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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 530: debated on Monday 27 June 2011

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

CCTV Cameras

Order. The Minister is not to know this, but I should point out that question 13 has been withdrawn.

Thank you for that clarification, Mr Speaker.

The Government recognise the importance of CCTV in preventing and detecting crime, and support its use by communities. The Government also acknowledge that continued use of CCTV requires the support of the public and public confidence that systems are being used appropriately. Accordingly, we intend to introduce a code of practice for surveillance cameras and appoint a surveillance camera commissioner.

May I respectfully suggest that the Minister should visit the Furness area, so that he can see for himself the impact such cameras make in reducing crime, and then inform the House why 11 pieces of red tape have to be gone through before anyone can even consider installing fresh ones?

As I have said, I welcome the use of CCTV. It can be important in preventing and detecting crime, and I am certainly willing to discuss the issue further outside the Chamber and to talk about the impact CCTV is clearly making in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I would also say to him, however, that when his party was in government it published a CCTV strategy that included 44 separate recommendations—including that a body with responsibility for the governance of the use of CCTV in this country should be established—so quite a lot of regulation was put in place by his own Government.

I hear what the Minister says about CCTV, but why does he not put his rhetoric into practice by making it simpler for communities and councils to have CCTV?

It is important that we do not lose confidence in CCTV as a beneficial influence, and thereby lose that valuable tool in the battle against crime and disorder. We must not undermine the real benefits of CCTV. That is why we want to have a measured and proportionate scheme to regulate CCTV better and ensure that appropriate standards are put in place, so that that confidence is maintained.

Does the Minister accept that CCTV evidence was crucial in eventually bringing Levi Bellfield to justice for the murder of Milly Dowler, and is that not a timely reminder that we should be making it easier, not harder, for the police to use CCTV, and that we need more CCTV, not less?

I certainly recognise the value of CCTV, but we must be careful to ensure that there is no loss of trust and confidence in its use among communities throughout the country. We have learned what can happen in such circumstances from the experience in Birmingham, and in light of that, Sara Thornton, chief constable of Thames Valley Police, produced a report that underlined that accountability, consultation and transparency must be core considerations. That is precisely what we are reflecting in our approach.

I thought it was a core principle of this Government that we were going to do away with unnecessary red tape, but it appears that we are creating more. What regulations are we doing away with in bringing this one in?

Our approach is focused on the points I have identified: ensuring trust, confidence and genuine belief in the use of CCTV moving forward. That is at the core of our proposals, because if that is eroded, it will undermine the very use of this powerful, important tool in protecting our communities from crime.

Police Numbers

3. What recent assessment her Department has made of the relationship between numbers of police officers and levels of crime. (61829)

The Select Committee on Home Affairs said in February:

“We accept that there is no simple relationship between numbers of police officers and levels of crime.”

The Government agree.

A 43% reduction in crime was achieved under the last Government, in part, and not least, because of the 17,000 new police officers that were brought in during that period. Why would the Home Secretary put that at risk by cutting 12,000?

I have answered the point about the relationship between police numbers and levels of crime and we have been absolutely clear that it is not simple. Our view is backed up by the Home Affairs Committee and by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who said last September:

“I don’t think it’s possible to make a direct correlation between police numbers and crime reduction”.

Once again, the Government agree.

According to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, even when we had a record number of police officers, only 11% were visible and available to the public at any one time. Does that not show that it must be possible, even if the number of officers falls, to protect and perhaps improve the visibility of police on our streets?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point and that HMIC report’s importance lay in the fact that it pointed out the issues about the visibility and availability of police officers as well as that more police officers were visible and available on a Monday morning than on a Friday night. That came as news to many people living in town centres, where there are considerable problems on Friday nights. We must ensure that police officers are deployed in the most effective way so that they can fight crime.

In 15 days’ time, 2,000 police officers will gather in Central hall to voice their opposition to the Government’s plans on their pay and conditions and the reduction in numbers. The Home Secretary is right to quote the Select Committee’s conclusions, but only two weeks ago the Police Federation told us that morale in the police service was at its lowest in a generation. What steps will she take to ensure that the police understand that what she is doing to reshape the landscape of policing, which is her right, is for the benefit of the public and of the police?

We are doing what we are doing with the distinct intention of ensuring that we have a police force that can move forward in the 21st century and provide the policing that is necessary and that people want. That means considering pay, terms and conditions and the flexibility of the work force as well as the bureaucracy that has tied too many of our police officers to their desks and to form filling rather than allowing them to be out on the streets fighting crime. This Government are making a distinct difference to that bureaucracy by slashing it, so that the police can do what people want them to out on the streets.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the Opposition consistently refer to 20% cuts in police budgets. Will she confirm that as there will be no cut in the precept funding and as public sector pay is expected to be frozen, the cut in money received by the police will be in the order of 6%, not 20%?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Opposition talk about Government funding, but every police force in this country has funding available from the precept. At the end of the four-year period of the comprehensive spending review, police will have 6% less funding. That is the figure that people should concentrate on, rather than what the Opposition say.

Sergei Magnitsky

4. If she will assess the merits of excluding from entry to the UK those people who were involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky. (61830)

As the Prime Minister has made clear, the Government remain very concerned by Mr Magnitsky’s death and are disappointed that the official investigation into the case announced by President Medvedev in November 2009 has still not been completed. I am due to meet the hon. Gentleman shortly to discuss this important issue, but the duty of confidentiality means that the Government are unable to discuss the details of individual immigration cases.

I am going to try to talk about individual cases anyway, I am afraid. There is no point in merely being disappointed. Sergei Magnitsky was working for a British organisation in Russia when he discovered a vast network of corruption. He was illegally arrested and murdered while in police custody. Many other countries are considering a ban: the United States of America, Poland, Canada, Holland, Germany, Estonia and the Czech Republic. Why cannot we ensure that those corrupt murderers do not come into this country?

The Government continue to raise our concerns and the hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about the case. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary both discussed the case with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov when he last visited the UK in February 2011. I understand that the official Russian investigation is due to report in August. As I have said, we are disappointed that it has taken so long but no doubt the hon. Gentleman and I can discuss more of the details when we have our meeting in a few days’ time.

Does not the Minister understand that this man, who was a lawyer, was killed in jail by the Russian authorities? The case is similar to that of someone who was poisoned in this country, we believe, by someone who was subsequently elected as a Member of the Russian Parliament. Russia must understand that if it wants to be accepted as a modern state in the 21st century, this sort of gangsterism and state-murder will not be tolerated.

My hon. Friend expresses himself with great power and passion. It is important that all states around the world observe proper and civilised standards of behaviour and the British Government will certainly continue to impress that on Governments all around the world.

Police ( Administrative Duties)

5. What estimate she has made of the potential additional time available for police officers arising from planned reductions in administrative burdens. (61831)

7. What estimate she has made of the potential additional time available for police officers arising from planned reductions in administrative burdens. (61834)

11. What estimate she has made of the potential additional time available for police officers arising from planned reductions in administrative burdens. (61838)

19. What estimate she has made of the potential additional time available for police officers arising from planned reductions in administrative burdens. (61846)

The police should be focusing on police work, not paperwork. That is why, last month, the Government announced a package of new measures to cut red tape, saving up to 2.5 million police hours a year.

I thank the Minister for that response and I am sure that my constituents will welcome measures that will cut the time that our police officers have to spend on paperwork and administration. I wonder whether the Minister would kindly update the House on what steps are being taken to improve the accountability of the police.

We want to improve the accountability of the police and the whole criminal justice system to the public and we are proceeding with our plan to introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners to do that—those measures are currently under discussion in the Lords—and measures such as the introduction of street level crime mapping. The police.uk website has received more than 420 million hits since its launch.

How will the introduction of police and crime commissioners help further to reduce the admin burden?

I believe that elected police and crime commissioners will have a very strong focus on reducing the burden of bureaucracy and administration in their forces precisely because they will feel pressure from their electorate to ensure that resources are directed to the front line. We are also placing police and crime commissioners under a duty to collaborate and I am sure that they will work together to drive out unnecessary costs from their forces.

Warwickshire police in my constituency are pushing forward with innovative changes to its policing model to allow more police to be out on the streets doing what they are supposed to be doing. It is also implementing new technology to allow officers to file paperwork without having to return to their desks. Could the Home Secretary or the Minister tell us what progress has been made in implementing similar changes in other—

I welcome the steps being taken by Warwickshire police in this area and I would happily visit the force to look at what it is doing. We want to make sure that new technology is used in that way by police forces. We have inherited the problem that there is still multiple keying of data into different systems by police officers, as I heard this morning for myself, which is wasting their time. We still have 2,000 different IT systems across the 43 forces, which we have to converge and we have a programme to achieve that.

What action has my right hon. Friend taken to reduce the bureaucracy that has historically inhibited the neighbourhood policing team in my constituency town of Garforth from moving on illegal Traveller encampments?

I would like to have a further discussion with my hon. Friend about what obstacles there are to that. We certainly want to ensure that the police are able to exercise their existing powers to move on Travellers who are in illegal occupation of sites, which is totally unacceptable and antisocial. We believe that the powers are there; if there are impediments or if the force is encountering some difficulty, I would welcome a conversation with my hon. Friend about that.

Why are the Government increasing the administrative burden on the police by making them apply to a magistrates court to retain the DNA of those suspected of serious criminal offences? Surely, the retention of that DNA should be automatic. Is the Minister going to rethink this in time for the Bill’s Report stage?

We have to strike the right balance between civil liberties and the effectiveness of these crime-fighting tools, but it would simply be wrong to characterise the Government’s approach as increasing the burden on police. We are returning charging decisions to the police and our aim is that 70% of all decisions will now be made by police without having to go to the Crown Prosecution Service, so we are giving more discretion and control to the police and we are reducing bureaucracy.

Will the Minister accept that some of the reporting requirements placed on police are about accounting for the very serious powers that we give them to act on our behalf? In the past, a lack of such requirements led to deaths in custody, stop-and-search practices and other things that brought the police into disrepute. How is the Minister going to make sure that he achieves the balance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and not allowing the police to go back to old ways?

I accept the force of what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is important that we have proper processes and accountability, but we must trust officers as trained professionals to exercise their discretion and we need a proportionate approach to risk-taking. The stop-and-search form is a good example, because we have reduced the amount of data required, not scrapped it entirely. That will save hundreds of thousands of hours of officer time, but it will still keep in place important safeguards to ensure community confidence in policing.

On the question of that balance, I understand that Greater Manchester police are talking of removing face-to-face access for the public at police stations. On top of the 620 support posts that have had to be removed, does the Minister not see that the 20% cuts are now leading to a degradation in service that will cause a loss of confidence in the police?

I do not accept that there will be degradation of service in Greater Manchester, and I do not believe that the chief constable would either. He has talked about the fact that the headquarters’ staff in his force got too big and about the savings that can be achieved. As we have said, there are many innovative ways for the police to make contact with their communities that do not necessarily involve an attachment to old buildings. Forces around the country are sharing community centres and shop premises, increasing the contact time that they have with the public as a result. The number of visits to police stations can be very low.

The Home Secretary says that she is saving 1,200 police officer posts by cutting red tape, but we know that 12,000 police officers are being axed across the country. Of the six measures to cut bureaucracy, one has not been taken up by the national statistician and four are pilots. Is not the real truth that the scale and pace of the cuts is slashing front-line policing, not red tape, as we know in Warwickshire? What will be the administrative saving in this financial year as we see the deepest front-loaded front-line cuts?

I have said that the package of measures that we announced recently would save another 2.5 million hours of officer time, equivalent to 1,200 police officer posts, and we will go further with, for instance, more efficiencies in the criminal justice system. We will take no lectures from the Opposition about bureaucracy. It was they who tied up the police in this red tape with their targets, directions, policing pledge and constant interference, and it has fallen on this Government to reduce that bureaucracy and ensure that police officers can be crime fighters, not form writers.

Police Numbers

It is for the chief constable and the police authority in each force to determine the number of police officers who are deployed within the available resource.

Crime is once again rising in the west midlands as police numbers fall, with hundreds of Birmingham’s and Britain’s best police officers being forced to retire under regulation A19, some as young as 48 years of age. Does the Home Secretary accept any responsibility, including for the latest casualty of Government cuts, the head of the west midlands counter-terrorism unit?

The detective chief superintendent to whom the hon. Gentleman referred has said:

“I have always fully appreciated the reasons why West Midlands Police is implementing A19”.

That was a procedure that the last Labour Government chose to retain. Police officers are not being made redundant under this procedure, they are retiring with a full pension having completed 30 years of service. It is for chief constables to take the decisions about how best to deploy their resources, and unlike the hon. Gentleman I will not second-guess the chief constable on that.

Does the Minister of State agree that I am lucky to represent a London constituency where we can see the reality of Conservativism in power? In 2012, after four years of Mayor Johnson, there will be more police officers in London than there were after eight years of Mayor Livingstone.

My hon. Friend makes a good point, on which the Opposition should perhaps reflect. A directly elected individual who has responsibility for policing is working hard to ensure that resources get to the front line. He has sought to maintain police numbers, and is protecting neighbourhood policing for the benefit of Londoners. It is a very good example of direct democracy in action.

Does the Minister agree that the police are only as effective as the teams that support them? If he has been in the intelligence room of a police station, as I have in the Huddersfield station, he will know that it is not a back-office function that can be wiped away. Those intelligence teams are under threat, and the police cannot work without them.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that the idea of one police force, which Tom Winsor, who is leading the independent review of police pay and conditions, has talked about, is a good one. Police staff play an important role in modern police forces, which we should understand. Nevertheless, there has been a very big growth in the number of police staff in recent years, which has proved unsustainable. Around 25,000 police officers are working not on the front line, but in back and middle offices. That is something to which chief constables need to pay attention.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, despite a challenging settlement this year, Thames Valley police are not cutting the number of front-line police officers, despite misleading information being put out locally by the Labour party after it was briefed to the contrary by the chief constable. Does he agree that it is possible to cut back-office functions, rather than front-line policing?

I strongly agree. Thames Valley police are taking decisions about how to make savings and work more efficiently in many areas so that they can protect the front line, and that is what forces up and down the country are doing. A good example is the collaboration between Thames Valley police and Hampshire police on a range of functions. That is the sort of thing we want to see extended across the country.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) on police cuts in London, can he explain why the Mayor, Boris Johnson, is cutting 1,800 officers in the next two years from London’s police force, including 300 sergeants, which will result in cuts to local safer neighbourhood teams? The Mayor is also proposing to reduce the minimum number of officers in each safer neighbourhood team from the current level of six, and I have seen a letter from one commander stating that police community support officers will not be replaced as they become fully-fledged police officers. Does the Minister accept that safer neighbourhood teams in London face being cut by stealth? Should he not get to the Dispatch Box and apologise to the people of London, on behalf of the Government and the Mayor, for cutting the number of front-line police officers?

The Labour party simply cannot stand the fact that the Mayor of London has said that he will enter the next mayoral election with more police officers than he inherited. He has made that pledge and is protecting safer neighbourhood teams. Of course there are sensible arrangements whereby some sergeants are being shared, but the number of officers in safer neighbourhood teams is being protected. It is possible, as the Mayor has shown, alongside the leadership of the Met, to protect front-line policing while having to deliver significant savings. The hon. Gentleman—

Drug Addiction

9. What recent estimate she has made of the number of people who are addicted to a class A drug. (61836)

The chaotic lives of drug addicts make it difficult for the Government to make an official estimate of the total number of people addicted to Class A drugs. However, for two drugs in this category—opiates and crack cocaine—the Government estimated in 2008-09 that there were more than 320,000 users in England. Figures for 2009-10 will be available later this year.

We know that it is difficult for the coalition partners to agree on drugs, but surely that is no excuse for their total inaction and silence on drugs policy and on tackling drugs since coming into power. When will we see some action on drugs and some drugs policy emerge from this Government?

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he could not be more wrong in his assessment of what the coalition Government have being doing. A few months ago we published a new drugs strategy, which is looking not only at the action being taken by the police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to apprehend those dealing drugs and importing them into the UK, but at responsibility for rehabilitation. We have a clear message that we can use payment by results, working with organisations in the private sector and in the voluntary and charitable sector, to ensure that we do not just churn drug addicts through courses that take them off drugs and then return them to the same environment where they are pressured back on to drugs, but instead that we give them a longer-lasting solution that helps them get off drugs forever.

Last week the Justice Secretary told the House that almost one tenth of people who have used heroin first did so while in prison. What actions have the Home Department’s national crime agencies taken to catch and seek to prosecute people who illegally take class A drugs into our prisons?

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue, and action is taken in two ways. The Ministry of Justice is now looking at drug-free wings in prisons, so work is being done on that, but in the Home Office we continue, through not just regional police forces but the Serious Organised Crime Agency, to fight the fight against drug dealers and those who import drugs to this country, and that fight continues.

National DNA Database

12. What assessment she has made of the potential effects of her plans for the national DNA database on the number of DNA matches. (61839)

The Government’s approach is based on putting on the national DNA database more people who are guilty of crimes, rather than those who are innocent. Simply increasing the size of the DNA database does not necessarily result in more detections. We have been informed in the consideration of our plans by past statistics highlighting falls in DNA detections despite the huge increase in the number of profiles retained.

That is interesting. What is the Minister’s response to the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on those matters, Chief Constable Sims, who says that there will be 1,000 fewer cases solved because of the decisions that the Minister is going to take?

The hon. Gentleman may also know that Chief Constable Sims acknowledged that such estimates were

“notoriously difficult to put figures on”.––[Official Report, Protection of Freedoms Public Bill Committee, 22 March 2011; c. 8, Q1.]

The Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee also heard evidence from GeneWatch which pointed in a very different direction. I again point the hon. Gentleman to past circumstances and to statistics highlighting that, despite the huge increase in the number of people that his—the previous—Government put on the DNA database, DNA detections have fallen.

Last Friday a man with no previous convictions, Mr Ronald Toms, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attempted rape of an 84-year-old woman. He was caught because he had been previously arrested but not charged with an offence, and his DNA had been taken. Will the Minister confirm that under his proposals Mr Toms would be free to rape again?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman, with all respect, that he will well know that the use of individual cases cannot be undertaken lightly, given that they rely on all sorts of other issues such as consent and on other identification evidence. We have taken a very measured approach by making sure that those who are guilty are retained on the DNA database, and that there are matches to ensure that the cold-case database is used effectively. That way more crimes are detected.

For the second time in five days, the Home Secretary has declined to answer questions on DNA, even though she knows that it is a growing concern, and that I and the Leader of the Opposition raised it last week. There are about 5,000 rape cases each year where the police think that they have enough information to pass a case on to the Crown Prosecution Service but the CPS decides that it cannot charge. In those cases, the Government’s plans mean that DNA will not be held even though rape has a notoriously low charge rate and we know that some people go on to offend again.

On Thursday the Minister with responsibility for women, the Minister for Equalities, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), suggested that the police would be able to apply to retain DNA in cases where they thought that the public were at risk. That is very different from what the Home Secretary told me on Second Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, when she did not include cases where the public were thought to be at risk.

So, will the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) now explain how the police and the DNA commissioner are supposed to assess who poses a risk; and in how many of those 5,000 cases does the hon. Gentleman expect the police to apply and for DNA to be held?

The right hon. Lady is wrong on a number of counts, because the Home Secretary was absolutely clear on Second Reading about the approach that would be taken. The Government have said that, when an individual is arrested for a sexual offence such as rape but not subsequently charged, the police will be able to apply to the new biometrics commissioner for the DNA profile’s retention. If the commissioner agrees, the profile will be retained for three years. The right hon. Lady seems to ignore the facts and the way in which the issue has been presented, but there is the clarity on what is to happen.

The Minister has not answered the question. He may want to look back at the words that the Home Secretary used on Second Reading, which were rather different. Does he really think it is practical for the police separately to assess, fill in forms and apply to hold DNA on 5,000 new rape cases each year, as well as countless other serious crimes? Ministers have just spent 20 minutes telling the House that they want to cut police bureaucracy; now they are increasing it. The West Midlands police chief said to the Bill Committee:

“We have always argued that it is impossible to create a regime of individual intervention for a database of 6 million. We have to make decisions based on automation.”––[Official Report, Protection of Freedoms Public Bill Committee, 22 March 2011; c. 9, Q4.]

The Home Secretary is making it impossible for the police—

The right hon. Lady needs to look at the statistics, as I have already highlighted. If she looks at the data from 2001-02, when there were 39,000 detections against a database of fewer than 1.4 million, all from convicted people, and compares that with the data from the last year, when over 5 million individuals, including hundreds of thousands of innocent people, were on the database, she will see that the number of detections had fallen to 32,500. Labour Members appear to be very casual with people’s liberties, although they claim they are not. They seem to assume that simply because someone is arrested for a crime, they are guilty. We take a different view. Labour Members are not prepared to look at the facts and the evidence.

Tier 4 Visa Requirements

14. What estimate she has made of the potential cost to the economy of her planned changes to tier 4 visa requirements. (61841)

The impact assessment estimated the net cost to the economy of the student and post-study work proposals to be £2.4 billion. There will be additional compensating benefits from reducing abuse, ensuring cohesion, and increasing public confidence in the immigration system, but it is not possible to quantify the impact of these changes.

I thank the Minister for his clear response. He refers to a cost of £2.4 billion. The best case scenario is a cost of £1 billion, and the worst case £3.5 billion, for a problem that the Home Affairs Committee struggled to find anybody, other than the Minister, to say was a really serious problem; even Migrationwatch UK was not that bothered. Given that we do not want to lose £2.5 billion from the economy, will he rethink these proposals?

It would be absurd to say that there are no problems with the student visa system. It represents two thirds of the amount of immigration into the system, and it has become the biggest single loophole in our immigration system. On the slightly arcane theology of impact assessments, my hon. Friend will know that some strange assumptions have to be made by Government economists. For instance, this has to be costed on the assumption that if migrant students are no longer able to work here as before, not a single one of the jobs that they vacate will be taken up by a UK citizen, particularly one who may be currently unemployed. If there is replacement, which is intuitively very obvious, then the cost to the economy will be significantly lower. That is why we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to investigate this assumption, and we expect it to report in November.

Despite what the Minister has said about impact assessments, it is surprising and deeply worrying that the Government are pursuing a policy which, on their own view, will cost the country £2.4 billion and which, on their own view, will have only half the impact on net migration that they originally said. This policy was part of a package of changes that the Government said would reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015. In support of the policy, the Prime Minister said in April to Tory party members:

“No ifs. No buts. That’s a promise we made to the British people. And it is a promise we are keeping.”

Well, not according to his Government’s own impact assessment, and not according to the Migration Observatory—

Order. The hon. Lady must now bring herself to a one-sentence question. That is the end of it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; I was just about to. Will the Minister be upfront and admit today that this is a promise that he and the Prime Minister will not be keeping?

Domestic and Sexual Violence

In March this year we published a detailed action plan on tackling violence against women and girls. We have already delivered in several areas, including a commitment to provide more than £28 million of Home Office funding over four years for local specialist services to support victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Recent incidents of rape and sexual assault in my constituency have been linked to Gloucester’s nightlife. Although Gloucestershire constabulary, which incidentally is increasing the number of front-line officers in our city, is doing a great job to protect my constituents on the streets, many parents would like awareness to be raised among youngsters about the risk of sexual assault. Are there things that the Home Office could do, perhaps together with the Department for Education, to help in that?

Preventing sexual and domestic violence from happening in the first place is a key priority of our action plan to end violence against women and girls. We are committed to developing education and awareness-raising campaigns on rape and sexual assault. As my hon. Friend said, we work with the Department for Education to encourage teaching about sexual consent in schools.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Department of Justice about victims of domestic violence who do not report offences to the police, particularly in the light of potential legal aid changes?

There have been no specific discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice on this issue. However, the Ministry of Justice is a member of the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, which is chaired by the Home Secretary. Discussions on the support provided for all victims of violence against women and girls is discussed at its meetings.

Two wards in my constituency have seen increases in domestic abuse of 38% and 44%, which is way out of sync with the national or local trend. Will Ministers consider targeting work in areas where the figures are so far above trend?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I will look at the areas that have higher rates of domestic violence, with an eye to seeing what has happened in those areas.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Housing and Local Government about the need to rehouse victims of domestic and sexual violence in safe homes? There are a number of cases in my constituency where I do not feel that the council is stepping up to the mark in providing a safe haven for these women.

It is clearly very important that when women need a place of safety and refuge, they have such a place. Obviously women’s refuges and shelters are available, but there is always a blocking issue with housing. We keep a constant eye on that. Councils should hear the message loud and clear that they need to provide for women who need shelter from domestic violence.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the much-needed funding for rape crisis centres. What does she expect the timing will be, because those centres are so greatly needed by this country?

The funding has been agreed and is on its way. Not only have the bids been accepted for the existing rape crisis centres; there is money coming through this year for four new centres in Hereford, Dorset, Trafford and Devon, which will fill the gaps left by the previous Government.

How will destroying the DNA of people who have been arrested for rape, had their files sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but with a charge not being able to be brought, help to reduce sexual violence against women?

As I said last Thursday, we do not believe in keeping 1 million innocent people on the database. If someone is arrested for rape and not charged, but the local police believe that they are a danger to public safety, the police may apply to the commissioner to retain their DNA for three years, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said.

Protection of Freedoms Bill

18. What representations she has received from children’s charities on the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. (61845)

Children’s charities have warmly welcomed the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Bill. A number of such charities have made representations on specific aspects of the Bill, which we continue to discuss with them.

I do not think that “warmly welcomed” describes many of the representations that I have received from children’s charities. Will the Minister explain why a school will not be told whether a prospective volunteer has been barred from working with children, and why her Government are creating a loophole that the NSPCC says will put children at risk?

There are no loopholes in the Bill. The barring scheme will continue to cover all those in day-to-day, unsupervised contact with children, and those working in supervised positions will still be eligible for Criminal Records Bureau checks.

Topical Questions

The Home Office is committed to protecting the public, controlling immigration, securing our borders and helping the police to combat and prevent crime and terrorism. I recently announced to the House the outcomes of our review of the Prevent strategy to counter radicalisation and our plans for a new national crime agency, which will be a powerful body of operational crime fighters who will secure our borders, tackle organised crime, fight economic crime and protect vulnerable children and young people.

The Prime Minister had significant success in Brussels last week in maintaining strong rules on the deportation of illegal immigrants. What role will the border police command play in allowing that to be delivered?

The new border police command within the national crime agency will play a very important role in ensuring that we can protect our borders. What is crucial about its role within the agency is that we will be able to bring together a number of bodies that deal with crimes and activity across our borders. That will enable us to get much greater effectiveness in dealing with such problems.

In January the Government let lapse provision for pre-charge detention for 28 days. The Home Secretary said that she needed a fast way to restore it if needed, but her counter-terror review stated that the current order-making power was too slow. We warned her then that her new proposal for emergency primary legislation was not workable, and the senior Joint Committee has now concluded that it is “totally unsatisfactory and ineffective”. It is now six months since she changed the limit, and there is still no satisfactory emergency back-up plan in place. When will she get this sorted out?

We remain of the view that it is important to have that legislation available for Parliament to enact, and that in the vast majority of circumstances it is appropriate that that is done after Parliament has had the opportunity to consider the matter. There is a question about what happens when Parliament is dissolved. We have considered that and will bring forward proposals for an order-making power to cover the dissolution of Parliament.

T2. I very much welcome the steps that the Government are taking to protect women and children from domestic and sexual violence. Will the Minister agree to meet me and my constituents from Esteem, based in Truro, who run the only service in England for men who suffer from those dreadful and often hidden crimes? (61854)

My hon. Friend raises the important issue of male domestic violence victims. The Government take the issue extremely seriously, and we are committed to ensuring that every victim of domestic or sexual violence has access to appropriate support, including specialist support. In addition to the funding that we are providing for independent sexual and domestic violence advisers, we are funding the men’s advice line for all men who experience violence from a current or ex-partner. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and her constituents. I have heard of Esteem and its work, and I would be very interested to meet its representatives.

T7. The national missing persons database is an important resource in understanding the scale of the problem, safeguarding vulnerable people and locating those who are missing. What more can the Minister do to ensure that all the police forces in the United Kingdom provide to the database full, accurate and up-to-date information on missing persons in their area, including children? (61859)

First, I thank the hon. Lady not just for her question but for the work in which she is engaged with the all-party group on runaway and missing children and adults. I very much look forward to the report that I know she is working on with other members of that group on this important issue.

The police code of practice on the collection and sharing of missing persons data requires police forces to submit information on missing persons to the missing persons bureau. We want to examine the application of that code more generally, to ensure that standards are raised and that it is applied more broadly. I am keen that whatever steps can be taken to improve matters are taken and, in that regard, I look forward to the publication of the report on how we can ensure that that takes place.

T3. At the beginning of this year, Lancashire constabulary spent £200,000 refurbishing Fulwood police station in my constituency, only to earmark it for closure the following month. Does not that waste of money show that with good leadership and good management, it is possible to save money without affecting front-line services? (61855)

I agree with my hon. Friend about protecting front-line services and I note that the chief constable of Lancashire constabulary said in March that

“the public can be reassured that we are leaving no stone unturned in our non-frontline services to take money out where we can.”

That is the right approach. It is possible, by making those savings in the back and middle offices, to protect the quality of front-line services for the public.

T8. Last week, members of the associate parliamentary group for animal welfare had a meeting with the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss dangerous dogs. Has the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice had a chance to listen to the briefing from lead police officers on that continuing problem? Will he be so kind as to meet me and members of the associate parliamentary group to discuss the matter in due course? (61860)

No, I have not had the briefing, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issue. It is a very serious matter, which can result in harm to people. The police have to deal with it and, of course, we will ensure that they have the right powers to do that.

T4. The Minister with responsibility for security will know that West Worcestershire contains companies such as QinetiQ, Deep-Secure and Edge Seven, which do important work in cyber-threat resilience. Can he find time in his busy diary to visit that important cyber-hub? (61856)

The Government recognise the importance of delivering cyber-security and protecting the country from online threats. We have therefore announced a £650 million transformative programme. As part of that, I pay tribute to the work of many companies. Private industry has a vital role to play and I shall certainly look at the details of my hon. Friend’s companies and their work, and, as appropriate, arrange a visit.

The chief constable of South Yorkshire, Meredydd Hughes, has said that reductions in back-office support will put an increased operational burden on officers, which will detract from their front-line duties. Does not that show that the Home Secretary’s reductions in red tape are just a sham?

No. I am very pleased to say that the chief constable of South Yorkshire has also made the clear point that despite challenging times he is,

“confident that the men and women of South Yorkshire Police will continue to effectively serve their communities”

and that they are determined to uphold the standards that they have been able to maintain in recent years.

Throughout the country, chief constables are rising to the challenge and ensuring that they protect services to the public while making necessary budget cuts.

T5. What steps is the Home Secretary taking in these difficult times to support the work of women’s refuges, such as the one in my constituency, in their important work? (61857)

I am very happy to tell my hon. Friend that the Home Office has, of course, protected £28 million over the next four years for specialist support services in relation to domestic violence and violence against women. At a meeting on 14 June, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I heard from stakeholders, including the providers of women’s refuges, about the funding issues that they face. We have discussed with local authorities, mainly through the Department for Communities and Local Government, how local authorities should continue to support women’s refuges in their important work.

Each year, 5,000 people are arrested but not charged with rape. Will one of the Ministers, hopefully the Home Secretary, tell me for how many of those 5,000 it is appropriate for the police to apply to hold their DNA on record?

The whole point of the arrangement under the Protection of Freedoms Bill is that it will be for the police to make a decision about those individuals for whom they think it appropriate to apply to retain that DNA. However, I repeat a point that fellow Ministers made earlier: we are taking a different overall approach from the previous Labour Government because we believe that we cannot assume that everyone who is arrested is automatically guilty. The Labour Government made that assumption. We are putting safeguards in place to ensure that the police can make a judgment and apply for the retention of DNA for those arrested and not charged in circumstances that the police believe to be operationally important.

T6. Cheshire police have successfully made £13 million of efficiency savings while maintaining front-line services and dramatically cutting crime. Does the Home Secretary agree that that superb achievement highlights a fundamental difference between this Government and the last? While Labour judges things by how much is spent, we focus on the services delivered. (61858)

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I visited Cheshire police a few weeks ago and was impressed by what they are doing to drive savings and, in particular, by a pilot scheme that they are running in Runcorn, which returns discretion to police officers and improves the service to the public. In the pilot, when police officers are dealing with an offence, they are asked to look at the causes of that offence—

Order. I am extremely grateful to the Minister. I think we will take that as a yes and perhaps make some progress.

This Friday, the Metropolitan Police Authority will consider a report that, if agreed, would halve the number of safer neighbourhood team sergeants in my constituency. If the Minister is so adamant that police numbers in London will not be reduced, what will he do stop the planned reductions in Lewisham?

I repeat the point that the Mayor has said that he wishes to get to the next election with more police officers than he inherited in London—he has clearly stated that ambition. How those officers are deployed is an operational matter for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and his team, but he is protecting the number of police constables in the safer neighbourhood teams. It is quite right that he should seek to drive savings and efficiencies. I am sorry that Opposition Members simply do not understand the importance of that.

In the spirit of joined-up government, will the Home Secretary discuss with the Defence Secretary the future of the Ministry of Defence police? The previous Labour Government cut the number of MOD police officers in Colchester garrison from 30 to 3, and I regret that our Government now talk of cutting the number of MOD police by 1,000.

I note that my hon. Friend was quite careful in the phrasing of his question, because of course, this is an MOD responsibility. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have regular discussions on matters that affect both our Departments, and I am sure that we can put that on to the agenda.

The Greater Manchester police announced this day, I believe, that more than 200 serving police officers and 600 back-room staff will be shed. Will any Home Office Minister come to the Dispatch Box and promise my constituents that, if the great gains in crime detection and prevention are not continued, they will reverse the cuts and allow numbers to go back to where they were?

My right hon. Friend and I are both eager to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question.

We know full well why it is necessary for police forces to make budget cuts—we need to make cuts overall because of the situation with the public sector finances. The chief constable of Greater Manchester police has been absolutely clear on a number of things. For example, he has been absolutely clear that this is a time for transforming how policing is undertaken, and that the changes he is making are focused on delivering the same good quality of service to the residents of the Greater Manchester police area. I would also point out that in evidence to a Select Committee of this House, he pointed out in terms that in the past, numbers were put up almost artificially, because police officers were put in back offices.

What tools will the Home Department make available to local police and local agencies to tackle ingrained and site-specific antisocial behaviour?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government have consulted on a new range of measures to ensure that police and other agencies at the local level are better able to tackle ingrained antisocial behaviour. One problem in the past was that the things available to them worked too slowly and were ineffective. That is what we intend to remedy.

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation and Surrey police have successfully trialled software that monitors internet use by registered sex offenders, and the Home Secretary has indicated that she wants to take steps to close the loopholes in the monitoring of registered sex offenders. Therefore, why was there not one single word about the internet in her consultation on the monitoring of sex offenders when it was launched two weeks ago?

We retain an interest in the whole question of the internet. The consultation that we launched was about a number of proposals that we will put in place in reaction to the Supreme Court judgment on the interpretation of the Human Rights Act 1998, and to the fact that sex offenders should now have the right of appeal as to whether they stay on the register. Alongside putting in the process for dealing with those appeals or a situation in which offenders ask for a review of their reference on the register, we will tighten the loophole by requiring them, for example, to notify the authorities when they are travelling abroad for more than 24 hours, and not the several days—

Given that the Home Secretary is reviewing extradition law, does she welcome last week’s report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights highlighting again the case of my constituent, Gary McKinnon, who has fewer rights than foreign criminals facing deportation? When can we have British justice for British citizens such as my constituent, Gary McKinnon?

As my hon. Friend will expect, I do not intend at this stage to comment on that case in the House. A review of extradition law is being conducted by three eminent lawyers who hope to report later this year. The review will include the extradition treaty with the United States, European arrest warrants and other extradition matters.

May I return to the Policing Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), which was just not good enough? Many of my constituents consider a public front-desk facility at a police station or police post as part of the front line, so what can the Minister do to reassure the people of Greater Manchester that they will have face-to-face contact with their police service when they need it?

We are strongly in favour of police forces providing face-to-face contact in all sorts of innovative ways. However, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends simply will not accept responsibility for bequeathing to the country the deficit that we now have to deal with, and which means that we have to make savings—police forces have to make those savings, too, and protect the front line at the same time.

The Home Secretary will be aware that Mr Raed Salah has been invited to speak in the palace precincts. Given this man’s history of virulent anti-Semitism, will the Home Secretary ban him from entering the UK?

The Home Office does not routinely comment on individual cases. I will seek to exclude an individual if I consider that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good, and the Government make no apologies for refusing people access to the UK if we believe that they might seek to undermine our society. Coming here is a privilege that we refuse to extend to those who seek to subvert our shared values.