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Topical Questions

Volume 537: debated on Monday 12 December 2011

As the House just heard, this Government are committed to controlling immigration and reducing net migration. We have already introduced an annual limit on the number of non-EU workers, overhauled the student visa route and increased enforcement activity. Our next steps are to break the link between temporary and permanent migration by restricting settlement rights and to reform family migration. Members of this House have played a crucial role in shaping these reforms and I welcome the opportunity for further such contributions in this afternoon’s Government debate, which will be ably led by my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration.

While I recognise that my right hon. Friend has a very tough job as Home Secretary, does she understand my disappointment? When I first became MP for Basildon, we had one police station; by the time I left we had three and Lord Mackay of Clashfern had opened a magnificent courthouse. I then became the Member of Parliament for Southend West, where there are a huge number of elderly people and where I started off with three police stations, and I will shortly have none.

I feel the need not to let it rest there, Mr Speaker, but to respond to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) asked. I am sure that he will agree that what matters is accessibility to police. That is why one thing the Government are doing is reducing the amount of bureaucracy that the police have to deal with so that they can get out on the streets more. It is also why a number of forces up and down the country are considering accessibility in a different way, rather than simply having fixed police stations. I understand that Essex, for example, has seven mobile police stations that go to areas where people congregate, such as supermarket car parks, to increase accessibility to the police for members of the public.

At the end of this month, the control orders legislation expires and the police and security services will have just six weeks’ transition to get the new weaker terrorism prevention and investigation measures and extra surveillance in place. The assistant commissioner of the Met, in a recent letter placed in the Library of the House, confirms the Met’s position last summer that

“it would take at least a year to recruit and train additional surveillance teams”.

She also says that

“not all the additional assets will be immediately in place”.

Why, then, is the Home Secretary so determined to push ahead with weaker counter-terror powers so quickly? Why does she not delay them and avoid piling extra pressure and risk on to the Met in the new year?

The right hon. Lady knows full well that the Metropolitan Police Service and the Security Service will not have just six weeks to put transitional arrangements in place. They have been aware for some time that TPIMs would come in and extra funding would be available for extra surveillance. Subsequent to the letter sent by the assistant commissioner, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has written to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee to make it absolutely clear that effective transitional arrangements from control orders to TPIMs will be in place to ensure that we continue to do what we want to do and what everybody wants us to do: that is, maintain the security of people in this country.

The Met has been put in a very difficult position. This is Olympic year and it will have considerable additional pressures from policing the games, from counter-terrorism and from an £80 million budget gap. There are no guarantees that it will not have to stump up for some of the riot compensation, too. The letter from the Met says that

“it is not possible to assess fully how the measures will work with the additional capability until both are fully in place and bedded in.”

The Home Secretary is forcing the police to conduct an experiment with security in Olympic year. The letter says:

“We will…seek to ensure that there is no substantial increase in overall risk to the UK.”

Why does this Home Secretary want to be personally responsible for any increase in the overall risk to the UK in Olympic year as a result of the timing of her legislation? Why does she not think again?

The right hon. Lady knows that when we introduced TPIMs we were able to give assurances about the mitigation of risks in relation to TPIMs and their replacement of control orders. I ask her to reflect on why the coalition Government reviewed counter-terrorism legislation when we came to power. It was because of a concern about the impact of some of the legislation that her Government had introduced. It was a rebalancing of the necessary role of ensuring national security and maintaining civil liberties that led us to review that legislation. We have in place measures that I believe will enable us to provide the security that we need to provide. The package of measures includes TPIMs and extra money for surveillance for both the Security Service and the police, and I am confident that that package will give them the degree of cover they need to ensure that we maintain security.

T2. My constituent Altaf Sadique had his car registration plate cloned earlier this year. He reported that to the police, who accepted the report and are aware that his car remains in west Yorkshire, but he continues to get fines from all around the country and the police say it is nothing to do with them. Will the Minister look seriously at having a national strategy to ensure that police forces co-operate to deal with this serious problem? (85742)

I will certainly look into the matter that my hon. Friend raises and I am happy to discuss it further with him. Police co-operation in all matters is, of course, desirable.

T6. Tomorrow, the Howard League for Penal Reform will publish a report showing that about 50,000 children, including about 10,000 girls, spent the night in police custody in both 2009 and 2010. Will the Home Secretary look urgently at the inappropriate and overuse of the detention of children overnight? What can she do to improve processes between local authorities and the police? (85746)

I note the hon. Lady’s point and we will study the report when it is produced by the Howard League tomorrow.

T5. What progress has the Minister made in identifying bogus colleges and what reassurances can he give to legitimate colleges in Brighton and Hove? (85745)

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said a few minutes ago, the number of colleges that did not register when the new proper accreditation system came in was more than 470. Some but not all of those will have been bogus colleges, so we have swept away a vast raft of bogus colleges. Reputable colleges can now be assured that we have a proper accreditation system. If they satisfy that system, their students and the wider community will know that they are genuine colleges.

I wrote to the Secretary of State two weeks ago asking her to review the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s handling of the Mark Duggan case. Given the catastrophe that was this morning’s pre-hearing inquest and the family’s declaring no public confidence in the IPCC, will she now look at its handling of the case and the thoroughness of this investigation?

I have just replied to the right hon. Gentleman. I have spoken to the acting chairman of the IPCC about the matter and the investigation, and he has assured me about the investigation’s integrity. We therefore see no reason at the moment to order any review. It is important that the investigation takes its course properly.

T7. Will the Minister explain what she is doing to ensure that the families of missing people get the help and support they need when a loved one goes missing? (85747)

We have published the new missing children and adults strategy, which has three important provisions. The first of these is prevention and reducing the number of people who go missing in the first place. The second is protection and reducing the harm to those who do go missing. The third is provision—providing support and advice to missing persons and their families by referring them promptly to agencies and ensuring that they understand how and where to access help.

Merseyside police have been very successful in cutting metal theft in my constituency, particularly by working with reputable traders. They deserve congratulations on their approach. Will the Home Secretary help the police across the country and back Labour’s four-point plan, including tougher police powers to close down rogue traders?

I welcome the work of Merseyside police and other police forces around the country in dealing with metal theft. It is why we are moving forward with the metal theft taskforce, and why that will also be responsible for greater co-ordination, but I hear the points that the hon. Gentleman makes about penalties. That is something that we are actively considering in the context of our review of the current legislation. [Interruption.]

T8. Despite the tough settlement for the Metropolitan police, our borough commander in Croydon has found the resources for a dedicated team to tackle gangs. Given that gang members played a key role in the riots in Croydon on 8 August, can my right hon. Friend confirm that Croydon is one of the 22 areas to which she referred that will benefit from Government funding? (85748)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity of doing just that. I can confirm that Croydon is one of the 22 areas that will be receiving funding. That funding will be distributed according to the proportion of 10 to 24-year-olds in each of the 22 areas, and I can tell him that on that basis Croydon has the fourth highest proportion and will therefore receive the fourth highest sum of funding.

The weekend before last, 13 British citizens including, disgracefully, a Member of this House, were present at a party in a French restaurant where members of that group—[Interruption.] It is no laughing matter—where members of that group toasted the Third Reich and chanted “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler,” behaviour which, I understand, is illegal in France. Will the Home Secretary give me her assurance that she will be contacting her French counterparts and giving them every promise that the matter will be dealt with?

I found it difficult to find in the hon. Gentleman’s question something relating to the Home Office. I understand the question that he raised, and I understand that the individual in question has apologised.

T9. I welcome plans to set up a professional body for policing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a body would be an ideal opportunity to promote the importance of high-quality training, which is very much in the interests of our police officers? (85750)

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have an important opportunity now to set up a professional body for policing to focus on the need to provide high-quality training for police officers and to set standards. I am grateful to the senior police leadership for engaging in our work to discuss the issue. We will be bringing proposals before the House.

Can the Minister give me the precise total number of prisons in Britain that are free from the use of illegal drugs?

May I draw attention to the Merseyside police force and how it has handled staffing changes and efficiency savings over the past year? Not only has the force hit all its targets, but crime is down 3%, antisocial behaviour is down 6%, and public confidence is up 5%, so despite the scaremongering from the Opposition, it is possible to have efficiency savings and a decrease in crime.

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work that is being done by the Merseyside force in relation to the savings that it is making in its budgets. As Chief Constable Jon Murphy has said,

“It’s not salami slicing but re-engineering the whole organisation.”

As my hon. Friend has shown, that can be done effectively, saving money but providing a good service to the public. [Interruption.]

The Home Secretary is aware that women prisoners will only ever move between women’s prisons, and similarly young people will only move through young offenders institutions. What discussions has she had with her counterparts at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that we look at prison education for women as a cluster and for young people as a cluster, instead of relying on local arrangements?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and behind it lies the important issue of the number of women who go to prison. For many women, an alternative arrangement might be more appropriate, which is something Baroness Corston raised in her report on women in prison. I will certainly take on board my hon. Friend’s point and ensure that it is put to the Secretaries of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and for Justice.

Does the Immigration Minister agree that on rare occasions something good comes out of the European Union and that we should appoint a national rapporteur on human trafficking?

I am afraid that on this issue I am more Eurosceptic than my hon. Friend, as I do not believe that a national rapporteur would improve our already very effective combating of human trafficking. Indeed, only two other EU member states have such a rapporteur.