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Topical Questions

Volume 542: debated on Monday 19 March 2012

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.