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Topical Questions

Volume 517: debated on Monday 1 November 2010

The Home Office continues to prioritise the counter-terrorism elements of policing. The national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review published two weeks ago will deliver a step change in Britain’s ability to protect its security and advance its interests in the world. To meet the real and growing threat identified from cyber-attack, £650 million of new funding has been allocated to a cross-Government programme to enhance Britain’s cyber-security. While I speak about the Department’s responsibilities, I should perhaps explain for the avoidance of doubt that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who has responsibility for equalities and criminal information, has not been able to answer a question today because she has lost her voice.

Another real and growing threat for many of us, especially those with urban constituencies, is the use and abuse of dogs as weapons. That is a real problem, which is often associated with gang activity. It is clearly an animal welfare issue, and Battersea dogs and cats home in my constituency has long been a voice on policy on the issue. However, it is also a crime and policing challenge. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on how Home Office Ministers are working with colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs following that Department’s recent consultation on dangerous dogs?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. It is particularly important for her constituency, for obvious reasons, as she said. The Home Office is reviewing the issue of antisocial behaviour and the tools and powers that need to be made available to deal with it. It is also dealing with Departments across Whitehall, including DEFRA. DEFRA will respond to the previous Government’s consultation on dangerous dogs, looking at issues such as dog licensing and wider issues such as breed-specific bans, once the Home Office has published our proposals on antisocial behaviour.

Order. I hope that the Under-Secretary recovers her voice before very long. We wish her better.

T4. Does the Home Secretary agree with the views of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on control orders? Having now had five months in office, does she accept that those of us who exercised such powers on behalf of the Home Office when we were in government did so because we tried to secure the safety of the British people, and we were, indeed, right to do so? (20375)

The prime responsibility of any Government is to keep people safe, and we are very conscious of that. The counter-terrorism legislation review is continuing. No final decisions have been taken on any aspects of that review, but, of course, I have undertaken to inform the House when the review is complete and when the answers to the questions that have been posed are available.

T2. Following comments by my local police commander, my constituents in the Barnet neighbourhood watch, ably led by Maureen West, have expressed concerns to me about the ring-fencing rule for safer neighbourhoods teams and the impact of possible further cuts as a result of the Government tackling the economic deficit. What assurance can the Minister give me that the reduction in the police family will not lead to a reduction in the police presence on the streets of my constituency? (20373)

I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no need for a reduction in neighbourhood policing. Many police forces up and down the country are making a commitment to maintain neighbourhood policing by finding savings in the back office and collaborating, and through better procurement and saving money.

T5. We all want to see our police officers out on the beat more, but how will cutting police staff who often free up police officers from administrative tasks help with that? (20376)

One of the crucial things that we are doing, as we indicated earlier, is cutting the administrative tasks that need to be done by cutting the extreme levels of bureaucracy that were introduced to policing by the Labour Government.

T3. Can my right hon. Friend reassure us that the new immigration cap will reflect the need for businesses to recruit international, highly skilled migrants and to transfer international employees internally? Will she make that process as easy and unbureaucratic as possible? (20374)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the important issue of the impact of immigration on businesses. As we consider how to introduce the immigration cap, we will take on board comments made by business and its requirements in relation to the operation of the system. However, one thing that we have found recently is that nearly one third of those who arrived via the tier 1 route—the brightest and the best highly skilled migrants—did not take on highly skilled jobs. That is something to which we should pay attention.

T8. The Independent Safeguarding Authority in my constituency employs about 250 people. Can the Home Secretary let me know what their future is? What is the future of the authority under this Government? (20379)

The Government have a commitment to ensure that we bring the vetting and barring scheme down to common-sense levels. Many people are concerned that the scheme introduced by the previous Labour Government actually reduced people’s willingness to volunteer and to do good in their communities. We are currently reviewing vetting and barring. The impact on the ISA will come out of that review.

T6. May I ask about border security? Illegal entry at Dover has fallen 18% in the last year. We will no doubt hear more about the excellent work of those who keep our country safe and secure in the statement on aviation security later, but will the Minister congratulate those who keep our country safe? (20377)

I am happy to echo my hon. Friend’s congratulations to his constituents at Dover, and indeed to immigration officers at ports, airports and inland ports all around the country. They work tirelessly—day and night—to keep our borders as safe as possible. Like him, I welcome the significant reduction in the amount of illegal immigration through Dover over the past few months.

We all look forward to the review anti-terrorism legislation, but is it not important that murderous fanatics—another indication of what they are like was given last week—and the enemies of all humanity do not force us to give up long-held, traditional liberties in this country? The sort of changes that the Home Secretary mentioned earlier will hopefully come about despite the current terrorist danger.

The coalition Government are very aware of the need to rebalance our national security requirements and our civil liberties. That is precisely why we have undertaken the review of counter-terrorism legislation. As I indicated in a previous answer, the results of that review will be brought to the House when they are available, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are aware that we need to ensure that we keep the country safe so that people can exercise those ancient freedoms and civil liberties.

T7. Will the Home Secretary join me in welcoming the shadow Home Secretary’s conversion to our policy of putting antisocial behaviour orders behind us? The shadow Home Secretary said:“I want to live in the kind of society that puts Asbos behind us.” (20378)

I hope that the shadow Home Secretary will remember his original comments, and will therefore accept that the current tools and powers for dealing with antisocial behaviour are overly bureaucratic and do not work effectively. That is why we are currently reviewing them to ensure that all local agencies have a toolkit that provides a strong deterrent, and is quick, practical and easy to use.

The Home Secretary was reluctant yesterday to confirm the consequences of Government cuts for the police service. Will she give a straight answer to that question today, and confirm that 2,000 jobs will go in the west midlands police service, including those of 400 police officers in Birmingham—40 for each of Birmingham’s 10 constituencies —and does she share my constituents’ fears that, as police numbers fall, crime will go up?

The fight against crime is not simply a matter of the number of police officers, but about how effectively they are deployed and what they are doing. What the Government are doing by releasing police officers from the bureaucracy imposed by the last Labour Government will make them freer and more available to be out there on the streets doing the job the public want them to do.

T9. In 2004, my constituent Stephen Ings’s son and ex-wife were murdered by an illegal immigrant, Alex George. Will the Minister meet me and my constituent to explain the decision to offer a deferred conditional discharge to Mr George while his appeal against deportation is heard? (20380)

I and my ministerial colleagues are aware of the correspondence between my hon. Friend and the UK Border Agency about this case. I understand perfectly—as the whole House will—how distressing and awful the case must be for his constituent, and of course I will happily meet him, and his constituent and his family to discuss the matter further.

Will the Home Secretary join me in wishing Northumbria police warm congratulations on the opening of the new area command at the north Tyneside headquarters, especially given that it was built with money from the Labour Government?

I rather hope I might at some stage be given an invitation to visit the new area command. May I say, however, given that Northumbria has been mentioned, that I was pleased to speak to Sue Sim recently, following the difficult time that Northumbria police had earlier this year in dealing with the case of Raoul Moat, to congratulate her on how she and her force dealt with that case?

Many international companies contemplating investment in the UK are being put off by the fact that inter-company transfers are defined as coming under the immigration cap. Inter-company transfers mean more jobs for British workers, and they do not stay in the United Kingdom. Will Ministers look at the rules placing inter-company transfers under the immigration cap, otherwise we run the risk of saying, “Yes, we are open for business, but you cannot come in”?

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend and the companies in her constituency that, under the interim cap operating now, inter-company transfers are not covered—they are outside the cap—so there is no reason for any business to be worried about that now. Obviously, for the permanent cap that will come in from next April, we are considering the best way to enable businesses to operate successfully in the future.

Will the Minister accept that there is deep unease within the IT industry about the possibility that the focus on numbers will reduce the flexibility of companies to bring people in and out of the country to meet the needs of what is an extremely flexible and internationally important industry?

I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is an important international industry. I hope, however, that he will recognise two countervailing pressures here. There is the pressure from international business, which wants to move people around, but there is also a lot of perfectly reasonable pressure from trained British IT workers, who have done everything that society has asked of them—got the right sort of degree, gone into the right sort of business—but are finding it increasingly difficult to find jobs. We should listen to their voices as well.

Many of my constituents are concerned that the inquiry desk at Rugby police station is being closed between the hours of 8 pm and midnight. Although I recognise the pressure on police budgets caused by Labour’s economic mismanagement, does the Minister agree that this decision should be reconsidered?

What is important is how visible and available the police are. There are innovative things that they can do instead of necessarily keeping police stations open at times when very few people visit them, such as setting up shop in shared premises in supermarkets. My hon. Friend should talk to his chief constable about such ideas.

May I genuinely and unbegrudgingly thank the Policing Minister for recently visiting my constituency and seeing the award-winning group of police community support officers and police officers at the Caerau station? Thank you very much indeed. However, will he pay a return visit if we find that that team, or any others in my constituency, is broken up because of the police cuts coming down the line?

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that I will be returning to the force area this week, although not to his constituency. I spoke to his chief constable a few days ago, and he assured me that by making savings, there would be protection for the visible and available policing in the streets that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents want to see.

Is the Minister aware that a pioneering partnership between North Yorkshire police and the local community in Sherburn in Elmet in my constituency has seen the public inquiry desk at the village police station reopen? The desk is manned completely by volunteers. Does he agree that this is a great example of the big society in action? Will he join me in congratulating the local volunteers and North Yorkshire police—

My hon. Friend might have noticed that he just got a nod of approval from the Prime Minister. Helping to keep police stations and front desks open is a very good use of volunteers. There may be very few visitors, but that visibility is important, and there are many other ways in which the police can maintain such a presence in their areas.