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Topical Questions

Volume 556: debated on Monday 7 January 2013

I referred earlier to the deaths of the two police officers that occurred over the Christmas period. I also wish to extend my sympathies to the family of the 13-year-old girl who died following a traffic accident involving a police patrol car on Sunday night. That matter is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Following a year in which we saw crime fall to the lowest level since the British crime survey began, we saw net migration fall significantly. I should like to thank officials, the police, the Security Service and all those involved in delivering the successes of last year, including of course a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic games. I look forward to 2013, in which the National Crime Agency will become operational and in which we will continue to tackle robustly immigration as well as working with the new College of Policing further to professionalise our police forces to meet the challenges ahead.

I identify myself and my constituents with everything the Home Secretary has said about the fatalities that occurred over the Christmas season, and extend my condolences to the bereaved families.

I also want to ask the Home Secretary about the Communications Data Bill. I had the privilege of serving on its pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, which produced a unanimous report raising points for her to consider carefully, particularly in relation to the cost of the exercise. Will she tell us what discussions have taken place between the industry and her Department on the cost of the proposals, and what her latest estimate of the cost is? Will she also tell us where the money is to be found, given that the Treasury has made it clear that no new funding has been agreed for the proposals?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and all the Members of this House and the other place who served on the Communications Data Bill’s pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. He is right to say that the report contained a number of recommendations, and we will accept the substance of all of them. We are currently working on the details. This includes talking to the industry, and discussions about the costs started before Christmas. We will obviously look carefully at those discussions, but it would not be right to opine on the question of the costs until we have spoken to all those in the industry that we wish to consult.

T2. A business-friendly visa service can be key to unlocking exports and investment in our economy. In Melksham, a multi-million pound investment in Stellram followed the securing of a visa for someone from Mexico with specialist skills, yet in Chippenham, Merganser is threatened by a lack of UK Border Agency accreditation for teachers from Turkey applying for its highly regarded training courses. What is the Minister doing to convert the UKBA from an obstacle into a partner for businesses building a stronger economy? (135603)

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. The first part of it related to a very successful enterprise in his constituency, which had had good support from the UK Border Agency, while the second part showed less good support. On that second point, I would be happy if he would like to write to, or meet, me to discuss that particular issue. I have made it clear to the UK Border Agency generally that it needs to see itself as a partner for businesses that are trying to do the right thing and to attract good people to come to Britain and skilled workers to work here. If any Member knows of examples when that is not the case, I would be happy to hear from them.

I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to those police officers who have lost their lives. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) was right to pay tribute to the officer who lost his life in her constituency while rushing to help others in an emergency call. We also extend our sympathies to the family of the 13-year-old; it is right for that tragic case to be investigated.

Ibrahim Magag absconded from his TPIM—terrorism prevention and investigation measure—on Boxing day. This is someone who the Government believe has attended terror training camps in Somalia, has raised funds for al-Qaeda and is sufficiently dangerous to warrant a TPIM. He has disappeared for the last 12 days. In the final four years of control orders, when relocations were extensively used, the Home Secretary will know that no one absconded. The independent reviewer, David Anderson, has asked of Mr Magag:

“Could he have absconded so easily from the West Country where he was made to live when under a control order?”.

What is the Home Secretary’s answer?

I thank the right hon. Lady for the remarks she made about the fatalities of police officers and, indeed, that of the young girl at the weekend.

National security is our top priority and the police are, of course, doing everything in their power to apprehend this individual as quickly as possible. The right hon. Lady has, however, been very careful in her use of statistics. She has quoted a period in which there were no absconds from control orders, but as we know, under the whole six years of those control orders—and, particularly, their first two years—seven absconds took place. I am afraid that the right hon. Lady cannot therefore argue that control orders were stopping people absconding while TPIMs are not.

But the Home Secretary is not dealing with the crucial issue of relocation. No one has absconded since 2008 under the extensive use of relocations. The Home Secretary took the personal decision to rule out relocation for Ibrahim Magag and for every other terror suspect, even though the judge who reviewed Mr Magag’s control order said specifically:

“It is too dangerous to permit him to be in London even for a short period”.

The Home Secretary told the House that she was “confident” that her policies—TPIMs and extra surveillance —would be sufficient. They have clearly not been, so will she admit that she got it wrong on relocations; will she instigate an urgent review by David Anderson into how Mr Magag has absconded; and, in the interests of public protection, will she now change course and put the legislation right?

Just to be absolutely clear, the right hon. Lady has put this case in certain terms, which I believe do not reflect the reason why the TPIM was originally put in place—to prevent fundraising and overseas travel. We do not believe that Magag’s disappearance is linked to any current terrorist planning in the UK, and it is important to put that point on the record. As the right hon. Lady will know, the TPIM regime introduced rigorous measures to manage the threat posed by terror suspects whom we cannot yet prosecute or deport by limiting their ability to communicate, associate and travel. The new regime was complemented by funding to the Security Service and the police, so we are maximising the opportunities to put these individuals on trial in an open court. The TPIM regime is, as the right hon. Lady knows, a package. To return to my earlier point, there were a number of absconds under control orders, so it is not right for her to contrast control orders and TPIMs in the way that she has.

T3. This morning, on their way back into work, all MPs will have walked past the continued encampment on Parliament square. The banners, the flags and the tents were supposed to be removed by the time of the jubilee, yet they are still there today—over halfway through the lifetime of this Parliament. When does the Home Secretary intend to use the powers given to her by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to remove these final eyesores, so that the square can once again be fully used by the public? (135604)

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act introduced new powers prohibiting the use of tents and related items in Parliament square, while safeguarding the right to peaceful protest. The use of the powers is an operational matter for the police and Westminster city council, but they were used in January last year to clear the square of tents.

T5. I think that ordinary decent people out there will be absolutely staggered by the Home Secretary’s complacency about Ibrahim Magag. The difference between the first two years and the last four years of control orders is that no one absconded during the last four years because the power to relocate was used, and that is the power that the Home Secretary got rid of. Ibrahim Magag was in London, where his friends were, and was able to abscond, because the Home Secretary had given him a travel pass. We all hope that he does not do any harm, but if he does, I think that people out there will hold her responsible. (135606)

There is no complacency whatsoever. The Government are ensuring that the police and law enforcement agencies are doing all that they can to apprehend this individual, and it is entirely right that that should be the case.

T4. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Sussex police on the work that they have been doing in tackling laser pen attacks on aircraft operating from Gatwick airport, which have the potential to endanger hundreds of lives in the air and on the ground? What additional work is the Home Office doing to address the problem nationwide, and, possibly, to reclassify laser pens? (135605)

I am, of course, happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating his local force on its work in dealing with this very serious matter. Although we currently have no plans to classify lasers as offensive weapons, we are determined to ensure that best practice is shared between forces. I hope that my hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that one of the five objectives of the newly established College of Policing will be to identify what works in policing, share best practice, and ensure that that best practice is adopted.

Can the Home Secretary shed any light on the Prime Minister’s thinking, as expressed yesterday, about the removal of Abu Qatada?

The Prime Minister and I are of one mind on that, and I think that the majority of the public and Members of Parliament are as well. We want to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan. We are working on two tracks: we are continuing to work with the Jordanian Government to establish whether anything can be done to deal with the issue raised by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in relation to our inability to deport him, and we have sought and been granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal. The case will be heard next month.

T6. As a result of a written question that I tabled on 9 November, it emerged that, on average, three babies a year are born with an addiction to class A drugs. Given that the national health service is spending half a billion pounds on the treatment of people who are addicted to class A drugs, does the Home Secretary agree that the police should make it a priority to prosecute dealers, and that those dealers should face the severest of sentences? (135607)

My hon. Friend has raised a particularly tragic aspect of drug abuse, namely its effect on newborn children. This is part of a wider effort to reduce the harm caused by drugs. I am pleased that over the past decade there have been substantial falls in the consumption of illegal drugs—including the more harmful ones such as heroin—but the problem is continuing to evolve, especially in relation to legal highs. We are constantly thinking about how we can do more to prosecute those who trade in drugs, and how we can reduce the harm caused by them.

A freedom of information answer from the Metropolitan police revealed that some 4,000 front-line police officers covering the London boroughs had been lost during the Government’s first two years in office. How does the Minister think that that is helping to tackle gang violence and antisocial behaviour—which is causing growing concern—and does he think that it may have contributed to the riots in any way?

No, I do not think that, and nor does anyone who has investigated the riots.

I want to make an overall point about policing in London, which is extremely difficult but hugely important not just to Londoners, but to the whole country. In this time of financial stringency, the reason for which the hon. Gentleman will understand —it is because of what his Government did—recorded crime in the Metropolitan police area over the past 12 months was down by 3%. London is becoming safer. I wish that Opposition Members who have raised this matter a lot would look at the facts of what is happening on our streets—they are becoming safer.

T7. The accident and emergency unit at my local Stepping Hill hospital has had an 11% spike in admissions, much of it, sadly, driven by the misuse of alcohol. The Government’s alcohol strategy is very welcome, but will the Minister assure the House that the current consultation will not simply be used to kick things into the long grass? We need serious action quickly. (135608)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Alcohol-related harm costs the country about £21 billion a year. Absolutely the alcohol strategy is not designed to delay anything. As he knows, it sets out a range of measures to tackle binge drinking, to cut alcohol-fuelled violence and disorder and to reduce the number of people drinking at damaging levels. Just as the Government overhauled the Licensing Act 2003 to give local authorities the tools they needed to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, so we will take further measures as and when necessary.

Over the Christmas and new year period, there seemed to be an abundance of adverts and public information campaigns telling women how they could avoid being raped or sexually assaulted—for example, by not drinking too much or dressing in a certain way. Does the Home Secretary agree that this gives out entirely the wrong message—that victims are somehow responsible for the crimes being perpetrated against them—and that we ought to be sending out the message that it is never okay for men to assault women?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that we need to send out a very clear message that sexual violence against men or women is wrong. These are abhorrent crimes—rape is an abhorrent crime—and we should be doing all we can to stop them. I also agree that, although it is necessary to ensure that women, particularly young women, are aware of the potential dangers and circumstances in which they could be at risk and that they take appropriate action, it is the perpetrator of such crimes whom we should be bringing to justice. It is the perpetrator who is at fault, and we should never forget that.

T8. Further to the last question and given the entirely justified outrage internationally at appalling cases of violence against women, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that both cultural and other remaining attitudes are challenged and that all allegations are properly and effectively investigated? (135609)

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. As I said, violence against women and girls is an abhorrent crime and we are committed to ending it. We have taken a number of steps: we have ring-fenced up to £40 million across the spending review period as stable funding for specialist local services, support services and national helplines; we have published a cross-Government strategy that includes an action plan; we have announced our plans to criminalise forced marriage in England and Wales; we have introduced two new stalking offences; we have piloted new ways of protecting the victims of domestic violence; and crucially—in relation to the cultural issues he raised—we have launched prevention campaigns to tackle rape and relationship abuse among teenagers, including through some very effective advertising. Internationally, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), is taking forward an international campaign against violence against women.

The Home Secretary might recall that when he gave evidence to the TPIMs Committee of the House, Stuart Osborne, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said that the relocation power

“has been very useful for us…Without that relocation”


“and depending on where people choose to live,”


“could be significantly more difficult”––[Official Report, Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Powers Public Bill Committee, 21 June 2011; c. 5, Q10.]

for us to monitor and enforce the orders. Does she now regret the deal she did with the Liberal Democrats to abolish the power of relocation, which has led to a diminution of security for people in this country?

I say to the right hon. Lady that, during the transition from control orders to TPIMs, both the police and the Security Service made it clear that there should be no substantial increase in risk and that appropriate arrangements would be in place to manage an effective transition and to manage individuals under TPIMs. Of course we take extremely seriously the abscond that has taken place, and the police and others are working to apprehend the individual who has absconded, but TPIMs were put in place as a series of legislative measures, together with the package of extra funding that went to both the police and the Security Service. As I said, both the police and the Security Service were clear that there should be no substantial increase in risk.

Order. I am always keen to accommodate colleagues, but time is against us and we must move on.