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Topical Questions

Volume 548: debated on Monday 9 July 2012

The Olympic games opening ceremony is now just over two weeks away. The Olympic torch relay continues to inspire the nation, and I pay tribute to all involved, including the police officers who are providing such effective, yet discreet, security. Sadly, I will not be able to see the torch when it passes through my constituency tomorrow morning. The eyes of the world will be on us during what promises to be a real celebration of sport. I am confident that our police and security services will deliver a safe and secure games that the whole country—indeed, the whole world—can enjoy.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Has she had a chance to look at Leicestershire constabulary’s proposals to change its force shift patterns? How will that improve the policing in Hinckley in my constituency and the surrounding area, and will other forces also be looking at changing their shift patterns?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the shift patterns issue, and I welcome the work that a number of police forces across the country, including Leicestershire, have taken forward, so that they can use their resources rather better to ensure they can prioritise front-line services to the public while making the necessary savings. I would expect my hon. Friend’s force to be prioritising front-line services in exactly that way in his constituency.

The Home Secretary has to make sure that there is proper border security without long queues. In April, Ministers promised that all immigration desks at Heathrow would be fully staffed during peak periods over the summer. Instead, June BAA data show that in the early-morning peak at terminal 3, there were only seven staff and at least half the desks were closed, and queues reached almost two hours long as a result. There are only 18 days to go until the Olympics; why is it still such a mess?

The right hon. Lady should have listened to the response that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration gave to the shadow Immigration Minister just now. Over recent months we have been increasing the number of staff who are available at Heathrow and elsewhere, including the number of contingency staff, in response to what were, when we looked at them in April, unacceptably long queues. The right hon. Lady refers specifically to the Olympics. Extra arrangements will be in place for the Olympics. That was always what was planned. They will come into play before the Olympics opening ceremony, and therefore before significant numbers of tourists arrive for the Olympics.

But BAA has said the queues over the last few days have been unacceptably long. Targets have been breached throughout June. There has been chaos again this morning. Olympics visitors are already starting to arrive. The rest of the country is working hard to show the world the best of British. All the right hon. Lady is doing is showing visitors how to queue. She has had years to plan this, but now she has got only two weeks to sort it out and make sure the Home Office does not embarrass everybody else.

I repeat to the right hon. Lady that, under the plans for the contingency numbers during the Olympics, there will be an increase in the number of staff at the borders. We will be manning all desks at peak times during the Olympics. The numbers will be there to do that. It is important that we ensure that we are providing security and a good experience for people arriving at Heathrow, and I was very pleased when I was at Heathrow a couple of weeks ago to be able to welcome five members of the Chinese team and ensure that they were put through the games family member lane.

T5. With long-distance crime and our resource allocation in mind, what are the Government doing to improve collaboration between forces, especially given the forthcoming police commissioners? (115567)

My hon. Friend is right that collaboration is important. That is the case in respect of not only back-office functions, but operational functions, particularly to deal with serious and organised crime. That is increasingly what forces are doing, as the inspectorate of constabulary confirmed last week, and we have placed forces under new statutory duties to consider that.

T2. The Crown Prosecution Service is proposing to withdraw its staff from Athena House, the office it shares with the North Yorkshire police in York, where cases are processed for the courts. How many offices around the country are joint offices for prosecutors and police? Are the prosecutors being withdrawn from all those offices? What representations has the Minister made to the Law Officers? (115564)

I have discussed this matter with the hon. Gentleman. We are increasingly moving to integrated working between the Crown Prosecution Service and police force teams, but the specific operational decisions and how these units are resourced are matters for local decision making.

T6. Many of my constituents have raised with me, time and again, their concerns about immigration. Like me, they welcome the progress being made by the Government but are concerned about the abuse in the student immigration route. Given that 26% of students at private colleges were overstaying their visas compared with a figure of just 2% for universities, does the Minister agree that it is right for the Government to focus their reform on private colleges? (115568)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and he will have heard my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister making exactly that point earlier this afternoon. We think it is absolutely right that we focus on having the brightest and the best coming to the UK, and that we root out the abuse that, sadly, was allowed to occur in the system for too long under the previous Government, so that students are genuinely coming here for an education. That is exactly what we are doing by ensuring that colleges that have abused the system are not able to bring people in.

T3. The UK Border Agency recently produced information showing that children from Vietnam, China and Nigeria were significantly less likely to be recognised as trafficking victims by the national referral mechanism. Will the Minister take seriously the concerns raised with his Department by non-governmental organisations that this system is failing to protect those children adequately? (115565)

I met the various anti-trafficking NGOs recently, as I am sure the hon. Lady knows, given her background in this sector. We are trying very hard to get better at recognising children who are genuine victims and not potential criminals, and there are now signs that our training of officers is having a good effect in this regard.

T7. I recently visited the United States police hall of fame in Florida, which educates people and celebrates the work of the US police force, as well as providing a memorial to US police officers who have died in service. Building on the fantastic work of Michael Winner, does the Minister agree that having a UK police hall of fame would be very appropriate? Will the Home Office support setting one up? (115569)

I am sure the whole House would agree that we should honour those police officers who lose their lives while doing their duty for their country. There is a police memorial at the national arboretum, which I visited this year for the Care Of Police Survivors service. There is also an annual national police memorial day service, which Ministers attend and which will take place on 30 September, and there are police bravery awards. It is right that we do a great deal to recognise police bravery, and I am happy to discuss this with my hon. Friend.

T4. One of my constituents is currently living abroad with his Chinese wife, but they both want to return to the UK to look after his seriously ill mother. Unfortunately, due to the change of rules this month, he is not going to be able to make the income limit, even though his return would prevent his mother from going into care. Should we not be practising the Christian values of this country before preaching them to others? (115566)

It is not immediately apparent to me how the new rules would affect that particular case, but if the hon. Lady wishes to write to me about it, I will take a personal interest in it.

T8. Will the Immigration Minister look at the current practice whereby applications are sometimes turned down for technical reasons and are then resubmitted but may be out of time? We could, thus, save the Government loads of money and effort, and help applicants, who are often disadvantaged through no fault of their own. (115570)

I am very happy to do that for my right hon. Friend. Indeed, in many parts of the immigration system we are now able to process applications faster than ever before. That is particularly the case in the asylum system, where the worst delays used to happen and where we are now taking more than 50% of decisions within 30 days.

T9. The Home Secretary will be familiar with the case of my constituent Nosratollah Tajik, who has been under arrest, tagged and subject to restrictive bail conditions for six years, pending extradition. For the majority of that time the Home Secretary has purportedly been considering medical reports. Will she now either make a full statement or meet me to discuss this very unsatisfactory situation? (115571)

I recognise the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised and think that in the first instance I will write to him to set out our current position on that particular extradition.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in cases of drink-related antisocial behaviour in hospital A and E departments hospital staff should be given further powers to hit troublesome drinkers with sufficiently stiff fixed penalty notices to crack down on what is becoming an endemic problem?

My hon. Friend raises the issue of A and E departments and the penalties therein. We have introduced a simplified system, going from 19 orders to six, and criminal behaviour orders provide criminal sanctions if needed and also put people on a better behaviour route.

T10. The recent conviction of rioters from Nottingham was secured in part by forensic evidence recovered from the wicks of smashed petrol bombs, but the Forensic Science Service has been abolished, staff numbers have been slashed and local forensic services still face multi-million pound cuts. What assurance can the Secretary of State give my constituents that front-line forensic services will not be harmed by her Government’s cuts? (115572)

We had to address the problems with the Forensic Science Service, which was, sadly, making unsustainable losses. New arrangements have been put in place with private contractors and we are confident in the robustness of those measures.

The median income in my constituency of Bradford East is £16,200, more than £2,000 below the income threshold to bring a spouse to the UK. How on earth does it help integration to deny people the right to a family life?

The minimum income requirement that comes into force today ensures that no one can any longer come to this country to get married and live off benefits from day one. I think that that will be widely welcomed.

I think it is very important that Ministers visit Heathrow at peak times. I was there at seven o’clock this morning and was appalled to see people being held in corridors, a full immigration hall and that half the kiosks were not open. May we please start the additional measures for the Olympics immediately?

Of course Ministers visit Heathrow and other ports at various times to see the operation of those ports in a variety of circumstances. At terminal 4 today, queues were in fact not over an hour long, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman has said that they were, staff were quickly redeployed and more than 80% of desks were open to process passengers as quickly as possible. That is what we have been doing by increasing the staff in recent days and in a week or so, the Olympic numbers will kick in, which will bring even more staff to Heathrow and ensure that people are processed properly and quickly.

Will the Home Secretary please review her decision to approve the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer to the US, where he faces up to 10 years for an alleged breach of copyright rules, an offence, if it is one, that our own authorities did not think merited a prosecution?

As my hon. Friend will know, that case is due to go to court later this year. The extradition decision has already been taken and, as he will know, I have decided to uphold it.

If, as the Home Secretary maintains, increased surveillance is as effective as the power to relocate terrorists, why was CF, a suspected serious terrorist, allowed to travel freely across the Olympic park five times before being arrested?

The right hon. Lady should have listened carefully to the answer I gave earlier. The individual has not been allowed to travel across the Olympic park. I am not able to go into further details about the case, as it is before the courts and we do not wish to undermine the prosecution case, but I am confident in the TPIMs we have introduced and in the work of our police and security services.