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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 551: debated on Monday 15 October 2012

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—


Before I answer the question, Mr Speaker, on behalf of Members on both sides of the House, I would like to add to your tribute to Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell. Your sentiments were very well aimed, and I am sure that all Members will support them. These were valued colleagues who will be sorely missed.

The Government implemented new family immigration rules on 9 July this year. These tackle the abuse of immigration based on sham marriages, ensure that family migrants do not become a burden on the taxpayer and promote the integration of family migrants in British society.

May I also support the sentiments expressed by the Minister? I know that Malcolm Wicks was a fellow Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, so he was a man who always spoke incredible common sense.

On this particular issue, many of my constituents in Wolverhampton South West express concerns about the robustness of the current entry and clearance system that operates in India. Will the Minister assure me, the House and my constituents that that system is still robust and fair and will meet the high expectations that people have of it?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Entry clearance decisions are unbiased, robust and meet the high expectations that we all have. The decisions are closely monitored by entry clearance managers and they are also inspected by the chief inspector who looks at UK Border Agency operations, both domestic and overseas.

Many of our constituents—and, indeed, many Members—have married people from overseas. As well as appropriately tackling the abuses of the system, will the Minister ensure that there are not unnecessary and bureaucratic delays to the processing of legitimate marriages?

Of course that is part of the task we have set out. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific cases in mind, he can raise them with me and I will see what I can do to look into them for him.

Forced marriage has been a particular problem, especially within some communities. What consideration has the Minister given to raising the age at which one can get married as a means of trying to reduce this abuse?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and he will know that I have now taken over the lead in the Home Office on combating human trafficking and related matters. We have already tackled the issue he raised to some extent, and now that he has raised it with me, I will look to see if more can be done to tackle this important issue.

I, too, wholeheartedly support the comments you made, Mr Speaker, about Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell. On the Opposition Benches we all feel that we have lost two great gentlemen from amongst our ranks. They were both intelligent men who brought a keen intelligence to the way in which they debated issues. As it happens, they were both ardent pro-Europeans, who might have had a word or two to put to the Home Secretary later this afternoon. We pay tribute to them both.

I understand that the main reason why the Minister has introduced these recent changes to the family route provisions on immigration is to cut net migration, as the Prime Minister promised before the general election, to the tens of thousands. Will he confirm, however, that the Office for National Statistics has said that since 2010 there has been no statistically significant difference in the number of migrants to this country?

I have seen that comment, but with a fall in net migration from 252,000 to 216,000—a fall of 15%—I will leave it to other Members and the public to judge whether they view that as significant. I know that the hon. Gentleman either tweeted or said at the Labour conference that he thought having a net migration target was “ludicrous”, but was then forced to unsay it when he was told to do so by his boss. We think having a net migration target is sensible: we mean to implement it, and I think the House will support it.

Hate Crimes

2. What steps she is taking to promote better recording of hate crimes against disabled, homosexual and transgender people. (122201)

Tackling hate crime is an issue that the Government take very seriously, and we are committed to improving the recording of such crimes. Last month the Home Office published the first set of official statistics on hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales, which will help police forces and police and crime commissioners focus resources on where they are most needed.

Will the Minister join me in grimly welcoming the increase in reported disability hate crime, which is due not least to the efforts of the Government and individual Ministers to encourage an environment in which people feel able to report such crimes? That includes local initiatives such as the third-party reporting centre that we have opened in Blackpool.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. One of the difficulties is giving people the confidence and the practical means to report hate crimes in the first place, but we are keen to encourage and facilitate that process. Of course, the level of recorded crime is sometimes higher although the baseline is the same or even falling because people are being encouraged to come forward, but we want them to come forward, and we are making it easier for them to do so.

I understand that the Metropolitan police have a specific category of recorded hate crimes against Muslims. Does the Minister agree that, as part of our fight against Islamophobia, it should be rolled out in areas throughout the country, including Greater Manchester?

As I said earlier, the Home Office has compiled statistics on recorded hate crimes in England and Wales for the first time. Only 4% of hate crimes were based on religion—the vast majority were race-based—but we take all hate crimes very seriously, and where we can further improve not only the compilation of data but the practical consequences and the way in which that information is used to tackle such crimes, we shall do so. I shall give serious consideration to the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

The Minister will be aware that later this week the Government will propose an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 which would remove the good-relations duty from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Does the Minister share my fear that that will weaken attempts to attack hate crime and to promote harmony between different sections of the community?

No, I would not draw that conclusion, but I assure the hon. Lady and every other Member that we are very serious about tackling hate crime. It takes many different forms, and we want to ensure that robust procedures are in place to ensure that the police take effective action.

Olympic and Paralympic Games (Security)

3. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the security operation at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games; and if she will make a statement. (122202)

I am delighted by the success of the London 2012 games security operation. We delivered what we promised: reassuringly visible and proportionate security which protected games visitors, competitors and the wider public. I am particularly grateful to the many thousands of police and armed forces personnel who did such a great job, and in such a great spirit.

Will my hon. Friend join me in praising the hard work and dedication of those in the UK Border Force and all the other agencies whose professionalism made the security and immigration operation at the Olympics not only a great success, but a great advertisement for the UK?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the work of the UK Border Force in ensuring that the border was run efficiently and effectively during the games. I think that it is also worth highlighting the work of the Security Service, and that of the volunteers who contributed so much to the games.

The Home Affairs Committee report makes it clear that had it not been for the actions of the Home Office, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and the Army, Olympic security would have been a fiasco because of the failure of G4S. Has the Minister seen the Committee’s final recommendation that a register should be established listing the private sector companies that failed to deliver, and will he look into the COMPASS contract which has just been awarded and about which concern has already been expressed?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for recognising the work that was put in, both many years in advance of the Olympics and during the games themselves. He will doubtless be aware of the work that the Cabinet Office is doing in assessing each major contractor to government. Performance will form part of that analysis.

Further to the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson), one of the biggest concerns before the games was the prospect of long queues at ports of entry such as Heathrow. May I therefore congratulate the Minister and the UK Border Force on a job well done in extending a warm and trouble-free welcome, without compromising border security, as the rest of the world arrived on our shores? Will he confirm that he does not view security and welcome as alternative choices to be traded off against each other, and that we can and should expect to deliver both?

My hon. Friend has rightly, again, praised the sterling work of the UK Border Force in ensuring that Heathrow and all other ports operated efficiently and effectively, and that not only were people able to pass through the border speedily, but national security was maintained.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has paid tribute to the Metropolitan police’s contribution to the success of the Olympic games—a point that was surprisingly omitted from the Prime Minister’s speech in Birmingham, presumably reflecting the poor relationship between Government Members and the Metropolitan police following the altercation with the Chief Whip. Will the Minister spell out more fully his tribute to the very important contribution that the police made to the great success of the games?

The Prime Minister has said that we have the greatest police force in the world, and I wholeheartedly endorse that. We saw some tremendous efforts by the police—the mutual aid from police forces up and down the country—to ensure that security was maintained during the Olympics and that we had a games of which we were all proud.

Metal Theft

The Government are delivering a coherent package of measures to tackle metal theft, which includes: banning cash payments for scrap metal; enhancing law enforcement through the national metal theft taskforce; and improving the traceability of stolen metal. We are also working with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) to support his private Member’s Bill to reform the scrap metal industry.

Scrap metal theft is a huge issue in my constituency, so what protections will there be for responsible and legal scrap metal dealers who blow the whistle on those who act in an illegal and criminal manner?

I will make two brief points on that. First, we are keen to encourage people to report wrongdoing in this sector, where there has been widespread abuse, as it is important that that is addressed. Secondly, I hope that one of the main benefits of the measures that have been introduced is that legitimate scrap metal dealers, whose businesses have been hampered by having to compete with people who are breaking the law, will now be able to operate in a culture where it will be easier for their businesses to be profitable

In the light of the Government’s laudable decision to commemorate the centenary of the first world war, does the Minister agree that my Scrap Metal Dealers Bill will do much to counter the vandalism of graveyards and war memorials? Does he also agree that to support the Bill is to recognise the significance of the first world war, a legacy that future generations should never forget?

The House will not be surprised to learn that I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Scrap metal theft is a serious crime that can have serious and expensive consequences, but Members in all parties will feel that when it involves the desecration of war memorials, particularly those relating to the two great wars of the past century, in which so many British and Commonwealth soldiers died, that is particularly offensive to our sensibilities. I very much hope that his private Member’s Bill, and other measures being taken by the Government, will help to address that appalling behaviour.

The theft of war memorials is a real problem, so what conversations is the Minister having with the taskforce chaired by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on how the Departments can work together to tackle this problem further? I say that notwithstanding the excellent work being done by the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway).

I am happy to have discussions with any parties that are interested in trying to ensure that we can make improvements, but I can tell the House that new measures will be introduced as early as 3 December to create a new criminal offence that prohibits cash payments in the purchase of scrap metal. We are putting a series of measures in place; we are not merely waiting for my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill to come into effect, which we hope will happen. We are acting more swiftly than that and I am keen to draw on support from all parties and none to try to ensure that we tackle this serious crime as effectively as possible.

I understand the intense concentration on what is a dreadful crime, but does my hon. Friend agree with me that, as I know from my experience as a police officer, effective and robust regulation of brokers and recyclers will have a far greater effect on the prevalence of this crime than concentration on a particular payment method?

I partially agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to consider payment methods, because cash payments make it easier to facilitate criminal activity than more easily recordable methods of payment. I do not for one moment believe that dealing with that will be effective in itself, however, so it is necessary to see it as part of a package of proposals, which is the approach that the Government are taking.

Rural Crime Levels

Rural areas suffer from certain types of crime, and I am looking forward to the election of police and crime commissioners in a month’s time so that those rural communities have more of a say in policing priorities. I hope that in my own county of Gloucestershire that will include the election of Victoria Atkins, the excellent Conservative candidate.

I am sure that Brian Blake in Devon and Cornwall will have a different view on those matters. I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but he will be aware that farm watch, neighbourhood watch and special constables provide important community and voluntary support for rural areas. In these straitened times, what reassurance can the Minister give that the beat managers who are essential in co-ordinating the police response in those areas will be available and will continue to exist?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know from experience in my county that the difficult financial decisions that police authorities and chief constables have had to take can easily be combined with ensuring that there are more resources on the front line and that some of those excellent neighbourhood policing priorities are maintained. The election of police and crime commissioners will ensure that those neighbourhood-focused activities are not only continued but strengthened.

Is the Minister aware of reports in the newspapers today that five mainly rural police authorities have found 26 million depraved examples of images of child abuse on the internet and elsewhere, at the same time as the budget for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which reported two and half times as many reports of child abuse this year as it did two years ago, is due to be cut by 10%. What is he going to do about that and will he reconsider the cuts to the funding for dealing with child abuse?

I have briefly seen that report in the newspapers this morning. Of course, our plans to take CEOP into the National Crime Agency will enhance the ability of our police officers and crime fighters to deal with such images and such appalling crimes, which I am sure that everyone in the House would deprecate.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s measures on illegal Traveller encampments are welcomed by the vast majority of rural people and are no threat at all to those who are committed to a travelling way of life and want to carry it out in a legitimate fashion?

I think the way that my hon. Friend puts that is exactly right. I have experience of that in my constituency and by dealing with those people who abuse the regime and the hospitality of the settled community we will make the settled community more welcoming of those who are genuine Travellers. In that way, both parts of the community can live in harmony.

Over the past couple of years there has been a huge increase in theft from rural premises, rural businesses, farms and domestic properties, particularly of metal, fuel and implements. The Minister cannot get away with simply saying that the police commissioners will sort it out. What initiatives has his Department been following for the past couple of years?

I repeat what I said about police and crime commissioner elections meaning that the police will be more responsive to the important issues raised, because they will be able to raise them with chief constables on behalf of rural communities. We have been considering some of those important issues at a national level, for example through the plant and agricultural national intelligence unit that has been set up, to ensure that we deal more effectively with some of the crimes that are common across the country in rural areas on both a local and national level.

Front-line Police Numbers

15. In which police forces the largest change in front-line police officers has taken place since May 2010. (122215)

Between March 2010 and March 2012 the total number of front-line officers fell by 6,778. West Midlands police saw the greatest reduction in the number of front-line officers. Over the past year crime there has fallen by 10%, much more than the national average, proving that what matters is not the number of officers, but how they are deployed and how effective they are at fighting crime.

At a recent coffee morning I held, constituents were overwhelming in their praise for and gratitude to the police for the work they do in our communities, yet with falling police numbers their job will get harder, not easier, and my constituents are worried about the knock-on effects. What does the Minister believe will be the impact, particularly on police morale, of a Cabinet member verbally abusing a police officer at a time of reckless front-line cuts up and down the country?

May I start by endorsing the gratitude the hon. Lady’s constituents showed to Northumbria police? I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that crime in the Northumbria police area is down by 8% from 2011 to 2012. With regard to her other remarks, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) has apologised to the officer concerned and the officer has accepted the apology, and I think that for most people that would be the end of it.

Following that rather complacent and out-of-touch response, will the Minister take responsibility for the consequential increase in crime and disorder caused by the cut of more than 450 officers in west Yorkshire that will affect my constituency?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am out of touch, because crime in west Yorkshire is down by 3%. I am afraid that he seems to be out of touch with crime levels in his own constituency.

The police service for Birmingham and the west midlands is among the finest in England, but 814 of its front-line police officers are being cut. Does the Home Secretary understand the dismay being expressed by the people of Birmingham over the damage being done to their police service, and does she also understand that they cannot begin to understand why 814 officers are going in Birmingham and the west midlands but 257 are going in Surrey?

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well the financial state his Government left this country in, which is why there need to be cuts. I completely agree with his tribute to West Midlands police, because, as I have said, in these difficult times they have reduced crime by 10% in the west midlands, a significant improvement, making the streets of Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands safer than they were.

Surely these are decisions for chief constables. The chief constable of Thames Valley police is managing in that area without any perceptible cut in front-line police numbers and, although one can never be complacent, I must say that crime levels in my constituency are probably as low as they have ever been in the nearly 30 years I have been a Member of this House.

I am glad to hear that. My hon. Friend is correct that there has been no fall in the number of officers in Thames Valley police, and that is at a time when recorded crime is down by 13%, which is a huge tribute to all involved. What has happened is that chief constables all over the country have worked effectively to ensure that our streets are safer. That is the basic job of the police and they are doing it very well.

Effective press and media relations are an essential tool to support front-line policing, but it is not clear to me whether or not the authorised police officers who are responsible for these matters are described as front-line. It is extremely important that, for police accountability and to prevent the abuse of power in relation to those police officers who are not authorised to speak to the media, we have full transparency about the police’s links to the media and how the media are briefed.

Transparency is an important issue for the police, as it is for other institutions such as this House. One of the improvements following the election of police and crime commissioners will be the existence of individuals with the job of holding individual forces to account. That, in itself, will be a major step forward in transparency for the police service across England and Wales.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Cambridgeshire chief constable Simon Parr, both for reducing crime by about a fifth in two years and for announcing the recruitment of 100 new police officers? Will he suggest that other chief constables look at that model?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It shows that good chief constables can decide how to deploy their resources effectively. The vast majority of them around the country are seeing crime fall in their areas, and that is what the public want.

Police and Crime Commissioners

9. What recent estimate she has made of the cost to the public purse of the elections for police and crime commissioners in November 2012. (122208)

As the Government set out to the House during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, and on a number of occasions since then, the elections will cost up to £75 million. That money will not come from funds that would otherwise have gone to police forces.

We already knew that the figure was £75 million; what the Minister did not say was how much extra, over and above that, the Government were going to spend on adverts to try desperately to get people out to vote in these unwanted elections in the middle of November. Why are the Government not holding the elections at a sensible time and spending the money on front-line police officers?

The elections may be unwanted by the right hon. Gentleman, although I suspect that they will be less unwanted by some of his Labour colleagues; at the last count, seven former Labour Ministers were standing in the PCC elections.

I am genuinely surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is so afraid of democracy. On the whole, during its history the Labour party has welcomed advances in democracy. It is a sad comment on the state of the modern Labour party that it should be frightened of democracy.

The PCC elections are a great opportunity to involve the public in policing priorities for the first time. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Members on both sides should be getting behind the elections and raising awareness of them among their electors? If the Minister is near Birmingham on Saturday 27 October, I cordially invite him to join an action day that we are holding in the centre of Stourbridge, where he will be able to meet the candidate, Matt Bennett.

I am extremely grateful for that kind invitation. I will indeed be travelling around the country to take part in the campaign in various areas. My hon. Friend is absolutely right—this is a chance for people to have a say in the policing of their local areas. The elections are the biggest advance in the democratic control of our police in a generation.

I welcome the Minister to his new post; I am sure that he will enjoy it.

One month away from what are flagship elections for the Government, let us reflect on where we are. More than 7 million people who do not have access to the internet will find it difficult to get information from the Government because of cost savings. Election organisation has been shambolic; parliamentary orders have been laid late, including orders on the Welsh language, driving down turnout and increasing costs. The Electoral Reform Society predicts the lowest turnout ever and the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), having stirred up apathy, has now jumped ship. What turnout does the Minister expect on 15 November and will he finally publish the cost to the taxpayer of this shambles?

I have answered the question about the cost to the taxpayer once, and the shadow Minister’s right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) made the point that we had answered it several times before.

On the first point about how difficult it is for those who do not have the internet to have access, I should say that one phone call will get them access. Anyone who phones the helpline can have all the information that is available on the internet—for the first time, information from every candidate—sent to them in hard copy. It is extremely easy for everyone to get hold of information about the election, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) will campaign alongside his hon. Friends, many of whom seem to take the elections a lot more seriously than he does.

If the turnout is as low as 15%, as some people predict, a winning candidate could well end up with less than 10% of the vote on the electoral roll. What mandate would such a commissioner have?

I am not going to predict the turnout, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the existing police authorities that the PCCs will replace have no democratic mandate at all, because not a single vote has ever been cast for a member of a police authority. The new arrangements are a significant step forward.

Communications Data Bill

10. Whether she has received legal advice on whether the proposals contained in the draft Communications Data Bill are compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations. (122210)

The draft Communications Data Bill, which is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, is designed specifically to ensure that communications data are obtained in compliance with article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The ECHR memorandum that accompanies the Bill was approved by Ministers prior to its publication. This legislation will help to ensure that the internet does not become a safe haven for criminals and that the police and others can continue to protect the public.

The Secretary of State will be aware that there is real public concern that this legislation will enable the authorities to view a person’s entire web history. Will she outline what safeguards are being considered to ensure that the right to privacy is respected?

That is not the case. I recognise that a number of concerns have been raised, often on the basis of a lack of information about what is actually going to happen under the Communications Data Bill. We want to take what is currently available to the police and other law enforcement agencies in terms of telephony—that is, who made a call, when and at what time—and put that into the new environment where criminals, paedophiles and terrorists are using the internet, in a variety of forms, to communicate. This is an important Bill because it means that we can continue to catch criminals and protect the public.

It is

“difficult to estimate costs with precision over the long term”

as regards this proposal. Those are not my words but those of the Home Office in responding to a freedom of information request about the stated £1.8 billion price tag for the legislation. What assurances can the Home Secretary provide that the Government are not writing a blank cheque to service providers? Will she say today whether they have a cap in mind for the costs of this Bill—yes or no?

We have been absolutely clear about the 10-year cost in terms of the £1.8 billion figure. Yes, cost recovery will be available to the service providers, but that will be done on the basis set out during discussions about the usage made of this provision. The average annual investment that will take place over 10 years equates to about 1.3% of the annual cost of policing. Let me say to right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches that this Bill is important because without it we will see criminals and others potentially going free because of their use of internet communications. It is right that we have the Bill because it will help us to catch criminals, terrorists and others.

Illegal Encampments

11. What recent assessment she has made of the use by police of orders under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to disperse illegal encampments. (122211)

A range of powers are available to the police to deal with illegal encampments, including the power under section 61 of the 1994 Act to remove people who are trespassing with intent to take up residence. The Government keep these powers under review.

During the summer, a number of public places in my constituency were, yet again, the destination of choice for many illegal Traveller encampments, leaving my constituents to pick up a hefty bill for damage, dumping and abuse, with no prosecutions made as a result. Yet Sussex police were very reluctant to invoke any section 61 orders, which they have had the power to do since 1994. Will the Minister look into the police’s reluctance and investigate whether the use of the word “discretionary” in the guidance is acting as a bar to their using these orders, which can result in instant dispersal, to the great relief of my constituents and those of many other hon. Members?

I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend and his constituents. Many Members on both sides of the House will have experienced similar problems. I understand that Sussex police responded in September to an encampment in Lancing by issuing a direction under section 61 that required the occupants to leave within 24 hours, which they subsequently did. I am also aware that my hon. Friend is engaged in continuous discussions with Sussex police about this matter. If there is an aspect that has anything to do with changes in the law, I will of course look into it, but I also urge him to talk to the PCC candidates in his part of the world, because within a month they will be responsible for writing the policing plan for his area.

Melksham Without parish councillors have told me about the trouble that they have had with illegal encampments on their land. They are frustrated that the encampments arrive at the very end of the week, often before a bank holiday weekend. Can anything be done to enable stop notices to be applied on Friday evenings or even at the weekend itself?

My hon. Friend’s question moves us into the planning arena and he will have heard last week’s announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As I have said, the police have a range of powers that could be used. It seems clear that in some parts of the country this will be a significant matter for police and crime commissioners. If the issue is causing that much public distress, it may well need to be higher up the agenda of police forces in certain areas. That is why we are having elections to make sure that there is more local control over police planning.

Police Powers

We are taking a number of measures to help the police cut and tackle crime, not least sweeping away central targets and cutting red tape. We have already announced that we have cut 4.5 million hours of police bureaucracy, which will enable the police to have more time to do the job that they and the public want them to do, which is getting out there and fighting crime.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the innovative use of modern technology, such as that proposed by the PCC candidate for Staffordshire, Matthew Ellis, which could cut up to 3,000 hours of police administration time each week, will help forces such as mine put more officers on the beat to fight crime and reassure the public?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I have been in Staffordshire with our excellent Conservative candidate, Matthew Ellis, who has some very good proposals for helping the police to do their job and tackle crime, one of which is getting rid of bureaucracy by using new technology. That can have incredibly beneficial effects in allowing police officers to spend more time out there dealing with crime, rather than sitting inside a police station filling in forms.

In Greater Manchester we believe that it empowers the police if we show that we support them, their work and their bravery. Does the Home Secretary agree that it does not empower the police when a Cabinet Minister rants at them and swears at them?

That particular point was answered earlier, but I reiterate that, with regard to the incident to which the hon. Lady referred, the Chief Whip apologised to the police officer concerned and the police officer accepted that apology. The police are not taking the matter any further and that, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said earlier, is an end to it.

We value the police, which is why we are getting rid of the bureaucracy that kept them in police stations filling in forms instead of doing the job that they wanted to do, and why we are giving more discretion to the police over charging. We are returning discretion and professionalism to the police, which was, sadly, taken away from them in many areas by the previous Labour Government.

Antisocial Behaviour

13. What steps she is taking to empower local communities to tackle alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. (122213)

14. What steps she is taking to empower local communities to tackle alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. (122214)

17. What steps she is taking to empower local communities to tackle antisocial behaviour caused by the abuse of alcohol and drugs. (122217)

Together, the Government’s alcohol strategy and White Paper on antisocial behaviour published earlier this year will provide communities with powerful new tools to tackle alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. The Government will also shortly give councils an opportunity to levy a charge for late-night licences and introduce an early morning alcohol restriction order programme.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Lancashire’s excellent Conservative PCC candidate, Tim Ashton, recently visited Colne and met the landlord of the Crown hotel to discuss the CAND—Colne against night-time disorder—scheme. Will my hon. Friend join me in praising excellent schemes such as CAND, whereby landlords work together to combat antisocial behaviour?

I am delighted that there are a number of excellent PCC candidates in the hon. Gentleman’s area, although I am not necessarily sure that I would endorse the one that he has just brought to the House’s attention. I commend the scheme in his area, because it is an extremely good idea for licensed premises to work together to combat antisocial behaviour.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Crawley and Gatwick Business Watch? It is pursuing a scheme of labelling so that it can identify where and from which stores alcohol is sold and whether there is alcohol abuse. It also has a system whereby high-strength alcohols are kept under the counter and have to be requested. Will the Minister meet the group?

There is value in alcohol labelling, so that shops and other licensed premises that sell alcohol inappropriately, for example to minors, can be more easily traced and the activity prevented. We are keen to see such innovative practice where it is appropriate.

Recently, I attended a meeting of the Hounslow community and police consultative group, which discussed drug and alcohol-related crime. What advice would my hon. Friend give that group on how to reduce antisocial behaviour that is linked to alcohol and drugs in west London?

I strongly commend my hon. Friend for attending meetings of that sort. The police have a key role to play, as do local authorities because of their responsibility for licensing. In my experience, it is most effective when communities also take responsibility for their area and for the quality of life of the people who live there, and work closely with the police and other institutions to ensure that there is a co-ordinated and effective response to antisocial behaviour.

May I push the Minister, as he is being complacent? Last night, the “File on 4” programme showed the high level of organised crime across our country seeking to evade duty and bring in cheap alcohol. That is costing the Exchequer billions and is bringing cheap and unreliable sources of alcohol to many people in our communities. What is he going to do about it?

I will make two brief points. First, alcohol consumption has fallen in England and Wales over recent years. The second point, which goes to the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question, is that next year we are introducing the National Crime Agency, which will provide a more coherent, joined-up approach to tackling organised crime. We think that that will be effective in dealing with precisely the problems that he has brought to the attention of the House.

On Saturday morning, Rotherham was the scene of alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, when members of the English Defence League arrived in a pub, tanked themselves up and held a march to spew their anti-Muslim hate. The police handled that brilliantly and I thanked them on the spot, including all the policemen who came into the area from outside. The choice of route meant that Rotherham’s economy lost an amount of six figures or more. Will the new Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice meet me to discuss how the police can route these horrible EDL marches so that they do not cause so much economic damage to our communities?

The right hon. Gentleman may wish to talk to his local police and crime commissioner when that person is elected in a month’s time. I will leave it up to the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to decide whether he wishes to meet the right hon. Gentleman. Where criminal activity is taking place it should be prevented, but I would not wish people’s ability to express their views to be restricted, however unpleasant those views may be for many Members of this House.

CCTV is a crucial tool in tacking alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. Given that the coalition agreement states that the Government want to “further regulate CCTV”, does the Minister expect the number of local authority and police CCTV cameras to rise or fall by 2015?

We have introduced a code of practice on CCTV. It can play an important role in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, but—[Interruption.] Let me make one point clear to all the authoritarian hecklers on the other side of the House—[Interruption.]

I simply reject Labour’s idea that we can never have too much surveillance. Where it is appropriate, CCTV can play an important role, but the solution to crime is not always to have more cameras in every corner of our lives, whether public or private.

Topical Questions

If I may, I should like to take this opportunity to pay my respects formally to PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone. The brutal murder of those two young officers shocked me and, I am sure, the whole House and the whole country. Our police officers face dangers every day, and they do so with bravery and professionalism. Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone were dedicated public servants. For their dedication they paid the ultimate price, and we owe them the greatest of debts. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families of those two dedicated officers.

I am sure the whole House will wish to associate itself with my right hon. Friend’s comments about those two police officers.

In the county of Essex, we are fortunate to be blessed with some distinguished candidates for the new role of police and crime commissioner. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging all electors across Essex to cast their vote in that important election so that whoever is successful has a genuine democratic mandate to do the job?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have met the Conservative PCC candidate for Essex, Nick Alston. He is an excellent candidate, and I know that he will be out there taking that message through the streets of the towns and villages of Essex. My hon. Friend is right that these are important elections that will enable people to elect directly somebody who will be their voice in local policing. I urge everybody to exercise their vote on 15 November.

I support the Home Secretary’s statement on Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, and the statements that she made at the time of their death. It was a brutal act. She and I are united, and I think the whole House and the whole country are united, in our tributes to those brave police officers.

I turn to a separate issue. The Home Secretary told the Police Federation last year:

“It’s easy to sit around with friends or, dare I say it, in the House of Commons, and criticise the police. But those people aren’t the ones confronting violent thugs”.

She has also told it:

“You put up with abuse and worse, but you do so to keep us free…You do an amazing job—and it’s time we gave you all the respect you deserve.”

I agree with her, so will she join me in condemning the Chief Whip in the House for swearing at police officers?

I have already answered on that particular issue. I am happy to stand here and reiterate what I and others have said on a number of occasions. I believe that we have the best police officers in the world, and the Government are giving them our support. We are ensuring that we give them the tools that they need to do the job that they and the public want them to do.

But the Home Secretary still has not condemned the Chief Whip for what he did and for the swearing—something for which people across the country are arrested. The reason why it matters that there has been no investigation and that he has not come clean is that people think it goes to the heart of the Government’s attitude towards the police and public servants. Once again, they are not listening to the police on the European arrest warrant, CCTV, DNA or the cutting of police numbers by 15,000. If the Home Secretary really wants to put an end to that and show respect for the police, why does she not change the Chief Whip and change her policies on policing too?

I was asked about the Chief Whip earlier and I answered the question. The right hon. Lady really should listen to the answers that are given to questions.

T2. The Home Secretary will be aware of the excellent scheme run by Dyfed-Powys police, which has cracked down on antisocial behaviour connected to the night-time economy in west Wales. In congratulating that force, will she consider rolling out that scheme across the whole UK, as it saves public money and police time? (122226)

I am aware of the scheme in the hon. Gentleman’s area, which I understand is called “Behave or Be Banned”. It strikes me as an extremely good scheme that encourages licensed premises to work together to the advantage of their community.

T4. May I declare an interest, in that I am standing to be police and crime commissioner in south Wales? Like the excellent Labour candidates across England and Wales outside London, I want to rescue police governance from the shambles that the Government are creating.Given that the Government pay for the free distribution of literature to electors in parliamentary elections, Welsh Assembly elections and even European elections, it is not odd that they are not doing so in PCC elections, and that the only communication will be a leaflet from the Electoral Commission about the process? Should not the Government, even at this late stage, include with that leaflet a page from each candidate standing in each police force area, so that the public know what choice they have to make? (122228)

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Opposition really need to get their story straight on the cost of PCC elections. On the one hand they complain about the cost, but on the other hand they ask for the cost to go up by putting in extra provisions. I note that a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have risen to comment on the excellence of the Conservative candidates. On the Opposition Benches, however, it has taken the right hon. Gentleman to stand up and speak for himself, because nobody else has been willing to stand up for their candidates.

T3. To continue with the theme of police and crime commissioners and the elections, does the Home Secretary agree that the introduction of democracy and transparency will help to achieve the right balance between rural and urban policing, as exemplified by our excellent candidate in Gloucestershire, Victoria Atkins? (122227)

My hon. Friend is precisely right. In areas such as Gloucestershire, striking the right balance between urban and rural pressures on the police will be an important task for the police and crime commissioner. One significant difference is that only 7% of the public are aware that they can go to a police authority if they are unhappy with their policing. By the end of this campaign, I am sure that a far higher proportion of people will be aware of their police and crime commissioner candidates.

T6. Today, after the police cuts, there are only 22 custody cells to serve the entire borough of Ealing. Although we are, by and large, a law-abiding bunch, we feel we are approaching the stage where there is no room at the nick. Will the Minister provide reassurance for my constituents, and those of fellow Ealing MPs, about what we can do to increase and perhaps bring back the number of custody cells in Ealing? (122230)

I can happily reassure the hon. Gentleman that although total funding for the Metropolitan police is down by 2%, recorded crime is also down by 1% in the Metropolitan police area, suggesting that there is less pressure on police cells than there would previously have been.

T5. Please will the Minister provide an update on progress on establishing the college of policing, with particular reference to the future of the National Police Improvement Agency site in the Pannal Ash area of my Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency? (122229)

I am happy to report that the college of policing will be up and running by December this year. The site at Pannal Ash remains open, although the majority of residential training has stopped, with staff now focusing on the development of national standards for recruitment, promotion and training. The freehold of the site transfers to the Home Office on 1 December when the college is established, and the site will then be leased to the college for its activities.

T7. While working for P&O ferries, my constituent, Mark Hanson, met his partner, a foreign national with whom he is having a child. She has been refused entry clearance because Mark has been deemed unable to meet the sponsor requirements, although his parents have offered him employment and accommodation for the couple and their child. Does the Home Secretary recognise that that case highlights how the inflexibility of her new rules unfairly prevents many British citizens from bringing their partners to the UK? Will she meet me and Mark’s parents to consider their case for their family to be united? (122231)

The point of our new proposals on the family migration route in respect of income is to ensure that if British citizens wish to bring their families to the United Kingdom, they are able to support them and do not expect the taxpayer to do it for them. That is why those rules are right, and they are based on evidence put forward by the Migration Advisory Committee. If the hon. Gentleman and his constituent wish to meet me, I would be happy to have such a meeting.

T8. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to increase public awareness and participation in the forthcoming police and crime commissioner elections, and to ensure that the public know about the many excellent candidates who are standing across the country, such as Sir Clive Loader in my county of Leicestershire? (122232)

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. I met Sir Clive for the first time last week. He is by any standards an extremely impressive human being, and will make a formidable PCC if he wins.

Crime in Hampshire has fallen for six years in a row under the leadership of Jacqui Rayment, the Labour candidate for police and crime commissioner. Would the Minister care to say why the Conservative candidate for Hampshire still refuses to apologise for his long support for Asil Nadir, the convicted fraudster, and why the Conservative party has refused to give back the large donation it received from Asil Nadir? Is that not a case of them all being in it together?

I am happy to report to the right hon. Gentleman that all Conservative candidates are being encouraged to sign a clean campaigning pledge to avoid the kind of cheap slurs in which he has just indulged. I hope the Labour candidate in Hampshire signs the pledge, and that the right hon. Gentleman is acting in a freelance way, and not being subcontracted to run a dirty campaign.

T9. More than 50% of the inmates of Swaleside prison in my constituency are foreign nationals. What assurances can my hon. Friend give that the Government will ensure that all those prisoners will be repatriated to their home countries on their release? (122233)

I can reassure my hon. Friend. The statistics show that in 2011, more than 4,500 foreign national criminals were removed from the UK. We have introduced tough new rules to protect the public from foreign criminals and immigration offenders who try to hide behind family life as a reason to stay in the UK. I hope that he welcomes that.

Has there been full cost recovery from G4S for its Olympic failure, including costs in respect of the other forces involved—the armed forces and the police? What penalties has G4S paid?

G4S was absolutely clear that it would pay for the extra costs involved in the military and police services. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, the police moved in to take over part of the venue security at a number of sites across the country. Exactly how much G4S will pay as a result of its contract is a matter of commercial negotiation with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, with which G4S held the contract.

T10. We are shortly to have a much-needed statement on European justice and home affairs, and we know that the public are extremely frustrated with extradition arrangements generally. When will my right hon. Friend make progress towards settling these matters by responding to the Baker report? (122234)

As my hon. Friend says, a statement on justice and home affairs matters in the European Commission in respect of the UK relationship with the EU is due very shortly. I expect to respond on the matter of extradition shortly.

Has the Home Secretary had an opportunity to speak to the new Justice Secretary about the implications for national security of not extending to inquests the closed material procedure, which, it is proposed, will be made available in a limited number of civil cases?

I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I have had a number of discussions with the Justice Secretary on a number of issues across our briefs. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have decided not to include CMP in inquests. A great deal of concern was expressed when the idea of including CMP was proposed and the Government have come to our decision, which is included in the Justice and Security Bill.

We have recently seen too many cases, sadly, in which suspicion and allegations of the sexual abuse of children and young people have not been properly investigated. Clearly, there needs to be a culture change in the police and other organisations. What is my right hon. Friend doing to address that?

We are all shocked by the cases of child abuse and child grooming that we have seen. We need to ensure that the police pick up on such allegations when there is evidence and when there are concerns that something of that sort is happening, which is absolutely right. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will continue to look at that. There is evidence from cases that have been brought to court that one vital tool in catching child abusers is the use of communications data, which is why the draft Communications Data Bill is so important.

Last year in Bedfordshire, 22 people were arrested for swearing at a police officer and 19 were charged. Is that crime better policed in our counties than in Whitehall?

Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues. The level of interest is intense, but we must now move on.