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Topical Questions

Volume 551: debated on Monday 15 October 2012

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.