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Topical Questions

Volume 530: debated on Monday 27 June 2011

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.