27 November 2023
Home Office Questions

Home Secretary, James Cleverly MP, answers MPs’ questions to the Home Office.

Organised Crime

Simon Jupp (East Devon) (Con)

1. What steps he is taking to help reduce levels of organised crime. (900281)

Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)

11. What steps he is taking to help reduce levels of organised crime. (900291)

Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)

15. What steps he is taking to help reduce levels of organised crime. (900295)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

We will continue to break the business model of organised crime gangs to keep the people of this country safe. We are disrupting their activities both domestically in the UK and internationally, including disrupting the work of the gangs behind the illegal small-boat crossings, and it is why the Criminal Justice Bill creates new powers to target organised criminal gangs. We will also publish a new serious and organised crime strategy soon.

Simon Jupp 

Criminal gangs do not care about the people they are smuggling into our country and they must be stopped. We must stop the boats in ways that are consistent with our international obligations and end the dangerous journeys that risk human life. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must focus on breaking the business model of these criminal gangs?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The people who are being smuggled are seen as just products; they are expendable in the eyes of the people smugglers, and we must and will do everything we can to break their business model. I commend the work of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, who has recently been to Bulgaria, where in close co-operation with our international partners there we have seized boats and engines. We are breaking the business model, and we will continue to drive down those illegal small-boat crossings until we have stopped the boats.

Greg Smith 

Serious organised acquisitive crime is hitting rural communities hard, with high-value agricultural equipment targeted for theft. The National Rural crime unit has recently recovered over £5 million of stolen equipment, nearly £1 million of which was recovered abroad. The Construction Plant-hire Association, NFU Mutual and the Construction Equipment Association have put significant funds into the NRCU but what more can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that it has the resources it needs to tackle these serious organised criminal gangs?

James Cleverly 

I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done in this area, including with his private Members’ Bill. He is absolutely right that the rural communities of this country need to be supported, and they will be. Driving down rural crime is an important area of work and we have provided £200,000 of funding to help set up the NRCU. My hon. Friend and I, and others in this House, understand the terrible impact this has, and we will continue to work with the rural police forces to drive down rural crime.

Antony Higginbotham 

In Burnley and right across Lancashire county lines continues to be a problem, with organised groups peddling drugs and exploiting young people with no regard for the harm they are doing, not just to the communities but to the young people they are exploiting. Lancashire police are making very good inroads with an enhanced rural policing unit and neighbourhood taskforces, but what more can Lancashire Constabulary do to tackle the county lines issue and bring order back to our streets?

James Cleverly 

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this vile type of criminality, which targets the young and the most vulnerable. As part of our fight against county lines we are investing up to £145 million in our county lines programme, and since it was launched in 2019 police activity has resulted in over 4,700 county lines being closed, over 14,800 arrests and over 7,200 safeguard referrals. We will keep our focus on this evil criminality.

Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)

Given that, shockingly, the average time it takes for a crime to be charged has trebled since 2016, will the Secretary of State embrace the Police Federation’s “Simplify DG6” campaign and scrap the redaction rules his Government introduced in 2020, in order to cut bureaucracy, get cases to the Crown Prosecution Service quicker, and free up officers’ time to be out fighting crime?

James Cleverly 

We are actively working with the CPS to simplify and speed up this process. I will of course look at the proposals put forward, because we want police officers out in their communities on the beat and tackling crime, rather than doing paperwork—important though that is.

Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)

The police report a 25% increase in shoplifting in recent months. There is much evidence, as the Home Secretary will be aware, that organised criminal gangs go into shops to try to steal as much as they can and target shop workers. As we approach Christmas, what assurance can the Home Secretary provide to shop workers—not just at Christmas, but across the year—that he will start dealing with these gangs and start realising that all retail crime is a problem in this country that needs tackling?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this issue. It is one that we take seriously through Operation Pegasus. We are working through the leadership of the police and crime commissioner for Sussex on this very issue. No doubt either the Policing Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) or I will have the opportunity to update the House on this work as it progresses.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)

I call the shadow Minister.

Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

This autumn, the Government pledged to treat retail crime as organised crime, but with their Criminal Justice Bill, they have fallen at the first hurdle. There is no consolidated offence to protect retail workers, no strong signal on the £200 limit on investigations and a denial of reality on their hollowing out of neighbourhood policing. From the answers we have heard, the Home Secretary wants us to believe that we have never had it so good, but the ones who are thriving are organised criminals. Will the Government accept our amendments to add the protection of shop workers into the legislation?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman will know that attacking shop workers is already a statutory aggravating factor. We will look at what more we can do to protect shop workers. The retail action plan is in place, including the use of CCTV and facial recognition software. We will continue to explore all avenues to protect shopworkers, because they, like everyone else, deserve our protection.


Illegal Migration

Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)

6. What steps he is taking to tackle illegal migration. (900286)

Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)

9. What steps he is taking to tackle illegal migration. (900289)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

The Government have a plan to tackle illegal migration by means of a number of methods, and that plan is working. Small-boat crossings are down compared with those in other countries across Europe, where they are up. We are working closely with our international partners, including our nearest geographical neighbour France, we are dismantling the organised criminal gangs who are smuggling people, and we are taking action to reform the asylum system.

Miriam Cates 

Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Government announced emergency legislation to address the issues mentioned in the judgment. I welcome the proposed new treaty with Rwanda, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the new legislation promised by the Prime Minister must be clear and unambiguous in establishing that the sovereign will of this Parliament, as expressed in primary legislation, takes legal precedence over the interpretation of international treaties and principles?

James Cleverly 

I can assure my hon. Friend that the excellent working relationship we have with Rwanda—on which I worked in my former role—will give us the opportunity to have a treaty that addresses the issues in the Supreme Court judgment. However, she is right to say that the legislation that will accompany that treaty must make it absolutely clear that the will of the British people, as exemplified by the actions of this Government, means we will work to get flights to Rwanda to make it plain that if people come here illegally they will not stay here. I can give her my commitment that we will do everything we can to make that happen.

Jack Brereton 

Further to those points, will my right hon. Friend give me a categorical assurance that he will do everything he can to enable us to deliver the Rwanda policy, and will introduce all the necessary legal exemptions so that we can get on with those flights as soon as possible and provide the necessary deterrence to illegal migration?

James Cleverly 

The Rwanda scheme is an extremely important part of our basket of responses. I will do everything to ensure that we drive down small-boat arrivals: that is the promise we have made to the British people, and that is the commitment I will deliver.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)

One of the ways of dealing with illegal migration is to look at the number of cases. Can the Home Secretary say how many legacy backlog cases there are—if they have yet been triaged—and how many of those result from illegal migration?

James Cleverly 

The historic backlog has been reduced by 65%. It has fallen by more than 59,000 cases since the end of November 2022. We have recruited 2,500 asylum decision makers, and we have increased tenfold the pace at which these decisions are made.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)

The Secretary of State is well aware that under international law an asylum seeker cannot be described as an illegal immigrant. They are here legally unless and until they are found to have no valid claim to asylum after due process. Is it the policy of the Home Office and this Government to act within international law or to act outwith it?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman makes reference to the refugee convention, but his definition is only accurate if they come directly from a place of danger. I have visited France and it is a wonderful country. I can assure the House that it is not a dangerous country.


Rwanda Relocation Scheme: Supreme Court Judgment

Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Supreme Court judgment of 15 November 2023 on the Rwanda relocation scheme. (900288)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

The Rwanda scheme remains an important part of our response to illegal migration and people smuggling. We will continue to negotiate with the Government of Rwanda on a treaty that will be underpinned by domestic law so that the Rwanda scheme will join the other effective parts of our response in stopping the boats.

Steven Bonnar 

The Prime Minister has indicated his intention to override the Supreme Court by introducing emergency laws and a new treaty with Rwanda to save his unlawful deportation plans. So far, the UK has paid the Rwanda Government £140 million and the Home Office has spent £1.4 million on failed legal challenges, with no asylum seekers being sent there as of yet. How much has the Home Office spent in total on the Rwanda scheme? Can the Secretary of State give us a figure, please?

James Cleverly 

The funding from the Home Office will be reported in the usual, appropriate way. I do not have the figures to hand, but I will make sure the House is updated on the costs.

The hon. Gentleman seems to misunderstand how one responds to a legal judgment. He describes it as “overriding,” but I suggest that when the Government address the issues set down by the Supreme Court, they will not be overriding but respecting the voice of the Supreme Court.

I would make the point that we are committed to dealing with illegal migrants. I hear no such commitment from the Opposition. Until they come up with clear plans for how they will deal with this issue, they should support the actions the Government are actually taking.

Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

Has the Home Secretary been struck, as I have, by the very small number of Opposition Members standing to contribute to questions on migration? Does he agree that, if democracies both within the EU and, like ourselves, outside the EU cannot find a solution to this problem, we will see the increasing emergence of far-right politicians in positions of power? That ought to frighten us all.

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Government were criticised by the Opposition and by voices across the continent when we started to take action to address the significant increase in the volumes of illegal migration. Countries across the continent are now looking at us in order to emulate the actions we are taking. Illegal migration has gone from something that the Labour party believed was a non-issue to being a core issue for Governments across Europe and North America. If the good people do not grip this issue, the bad people will attempt to do so, and I will never let that happen.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)

I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

The Home Affairs Committee has taken a particular interest in small-boat crossings. We produced a report last year that I suggest the new Home Secretary might want to look at. We have also visited France and Belgium this year. Owing to our interest and expertise in this area, will the Home Secretary consider giving the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights the opportunity to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny of any emergency legislation that he plans to bring forward?

James Cleverly 

There is an urgency to the legislation that we seek to put forward and, although pre-legislative scrutiny has a part to play, I will not do anything that delays the implementation of this incredibly important legislation.

Sir Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con)

It is imperative if we are to crack the business model of the evil people smugglers that we operationalise the Rwanda scheme. May I register my profound conviction that the disapplication of elements of the European convention on human rights and the refugee convention will be necessary? The Court of Appeal cited human rights and the Supreme Court cited refoulement. What will it be next time, in the absence of Parliament expressly asserting the will of this House?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, although I do not want to prejudge the content of the Bill. I listened carefully to his points, and he and the rest of the House should understand that we will do everything we can to ensure that we break the business model of the evil people smugglers he highlights and drive down the small-boat arrivals. He is absolutely right that the deterrent effect of the Rwanda scheme is a key element of that multi-strand approach.


Topical Questions

Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (900306)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

My mission and that of this Government, on behalf of all people in this country, is to secure our borders and keep people safe from crime and terrorism. Good progress has been made in driving down crime and stopping illegal small-boat arrivals, but there is, of course, more to do. The Home Office has been considering further measures to mitigate migration, including by preventing the exploitation and manipulation of our visa system and clamping down on those who take unwarranted advantage of the flexibilities we provide. We will announce further details on these measures in due course. Tomorrow, we have Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill, which will give police the powers they need for longer sentences for those who would harm others and will increase the trust in policing.

Judith Cummins 

In my constituency, the antisocial and illegal use of fireworks continues to affect law-abiding citizens and our pets. Will the Secretary of State commit to reducing the legal limit for commercial fireworks from 120 dB to 90 dB or less?

James Cleverly 

I have not yet had the opportunity to read into that issue—it was not the angle I was expecting in this question—but the proposal seems a thoughtful one. I will give it due consideration, but I cannot make a commitment at this point.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)

The Home Secretary has been in post for two weeks, during which time he has used the same language to pick a fight with Stockton and show what he thinks of his own Rwanda policy, he has been attacked by his Back Benchers, and Downing Street has already been forced to confirm it still has full confidence in him. Twelve days ago he said the number of asylum hotel bed spaces are down, but four days ago Home Office figures showed they are up to a record 56,000—10,000 more than at the beginning of the year. Does he even know what is going on?

James Cleverly 

Yes, I do. Let me expand—that answer was a by-product of the right hon. Lady asking a closed question at the Dispatch Box. I have been in this job for 14 days, and I am conscious that my counterparts around Europe and the world are grappling with many of the same issues. I would love nothing more than to be able to resolve them all in 14 days—I am good, but I am not a magician.

Yvette Cooper 

Perhaps that mean an end to the magical thinking that the right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor called for. We still have 10,000 more bed spaces than when the Prime Minister promised to end hotel use. The Home Secretary owes the House the facts. There is still no sign of anything on the failed Rwanda plan, because he knows it will not work, and nothing on the trebling of net migration to tackle the skills gaps that are driving work visas. The Government have been in power for 13 years and all we have is chaos and briefing wars. His Back Benchers are already calling him “Colonel Calamity”, and he has Corporal Chaos next to him on the Front Bench. Given the mess he has inherited and his penchant for profanity, does he accept that he is now up a certain kind of creek without a paddle?

James Cleverly 

The right hon. Lady is someone I admire hugely, and one of the things I admire most is how she has managed to be at the Dispatch Box twice but has failed to ask anything resembling a sensible question about the issues we are discussing. When her party was in government, it addressed the volumes of migration by simply redefining people, wiping the slate clean and pretending there was never a problem.

I have said this about the right hon. Lady’s party in broadcasts, and I say it from the Dispatch Box: there is a gaping vacuum where the Labour party’s policy on migration, whether it be legal or illegal, should be. Unless and until Labour Members come up with something approaching a policy, I will continue to do what we know to be right: driving down small-boat arrivals and reducing the number of hotel rooms needed. We have closed 50 hotels and we will do more.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

T5.   Is the Home Secretary doing enough to reassure Jews that the United Kingdom is safe? (900310)

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend asks an incredibly important question. I have made it very clear to the police forces of the UK that when members of a minority group in this country tell us that they are living in fear, we must take action. I am pleased that the policing response this weekend was more robust than on previous weekends—the police are clearly listening to the conversations we are having with them and I commend them for doing so. I have spoken with representatives of the Community Security Trust and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and I will be having a meeting with the Chief Rabbi to make it absolutely clear that the Jewish community in the UK has the right to feel safe and this Government will take action to ensure it is safe.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes)  (SNP)

T6.   My constituent, Dr Lubna Hadoura, has given almost 30 years of service in a specialised role to our NHS. Today, all she can think about is her 84-year-old mum and other members of her family who are stuck in Gaza with no hope of escape. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet urgently with me and Dr Hadoura so that she can set out to him more powerfully than I ever could the urgent humanitarian and moral imperative to get the families of UK citizens out of Gaza before it is too late? (900311)

James Cleverly 

The Government have a duty to British nationals, which we take very seriously. I recognise the plight of many non-British nationals in Gaza, which is why, in my previous role and now supporting the current Foreign Secretary, we have long pushed for a humanitarian pause. I am pleased that that is in place. We will continue to work with the international community and the countries in the region to ensure that support is given to the people in Gaza who need it and that action is taken to end this conflict, so that Israelis as well as the Palestinian people can live in peace and security.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)

As we seek to reduce the backlog of asylum claims, there is a temptation to grant more economic migrants the right to remain here. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be no slackening of the rules to root out economic migrants so that they can be returned to where they came from?

James Cleverly 

The whole point of having border control is that we can ensure that our migration system supports our economy and our social cohesion. Both those things are important. We want to ensure that we are choosing the right people, in the right numbers, at the right pace. I give the House a categoric assurance that that will always underpin our thinking with regard to what future changes we might make to the legal migration processes.

Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)

T10.   Given the revelation in recent weeks that the Home Secretary’s predecessor struck a deal with the Prime Minister before she took up the post, and given that it is well known that the Home Secretary was very much enjoying his role as Foreign Secretary, will he tell the House what deal he might have struck with the Prime Minister before taking on this role? (900315)

James Cleverly 

A fantastic question, well worth asking. The contract that all Ministers have is with the British people, to work hard on their behalf and to focus relentlessly on their priorities. That is something that every Government Minister takes seriously, and something totally lacking in the narrative coming from the Opposition Benches, including the Liberal Democrat Benches.