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Topical Questions

Volume 540: debated on Monday 6 February 2012

Today marks the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen’s accession to the throne. I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in sending Her Majesty our best wishes and congratulations. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] The diamond jubilee celebrations in June will be part of what promises to be an exciting year. They will be followed closely by the Olympic and Paralympic games. With less than six months to go until the Olympics, the Government remain committed to delivering a safe and secure games so that the whole country can celebrate and enjoy all these events.

As the son of someone who would have regarded himself as an Irish republican, may I associate myself with the Home Secretary’s remarks about Her Majesty the Queen’s remarkable achievements and long reign?

Earlier, the Home Secretary spoke about metal theft and the action that the Government are taking. All Members across the House have had examples of such theft in their constituencies. Why will she not support an amendment tonight in the House of Lords that would give police the authority to search and investigate all premises owned and operated by scrap metal dealers suspected of dealing in stolen property, as well as the power to close them down when criminally obtained metals are discovered?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have announced a number of measures that we will take that will have a significant impact on metal theft. We are looking at further measures that might be needed. The most immediate impact will come not only from the increased fines, but from the removal of the ability to make cash payments for scrap metal.

T5. Will my hon. Friend tell me how much will be saved by freezing police pay and whether the Opposition support those savings? (93284)

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that £350 million a year will be saved through the freeze on police pay. I am also happy to confirm that the shadow Home Secretary endorsed that policy 10 days ago. The Opposition are therefore effectively committed to the same savings programme as the Government.

May I join the Home Secretary not only in congratulating, but in paying our tributes and respects to, Her Majesty the Queen on the 60th anniversary of her accession? The Home Secretary has talked a lot today about the deployment of police and about increasing the number of police officers on the front line. Will she tell the House what has happened to the number of police officers in front-line jobs since the general election?

The shadow Home Secretary will know full well that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary is making it clear that the proportion of officers on the front line has increased and will continue to increase. The question that she has to ask herself, given that she and her colleagues are now supporting the spending cuts that the Government have been putting through, is why they will not be clear to police officers and members of the public about the impact it will have.

The Home Secretary has ducked the question. I do not know whether she knows the answer. She will know that we are clear that there should be a 12% reduction in the policing budget, which would protect the number of police officers, not her 20% cut, which will mean 16,000 police officers being lost.

The Home Secretary needs to answer the question about the front line. I asked her about the number, not the proportion. The same HMIC report that she has been given includes data showing that the number of police officers in front-line jobs was cut by 4,000 in one year alone, following the general election. So will she now admit that her claims that she is protecting the front line are rubbish, and will she give the public a straight answer about protecting the police?

The right hon. Lady said that the Opposition supported a 12% cut in police budgets. They also support the pay freeze and the savings available through the outcome of the police arbitration tribunal. They said that we should accept the recommendations on those matters. The shadow policing Minister has also indicated that a significant sum of money should be taken out of overtime and shift patterns. That all adds up to a commitment by Her Majesty’s Opposition to a 20% cut in police funding—the same position as the Government. Now let us get on with talking about things like deployment rather than about the right hon. Lady’s failure to be clear with people about her position on supporting police cuts.

T6. The Minister for Immigration will be pleased to know that UK Border Agency enforcement officers were active in my constituency shortly before Christmas, removing an illegal worker from one of our city centre restaurants and sending a clear message to business owners across Hampshire.I warmly welcome the Minister’s speech last week, especially his continued determination to raise the tone of the immigration debate. What new enforcement measures is the UKBA taking to stop illegal working? (93285)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for revealing how effective UKBA enforcement is in his constituency and elsewhere. Along with measures to bring down immigration and ensure that those who come to this country can contribute to it, enforcement against those here illegally continues to be important. I am happy to say that over the past year, the UKBA has conducted nearly 6,500 illegal working enforcement visits, making more than 4,000 arrests and serving more than 1,700 penalty notices to employers of illegal labour. Such tough action will send out the message that Britain is no longer a soft touch for illegal immigration.

T2. The Secretary of State has already explained what an exciting summer this is going to be for Britain. Can she reassure us that, given the cuts in the staffing of the UKBA, we will not see a repeat of the problems that took place last summer? (93281)

I am happy to tell the hon. Lady that, as we said at the time, the initial look at the pilot measures taken over the summer actually showed that the enforcement that was going on was more effective for being more targeted. As she knows, there were clearly difficulties, which are being looked at by the chief inspector. When his report comes in, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will report back to the House on what he has found.

T7. What advice did the Government receive regarding the police arbitration tribunal’s recommendation on police pay? (93287)

I can tell my hon. Friend that the Police Federation urged us to accept the recommendations of the police arbitration tribunal, and we did so. The official Opposition also urged us to do so. Once again, it is clear that although the Labour party campaigns against cuts, it supported another reduction in police spending without admitting it to police officers.

That is set out in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Police and crime commissioners will replace police authorities. They will be there to hold chief constables to account. Control and direction will remain with chief constables. It is notable that a number of Labour party figures, including some who remain Members of the House, have expressed interest in standing as police and crime commissioners despite the principled opposition to them by the Labour party.

Order. May I just say to the Minister that a lot of people are waiting to ask questions? Shorter answers and less of the repetition would be helpful.

T8. The internet can be a great tool for broadening horizons, but as the campaign led by the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) shows, it can also pose great dangers, especially for children. Tomorrow is safer internet day. What are the Government doing to ensure that children are kept safe online? (93288)

My hon. Friend rightly highlights safer internet day, which is an important opportunity to show what steps can be taken to prevent harm online. This year’s safer internet day is on the theme of connecting generations and highlighting the role of parents. It is also an opportunity for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre to launch new resources for parents. The UK Council for Child Internet Safety is also launching new standardised and simple online safety guidance for use by all internet service providers.

Last year, the Police Federation surveyed all four police authorities in Wales on the state of morale and found that 99% of its members were suffering from low morale. Is the Minister or the Secretary of State as shocked as I am that 1% were not suffering low morale under this Government’s policies?

We have already established that the Police Federation has expressed concern about policy and morale in previous years. It often does so. Police officers and staff know that difficult decisions must be taken to reduce the deficit. They are also increasingly aware that the Labour party would take exactly the same position on pay and funding.

Is the Home Secretary aware that organisations using SmartWater have seen a huge reduction in the amount of metal theft? Does she agree that that kind of British forensic technology is essential not only to reduce the amount of metal theft, but to provide the police with the evidence they need to bring criminals to justice?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that contribution—he makes an extremely important and valid point. We are working with industry and others to see whether we can find other ways in which technology can help us to reduce metal theft by identifying metal and making it harder for the criminals.

Today’s report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs on the roots of violent radicalisation highlights the twin threats from Islamist fundamentalism and the far right. Much of the most successful work has been done by the Hope Not Hate campaign, which empowers communities —the moderate majority—to isolate those extremists. Such community action is vital. Does the Home Secretary therefore share my concern at the delay in the publication of the integration strategy, for which we have been waiting for 11 months?

The right hon. Lady rightly highlights that communities play an essential role. The Government have recognised that extreme right-wing threats as well as Islamist-related threats need to be balanced equally within the Prevent strategy, which was why we took the decision on the change of emphasis. She mentions work on broader integration. Colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government will produce their strategy in that regard shortly.

The police nationally have instructed local inspectors not to comply with routine requests from local authorities for checks on prospective tenants, which are an important tool in the battle against antisocial behaviour. Will my hon. Friend meet the Information Commissioner to see whether a solution to that problem can be found?

My hon. Friend highlights responsible tenancies. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government is doing further work on that to ensure that those who commit antisocial behaviour are not the beneficiaries of social housing in inappropriate circumstances. I note my hon. Friend’s comments and will draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

In the light of previous answers, what exactly is the relationship between police numbers and the level of crime?

As we have made absolutely clear, there is no simple relationship between police numbers and the level of crime. The hon. Gentleman only has to look not only at UK examples, but across the world to see examples in which police numbers have gone up and crime has gone up, or police numbers have gone down and crime has gone down. There is no simple relationship.

My constituent, Eleyda Rodrigues Torres, who is from Cuba and has been married for several years to an Englishman, has indefinite leave to remain in the UK. She made an application for a residence card last July, but catastrophic failures at the Border and Immigration Agency mean that 13 of her primary documents have been lost, including her passport, NHS letters, bank statements, with all the implications for fraud—

Will the Secretary of State meet Eleyda and me to explain what investigation is taking place—

If documents have gone missing, I obviously apologise to the hon. Lady and her constituent. I will happily talk with her to solve the problem as soon as possible.

Today is international day of zero tolerance against female genital mutilation. What assessment has the Home Secretary made of progress against this violent and dreadful crime?

Sadly, we see too many examples of this terrible crime continuing to take place. Most people would be shocked to know how many young girls in the UK are subjected to female genital mutilation. We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that we educate young girls about the prospect of being taken abroad and having this done to them, but we also need to ensure that we educate others so that they do not wish to do this terrible act.

The Government are making good progress in reforming the immigration system. Perhaps that is evidenced by the fact that today the Opposition spokesperson on immigration has had something to say on absolutely everything except immigration. Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary keep under review the case for reforming intra-company transfers, given the level of graduate and youth unemployment?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point about the attitude that is being taken by the Opposition. It is difficult to hear the shadow Minister say anything about immigration. My hon. Friend will also know that we are looking at all aspects of our immigration policy and keep them under review as we continue to move towards our commitment to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands.

Last week, North Yorkshire police announced a future Harrogate town centre co-location with Harrogate borough council to save costs. Is the Minister pleased to see such partnership initiatives and such cross-party support for saving money?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that example. It is a good one that shows that police forces can collaborate not just with each other, as they are doing increasingly, but also with other services to provide a better service and to save money.

Will my right hon. Friend give an update on recent progress she has made in reforming the Criminal Records Bureau status checks regime?

I am happy to give an update. We are, of course, completely changing the way in which the Criminal Records Bureau, and the previous Independent Safeguarding Agency, operate. We are creating a new bureau that will ensure that those who need to be checked will be checked and, unlike under the previous Government, many people who are volunteers helping in their community will not have their records checked.

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) looks as though he is about to burst. Let us hear him.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am delighted that the Government, the police and the Opposition have all accepted the police arbitration panel’s recommendations on the first Winsor report. My right hon. Friend knows how important it is for the morale of police in forces such as the Gloucester constabulary to see agreement reached on the second Winsor report. Does she see this as an encouraging precedent?

We have yet to receive Tom Winsor’s second report on police pay, terms and conditions, but I would say that the process that we followed on the first report, which showed the importance of giving all parties the opportunity to make their contribution on the decision that was finally made, is one that we would expect to follow in future.