With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the 12 arrests which took place in the north-west of England on 8 April under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Those arrests are part of an ongoing and fast-moving police investigation. I am sure that hon. Members will understand, therefore, why I cannot go into detail on the investigation or the individuals involved.
On Wednesday 8 April, the north-west counter-terrorism unit, working with Merseyside police, Greater Manchester police and Lancashire constabulary, arrested 12 men under the Terrorism Act. Of those 12 individuals, 11 remain in custody and have had their detention extended to 22 April. Ten of the individuals are Pakistani nationals and one is a British citizen. The 12th individual, who is believed to be an Afghan, has been transferred to immigration detention. In addition to the arrests, a number of premises have been searched.
The arrests were pre-planned as the result of an ongoing joint police and Security Service investigation. The decision to take action was an operational matter for the police and the Security Service, but the Prime Minister and I were kept fully informed of developments. The priority at all times has been to act to maintain public safety.
The House will also be aware that during the course of Wednesday 8 April, photographs were taken of Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick as he was going to a meeting in Downing street. Mr. Quick was carrying papers that contained sensitive operational detail about the investigation and some of that detail was visible in the photographs. As a result, a decision was made by the police to bring forward the arrests to a few hours earlier than had been originally planned. The fact that these papers were inadvertently made public did not make any difference to the decision to carry out arrests—it simply changed the timing by a matter of hours. Assistant Commissioner Quick offered his resignation to the Metropolitan Police Authority on the following day and it was accepted. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for his work on counter-terrorism and for his many years of service. He has made an enormous personal contribution to making our country a safer place.
I am sure the House will want to join me in thanking all the police forces involved in this operation. They are to be commended for the professional manner in which they carried out the arrests. I would also like to express my thanks to members of the public in the communities most immediately affected by these arrests, including those at educational institutions, for their patience and measured response to events. The police, with support from local authorities and elected representatives, are working closely with local communities to discuss issues or concerns linked to the operation.
Last month, the Government published our revised strategy to counter the threat to this country and to our interests overseas from international terrorism. A key theme in that strategy, Contest, is the need to co-ordinate our work with our international partners. The Prime Minister has already made it very clear that we need to continue to enhance co-operation on counter-terrorism with Pakistan. He has spoken to President Zardari and they have agreed that our two countries must continue to work together as closely as possible to counter this threat.
We are working with the Government of Pakistan to bolster their efforts to build civic society, tackle violent extremism and help build resilience in Pakistani society against radicalisation—just as we seek to do here in the UK. That work includes support for the modernisation of Pakistan’s security apparatus, support for governance and the rule of law, and work to undermine extremist ideology. Our counter-terrorism programme with Pakistan is worth approximately £10 million a year and is our largest such programme. In addition, to help the Government of Pakistan reduce poverty, the UK has doubled its aid programme to £480 million during 2008-11.
The House will understand that I do not wish to compromise an ongoing investigation by discussing the specifics of the case. However, there has been some speculation that the investigation raises wider questions about the criteria for obtaining student visas and about the issuing of licences by the Security Industry Authority. I would like to clarify the position on both those points.
We are currently delivering the biggest reform of border security and the immigration system for a generation. Last year, we completed the roll-out of biometric visas across the world. Fingerprints are checked against counter-terrorism and crime databases, as well as UK Border Agency records. In posts that we have classified as high risk, such as Pakistan, we have a risk-management network that helps to ensure that the right visa decisions are made, for example by working with local authorities to ensure that the qualifications of prospective students are independently verified.
The impact of those changes is demonstrated in the increased refusal rate for visa applications from Pakistan nationals. Under tier 4 of the points-based system, educational institutions that wish to bring in international students for more than six months must now be accredited by an independent body and licensed by the UK Border Agency. There will for some time be a number of students who have continuing leave under the old system. Many of them will be studying at colleges now on the PBS register, but some will not. Over half these students with existing leave will see their leave expire within 12 months; the vast majority within two years; and almost all within three years. Any student who does not bring themselves within the new PBS regime or leave the country when their leave expires will be subject to appropriate enforcement action.
Before the PBS was in place, about 4,000 institutions brought in international students. Now, under the PBS, there are about 1,500 institutions registered to do so. I have asked UKBA to prioritise enforcement activity on institutions: first, on those which applied but have not made it on to the PBS register; and subsequently on the remaining colleges that have brought in international students in the past, but have not applied for a PBS licence. Where there is evidence of criminal activity, we will prosecute. Where colleges have decided that the requirements of our new, tougher regime are too onerous, we will not allow them to bring in international students.
On the issue of Security Industry Authority licences, applicants have to satisfy a number of criteria before a licence can be issued. In particular, nobody is awarded a licence without a criminal record check and without having their right to work in the UK confirmed. I have asked the SIA to conduct an urgent review to look at whether the existing processes need to be strengthened, at the extent to which students, particularly foreign students, apply for SIA licences and, importantly, at whether that has implications for the security checks conducted by the SIA and the advice provided to employers.
The threat level to the United Kingdom from international terrorism is still assessed as “severe”. A terrorist attack is considered highly likely, so I would like to repeat my thanks to the police and the security agencies for their work in relation to this investigation, and for everything that they do to protect this country and the people who live in it from the threat of terrorist attacks. I commend this statement to the House.
I start by thanking the Home Secretary for giving me an advance copy of her statement. May I join her in congratulating the police on the work that they did, both in the investigation and in making the arrests promptly and without incident following the extremely unfortunate leak in Downing street?
I was asked after the event in an interview whether I blamed the Home Secretary for the fiasco. I said no—for once she was blameless, and I am glad that she recognised immediately that Bob Quick had to go. Such a blatant breach of the relevant protocols meant that his position was completely untenable. That is as far as I am going to go in praising the Home Secretary. The past few weeks have been another chapter of chaos in the Home Office. We have warned for years about abuses of the student visa system for immigration purposes, but the emergence of a terror threat within the UK from this system is a worrying but perhaps unsurprising new development.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the security services have in the past year issued a number of warnings about flaws in the student visa system? Can she explain why the Home Office’s response to these warnings has been to cut back the visa operation in Pakistan? The UK Border Agency’s monthly report for February says:
“The UK hub started handling all…settlement applications from Pakistan…from 26th January. This will enable us to fully test the concept of the UK hub…whilst enabling a reduction of staff in Islamabad (along with the hubbing of all other application categories in Pakistan to Abu Dhabi).”
Before she picks up the phone to Scotland Yard again, I reassure her that the document I am quoting from was not leaked to me—it was published on the internet.
So why are student visa applications from Pakistan being handled not from Pakistan but from Abu Dhabi; and why is Pakistan, of all countries, being used to “test a concept”? Is the Home Secretary not aware that high-quality fake documents that will help applicants get visas are on sale for £100 in Pakistan? Is she aware that there are companies doing what one described to a national newspaper as a “roaring business” in helping student visa applicants? Will she confirm the extraordinary fact that under this Government, the British high commission in Pakistan previously estimated that half of all students to whom it grants visas disappear after reaching the UK?
If the security services say there is a big problem, why is the right hon. Lady cutting front-line staff in Pakistan, so that we cannot do adequate local verification? Why does she think that people in Abu Dhabi are better placed to judge an application? Will she confirm that one of the suspects in the case was allowed into Britain even though he had suspect papers? If that is the case, does it not blow apart the absurd claims made by the Immigration Minister that all this will be solved by the e-Borders database? And is it not true that even biometric data will not help us catch previously unknown terror suspects?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) knows, this Home Office is paranoid about bad news. Is it true that three years ago, a chief immigration officer who wrote an internal report criticising the way in which student visa applications in Pakistan are handled was disciplined and the report suppressed?
These are key issues that the Home Secretary has to address in relation to national security, but it is to her discredit that her statement today fails to address many of the problems that her Department faces. This should have been a statement that allowed the House to ask her why her Department made wildly exaggerated claims about leaks and national security, which led to the utterly unjustified arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford—the stuff of police states, not democracy. It should also have been an opportunity for the House to question her about the worrying issues that have arisen as a result of the policing of the G20 protests. However, this is hardly surprising. The right hon. Lady is the latest in a series of beleaguered Home Secretaries—three already in this Parliament. If we believe the Downing street rumour mill—despite everything, it still appears to be operating—she will be on her way before long, as well. Of course, the truth is that we do not need just a new Home Secretary. What we need is a new Government, if we are to sort out all this mess.
The fact that the hon. Gentleman chose to spend a significant proportion of his response to my statement talking about me rather than about the issue says rather more about him than it does about me.
To return to the issue, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman, as I spelled out in my statement, that we have considerably tightened the process for issuing student visas, not just from Pakistan, but more widely. I have seen the visa operation myself at the high commission in Islamabad. I believe that there are committed people working hard, as there are throughout our visa operation across the world, supported by the introduction of biometrics, before time and on budget, which enable us now to check every applicant for a visa—student and otherwise—against watch lists and to weed out those who should not come to this country.
That is supported by the risk assessment that we introduced in Pakistan from 2005, which enables us to do additional checks on student visa applications made there, including on the nature of the qualifications that applicants have. The process is further supported by the tightening of the points-based system, which now means that any institution that wants to bring in international students has to be both accredited by a professional academic body and licensed by the UK Border Agency. The impact of all these measures has been an increase in the refusal rate for student visas from Pakistan from just over 50 per cent. in 2006 to nearly 70 per cent. in 2008—proof of the tightening of the regime over recent years.
I reiterate, however, that the vast majority of students who apply to come to this country are coming here because of the high quality of our higher education and international recognition of it throughout the world, and because they want to benefit from that and bring their talents to the UK. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want to suggest that we should make it more difficult than it needs to be for legitimate students to come here—while recognising, as we have done, the need to ensure that a tough and rigorous regime is in place.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to comment on individuals in those investigations, but as I said at the beginning, the priority is the successful investigation and either release or charge of the individuals who have been arrested. I shall not say or do anything to put that in jeopardy.
Finally, I would find the hon. Gentleman’s protestations about the strictures and robustness of our immigration system and, in particular, our approach to student visas more credible if he had not opposed us on the issue of foreign national ID cards, which help to tie foreign students to their identity, and on the e-Borders system, which helps us to count people in and out of this country and track those who should not be here. Standing at the Dispatch Box and pontificating is no alternative to practical action, and that is what I am engaged in.
May I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the steps that she has taken? I remind her that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has, on a number of occasions in recent reports, pointed out its concerns about the entry clearance operation in Islamabad and, especially, that people are not routinely interviewed there. Will she confirm that part of the operation actually takes place across the road from here, in King Charles street, where some visas are granted?
The Home Secretary will know that I wrote to her recently to express concern not about the leave of absence for the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the entry clearance Minister—we wish her well on her maternity leave—but about the arrangement that the Home Secretary has made to divide up that Minister’s post between four other Ministers. Surely what is required now, with all the initiatives that the Home Secretary is quite properly undertaking, is one Minister to oversee the entry clearance operation, rather than dividing it between other Ministers, who are extremely busy at the moment.
On the point about interviews, I know that the Home Affairs Committee recently looked at the visa operation, but I do not agree with all my right hon. Friend’s conclusions about its success. I do not think that he questioned this point, but I must reiterate the professionalism of certainly the staff whom I met when visiting our visa operations overseas. I have outlined the much more robust approach that we now take when dealing with student visas, and, rather than intervening in every single case, which some experts suggest is not the most effective way of dealing with the risk in these cases, it is better to have robust information and biometric information, as we now do, and to focus interviews where necessary—telephone interviews, where appropriate —on those people who are most likely to be risky. That is precisely the reason for setting up early the risk assessment unit in Pakistan—so that we are able to make that judgment and focus resources there.
I have written to my right hon. Friend about the arrangements that have been made for the maternity leave of the entry clearance Minister, but, once again, I am afraid that I disagree with him. We have put in place exactly what is necessary, including bringing in an additional Minister to cover my hon. Friend’s absence and to ensure the correct level of ministerial oversight during that leave.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. She will be aware of the press reports that some of the arrests were weeks premature, and she said in her statement that the fact that the papers were inadvertently made public did not make any difference to the decision to carry out arrests, but that it simply changed the timing. Will she confirm that all those who were going to be arrested were arrested, and that all those who were arrested were going to be arrested within hours? Has any lasting damage been done as a result of Assistant Commissioner Quick’s indiscretion?
On the issue of bogus colleges, will the Home Secretary tell us the latest state of play on the validation of colleges? Should validation be given a higher priority in the light of those arrests, and can she estimate how many students who are in this country attending, or perhaps not attending, have not been validated?
On Pakistan, greater co-operation is welcome; the Home Secretary says that there are now greater checks on the qualifications of applicants. Can she give us more detail on what else is being done to improve checks on Pakistani nationals who come here to study and work? On the Security Industry Authority, the Home Secretary points out that there is a requirement for Criminal Records Bureau checks—those, of course, relate to UK crime. However, in these cases of foreign nationals, what steps are being taken to ensure criminal record checks in the country of origin? Surely that is the key point.
We still cannot be sure that someone who is granted a student visa will leave when it expires; thanks to the last Conservative Government, we abolished exit checks. Can the Home Secretary say how effective exit checks are in the principal ports used particularly by Pakistani students? What estimate can she give on likely over-stayers, and how many Pakistani students who have come here in the past 10 years can definitely be said to have returned home? How many cannot be accounted for?
May I contrast the serious approach taken by the hon. Gentleman with the previous-but-one intervention?
As I outlined in my statement, the press reporting was wrong. The arrests were not brought forward by weeks; as I said, they were brought forward by a matter of hours. That goes for all the planned arrests, and the police were satisfied that the operation was carried out as they would have carried it out had it happened several hours later. So, in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s second point, I do not believe that there has been any lasting damage, either to this investigation or more widely, from the events of 8 April.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the nature of the current “validation”, as he describes it, of colleges. As I outlined, there have been just over 2,000 applications for colleges to go on to the list for the points-based system. Of those, 1,500 are now on the list and 500 have either been refused or have withdrawn during the process. All the 1,500 will be visited within the next 12 weeks; a third already have been. As I also said, I have asked officials to focus enforcement activity on those colleges that either previously accepted international students and have not applied to go on to the list, or, even more urgently, on those that have applied to go on the list and, for whatever reason, were refused.
As I outlined in my statement, some thousands of students have leave to remain under the previous system. In 50 per cent. of those cases, that leave will be tested or will expire within a year; for the vast majority, that will be the case within three years. Also as part of the enforcement activity, I have asked officials to focus on those colleges, and therefore those students, about which there may be concerns in the near future.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about the international nature of criminality and the information around that. It is precisely to do better on that issue that we are working both internationally and within Europe. We asked for the review carried out by Mr. Magee so that we could look at how we could better use information, particularly that which comes internationally. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to do more work on the issue, but that is under way as well.
On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I should say that, as my the Minister for Borders and Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), and I have pointed out on numerous occasions, our work through e-Borders will enable us to put right the gap in our ability to count and monitor people in and out of the country. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, that ability was removed from us as a result of the actions of the previous Government.
Can I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the circumstances that led to the photographs being taken in Downing street do not lead to further pressures on the rights of photographers, both professionals and amateurs, to take photographs in this country, especially as this event coincided with an incident in the past few days where somebody was allegedly challenged by a police officer for taking photographs of a bus garage? We need to learn lessons from the event and draw together the common-sense work being led by my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to come up with the right code of practice to ensure that photographers can do their jobs and amateurs can take photographs with freedom.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, who has met the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to discuss his concerns. I see no reason why the unfortunate events on 8 April should limit the ability of photographers to take photographs, and neither do I believe, as he knows, that some of the limits result from recent legislative changes that we have made, as has been suggested. There is more work that we can do to ensure that photographers are clear that their right to take photographs is protected in all cases where it is not causing a specific risk. That is certainly a right that my hon. Friend and I would uphold.
Does the Home Secretary agree that if the crucial objective of safeguarding national security, on which she has rightly placed so much emphasis this afternoon, is to be achieved, it is essential that there is among those in authority a shared understanding of what constitutes a threat to national security? That shared understanding clearly does not exist as between her and the Director of Public Prosecutions. If he is wrong on such a fundamental matter, how can she have confidence in him? If he is right, how can we have confidence in her?
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman quotes—or purports to quote—the Director of Public Prosecutions, perhaps it would be helpful if I pointed him to paragraph 30 of the DPP’s lengthy statement of last week:
“One of the principal concerns at the Home Office was that whoever was responsible for the leaks in question may have had access to Ministerial papers and that there was a potential risk that highly sensitive material relating to national security might be disclosed. This damage should not be underestimated and once the pattern of leaks was established in this case, it was inevitable that a police investigation would follow.”
That closely mirrors the points that I have made in this House when answering questions at the Dispatch Box and in front of the Home Affairs Committee.
Without prejudice to any ongoing operations or any inference about judicial proceedings, I am sure that the Home Secretary would agree that if any misuses are discovered in our immigration and visa system, then of course we must have an open mind and try to strengthen it. However, can I tell her that there is a common awareness of two things? First, whatever needs to be done, the present visa regime is much more stringent and strict than it ever was before, including in March this year, and certainly more so than that which we inherited. Secondly, the way not to protect national security is to set our face against or dismantle e-Borders, the use of biometric technology or identity cards. That makes as little sense as trying to protect a house against burglary by taking out every lock and dismantling the burglar alarm.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. He knows, because he was involved in much of the early planning and preparatory work, about the strength of the toughening of the regime that is now in place under the points-based system. I share his analysis. It is easy to talk about security, but if one opposes the methods of counting and monitoring people in and out of this country, opposes the methods that help us to tie people to their identity, and opposes the methods of ensuring, where necessary, that that security is in place through technology, all that one has left is empty talk.
While in relation to certain recent incidents the police have understandably received what might best be called a bad press, would the Home Secretary agree that both outside the capital, as in this case, and inside it, the police do an enormous amount, often at personal risk to themselves, to protect the British public from mayhem, violence and destruction? For that, they deserve our gratitude.
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is wholly right that the police should be held accountable when things go wrong, but it is fundamentally important that, as I believe we have, we remember and provide support for the role that they play every day in keeping this country and those within it safe. I have to say that in this operation, the flexibility that was shown, the planning that was in place and the execution of the operation demonstrated British policing at its most effective.
The Home Secretary rightly referred in her statement to increased activity to verify the qualifications of those who apply for student visas here. Are she and the Foreign Secretary having any discussions with the Pakistani Government to pursue organisations that habitually issue students with certificates that turn out to be bogus, or individuals who appear to be sponsors of those students, and to take action against them in Pakistan?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We have now put in place work with the Pakistani authorities, particularly through the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan, to verify the academic qualifications that are presented to us by those who seek to enter the UK as students. She makes a very useful point about whether there is scope for pursuing further work in Pakistan on people whose documents, because of the tighter checks that we have put in place, are shown to be bogus or forged. That is certainly an area that we want to examine and work on closely with the Pakistanis.
Mr. Quick’s leak is one of a long line of breaches in information security, and it is clear that there is widespread ignorance of data protection procedures across some key agencies. In light of that, will the Home Secretary undertake an urgent review of the knowledge and awareness of both senior and junior figures in those agencies, to ensure that overall awareness of the manual of protective security is up to date and that this mistake does not happen again?
First, it is important to say that what happened with Assistant Commissioner Quick was not a leak. It was an unfortunate episode for which he has paid an extremely high price. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that all of us need to maintain extremely high standards when it comes to dealing with information that is potentially sensitive or may relate to national security, I wholeheartedly agree. That, of course, is why I will always put a high premium on protecting that information, which is used to protect the British people.
Given the real threat to this country from international terrorism, does the Home Secretary agree that the language that the Home Office and the Government generally use must be very carefully chosen? The public do not understand when something that is quite clearly not an issue of national security is treated as it has been. I refer, obviously, to the case of the honourable Member of this House. The public saw, despite hugely scarce resources in their own communities, hordes of police officers trailing around after an individual Member of Parliament over something that ended up having nothing to do with national security, as should have been clear from the beginning. Does the Home Secretary not think that that is really what is bringing our handling of international terrorism in this country into disrepute?
First, I do not think that the way in which we handle international terrorism in this country is in disrepute. Secondly, as the previous question suggested, we all have a responsibility to safeguard information about which there might be concerns if it got out. Thirdly, as I have said, the DPP himself pointed out that given the systematic nature of the leaks that had been identified, the damage should not have been underestimated. Once that pattern of leaks was established, it was inevitable that police investigation would follow. Once that police investigation—[Interruption.]
Once that police investigation started, it was, of course, for the police to follow the evidence without fear or favour. It was, as rightly happened last week, for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether it constituted the basis for a charge.
Is the Home Secretary expecting the 12 people who were arrested to be charged with serious crimes soon, or were the arrests speculative and part of a fishing expedition against others? We need to know, given the length of time that they are being detained.
The arrests were certainly not speculative. The right hon. Gentleman’s serious point is that, as we have previously discussed at some length in the House, given the potential risk of terrorist attack and the nature of that risk, the police and security services felt that public security was best served by intervening early—at the point that they did. Such circumstances bring specific challenges to police investigations. That is part of the reason for the specific arrangements for extended periods of pre-charge detention for arrests under the Terrorism Act 2000, which these are. The priority for the investigation is to investigate and, as I said earlier, release or charge as soon as possible.
In the light of that answer, I stress that concern was expressed at a meeting of the Pakistan Welfare Association in Slough that the young men arrested include people of good family, those who are innocent and so on. My constituents responded positively to my response that we have a fair justice system here, but they require quick and transparent action. Will the Home Secretary reassure the House that we will get swift reports about what happens?
I recently wrote to the Department about the behaviour of Gerry’s/FedEx in Pakistan, which I believe to have been corrupt in some cases. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could put in place steps to ensure that that organisation does not interfere in the visa operation in a corrupt way.
On my hon. Friend’s second point, I will look out her letter and respond as quickly as possible. On her first point, I agree that communities’ understanding is important in such circumstances. The results of the investigations will become clear reasonably soon. I also believe that, as has been the case throughout the process, it is important that the police, community groups and local authorities work closely alongside local communities to explain what is happening and the reasons for that, as far as possible. I know that such work will continue in each of the affected areas.
May I ask the Home Secretary about our prestigious postgraduate research institutes, such as Imperial college and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine? What assurances can she give the House that we know what research is being conducted? In layman’s terms, what is at the back of the fridge? When I spoke to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O’Brien) when he was a Home Office Minister, there were signs that those institutions were reluctant to collaborate with our security and intelligence services on the bogus grounds of academic freedom. These people need to be probed, and no assurances have been given to the House that that is being done. That is the danger.
I do not think that academic freedom is always a bogus defence, but I agree with my hon. Friend that if there are security concerns about the specific activities of higher education institutions, they should not be immune from consideration. I assure him that, in examining the nature of student visa applications from international students, specific attention is paid to those for courses that could involve technologies that might be subject to national security considerations. Specific consideration is therefore already given to that in the application process.
Does the Home Secretary understand my puzzlement at the fact that she has chosen to make a statement that was wholly empty? She could say nothing at all about the arrest of the alleged terrorists because of the contempt of court rules that we all know about. What she could have done was make a statement about the policing of the G20 demonstration or her Department’s role in the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). Indeed, she could have made a personal statement setting out the reasons for her resignation, all of which—
I entirely understand, Mr. Speaker, and you are entirely right. Then would the Home Secretary explain why she has chosen to make this statement? Is it to enlarge her political life by giving the false impression of activity? If so, let me tell her that it will fool nobody at all.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question has entertained him. When there have been a large number of arrests on terrorist offences, it is the responsibility of a Home Secretary to come and report to the House in the way that I have done—and in the way, incidentally, that I undertook to do on every such occasion during the discussions on the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Mr. Speaker decided that an urgent question that had been tabled about the G20 was not appropriate to be taken today. However, I note that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had really wanted me to talk about the DPP’s statement last week, he or any other Opposition Member could have tabled an urgent question on that topic, and no one did.
I am interested to hear the Home Secretary express confidence in the border security regime of this country. However, last week on the BBC, the former Mayor of London said that
“whatever changes you make to student visas…They”—
I assume that he means our enemies—
“will find a way round it. If it isn’t students coming in it will be tourists.”
Why does Mr. Livingstone not share her enthusiasm for and confidence in the Government’s regime?
I think that Ken Livingstone was probably making the practical comment—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with it—that it is our responsibility, whether in our border security, our intelligence or our law enforcement, to ensure that we are as fully resourced and effective as possible in identifying where a terrorist risk might occur. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, although we have been extremely successful in foiling terrorist attacks, the nature of terrorists and those who seek to perpetrate such attacks is that they will increasingly try to find ways around even improved security arrangements. That is why we need to remain continuously vigilant and keep strengthening the systems in the way that we are.
The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on her tough action over many years to protect the public from terrorists. She knows that 6,000 of my constituents work on the front line against the terrorist threat in London. They want her to continue with her tough action. Will she therefore continue always to put public safety first, as she has in the past, even though regrettably that sometimes compromises terror suspects’ personal freedoms?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those words and, most significantly, for his thanks to those in our law enforcement and security agencies who work hard, day in, day out, to keep this country safe. I can assure him that my highest priority will continue to be the security of people in this country.
My right hon. Friend has rightly praised the police. No one would dispute the important role that they play in securing our country and protecting it from terrorism. However, would she also bear in mind the fact that there is much concern about one or two individual police officers who have acted in a way that is totally incompatible with policing? We have seen outright police brutality shown to some of the demonstrators. Will she take the opportunity to make a statement as early as possible—
The Home Secretary says that she does not want to see legitimate students from Pakistan being hampered because of what has happened, but is it not the reality that they are going to be? The fact is that Pakistan is a problem, and terrorists have come into this country from there. We want to do all that we possibly can to assist legitimate students who are coming in, but there are going to be real issues. As she will know, two of those involved were arrested in Clitheroe in my constituency. That is not a town that would normally be associated with terrorism. Does not that spell out to everyone in this country that no part of the United Kingdom is immune from the threat of terrorism, and that anyone who sees anything suspicious should pass it on to the police immediately, irrespective of where they live?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I have previously said that public vigilance and, alongside it, the important work of the security agencies and the police are the ways in which we will do our best to keep this country safe from terrorism. He is right to identify the need for continued public vigilance, and to make it clear that the terrorist threat is not isolated in any particular part of the country. I am sure that he will want to join me in congratulating the north-west counter-terrorism unit on its work, which forms part of our approach of bringing together on a regional basis the Security Service and policing staff in order to ensure that the whole of England, Wales and Scotland have the law enforcement coverage necessary to counter terror. The hon. Gentleman has made a very fair point.
When the Home Secretary made her statement on 4 December about the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I immediately tabled a question for written answer, asking her to list any security issues that might have been compromised. I accept that she might not have wanted to answer that question. I had a holding answer on 9 December, and I had to wait more than 15 weeks—
In my constituency surgery every week, I see people who want to apply for indefinite leave to remain in this country. When I ask them how they got in originally, they say that they simply came in on a student visa and overstayed. If that is happening in Wellingborough, I am sure that it is happening across the country. Will the Home Secretary give the House her estimate of how many people come into this country on a student visa and deliberately overstay?
If I heard the Home Secretary aright, she said that 200,000 visas in total were issued to Pakistani students in the last academic year. How many Pakistani students who were legitimately issued with visas failed to complete their university or college course last year?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, it would be well nigh impossible to know that statistic. However, it is important for us to know whether someone who has overstayed is still in the country or whether they have left. It is precisely for that purpose that we are rolling out the e-Borders programme, which is opposed by Conservative Members.