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Home Department

Volume 535: debated on Monday 7 November 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—

Foreign Students

9. What steps she is taking to strengthen the accreditation regime for colleges that admit foreign students. (78447)

16. What steps she is taking to strengthen the accreditation regime for colleges that admit foreign students. (78454)

Our fundamental reforms of student visas include a rigorous new inspection regime for private colleges. These tough new rules, coupled with robust enforcement action by the UK Border Agency, mean that more than 450 colleges have now lost their right to recruit international students under the points-based system. Only colleges offering a genuine, high-quality education will be able to sponsor international students in future.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply and commend her for the work she is doing in this area. Does she agree that the news last week that one in five colleges has lost its sponsor licence status shows that the accreditation scheme set up by her and her Department is working to stop the widespread abuse of the visa system?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and what I have announced today is just the start. All private colleges will have to go through that rigorous accreditation system by the end of the year and those that fail the system will no longer be able to bring in international students.

I am pleased to hear that the Government are successfully shutting off immigration through bogus colleges with the accreditation scheme, and I was glad to hear the answer to the previous question.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the accreditation scheme for colleges, but of course we are going further in taking action against individual students as well as restricting their rights. We have introduced new rules on English language and we have restricted students’ rights to work and to bring in family members. Next April we will close the post-study work route that has allowed graduates two years’ free access to the labour market here in the UK. We want to make sure that those who come to study are coming genuinely to study and not to work.

We do need to cut out the incentives for people who abuse the student visa route, but there will of course be cases when a mature student wishes to be accompanied by their spouse and children of school age. What are the Government doing to prevent abuse of the system by those who see this as a loophole through which they believe they can bring any number of dependants into this country?

As I indicated in my previous answer, we are taking action against students as well as against colleges. We are restricting the right for students to bring in family members. Only postgraduate students at universities can bring in dependants and we have changed the rules so that only those at universities and public colleges can work while they are studying. That means that we can continue to attract the brightest and best to our academic institutions while ensuring that we get rid of abuse.

I hope that the Home Secretary was not too busy at the weekend to read the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs that was published on Friday—specifically paragraph 44, which expresses astonishment that the UK Border Agency has been unable to tell us how many students have been deported for breaching their leave and that it does not recognise the term, “bogus college”. Does she not think it extraordinary that the main agency dealing with these matters does not accept a term that she, I and the whole of Parliament have always used to describe such colleges?

I think that what matters is not the term we use but the action we take. That is why action is being taken to ensure that those colleges that have not been offering education to students are no longer able to bring in students and that we get rid of abuse in the student visa system, which has been a problem in this country for far too long.

I support any measures that root out any abuses in the immigration system, but what discussions has the Secretary of State had with universities such as the university of Warwick that have expressed concern about student numbers from abroad because they rely mainly on such students to exist?

Before we put our policy into place, we had significant discussions with representatives from the university sector. We continue to talk to universities about the impact of the student visa system that we have introduced, and that scheme ensures that institutions that are offering a genuine education are able to bring in the brightest and best students, but it is up to them and us to make it clear that students are still able to come and learn at our universities from overseas.


The Government’s approach to gang culture is set out in the “Ending Gang and Youth Violence” report, which I outlined to the House last week. This marks the start of a cross-Government programme of work based on five areas: prevention, pathways out, punishment, partnership working and providing support.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to addressing gang and youth crime. Does she agree that the problem cannot be solved by Government alone, but that parents especially and local voluntary and community groups have an important part to play? Will she tell me what is being done to support communities to fight back?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is essential that the Government recognise not only that this issue goes across various Government Departments, but that we need to work with the voluntary and community sector. In February I committed £4 million for the communities against guns, gangs, and knives fund. That is already supporting the work of more than 200 grass-roots projects across England and Wales that are working with young people, their families and local communities. In the report that I presented to Parliament last week I made a commitment that half of the £10 million of funding to tackle gang violence will go to the non-statutory sector.

When a gang member leaves home armed with a knife, they do so with the ability to commit grievous bodily harm or even murder. What can the Home Secretary do to reduce the number of knives on our streets?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, we are tackling that in a number of ways. First, we have introduced changes in a new knife crime offence, which was introduced in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill last week to tackle it from that end. At the other end we have made money available to the Ben Kinsella fund, and Brooke Kinsella produced a very good report for the Government, going round and identifying projects that work with young people to stop them carrying knives and prevent them from being a danger to others and to themselves.

Everybody wants to see tough action to tackle antisocial behaviour and I welcome what the Home Secretary said a moment ago about the involvement of council, Church and community groups in providing youth services. I have just come from a meeting with young people from Dudley, some of whom are in the Gallery now, and one of them asked me about Dudley council’s decision to cut spending for youth services. Does the Home Secretary think that antisocial behaviour is likely to increase or decrease as a result of cuts to spending on youth services?

What I think is important is that in every local community decisions are taken that are right for that local community about what is going to work. The Home Office and the Government are providing funding to a number of communities throughout the country to ensure that in many cases they can do excellent work with young people to ensure that we can reduce the number of knives that are carried on our streets. This is just the start. Further work will be done to try and counter the gang and youth violence which, sadly, blights too many of our communities.

In August the Prime Minister told me that the Home Secretary would meet social media companies to explore the role of the internet and technology in propagating gang culture. Will the right hon. Lady tell me what the outcome of those meetings was and what action will be taken?

I am happy to do so. I did indeed meet representatives of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry. I met them with representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers and from the Metropolitan police, and we discussed a number of matters—how the police can actively use social media networks, and how the companies can look at their terms and conditions to see when they might take people off the network because they are breaching those terms and conditions. Subsequent meetings have been held on a one-to-one basis between the police and the individual companies.

In discussions with a very senior, experienced officer, one of the issues that he highlighted was the lack of effective communication channels between the police and young people. To what extent does the Home Secretary believe that the ending gang and youth violence teams will be able to pick up and run with that issue?

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. There is some good work being done here in London, for example, with the Safer London Foundation, which is a charity backed by the Metropolitan police. That is an important aspect of the work that I hope the ending gang and youth violence team will be able to encourage at a local community level.

Knife Crime

In the 12 months to June 2011, data collected by police forces in England and Wales indicate that 7% of relevant violent offences involved the use of a knife or a sharp instrument.

Knife crime affects every community. In my constituency, following the senseless murder of Leon Jones who was just 21, a group was set up called Dump the Knife—Save a Life. That was young people working with the police and the local community. Can the Minister ensure that funding for such groups will be available in the future, following the announcement of a cut of some 60% in community budgets?

I appreciate the value of groups such as the one the hon. Gentleman describes and am happy to look at it. We have made £18 million of funding available for the next two years to support the police, local agencies and the voluntary sector in tackling knife, gun and gang-related violence, and I would be happy to talk with him about the project.

I am grateful to Ministers for supporting the “Carry a basketball not a blade” initiative in my constituency, but knife crime has risen in London every year since the current Mayor was elected. What more will the Minister do to press the Mayor to get on top of this terrible problem in London?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that knife crime is a serious concern, which is why the Government, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has just pointed out, have introduced a new offence of aggravated carrying of a knife. We need to send clear signals and there needs to be effective police action. He knows that the Mayor has been promoting that in London with his knife crime plan, Operation Blade, and we will continue to support those efforts.

Is not the key to cutting knife crime the sending of a clear social message that anyone who commits a crime with a knife or gun will go to prison, actions that this Government have taken, along with the excellent ideas that Brooke Kinsella has come up with?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is about tough enforcement and sending a clear signal that those who carry knives and use them in a threatening manner will receive a custodial sentence, which we are legislating for, and about the programmes that work with communities to deter people from using knives. That is what Brooke Kinsella’s excellent report focused on.

In the past 10 days alone victims of knife crime have included a poppy seller in Sussex, a father attending a first birthday party in Mitcham and a young man trying to stop a fight in Walthamstow on Friday night. Given the scale of cuts to policing and community safety budgets that the Government are implementing under the Home Secretary’s watch, does she think that knife crime will continue to go up or go down next year?

I share the hon. Lady’s concern about knife crime, which is why we are introducing the measures I have announced on strong enforcement and the important community programmes to deter people from carrying knives, but I notice that her question did not include a single positive proposal for dealing with knife crime, other than the usual Labour party proposal, which is to spend more money.

Police Forces (Collaboration)

I welcome the increasing levels of collaboration between police forces and expect more forces to consider how to work together to bring improvements and save money. The Government provide funding to support regional collaborations to tackle organised crime and have strengthened the duty to collaborate through the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Does she agree that the collaboration between West Mercia police and Warwickshire police, through their human resources department, produces exactly the kind of saving that can be made without resorting to the compulsory mergers advocated by the previous Government?

Indeed, and I commend my hon. Friend’s police force for the work it is doing in collaboration. Many forces across the country are collaborating in a number of areas. We are able to ensure that we can get the benefits of collaboration without forcing mergers on police forces, which the Labour party tried to do when it was in government.

Thames Valley police is collaborating in various ways with no fewer than six other forces, and the work it is doing with the Hampshire constabulary alone is saving £9 million a year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that demonstrates that it is perfectly possible for police forces to save money without that having any impact on front-line policing?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that that is possible. Thames Valley and Hampshire police are showing that, as are other forces up and down the country. Indeed, in many cases they will not only be saving money, but may be providing a more effective service.

One area where collaboration between forces would be welcome is in dealing with metal theft, which is growing across the country. For example, a business in my constituency lost its industrial process, which meant that it then lost business. What will Ministers do to ensure that collaboration increases and, more importantly, when will they introduce legislation to deal with metal theft?

The hon. Lady has raised a matter of serious concern to a great number of Members, particularly given that we have seen not only the impact on the economy, but the appalling incidence of theft of metal plaques from war memorials, which I am sure has shocked everyone in the House. We are discussing with ACPO and others what legislative changes to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 might be needed and we are talking with the police about what action can be taken better to identify the rogue dealers in advance of any changes to the legislation.

Nobody will oppose sensible collaborations, but with last week’s report of a 7% rise in theft and a 10% rise in household burglary reported, coupled with a projected loss of 16,000 police officers, it is incumbent on the Secretary of State to tell us the exact total savings from such collaborations nationally and the remaining national funding shortfall after those collaborations have saved some money—if only so that the Minister for Equalities, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), is able to stop her police cuts campaign quickly.

Discussions are taking place between police forces on exactly how much money can be saved by such collaborations, and better approaches to police procurement and to IT, for example, will help to save £380 million. But I am very sorry because it sounds as if yet again the Labour party opposes action to save money while ensuring that the police are able to maintain their services.

Family Migration Route

This Government are determined to bring net migration back to sustainable levels, and to bring a sense of fairness back to our immigration system. That is why we consulted on new measures to prevent the abuse of family migration, to promote integration and to reduce burdens on the taxpayer.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. At our party conference the Home Secretary outlined plans to amend the immigration rules better to balance the right to a family life with the wider public interest in controlling immigration. What estimate has the Minister made of the number of immigrants using article 8 of the European convention on human rights to remain in the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and the UK Border Agency took a snapshot, reviewing in detail those appeals by foreign criminals against deportation which were determined in October to December last year. There were 551, of which 162 were successful, and of those 99—61%—were allowed on article 8 grounds. That is precisely why we will revise the immigration rules to reinforce the public interest in seeing foreign nationals who are convicted of a criminal offence and those who have breached our immigration laws removed from this country.

Amid the UK Border Agency’s problems with handling asylum cases, will the Minister assure the House that spouses coming to live here in the UK will have to show a commitment to speak and learn English—for their benefit as well as the benefit of society as a whole?

Both those points are right: such an approach is not just for the benefit of the individual; it is absolutely for the benefit of the community that they enter. That is why last November we introduced requirements that spouses and partners must demonstrate a basic knowledge of the English language before they are granted a marriage visa. It is reasonable that anyone intending to live in the UK should understand English so that they can integrate fully and participate fully in life in this country.

Given the passport control fiasco exposed over the past few days, does the Minister seriously still expect us to accept, as he said seven days ago:

“The Government is doing more than ever before to protect the UK’s borders”?

Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is going to make a statement on that matter later, when it can be dealt with in detail, but in his honest moments he will accept that one of the biggest problems—one of the biggest shambles—that this Government inherited was the immigration system that the previous Government left us, and that is what we are getting to grips with now.

(Stratford and Urmston) (Lab): Access to good quality expert advice is important to support legitimate applicants and to ensure that those who should not be here can be advised quickly that they have no case, but constituents report to me that such advice is in increasingly short supply. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that good quality advisers remain in place, particularly following the Government’s cuts to legal aid?

The Government’s cuts to legal aid specifically do not apply to asylum cases, because we accept that genuine asylum seekers will be in need of proper legal advice, but across the House it is agreed that some of the legal advice available in immigration cases, whether asylum or general immigration cases, is frankly substandard. That is why, when looking at our support for the legal aid system, which was yet another public spending regime that ran out of control under the previous Government, we have specifically protected the most vulnerable.

All of us want to try to avoid abuse of all the immigration systems, but does the Minister accept that our high-tech industries in particular rely on key individuals from overseas? It is very important to be able to attract those individuals, and some of these immigration changes risk deterring them from coming here. What steps will he take to ensure that we still get the key international people we need?

I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that we have already taken those steps. Indeed we are bringing down the number of people coming here but, at the same time, we are differentiating more effectively, so that the brightest and the best can continue to come here. That is why we have created the new investors and entrepreneurs visas, which have doubled the number of entrepreneurs who have come into this country over the course of this year, and that is why we have set up the exceptional talent route.

Antisocial Behaviour

The Government are committed to tackling the corrosive impact of antisocial behaviour. We are ensuring that the police and other agencies have faster more effective powers, that complaints are dealt with more responsibly and that the public have much clearer information about incidents occurring in their local area.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but constituents and local police have raised with me their frustration at the difficulties that local police have in dispersing groups of antisocial individuals, who cause so much misery for their victims by their actions. The Home Office has consulted on giving front-line police the power to direct antisocial individuals and groups away from specific areas, but will the Minister update the House today on whether those proposals will be implemented and, if so, when?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I certainly recognise the issues that many communities face from antisocial behaviour and the fact it perhaps was not previously taken as seriously as it should have been. We propose to combine the most effective elements of the various dispersal powers available to the police into a single simpler police power to direct people away from an area where they are committing or are likely to commit antisocial behaviour. We intend to legislate on the new powers at the earliest opportunity.

As the Home Secretary has acknowledged, vandalism, antisocial behaviour and theft from war memorials repulse everybody, particularly in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. Given that much of that activity is related to the illegal metal trade, why will Ministers not bring forward legislation right away? What is the hold-up?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her position on the Front Bench. I certainly agree with her that the attacks on war memorials in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday are absolutely despicable. I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning those shocking crimes. The Home Secretary has mentioned a number of steps that the Government are already taking. We are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to put in place an action plan. Steps are already under way and we are working with other Departments to take further action as well.

Alcohol-related Antisocial Behaviour

The Government are bringing forward a package of measures to ensure that alcohol is no longer the driver of crime and disorder that it has been over the past decade. Measures range from giving more powers to local communities over licensing decisions, to cracking down on those selling alcohol to children and trialling a sobriety scheme to reduce offending. Those provisions are in addition to the introduction of wider measures to address antisocial behaviour.

In 2007, just five people were prosecuted for attempting to buy alcohol under age. Will my hon. Friend set out in a bit more detail what steps he is taking to restrict the sale of alcohol in retail outlets to those who are under age?

My hon. Friend has raised a very important point on the whole issue of the irresponsibility of alcohol being sold to children. We have taken steps to double the maximum fine to those who are selling alcohol persistently to under-age children to £20,000, and to increase the powers of the police and local councils to close such premises down permanently. We are working with other Departments, and the Department of Health is leading on an alcohol strategy that will take into account further issues. I am under no illusions about the important role that parents and schools also have, which is why further action is being taken.

Will the Minister update us on the Government’s plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol to reduce alcohol misuse and antisocial behaviour?

Yes. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have stated clearly their intention to ban below-cost sales, with the first measure being the banning of sales below duty plus VAT. I can confirm to him that those proposals will be implemented on 1 April next year.

May I urge the Minister to concentrate on tough penalties for people who get involved in alcohol-induced antisocial behaviour instead of introducing this rather soppy, wishy-washy, nanny-state nonsense of minimum pricing of alcohol?

I thank my hon. Friend for his typical contribution to these debates. In dealing with issues of alcohol, we need to ensure that we have robust powers to deal with alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, as we are doing. We also need to deal with pricing, which is why we are banning below-cost sales, and with prevention, which is why we will be taking further action in relation to schools, parents and the health service.

Michael Connarty is not here, so I call Mark Hendrick. [Interruption.] Order. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) to say that the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) wants to ask about the food industry, but the question on the Order Paper is not about the food industry.

Illegal Immigration (Olympics)

10. What assessment she has made of the potential effects of the London 2012 Olympics on the level of illegal immigration to provide forced labour in the food sector (a) in London and (b) nationwide. (78448)

I was looking forward to that question as well, Mr Speaker.

The UK Border Agency does not have evidence of an increase in forced labour in the food sector as a result of the forthcoming London 2012 Olympics. However, the agency assesses, remains alert to, and, where appropriate, acts on a wide variety of immigration threats and risks specifically associated with the Olympics.

The Government’s wait-and-see approach is dangerous. When Greece hosted the Olympics in 2004 and Germany held the World cup in 2006, the authorities adopted a forward-thinking strategy that included extra training for police to spot trafficking, and PR campaigns to raise awareness among the public. Will the Government consider adopting a more proactive strategy ahead of the games to ensure that human trafficking does not become part of the London 2012 legacy?

I am very aware of the importance of this issue, and I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that a strategy has been in place for some time. For example, the Olympic project team at UKBA has carried out over 8,000 identity assurance checks on contractors and workers on the Olympic site and have arrested 20 people as a result in the current financial year alone. In total, the team have carried out over 60,000 ID assurance checks and made over 300 arrests since 2008. The kind of proactive strategy that the hon. Gentleman wants is very much in operation..

Order. On this question, the wish of the right hon. Gentleman might or might not be satisfied.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the Olympic year, the work of the border agency will be of the first importance? Does he agree, since the agency is likely to come in for some stick later on this afternoon, that its individual officers do a remarkable, vital and very important job for this country, and that that needs to be officially recognised?

Order. The Minister should answer in the context of the London 2010 Olympics, or possibly in the context of forced labour in the food sector, in London or elsewhere.

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that UKBA officers do a vital job very conscientiously. It is particularly important that they continue to do that and, if possible, to enhance their services in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics. Part of that will involve ensuring that no abuse occurs in the food industry.

UK Border Agency

Our priority remains to secure the border and to control migration while we help to reduce the public deficit. We expect to have reduced by about 5,200 posts from the start of the review period to around 18,000 by March 2015. We are on track to meet our staff reduction target.

Will the Minister tell us how many of those 5,200 staff are being cut from the front line of the border force?

The hon. Lady will know that later this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make a statement covering the issues that she is interested in. The reductions in staffing are not affecting the front line because we are improving the front line by, for instance, having airline liaison officers overseas. Over the past few years, that has prevented 60,000 people whom we did not want to travel from travelling in the first place. The use of facial recognition technology and e-gates also makes our borders more secure.

Will the Minister assure the House that the effectiveness of our front-line border controls will not be undermined by pressure to reduce queues at airports?

As I have just explained to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), it is important to have intelligent border controls, to use technology and to put the right people in the right places so that we can keep our borders secure. Those are elements of this Government’s transformation of the UKBA to sort out the shambles that we inherited.

The Minister may not know how many people are being removed from the border force, but I do. The numbers are 886 in this financial year and 1,552 before the next general election. He boasts that he is getting a grip, but this year there have been waits of many hours, EU nationals have been waved through in their hundreds and non-EU nationals have waltzed into the country without so much as a by your leave. We would absolutely adore it if he got a grip. Can he really say, hand on heart, that his cuts have nothing to do with the corners that are being cut with our security?

I am delighted to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position as shadow Minister for Immigration. I remember fondly when, in government, he talked about the

“huff and puff in many of the tabloid newspapers”—[Official Report, 16 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 15.]

complaining about immigration. I am sure that he will provide a lot of that in future years. I am sorry, but I have already answered his question. It is the way in which we use people that makes our borders more secure. I suggest that he pauses before he keeps using the phrase about waving people through, because nobody has been waved through the border. However, under the previous Government, as he will hear from the Home Secretary later, people were waved through.

Public Disorder (Tottenham)

12. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of policing in Tottenham on the first night of the public disorder of August 2011, following the Metropolitan Police Service statement of 24 October 2011. (78450)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commissioned the chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, to undertake an urgent review of public order policing in the five forces most affected by the disorder, which we expect to receive shortly. We will ensure that the lessons from that review are taken forward.

I am surprised that the Minister did not comment on the statement of the Metropolitan police, which said that their policing on the first night of the riots was not good at all. He will recognise the frustration and anger in Tottenham at the scale of the damage to Tottenham High road. What will he and his Department do to encourage other Departments to ensure that my constituency is regenerated?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman realises that it is right for us to wait for the report by the independent inspectorate and to take careful note of what it says about the policing that took place. Clearly things did go wrong and we have to learn the lessons. The Government are committed to doing so as, I am sure, are the Metropolitan police. As the Prime Minister has made clear, this is not just about the security response, but about the social response and the preventive measures, which I know the right hon. Gentleman is keen to promote, that can deal with this situation and stop such things happening again.

Gangs (London)

The police, local government and voluntary groups in London currently receive Home Office funding to tackle gang, gun and knife crime as part of the communities against guns, gangs and knives programme, which was announced in February. Further support will be available next year for local areas across the country to implement sustainable approaches to tackling gang violence.

In Hackney, the integrated gangs intervention unit has overseen a major reduction in gang violence. It is funded from the base budget of the council, but that might be more challenging in future years. What work is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that boroughs across London are working together and providing funding for similar initiatives so that we do not see gangs being tackled in one area only for them to bubble up in another?

The hon. Lady has made an important point about the importance of tackling this problem across the board. In talking to the Metropolitan police and in the work that will be done by the ending gang and youth violence team that the Home office is setting up at a local community level, we will incorporate the need to ensure that this work does not simply move gangs on to other parts of London. Funding is being focused on areas where there are particular problems. Hackney is in receipt of several amounts of funding for such projects. I fully take on board the hon. Lady’s point and we will look at it in our further work.

Police Funding Settlement

The spending review settlement for the police is challenging but manageable, and we will not reopen the debate on the overall level of reductions. As part of the provisional settlement process for 2012-13 we will provide provisional allocations for police authorities, which will be subject to consultation before parliamentary approval.

Some 16,000 jobs nationally and 627 in the Northumbria police force are to be slashed. Will the Minister look again at the police funding settlement to prevent those huge cuts in front-line services in the police force?

I have explained that we are not in a position to reconsider the four-year funding allocation that has been made, because we have to deal with the deficit. Opposition Members simply do not seem to understand that. The police can make savings in ways that protect front-line services, as we heard earlier, and we are committed to ensuring that that continues to be the case.

In its White Paper, the Home Office said that from 2012-13, the police and crime panels would have the power to trigger a referendum on a policing precept recommended by the police and crime commissioner. When did the Secretary of State decide that that power would be better exercised by herself?

I do not accept the premise of my hon. Friend’s question. I have committed to meeting him to discuss the issue, but we believe it important both that the panel has the power of veto over an excessive precept set by a police and crime commissioner, which has now been legislated for, and that the public have the ability to reject an excessive precept through the referendum lock. That is the subject of separate measures that are before the House in the Localism Bill.

Police Numbers

As I have just explained to the House, we have set a challenging but manageable funding settlement for the police service. It is for the chief constable and the police authority in each force to determine the number of police officers that are deployed given the available resources.

The public disorder of August showed us that police numbers count, along with forces throughout the United Kingdom working closely together on major issues. Does not the Minister see therefore how foolish it is to cut more than 16,000 police officers by 2015—the same number that brought order to London during the summer riots?

As I have said, police forces must make savings because we have to deal with the deficit, but they can do so in a way that protects front-line policing. There is no reason why there should be damage to the front line if they drive savings elsewhere. I have pointed out to the House before, and will do so again, that a third of human resources in police forces are not on the front line. Some 25,000 police officers are in back-room jobs. That is where police forces should begin.

In making the police settlement and deploying the police’s forces, will the Minister ensure that rural police forces have an element of funding related to rurality and sparsity?

We do ensure that, and I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the issue. I will, in fact, be speaking about rural crime at an Association of Chief Police Officers conference later this week. It is important that we tackle such matters, and they will all be taken into account when we consider the specific allocations for police forces for the third and fourth years of the spending round.

I am sure the Minister would like to join me in welcoming the 500 extra police community support officers pledged by the Welsh Assembly Government. The ones in Gwent are being recruited at the moment. Does he agree that they will be a really valuable help in tackling antisocial behaviour in Welsh communities, unlike the Government’s cuts in front-line policing?

If I can ignore the last part of the hon. Lady’s question, I will say that PCSOs play an important role in helping to ensure that we tackle crime and maintain confidence in communities. Last week the Home Secretary and I, and the shadow Home Secretary and her shadow Ministers, were able to attend the Jane’s Police Review community policing awards, which recognised the role of PCSOs and others, and it is important that we continue to recognise that role.

Police Authority Funding

21. What consideration she has given to the funding formula which allocates funding to each police authority. (78459)

The police allocation formula is a robust and credible tool for estimating police work load in police force areas. It continues to be used to allocate the majority of central Government funding that goes to police authorities.

The South Wales police force area includes Cardiff, which, as a capital city, has additional civic responsibilities, which obviously mean that the police force incurs ongoing costs. Will the Minister agree to look at that factor and to meet me to consider it further?

I will continue to look at that factor, and am happy to agree to meet my hon. Friend—other hon. and right hon. Members have met me to discuss that issue. I should point out that forces can bid for funds through special grants for events or unforeseen circumstances. That is restricted to expenditure exceeding 1% of a force’s annual budget, but South Wales police has benefited from such awards in the past.

Topical Questions

A number of hon. and right hon. Members have referred to reports in the past few days on the UK border force. As the Home Office has already said, a senior official at the UK border force, Brodie Clark, has been suspended for acting without ministerial sanction, but I will make a statement to the House later today.

Of all the people who were arrested and convicted as a result of the riots across the country in the summer, what estimate has the Home Secretary made of the number who were arrested and charged through the police use of CCTV and DNA?

My hon. Friend is returning to topics that I know he has pursued for some considerable time. Obviously, there was significant use of CCTV. That is why this Government continue to support its use.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to instigate an inquiry into border control this summer, which we will discuss shortly, but let me ask her a security question: what is her estimate of the number of people who passed into Britain through our ports and airports this summer under the reduced security and passport regime that the UK Border Agency was operating?

As the right hon. Lady knows, I will make a full statement to the House later this afternoon, and will have a full opportunity to answer her questions then, but I should like to make a few things clear. In the past, under the last Government, some security checks were lifted at times of pressure on the border, including one instance when local managers at Heathrow terminal 3 decided to open controls and no checks were made—not even cursory checks of passports.

To prevent that from happening again and to allow resources to be focused on the highest-risk passengers and journeys, in July I agreed that UKBA could pilot a scheme that would allow border force officials to target intelligence-led checks on higher-risk categories of travellers. We have since discovered that Brodie Clark, the head of the UK border force, authorised the wider relaxation of border controls without ministerial sanction. As I said, I shall make a statement to the House later today and will answer questions on this matter fully then.

The Home Secretary did not answer my question on how many people went through under the reduced security regime, and I am concerned that she does not know. As she will know, previously, both Labour and Conservative Ministers have committed to the roll-out of e-Borders so that proper screening could be available for everyone entering and leaving the country. She seems to be rolling that system back, not forward. When describing the rolling back of checks for EU citizens this summer, a UKBA staff member told me, “We were told not to check children travelling with family groups. That was ridiculous. Supposing a man…had taken them away from their mother and they were wards of court, they would pass through undetected. I have detected many wards of court simply by running them through the warnings index.”

The Home Secretary took the decision to reduce the checks for EU citizens this summer. Why did she do so?

As I have indicated to the right hon. Lady, I shall set out exactly what decisions were taken in my statement to the House later today. I indicated in my first answer to her that we were looking at targeting intelligence-led checks on higher risk categories of travellers. She referred to e-Borders, but this has nothing to do with e-Borders. When we took office, we had to stop the contract with the contractor that the last Labour Government agreed for e-Borders because it was significantly behind schedule in putting it in place.

T2. What steps is the Minister taking to alert parents to signs of grooming being forced on to innocent children by either their family or close friends, which is completely unacceptable? (78463)

The crime of child sexual exploitation is utterly appalling and reprehensible, and I well understand why my hon. Friend is raising this issue, given the impact that such incidents have had in Derbyshire. I pay tribute to the work of Derbyshire police through Operation Retriever. I note that their work was recognised at the police review event in the past few days. Awareness-raising is done through the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre’s thinkuknow programme, which delivers prevention messages directly into schools and is helping to raise awareness of this issue among parents and young people. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has responsibility for children and families, is developing an action plan to safeguard children and young people from sexual exploitation, which will be published shortly. Raising awareness among parents of this terrible form of abuse will be an important element of that.

T5. South Wales police have an excellent programme for tackling domestic violence, working with local authorities, health authorities and voluntary groups. What new advice and guidance will be issued to them following the statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), that the Government did not consider an investigation by the police or the police having been called out as providing sufficient clear objective evidence that domestic violence had occurred? (78466)

We will be asking the, the idea that the police—I am sorry, but I did not hear the question properly. I apologise. Is the hon. Lady asking about the evidence needed to get legal aid for legal advice on domestic violence? I apologise to her. I did not hear the question.

T3. In welcoming the latest departmental developments regarding the police crime mapping website, which my constituents are beginning to learn to use, does the Minister agree that this marks the beginning of a real step-change improvement in police transparency and hopefully accountability to local communities? (78464)

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend., our street-level crime mapping website, has received more than 430 million hits since its launch at the beginning of the year, which translates to well over 40 million visits. We are adding new information on crime types and, from next year, justice outcomes. It is an important part of our transparency programme, and it demonstrates that the public want, and make use of, this information.

T7. When does the Home Secretary intend to review the definition of an “air weapon” under the Firearms Act 1968? (78468)

I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but I did not actually hear the question. I understand that he said “air weapons”. Is that right?

T4. Organised crime costs the British economy £40 billion a year and affects families, businesses and local communities. What action is my hon. Friend the Minister taking to recover criminal assets and the proceeds of crime? (78465)

My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the issue of criminal finances. We are determined that criminal proceeds will be taken away from those who commit these appalling offences. In total, using powers such as asset denial and by targeting money launderers, the agencies involved denied criminals more than £1 billion last year. However, we want to take further action, which is why we are setting up the National Crime Agency, and we also want to make asset-recovery quicker, more robust and more effective in order to address the point that he rightly highlighted.

T9. I know that the Home Secretary is reluctant to answer any questions on the UK Border Agency in advance of her statement, but does she accept that 18 months into this Government, the decisions taken on Britain’s borders are hers and hers alone, and that she should make no attempt to blame the previous Government for the mess that we see now? (78470)

I am willing to stand here and take responsibility for the decisions that I have taken. I only wish that the Opposition were willing to stand up in this House and take responsibility for the decisions that they took when they were in government.

T6. Please listen carefully; I will say this only once. In the future assessment of police numbers and funding formulae, have any discussions taken place with the Ministry of Defence about the huge cuts in the MOD police? In the case of the Colchester garrison, the last Labour Government managed to cut its 30 officers to three, which has affected the Essex police. (78467)

I do not think anybody has ever had any trouble hearing the hon. Member for Colchester, even some miles away.

As my hon. Friend knows, the MOD police are not the responsibility of the Home Office; they are the responsibility of the MOD. However, I am happy to discuss the matter with them.

The Prime Minister promised that all legitimate claims made under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 following the recent riots would be paid. I understand that a commitment has been made to ensure that the Metropolitan police will see its money, whereas Greater Manchester police authority is still struggling to get an answer from the Home Office. Can the Home Secretary or one of her Ministers give an answer today?

I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman on that point. We will indeed cover claims made under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, but as I am sure he will appreciate, it is necessary to check and verify those claims. We have been generous with the definition that we have used, but there is still a necessary process to go through—for example, to identify the exact value of the property lost.

T8. Is the Minister aware that the average fine in 2010 for people caught driving without motor insurance in Lincolnshire was £213, down from £233 in 2008, when the average cost of fully comprehensive motor insurance premiums for my constituents is around £650, having risen on average by 40% in the same two years? Does he agree that such fines do nothing to dissuade potential or existing offenders from driving without insurance? What plans do the Government have to address the situation? (78469)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this serious issue, about which I want to talk to the Department for Transport. Uninsured driving already raises the cost of premiums for honest motorists to the tune of £30. Individual fines are a matter for magistrates, but it is important that we look at this matter.

Further to the Home Secretary’s reply about the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, if insurance companies are successful in pressing claims for the cost of business interruption, will those costs also be included in the financial settlement?

I do not think that business interruption is being looked at, but I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman and set out exactly what we are doing in relation to the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 and what criteria are being followed to ensure that police forces and others are paid the necessary sums.

T10. My constituent Joanne Bryce, whose sister Claire Oldfield-Hampson’s murder was uncovered in Cambridgeshire in December 1998, has worked tirelessly to find out why the case has been so appallingly mishandled by the local constabulary, but she and I have been frustrated at every turn. Will the Policing Minister meet me to discuss the issue with my constituent? (78471)

Yes, of course I will meet my hon. Friend. I appreciate his concern and that of his constituent about the matter; the problem is that the case was investigated by the precursor of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. That is an obstacle, but I will indeed discuss the case with him.

The Home Secretary has recently launched a consultation on the disclosure of previous convictions of serial perpetrators of domestic violence, following the tragic murder of Clare Wood in my constituency and the courageous campaign by her father, Michael Brown. Will the Home Secretary tell me whether there will be early legislation following the consultation to implement the scheme and prevent further tragic deaths like that of Clare Wood?

It is certainly our intention to act as soon as possible on the basis of the consultation. The right hon. Lady will be aware that certain powers are already available to the police to make disclosures to individuals. The consultation will look at whether further powers are necessary. I, too, pay tribute to Michael Brown for the campaign that he is running. He is very brave to do so in the face of such tragic circumstances.

One of the worst forms of antisocial behaviour that my constituents tell me about involves people’s lifestyles and actions having a really detrimental effect on their neighbours’ quality of life. What proposals are the Government bringing forward to help the police and local authorities to deal with this problem?

As my hon. Friend has rightly said, these are local issues that deserve local solutions. There has been a consultation on speeding up the eviction of antisocial tenants; it closes today. The rights of a tenancy bring with them responsibilities, and we will be reflecting on that consultation in due course, once the responses are finalised.

What mechanisms, if any, are being put in place to ensure that staff and their representatives are given an opportunity to express their concerns about problems with the functions of the UK Border Agency?

I can assure the hon. Lady that we are always willing to hear from members of staff about any concerns that they might have, and about any proposals for the better operation of the UK Border Agency. Indeed, I was in Turkey only a matter of days ago, listening to those who were making visa decisions in the embassy there, and hearing directly from them their concerns and their ideas for making things better.

Following an illegal encampment of 13 caravans in Harlow town centre at the weekend, Essex police have refused to be the lead agency in removing the trespassers because they are following Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines. Will the Minister confirm that ACPO guidance is no substitute for the police enforcing the law, rather than forcing Harlow council to go through a lengthy court process?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. First, however, may I commend Essex police for the action that they took alongside Basildon council in the operation at Dale Farm? We are looking at whether we need to give the police extra powers in relation to the clearing of encampments and other incursions on to land. Currently, assuming that the incursion is not stopping the normal life of the community, the landowner has to take legal action. If it is stopping the normal life of the community, the police do have some powers. This matter concerns a great many people, and we are actively looking into it.