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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 532: debated on Monday 12 September 2011

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police Numbers

1. What estimate she has made of the change in the number of police officers during the comprehensive spending review period. (70925)

With permission, may I briefly update the House in relation to the appointment of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner? The Mayor of London and I conducted interviews with the candidates this morning, and I expect to make a recommendation to the palace later today.

We have set a challenging but manageable funding settlement for the police service. It is a matter for the chief constable and the police authority in each force to determine the number of police officers that are deployed within the available resource.

May I thank the Secretary of State for her response? Will she congratulate Gwent police authority, which was recently assessed by inspectors as performing well? Can she explain why more than £100 million will be spent on elected police commissioners, given that there is no guarantee that such performance will be sustained, let alone improved, with them? Would not the money be better spent on keeping more police on our streets?

If the hon. Gentleman is going to ask questions like that, he really should get his figures right, because of course, the figure to be spent on police and crime commissioners is not £100 million. I am happy to join him in congratulating Gwent police. I had a very good meeting the other day with the chief constable of Gwent police, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on matters relating to domestic violence. He talked about some of the excellent work that Gwent police had done on that.

With savage cuts to West Yorkshire police, including 750 fewer police officers and up to 1,500 fewer support staff, how does the Home Secretary think that tackling burglary in Leeds will be improved over the next few years?

In relation to policing, we are ensuring not only that police have the tools and powers that they need to deal with issues out on the street, but that they are freed up from a lot of the bureaucracy that was introduced by the previous Government, which kept too many police officers behind desks and not out on the streets.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will not be seduced by the argument that, inevitably, more police officers means more visibility? The fact remains that there are more police on patrol on Monday morning than on Friday night, and that only 12% of officers are available at any one time to be visible to the British public. Will she tell the House what she will do to ensure that we get visibility from existing police numbers?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and he is absolutely right. He has put particular focus on this issue over the years and has looked into it in some detail. It is not just a question of numbers, as it is often portrayed by Opposition Members; it is about how police officers are deployed. It is about getting them out on the streets at the time that they are most needed. As my hon. Friend has seen in the past, a lot of that is about reducing the bureaucracy that police officers deal with, reducing the targets, and letting them get out there on the streets.

Is the Home Secretary aware that, in Northamptonshire, the chief constable is transferring police officers from the back office to the front line, that the visibility of police on patrol will go up, and that crime is falling?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Indeed, I had a very good visit to Northampton recently and saw some of the excellent work being done by the police there. I heard directly from the chief constable what he is doing to ensure, as my hon. Friend says, that he cuts back-office work for police officers and gets them out on the streets, which results in the impact that the public want—they want to see people out on their streets.

May I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London have agreed on their choices for the name of the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner?

When the CSR was agreed, there were no disorders in London, but the acting commissioner has said that the thin blue line was very thin during the recent disorders. If a case is made for additional resources as a result of the various inquiries that are being conducted, will the Home Secretary revisit those figures?

If I may say to the right hon. Gentleman, I expect to be having a further conversation with the Mayor after Home Office questions, but I hope to be sending a recommendation to the palace, and I firmly expect to do so, later today.

In relation to the funding figures for the Metropolitan police, the right hon. Gentleman will know full well that we are providing support to it, and indeed to other forces, as a result of the riots that took place recently. However, I am pleased to say that the previous Metropolitan Police Commissioner was able to increase visibility with police on the streets within the resources he had, by the simple and effective method of moving from police patrolling in pairs to single-patrol policing.

It is intriguing to discover that the Home Secretary and the Mayor have not yet agreed on the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

The previous question was about the comprehensive spending review. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary estimated that 16,000 officers would be cut as a result of the CSR. Since then, the police have faced substantial additional costs of £125 million from policing the August riots. The Home Secretary has said that she is supporting the Met police and other forces, but the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said in his letter that this will be only

“where forces are not in a position to cover the costs of recent events themselves”.

That leaves the police with no clarity at a time when their budgets are already being cut. Will she therefore now guarantee that no police force will have to cut any officers or services to pay for policing the riots, and will she stand by the Prime Minister’s commitment to pay this extra money to the police?

It is absolutely clear—and has been made clear to police forces affected by the riots—that police forces should put in claims to the Home Office and that we will look at them. We will be looking at claims for operational costs and riot damage costs. On the right hon. Lady’s first statement, however, I do not think that she should try to transpose on to this Government the sort of disputes that took place within the previous Government. As I understand, from reading the recent book by the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), she even disputed the extent of the deficit—as she and other Labour Members appear still to do.

I am afraid that the Home Secretary did not answer the question. She said that the Home Office is “looking” at the claims. That provides no certainty for the police or clarity for police budgets. Police officers are having to make decisions right now about making people redundant. The truth is that she is happy to find extra resources for elected police chiefs, but she will not find the extra money for the police. She is spending more than £100 million on elected police chiefs that no one wants when she could spend the same money on the costs of policing the riots or on 3,000 extra constables in Olympics year. Does she think that the public would prefer the money to be spent on elected police chiefs or on constables who will cut crime?

I think that the public want a Government who actually look after taxpayers’ money, which is exactly what we will do. The police forces know that there is a process by which they can put in claims to the Home Office. Those claims will be properly considered, and as we have made clear, the Home Office will be making funds available in relation to the matters that the right hon. Lady has raised.

Police Panels

2. Whether she has considered bringing forward amendments to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to ensure that proposed police panels are representative of the geographical area they will serve. (70926)

The Government have set out plans to ensure that police and crime panels are representative of the places they serve. We tabled an amendment to the Bill in another place, allowing many panels to co-opt further members. This will enable local authorities to address geographical imbalances.

I thank the Minister for that response and welcome the amendment, which is obviously a step in the right direction. However, he will be aware of the particular concerns of people in Cornwall that they might not get a fair geographic representation. What additional reassurance can he give that the Home Secretary will ensure that Cornwall is fairly represented on Devon and Cornwall police panel, and will he agree to meet a delegation from Cornwall council to discuss this issue?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns—they have been put to me by other hon. Friends. The amendment that we moved in the other place will allow for the nomination of an additional five members to the panel. Approval for that will lie with the Secretary of State, although there must be regard to geographical balance. I hope and believe therefore that we can reassure the people of Cornwall that they will be properly represented on these panels.

The Minister will agree on what lies at the heart and success of British policing—it should be by consent, local and rooted in the community. That is why I welcome what he has just said. Will he also agree, however, that it is vital that our senior police officers have spent a year or two on the beat in the local community? Will he hit on the head these ludicrous press reports that the Government are thinking of bringing in an elite group of officers—super-duper graduates, Bullingdon club boys—to be slotted in straight away to run our police services? Policing should be local, and every chief constable should have served on the beat.

That is a travesty of the Government’s position. We have asked Tom Winsor to consider these matters. The right hon. Gentleman should pay more attention to the views of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall, which he expressed in an article in The Times today, co-written by me. He points out that the police have not made sufficient progress on diversity and that one way to address that might be to consider additional points of entry. We also point out that operational experience would be necessary.

Bogus Colleges

Since May 2010, the UK Border Agency has revoked the sponsor licence of 69 institutions. Our recent reforms of the student route include the introduction of new oversight provisions and a requirement for all sponsors to become highly trusted.

In addition to the Government’s new reforms of the student route, what enforcement action have the Government taken to tackle abuse in the student visa system?

The UK Border Agency has been active in relation to the new rules that have been introduced and is looking at a number of colleges. In addition to the licences of 69 colleges and education providers being revoked, the total number whose licences have been suspended—of which that 69 forms part—is 145. We take very seriously the need to monitor the obligations that we have set out.

Order. I gently remind the Home Secretary that her answer should be pertinent in the context of tackling bogus colleges.

The most up-to-date figures do not cover the last 12 months. What we saw as a result of the last Labour Government’s policies was net migration going up. Dealing with bogus colleges and education providers is part of our way of bringing it down.

The Government must, of course, tackle bogus colleges, but also minimise the impact of their plans on private organisations such as the Organisation for Tourism and Hospitality Management, which is based in my constituency. It cannot now provide work experience to students—often they are from the US—even though it has a good record of students returning at the end of their studies.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising a specific case, which we will look at. We are very careful in the rules that we introduce. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration and I spend a lot of time listening to individual colleges and to representative bodies of colleges and education providers to ensure that we get it right. We want to ensure that people get a proper education when they are here. That is what our rules are focused on, but I would be happy to look at the case that my right hon. Friend has raised.

Student Visas (English Language Teaching)

4. What recent assessment she has made of the potential effects on English language teaching centres of changes to the Tier 4 (General) Student visa accreditation scheme. (70928)

As part of our fundamental reforms to the student visa regime, we are tightening the system of educational oversight for institutions that bring international students to the UK. Colleges must have a satisfactory review by the end of 2012 in order to sponsor new students from overseas. That will have an impact on colleges that do not meet the high standards set by the inspection bodies.

I recently visited International House in my constituency, where students from around the world acquire an understanding not only of the English language but of Newcastle’s rich cultural heritage. However, the school faces a sharp drop in applications because of the changes, and in addition a 1,500% increase in the cost of accreditation. In these difficult times, should the Minister not be supporting legitimate schools and not trying to drive them underground?

Let me deal directly with the hon. Lady’s question about accreditation. The previous system failed. It was not rigorous enough, so we are moving to more rigorous inspections, carried out by bodies that have previously inspected the sector, including the Independent Schools Inspectorate. It is vital that we get the inspection of colleges right; otherwise, respectable institutions that deserve to be able to carry on get muddled up with the bogus colleges to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has referred, and that does nobody any good—neither the respectable colleges nor genuine students seeking to come here. I hope that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that we have introduced a better and more rigorous inspection system.

Family Migration

The Government launched a consultation on family migration on 13 July. This sets out proposals for tackling abuse of the family route, including sham and forced marriages. It also contains proposals to promote integration and reduce burdens on the taxpayer.

Does the Minister agree that family migration must be based on a real and continuing relationship and not on a marriage of convenience or a forced marriage?

That is an important point, because sham marriages not only undermine our immigration system; they damage the institution of marriage. Forced marriage is, if anything, even worse. It represents a breach of human rights, and it is a form of violence against the victim. That is why we are proposing in our consultation to define more clearly what constitutes a genuine and continuing marriage for the purposes of the immigration rules, to help to identify sham and forced marriages. We are also exploring the case for making sham a lawful impediment to marriage in England and Wales.

Does the Minister agree that British citizens who cannot support their foreign partners should not expect the British taxpayer to do it for them?

My hon. Friend makes another good point. Part of our consultation involves ensuring that those who arrive here to get married come into a family that has sufficient means to support them. One of the problems that we inherited was the fact that the institution of marriage was being exploited to circumvent the immigration rules. In tightening up on this, we are not only restoring confidence in the immigration system but helping to bolster the institution of marriage. Both of those are extremely worthwhile efforts.

But is it not right that husbands and wives should be able to live together? Will the Minister assure me that spouses applying in countries with very few English language testing centres will not be kept apart from their spouses in this country simply because they cannot prove their competence in English? That is illustrated by the case of the wife of a constituent of mine who has been applying in Brazil for months to prove that she can speak sufficiently good English to join him here.

If the hon. Lady wishes to write to me about that individual case, I will take a look at it. We have established a network of testing stations around the world so that people are able to take the test. I hope that she will support the concept that, if people come to settle here, they should be able to speak English at a basic level so that they can integrate into British life. If they cannot do that, they can end up leading separate lives, which can cause many problems, especially in our inner cities.

Does the Minister share my concern that refugee family reunion has been classified as immigration for the purposes of legal aid? Given that refugees are in exile and to be reunited with their families, they have no option other than to use the legal system here, will he make representations to the Ministry of Justice on this important point?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. I assume that she is talking about refugees who have already been all the way through the system. Obviously, while people are applying for asylum or for refugee status, our checks have to be more robust than they have been in the past so that we can be absolutely sure that those who benefit from refugee status are those who need Britain’s protection, which we have always traditionally given and are happy to give. I will look into the details of the case that she has raised.

Efficiency (Police Forces)

6. What estimate her Department has made of the potential for savings to the public purse through back-office efficiencies within police forces. (70931)

Order. If I am mistaken, I shall be happy to acknowledge it, but I thought that the Minister wished to group this question with questions 9 and 18.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am happy to group it with question 18 as well, if that is acceptable. [Hon. Members: “And 9, not 10.”] I said 10, then I realised that it has been moved to 9 because of a withdrawal. I apologise.

The Government are clear that police should be focusing on police work and not paperwork. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s report has shown how forces could save £1.15 billion, and there is scope for even greater savings.

Cambridgeshire police currently have one inspector for every three sergeants, and one chief inspector or more senior grade officer for every inspector. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the chief constable’s streamlining of senior officer grades in order to recruit an extra 50 officers in addition to the existing head count? Will he place a copy of the relevant information in the Library to allow us to benchmark the number of officers at each grade in each force?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that these kinds of overheads are reduced so as to protect the front line. I note that HMIC’s recent report also congratulated the chief constable and the authority on committing to a strategic alliance with the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire constabularies. That is exactly the kind of partnership that can help to drive savings and protect front-line services.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the unique office of constable is one that should be jealously safeguarded? Will he reassure me that in the drive for efficiency and in the implementation of the Winsor report, we will not throw the baby out with the bathwater?

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend about the importance of the office of constable and the independence that it preserves. He will know that the Winsor report, whose recommendations are currently being discussed, also recognised the importance of the office of constable.

For most of our constituents, efficiency is associated with visibility. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to commend Sergeant Adrian Thomas and PC Paul Froggatt who last week ran a mile and a half and, without regard to their own safety, jumped into the Banbury canal to rescue a 71-year-old lady who had slipped into it? With that sort of visibility evident within the Thames valley, it must be possible to have it in every other part of the country.

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the police officers for their acts of bravery. I am sure the whole House would agree that many such acts of bravery on the part of our police officers and our police community support officers are going on every day. We see that reflected each year in the police bravery awards. I believe that many of us are humbled by the selflessness and heroism of our police officers.

Given that the previous Labour Government planned efficiencies of about £1.3 billion—including on back-office staff, on procurement, on mergers such as the one between Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, on overtime and on officer deployment—will the Minister be clear about where the extra £1 billion he proposes is going to come from, if not from officer numbers, like the 200 losing their jobs in north Wales?

First, I note that the right hon. Gentleman confirms that the Labour party is committed to reducing spending on police forces by more than £1 billion—but, of course, they did not deliver those savings when they were in government; it cannot be done without reducing the work force. We have identified additional savings, including those that will accrue from pay restraint, and indeed the £350 million a year that will accrue from better procurement of goods and services. In fact, the total savings are well over £2 billion a year.

Does the Minister welcome the news from Birmingham that officers are being taken off the street to answer the phone and deal with other administrative tasks? Is that the kind of efficiency that the Government are striving for?

The hon. Gentleman should know that, in police forces generally, a third of human resources are not on the front line. Well over 20,000 police officers are in back and middle-office positions, with a higher than average proportion of them in the West Midlands constabulary. It should be possible to drive savings while still protecting the front line. That is what we ask and expect chief constables to do.

Given the Minister’s numbering problems at the outset of these questions, he probably now recognises the importance of having a good back office.

I have read again a copy of the HMIC report, “Demanding Times”, which was published in June 2011. He will know that a table on page 4 states that only 5% of police officers and PCSOs perform back-office functions, many of them necessary. With more than 16,000 police officers to be cut during the next few years of the spending review, does this not show what we already know—that there is and will be an impact on the front line from these cuts, with the loss of uniformed and neighbourhood officers and detectives?

First, I should say that what the hon. Gentleman mentioned at the outset shows that I need a better pair of glasses. As to his question, he always mentions the number of officers in back-office positions—the fact that there are thousands of them will, I think, surprise the House—but he never mentions the considerable number in middle-office positions, are not on the front line. I repeat that well over 20,000 officers are not on the front line, with 16,000 of them in the middle office. Savings can be driven while protecting front-line services—something that Opposition Members neither understand nor accept.

Health and Safety Regulation (Police)

We have worked with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Health and Safety Executive to publish new guidance, in order to support police officers to do the right thing by taking a common-sense approach to health and safety rules.

As we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), some jobs are dangerous, and being a police officer is certainly one of them. As a bomb disposal officer, I have some empathy with a police officer who told me recently that by the time he has filled out the mountain of paperwork required for health and safety, all he has done is delay the point at which he gets on the street to do his dangerous job. Although I commend the Government on tackling this area, can we not do a bit more?

Working with police forces, we continue to attack bureaucracy. I pay tribute to the work of the chief constable of the West Midlands, Chris Sims, who drives these efforts by leading our reducing bureaucracy programme board. We have identified that 2.5 million police hours could be saved through improvements to form filling and other means of reducing bureaucracy. In addition to those substantial savings, we have already announced savings in relation to reducing the burden of the stop-and-account form, and scrapping the stop form, saving another 800,000 police hours a year.

May I inform the Minister that on my regular visits to Huddersfield police station, John Robins, the chief superintendent, has never mentioned a problem of health and safety, but he is worried about the glib talk about getting rid of back-office functions, such as the crucial intelligence unit, without which police on the beat would not know where to go and what to tackle?

We are clear that intelligence functions are part of the front line. However, as I keep trying to point out to hon. Members, a third of all those employed in police forces, and all the resources they command, are not on the front line. It is, therefore, possible to drive savings without damaging or affecting the kinds of services to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Those are the questions that he should be asking his local force.

Immigration

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer question 10 together with what I profoundly hope is question 15 on the Order Paper.

The Government introduced reforms to economic migration, including a limit, from April this year, and we have begun to implement significant changes to the student visa system. We are also consulting on changes to family migration, to break the link between work and settlement, and on overseas domestic workers. Taken together, those measures present a comprehensive package to tackle abuse and reduce net migration.

The Government’s immigration objectives have widespread support across the House and across the country. What is the Minister doing, however, to tackle the links between temporary and permanent migration into this country?

Along with the list I just read out, that is a long-term issue that we are tackling. Our consultation on employment-related settlement, which was published on 9 June, sets out proposals for breaking the link between work and settlement, including making the skilled migrants route, tier 2, a primarily temporary one. One problem that this country has had is that people come here and are not sure whether they are on a permanent or temporary route. That problem does not affect most countries’ immigration systems, and we are determined to drive it out from our country’s system as well.

What assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact of uncontrolled immigration over the past decade, and what is he doing to ensure that managed migration is, in future, a boost rather than a burden to the economy?

The problem for the previous Government was that, in letting in uncontrolled numbers, they did not differentiate between those who would bring benefits to the British economy and those who would act as a drag on it. At the heart of our policy is the distinction between those whom we want in this country—the brightest and the best—to study, work and bring long-term benefits to this country, and those whom we do not want, who either evade what they are supposed to be doing, coming here pretending to study but wanting to work, or still more, who come here to live off our benefits system. We will have a much better focused immigration system, as well as significantly lower net migration.

One of the groups who have been coming to this country over the past 15 or 20 years—and indeed, for longer—and who have contributed significantly to it socially, culturally and economically are people who study at Christian theological colleges and Bible colleges in the United Kingdom, but they currently face a very difficult time because of the Government’s policies. Many Bible colleges may have to close. I am sure that the Minister does not intend that source to dry up, so may I urge him to give specific consideration to the group of people concerned to establish whether there is something that he can do?

I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are in close contact with the various small theological colleges, and are considering how we can resolve the issues involved. As I have said, genuine students studying genuine courses at genuine institutions of study are of course welcome in this country.

The latest figures show that net migration has risen by 20% to 239,000, that the number of work visas issued by the Government has gone up rather than down since their cap was introduced, and that as a result of the changes in the English language requirement for spousal visas, only 55 visas for a three-month period have been refused. What will it take for the Minister to admit that his rhetoric on immigration does not match the reality, and when will he start being up-front with the British public?

I am always up-front. Indeed, let me be up-front about the “latest figures” that the hon. Lady has quoted. They are the figures for December last year, and thus cover the last few months of the Labour Government. When that Government introduced the points-based system that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said was providing progress in the immigration system, net migration was 165,000; two years later, after two years of Labour policies, it was 239,000. That is why we are acting on the work route, the student route and the family route, and on the link between temporary and permanent migration. Only now that we have a Government who are determined to act across the board on immigration will we get the numbers under control after 13 years of abject failure under Labour.

Does the Minister accept that immigration supplies people who are essential to a whole range of activities, such as the work of high-tech companies, research, and a huge number of other activities in my constituency? Will he ensure that that flow continues, and resist the siren calls both from the Opposition and from his own Back Benchers for the Government to clamp down on people whom we desperately need?

I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that the changes we have made to, in particular, the work-based system allow skilled workers with a specific offer of a specific job to come to this country, while preventing the entry of unskilled workers and of people who pretend that they wish to study when their main intention is to work. In that way we can indeed retain the advantage of those who bring benefits to the country, but without retaining the old immigration system, which was out of control and destroyed public confidence in all kinds of immigration.

Antisocial Behaviour

This Government are clear that reducing antisocial behaviour is core business for the police and their local partners. Current action includes highlighting effective practice that will help professionals to improve their response to victims and communities, setting out proposals for more effective powers, and making more data available to the public.

We know that nearly two thirds of under-16-year-olds breach their antisocial behaviour orders. Will the Minister reassure my constituents that despite the protests of the shadow Home Secretary, ASBOs will be replaced with effective sanctions that will actually tackle antisocial behaviour?

My hon. Friend has made an important point about the measures available to professionals on the front line who are dealing with antisocial behaviour. We are keen to ensure that they have discretion to deal with problems in their localities, and can act speedily to bring relief to communities that are suffering from such behaviour. That is the focus of the Government, that is what we have been consulting on, and we will present our response to the consultation in due course.

The Met have said that ASBOs have been a valuable tool in combating violence and antisocial behaviour on the part of gangs. Following the August riots, will the Government ditch their plans to weaken the ASBO regime through proposals to remove the criminal sanctions and introduce far lighter penalties for those who flout the law? Do communities not deserve to be protected by the full force of the criminal law?

I am sorry to tell the hon. Lady that I think she has completely misunderstood the situation. We are ensuring that antisocial behaviour measures are effective and will provide relief for communities. As for the need to combat gangs, we are ensuring that injunctions are available to support the police and communities and enable firm and clear action to be taken against gangs, and we will have rolled them out to all communities by the end of this year. Those are practical measures to bring relief to communities, which is what the Government are determined to do.

Can my hon. Friend reassure my constituents that the introduction of police and crime commissioners will help to ensure that the police focus on local policing priorities, such as antisocial behaviour, that matter in neighbourhoods such as those across my constituency?

With a mandate that will respond to local concerns and priorities, I have little doubt that police and crime commissioners will focus on how their local police forces address antisocial behaviour and will ensure that the necessary strategies, funding and resources are made available. Our reforms are designed precisely to ensure that local communities’ views are heard very loudly and clearly. That is at the heart of the reforms, and I am sure that police and crime commissioners will have antisocial behaviour at the top of their agendas.

The Minister is using some robust words, but he does not seem to understand the point. Antisocial behaviour orders are a preventive measure but they need the back-up of a criminal sanction to make them effective. That has worked across the country. Does he not listen to the police, who say it is an essential element in tackling antisocial behaviour?

The Association of Chief Police Officers has been clear that it supports

“a simplification of the tools and powers available to frontline practitioners, making it easier for them to do what works best.”

That is the action we are taking to help the police and communities, and to bring relief against antisocial behaviour, which, sadly, the last Government failed to do.

Illegal Immigrants (NHS Treatment)

12. What procedures are in place to repatriate illegal immigrants whose treatment in NHS hospitals has been completed. (70937)

The UK Border Agency works closely with health professionals to facilitate the removal of patients who are not entitled to remain in the country. Where appropriate, special arrangements are made for the removal of persons undergoing treatment, including the provision of medical escorts. The Government take a robust stance on abuse of NHS services.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. My local hospital, Russells Hall, was forced to admit a Pakistani national who was not eligible for NHS treatment. He was given a discharge when he was medically fit to leave the hospital. That was as long ago as August last year, yet since then the hospital has had to negotiate with the border agency and Pakistan International Airlines for a date for his release, and that has cost £100,000-plus. Can my hon. Friend assure me that he will put the necessary pressure on the border agency to enable this individual to be released without further delay?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot go into too much detail on the Floor of the House about an individual case. I am, however, happy to be able to reassure her that since she brought this case to my personal attention, an airline has now been found to carry the individual concerned. We are sorting out care and reception arrangements in order to ensure that the removal goes smoothly, and I understand that he will be removed in the near future.

Disorder (Gangs)

14. What research she has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the contribution of gangs to the public disorder of August 2011. (70939)

As I said in the House last month, the recent civil unrest was a dark time for everybody who cares about their community and their country, and I realise that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency was affected. As part of the work of the inter-ministerial group on gangs, I have commissioned an assessment of the role played by gangs in the recent disorder, and I will report our findings to the House in October.

I thank the Home Secretary for her response, and should declare an interest as the chair of the London gangs forum.

I have been told by my local police that gangs were not necessarily co-ordinating all the activity in our area, although gang culture is a big ongoing issue for us. How much of the £18 million that the Government have committed to tackling this issue—funding that will help police and local community groups—will directly benefit the London borough of Lambeth?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. If I may, I will write to him with the specific information he has requested about Lambeth. London as a whole is one of the three areas, along with Greater Manchester and the west midlands, that are particularly benefiting from the funding that has been made available, as they are areas where the gang problem is a particular issue. The hon. Gentleman is right that, notwithstanding whatever role gangs played in the riots and unrest of early August, we must deal with gang culture, because, sadly, it is a problem that blights too many of our communities.

Are the events of early August not a wake-up call to the fact that the problem of gang culture, which has been around for a long time, needs to be taken more seriously? Although tough enforcement action against known gang members is part of the solution, is it not clear that a much wider approach will be required to tackle the problem?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the inter-ministerial group on gangs is not only looking at the enforcement issue; we are looking at other matters, such as preventing young people from getting involved in gangs and diverting them from gangs when they become gang members. We are examining examples of good work from both outside the UK and within it—for example, in Strathclyde and Waltham Forest.

Terrorism

The new Prevent strategy was published on 7 June 2011. It outlines three key objectives: responding to the ideological challenge of terrorism; supporting individuals at risk of radicalisation; and working with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House, and indeed the country, that we will not see a repeat of the scandalous situation under the previous Labour Government where public money intended for counter-terrorism actually ended up funding some extremist activity?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. As far as this Government are concerned, extremist organisations have no role in delivering the Prevent strategy, and if organisations do not support British values, we do not intend to fund them. Organisations funded by central Government must clearly demonstrate that they are working in the public interest. In this area, the transparency that has been adopted by this Government, both at central and local level, will be an important part of the process of enabling people to see where the money is being spent and to challenge that, if necessary.

Topical Questions

Yesterday was, of course, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist atrocities of 9/11. None of us will ever forget the events of that day or those attacks on our own shores, including the 7/7 London bombings and the decades of terror campaigns waged in Northern Ireland. The Government remain as committed as ever to preventing future acts of terrorism and keeping the public safe. Following the death of bin Laden, al-Qaeda is weaker than at any time over the past decade. New threats will evolve, but so will our security measures to counter them. While we remember the victims, we must also remain vigilant. I commend those, particularly our front-line emergency workers, who continue to work against terrorism and risk their lives to protect ours.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House about the meetings she has had with chief constables and colleagues following the recent rioting, which was of great concern to so many of my constituents, to ensure that there is no repetition and that those involved are speedily brought to justice?

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that question. We have had a number of meetings with chief constables and others. As I said in an earlier answer, I am chairing an inter-ministerial group that works on tackling gangs—it is looking at that particular aspect of the riots—and we have already had a number of discussions about public order policing, in particular. I have, of course, asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to examine the issue and advise on guidance for forces on matters such as tactics and the number of police that need to be trained in dealing with riots.

It is now 15 months since the joint thematic review on the nature and culture of gangs reported in June 2010. The review was carried out by the chief inspector of prisons, the chief inspector of constabulary and the chief inspector of probation. They concluded that

“there was no integrated joint national strategy”

and so agencies had

“missed significant opportunities to work with young people involved or likely to get involved in gangs.”

Can she say when we are likely to get a response to that review from the Government?

The hon. Gentleman has raised the matter of a review that was, of course, reporting on what had taken place under the Labour Government. We are undertaking a particular piece of work on gangs, bringing a number of Departments together to examine the issues and work out how we can best address the gang culture and prevent young people from getting involved in gangs. In doing that, we are doing what is absolutely right: we are looking at not only the evidence that has come before, but at practice on the ground today. We are finding out what is working today and looking at how to extend that good practice to other parts of the country.

T3. During the recent disturbances, children in Banbury as young as 14 sought to use Facebook to incite public disorder. Will my hon. Friend update the House on her discussions with providers of social networks? (70952)

I can inform my hon. Friend that the Home Secretary held a constructive meeting with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the police and representatives from the social media industry and the companies have made clear their commitment to removing illegal content and, when appropriate, closing accounts, whether at the request of the police or because of a tip-off from other users. It was agreed to step up co-operation to ensure that these processes are working effectively.

T2. Due to Government cuts, Worksop police cells are to close this month. Local police officers have asked me to ask the Home Secretary this: how exactly will that closure contribute to crime reduction in Bassetlaw? (70951)

It is entirely a matter for the chief constable and police authority how they deploy their resources. There has been some rationalisation of custody and we are also very supportive of those forces that seek to contract out custody facilities and in so doing improve their service and save money.

T4. The Equality and Human Rights Commission posted qualified accounts in 2009-10 and the auditors found poor financial management, poor record keeping and poor leadership. What specific actions will the Minister take to rectify this problem and to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not wasted by that organisation?[Official Report, 14 September 2011, Vol. 532, c. 9-10MC.] (70953)

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the issue. The qualifications, of course, represent spend for periods under the previous Government and we have been absolutely clear with the EHRC from the start that any problems with its accounts under this Government are likely to result in financial consequences for it. In March, we set out our plans to change the EHRC. Our consultation closed in June and we will be responding shortly, but we have already announced that we will reduce its budget by more than half from £55 million in 2010-11 to £28.8 million in 2014-15.

T8. When it was announced that the Government would do away with the National Policing Improvement Agency, Ministers acknowledged that it was important for the functions undertaken by that agency to go to some other organisation and for there to be great clarity, but 14 months on we are still not clear. When will the Home Secretary tell us exactly which functions will go to which body as a result of the abolition of the NPIA? (70957)

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have already identified a number of functions and where they will move to. For example, certain issues, such as non-IT procurement, have come back into the Home Office. We are working with the police forces to set up a police-owned company to deal with IT, which is a significant part of what has been undertaken previously by the NPIA. We will be making announcements about the exact destination for the other aspects of the NPIA’s work in the coming weeks.

T5. I am sure the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will agree that police officers need the best and most professional training. Does he therefore welcome moves by colleges such as Loughborough college in my constituency to offer a police, law and community course, which is already being used by at least three of our police forces? (70954)

I commend Loughborough college for taking the initiative in this important area. We are committed to improving the professionalism of the police. I understand that the course is not accredited at the moment and that the college should seek that accreditation before it can be treated as appropriate learning for the minimum qualification for a police officer.

The chairman of Cheshire police authority, Margaret Ollerenshaw, has written to me to say that by March 2012 we will have 217 fewer police officer posts and that by 31 March 2015 a further 151 officer posts will have to be cut. She says:

“These cuts need further consideration in the light of the service demanded of the police”.

How will these cuts, combined with 446 staff posts that will be cut, help combat crime and antisocial behaviour in Halton and Cheshire?

Tomorrow I will take part in a conference that has been organised by Cheshire police to consider those precise issues and to identify the opportunities that arise from adopting a leaner structure. The chief constable of Cheshire is as convinced as I am that it is possible to reorganise in a way that protects front-line services.

T6. Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating Thames Valley police on halving crime at this year’s Reading festival compared with last year and, more generally, on demonstrating that it is possible to protect visible front-line policing while finding budget savings? (70955)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, to which I am very happy to respond, not least because I could hear Reading festival from my home even with the doors and windows shut. A significant number of people attended that event, which has had problems with crime in the past, so Thames Valley police are to be congratulated on the work they did this year to reduce crime. The Thames Valley force is a very good example of a force that is committed to ensuring that it retains front-line and response policing while also cutting costs by, for example, collaborating with other forces.

The chief constable of Greater Manchester says that he is closing police stations to make his force more like Argos. Does the Home Secretary agree with that crazy comparison? My experience of Argos is that the local branch never has what you want and you have to travel miles to find it.

The chief constable of Greater Manchester has been absolutely clear that it is possible to make cuts in budgets but that it is also necessary to make changes in and transform the way that policing is delivered. He is committed, as are other chief constables, to ensuring that he delivers a quality service to the people of Greater Manchester.

T7. Given that so many people were left for years—sometimes for more than a decade—with uncertain immigration status, creating wrenching circumstances if their claims for status fail now, does the Minister consider that it was immoral of the previous Labour Government to lose control of the immigration system, and will he assure the House that he will not do likewise? (70956)

Yes, my hon. Friend knows that one of the myriad problems we inherited on the immigration front was the remains of a backlog of half a million asylum cases that had simply disappeared inside a warehouse. We have now got to the end of that process, but he is right: it is absolutely essential not to let any similar-sized backlog build up again—not just for general confidence in the immigration system, but as part of our moral duty to treat anyone who comes to this country and applies for asylum with as much efficiency as we can. The system should work not just for them but for the taxpayer. It is a win-win if we get the asylum system to be more competent than it was.

Some of the most pressurised communities in London are facing the loss of familiar and well-liked safer neighbourhood sergeants. Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be no more reductions in the local leadership of safer neighbourhood teams, or is the model of ward-based safer neighbourhood policing now dead under this Government?

The hon. Lady knows that this is a matter for the leadership of the Metropolitan police and for the Mayor. The Mayor has made it clear that he seeks to maintain the number of police officers in London at above 32,000, which will be more than he inherited from his Labour predecessor, and to protect neighbourhood policing.

T9. In Torpoint and other parts of my constituency, police response teams are finding that their times are restricted by the geography of the area, which means that some officers are forced to cross the River Tamar on a ferry or to drive for at least 30 minutes. Does my right hon. Friend consider that that is acceptable? (70958)

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns about this issue and I also appreciate the particular geography in that part of her constituency. These matters of deployment are for the chief constable to decide and it is better that Ministers do not try to second-guess those, but I am happy to draw her concerns to the chief constable’s attention.

I think that what is important is the visibility and availability of police officers, which is variable between police forces. In many cases, it can be significantly improved. I have said to the House before that if police forces can find innovative ways to increase their presence in communities—for instance, by being in supermarkets—that can often be very much better than maintaining empty or underused offices that are rarely visited.

Will the Home Secretary place in the Library a definition, with examples, of what constitutes police back-office and, as we have heard this afternoon, middle-office facilities? Does she accept that part of the front line is 24-hour policing with 24-hour police stations in our major urban centres?

I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that the work on the definition of the back, middle and front-line functions has been done by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, not by the Home Office. A report defining those functions is available from HMIC, and I am happy to make sure that it is available in the Library.

Crime levels in north Wales dropped by 45% over the 13 years that Labour was in power. Over the past year, crime levels have gone up. Do Ministers accept any responsibility for the increase in crime?

As there has barely been any reduction in front-line police officers in the period that the hon. Gentleman describes, I think that what he tries to imply is false. What matters is how effectively police officers are deployed and how efficiently they are working. What Opposition Members do not accept is that we have to deal with the deficit. We must find the savings because of the mess they left this country in.

Will my right hon. Friend condemn the antisocial behaviour and racism of the Islamist demonstration near the commemoration of 9/11 yesterday? Does she agree that that demonstration should not have been allowed to take place so close to the commemoration, and will she take steps to stop that happening again?

Anybody who engages in criminal activity should be dealt with appropriately. I am pleased to inform the House that I understand that nine arrests were made at the time yesterday, but further arrests have been made. The number up to date is 33, but that may change.

The recent disturbances in Salford had a large element of organised criminality. The Home Secretary is aware of Operation Gulf in Salford, led by Superintendent Kevin Mulligan, which has had significant success against organised criminals. With the cuts that are proposed in Greater Manchester, what support can she continue to ensure goes into successful operations to tackle serious and organised crime?

As the right hon. Lady knows, chief constables will be making decisions about particular local operations that they wish to undertake, but the Government are giving much greater power to the police to deal with serious organised crime through the creation, in due course, of the national crime agency. We touch far too few organised crime groups in the UK. Organised crime costs this country £30 billion to £40 billion a year. The NCA will help to tackle that.

Following this weekend’s utterly despicable revelations of the way in which 24 of my constituents have been kept as slaves, some for 15 years, may I wholeheartedly commend the robust action of Bedfordshire police in bringing that to light and putting it right? Will the Government please pay particular attention to the issue of internal trafficking in the United Kingdom, given that 17 of those 24 slaves were British citizens?

I am sure the whole House will share my hon. Friend’s disgust at something that came as a shock to many of us. He is right. What we saw was effective police action, co-ordinated in many ways by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. As he knows, the new national crime agency will have among its functions co-ordinating activity against trafficking, both domestic and international, which will give us a much more effective way of combating such particularly vile crime.

I have been contacted by a constituent who was born in Germany while her father, an Irish citizen, was stationed there with the British Army in 1948. Despite her mother being British, and the fact that she has lived the remainder of her life in the UK, she is a British subject, not a British citizen, which carries additional cost and inconvenience when she travels. Will the Home Secretary consider how to resolve that historic anomaly?

That sounds like a deliberate quiz question for the Immigration Minister, with every possible complication within it. If the hon. Lady wishes to write to me, I will happily examine the details of the case.

Is the Minister aware that in the police service a centrally procured box of 100 wipes for electronic equipment costs £19, whereas it can be bought on the internet for £1? What can the Government do about that?

Overall, we believe that huge savings could be accrued through better procurement by the police, but we have to remember that the costs of procurement are not just the cost of goods. They are the cost of the separate organisations in 43 forces that are individually procuring goods and equipment. On those calculations, we think we can save £350 million a year by more effective procurement.

Youth workers up and down the country were asked to work on the streets during the recent disturbances, but many of those workers are being made redundant. Has the Minister examined the probable impact on crime and antisocial behaviour of these cuts to youth work?

In the work of the inter-ministerial group on gangs, we will of course look at effective ways of dealing with gang culture and with young people who get caught up in criminality, but I say to the hon. Lady and her hon. and right hon. Friends that the evidence indicates that the Government, in various forms, often spend a lot of money on individuals and their families, but sadly not all of that is spent effectively. Our task is to ensure that money is focused effectively to deal with the problems.