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Topical Questions

Volume 558: debated on Monday 11 February 2013

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.