On 17th December, the Home Affairs Committee convened to ask questions to Home Secretary Theresa May. Questions were asked on a range of issues including Donald Trump, immigration, the refugee crisis, counter terrorism and crime and policing.
Members of the committee present were: Keith Vaz, Chuka Umuna, Nusrat Ghani, Naz Shah, David Burrowes, Victroia Atkins, James Berry, Ranil Jaywardena, Tim Loughton and Stuart McDonald.
Committee Chairman Keith Vaz began the session by raising the issue of US election candidate Donald Trump and his pledge to ban all Muslims from entering the United States if he became president. Mr Vaz expressed his surprise that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made the decision that Donald Trump would not be banned from entering the UK, as decisions such as these are usually made by the Home Secretary. Theresa May described Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims as divisive, unhelpful and wrong. Ms May also confirmed that the decision to exclude somebody from the UK is made by the Home Secretary based on the information available at that time. Ms May refused to comment on individual cases.
Chuka Umuna suggested that Donald Trump is aiding and abetting Daesh in the sense that he reinforces the view that western society is hostile towards Muslims through his comments.
The Home Secretary was questioned on the subject of immigration and her immigration target figures. Keith Vaz pointed out that net immigration to the UK in 2014 had increased by 82,000 making current immigration figures the worst on record.
The Home Secretary argued that it is not possible to see instant results from new measures that the government has put in place to curb immigration, adding that current measures will need to be reviewed frequently as people are always finding new ways to work outside the system.
Chuka Umuna challenged the Home Secretary on comments she made during her speech at the Conservative Party Conference that immigration is forcing British people out of work. Mr Umuna described the comments as contradictory as they have been made during a time when the government claims the economy is strong; he likened the Home Secretary’s comments to that of “a Nigel Farage tribute act”.
The Refugee Crisis
Theresa May confirmed that 1000 Syrian refugees have now been flown to the UK, meeting the government’s Christmas target. David Burrowes asked the Home Secretary why selection of refugees is confined to the bordering refugee camps and not to refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean. The Home Secretary stated that the decision was made to deter others from making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees are given priority. The Home Secretary clarified that the government was relying on the UNHCR to identify the most suitable refugees for relocation to the UK.
Keith Vaz asked Theresa May to explain what the government is doing about offers from the British public to house refugees. Theresa May confirmed that where there is an offer of accommodation from an individual, they need to contact their Local Authority and the Local Authority will determine whether or not the offer is suitable.
Naz Shah raised her concerns that there were not enough Local Authorities on board to house the remaining 19,000 refugees that the government has pledged to house in the UK. Theresa May reiterated that the process of housing refugees in the UK would be ongoing over the next 5 years.
On the issue of counter terrorism, Keith Vaz asked the Home Secretary about what is being done to improve information sharing about individuals of interest across the EU and highlighted the case of two British males under surveillance by the British government who were able to leave the UK and were found on the Romanian/Hungarian border. Mr Vaz suggested that there seems to be a gap in security at UK boarders.
The Home Secretary referred to the government’s introduction of exit checks at UK borders, she also reported that the government is working on increasing the ability to exchange criminality data among EU countries. In terms of restricting oversees travel of individuals thought to be connected with terrorism, Ms May confirmed that in 2014 the government confiscated 30 passports.
Nusrat Ghani raised her concerns about the practise of Wahhabism within Muslim communities, describing the Muslim community in the UK as feeling “under siege” by this particular sect of Islam. Ms Ghani asked what the government was doing to establish where overseas funding for Islamic schools and mosques is coming from. The Home Secretary confirmed that there will be an investigation into overseas funding next year and that this had recently been announced by the Prime Minister.
Ms Ghani also raised her concerns about Muslim Shari’ah law courts. Theresa May agreed with Ms Ghani that there were widespread concerns about rulings given within Shari’ah courts, particularly in regards to women and children. The Home Secretary explained that this would be addressed in the government’s planned review of the use of Shari’ah law courts due to take place next year.
Keith Vaz asked the Home Secretary about the action being taken to remove extremist content from the internet and suggested that a more central method of removing content needs to be put in place. Theresa May stated that the implementation of the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit meant that the UK was ahead of the majority of countries in tacking this issue, the Home Secretary also confirmed that 160,000 pieces of extremist content have been taken down since 2013 and that the government is currently taking down 1000 pieces of extremist content per week.
Crime and Policing
The issue of the use of tasers by police officers was raised; the Home Secretary confirmed that more officers would be armed with tasers in light of the effectiveness of their use during the Leytonstone stabbing attack.
The Home Secretary clarified that the Chief Constable would be responsible for making the decision about the number of tasers that will be provided to police officers.
Chuka Umuna raised his concerns about findings that people from BME backgrounds are three times more likely to be tasered by the police than someone from a white background. He asked the Home Secretary to confirm when the committee can expect to see the results of an investigation that she has commissioned into this. The Home Secretary was unable to give a date for the publishing of the report at this time.
Mr Umuna also commented that the use of body worn cameras on police officers would increase the level of trust among the public particularly in regards to police stop and search powers, the Home Secretary agreed that body warn cameras are beneficial for both the public and the police officers themselves.
On the topic of knife crime, David Burrowes questioned the Home Secretary on what is being done to control the sale of knives online. The Home Secretary pointed to the need to emphasise education and the role of voluntary organisations and charities in tackling the issue of knife crime.
You can watch the meeting in full here