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Topical Questions

Volume 485: debated on Monday 15 December 2008

Domestic homicide of women is at the lowest rate for 10 years. Conviction rates for domestic violence cases have risen from 46 per cent. in 2003 to 72.5 per cent. in 2008. Between 1997 and 2007-08, there was a 58 per cent. fall in domestic violence incidents. Despite all that, we know we must do more, particularly at the Christmas period when women are at increased risk. For many, Christmas is a family time but for some it is a time of fear, violence and isolation. A new advertising campaign supported by the Home Office, Women’s Aid and Refuge begins today to encourage domestic violence victims to seek support and not to suffer in silence. It supports a Home Office-funded enforcement campaign over Christmas in 10 police force areas; it includes innovative tactics such as the use of body-worn video cameras by police, dedicated domestic abuse response vehicles and increased front-line policing, targeting the highest risk domestic violence victims and offenders.

I was very impressed that a member of the Home Office ministerial team spent a long time listening—not speaking—on the issue of knife killings in Croydon, although mentioning them is unfortunately not a proud boast for any Member of Parliament. Does anyone in the ministerial team feel that there is any good practice that could be copied in terms of providing additional resources for policing in Croydon, bearing in mind that since the Minister visited there have been two more street killings? I know that it is a devolved matter, but by following good practice elsewhere could the formula for funding for extra police officers be changed after such a significant increase in the number of street killings in a particular place?

I was delighted to visit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and to see him talking to young people in particular about the work they are doing to tackle knife crime in their area. The work done in Croydon shows that the police cannot solve the problem on their own through enforcement. Of course, police enforcement is essential, as we have seen in the success of stop and search and the increased number of people going to prison for possession, but alongside that, we need the involvement of local authorities, local residents and young people. From my visit to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I learned the value that young people can bring to that process. We need to remember that the vast majority of young people are decent—they are not involved in knife crime; but in terms of the solution, if we listen to what they say, they have part of the answer. As much as anything else, that is what I learned from my visit and I know that the hon. Gentleman was impressed as well.

T2. Given the return last week of a charter flight that was taking failed asylum seekers to Iraq—it seems to have been refused permission to land; certainly it did not land—can the Minister tell us which countries are receiving charter flights of people who have been forcibly removed from the UK, and whether there have been other instances of planes being refused permission to land? (242989)

I think that the report to which my hon. Friend refers concerned the joint UK-French flight. The UK is able to return people to both Iraq and Afghanistan in that way, and we continue to work with our partners in the French and Belgium authorities towards that end.

Will the Home Secretary commend Essex chief constable Roger Baker’s policy of ensuring that a police officer attends whenever there has been a crime, and does she think that the policy could be spread to other constabularies as good practice?

I was very pleased to visit Essex constabulary at the beginning of December, and to praise chief constable Roger Baker and the Essex police force for being the first to commit publicly to the police pledge. At the heart of the police pledge is how we can ensure that local people have the information, support and ability to have an input into the policing that they want. Chief constable Roger Baker is doing an extremely good job in Essex.

T4. Has my right hon. Friend considered the damage that could be done to public confidence in policing if direct elections to the police authorities meant a rise in the sort of irresponsible behaviour displayed by the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Durham? They have sent out leaflets saying that crime has increased massively in the area, but that is not the case. Is my right hon. Friend looking at a range of measures to improve— (242991)

T3. The Home Secretary will remember the House’s overwhelming support for the idea that hon. Members’ home addresses should not be revealed in response to freedom of information requests. A consultation, organised by her colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, is under way on whether such addresses should be replaced by just the first half of the postcode, which, at election times, could be included on nomination and other relevant paperwork. Does she agree, from the point of view of her work on fighting terrorism, that that would be a good, sensible compromise that would add to the safety of hon. Members? (242990)

Clearly, I do not want to pre-empt the consultation, but the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point that I know is being borne carefully in mind by my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. He has made it forcefully on numerous occasions, and I think that he has significant support from across the House on the issue.

T6. When people expressed concerns about the vigour shown, and resources devoted, by the police in relation to the Kingsnorth climate camp, we were told that it was justified because dozens of injuries were incurred. We have now found that those injuries were of a more prosaic origin—they were due to things such as insect stings and sunstroke. Unless the protesters are to be held responsible for wasps and the weather, are we not to conclude that the justification used at the time was wholly bogus and vacuous? (242993)

I have written to the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) on the issue. I was informed that 70 police officers had been hurt, and naturally assumed that they had been hurt through direct contact, as a result of the protest. That clearly is not the case, and I apologise if that caused anybody to be misled. I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and other Members that the National Policing Improvement Agency is currently considering the lessons to be learned from the Kingsnorth climate camp protest. I will meet the public order lead of the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss the report, so that we can share the lessons to be learned from Kingsnorth with police forces across the country.

T5. In an earlier answer, the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing said that local people’s confidence in the police was a key indicator, so can he tell me why people are increasingly not bothering to report crimes to the police? (242992)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As we have frequently said, local people are one of the best weapons in helping to fight crime. It is precisely to give local people the confidence to report crimes to the police that, working alongside ACPO, we are pleased that the policing pledge, which provides monthly local information, monthly opportunities to feed in concerns, and much better communication between neighbourhood policing teams and local people, will be in place across the country by the end of the year. That will help to ensure that local people know that they can and should play their part in tackling local crime and antisocial behaviour.

T10. We have heard today how much social disorder in town centres is caused by excessive alcohol and irresponsible selling by clubs and bars, which are still doing offers such as “women get in free”, and “drink as much as you can for seven quid”. What is my right hon. Friend doing to make sure that licensing laws are enforced effectively? (242997)

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the sort of irresponsible promotions that she outlined, which is why, having commissioned KPMG to look at how the industry was fulfilling its responsibilities under a voluntary code, it became clear that in some cases those responsibilities were not being fulfilled, so we are now proposing to introduce in the policing and crime Bill the ability to provide a mandatory code, which would outlaw precisely the type of irresponsible promotion that she outlined.

T7. The last time that I raised an issue in topical questions with the Home Office, it was on the subject of a heavily fortified cannabis café that operates in my constituency. Alas, it is still a topical question, because 20 months on, a heavily fortified cannabis café is still a cause of blight for the local community, despite the best efforts of the police. Without going into details, because charges are pending, the café is still operating, so can the Minister give me some assurance that the law can be looked at to make sure that that nuisance can be properly addressed and the police given proper powers, because of the enormous inconvenience and concern in the local community? (242994)

The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue with me on a number of occasions, and what is happening in his constituency is absolutely deplorable, as is the inability of the law—not the police—to tackle that problem and deal with it. If it would be helpful to have a further meeting to discuss with officials what further action we might take to try to bring an end to that totally unsatisfactory situation with the cannabis café in his constituency, I am perfectly happy to have one. Where the law needs to be changed, that should be looked at, and it should be changed.

Returning to the issue of Kingsnorth policing, I thank the Minister both for what he has just said and for the letter that he wrote to me. However, in the light of the new information available to the House, would he care to revise his conclusion that the policing of Kingsnorth was proportionate and appropriate, especially as we also know that large numbers of protesters were injured at the hands of the police, especially by batons?

I have apologised to the hon. Gentleman for that, and as he quite rightly said, I have written to him. I think it would be best for me to wait for the NPIA report on what happened at Kingsnorth, and to review it with the ACPO representative responsible for public order to see what lessons can be learned. I would then be happy to share those conclusions with the hon. Gentleman.

T8. How does the Home Secretary respond to the charge that when she has good news from her Department she rushes out, for example, selective knife crime statistics, but when there is bad news, such as a cut to police funding for North Yorkshire, it is sent out in the most ponderous, opaque and obscure language that no one can understand? (242995)

There has been no cut in funding for North Yorkshire police, so I hope that the hon. Lady will make that clear as well. All police authorities are getting an increase of at least 2.5 per cent., alongside the other grants that they receive.

Does my friend intend to implement the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights that it is quite wrong for DNA to be taken, and held, from people who have not been convicted of any crime?

DNA and fingerprints play an invaluable role in fighting crime. We are carefully considering how best to give effect to the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, but I remind the House that in 2007-08 there were more than 37,000 crimes with a DNA match, 363 homicides and 540 rapes. We will not rush to judgment, and we will not be rushed, either.

T9. We are all aware that an obesity epidemic is spreading across our country. Not only do police officers appear younger, but many of them appear larger as well. What assessment has the Home Office made of the effect of declining levels of physical fitness on the operational effectiveness of our thin blue line? (242996)

I have seen no evidence that our police officers are not able to carry out their responsibilities fully, actively and with great fitness. I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not mean to imply that, and I do not believe that it is the case.