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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 558: debated on Monday 11 February 2013


The Secretary of State was asked—

Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent form of child abuse which this Government are committed to eradicating. Across Government we have taken a number of actions, including piloting the declaration against female genital mutilation, issuing guidelines to front-line practitioners and providing funding to support communities to tackle FGM themselves. These actions help raise awareness of the issue, change attitudes, strengthen the legal response and support victims.

I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. As she knows, most of the data we use in the UK are based on a 2007 study. The Dutch Government recently issued an up-to-date prevalence study, based on methodology developed at a workshop sponsored by the Home Office. When might we look to doing an up-to-date prevalence study here in the UK?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I would like to pay tribute to the work she has done on this issue, which is respected in all parts of the House. We are assessing a funding application for a prevalence study. The Home Office and the NSPCC co-hosted a recent round-table at which prevalence was discussed, and we are considering various ways in which we can collect the data to inform a more targeted approach to ending this practice. Indeed, the Department of Health is exploring the collection of FGM data in the NHS, including in the maternity and children’s dataset.

One of the best actions we can take to tackle the attitudes that lead to FGM and gender-based violence is to ensure that all our children and young people receive age-appropriate and good-quality sex and relationship education. Has the Home Secretary discussed that with her colleagues in the Department for Education, and will the Government now support compulsory sex and relationship education?

The issue of education is discussed in the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, which I chair. It meets regularly and brings Government Departments across the board, including the Department for Education, around the table. It is correct that education and information are very important aspects of dealing with FGM, which is why I am pleased to say that we have delivered 40,000 leaflets and posters to schools, health services, charities and community groups around the country, raising awareness of this issue.

May I associate myself with the Home Secretary’s comments about the work that the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) has done on raising awareness of female genital mutilation in the UK? The Home Secretary will be aware of the calls for action to improve awareness of FGM, and to support young people who are facing this threat in coming forward. Given this and her response to my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), may I press her on the question of the level of violence against women and girls in Britain, and ask whether she will give her direct personal support to the One Billion Rising campaign and the vote in this place on Thursday to make sex and relationship education statutory for both boys and girls—yes or no?

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea. As I said, the Government take this issue extremely seriously and we look across the board at what Government can do to deal with it. It is about helping communities themselves to eradicate this problem. Everyone in this Chamber will be concerned about the lack of prosecutions, and I am pleased that the Director of Public Prosecutions has issued a new action plan on FGM to the prosecutors, with the hope of getting prosecutions. We must recognise that education of a variety of sorts is important, which is why alerting people at various levels in the public services and in schools, and others, and helping girls to understand the threat themselves, is so important.

UK Immigration (Bulgaria and Romania)

3. What steps she plans to take to control the entry of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals to the UK from 1 January 2014. (142178)

5. What estimate she has made of the potential level of immigration from Bulgaria and Romania after the expiry of transitional controls. (142180)

Speculative projections about future inflows cannot be made with any degree of accuracy and are, therefore, not particularly helpful. That is why the Government are focused on dealing with the abuse of free movement rights and reducing the pull factors for migration, and so I am chairing a cross-Government group of Ministers to examine controls on immigrants’ access to public services and benefits.

It has been estimated that some 250,000 Romanians and Bulgarians are currently resident in Germany, and an internal paper produced by the German Association of Cities has noted that that level of immigration creates social dangers. Will any lessons be learned from the German experience?

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is helpful for us to look at the experience of other European countries. We want to make sure that when people look at the access to our benefits and our public services nobody thinks we are a soft touch in this country, and the Government are taking action to ensure that people will not think that.

My constituents think it is madness to open our borders to 29 million people when we have absolutely no idea how many are going to come to this country. Will the Minister at least introduce a new requirement that European Union nationals seeking to reside here for more than three months have to apply for a residency card? Will he insist that the Romanian and Bulgarian Governments share with the Home Office details of any criminal records of those who come to this country?

My hon. Friend’s first point about a residency card is something I will listen to and take away with me. On his second point, he may be interested to know that the Metropolitan police and the UK Border Agency been working closely together over the past few months on Operation Nexus, and have removed about 200 very serious and high-harm criminals. That has been very effective, and I hope it will be rolled out across the country in due course.

Given that the Government cannot produce or are not producing an estimate, and given that the national minimum wage is five to six times higher in this country than it is in Bulgaria or Romania, how confident are the Government that our public services can cope with any surge in immigration, particularly as we got our estimates so badly wrong in 2004?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. However, it is worth reminding people that even during the whole period of the previous Government, when, as even they have acknowledged, they had no transitional controls for eastern European migration and a significant number came here, four fifths of the net migration was from outside the EU. It is therefore worth seeing things in that context. I go back to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) in saying that the Government are looking at how our public services work and how our benefits system works to make sure that we are not a soft touch in this country. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend.

It is, of course, thanks to the Labour party that the UK was the only European economy that did not have transitional controls in 2004. Will the Minister confirm that as of 31 December every European economy will be open to the free movement of labour from Romania and Bulgaria, and not just ours this time?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is worth remembering that eight other European countries, including France and Germany, currently have transitional controls, as we do. They will have to remove those controls at the end of the year, which is partly why making a forecast is so difficult and why the Migration Advisory Committee advised against it.

There is a Bulgarian word for the position in which the Government find themselves—oburkvane: confused. The Prime Minister is a champion of enlargement, which means the free movement of people, yet the Home Office was considering putting advertisements in the Romanian and Bulgarian press advising people not to come here. There is a simple way of dealing with this matter. First, by working with the Romanian and Bulgarian Governments to find out the cause for people to move here. Secondly, by commissioning research so that we have proper predictions as to how many people will come here.

On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question, he has been in this House long enough to know not to believe everything he reads in newspapers when they talk about what the Government might or might not do. He may even occasionally have been the author of some such stories himself. [Interruption.] No, I am not. On his second question about working with our European partners, we will of course work with the Romanian and Bulgarian Governments, as we do on a number of important and serious issues. For example, we work closely with the Bulgarians on combating terrorism. We will continue to take that approach and we will look at ways of making sure that this country is not a soft touch when it comes to benefits and access to public services. The MAC advised against trying to forecast the numbers, because it said that that simply would not be helpful to policy makers.

Is the Minister satisfied that the fines levied on employers who do not pay the minimum wage are sufficient to deter such employers from employing on the cheap the very Bulgarian and Romanian workers his hon. Friends are asking about?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. If anyone takes on people who do not have the right to work in the country, we fine them up to £10,000. I will take away the point that he has made. One thing we are looking at is the regulation of the labour market in general. A number of bodies are involved—HMRC for the minimum wage, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the UK Border Agency. It is sensible to consider whether those organisations are all working as closely together as they should be. That is something that the group I am chairing will indeed be looking at. I hope that is helpful to him.

But poor housing from rogue landlords, where they sometimes cram 20 to 30 people into some pretty shabby conditions, is also a major problem and a driver of immigration, particularly from places such as Romania, Bulgaria and other eastern European EU states, so will the Government commit to introducing a statutory national register of private landlords so that we can drive up housing standards in the private sector and drive out some of those crummy conditions?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Last Thursday morning, at an unearthly hour, the Minister for Housing and I accompanied UK Border Agency officers and housing officials from the London borough of Ealing on a raid to deal with exactly such landlords with houses in multiple occupation. It was a successful operation and we detained a number of people who had no right to be in the country. Such partnership working between the London borough of Ealing and central Government is working well, and it is the kind of activity that we will continue.

I am delighted that the Minister is tackling that one element, which has already been referred to, but last week the Attorney-General admitted that in 2011 and 2012 there was not a single prosecution of those breaching the national minimum wage. Would it not be a good idea, first, to impose the national minimum wage—enforce it properly—so that unscrupulous landlords could not turn people into virtual slaves in this country and, secondly, to double the fine?

I am not quite sure what landlords have to do with the national minimum wage, but I think I answered the other part of the hon. Gentleman’s question in responding to one of his colleagues. The hon. Gentleman needs to explain why all those problems were singularly not dealt with when Labour was in power. Labour made mistakes on immigration and failed to apologise. Until it does, no one will take it seriously.

23. Are the Government considering taking new powers to curb benefit tourism undertaken by Romanians and Bulgarians—welfare tourism that can only add to British public spending, not reduce it? (142199)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The committee that I am chairing will indeed consider how our benefit rules work. We want to ensure that we offer what we need to under the treaties, but no more. If we think that there is abuse of free movement rights, we will continue, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already started to do, to work with our European partners to drive out that abuse, which is what the people of this country want.

UK Border Agency

4. What assessment she has made of the recent performance of the UK Border Agency and the UK Border Force. (142179)

The performance of both organisations is improving. Border Force efforts mean waiting times at airports are now considerably better. I am pleased to say that, between July and September last year—an important time for the UK—99% of passengers were cleared within service standards. UKBA is working to ensure that more illegal immigrants leave the UK this year than last, but we recognise that there are some deep-seated problems that need sustained effort. We are driving that effort forward.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. I think the message is, “Still could do much better.” My constituent, Lynn Wyllie, has been waiting two and a half years for confirmation of her immigration status. Her children stay in Scotland and both have British passports. Despite her full co-operation, and that of my office team and her lawyer, she has had no response whatever with regard to her status. Her current application ran out on Friday. Will the Secretary of State arrange an urgent review—I am happy to give details—because Lynn is intensely stressed and worried about her situation and her family?

On the hon. Gentleman’s first comment, as I indicated in my answer, there are some issues that still need to be addressed in relation to the operation of the UK Border Agency. I am happy to look into the case that he has raised. If he provides the details, my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister will look into that with care.

The Home Secretary will be well aware of many of the long delays, and I, like many Members, have a number of constituents waiting for responses from the UK Border Agency. This is causing great concern for businesses and the universities in Cambridge, as are some of the over-bureaucratic controls that they feel they are being forced to apply on academics and students. Will she come to Cambridge to meet university and business representatives in order to discuss the details of how that is working?

I understand that the Immigration Minister has already agreed to come to Cambridge to meet representatives of the university on the issue. I met representatives of the Russell group and Universities UK when we were developing our policy on ensuring that we can drive out abuse of the student visa system. We have a student visa system that ensures that the brightest and the best students—those who are coming to an institution that is genuinely providing education, to study a genuine degree course or educational course, and are intending to be students and not to use the visa to work—can come to the UK, while we are driving out abuse. I am pleased to say that tens of thousands of people who were coming here or would have come here to work rather than to be students will not do so, as a result of the action that this Government have taken.

The Home Secretary was kind enough to write to me after the last Home Office questions to say that she is working on the group of lost cases, but I have a number of current cases of constituents who are losing their jobs because the Home Office has not replied to in-time applications, so they have no papers that they can show their employer and there is no way they can prove their right to work, as a result of which they are being sacked. Will she stand up in this Chamber and say that nobody who has an in-time application and who had permission to work should be sacked because of the Home Office’s inefficiency?

What I say to the hon. Lady is that we are working through and with UKBA to ensure that we can improve the processes that it operates in relation to applications. If she has particular cases that she wishes to raise with Ministers, she is free to do that. It is important that we ensure that, through the work that is developing to deal with the problems that still exist, UKBA is able to provide the efficient service that we all want to see.

Too many UKBA decisions are still wrong and the process is taking far too long, in which case does the Home Secretary not think it extraordinary that, notwithstanding the clear ruling of a judge on 29 November and previous tribunal decisions, UKBA is still seeking to prevent Roseline Akhalu from staying in this country, despite the fact that if she is deported she will die?

I will respond to my hon. Friend in relation to the individual case that he has raised, but he starts off by saying that too many decisions by the UK Border Agency are wrong. One of the problems for UKBA is that very often entry clearance officers take decision on the basis of the information in front of them, which may perfectly well be the right decision on the basis of that information, then further information is provided before an appeal is heard. That is an issue that we need to look at.

Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), I have many constituents who have submitted an in-time application and have not even received an acknowledgement from the UK Border Agency. When my office chases up some months later, it turns out that they have not even been input into the UKBA computer system. Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell us whether this is an attempt by the Home Office to massage figures about the number of applicants and the speed with which it is dealing with them.

No such attempt is being made in relation to what the hon. Lady says. She will have heard the answer that I gave. I acknowledged that there are problems in some areas of the operation of the UK Border Agency. That is why we are looking at the UK Border Agency, and why work is being done to improve the processes within it to ensure that we have a system that provides an efficient and effective response to those who are applying.

College of Policing

8. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the College of Policing since its establishment. (142183)

The Government have established the College of Policing to protect the public and support the fight against crime by ensuring professionalism in policing. The college is a core element of the police reform agenda. It began providing services on 1 December 2012 and has already begun training the next generation of police leaders.

With the new college now in place, surely the Association of Chief Police Officers is now well past its sell-by date. It seems to spend more time protecting its members than helping the Government with their reform programme. Should taxpayers still be funding this organisation?

Most of the ACPO business area work has been integrated into the College of Policing. I pay tribute to ACPO’s work in ensuring a smooth transition towards the establishment of the college, which is very important. ACPO is a private limited company; it is not owned or controlled by the Home Office. It is therefore for ACPO itself to determine its future as a company. Home Office grant-in-aid funding to ACPO headquarters ceased at the end of 2012 when the College of Policing was established.

Undercover policing is extremely important. Does the Minister think that it would be improved, and public confidence in it maintained, by investigating the allegations that have been made about the identities of dead children in London being used as passports for police undercover names? Does he agree that improving standards in undercover training is one of the key elements of the College of Policing?

On the right hon. Gentleman’s last point, I absolutely agree. The College of Policing is there precisely so that we can improve professionalism in all areas of policing, and clearly that applies to undercover policing, which is, as he and the House will know, a particularly sensitive area at the moment. On his previous point, if he can be patient for just a few minutes my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is about to say something about that.

Independent Police Complaints Commission (Hillsborough Inquiry)

9. What financial and logistical support she is offering to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for its inquiry into Hillsborough. (142184)

I have committed to ensuring that the IPCC has the resource and powers necessary to investigate the findings of the Hillsborough independent panel thoroughly, transparently and exhaustively. The IPCC is working with the Home Office to determine the level of resource it requires and any logistical help that the Department can offer.

Given that the investigation into the Hillsborough disaster will be the biggest and most complex in the IPCC’s history, what assessment has the Minister made of its capability to carry out the job competently? What assurances has he received that give him comfort that the IPCC’s processes will be scrupulous and, importantly, acceptable to the families?

The hon. Gentleman gives many of the more sensitive issues an airing. We have received assurances from Jon Stoddart and from the IPCC that, for example, no officer or investigator employed to work on the investigations will have had any prior connection with the Hillsborough disaster. I have personally checked that those assurances are being met, and I am able to reassure the hon. Gentleman that they are. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has promised that the resources will be made available to the IPCC so that it can conduct this investigation as thoroughly as it and, more particularly, the families of the victims of the disaster deserve.

There is a real concern that the IPCC is having to deal with a huge number of complaints, some of which are relatively trivial in the great scheme of things. What mechanism will be put in place to ensure that the IPCC can focus its resources on important and significant cases such as the one that has been raised in questions today?

As I said to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), in the particular instance of the Hillsborough investigation my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made that commitment on resources. There is clearly a wider point about the IPCC’s resources and how it operates, and a statement on that will be made very shortly.


The Government support the effective use of CCTV to cut crime and protect the public. It is a matter for local agencies to determine how best to deploy and use CCTV systems to meet local needs.

In Liverpool, the City Watch team have used state-of-the-art CCTV to deter crime and antisocial behaviour and to identify and convict those guilty of offences. As a result, according to the UK Statistics Authority, Liverpool is now the second-safest city in the country. Given this success, why does the Minister want to make it harder for the police and other local authorities to get CCTV for communities who want and need it?

We certainly recognise the important part that CCTV can play in making communities safer, and the hon. Lady has mentioned the City Watch programme in Liverpool. The Government are not seeking to make it harder to use CCTV; rather, we are seeking to put in place steps to ensure that its use is effective and commands the support of the public and, in so doing, that it can continue to carry out its important work.

Local communities and local authorities are looking to install yet more CCTV cameras, which make them feel safer, more secure and more assured. Why are the Government, through the bureaucracy involved in accessing CCTV, preventing more cameras from being installed on the country’s streets?

I do not accept that more bureaucracy is preventing CCTV cameras from being adopted. Under the previous Government, a centralised control mechanism was put in place, but it did not actually assess whether the CCTV systems were effective or cutting crime. We think that these decisions are better made locally, but we also want to ensure, through a code of practice, that CCTV is proportionate and effective, and delivers what it needs to deliver.

CCTV provides courts with unbiased evidence; leads to people changing their plea from not guilty to guilty; saves the police and the courts time and money; brings criminals to justice; and proves people’s innocence. The Government should be doing all they can to roll out CCTV as far as possible, but they are not doing so. Why do they not want to roll it out to more local communities?

I say to my hon. Friend that the Government support the use of CCTV and that it can be a very important way of bringing criminals to justice. He may wish to speak to his police and crime commissioner, who will hold a new community safety budget, part of which they may wish to apply to support CCTV projects.

Order. The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) gesticulating the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) in the direction of the Opposition Benches is a triumph, surely, of optimism over reality.

Medway council is being developed as a regional CCTV hub, helping prevent crime and saving other councils money. What is the Minister’s policy on encouraging the development of CCTV hubs?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s point and, equally, how it is possible to pool together resources and systems to make CCTV systems that much more effective. Those are precisely the sorts of approaches that we are seeking to advance through the code of practice, and I am sure that the surveillance camera commissioner will also examine my hon. Friend’s point.

Gang and Youth Violence

On 27 November, the Government published our “Ending Gang and Youth Violence Report: One Year On”, setting out achievements and further commitments. Over the past year practical support has been provided to 29 local areas. Support for four more areas was announced in December.

My constituent, Lorraine Fraser, has long campaigned against gang violence after tragically losing her son in an unprovoked attack. She has spent considerable time with young people, warning them of the consequences of being involved in gangs. What action is the Department taking to improve such intervention in our schools to tackle gang violence?

I give my sincere commiserations to Lorraine Fraser. It must have been an extremely harrowing ordeal for her. It reminds me of a case in my constituency shortly after I was elected in 2005, when a young man called Lloyd Fouracre was murdered. His brother, Adam, was extremely energetic in promoting safety among young people in schools and elsewhere. I commend the work of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and of mine. Our work on ending gang and youth violence includes elements of programmes in schools, and I commend that type of work right across the country.

A few weeks ago in my constituency, there was an horrific incident when a totally innocent shopkeeper was attacked by an individual wielding a nine-inch kitchen knife. It subsequently transpired that that person had mental health problems. My chief constable tells me that violence is increasingly perpetrated by people with mental health problems. What is the Minister doing with his colleagues in the Department of Health to tackle this increasing danger to people in our communities?

I am very sorry to hear about that appalling case. I again pass my commiserations to everybody involved. We try across Government—with the Department of Health in this case—to ensure that policy is effective in combining all the elements needed to reduce criminality. Although it is no consolation to the family in this case, it might help the House to know that, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, in the year to June 2012 there was a 14% reduction in homicides, a 9% reduction in violent incidents involving knives or sharp instruments, and an 18% reduction in gun crime. It might not be much consolation to victims of crime, but, overall, violent crime in this country is falling.

Residence Cards

13. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that applications for residence cards from citizens of the European economic area which have been referred for policy guidance are processed promptly. (142188)

We aim to process all applications from EEA residents promptly. When a case has to be referred for policy guidance, there are sometimes delays, particularly if policy has changed. We obviously try to keep those delays to a minimum.

Many people think that “referring for policy guidance” is a euphemism for disappearing into a big black hole. I am particularly concerned about spouses’ applications for residence cards, which are delayed for a long period before they are dealt with. What checks are there to ensure that cases are not neglected and are not allowed to run on for an inordinate time?

This is an area where there are often legal judgments by the European Court of Justice that we have to take into account. We have to change the immigration rules accordingly before we can process applications. That is the sort of thing that tends to cause the delays, rather than what my hon. Friend suggests. If he has any particular cases that have to be dealt with urgently for whatever reason, I suggest that he write to me and I will do what I can to expedite them.

Antisocial behaviour

The Government have published a draft Bill that sets out measures that will put victims and communities at the heart of the response to antisocial behaviour. It includes the community trigger, which will give people the power to make agencies take persistent problems seriously; the community remedy, which will give victims a say in the punishment of offenders out of court; and faster, more effective powers to enable front-line professionals better to protect the public.

Much of the antisocial behaviour experienced by my constituents in Norwich is associated with excess alcohol consumption. I welcome the new early morning restriction orders, but I urge the Government to end the abundant supply of pocket-money priced alcohol in response to their recent consultation on alcohol pricing.

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that in October the Government introduced early morning restriction orders along with a provision on the charging of a late-night levy as part of a package of measures to deal with concerns that had been brought to our attention about alcohol licensing and consumption. He will know that the consultation on minimum unit pricing and other alcohol-related measures finished last week. We will consider properly the representations that we have received and make an announcement in due course.

Under the Government’s new policy on antisocial behaviour, people will have to complain three times. Why on earth should people have to wait so long before receiving help?

This is frustrating for me, because we have explained this policy so painstakingly and carefully, and the concept is so simple, but let me have one more go. We want every council in the country and other relevant agencies to respond straight away whenever problems are brought to their attention. However, it has been brought to our attention, including in a lot of areas with Labour councils, that people keep bringing complaints, particularly lower-level complaints, about individual incidents that do not always warrant immediate attention. We want to ensure that there is some measure of cumulative impact. That is why we have put this measure in place, and it is popular. In the pilot schemes, people are running with it. I commend it to councils around the country, including Labour-run councils.

Violent Crime

15. What recent assessment she has made of the detection rates for violent crimes against the person; and if she will make a statement. (142190)

In 2011-12, the police detected more than 353,000 offences of violence against the person. That represents a detection rate of 46.4%, which is up from 44.7% in 2009-10.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but my statistics suggest that police officer numbers are at their lowest in a decade, and that 7,000 fewer crimes of violence against the person were solved in the past year. Does the Minister understand that simple connection, and is it time to stop and reverse the police cuts?

I took the trouble to look up the crime figures for Bedfordshire, which I know will be of interest to the hon. Gentleman; he can tell the House how he sees the correlation. Recorded crime is falling in Bedfordshire. Figures for the 12 months to September 2012 compared with the corresponding 12 months in 2011 show a total reduction in crime of 12% in just one year. Violence against the person was down by 15%, and the Government should be pleased with that record while not being complacent and trying to drive crime down further.

Official figures show that 30,000 fewer crimes were solved last year—the first time that figure has fallen in more than a decade. Does the Minister think that the 11,500 fewer police officers on the front line have anything to do with fewer criminals being caught and convicted?

Two things make Labour MPs look really glum: unemployment falling and crime falling. Any party whose interests conflict so directly with the interests of the people it purports to serve has got political problems. The most recent figures from the crime survey for England and Wales show an 8% fall in crime, and recorded crime statistics are down 7%. The Government have got crime down to the lowest point since records began in 1981, so there are fewer crimes to detect. I hope we will carry on and get crime down even further.

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures

In the last quarterly report on the exercise of powers in the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011, for the reporting period 1 September to 30 November 2012, 10 people were subject to a TPIM notice during that time.

It is nearly 50 days since Ibrahim Magag went missing and the now famous absconding black cab shows that the Home Secretary made a mistake with TPIMs. Will the Minister say whether Ibrahim Magag was under surveillance at that time—nothing technical, a yes or no will do?

The operation to locate Ibrahim Magag is ongoing and the police are doing everything in their power to locate and indentify that individual. The hon. Gentleman would perhaps agree that the best place for a terrorist is in prison, and that is why the Government have committed additional resources to supplement the TPIM regime and ensure a balance of preventive measures as well as ensuring that people are brought to justice.

21. Lord Carlile recently confirmed that no individual absconded while subject to a relocation order. Is the fact that Mr Magag did not abscond while he was relocated but did abscond when he was allowed back to London clear evidence that the decision to remove relocation powers was a serious mistake? Will the Minister look again at that decision? (142197)

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point. Indeed, in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner did not say that a parallel such as that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to make could be drawn. We are reviewing the incident closely, as we would any incident of this kind, and if practical issues need to be adopted we will certainly consider and adopt them.

Human Trafficking

The UK works closely with partners in source countries to disrupt organised human trafficking gangs. We work hard to apprehend criminals both in those countries and in the United Kingdom.

What assessment has my hon. Friend made of section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 in protecting the victims of trafficking in the UK domestic prostitution market?

That issue was raised during a recent debate in Westminster Hall, and the Government continue to keep it under review. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that this afternoon I will meet officers of the all-party group on human trafficking, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), the Baroness Butler-Sloss and Anthony Steen, and I hope we will have further discussions in due course.

Does the Minister believe that the sentences available to the courts are stringent enough to stop unscrupulous agents misleading and forcing women into harsh domestic labour and the sex industry in the United Kingdom?

I think the sentences that are available are harsh enough. It is sometimes difficult to get evidence to prosecute people for the right offences. For example, people are often not necessarily prosecuted for trafficking offences when other offences are more easily proven. The range of sentencing powers is available: it is our job to make sure that they are properly used by prosecutors.

National Crime Agency

Excellent progress is being made in establishing the new National Crime Agency which will be an effective operational crime fighting agency, under the leadership of Director General Keith Bristow.

Operational activity is already taking place under the NCA’s four commands, building on the previous work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I am pleased to say in particular that the shadow border policing command is doing work to improve collaboration at ports.

My constituents are daily hearing truly shocking evidence of child sexual exploitation emerging in the ongoing trial of nine Oxford men at the Old Bailey. I know that the Home Secretary is unable to comment on the case, but can she tell me how she intends to work with Keith Bristow, Peter Davies and others at the NCA to strengthen our national policing response to child sexual exploitation in our communities?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this difficult issue, which I know will be a concern to Members on both sides of the House. We all agree that child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent form of abuse, and I know that the police are committed to tackling that crime in all its forms. An increasing number of cases are being brought before the courts, which reflects the increasing attention that the police are paying to this issue.

Work is being carried out to co-ordinate a response under the organised crime strategy and the child sexual exploitation action plan, which of course includes the vital work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. I referred to the shadow border policing command in my previous response: it has been working with CEOP so that, for the first time, the team has been able to target high-risk outbound flights to identify and interdict sex offenders.

Topical Questions

Several news reports have recently alleged improper practices and conduct by the Metropolitan police’s former special demonstration squad. The activities of that squad are being investigated by the Metropolitan police’s professional standards department, under the supervision of the independent police complaints commissioner. The investigation is called Operation Herne.

Given the seriousness of the latest allegations, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and the chairman of the IPCC, Dame Anne Owers, have agreed that it would be appropriate for a senior figure from outside the Metropolitan police to take over the leadership of the investigation. Chief Constable Mick Creedon of Derbyshire police has agreed to take on the role, and he brings to the case many years’ experience as a detective. He has also led several major investigations, including police corruption cases and reviews of investigations by other forces, such as the Rhys Jones murder on Merseyside in 2007. The investigation will be under the direction and control of Chief Constable Creedon, but it will remain under the supervision of the IPCC, which will provide further external and independent scrutiny.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps her Department is taking to reform the UK’s extradition arrangements?

I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that it is obviously in the overwhelming public interest that we have sound extradition arrangements that function properly. The public need to have confidence in those arrangements, and it is vital that decisions are not only fair, but are seen to be fair. As I indicated to the House earlier, the Government have recently tabled amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill to introduce a forum bar to extradition, which will make decisions in concurrent jurisdiction cases clear and more transparent.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement on undercover policing, which we have also called for.

I know the whole House will send its sympathy to the family of Frances Andrade, who took her own life after giving evidence against her abusers in court. She was let down by the criminal justice system, whose job it was to help and protect her. It has emerged that Greater Manchester police supported Mrs Andrade getting counselling, but that Surrey police did not. The Surrey police and crime commissioner has said in the last couple of days that

“it’s the responsibility of the police to present evidence to the court with the victim in a way which is untainted. That means they will not and should not refer a victim for counselling until after they have given their evidence.”

Does the Home Secretary agree that this approach by Surrey police is completely unacceptable, and that victims of sexual abuse should never be denied the support and counselling they need? Will she tell all police forces that they need to make sure that counselling is available, and will she ensure that a proper review takes place of the handling of this entire case, so that lessons can be learned from this dreadful tragedy?

I am indeed sure that everybody across the House sends their sympathy and condolences to the family of the lady concerned. This was a terrible case and we all have sympathy with the family for what they have gone through. Improving the way in which the police deal with rape cases has been looked at by Governments over a number of years, because we all recognise the difficulty victims feel in coming forward. Sadly, when we see such incidents I fear that others may be put off, rather than encouraged, from coming forward. We need to look very carefully at what has happened in this case, and very carefully at how we can further improve the system to ensure that victims feel that they will be believed when they come forward and have the confidence to take their case through the courts.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s concern, but I press her to do two specific things in response to this case, the first of which is to tell forces that they need to make sure that counselling is available in these cases. Guidance drawn up in 2002 by the Home Office, Department of Health and Attorney-General states very clearly that

“vulnerable or intimidated witnesses should not be denied the emotional support and counselling they may need both before and after the trial.”

The 2010 guidance from Association of Chief Police Officers and Crown Prosecution Service is similarly clear, yet did not apply in this case and the Surrey police and crime commissioner is saying the opposite. Will she give very clear instruction to forces across the country that they must ensure counselling is available in line with national guidance? Will she also ensure that a proper review takes place of all aspects of this case, so that we learn lessons from this terrible tragedy and ensure that vulnerable victims get the help and support that was denied to Frances Andrade?

As I indicated to the right hon. Lady, we will of course look to see what lessons should be learned from this case. She will be aware that the Home Secretary does not instruct police forces to take particular routes. They have operational independence on decisions about how they deal with particular cases. It is important for the guidance to be there, for police forces to be aware of the guidance, and for police forces to operate within the guidance. I will reflect on the right hon. Lady’s remarks on the attention being given to that guidance. I am sure that all of us across the House want a system in which rape victims feel able to come forward and that we are able to see more prosecutions taking place.

T2. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is absolutely no contradiction between having a robust immigration system with an efficient visa system and an economy that is open for business? (142201)

My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. There is absolutely no contradiction between having an efficient visa system that enables us to protect our borders and operate appropriate immigration policy, and having a United Kingdom that is open for business and which encourages the brightest and best and those who will be of benefit to the economy to come here. There is no contradiction in doing that and it is possible to do that—indeed, it is what the Government are doing.

T3. Mephedrone offences have increased significantly in Wales since October 2011. More girls are using it than any drug in the past, and dealing is more open than ever before. What are the Government doing to promote cross-border action between England and Wales to tackle the supply of this dangerous drug? (142203)

I am extremely sorry to hear about the experiences in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Drug consumption overall in England and Wales is falling, and there is a lot of different statistical evidence that all points in that direction. However, I take his point that there are differing threats, and that some drugs do not fall in line with other types of drugs. I am happy to meet him if he would like to discuss what more we can do to improve the situation in his constituency.

T4. What overall progress is the Minister making on reducing net migration into the UK to a more sustainable level? (142204)

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the last set of immigration statistics saw a fall of a quarter in net migration, and we are on track to reduce it from the unsustainable hundreds of thousands that it was under Labour to a much more sustainable tens of thousands, which is what the vast majority of the British public want.

T5. The reality of the Government cuts is that local councils are switching off CCTV cameras and losing local antisocial behaviour officers; that local housing companies cannot get rid of problem tenants; that police stations are closing; and that neighbourhood policing is becoming more remote. Is the Home Secretary as concerned as I am about the retrenchment into a silo budget mentality, and if so, what will she do about it? (142205)

The hon. Gentleman makes a point about CCTV that, as I have already established, simply is not the case. I am surprised he does not seek to welcome the cuts in crime in his own constituency and the fact that the Government are taking the tough decisions, at a difficult time financially, to ensure that we get the right reform to establish police and crime commissioners and make those decisions locally, as well as cutting crime and making communities safer. I would have thought he welcomed that.

T8. The Minister will be aware of the excellent work done by the freedom programme for female victims of domestic violence. In my constituency, the refuge is keen to explore the possibility of a parallel scheme focused on male victims. Will he join me in endorsing this endeavour and indicate what resources are available to support this worthwhile scheme? (142208)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Approximately one fifth of the victims of domestic violence are men, but most of the services—understandably, because the majority of victims are women—are designed to help female victims of domestic violence. Where services can be provided to help men, however, it would seem to be an entirely commendable and virtuous form of service provision. I congratulate those involved on what is happening in his constituency, and hope it can be applied more widely where it is seen to be valuable.

T6. The Minister has come to these questions armed with some excellent answers, but unfortunately they are not relevant to the questions he is being asked. The specific question is this: he stood for election on the basis of having 3,000 more police officers, but is now part of a Government presiding over 7,000 fewer, and at the same time 30,000 fewer crimes are being solved, so does he still recognise the link between more police officers and fewer crimes being solved? (142206)

The crime survey for England and Wales began in 1981, when I was at primary school, and we now have the lowest reported crime in England and Wales since the survey began 32 years ago. I am proud of that record, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not share my pride.

Have Ministers seen the estimate from Migration Watch of 50,000 people migrating from Bulgaria and Romania? It has a good track record in these matters. May we have the earliest possible announcement of concrete results from the ministerial group on ease of access to benefits?

I have indeed seen that forecast, but, as I said, I do not think that the Government engaging in speculative forecasts is helpful; what is helpful is our carrying on the work of the committee I am chairing on access to public services and benefits to ensure that we are not a soft touch. I am sure that my hon. Friend will support us in that valuable work.

T7. We have seen some great co-operation between the UK and the EU on crime and justice through the European arrest warrant, as has been seen in the investigation into the sale of illegal horsemeat. May I therefore encourage the Government not to oppose the arrest warrant, to drop the work they are doing and to take a “mare” responsible attitude to this issue? (142207)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are looking at all the measures that fall under the so-called 2014 opt-out. It is the Government’s current intention to opt out of those measures and then negotiate to opt back into those we believe to be in the British national interest. He cites an example of where the European arrest warrant has been used successfully, but hon. Members will know of cases where people have been held for lengthy periods in pre-trial detention, while the proportionality issue worries not only the UK, but other member states. That is why we are discussing the future of the European arrest warrant with other member states.

I am happy to report to my hon. Friend and the House that I can give her that answer. I am extremely happy to report that in the 12 months to September 2012, there was a fall of 17% in offences recorded by the police in Eastleigh, showing the great success of the Hampshire police.

T9. The damping mechanism that has been applied to Bedfordshire under successive Governments has left it with £22 million less than it should otherwise have. When the Home Secretary met new police and crime commissioner candidates and new police and crime commissioners earlier this month, she said the mechanism would be reviewed, but it has now become clear that it will not be until after the next general election. For how much longer will Bedfordshire have to fight urban levels of crime with rural levels of funding? (142209)

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that recorded crime in Bedfordshire is down 12% in the year to September 2012. I hope he will welcome that. As he says, this Government have continued the damping mechanism, which was put in place by the previous Government in 2006. We are conducting a review of it. One reason why the review needs to be thorough is precisely so that we can involve the newly elected police and crime commissioners—including the one in Bedfordshire —so that they can make a full contribution to the debate to ensure we have better mechanisms in future.

Does the Home Secretary share my concern at the very small number of foreigners convicted in the summer 2011 riots who have been deported? What is going to be done about it?

My hon. Friend might be interested to know that we are actively pursuing deportation in 150 of those cases and have successfully removed 15 people already. The Government will continue to do so and I am confident that the vast majority of foreign national offenders involved in those riots will be removed from the country once their sentences are complete.

I welcome the inquiry that the Home Secretary has announced into undercover agents. Would it not be appropriate, at this stage at least, for the Home Secretary herself to give an apology to the parents of the dead children whose names were taken for undercover policing? What happened was absolutely disgraceful; such an apology is absolutely appropriate.

The hon. Gentleman makes the point that if it is indeed the case that this has happened, it is absolutely disgraceful. The investigation to establish the facts in relation to this is still ongoing. It is important that we say anything we wish to say about the facts of what has taken place following that investigation.