priority is to maintain our defences against covid-19. However, as part of our work, we are looking to move exemption decisions away from the border and to have more automatic checking. That is in everyone’s interests, including those passengers who need to comply with the regulations and would otherwise be stood behind those trying to prove exemptions at the primary control point.
People smuggling is a despicable crime, often leading to tragic deaths such as the 39 we saw in Purfleet. The Government are determined to crack down on organised immigration crime, which is why we last week we introduced a new Nationality and Borders Bill, which will receive its Second Reading next week. It is also why in 2020 the National Crime Agency and immigration enforcement were involved in 750 arrests in relation to organised immigration crime.
Following the ridiculous decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute illegal migrants on the grounds that they have
“no choice in how they travel”,
as if they do not voluntarily pay a people smuggler €10,000 or voluntarily get in a dinghy, or the even more absurd reason that we can rely on “administrative removal channels” when corrupt human rights lawyers string such claims out for years and nobody is ever deported, where does that leave the absolutely good Bill of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary? She wants to arrest these people in the channel. Does this decision make it even more urgent that we bring in safe havens for these people in a third country?
My right hon. Friend is quite right to point out that countries such as France and Germany are obviously safe and that someone genuinely in need of protection or asylum can claim asylum quite properly and easily in such countries rather than attempting dangerous and unnecessary crossings over the English channel. Notwithstanding the CPS’s recent announcement, we can, do and will prosecute people who organise and pilot dangerous boat crossings across the English channel for gain or with the intention of avoiding immigration controls. The Bill, which will receive its Second Reading next week, critically contains provisions that will close some of the loopholes that may have led to the CPS’s recent decision and will make it clear that any attempt to arrive in the United Kingdom from a safe place, such as France, will be rightly treated as a criminal offence.
Each year, about 5,000 or so family members benefit from refugee family reunion rights, 90% of whom are women and children. Depriving refugees of family reunion rights would drive many of those women and children straight into the arms of despicable people smugglers through desperation to be reunited with their loved ones. Why on earth will the Government provide exactly that massive bonus to people smugglers through their nasty anti-refugee Bill?
The hon. Gentleman is misinformed and misguided on this point. There is no plan to weaken or undermine the refugee family reunion provisions that have been used by 29,000 people in the last six years. In addition, in the last five or six years we have been operating Europe’s largest resettlement programme, which has seen an additional 25,000 people come to the UK directly from places from danger. Because we have these effective and well-used safe and legal routes, it is reasonable—indeed, it is our responsibility—to clamp down on the people smugglers who are exploiting migrants and charging them money to make an unnecessary and dangerous journey, often across the English channel from France, which is patently a safe country. No one needs to leave France to claim asylum. It could be quite easily and properly claimed in France.
Violence against women and girls is thoroughly unacceptable—the House heard my comments earlier on—and there is no place in our society for such acts. My hon. Friend will be well aware, as I have said, that we are publishing in the next few weeks our strategy on violence against women and girls.
I was recently left horrified by a sexual assault that occurred just outside my constituency office. Tackling violence against women and girls begins to address the issue of female safety, but many women still do not feel safe simply walking home, so how will my right hon. Friend begin to rebuild confidence for women and girls to feel safe while walking the streets?
First, I am appalled and very sorry to hear of the offence—the sexual assault—that took place outside my hon. Friend’s constituency office. There is a range of work taking place across Government right now, but importantly, he addresses the point about the lack of protection and the way women do not feel that it is safe to walk our streets. Many women around the country have sensed that and we have heard that as well in the call for evidence; we had over 180,000 people respond to our call for evidence on the VAWG strategy. He will see in the next few weeks the details of our approach because we will announce it, rightly, through the appropriate measures and means. But this is not just about policing; it is about the criminal justice system, public attitudes and how women are treated and how women are respected, and there is a lot of work that we will need to do together on this.
Shockingly, I could not agree with the Home Secretary more. I am not sure that I will say that many times in my life, but she is absolutely right that the respect of women when they come forward is very, very important. The heartbreaking cases of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and Sarah Everard have raised serious questions about police handling of reported violence against women and girls. There is currently an ongoing investigation into claims that Kent police failed to look at the incident of indecent exposure linked to Sarah Everard’s killer in 2015. There is also a probe into the Metropolitan police’s alleged failure to investigate allegations of indecent exposure in February this year. I am afraid to say that there will be a similar pattern all over the country. Can the Home Secretary tell me exactly what the Government are doing to ensure that allegations such as indecent exposure are taken seriously by police forces and that cases involving police officers as perpetrators are not ignored in the future, as they have been in the past?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. First and foremost, there should be no aspect of anybody ignoring these cases whatsoever, particularly from a policing perspective. She has rightly highlighted, I am afraid, some incredibly tragic and harrowing cases. Those of us who have sat down with family members of those who have been involved in these cases know that they are absolutely awful at every single level, so it is right that there are various investigations. There are independent investigations taking place into the cases that the hon. Lady has raised directly, and rightly so, by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, but there is no place for anybody to hide and that applies equally to the police. While we always want the full force of the law to be applied to perpetrators of violence and the most abhorrent crimes, any police involvement must also be uncovered, and that means that the police must be held to account—commissioners, chief constables, those at the highest level of policing—and I can give her every assurance that we as a Government are making sure that happens.
The UK Government are committed to eradicating all forms of child sexual abuse and continuing to be a global leader in tackling these crimes. The Government’s tackling child sexual abuse strategy sets out our ambition to drive action across Government, law enforcement and society as a whole to combat this heinous crime in all its forms.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. She knows that the National Crime Agency is receiving more than 20,000 child abuse referrals a year from organisations such as Facebook and Instagram. If the services are end-to-end encrypted, those referrals may not be possible in future, so how are the Government addressing this really important problem to ensure that those who abuse children online continue to be brought to justice?
The implementation of end-to-end encryption in a way that intentionally blinds tech companies to content on their platforms will have a disastrous impact on public safety, and we remain seriously concerned with Facebook’s end-to-end encryption proposals. The safety and security of the public is at the heart of this issue, and Facebook must continue to work with us to embed the safety of the public in its system designs. Companies have a responsibility to prevent the proliferation of child sexual abuse imagery and to protect children from predators on their platforms.
The Government will not tolerate criminals lining their pockets while causing serious financial and emotional harm to victims. We are working closely with the industry, regulators, law enforcement and consumer groups to crack down on scam callers. Additionally, since its launch last year, the National Cyber Security Centre has shut down over 50,000 scams and taken down almost 100,000 websites.
Since the onset of the pandemic, many of my constituents have been contacting me to report an influx of fraudulent or scam telephone calls. The fraudsters behind these malicious enterprises often target elderly or vulnerable individuals, posing as Government agencies, telecom companies, banks or pension providers. Sadly, too many of these cases result in the scammers convincing, or indeed coercing, individuals to part with their hard-earned savings. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must clamp down on this dreadful criminal activity and ensure that there is somewhere that victims can go to immediately to get help?
As our lives have moved increasingly online, so has crime, as my hon. Friend rightly says. Can there be any Member in the Chamber who has not received a dodgy email or text or even a recorded message on their telephone, which is becoming increasingly frequent? It is typical of my hon. Friend to point out the particular vulnerability of elderly people, who are often coming to grips with technology—many have had to do so over the past year or so for the first time in their lives—and being taken advantage of. He is right to say that we need to do all we can to help them, and through the economic crime victim care unit we are doing exactly that. We are working with the banking sector to ensure that victims are not left out of pocket through no fault of their own. Critically, we can all help the fight by reporting these emails and text messages, and I want to take a moment to say that anyone who gets a suspicious email should please forward it to the email address email@example.com and anyone who receives a similarly suspicious text should please forward it to 7726. The police and other services will be collating the texts and emails, and when they come from the same source, as they do on many occasions, they will act swiftly to shut it down.
As of 30 June, the EU settlement scheme had received more than 6 million applications and issued more than 5.1 million grants of status. As we have discussed before, the scheme has been a success and we have secured the status of 5.1 million individuals.
I am disappointed not to hear the exact number. In Wandsworth, there are an estimated 41,000 EU citizens, but the gap in applications to the EU settlement scheme is not known. Can the Home Secretary say which resources she is making available to process the 500,000 or so applications that are currently in the system but have not yet been determined, and how long she would envisage allowing late applications to the scheme?
As I have said, the scheme has been a phenomenal success. There are many naysayers across the country and in this House who refused to believe that even 3 million people would be registered with the scheme. First and foremost, there is an abundance of support available for applicants, including from the 72 organisations to which the Home Office has granted £22 million of support for vulnerable groups and individuals to apply to the scheme. On top of that, we have invested £8 million in communications, and that involves working with local authorities such as the hon. Lady’s to ensure that no one is missed and that all the support is in the place for them.
Recent research from the Children’s Society showed that less than 40% of looked-after children and care leavers had made applications to the EU settlement scheme, with 156 local authorities positively identifying more than 2,000 looked-after children and care leavers who had yet to apply. May I ask the Secretary of State to tell the House what steps the Home Office has taken to ensure that children in care who are eligible to apply have applied?
First, let me re-emphasise a point that Ministers and I have made in this House on repeated occasions. It is absolutely right that we do everything possible to give children in care the support, more often than not via their local authorities, to ensure that they apply for the scheme. We have been doing exactly that, working with councils, social services and local authorities across the country. If the hon. Lady has any particular cases she would like to draw to our attention, we would be very happy to pick them up.
As the Home Secretary is aware, acquiring settled status has an impact on a person’s right to work and to access accommodation and other services. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that employers and landlords are complying with the right to work and rent guidance, and are not discriminating against EU citizens? Will she also tell me what protections are in place for people to submit late applications to the EU settlement scheme, so that they are not left in limbo, unable to work or at risk of homelessness while they await the outcome of their application?
First, the Home Office has been very clear in the support it will provide to people and late applications. The hon. Gentleman has rightly made an important point about the right to work and the role for employers. Let me give him the assurance that we have been working with employers’ organisations and groups; this is exactly the vehicle through which, even throughout the pandemic, we have been working to communicate the need for employers to work with us to secure the settled status of many, many individuals. Finally, may I pay tribute to many of the employers who have been working with us on this scheme to guarantee that settled status for individuals?
I know that the whole House will join me in condemning the sickening racist abuse directed last night at our heroic England football team on social media. These young men represented our nation with pride and dignity, and we are proud of them and the fortitude they showed the country last night. Racist abuse is utterly unacceptable and illegal, whether or not it takes place in front of people—online or offline. Individuals who commit racist offences should rightly face the full force of the law. Social media companies in particular have a clear responsibility for the content they host on their platforms, and they can no longer ignore some of the appalling, vile, racist, violent and hateful content that appears on their platforms. We have been clear that if they do not stamp this out, we will take actions against them in the Online Safety Bill. It will take a determined effort and action by everyone across society, and all institutions, to end the corrosive culture of racism. On that point, the thuggish and violent behaviour we saw last night was utterly disgusting and there is no place in our society for it; these people have no right to be called fans, and they will face serious consequences for their actions. To conclude, let me say that our nation is immensely proud of our three lions, and they showed true grit and determination in their actions last night and their endeavours on the pitch.
I welcome the measures set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill, and the Home Secretary’s ongoing commitment to finally getting a grip of our borders and stemming the flow of illegal immigrants across the channel. Will she confirm that the Bill will include measures for the removal of migrants to offshore centres where they can be housed while their claims and appeals are being processed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we have heard in the House this afternoon from many right hon. and hon. Members the absolute challenge this country faces on illegal migration and illegal entry to the UK. The asylum system is broken and it is being exploited by illegal migration issues and the criminal gangs that are exploiting vulnerable individuals. As he will know, the new Bill, which will be discussed on Second Reading next week, covers many aspects and it is right that the Government explore all options to fix our broken asylum system.
I congratulate the England team on its fantastic achievements at the European championships. Those players, led by the inspirational Gareth Southgate, have shown incredible skill and determination on and off the pitch, taking a stand on child poverty, free school meals and so much else. They took the knee to stand against racism—a brave stance that led to their being booed by some. That booing was unacceptable and should have been condemned by all. Sadly, overnight Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka have been subject to the most appalling racist abuse. The Home Secretary spoke a moment ago about potential action in the future; have not the social media companies had long enough to get this right? What immediate action will she take to deal with this issue?
Everyone in the House will absolutely join in not only celebrating our incredible football team and the resilience of all our players but fundamentally calling out the appalling acts and actions that we saw last night. It is absolutely appalling that we have seen this terrible racist abuse. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, he is absolutely right that the social media companies have had far too long, whether it is on racism, hatred, violence or antisemitism—the list goes on and on and quite frankly it is utterly unacceptable. I have pointed rightfully to the online harms Bill, because we do need to legislate. The message needs to go out from this House, very strongly, to all the social media companies that they need to take responsibility. This is content that they host on their platforms. We will legislate against them, and that is on top of the fact that we are absolutely on top of them right now. We are pursuing them, as we do in every single case, but they need to wake up and take action themselves.
But we have had to wait years for the online harms Bill. There has to be a greater urgency to do more now. The awful abuse continues to happen, and it is not contained to football but happens right across society. We still have so far to go. Our footballers have used their platform to help to give voice to the millions of people in this country who are desperate for change, but change is not happening fast enough. The Government and Parliament have to respond. Absolutely all necessary resources must be allocated to tracking down the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the online harms Bill will be brought forward immediately and will contain the toughest of sanctions against social media companies for hosting vile material? It must also include criminal sanctions for senior social media executives.
The online harms Bill, on which the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is also leading, will be brought forward and the Government have been very clear about that. There should be no room whatsoever for either complacency, equivocation or absence when it comes to social media companies taking responsibility. This House has been unequivocal in our determination to drive change directly with these organisations.
The right hon. Gentleman is right: we need the toughest possible sanctions. Social media companies are only one component part of the change that we need to see; we also need the criminal justice system to go after the individuals who perpetrate some of these online harms and the hateful content that is put on these platforms. Of course, there is never any room whatsoever for complacency on this issue, which is why the legislation will be absolutely pivotal in terms of not only bringing forward the societal change that is required but holding the executives and these very significant companies to account.
Last night’s Euro final showed one united England team—young men of many backgrounds with the single aim of securing victory for their country. In sharing my and the entire House’s utter disgust at the racist abuse that was targeted at some of those incredibly talented and dedicated young players, will my right hon. Friend confirm that she has already spoken to the police, and that they will ensure they will do everything that is already in their power to identify and charge the perpetrators of this vile behaviour by people who sicken every decent person in this country? (902566)
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the important points that he has aired this afternoon. He is absolutely right: both the Minister for Crime and Policing and I have been on a call this morning with police leads for football issues and the policing of football. As we have all said very clearly, there is absolutely no place for racism or violence whatsoever. Quite frankly, there is clear guidance and legislation: there are laws in place that we absolutely should apply and follow—that applies to the police as well—to go after the perpetrators and the individuals. My hon. Friend will of course be well aware of the Public Order Act 1986, but there is also the Football (Offences) Act 1991 and football banning orders, all of which play an important part in terms of the actions that everyone should be taking.
Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka are incredible players and part of an incredible team that has made us all proud to be English, but, while they are the best of us, they have endured vile racism from the worst of us. On their Instagram profiles right now, there is still vile racist abuse, which has been up there for 15 or 16 hours or more, visible to everyone, including to children and young people who are there to support their heroes. I have spoken to Instagram this afternoon to urge it to take much stronger action. Has the Home Secretary done so, and, if not, will she do so and now speak to the social media companies to urge them to take this action? Will she also take the opportunity to condemn those who stood up in our stadiums and booed our brave players for taking a stand against racism and call on them to show solidarity instead? (902569)
First and foremost, as I have said already, there are no words to describe the appalling acts that have taken place. [Interruption.] Would the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) like to intervene? If she would be prepared to listen, she will hear that everything related to racism and hatred both across society and involving any individual is completely unacceptable. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) is right to point to Instagram, but all social media platforms, not just Instagram, are culpable. They are all responsible and it is right that we all take action against them. As I have already said, we in the Home Office are absolutely on top of those organisations. Of course, legislation is the way that we will go forward on this, but such acts are simply unacceptable. This matter will take determined effort by everyone. There is no place for booing. Individuals have a right to express themselves in whichever way—we live in a free country, and thank God we do—when it comes to tackling hatred, violence and racism. The fact of the matter right now is that what we saw overnight was completely unacceptable. It is right, both from a policing perspective and when it comes to social media companies, that there is no place to hide and that action is taken.
I thank the Home Secretary for fulfilling her pledge on the Floor of the House to meet Aid to the Church in Need and myself tomorrow to discuss the case of Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl who was abducted, kidnapped, and forced into hiding. I do not want the Home Secretary to comment on that case, but does this not make it even more important that we deal with illegal migration? If we do not do so, we cannot deal better with genuine asylum seekers. Indeed, for every illegal we deport, we should accept a genuine asylum seeker. (902568)
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and I look forward to the discussion that we will have tomorrow. This is a very harrowing case and I have been following the details of it for some time. Although we will discuss the matter tomorrow, my right hon. Friend is speaking to the fact that our asylum system is completely broken. We are seeing too many abuses of the system and vulnerable people being preyed on, and that scuppers our ability to assist those who are fleeing persecution and having the most appalling and abhorrent acts forced on them or taken against them. That is why the Nationality and Borders Bill is so important. I urge all colleagues in the House to work with us and support the Bill as it comes to Second Reading next week.
What we have just heard is errant nonsense. If a Uyghur fleeing torture, a Syrian fleeing war crimes, or a Christian convert escaping death threats, arrives in the UK seeking protection but without a visa, under the Home Secretary’s outrageous anti-refugee Bill, that would make them guilty of an offence punishable by up to four years in prison. How on earth can she defend criminalising torture victims—victims of war crimes, persecuted Christian converts and other refugees—for seeking our protection?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I am afraid that he has not read the Bill, or the new plan for immigration, or followed the debate and the discussion. I have been absolutely clear that we will support those individuals who, as he says, are fleeing persecution and torture. It is our objective as a Government to support those individuals, but not those who come to our country by paying money to illegal people traffickers and who could have claimed asylum in many of the EU countries through which they have travelled. I am sorry that he fails to realise that flagrant abuses are taking place through the use of people smugglers and people traffickers, and that individuals could claim asylum in other countries, but are simply choosing not to do so.
Prior to the pandemic, UK haulage businesses such as Owens Group in my constituency employed about 600,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers. However, as we come out of covid thousands of HGVs are parked up as the industry simply cannot find drivers; the number of trainee drivers dropped by 63% last year. The industry needs an immediate solution. Will my right hon. Friend consider adding HGV drivers to the UK shortage occupation list? (902578)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight first and foremost crucial skills that are obviously important to our labour market. Our new points-based immigration system does exactly that, not just in supporting key sectors but in giving employers an important role in filling labour market places and supporting jobs.
The Government are working with the haulage sector; the Department for Transport is leading on this right now. It has from today temporarily extended rules on HGV drivers’ hours to allow them to make slightly longer journeys where necessary. It is also providing support directly to the sector to increase the number of available driving tests so that more people can qualify and support important haulage companies across my hon. Friend’s constituency and the country.
I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about the specifics of his question; I do not have that detail in front of me right now. Throughout the application process, the Home Office has worked with and supported individuals who have issues demonstrating their status through some of the measures that I have already outlined, so that their status can be secured. There are ways in which we have been doing that, and I will write to him with that information.
Changes to the law on abortion are among the most difficult issues that we consider in this place, as the debate last week showed. These will always be matters of conscience, but does my right hon. Friend agree that when four royal colleges and the British Medical Association call for change, as there has been in Northern Ireland, we need to carefully listen to the views of those medical professionals and consider how, as a House, we can consider these important matters in a timely way? (902580)
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. First and foremost, it is always important to recognise and understand the strength of feeling around this issue. I pay tribute to colleagues in the House who have discussed this issue over the past week; they have aired many not just concerns but approaches based on evidence and information.
My right hon. Friend is right that these are matters of conscience for all Members, but at the same time it is for Parliament to decide. The debate that she has been leading and much of the evidence that she has just touched on are a matter for consideration, which Governments absolutely approach in the right way, particularly with parliamentary debate at the right time.
May I say that there is a lot of disappointment that we have not gone very far on topicals? I have let them run for longer than I normally would. I am disappointed—we really have to get the Front Benchers working together to speed up those early questions; in the end, it is other Members who miss out.