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Home Department

Volume 542: debated on Monday 19 March 2012

The Secretary of State was asked—

Border Controls

With permission, Mr Speaker, before I respond to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I should like to apologise for the unexpected absence due to a family emergency of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), and for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who is in Northumbria, representing the Government at a memorial service for PC David Rathband. I had the privilege of meeting PC Rathband, who was a brave and fine police officer. He is a huge loss to the police service and his local community and I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our condolences to his family.

On border controls last summer, as the House is aware, I commissioned the chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine, to conduct an independent investigation into the unauthorised suspension of border checks during that period. The Vine report revealed unauthorised suspensions of checks, poor communication and poor record-keeping since 2007. I have accepted all the report’s recommendations and we have appointed Chief Constable Brian Moore to lead a new border force as an operational command separate from UKBA.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer. Do not the Vine report’s devastating conclusions that border checks were downgraded more than 2,000 times last summer on the instructions of the Immigration Minister, without even the Home Secretary having been consulted first, and that fewer people were stopped at Heathrow airport and other ports last year compared with 2010 show that the tackling of illegal immigration became completely dysfunctional last summer under this Government? Will not the fight against that be further undermined by the cutting of 6,500 staff within the UK Border Agency?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no, and he put some things into his question that I challenge. First, the Immigration Minister did not instruct that certain checks should be suspended last summer. The hon. Gentleman tried to put quite a lot into his question in relation to the impact of border security checks on illegal immigration. I have to say that it would be a lot easier to take questions on immigration from the Labour party if it had not left this country’s immigration system in such a mess when it left government.

Will the Home Secretary inform the House how many EU migrants have visited the United Kingdom since the summer of 2011 as a result of the economic difficulties in the eurozone? What contingencies has she put in place should there be a part or full collapse of the euro?

The latest figures for migration from various parts of the world that have been published are publicly available but they do not go up to the date that my hon. Friend has requested. We are aware of the issue of EU migration, which is why when we came into government we committed to ensuring that any future new member states entering the European Union would have transitional controls placed on them—something that the previous Labour Government failed to do for those early new entrants to the EU such as Poland.

Having effective border controls means preventing the wrong people from coming in and removing undesirable people from this country. The Home Secretary has just come back from Jordan, where she met the King. She was given cast-iron guarantees about the treatment of Abu Qatada were he to return to Jordan, so why is Mr Abu Qatada still in this country?

The right hon. Gentleman makes certain claims for what happened when I was in Jordan. We had very positive and constructive discussions with a number of representatives of the Jordanian Government and I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting the King. Further work is being undertaken by the lawyers as we speak. As I have said before to hon. Members, my intention is to ensure that when we are able to deport Abu Qatada as we all want to be able to do, we are able to make that deportation sustainable.

Does the Home Secretary agree that it is really shocking that we have had a relaxation of our border controls from 2007 onwards about which Parliament was never told? Will she confirm that since that came to light she has been taking action to reintroduce the concept of border security for our country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that the Vine report indicated that there had been problems with border controls since 2007—a fact that, sadly, Members on the Opposition Front Bench seemed unable to recognise when the Vine report came out. We have, indeed, reinstated full border security checks—that is absolutely right and proper—and we have taken action to make sure that by separating the UK border force from UKBA it can concentrate on the issue of establishing and maintaining proper security at our borders.

I, too, convey apologies to the House, from my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, who is with the Policing Minister in Northumbria at the memorial service for PC Rathband. As the Home Secretary rightly said, he was a very brave police officer, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and his colleagues in the Northumbria police. It just goes to show that, for a police officer, harm’s way can come in many different guises.

On 9 November last year, the Minister for Immigration said:

“this pilot was a success”—[Official Report, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 358.]

As it was such a great success, will the Home Secretary repeat the pilot this year, and if not, why not?

The hon. Gentleman knows full well, because this was reported to Parliament when I made a statement on the chief inspector’s report on security checks, that the initial figures that we were given last year about the summer pilot did indeed show some success, in terms of the seizure of items such as drugs. However, when the chief inspector came to look at the whole issue, he discovered that there had been some other unauthorised relaxation of security checks, and that the recording had not been complete; it was therefore not possible to give a full evaluation of that pilot.

DNA Database

In announcing the closure of the Forensic Science Service, the Minister for Immigration said:

“A competitive market can help drive down prices and improve turnaround times”—[Official Report, 17 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 58WH.]

Last month, a contaminated DNA sample led to the wrong person being charged with rape, and next month the manufacturing consumables DNA database will be destroyed because the private sector does not have the necessary research infrastructure. What will the Minister do to ensure that we maintain our world-beating forensic capability, both for research and criminal justice?

The hon. Lady referred to a specific case which she is no doubt aware the forensic science regulator is investigating. There is absolutely no indication that the case is linked in any way to the transition of services from the Forensic Science Service to commercial providers. She highlighted the need for certain electronic records to be maintained; as part of that transition, electronic records held by the FSS will transfer to the National Policing Improvement Agency by the end of this month. She asked about innovation; it is still very much part of the work that we are looking to forensics providers to do. That is why that is in the contract, and why we will follow through on recommendations.

We do need to speed up a bit. If the Minister could provide slightly shorter answers, that would be helpful to the House.

In 1999, Michael Weir was convicted of the murder of Mr Harris. The only link to that crime was DNA found on a glove of Michael Weir’s. Michael Weir’s DNA was taken after he was arrested on a drugs-related charge that had been discontinued two years earlier; he had been discharged. Will the Minister confirm that under the Government’s new plans for DNA retention, Michael Weir’s DNA sample would no longer have been on the database, and Mr Harris’s murderer would never have been brought to justice?

My hon. Friend has consistently argued for the indefinite retention of DNA profiles. We certainly recognise the importance of DNA in solving crimes. It is rarely possible to say that convictions could not have been obtained without DNA evidence, although of course the availability of DNA evidence can frequently help to focus an investigation. We have been clear on ensuring that those convicted of crimes remain on the DNA database indefinitely, and speculative searches are undertaken on each occasion.

May I press the Minister a little further on the high-profile rape case that collapsed due to sample cross-contamination at LGC Forensics? Also, a New Scientist survey shows that three quarters of forensic scientists expect that the coalition’s closure of the FSS will cause more miscarriages of justice. Will the Minister outline the steps that he is taking to ensure that the integrity of the criminal justice system is not undermined by a lack of confidence in the available forensic science services?

We have absolute confidence in the provision by forensic service providers, and I know that the hon. Lady accepts that private providers are well equipped and well able to offer services to police in future. On her specific question in respect of the individual case, I repeat that the forensic science regulator, Andrew Rennison, has launched an immediate investigation into the case. The initial investigation suggests that this is an isolated case. Although we will learn any lessons to be learned from the formal inquiry, there are no indications at this stage that it undermines the use of DNA or private providers providing services to the police.

Production Orders

Production orders are a valuable tool for the police to use in the investigation of serious crime, but are issued only after careful scrutiny by a circuit judge. Information on the number of production orders made by individual police forces is not collated centrally. We have not, therefore, made any assessment of the level of applications.

The use of production orders by the police, such as in the case of Dale Farm, has the potential to increase risks for journalists as they are, in effect, seen as informers, as well as undermining journalistic independence. The National Union of Journalists is worried that the use of such orders is becoming more common. Will the Minister meet me, other concerned MPs and the NUJ to discuss the issue?

I understand that the National Union of Journalists has mounted an appeal in the courts against the granting of a number of orders, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is difficult for me to comment on the specifics. Our understanding is that only a small minority of production orders are used to obtain journalistic material. The vast majority are made in relation to financial information. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me, I will look into the specifics that he highlighted.

Gang-related Crime

The Government report on ending gang and youth violence published last November sets out a long-term, evidence-based programme to tackle gang and youth violence. The approach combines the early identification of children and young people most at risk of being drawn into gangs, providing ways out for those wanting to leave a gang, and tough enforcement against those who continue with a violent lifestyle.

My hon. Friend will be aware that Ealing has been identified as one of the 30 top hot spots for gang problems. Our local borough serious youth violence team is already hard at work. Can the Minister update the House on what more the Government are doing to tackle knife crime, especially among young people?

The Government’s position is clear. Any adult who commits a crime using a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and serious offenders can expect a long sentence. The Home Office has committed £18 million of funding for 2011-13 to support the police, local agencies and the voluntary sector to tackle knife, gun and gang-related crime. As my hon. Friend says, Ealing has been identified as one of the 30 most affected areas. That is why it is one of the areas selected to receive additional support. It has been allocated more than £230,000 in provisional support, and I know that that money will be well spent.

Gang-related crime is a major plague in many of our communities. Government measures so far are welcome, but what more can the Government do to combat the problem, particularly when it comes to reducing the number of vulnerable people drawn to gangs?

My hon. Friend touches on an important point. It is clearly not just about attacking the offences and identifying the offenders—it is trying to stop them offending and joining gangs in the first place. That is why support for parents and families is at the heart of this programme. We have established an ending gang and youth violence team led by a detective chief superintendent from the Metropolitan police. The team will have access to advisers from a range of backgrounds, including community activists, local authority specialists and voluntary organisations, so that we can get to the roots of the problem as soon as it starts, long before the children join a gang.

Does the Minister accept that among those who are most vulnerable to being drawn into gang activity, as well as being radicalised in various ways, are those who have spent a short period in custody? Will the Minister focus on making sure that those who come out of short periods of custody are targeted effectively so that they are not drawn into such activity?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. That is precisely why we are not just treating this as a purely policing matter, but drawing in local authorities, voluntary organisations and other specialists, so that that kind of positive intervention to keep people on the right track and off the wrong track can be part of our overall strategy.

Will the Minister update the House on the progress and uptake of gang injunctions and, in the light of that update, advise us on whether the Home Office is reconsidering its plan to abolish antisocial behaviour orders, which also have a role to play in tackling gang culture?

I think that the hon. Lady will recognise that ASBOs felt like a good idea at the time but did not work and straightforwardly failed. Far too many ASBOs were breached, and increasing numbers of them were breached the longer time went on. I am sure that the policy was devised with the best intentions, but it did not work, which is why we have moved on to other policies that will be more effective in combating antisocial behaviour and gang-related violence.

Crime Levels

As the Home Secretary told the House last month, crime remains too high. That is why we are reforming the police so that they are free from unnecessary paperwork and free to fight crime. The national crime mapping website, police.uk, now provides the public with street-level information about crime and antisocial behaviour on a monthly basis, allowing them to obtain crime and policing information in a more accessible way.

My constituents are extremely concerned about the increase in crime, as outlined in the British crime survey, which shows an 11% increase in crimes against the person, including theft, robbery and violence against the person. When will the Home Secretary prioritise cuts against the cuts in police numbers?

I think I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. When we look at police forces such as his, Northumbria police, we see that they have taken some really important steps to make savings and efficiencies while cutting crime at the same time. Rather than criticising the efforts of police forces such as Northumbria, which has seen a 15% fall in violence against the person, we should be supporting the steps they are taking to find efficiencies and dealing with the problems left by the previous Government.

I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to join me in congratulating Derbyshire police, as crime in Derbyshire continues to fall, detection levels are at a record high, my constituents’ satisfaction with the police has gone up each year and they are meeting their savings targets.

I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend on working closely with his local police force. As he has highlighted, the important thing is how police officers are used. Better deployment, better shift patterns, reduced bureaucracy and increased scope for officers to use their professional judgment are steps that many forces are taking and that this Government support.

As far as crime is concerned, does the Minister’s boss, the Home Secretary, accept that policing, particularly on the front line, should be done by the police? The suggestion that private security firms should undertake some of those responsibilities for West Midlands and Surrey police forces is simply unacceptable: policing should remain the responsibility of the police.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman appears to criticise the role of the private sector and looking at ways of providing innovative services, because I know that the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), applauded and welcomed that type of innovation when in government. I can say to the hon. Gentleman that where warranted officers are needed for those services, that is absolutely what will happen. Surrey and West Midlands police forces are engaged in looking at innovation in back-office services.

Despite the Opposition’s scaremongering, visible front-line policing in the Thames Valley has risen by more than 11% in the past two years, while recorded crime has fallen by 11%. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Chief Constable Sara Thornton and her team on demonstrating that it is possible to reduce crime while cutting bureaucracy and cutting budgets?

I certainly do congratulate Chief Constable Sara Thornton. Thames Valley has increased its visible policing, patrol and neighbourhood officer public reassurance, and that is an example of how efficiencies and a more focused approach can be provided while cutting crime.

Police Forces (Collaboration)

I welcome the increasing levels of collaboration between police forces and expect more forces to consider how to work together to make improvements and to save money. The Government have estimated that forces could save £350 million per year by collaboration on procurement and from IT. Further substantial savings could be made through collaboration in back-office functions.

In 2009 the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said that he was “relaxed” about the collaboration of police forces with the private sector. Is the Home Secretary similarly relaxed?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and indeed I am similarly relaxed. In 2009 the current shadow Policing Minister said that he was not only very “relaxed” about collaboration between police forces and the private sector, but that police forces had Labour’s “blessing” to do it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that collaboration between police forces, and indeed between police forces and other bodies, to get much-needed efficiencies is welcome at any time but is now essential in these challenging times, as we try to protect front-line police services and clear up the financial mess left by the Labour party?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It is of course right that at all times police forces look at what efficiencies they can make, and at what collaboration they can enter into, to ensure that they are able to increase and improve the service that they provide to the public, but while forces are having to make budget cuts because of the deficit that was left by the Labour Government, that is even more important.

Can the Home Secretary tell us why the collaboration between West Midlands police and Surrey police on the long-term privatisation of large parts of the police service, including some core functions, is going ahead before the election of police and crime commissioners? Surely she sees that that undermines, potentially, the commissioner’s role in setting the strategic direction of the police force.

Police forces throughout the country are rightly looking at collaboration, but there are different ways in which they can do so. West Midlands and Surrey police forces are looking at innovative ways in which they can bring in the private sector to ensure that they are able to make the savings that need to be made while delivering the service that the public expect them to deliver. It is important that police forces have been looking at the matter for the past two years, and in advance of the election of police and crime commissioners, because frankly we could not wait to start the job of clearing up the mess that was left by the previous Government in terms of the deficit.

Given that some of the collaboration initiatives could have a significant influence on the level of the police precept, who will have the final say on the initiative: the commissioner or the police and crime panels?

It is of course for the police and crime commissioner to set the budget and the strategic plan for any police force. We have put in place the opportunity for police and crime panels to question and challenge decisions made by the commissioner, but of course it is the commissioner who sets the precept.

Will the Home Secretary use this opportunity to confirm that collaboration should not extend to privatising 999 response teams, patrols or arrests?

I am happy to confirm to my right hon. Friend that only police officers have the power of arrest. They will continue to patrol the streets, to respond to 999 calls, and to lead investigations. The public expect the police to be experts in catching criminals, and that is what we want them to be. We do not want them to be experts in human resources or IT, which are entirely the sorts of areas that can involve collaboration with the private sector.

Of course, collaboration and sharing of good practice has been going on for very many years, including in national resilience. Would the Home Secretary not do better to put in place the collaboration arrangements that she talks about so fondly before making cuts of 16,000 in front-line policing?

Police forces up and down the country are doing what is necessary to make the savings that we are asking them to make. They are transforming the way in which they provide policing and rightly looking to ensure that the private sector can be brought in where that will increase efficiency and save money. A Labour Government would have cut police spending and reduced police budgets. Nobody on the Labour Front Bench has said that they would intend to reverse the cuts in police spending. It is about time that the Opposition stopped opposing every opportunity that we are giving the police to ensure that they can save money from back offices and get the police out on the streets.

Immigration

8. What steps she is taking to ensure that people applying to settle in the UK can contribute to the economy. (100224)

On 29 February, we announced changes that will break the link between coming here to work and settling permanently and ensure that only those who make a significant economic contribution can stay. In future, most skilled workers will need to be paid a minimum salary of £35,000 to settle here.

I welcome the Minister’s comments. I am glad that settlement will no longer be an automatic consequence of long-term residence, but can he assure my constituents that that will be properly enforced?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support, and I can give her that assurance. The new measures will be no different in this regard from any other immigration route. She and the House may be aware that we have now reached 11,000 arrests of criminals, including murderers, rapists and illegal immigrants, as a result of the processing of advance passenger information through e-borders. In 2011, in a clampdown on sham marriages, we carried out over 300 enforcement operations and prosecuted almost 230 people. That is the kind of tough enforcement that we need, and now have, to back up our immigration system.

Overseas domestic workers make a significant contribution to Britain’s economy, directly and indirectly, by allowing their employers to contribute to the economy. The changes to their visa that the Minister has announced put a large number of overseas domestic workers at risk of being trafficked, as we know from history. Would he be willing to meet me and representatives of Justice for Domestic Workers so that he can hear first hand about the impact that his proposed changes will have on overseas domestic workers?

I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis of what we are doing. We are returning this route to its original purpose—to enable visitors from overseas to bring their domestic workers with them to the UK. Domestic workers will be able to come to the country for short periods with their existing employer, but should also leave with that employer. Individuals living in the UK should recruit domestic help from within the resident labour force. There is no justification for allowing low-skilled jobs to be filled from outside the European economic area. It is wrong to assert that a right to settle and bring a family to the UK is the most appropriate form of protection from abuse. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady and the shadow Immigration Minister, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is chuntering from a sedentary position, have simply got this wrong.

Does the Minister recognise the concern expressed by academics, universities and high-tech companies that this aspect of immigration policy and the rhetoric surrounding it is making it harder to attract and keep the best and brightest, who contribute so much to our society and economy? What assurances can he give to employers and their prospective employees that Britain will be open for the best and brightest?

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance of the facts. We have made changes to tier 1 —the top end of the immigration system—to encourage investors and entrepreneurs to come to the UK. We have created a special new route for the exceptionally talented in the arts and sciences. At the same time as reducing immigration numbers, we are making a more selective system that will show that Britain is open for business and that the brightest and the best can make a great future in this country.

Assaults on Journalists

9. What recent assessment she has made of the level of physical assaults against journalists covering news stories. (100225)

Information on physical assaults against journalists covering news stories is not available from the police recorded crime statistics held by the Home Office. Journalists have the right to do their job in a safe environment and, like all members of the public, are protected by the law. If they are assaulted, the crime will be investigated and dealt with by the police.

National Union of Journalists members are placed at risk when their material or sources are used by police forces through production orders. Does the Minister accept that journalists are independent news gatherers, not evidence gatherers for law enforcement, and that forcing them to hand over their journalistic material or sources places them at risk of attack? Will he agree to meet me and other members of the NUJ parliamentary group to discuss those matters?

As a former journalist and, indeed, a former member of the NUJ, I have every sympathy with journalists whose lives are put in danger. [Interruption.] The shadow Immigration Minister should not dwell on the fact that his Government organised for me to be arrested, because it was not their finest hour. I suggest that he withdraw that remark.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister. He is many things, but not, to my knowledge, a journalist. I am sure that he has concluded his answer.

Hate Crime

Last Wednesday, the Minister for Equalities launched “Challenge it, report it, stop it”, the Government’s new action plan for tackling hate crime. It sets out what we will do at the national level to help victims and professionals to challenge the attitudes that drive hate crime; give more victims the confidence to come forward; and make sure that the criminal justice system responds effectively when they do.

I am very concerned by recent reports that indicate that there has been a rise in abuse towards disabled people. Will the Minister confirm what the facts are behind the anecdotes, and what specific actions the Government are taking to address any rise in hate crimes towards disabled people?

I regret to say that my hon. Friend is correct. At a time when the reporting of other kinds of hate crime has declined, the latest figures, which are for 2010, show that the number of hate crimes against disabled people went up from 1,294 to 1,569. He is therefore addressing the right problem. It is the “report it” part of the action plan that I would point to, because more disabled people are reporting hate crimes to the police. We know that under-reporting is a huge problem, and one of the key themes of the action plan is to encourage more victims to come forward. We are doing that by allowing new ways of reporting such crimes, such as online and through third parties.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and to the Government for their attention to hate crime. He will be aware that learning-disabled people are often particularly reluctant to report such crimes because they feel that they will not be believed. What steps are the Government taking to encourage all professionals to take all accusations of hate crime from such victims seriously?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. That is why, as part of the action plan that the Minister for Equalities announced recently, the Home Office is funding organisations that support the victims of disability hate crime to find a way to make it easier for those who are particularly reluctant to report it to come forward.

Metal Theft

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in a statement to the House in January, we are taking legislative action to tackle metal theft, including raising the financial penalties for rogue dealers, banning cash payments for scrap metal and giving the police powers to enter unregistered scrap yards. That is part of a coherent package of measures, which includes enhanced enforcement through the funding of a £5 million national metal theft taskforce.

Rossendale and Darwen has been subjected to a spate of metal thefts, including from the mills and, on Thursday night, from a school in Lower Darwen. Will the Minister inform the House how quickly the cashless payment system will be introduced to stop this metallic crime wave?

I certainly recognise the impact that these crimes are having in communities up and down the country, and my hon. Friend highlights the problems in Rossendale and Darwen. Our amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill prohibiting cash payments will be debated in the Lords on Report tomorrow, and will come before this House in due course. The exact enactment date is subject to the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent, but we anticipate enactment later this year.

Forty Hall in my constituency is a 17th-century Jacobean mansion that is undergoing a £3 million refurbishment. There have been three thefts in the past year, including with violence against security guards. Speed of implementation is one thing, but will the Minister assure me that there will be speed of enforcement against criminals?

I accept absolutely my hon. Friend’s point about the need for strong enforcement, and I am sorry to hear of the problems experienced at Forty Hall in his constituency. A report was published today about threats to heritage sites. We have put forward £5 million for enforcement, which is already bearing fruit, with enforcement action taking place. For example, in the north-east more than 300 police officers and law enforcement personnel have visited scrap metal yards, £900,000 in cash has been seized, and a further operation—

Order. That is very informative, but I say to the Minister that it would be helpful if we could make some progress. Reading out great screeds just slows things down. It is quite straightforward, really.

Last month, a bronze eagle statue was stolen from the memorial garden at the museum of Army flying in Middle Wallop in my constituency. The statue was placed there to commemorate brave Army aviators who had served their country. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with the Ministry of Justice about sentencing guidelines for those who desecrate memorials to our servicemen and women?

My hon. Friend highlights the significant community impact that metal thefts and desecrations of war memorials and other historical sites have had, and the often irrevocable harm that can be caused. The Bill is being considered in the other place as we speak, and the sanctions in it can lead to an unlimited fine. We will look to follow that through with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice.

We in High Peak have also been victims of metal theft. Last November a popular tourist attraction, the Eccles Pike topograph, was removed from near Chapel-en-le-Frith. I am pleased to say that scrap yards in my constituency were given a clean bill of health during a multi-agency operation last year. Does the Minister agree that tackling metal theft by preventing cash for scrap without questions is the best way, and will be welcomed by the honest scrap metal merchants in my constituency?

My hon. Friend highlights the fact that the cashless approach is essential in driving out this crime, and I underline the point that he has very effectively made.

Almost every Church of England church in my constituency has suffered metal theft. Will the Minister assure me that penalties for those found guilty of acts of metal theft will appropriately reflect the huge costs to local churches in seeking to repair damage, which far outweigh the scrap value of what is stolen?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend about the impact of metal theft. The new provisions include an unlimited fine, and we will look closely at their impact as they come through.

Does the Minister not recognise that the public may be shocked that a cashless scheme might not be cashless under the Home Secretary’s proposals, which exclude mobile collectors? If they are exempt, that will create a huge loophole in the system. Does he not accept that resident householders have access to local recycling centres, local authority kerb-side collection and retail take-back and swap, and the option of going to a reputable dealer? Is the exemption not a giant loophole and an own goal?

The short answer is no. Those involved in door-to-door sales will need to trade their product through scrap metal dealers, so they will be subject to the Bill’s provisions.

I am afraid that that answer is not really good enough. On what basis has the Minister determined that an exemption from cashless payments should be made for itinerant collectors of scrap metal? Will that not drive a Steptoe and Son-sized coach and horses through the rules, and will not people such as his hon. Friends whose communities have lost metal in war memorials, gates and rails be appalled by the existence of that loophole?

I would never cast the shadow policing Minister in the role of Del Boy, but I would say to him that the provisions we have brought forward will ensure that those involved in door-to-door selling must trade through a registered scrap metal dealership. They will therefore be subject to the restrictions on cashless payment. That underlines the fact that those itinerant collectors need to be registered and approved by local authorities and police—another form or enforcement that needs to be focused on.

Order. We have been somewhat delayed by the length of ministerial replies, but I am interested in hearing Back Benchers, so we will now hear Mr Gordon Henderson.

Antisocial Behaviour

13. What discussions she has had with police officers on the powers they need to deal with repeated antisocial behaviour in residential areas. (100229)

We have had extensive discussions with the police and other front-line professionals on our proposals for simpler and more effective powers. Many recognise the need to improve the services to victims of persistent antisocial behaviour and we will work with a number of forces and their partners to trial our proposed community trigger this year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. What are the Government doing to speed up the lengthy bureaucratic process they inherited so that local communities can combat antisocial behaviour faster and more effectively?

We consulted on replacing 18 of the existing powers with six new ones, but I am concerned about stories of victims reporting problems and not getting any action. Community trigger will give people the opportunity to ensure that action is taken by the police or other agencies, and we will work with a number of leading local areas, including Manchester and West Lindsey, to pilot the trigger this year, offering a better service to victims and communities.

The antisocial behaviour injunction is a tool used by social landlords to clamp down on nuisance tenants. Those landlords have obtained legal advice that if the Government replace that tool, the likelihood is that they will be left, to quote from the legal judgment, “literally powerless” to act, possibly for years. Will Ministers therefore keep the injunction?

I am very well aware that injunctions are often used effectively by social landlords to deal quickly with ASB. We want to build on their success in our new proposals so that they can be available to other organisations. We recognise the vital role that landlords play in tackling antisocial behaviour and are committed to strengthening their ability to deal with it.

Domestic Violence

The Government’s updated action plan for our strategy to end violence against women and girls was published on 8 March. We have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of stable funding for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services until 2015. The plan also includes new actions to help to reduce domestic violence, including a one-year pilot to test a domestic violence disclosure scheme from the summer of 2012.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. On a recent visit to the Awaken team in Blackpool, I was told that there is a clear correlation between domestic violence against young girls in the home and future exposure to child sexual exploitation. As the Home Secretary builds her policy, will she bear in mind the importance of that correlation and ensure that she works on that with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has responsibility for children?

The Department for Education and the Under-Secretary specifically are represented on the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, which I chair. I welcome the excellent work being done by the Awaken project in Blackpool. We support multi-agency approaches to tackling child sexual exploitation. Indeed, the child sexual exploitation action plan includes measures to ensure that the local safeguarding children boards lead on tackling child sexual exploitation locally with a variety of partners.

A study by Women’s Aid has shown that 230 women fleeing violence and seeking refuge were turned away from refuges in this country on a typical day last year owing to the lack of space. Does the Home Secretary agree that turning any woman away from a refuge is unacceptable, and will she give an assurance to the House that no woman seeking refuge from domestic violence will be turned away on her watch? Yes or no?

Of course we all want to ensure that women who find themselves having to flee from domestic violence are given the support that they need. It is not the case, however, that no woman was turned away from refuges in the past. However, we are taking a slightly different attitude to this issue in the domestic violence protection orders. One thing that has always concerned me is that the victim of domestic violence—all too often a woman—is often forced to leave the home while the perpetrator is able to stay in the home. The point of the domestic violence protection order is to ensure that more women suffering from domestic violence can remain in their own homes.

Topical Questions

Last Thursday, I made a written statement announcing the publication of the final report of Tom Winsor’s independent review of police pay and conditions. We are determined to implement reforms that will help police forces to fight crime. That includes maximising officer and staff deployment to the front line, incentivising crime fighting not form-filling, and helping to open up police leadership to the most talented, whatever their background. With those aims in mind, I am now carefully considering Winsor’s detailed and wide-ranging recommendations, and will announce the Government’s response in due course.

This weekend there have been reports of heavy-handed police tactics, including the deployment of armed officers and the use of kettling against protestors engaged in a peaceful protest against the Health and Social Care Bill outside the Department of Health. Given that this evening there will be 25 or more peaceful vigils and protests across the country, including six in the north-east, has the Home Secretary asked the police to exercise restraint in the policing of these peaceful protests and demonstrations?

How peaceful demonstrations and protests are policed is an operational matter for the force at the time. We are absolutely clear that people should have the right to protest peacefully, but it is also clear that on separate sorts of issues, such as those we have seen elsewhere in relation to people invading territory or violence around demonstrations, the police should police that appropriately as well. However, I am pleased to say that the case on kettling in the European Court was won last week, so that remains available to the police.

T3. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Merseyside police on ending the freeze on police constable recruitment introduced under the last Labour Government and on now recruiting more constables as it shifts more money into the fight against crime? (100244)

Of course I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about what Merseyside police are doing. It is a very good example of how it is possible for police forces to make savings while improving the service to the public.

T2. There is real concern across the country that the introduction of police and crime commissioners will lead to a patchy, postcode lottery in victims’ support services. Will the Secretary of State support ring-fencing the vital resources devolved to commissioners? (100243)

We are ensuring that there is a local voice in the services available to victims and in local policing. It is right that police and crime commissioners will, in due course, be able to commission victims’ services, thus reflecting what is necessary in the local area.

T4. Home Office figures show that between April 2010 and March 2011, more than 150 foreign nationals, previously held in immigration centres but then released into the community, went on to reoffend. What is the Minister doing to deport these individuals? (100245)

My hon. Friend puts her finger on an important issue, and I am happy to tell her that last year we removed more than 4,500 foreign national offenders, many of whom had perpetrated crimes. We believe that when a foreign criminal poses a risk to the public, they should stay in detention, and we always vigorously oppose bail, but the UK Border Agency has to act within the law. However, foreign criminals in the community awaiting deportation will be subject to stringent reporting restrictions, and every effort is always made to remove them from the country as soon as possible.

Why has the Home Secretary ruled out a free-post leaflet or candidate booklet for police and crime commissioner elections? Will she now heed the serious concerns raised by the Electoral Commission that internet-only access to candidate materials will disadvantage the poor, the old and those in rural areas—and, accordingly, help to address the poor turnout—or is that the intention?

We of course looked very carefully at the arrangements that we would put in place for making information available to voters in the police and crime commissioner elections. Instead of providing a free-post booklet to every household, what we are talking about is providing internet access. However, that does not mean that there will not necessarily be literature going out, because individual candidates will have expenses with which they will be able to make literature available; and indeed, it will be possible, from the internet access, to ask for written copies of the information that is available on the website.

T7. Will the Home Secretary consider producing a wide-ranging study of the effectiveness of community sports programmes run by organisations such as the Active Communities Network in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, particularly among young people? (100248)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the important role that sports activities can play in ensuring that young people are not drawn into, for example, gang activity. I was pleased to talk personally to the Premier League about its Kickz project, which is an extremely effective programme that I would commend to others.

T5. Given that the Home Secretary blames everybody but herself for the deterioration in policing in the west midlands, will she tell us how privatisation of certain parts of the police service will improve it, or who she is going to blame next? (100246)

The police service will remain a public service. The activities that require warranted officers will still be undertaken by warranted officers. However, I should say to the hon. Gentleman that the Government who took some responsibilities away from warranted officers—such as detention, custody and escort jobs—so that the private sector could undertake them was not this Government, but his: the last, Labour Government.

T8. Will the Home Secretary congratulate Kent police, which has increased the number of front-line police officers, has 520 more neighbourhood police officers on the beat, has been cutting crime and doing a great job, and has written to me complaining bitterly about this nonsense about a reduction in first-line responders? (100249)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to commend the work of Kent police. By transforming the way it undertakes policing and by looking at issues such as shift patterns, Kent police has been able to increase neighbourhood police officers by 520, which shows that money can be saved while maintaining or improving front-line services.

T6. While the Home Secretary is congratulating Kent police, will she commiserate with the people of Greater Manchester, who, according to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, will see the biggest cut in the number of front-line police officers? In particular, will she explain why, other than the Metropolitan police, Greater Manchester police will see more officers disappear than any other police force in the land, despite the fact that it covers what is still a relatively high-crime area? (100247)

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at the recent comment made by the chief constable of Greater Manchester. Referring to the police authority’s decision on the council tax grant, he thanked the authority for

“agreeing the budget which will allow us to start recruiting again and to continue to reduce crime and disorder.”

Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but he deserves to be heard in an atmosphere of quietude.

In the light of the discussions last week between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States about extradition, is the Home Secretary now in a position to tell the House when she expects to respond to the Baker report?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. As he will have seen from the Prime Minister’s comments following his discussions with the President, discussions are taking place between this Government and the American Government about the extradition treaty, and I will report shortly.

T9. The number of passengers arriving at Liverpool John Lennon airport, which is Britain’s fastest growing airport, rose from 294,000 in quarter 1 of 2010 to 713,000 in quarter 3 of 2011. The vast increase coincided with the Home Secretary’s decision to open the doors of Britain without proper checks last summer. What guarantees can she give to the people of Liverpool that all 713,000 of those passengers had their passports checked? (100251)

I am glad that the local economy around John Lennon airport is flourishing and that more people are now using it. I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that, for the first time, full checks are now being operated at the border. As John Vine’s report showed, that had not been happening since 2007.

Victims of domestic violence seeking residential support in a refuge currently fall into the Government’s exception category and have their housing benefit paid directly to the refuge. That is important for the victims, and important for securing finance for the refuges. May I urge the Home Secretary to have discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that that arrangement can continue under universal credit?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point. I can assure her that we are already discussing matters relating to benefits and the victims of domestic violence with the DWP, and we will continue to do so.

The Home Secretary will recall that, following the riots last summer, there was widespread concern about the absence of policing, the police being outfoxed by technology, particularly BlackBerry Messenger, and an absence of intelligence. Following the Kirkin report, what will change, this summer and next?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising an important point about the policing of the riots last summer. Following the riots, I brought together representatives of the Metropolitan police, the Association of Chief Police Officers, BlackBerry, Twitter and Facebook to look at the use of social media and social networks during the riots. Further discussions are taking place between ACPO, the individual forces and those organisations to ensure that the police are in a better position to deal with the wealth of information that becomes available on those social networks.

Is the Home Secretary aware that there has been a reduction in reported crime in Bedfordshire, in spite of the budget cuts forced on it by the financial mess left by the last Government, and that there has also been no reduction at all in the number of front-line responders?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point about Bedfordshire police. I commend them for the work they are doing. He has highlighted that it is possible to make savings in police budgets while ensuring that the front-line service is maintained and, in some cases, improved.

Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) about Abu Qatada, we are now halfway through the three-month period set by Mr Justice Mitting for an agreement to be reached with Jordan. Does the Home Secretary expect to have met the deadline by the time we next meet for Home Office questions, or will Abu Qatada’s bail conditions have been revoked?

My reply to the right hon. Gentleman is the same as my reply to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). There have been two ministerial visits to Jordan; the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) has made one, and I have also done so. Home Office officials have been there separately as well. We are having positive, constructive discussions with the Government of Jordan about Abu Qatada, but while those discussions are continuing and while there are still legal issues to look into, I will go no further than that.

Will my right hon. Friend welcome Cheshire constabulary’s radical approach to delivering support through a multi-purpose business service centre, which will go live in April? It will meet the needs of the Cheshire and Northamptonshire police forces, and it is being delivered with the support of private sector partners.

I am very happy to support the initiative being taken by Cheshire and Northamptonshire police. This is an excellent example of innovative thinking and of creating collaboration between the private sector and police forces to ensure that better services are available, and that the police are better able to cut crime, which is what the public want them to do.

Does the Home Secretary agree that modern, strategically located police stations are an effective and essential part of modern policing?

What is important at grass-roots level is that the police make decisions about what makes sense to make themselves accessible to the public. In some cases, that will mean closing long-standing separate police station buildings and locating the police in alternative provision, perhaps in town centres.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Major serious and organised crime knows no geographical boundaries, so will my right hon. Friend congratulate the five east midlands police forces on coming together and collaborating in order to tackle this menace more effectively and to save the taxpayer £26 million over the next four years?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those five east midlands police forces—I have visited them and spoken to them about this—are doing excellent collaborative work, not only on the tasks that they can undertake to reduce costs, but on improving their ability to fight crime.