Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Monday 15th January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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Unless Labour has a plan for paying for those figures, it is just empty rhetoric. The simple truth is that there are record numbers of officers in police forces across the country, including Essex Police, which I visited this morning—it has never had more police officers than it has currently. It is right that chief constables decide how to deploy those police officers. Again, unless we hear a plan to pay for those additional officers, I will not trust Labour’s figures.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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9. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of proposed changes to visa income thresholds on the university sector.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
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We have been mindful of the need to balance the impacts on individual sectors with economic growth, and the needs of the labour market with the need to reduce levels of immigration. As part of our policy development, we undertook analytical work across Government that supports our decisions. A regulatory impact assessment will be developed in due course.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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The director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim, has expressed concern that changes to the Government’s visa income threshold could affect universities’ ability to attract global talent. International students and academics make a contribution in excess of £5 billion annually to the Scottish economy. If the Government recognise the contribution of international students and academics, as they say they do, why are they introducing a policy that threatens to prevent future cohorts of them from making a similar contribution?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Individuals will still be able to make a valid contribution in the years ahead, but in a sustainable and managed way. There are no immediate plans to introduce further exemptions to the increased salary threshold, but the salary discounts remain in place. We will continue to engage as the measures are introduced. There are also opportunities domestically for recruitment. At every opportunity, we should be trying to support domestic recruitment wherever we can.

Net Migration Figures

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Thursday 25th May 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I have made it very clear that we want to get the backlog down, but I have also pointed out that Labour’s only policy in respect of illegal migration is to clear the backlog faster. Open borders, faster processing —that is not going to work.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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The Minister and I will clearly never agree on whether immigration is too high, but we might be able to agree that it is too low when it comes to rural areas and the need for seasonal workers in the agrifood sector, given that a shortage of such workers left millions of pounds of fresh produce to rot in the fields. The Scottish Government have called for a bespoke rural visa scheme to help bring the labour that is needed to Scotland. Will the Minister agree to meet me so that we can tease out some of these issues, perhaps free from the pressures to generate headlines in tomorrow’s press?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I would be happy to discuss that issue in the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman has raised it today. I am not persuaded that it is practical to create an immigration system whereby we have visas specific to certain parts of the United Kingdom or to rural as opposed to urban areas. We have a seasonal agricultural workers scheme; we recently announced that that will continue next year, and offered to increase it to 55,000 people a year. Last year, the scheme was capped at 45,000 and we had fewer applications than that, so it seems to be operating at the correct level, but we have to be careful about abuse, and last year, I am afraid, we saw a rise in the number of people who came across on that scheme and either were exploited by gangmasters or put in asylum claims. It would not be right to create a system that led to an increase in either of those activities.

Draft Investigatory Powers Commissioner (Oversight Functions) Regulations 2022 Draft Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources and Interception: Codes of Practice) Regulations 2022

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

General Committees
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert. I was pleased to be nominated by my party to contribute to the scrutiny of these measures, not least because I had the unexpected duty of speaking on Second Reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill on 5 October 2020. I think it is fair to say that at that stage, we were not terribly impressed with the measures in the Bill and were looking for a number of assurances from Ministers, which, sadly, were not forthcoming. That is one of the major reasons why we voted against the Bill’s Third Reading and the Scottish Government withheld their legislative consent.

Notwithstanding that, the measure is a positive development, given the benefits it brings in placing informal arrangements for oversight of GCHQ and others on to a statutory footing. We welcome the revised CHIS code and the revised interception code, albeit cautiously. However, we remain concerned that they do not appear to deal with the dangers caused by agents provocateurs, and the CHIS code still does not require authorising officers to be completely independent of the investigation. That separation of powers is extremely important, because there is an obvious conflict of interest, and as far as we can see, no measures in the SI or the code deals with that. Like the hon. Member for Halifax, we also remain concerned about the lack of oversight in real time of the use of covert human intelligence sources.

We will keep these matters under review, and we urge the Minister to reflect on the fact that those concerns still exist. Nevertheless, in the narrow terms of the measures before us, we think that they are a positive development, and on that basis, we are content to see them progress.

Western Jet Foil and Manston Asylum Processing Centres

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Monday 31st October 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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I refer the hon. Gentleman to the letter I sent today, which sets out all the details of the actions, the decisions and the rationale behind the events of 19 October. I have apologised for the mistake and taken responsibility, which is why I resigned.

The hon. Gentleman’s party has no solutions for the problem we are dealing with. If Labour was in charge, it would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country. It would be allowing all the small boats to come to the UK, it would open our borders and totally undermine the trust of the British people in controlling our sovereignty.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Can the Home Secretary tell me how many places in alternative accommodation she approved in September? When was the first of those places signed off? When was the first person able to be housed in that accommodation signed off? If she does not have those figures to hand, will she agree to write to me with them at the earliest opportunity?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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I will not bore the Chamber by repeating my answer to a question that I have now been asked on several occasions. The hon. Gentleman will be able to check the record for the specific number of hotels and beds procured during my tenure. I am very glad that we have taken urgent action to deal with this issue.

Oral Answers to Questions

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Monday 20th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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8. How many and what proportion of passport applications that were received over 10 weeks ago have not yet been processed.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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12. How many and what proportion of passport applications that were received over 10 weeks ago have not yet been processed.

Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster)
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Across March, April and May, Her Majesty’s Passport Office completed the processing of approximately 3 million passport applications, with 98.5% of those from the UK being completed within the published processing time of up to 10 weeks.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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It is quite remarkable, is it not, that six days on from an Opposition day debate where the Minister was asked that very question three times and failed to give a figure for the size of the passport backlog, he is still unable to give us an answer? I put it to him that perhaps the thing that would most cheer those who are languishing in that backlog—the one official piece of documentation that he could ensure is issued quickly—is his own ministerial P45.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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As we saw last week, those who have nothing to offer by way of policy like to go personal. To help the hon. Member, the question was about the proportion of passport applications received. He got an answer to it, but his supplementary makes it clear that he has no ideas of his own to offer.

HM Passport Office Backlog

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Tuesday 14th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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That was quite an interesting listen, I have to say, certainly from the SNP Front Bench. I am struck by the Minister being magnanimous enough to say he feels sorry for those on the Labour Front Bench. Clearly, he feels very sorry for himself with all the criticisms that have come his way, but what I have not heard is a single word of apology or contrition for those who are stuck in the backlog. After that quite extraordinary performance, people are entitled, especially those languishing in that backlog, to feel a growing sense of anger at the incompetence and insouciance of this Government.

To be clear, my censure today is reserved entirely for the ministerial team that has presided over this situation. It is in no way a criticism of staff, who have been doing their utmost in the most difficult of circumstances over the last few years to ensure that processes work as effectively as they can. While the volume of applications is perhaps unprecedented, Ministers cannot, with a shred of credibility, claim that it was in any way unexpected. In fact, at times in recent weeks it has seemed that the Government have been determined not just to restrict the number of people able to come into the country, but to do their level best to prevent people from getting out of the country lawfully, too. Their lack of humility and contrition will rightly enrage those in the backlog. After how many attempts was it—two or three?—the Minister was still unable to say how large that backlog is. He did not even say “pass” or use a lifeline to phone a friend. That is absolutely telling and damning in equal measure.

The 10-week target that the Home Office speaks of is routinely being missed. The Home Office has had access to passport data, including the number of passports set to expire, all the way through the pandemic and was therefore fully aware, or at least ought to have been, of the spike in applications that was likely to come as soon as restrictions on travel were lifted. Ministers did not have to be Mystic Meg looking into a crystal ball to see what was happening. HM Passport Office is currently advising travellers to allow up to 10 weeks for applications to be processed, up from an average of three weeks before the pandemic. We are hearing of delays of up to five months or even more for applications to be processed. With few or no fast-track appointments available anywhere across the UK due to them being fully booked, travellers are being forced to cancel travel bookings, often losing hundreds of pounds of their hard-earned money in the process.

As ever, we can point to the statistics, but it is the human stories that really get to the nub of the issue. I was made aware, in preparing for this debate, of a case where grandparents had bought a holiday for their grandson as a gift for his 18th birthday, not realising he did not have a passport. It is now touch and go whether he will be able to take up that gift. A case from my own office is of a family looking to return to Scotland from the United States of America. Their inability to get passports for their children is not only risking their ability to travel in accordance with their plans, but preventing them from enrolling their children in school. This is not just about holidaymakers and tourism. For many, having that travel document as a simple form of ID is vital for business, family or practical reasons, or simply for accessing crucial public services.

For many, the failure of the system to process applications timeously and to issue passports will mean yet more forced separations from family and loved ones, after two years of the pandemic and the restrictions we have all been living under. People are again being deprived of the opportunity to say that one final goodbye to those they love, and their nearest and dearest. Business deals and contracts will be lost if meetings cannot take place face to face, where they need to be concluded in person. The Government also need to look at the issues around lost or stolen passport cases, which currently seem to sit outside all escalation processes. It seems that HM Passport Office is dealing with the escalation as if the only thing that matters is the travel date. In many cases, people will need passports faster than any travel date, simply to get visas from other jurisdictions in order to travel.

It is not as if the Government were not forewarned. As early as July 2020, as the first lockdown eased, the issue of passport backlogs was raised with HM Passport Office. Back then the official response was that staff were

“working hard to ensure that anyone with pre-planned travel does not miss out if their passport application has been submitted correctly and in good time”.

However, there have been many, many issues that a simple, bland public relations assurance cannot paper over. We heard from the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) about the issues with staffing. The lack of staff is clearly the major factor that has contributed to the backlog. The question then becomes: why did the Government not ensure enough people were employed to process the upsurge, in line with usual service standards?

Back in 2021, the Public and Commercial Services Union was promised that there would be an additional 1,700 staff recruited to deal with the predicted increase in applications, but the Home Office struggled to recruit for the reasons we have heard, in part due to the low wages on offer, and we have seen only about 500 additional recruits since then, most of whom have been agency staff. I believe there are currently over 1,000 full-time equivalent agency staff in HM Passport Office alone, meaning the workforce is between one third and one quarter agency staff. But this is not just about a simple failure to recruit. It is also, due to the conditions, about a failure to retain. Back in April 2016, the number of full-time equivalent paid staff was sitting at just over 3,913. At the time of the pandemic in April 2020, that figure had reduced to 3,585. By March this year, it was down to 3,232. Clearly there is a staffing crisis not just of recruitment, but of retention. It is impossible not to lay the blame with the culture that comes from the top—here.

There are also issues with systems. As we have heard, there have been delays in the full roll-out of the digital application processing system, which the PCS union understood was by now to have taken over from the application management system. The delay is clearly adding to backlogs and complexities, as an understaffed office is having to run two systems. I seek clarity from the Minister. What is the exact timescale for the roll-out of the DAP system? Will he explain why the AMS continues to be used, why there have been delays in fully deploying the DAP system, and why further staff are not being recruited to the project as a matter of urgency to help facilitate deployment and process applications to the expected timescales?

Then, of course, there is a wider problem that affects the Government’s attitude to public services: the fragmentation of the service. The Prime Minister said recently that if things did not improve, he would consider privatising the Passport Office, seemingly oblivious to the fact that many of its performance issues can be attributed directly to the impact of the privatisations and part-privatisations that have already taken place. As one Passport Office worker said:

“It shows an absolute ignorance to the actual problems. When we look at the issues in HM Passport Office at the minute, a lot of it is the privatised areas.”

The Government have serious questions to answer about their choice of private providers, particularly their choice of courier, given customers’ experience of the service when their passports are finally issued. The Government’s own data, which tracks the performance of the most valuable contracts with private companies, shows seven companies not reaching their agreed targets, six rated as inadequate and a further one requiring improvement.

Teleperformance, which has a five-year contract of nearly £23 million with the Government, been accused of giving customers “poor, misleading advice.” Members across the House will be only too aware of the pressures their own constituency staff are now under, as they are put on hold for hours, trying to get through to someone who can assist our constituents. I do not intend to delve into the issues surrounding TNT, other than to say that that situation clearly should not have been allowed to grow and fester as it did.

The PCS union has sought assurances from HMPO management, including a commitment to work with PCS on workforce planning to properly staff HMPO to cope with the applications without the need for regular overtime. The union has also called for a reduction in the use of contingent labour, and has sought assurances that the Government will work to increase remuneration levels across HMPO and increase the pace of negotiations around allowances for members working in customers service areas. It has sought the provision of a clear timeline for the implementation of digital application processing, as well as a commitment that no further HMPO work will be privatised or outsourced, and a guarantee that contracts that are currently outsourced will be considered for urgent insourcing. Those all seem perfectly reasonable asks as we try to get through the morass that has been created.

The union sent a letter to the deputy director of customer service operations on 12 May, outlining those issues for clarification and seeking assurances. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that I am right in saying that a response has yet to be received. That is disappointing.

Brexit and the Prime Minister’s leadership woes have clearly chewed up considerable political energies and bandwidth that could have been deployed better in getting on with the day job of government over the last few years. It is easy to laugh at the Government’s puerile obsession with the symbolism of being able to issue blue Brexit passports. Quite frankly, I would not care if my passport was bright yellow with pink polka-dots if it arrived on time to allow me to get on with what I was doing.

The Home Office clearly does not have its troubles to seek. There has been a continued and conspicuous failure of political leadership over many years, with a steady procession of Home Secretaries who seem to be more interested in throwing red meat to the Back Benchers and playing to the culture wars gallery than trying to get to grips with the day-to-day issues that should concern them. We have seen it in the tragedy of Windrush, the botched handling of the Afghan and Ukrainian refugee crises, the plans to intercept boats in the channel on jet skis, the callousness of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the looming omnishambles of the Rwanda deportations. We have consistently been shown that despite the Home Secretary’s bellicose, tough rhetoric from the Dispatch Box, the record is simply one of incompetence and failure—quite frankly, enough is enough.

Too many individuals, families and businesses have been left in limbo by this fiasco; too many have had their plans suspended, upended or overturned; too many have been left unable to demonstrate to authorities who they are for the lack of identification documents, whether they want to travel to access public services or simply to access employment to provide for themselves and their loved ones. The Government need urgently to get a grip.

Preventing Crime and Delivering Justice

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 11th May 2022

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey
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I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I mean “the people the Government are supposed to serve”.

What is clear, and what I do not think has been mentioned by anyone today—although it has been mentioned many times outside this place—is that poverty is a deliberate political choice. Scotland is replete with energy, far more than we could ever possibly need, but our people see no benefit from that. Contracts for difference, along with asymmetric and uncompetitive transmission costs, impede any inward investment in Scotland. We should be in the vanguard of the renewables sector manufacturing industry, but unfortunately there is precious little manufacturing happening in Scotland.

It is not just Westminster that is at fault. This brings me back to the point made by the Minister a moment ago. The Scottish Government shamefully sold off ScotWind licences for relative pennies—£700 million. They set a ceiling on the bids. Bids for a much smaller licence in the United States realised $4.37 billion.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want to inadvertently mislead the House, but the £700 million to which he refers is for options to develop. It completely ignores any future revenue streams, or indeed any royalties that might come. I am sure he would wish to correct the record.

Refugees from Ukraine

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Wednesday 16th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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The hon. Gentleman yells a number at me. Let me give some more numbers. Between 2015 and 2020, the UK resettled 24,700 refugees—and resettling refugees is what this is all about. The next best country in Europe was Sweden, which resettled 20,900. We should be judged on what we actually do rather than the rhetoric from others about what they think we will do, because it is markedly different.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I will not, because I am respectful to the Chair. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could learn from that.

What it is right for us to do is condemn the actions of President Putin, who has caused what will be the largest refugee crisis in Europe. We must do everything we can to ensure that he is brought down, so that those Ukrainians can go back to the country that they love, which is their own country.

Let me now, again in a spirit of positivity, hail and thank the Home Office officials who signed off a visa to allow a constituent of mine to bring her pregnant sister and her disabled mother to this country. I visited the pop-up casework centre in Parliament, which has done fantastic work, and I went through the whole case. The visas had indeed been processed. Those people are working really hard, but they cannot be expected to work better if they are constantly denigrated and knocked. That does their morale no good at all. Perhaps a thank you to them would not go amiss. It is possible to scrutinise policy without using insults.

--- Later in debate ---
Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Allow me, at the outset of my remarks, to salute the courage of the people of Ukraine, who are being brutalised by a kleptocratic murderer who seeks to deny them the rights that all free people wish for—the rights simply to be able to live in peace with their neighbours in prosperity and to be able to choose the manner in which they are governed and who they are governed by. We should be clear that the only person responsible for the situation that we are discussing right now—the only person responsible for the tide of humanity and misery that we are seeing exit Ukraine—is Vladimir Putin himself.

But while we are not responsible, that does not mean that we are without responsibilities. I commend the UK Government for the military aid and the long-term approach taken to military training. We are seeing the effectiveness of that in defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. I commend the humanitarian response that there has been from all quarters. A small example from my own constituency is the work of Mark Allan, a part-time firefighter who, together with the Scottish Emergency Rescue Association, has been working with my constituency office to get the necessary paperwork from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in order to be able to take fire engines to Ukraine to assist with the humanitarian effort.

What concerns me is what we are doing, or more often not doing, with regard to sanctuary. The Home Office is clearly a Department that, for some time, has not had its troubles to seek, whether in terms of its organisational capacity, its institutional culture or aspects of its political leadership. I do not say that to be critical of the thousands of dedicated people within that organisation who are working night and day to achieve the best outcomes that they possibly can in the most unprecedented and distressing of circumstances, but equally that should not hinder us from saying that more needs to be done when that is true, because let us be quite clear about this: we are seeing the biggest enforced mass movement of people, unparalleled in scale, since world war two.

I have been working, as I am sure we all have, with constituents who have their own stories to tell—who are either fleeing with family members who are Ukrainian nationals or trying to bring over a sister, a brother, a cousin or somebody else who is dear and special to them. The thread that runs through this is that they have all reported the same traumatic story not just of conflict, death and injury, but of the obstacles and time delays of the visa application system that they have encountered. While I welcome the changes and flexibilities that came into place yesterday that allow Ukrainian nationals to do their biometrics in the UK, that has not changed the essential nature of the unnecessary suffering for many refugees trying to flee the most desperate and dangerous of circumstances to seek safety in the UK.

To give an example, one of my constituents, whose case became known in the press, is Kenneth Stewart, who tried to leave with his family before the attacks from the Russian state began, when the advice from the UK Government was to leave on commercial flights, but was unable to leave with his wife, who is a Ukrainian national. They have two young children, the youngest of whom was born only two weeks previously. They fled initially to Poland to seek sanctuary there, and arrived in the UK only last week, as soon as they were permitted to enter as a family. Along the way, quite apart from the dangers that they encountered as the attacks were under way, they had to wait in a 40-hour queue at the Polish border in sub-zero temperatures—and this, remember, with a two-week child in the back. That is absolutely unimaginable for all of us. While I am glad that they are here and they are safe, and that their circumstances are moving on, we should understand that we are still potentially placing many others in similar situations as they seek to come to safety.

Another constituent, Lyudmyla Wilson, has faced numerous obstacles in trying to bring her daughter and grandchildren safely through the visa process. She has had difficulty accessing information through the helplines, and that has only added to the anxiety and fears for her daughter’s and grandchildren’s safety. She was advised to wait for the results of her biometrics, which she did on Saturday. My office is still following up on that, but unfortunately, as far as I am aware, in the time since I took to my feet, she is still waiting for a decision that we are told is in progress. I could go on.

Last week, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the Prime Minister boasted:

“We have done more to resettle vulnerable people than any other European country since 2015.”—[Official Report, 9 March 2022; Vol. 710, c. 318.]

Let us examine and unpack that claim a little bit. In the past two weeks, some 2.8 million Ukrainian refugees have already fled the horrors of war, and, as we have heard, that number is rising rapidly. Of the upwards of 260,000 who have made their way to countries that do not directly border Ukraine, only a fraction have so far been able to come to the UK. While the UK has issued about 4,000 family visas, many thousands more are currently stuck in the application process, and many, many thousands beyond that, I am certain, have not even entered the process yet.

I am sorry to say that the contrast at this point, whatever the good intentions, could not be clearer. Across Europe, our neighbours are stepping up to meet this challenge, waiving bureaucratic requirements and placing refuge and sanctuary first with bureaucracy coming second, where it ought to be. EU guidelines approved on 3 March on the temporary protection directive demonstrate how a high level of security and assurance can be maintained while removing the bureaucratic barriers for those in need. The directive offers temporary protection in the EU, giving individuals fleeing war residence permits and access to education and the labour market. In the midst of a conflict, it is neither reasonable nor morally acceptable to expect individuals to have to overcome those hurdles. We can bring them to safety now at no detriment to our own safety while allowing them then to complete the processes that we would wish them to.

It is not just the SNP that is saying this. The Refugee Council has said the UK has not been as welcoming for Ukrainian refugees as our EU counterparts, saying that the response to date “falls short” and

“will inevitably be restricted to those who are known to people in the UK”.

The British Red Cross, which I would hope we could take as an unimpeachable authority on this, has said that the quickest way of fixing problems in the system would be to remove the requirements for a visa, as has been done in other countries.

I firmly believe that the UK Government must go further and faster to help refugees by supporting the Scottish and Welsh Government super sponsors bid.

In a joint letter from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales to the UK Minister for Housing, they have agreed to take part in the UK-wide scheme, which is absolutely right, but they call for the scheme to go further and faster with less bureaucracy, and propose becoming super sponsors to speed up the process. The newly appointed Scottish refugee Minister, Neil Gray, who is well known to this House from the time that he served as the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts, has said:

“By acting as ‘super sponsor’ rather than waiting for the UK government’s matching process, we can provide safety and sanctuary to people immediately and welcome significant numbers of refugees from Ukraine to Scotland”,

including by providing support mechanisms for refugees such as temporary accommodation and wraparound support while longer-term arrangements are put in place.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am acutely aware of your strictures on time, so I will draw my remarks to a close by saying that I am sure that people across these islands are ready to open their doors and their hearts to these refugees, and it is time to waive visa requirements and put people, rather than processes, first.

UK Border: Covid Protections

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right: we are in a global health pandemic. The daily numbers that we see of people being hospitalised and the impacts of covid are a sobering reminder of all of this. I wish to make a couple of points. Of course passengers are checked at the airports—we have just discussed that today. All airports across the UK are operational partners, and they have a responsibility to comply with those social distancing and covid-compliant measures. We will continue to work with them and support them to do so. As ever, my message again is: people should not be travelling; we are in global health pandemic.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP) [V]
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The Home Secretary will be aware that the Scottish Government cannot unilaterally close the border in Scotland to international arrivals. May I therefore ask: in the event that further restrictions on international arrivals are imposed, will she commit to offering the full resources of the UK Border Force, including funding, if required, to ensure that Scotland is able to operate effectively as part of a four-nations approach?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman has made the case for a stronger United Kingdom and for the Union working together, which is absolutely right, and we have been doing that, with Border Force in particular. I pay tribute to my Border Force colleagues across the country for the very strong work they are doing, in Scotland, Wales and across the UK, because they have been on the frontline every day.

Police National Computer

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Monday 18th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I can assure him that we are doing everything we possibly can. We have a very dedicated engineering team who have been working flat out since the incident occurred, including over the weekend, to seek rectification. As soon as I have more information about phase 2, I will make it known to the House through whatever channel is agreed with Mr Speaker.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP) [V]
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The Minister has told the House this afternoon that the affected records apply to cases where individuals were arrested and then released with no further action. However, a letter sent from the National Police Chiefs Council to senior officers stated that records potentially deleted in error include records that have previously been marked

“for indefinite retention following conviction of serious offences”.

In light of what the Minister has told the House and in light of his earlier statement of 16 January, was the National Police Chiefs Council incorrect to make that statement to senior officers?

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
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No, the person from the NPCC was not incorrect, I do not believe, although the picture has evolved, it is certainly true to say, over the past few days. The information I have been given thus far is that where an individual may be on the police national computer for a number of offences over time, but on this occasion, for a particular offence, was released with no further action, it is only the information that relates to that particular offence for which there was no further action that may or may not have been deleted.

Having said that—I guess it is safe to put this caveat in—we are in the process of analysing exactly what the impact of this loss has been. Once that becomes clearer, I will be more than happy to give the hon. Gentleman and others in the House the assurance that they need or, indeed, to give the wider conclusions of what that report is telling us. These are all initial views of what we believe may well have been happening. The first phase of our recovery plan has gone well; the second phase, which is analysing what the report is telling us about this frankly huge database, will come in the next few days, and then I will be able to give more certain answers.