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House of Commons Hansard
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10 June 2013
Volume 564

The Secretary of State was asked—

Foreign Criminals (Removal)

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2. What steps she is taking to prevent abuse of article 8 of the European convention on human rights in respect of the removal of foreign criminals. [158490]

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Last July, we changed the immigration rules to ensure that, under article 8, the rights of society are properly balanced against the individual rights of foreign national offenders. The rules received the unanimous support of this House. Unfortunately, some judges are not applying the rules as Parliament intended, and our Immigration Bill will give the full force of primary legislation to them.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer. What more can he do to try to ensure that judges strike the proper balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of society, which are sometimes under threat from them? Can he persuade judges to listen to the will of Parliament?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Of course this House thought that that is exactly what it had done, as it sent a very clear message to judges about the balance that this House, on behalf of society, had struck to put the rights of the innocent first. Judges have not got the message, which is why we will legislate to make sure that it is reflected in the law.

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Given what the Minister has just said, why on earth was the number of foreign criminals deported in 2011 just 4,522, whereas in the last year of the Labour Government it was 5,528? The Government are failing on this, and it is little to do with what he has said. Given that one of the best ways of making sure that suspected criminals are deported from this country is the European arrest warrant, which extradites them elsewhere, why on earth are the Government thinking of withdrawing from it?

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The hon. Gentleman should know that this is about exactly the reason I set out; he will know, if he has done his research, that between 2011 and 2012 there was a significant increase, of more than 1,000, in the number of appeals made by criminals to prevent their deportation. That is exactly why we need to take action, and it is another area we will deal with in the Immigration Bill.

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May I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Home Secretary on the determination with which they have pursued this matter? I invite my hon. Friend to recall the remarks made by the Prime Minister last week in answer to me, when he expressed great concern about the European Court of Human Rights, which has been subverted from its original intention. Are the Government still prepared that the United Kingdom should secede, because the British people are absolutely fed up with this Court?

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My hon. Friend will know that the Government have laid out our position clearly. I suspect that the issue he mentions—what happens to the Human Rights Act and with this country’s relationship with the European Court—will be dealt with in debate at the general election.

Benefit Tourism

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4. What steps she is taking to reduce benefit tourism. [158492]

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The Home Office will tighten regulations to time-limit the right of unemployed European economic area nationals to reside and claim benefits to six months, unless they can prove they are looking for a job and have a genuine chance of getting one. The Department for Work and Pensions is also taking steps to tighten further its rules on access to benefits.

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The Minister recently visited Wales to see at first hand the work that enforcement officers are doing to stop illegal workers. Will the Secretary of State use the forthcoming Immigration Bill to tackle illegal immigrants who are accessing services to which they are not entitled?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration was pleased to be able to visit Wales to see this at first hand. We will indeed use the Immigration Bill better to regulate migrant access to benefits and public services. We will: get tougher on employers of illegal workers; prevent illegal migrants from obtaining driving licences; and require private landlords to make checks on prospective tenants. We will also further restrict access to social housing and restrict migrant access to benefits by tightening the habitual residence test and closing the loophole that currently allows migrants without a right to work here to access contributory benefits. With our European partners, we will also tackle free movement abuse and its impact on social welfare and public services, and we welcome the commitment by EU Ministers at last Friday’s meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council to finding EU-wide solutions to this problem.

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The Home Secretary mentioned access to housing, which is clearly an important point in relation to people coming into this country. What work has she done with the Department for Communities and Local Government on this issue, particularly in relation to private landlords? How can we do this if we do not have a statutory register?

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Nice try, but the answers on the statutory register are the same as the Government have been giving the Opposition for some months now. I have had a number of discussions with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as has my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister. I am pleased to say that we have proposals that will ensure that we can indeed tighten access to housing for illegal migrants.

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23. The good people of Bracknell want their local health services to be used appropriately. Apparently, there is more than £500,000 outstanding on invoices to overseas patients, just from Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Does the Secretary of State agree that migrant access to the NHS needs to be better regulated? [158511]

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question, particularly as, like him, I have constituents who use that trust. We have a national health service, not an international health service. The rules governing migrant access to the NHS are too generous and ineffectively applied, meaning that they are open to abuse. That is why the Government propose reforming the residence test that governs free NHS access, and are proposing options under which temporary migrants would make a contribution before they used our health service— either through an up-front NHS access fee, or through comprehensive health insurance. We also intend to end free unrestricted access to general practitioners by visitors and illegal migrants, and to introduce measures better to identify patients who must be charged.

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The impact of the migration rules on the benefits bill can cut two ways. This afternoon, the all-party group on migration, of which I am a member, published a report showing that some British families have been forced to claim benefits because a spouse who could support them cannot be admitted to this country. Will the Home Secretary consider the report of the all-party group carefully, especially the impact of the family migration rules on benefits claims?

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I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government look carefully at all-party group reports on areas that relate to, or affect, the Home Office. On the changes that we propose to access to public services, and on the whole issue of people coming to join families, there is a principle, which is about being able to ensure that where people are accessing public services, they are services that they have contributed to. This is a great concern for many members of the public, and it is right for the Government to tighten it up.

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I welcome everything that my right hon. Friend is doing in this area. May I urge her, in the context of the all-party group, to carry out a realistic assessment of how much it costs to support a family, especially in southern England, and of whether the limit of around £18,500 is high enough?

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When we set the limit we did not just pluck a figure from thin air; we asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to propose a figure. It proposed a range of numbers, from £18,600 to a higher figure. The Government chose to go with £18,600; we felt that was the appropriate figure to use, although, of course, the amount is higher for those who have children in the family. When there is one child, it goes up to £22,400, and it goes up for each further child thereafter. I assure my hon. Friend that the work was done independently by the Migration Advisory Committee.

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I was left unclear about the Secretary of State’s earlier answer about private landlords. If we do not know where landlords and private lets are—we will not know that without a statutory register—how exactly will we make the system work?

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I have to say to the hon. Lady that the Opposition have been calling for a statutory register of landlords for weeks, if not months, but it is something that, in 13 years in government, they did not bother to introduce.

Operation Alice

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5. What progress is being made on Operation Alice; and if she will make a statement. [158493]

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The Metropolitan police are conducting an investigation under the supervision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. My hon. Friend will understand that there is nothing that I can add to that in Parliament without straying into the territory of a criminal IPCC investigation.

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We have a situation where police from the Met appear to have fabricated evidence against a Cabinet Minister; the Met Commissioner is put in charge of the investigation and admits to discussing the case with journalists; in breach of his own rules, he fails to keep a note of the discussion; and, six months later, we do not even have a report. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Commissioner has a lot of questions to answer?

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I am as eager as my hon. Friend is to see justice done at the end of this episode, but I am sure that he will understand that the service of justice would not be improved by my providing a running commentary, from the Dispatch Box, on an ongoing criminal investigation.

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The Commissioner promised a ruthless search for the truth when he established Operation Alice, but, as the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) said, this has taken eight months, involved 30 investigating police officers and cost the taxpayer £144,000 for an incident in Downing street that lasted 45 seconds. We are not asking for a running commentary; we are just asking the Minister when we can have a timetable so that this and other investigations currently costing £23 million in terms of past errors by the police are investigated thoroughly but quickly?

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This is an investigation done partly by the Metropolitan police, who are operationally independent, and by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, so it is not for Ministers to set timetables. Indeed, I urge the House to recognise that to ask Ministers to intervene closely and in detail in the work of operationally independent police forces or the IPCC would be the wrong way to go.

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In view of the revelations of the past week, will the policing Minister put in place a strict disciplinary code that requires all police officers of all ranks to keep a comprehensive and accurate record of all contacts they have with the press?

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I will, as ever, listen carefully to my right hon. Friend’s suggestions, but I emphasise the important distinction, which I know he as much as anyone would recognise, between actions that should be taken by Ministers and actions that need to be taken by operationally independent police forces.

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After a terribly bruising encounter at the hands of the media, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) attempted to clear his name in the press. It now seems apparent that he was the victim of media spin at the highest level of the Metropolitan police. Does the Minister understand that this case is particularly important not because the wronged party was a Member of Parliament but because it could happen to any one of our constituents who do not have the vehicle to put things right?

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I absolutely understand the importance and the very many lessons that may well be drawn from that case. What I should not and will not do is draw any conclusions in the middle of the investigation.

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The Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme took 10 days to establish that the video record was completely at odds with the police account of events. Since the police have now interviewed 800 officers, spent £144,000 and taken eight months apparently to go nowhere, might it not be an idea to invite Channel 4’s “Dispatches” to be put in charge of the investigation, as it appears to be more effective and would certainly be more independent?

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I am, as ever, grateful for my hon. Friend’s suggestions, which I am sure will be heard in the appropriate quarters.

TPIMs

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6. How many people made subject to a terrorism prevention and investigation measure order have subsequently been charged and prosecuted since the inception of the TPIM regime. [158494]

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10. How many prosecutions have been brought against those subject to a terrorism prevention and investigation measure regime was introduced. [158498]

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Prosecution is always our preferred option to deal with terror suspects. TPIMs are used to protect the public from individuals whom we cannot currently prosecute or deport. The police will seek a prosecution if new admissible evidence comes to light. As of 28 February, the end of the last reporting period, four charges had been brought in relation to TPIM subjects, with one prosecution.

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Given that the Minister sought to make more prosecutions a central feature of his argument for replacing control orders with the TPIM regime, and that there has been very little progress in prosecution— I think there were three failed prosecutions for those who had breached their TPIM order—does the hon. Gentleman regret making such proud boasts in the House that have proved so ridiculously optimistic, if not downright wrong?

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As I indicated, prosecution remains the primary objective in relation to terrorism offences. I hope the hon. Gentleman would, for example, congratulate the work of the police, the Security Service and prosecutors in successfully securing lengthy prison sentences today in respect of six individuals for planning a terrorist incident in Dewsbury last year. The focus certainly remains on investigating TPIM subjects, and I would have hoped that he recognised the package of TPIMs plus the additional resources that have been made available to the police and the security services for that purpose.

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The independent reviewer of terrorism, David Anderson QC, has recommended that the Government release the regional location of individuals who are subject to a TPIM. This information would let my constituents know whether potential terrorism suspects had returned to London. Why did the Minister refuse this perfectly reasonable request?

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I congratulate the independent reviewer, David Anderson, on his work. He has underlined the fact that the TPIM regime continues to provide a high degree of protection against those subjects who cannot be prosecuted or deported. We considered carefully his specific recommendation on the location of TPIM subjects. We believe that such disclosure might make it harder to manage TPIM subjects and add to community tensions, but we will certainly keep his recommendations under review.

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One individual currently on a TPIM is AM, who was originally detained for being involved in a plot to bomb an aircraft. He was described by Mr Justice Wilkie in the High Court as “highly intelligent” and

“prepared to be a martyr in an attack designed to take many lives”.

Under the coalition’s TPIM regime, he has been allowed back to London. As his TPIM has already been renewed once, it cannot be renewed again. Will the Minister confirm that once AM’s TPIM expires next year, Ministers will have no power to supervise him or restrict his movements?

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For TPIM subjects, the time period is a maximum of two years, as the hon. Lady highlights. At the end of that period, a number of alternatives may be available. If there is sufficient evidence, it may be possible to bring a prosecution. At the end of that period, if there is evidence of new terrorist-related activity, it is possible to secure a further TPIM. The Security Service and police robustly enforce the TPIM regime and manage subjects in the community, and I have every confidence in their ability to do so.

Front-line Policing (London)

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7. What assessment she has made of the ability of the public to access front-line police services through the provision of local police stations in London boroughs. [158495]

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My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I regularly meet the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to discuss policing in London. The Mayor and Commissioner are responsible for ensuring that their officers are accessible. Following extensive consultation with the public, led by the Mayor's office, the Met will add 2,600 officers to neighbourhood policing teams, and there will now be around 200 safer neighbourhood bases to enhance this access.

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West London has lost 400 police officers in the last three years, 44 in Hammersmith and Fulham. Half of all police community support officers have gone and now my local police station, Shepherd’s Bush, is closed to the public. When my constituents cannot find an officer or a police station, does the Minister seriously expect them to report serious crimes such as rape and sexual abuse in their post office or in Tesco?

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I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents welcome the fact that crime in Hammersmith and Fulham has gone down by more than 4.5% in the past year. I am glad that he brought up the Shepherd’s Bush front counter because the latest data show that the number of visitors each day to that counter was fewer than six. If he thinks that that is a good use of police resources, frankly, he is not fit to run the proverbial whelk stall.

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Wandsworth came pretty much the lowest in a reform think tank league table of visits to London front desks, with only 1.2 visitors an hour. My local police inspector has confirmed that as a result of shutting a front desk, he can put more resources on the front line. Does the Minister agree that that is a good use of the police’s time?

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I do agree. My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point. The way to cut crime is to have police officers deployed correctly, not to have buildings open that in many cases very few people ever visited.

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In addition to losing more than 200 police officers, in Westminster, three out of the four police stations north of Oxford street are closing. This is not just a question of access for reporting crime, although that can be important, but of community bases from which safer neighbourhood teams can operate. Does the Minister agree that the Mayor’s consultation proposal of surgeries of one hour a week to replace those police stations represents a massive reduction in police accessibility?

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No, I do not. The hon. Lady says that front counters are important for reporting crime, but only one in eight crimes are reported that way, so they are not as important as they used to be. She needs to accept that a more flexible approach to making the police accessible—for example, by making them available at regular times of the week in places where people are anyway—is much better than having them sitting in police stations that we know many people will never visit.

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On policing resources in London, following the strong words of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, will the Minister join the Opposition in condemning the recent attacks on Islamic institutions, which put many lives at risk and sought to spread fear among our communities, and will he ensure that all our religious institutions are properly protected from those who wish to spread hatred, division and terror?

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I am very happy to share the hon. Lady’s sentiment. I am sure that everyone in the House will abhor and reject in the strongest possible terms the attacks on religious institutions that we have seen since the terrible event in Woolwich. I commend the Metropolitan police for ensuring that the protection available is greater than normal, because that is very important.

Policing

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8. When she next expects to discuss policing with the Police Federation. [158496]

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Both the policing Minister and I regularly meet representatives of the Police Federation and other policing partners to discuss a wide range of issues, and we greatly value those meetings. We will continue to engage with police officers and staff to ensure that their opinions help to shape the future of policing.

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Is the Home Secretary reviewing the use of community resolutions, which were used 10,000 times for serious violent crimes last year, and which the Police Federation has said are connected to the police having to do more with less?

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We are looking in general at the whole question of out-of-court disposals to ensure that they are being treated proportionately but also consistently across the country, but the whole question of community resolutions and restorative justice plays an important part in resolving crime, and victims often welcome such resolutions, but of course we keep that under review.

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Did the Police Federation persuade the Home Secretary that any of the proposals in either of the Winsor reports were unreasonable or unfair?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am pleased that the recommendations of the Winsor report on important reforms to police pay and conditions are, in the main, being put into place. There are one or two aspects that the police arbitration tribunal decided to refer back or not to progress at this stage, and on both occasions I accepted its response, but I must say that I was not persuaded by the Police Federation’s argument that we should abandon the Winsor proposals.

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24. When the Home Secretary next meets the Police Federation, will she discuss police numbers in Harrow, where we have seen a reduction in the number of PCs, PCSOs and other police staff from 516 in March 2010 to just over 400 three years later, a 22% drop and part of the loss of over 4,000 PCs and PCSOs in London since the general election? [158512]

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I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that crime in London has fallen by 3% over the past year or so, which I think reflects the work that has been done by police offices and others. We all want to see crime continue to fall, because that means better protection for our constitutions, whether in Harrow or anywhere else.

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When the Home Secretary next meets the Police Federation, will she highlight the success in Northamptonshire, where crime is falling and the new police and crime commissioner, Adam Simmonds, and the chief constable, Adrian Lee, are not moaning about their lot or about budgetary restraints but getting on with providing an effective three-point policing plan that involves a crackdown on criminals, prevention rather than cure and maintaining police numbers and visibility at 1,220 full-time equivalent officers?

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I wholeheartedly endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I think that that is a good example of how chief constables and police and crime commissioners—Adam Simmonds is doing a first-class job as PCC in Northamptonshire—can work together to ensure that they deliver what the public want, which is policing that reduces crime, which has gone down by 4% in Northamptonshire, and confidence in the security of their neighbourhoods.

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Further to discussions that the Home Secretary might have with the Police Federation, what recent discussions have been held between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the police service on the mainland on the secondment of police officers to police the G8 conference in Enniskillen?

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There has been considerable contact on this matter. My right hon. Friend the policing Minister met representatives of the Police Federation of England and Wales to discuss any issues that they wished to raise about the secondment of officers to work alongside the PSNI to police the G8 conference. I am pleased to say that I have met a small number of police officers who will be giving mutual aid to Northern Ireland and who were very complimentary about the training course they have undergone to do that work.

Visas

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9. What assessment she has made of increases in waiting times for visa decisions. [158497]

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The Home Office’s performance in granting visa applications overseas has been excellent and remains so, with average waiting times decreasing rather than increasing. As I have acknowledged myself at the Dispatch Box, there have been problems with our in-country performance in the past financial year, but since the abolition of the UK Border Agency and the creation of UK Visa and Immigration we have got that on the right path, with waiting times decreasing too.

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We are probably all aware from our own casework of the real problems that visa delays cause for our constituents. Given that the average waiting time for a skilled worker—somebody whom the British economy needs—has gone up from 36 days in 2010 to 56 days in 2012, does the Minister really think that measures of the kind he mentions are going to crack the problem, and if so, when are we going to see the results?

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I acknowledged openly and honestly that there had been a problem in the past financial year, and that is what the figures quoted by the hon. Gentleman reflect. However, as I said, in the past quarter the figures have improved, so when they are published in the instalment of that information that we give to the Home Affairs Committee, he will see that we are getting things back on track. There is an open session with Members of Parliament this Wednesday, and I hope he will attend to listen to the steps we are taking to improve performance.

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Will the Minister pay particular attention to the business community in China, where there is evidence that people are being disincentivised from coming to the UK because it is easier to get elsewhere in the EU and because of the time taken? Surely there is an argument for having a fast-track procedure for bona fide business visitors from China so that they can come to Britain to help our economy.

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I am grateful for that question because it gives me an opportunity to set out the excellent performance we deliver on visas applied for from China. We grant 96% of visa applications and deliver 95% of those within 15 days; for business visitors, we deliver the vast majority within five days. We are increasingly rolling out premium services, with an ongoing increasing performance level, for the very reasons that my hon. Friend sets out.

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The recent report on family migration by the all-party migration group—I am vice-chair of the inquiry committee—shows that the processing time for non-European economic area partner applications has significantly increased over the past 18 years. What is the Minister doing to keep families united rather than dividing them?

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My response to the hon. Gentleman, who takes a very close interest in these matters, is similar to the one that I gave to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). He is right: in the past financial year, those processing times increased. We have split family applications for spouses from, so to speak, straightforward applications, and we are making decisions on them much more quickly. They had been grouped with applications that were taking a great deal of time. The hon. Gentleman will see in the latest figures that we have made a great improvement, and I hope to see more of that in future.

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The Minister clearly has a personal commitment to getting waiting times down—I thank him for his recent visit to Cambridge to see some of problems there—but will he be able to change the culture within the new borders agency? After all, the permanent secretary, Mark Sedwill, said:

“Most of us will still be doing the same job in the same place with the same colleagues for the same boss.”

We want the Minister to succeed, but will he be able to?

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I very much hope so. I was encouraged by my visit to Cambridge with my hon. Friend, where I listened, yes, to some of the concerns that people had, but also to an acknowledgement by the university, for example, that it had seen recent improvement. The new interim director general of UK Visa and Immigration, Sarah Rapson, has a great commitment to creating such a culture. I think that the decision taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to end the UK Border Agency and set up the new approach will be successful.

Crime Levels

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11. What assessment she has made of the contribution of police measures to falling crime levels. [158499]

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14. What assessment she has made of the contribution of police measures to falling crime levels. [158502]

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Recorded crime is down by more than 10% under this Government. The latest figures show that this downward trend is replicated across every police force in England and Wales. Our reforms are working.

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In my own area of West Mercia, crime fell by a huge 11% last year. This is due in large part to the dedication of people such as Inspector Ian Joseph and his team in Redditch. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating West Mercia police on the excellent work they do in Redditch and the wider region?

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I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating West Mercia police on the 11% fall in crime shown by the most recent figures and, in particular, Inspector Ian Joseph and his team in Redditch. Dedicated police officers across the country are working to keep our streets safe and to protect members of the public.

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According to the latest figures, crime in Warwickshire has decreased by 12.4%, meaning that 80 fewer crimes a day are being committed across the county. This reflects the excellent work of the officers of the Warwickshire police force and I am delighted that its chief constable, Andy Parker, has been reappointed for another two years. Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating Warwickshire police force and commit to supporting forces such as Warwickshire in reducing crime through strong neighbourhood policing?

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Once again, I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating all the officers of Warwickshire police force on the work they are doing and, indeed, Chief Constable Andy Parker on his reappointment.

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The Home Secretary will know that one of the most expensive crimes to investigate is child sexual exploitation. She will also know of this morning’s excellent report by the Home Affairs Committee. When I started a campaign about these gangs five years ago, the police told me on occasion after occasion that the reason they were so slow to respond to the total scandal of the exploitation of children was that it was expensive and the resource implications were immense. Do they have the resources now?

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We will of course look very carefully at the Home Affairs Committee report. I am aware that a number of Members remain concerned about ensuring that the police response to cases of child sexual exploitation is appropriate. As well as the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) has taken a particular interest in the issue. Across Government we have pulled together a cross-departmental piece of work to look at the lessons we need to learn from recent and, indeed, historic cases of sexual exploitation. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will lead that work at ministerial level, asking questions about the police response and ensuring that it is appropriate.

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It is vital to use police time properly, but Ministers are taking police officers off the beat for 152,000 hours in order to train them in things such as changing the name of a litter clearing notice to a community protection notice and of a crack house closure order to a closure order. That is not the best use of police time, is it?

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I am pleased to say that the figures show that the percentage of police officers who will be involved on the front line is going up under this Government. Moreover, through the action we have taken to reduce bureaucracy and red tape—something the previous Government did not do—this Government have cut the number of hours taken on bureaucracy by 4.5 million man hours.

Illegal Labour

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12. What change there has been in the number of businesses fined for employing illegal labour since 2010. [158500]

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Dealing with illegal working is a priority for the Government. As has been mentioned, I attended an illegal working operation in Cardiff about a week ago and saw a number of successful arrests of people who were working illegally. We want to do more of this. Recent figures have not been as encouraging as one would have hoped. This year, with the creation of the immigration enforcement command, I am determined to see an increased focus on the issue in order to deliver the results we expect.

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Despite all that, the Minister has not had much success, has he? In 2010, 2,092 companies were fined for employing illegal labour, but by 2012 that figure had almost halved to 1,215. Will he work with other Departments, not just to get a grip of illegal employment, but to tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts and of the minimum wage, so that British workers are no longer undercut by cheap, illegal labour from abroad?

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I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer. I acknowledged that the statistics had not been as good as we had hoped. I will take no lectures from somebody in the party that let immigration spiral out of control and that had no grip on the system. It is this Government who are getting a grip and who have seen net migration fall by more than a third.

Legal Highs

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13. What assessment she has made of the potential effects of incorporating legal highs in the scope of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. [158501]

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The Government have banned a significant number of so-called legal highs following expert advice, including two groups of drugs from today. That sends a clear message about their harms and gives law enforcement bodies more powers to take action. We continue closely to monitor new drugs through our early warning systems to inform our response.

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I welcome my hon. Friend’s response, especially given that my local council has spent two years prosecuting the sellers of an illegal high called Gogaine, which left a 17-year-old student in hospital suffering convulsions. The prosecution fell mainly because the product was labelled as harmful and not fit for human consumption. Will my hon. Friend commit regularly to review the list of legal highs to ensure that as new legal highs come on to the market, they can be banned immediately?

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I am aware of the extremely serious case in my hon. Friend’s constituency and we have received representations about it. I pay tribute to him for raising that harrowing example in the House. We actively monitor new substances and already control hundreds. We act rapidly to respond to new threats and continue to keep our response under review.

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Several constituents have approached me about the serious consequences of taking legal highs, including the famous Black Mamba. There seems to be no help or redress, and the Government do not seem to be helping the victims to prevent legal highs from getting into the hands of their friends or anybody else.

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The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point. When people talk about legal highs, there is a tendency to believe that just because a substance is legal, it cannot be harmful. That is certainly not the case, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley). That was a severe warning. The Government try to protect the public through appropriate changes to the law, including the two that I have mentioned, which take effect from today.

Child Sexual Exploitation

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15. What training is undertaken by police forces in respect of child sexual exploitation cases. [158503]

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All front-line police officers receive training in protecting and safeguarding children. Dedicated child protection police officers also receive specialist training in investigating child abuse cases, and the College of Policing is delivering additional training for front-line staff so that they can recognise, protect and refer children at risk of child sexual exploitation.

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Children who are being sexually exploited are sometimes involved in antisocial behaviour, theft and other criminal offences. Often, the underlying problem is missed because the child is perceived to be an offender rather than a victim. Does the Minister agree that the training for all police officers should include an understanding of the behaviour associated with child sexual exploitation, including criminal behaviour, so that sexually exploited children are identified at an early age and police resources are used as effectively as possible?

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The hon. Lady’s point about training is right and I mentioned training in my answer. I am sure she will welcome the fact that the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service will shortly consult on a fundamental review of investigative guidance on child sex offences, precisely so that we can develop greater expertise and sensitivity throughout the system.

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In the course of the inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee into grooming, one excuse that we heard for areas failing to tackle child sexual exploitation was that prosecution was difficult. Does the Minister agree that with forces in Lancashire and Oxford demonstrating that innovative investigative methods can be used successfully to back up witness testimony, there is no excuse for any police force failing to protect victims or to prosecute these depraved criminals?

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I agree completely with my hon. Friend. I commend her and the rest of the Select Committee on the report that they produced today. She is right that one improvement, which needs to be extended, is in the capacity of the police to investigate and of prosecutors successfully to prosecute those who commit these disgusting crimes. A number of trials around the country have led to multiple convictions and I know that many more such cases are in the pipeline. I hope that sends a clear signal that this crime is absolutely unacceptable and that the police are getting better at rooting out those who commit it.

Asylum Seekers: Deportation

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16. What plans she has to speed up the deportation of those refused asylum in the UK. [158504]

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We want to continue to deport those who have no right to be in the United Kingdom, whether they are failed asylum seekers or foreign national offenders. Increased use of detained fast track and our national removals centre will reduce the risk of absconding, as well as being more successful in deporting people.

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One of the frustrations felt by all our constituents about the asylum and wider immigration system is the seemingly endless ways in which failed asylum seekers and immigrants are able to keep on appealing. I hope that the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will use the forthcoming immigration Bill to clamp down on the many rights of appeal.

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I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. and learned Friend that that is exactly what we are going to do. The immigration Bill plans to reduce the number of decisions it takes to remove someone who has no right to be in the country. Reducing the number of appeals will make the process easier and swifter.

Scottish Independence

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17. Whether Scots would be able to retain UK citizenship if Scotland became an independent country. [158505]

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Decisions on UK citizenship are for the UK Government. Any decisions on the retention of UK citizenship by Scottish citizens after independence would be affected by future Scottish Government policy decisions. To date, the current Scottish Government have not set out what their proposed policies would be in these areas.

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I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s response, which will be noted by my constituent Colin White. Does she wish to take the opportunity to debunk the myth peddled only last week by high-profile Scottish National party supporter Jim McColl? He said that a vote for independence would mean that Scotland would remain a part of the United Kingdom.

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I am happy to help the hon. Gentleman and debunk that myth. To be absolutely clear: a vote for independence is a vote for a Scotland that will be outside the United Kingdom. The referendum offers a fundamental choice between staying in the UK or leaving it and forming a new independent Scottish state. That is the legal reality of independence. As the Prime Minister said in Stirling on Friday:

“There is simply no challenge we face today where breaking up Britain is the right answer.”

The United Kingdom is stronger together and better together.

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We just wish that the Prime Minister would come to Scotland much more often, because it increases support for independence. The right hon. Lady will know that after independence it will be possible to keep a UK passport. The real question is why, with a new dynamic Scotland in charge of its own resources and making its own peaceful contribution to the world, anybody would want anything other than a Scottish passport in Scotland.

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I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he thinks very carefully about what he has said, and perhaps looks at the Hansard record of it. As I made clear in answer to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), decisions about UK citizenship rest with the United Kingdom Government. However, if there is a vote in the referendum for separation, Scotland will become a separate state and not be part of the United Kingdom. That is a very simple fact and I suggest the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) recognises it.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [158514]

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This is my first opportunity to address the House on the dreadful events that took place on the streets of Woolwich on 22 May, and to offer in this House my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Drummer Lee Rigby. This shocking and barbaric crime has been rightly condemned by all communities in our country. I would like to pay tribute to those brave civilians, police officers and medical staff involved in dealing with the incident; they represent the best of this nation. As I said at the time, this was not just an attack on an individual soldier, but an attack on everyone in this country—people of all faiths and of none.

Sadly, in the aftermath of this horrific incident we have seen an increased number of attacks on mosques and Islamic centres. These are deplorable, disgusting acts. British Muslims make a valuable contribution to our society. The murder of Drummer Rigby was no more in their name than it was in mine or in the name of anybody in this Chamber. I welcome the extra steps taken by the Metropolitan police and others to counter this threat to them. Alongside the increased tensions, however, we have also seen some actions that give great cause for hope. We have seen leaders from all faiths condemn the attack. We have seen far-right supporters invited into a mosque to enjoy cups of tea and football. We have seen religious leaders from different faiths openly embracing each other in a show of unity. This House, like the whole country, stands united against violence, extremism and terror.

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What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to prevent the abuse of free movement rights within the EU?

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I have consistently raised the problem of the abuse of free movement at meetings of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, and we are working with other EU member states to curb that abuse. Free movement of persons is a long-standing principle of the EU, but those rights are not unlimited, and the Government take a robust approach against those who come to the UK not intending to work, but simply to rely on benefits. Abuse of free movement is not just a UK problem; it will take the joint efforts of all our EU partners to tackle it. We have been raising concerns for the past three years at meetings of EU Ministers, and I am pleased to say that last Friday it was decided that the European Commission and Ministers would take the issue forward.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s condemnation of the vile attack on Drummer Lee Rigby and of the recent attacks on Islamic religious institutions. I also welcome her comments about the importance of protecting all our citizens and communities from hatred and of supporting hope instead.

The Home Secretary will agree that the intelligence we get from abroad is vital to our national security and to protecting people against terrorism, but that it needs to be gathered under a clear legal framework with proper safeguards, checks and balances in place in order to maintain public confidence. In addition to the Foreign Secretary’s forthcoming statement, will she therefore respond on the issue of the legal framework operating for the Home Office? Will she tell us whether all Home Office, police and security service requests for intercept information from the internet, whether secured from UK agencies or from abroad, are governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and covered by ministerial warrants and the oversight of the intercept commissioner?

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As the right hon. Lady said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement shortly on this issue. She will also understand that it is a long-standing principle that the Government do not comment on intelligence matters, but I want to make it absolutely clear, as my right hon. Friend has also made clear, that at all times GCHQ has operated fully within a legal framework. I recognise that Parliament has a legitimate interest in these matters, which is why the Intelligence and Security Committee has a remit to look at such issues, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) has indicated that his Committee will indeed be conducting an urgent inquiry.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s response, and clearly the House will listen to the Foreign Secretary’s statement shortly too. I understand that she cannot answer publicly about the content and detail of intelligence procurement, but will she set out very clearly what the legal framework is that governs Home Office and Home Office-related access to intercept and intelligence, and will she write to me setting out her understanding of the current legal framework? It would be very helpful. Will she also confirm that the ISC will have the full support of the Home Office and herself in accessing all the information it needs to pursue this issue? She will know that because intelligence is so important for our future and our national security, public confidence in it must be maintained.

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As the right hon. Lady is aware, intercept warranty is covered by RIPA, and as I said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will shortly make a statement about the legal framework under which the agencies operate. I suggest that she waits for that statement. I am clear that the ISC will have available to it the evidence it needs to conduct the inquiry, and it is right and proper that it does that. Of course, it has a new status in terms of its relationship with Parliament. I think people will want the Committee to conduct that inquiry, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, who chairs it, has indicated it will.

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T2. What plans do the Government have to regulate covert surveillance by private investigators? [158515]

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We are looking into the compulsory regulation of private investigators, which would apply to private investigators involved in covert surveillance. I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we expect to be in a position to make an announcement shortly.

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T5. Last year, the number of inspections to enforce the minimum wage fell to half what it was in the final year of the last Government. Why?

[158518]

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That is really a matter for the Treasury, but I think I know where—[Interruption.] Let me just answer the question. I think I know where the hon. Gentleman is going with this. I have checked these matters carefully. If we compare the whole period of the last Labour Government, from when the national minimum wage was introduced, with the whole period of this Government, we can see that this Government have been prosecuting at a slightly faster rate. However, we are not doing it fast enough. We have set up a number of taskforces, including one in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), which is taking significant action on these matters and will continue to do so.

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T4. Despite the 30% reduction in net migration since this Government came to power, people across North Wiltshire are extremely concerned about the whole issue of immigration, particularly with regard to Bulgaria and Romania later this year. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that people from Bulgaria and Romania in particular are not tempted here by the ability to avoid our tax system or, even worse, the ability to benefit from our benefits system? [158517]

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On Bulgaria and Romania, my hon. Friend will know that in the Immigration Bill and elsewhere we have set out a number of changes that we are making to ensure that only people who are here exercising treaty rights—who are here working—can access the benefits system. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out some of those earlier. I hope my hon. Friend will see that tough and firm action continue.

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T8. I would like to press the Secretary of State a little further on the question of a landlord register. Does she agree that it might assist her in some of her other duties, such as in relation to antisocial behaviour? If she wants to see how a landlord register can be introduced as a self-financing system—and one that has worked very well—she should look no further than north of the border, where one was introduced by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition. [158521]

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I thought I would have a go this time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State answered very well before, but I thought I would take a different tack, because it gives me an opportunity to say, as my right hon. Friend did, that we will bring forward proposals to ensure that landlords have to check the immigration status of tenants. I have had some good discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. We will be bringing those steps forward, and I am confident they will be sensible, proportionate and effective.

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T6. Have Ministers checked whether the family migration rules are compliant with our obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child? [158519]

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Yes, we are confident that they are. Last week I met the chair of the all-party group on migration, the noble Baroness Hamwee, to discuss the report. The Government will consider the recommendations in that report, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out clearly the objective of the family migration rules: to ensure that those who want to make their family life in the United Kingdom are able to support their families, rather than expecting the taxpayer to do so.

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T9. Reductions in overdose deaths; reductions in in-patient A and E admissions for drug addicts; reductions in house burglary; increases in employment of drug addicts in treatment—on all these indicators, Bassetlaw is outperforming the rest of the country. Why? [158522]

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It must be because Bassetlaw has an outstandingly talented local MP, I assume. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the House’s attention to the three strands of the Government’s strategy: reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery. Great progress is being made on all three in Bassetlaw and elsewhere.

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T10. My constituents are fed up with extremists and hate-preachers such as Anjem Choudary receiving thousands of pounds of benefits. Will my right hon. Friend look at limiting those benefits? [158523]

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It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the benefit position of an individual, but I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss policy proposals on a range of issues. As the Prime Minister said to the House last week, we should do all we can to challenge poisonous ideologies. It is right that we look at all options, including whether it is possible to limit the right of individuals of concern to access straight benefits. We robustly challenge behaviours and views that run counter to our shared values, such as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and the tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. When appropriate, we will use the full force of the law to challenge extremist activity.

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The issue of legal highs is difficult, because if we just ban them, another substance quickly springs up. Have the Government given any consideration to following the example of New Zealand and legislating to put the onus on the sellers of legal highs to prove they are safe?

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Those who study these matters closely, such as the hon. Gentleman and me, will be familiar with the New Zealand model. It raises some interesting questions, which we are considering as part of our international case study. It is not without practical problems, however, and I do not think that it would provide an instant solution to our woes, but it is worthy of further consideration.

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Returning to Operation Alice, restoring public trust in the police and maintaining public trust in senior police officers is vital. Does the Minister therefore agree that there should be full disclosure of all the meetings between the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the press relating to the operation?

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As my hon. Friend might know, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has just responded to a freedom of information request on this matter. I can only repeat that the course of justice is not served by my giving the House a running commentary on an ongoing criminal investigation.

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The Home Secretary’s earlier response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) showed that she was completely oblivious to the steep increase in the use of community resolutions for ever more serious crimes, including domestic violence and knife crime. Does she not understand that the overuse of this simplistic measure gives rise to an issue of justice for the victims?

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What I said to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), and what I say to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), is that we are looking at the use of community resolutions of various sorts to ensure that their use is proportionate and that there is consistency across the country. We are discussing the use of cautions with the police, and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, in his capacity as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, has launched a review of their use.

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Will the Minister meet the Attorney-General to discuss the issuing of strict instructions on the extent to which senior police officers may discuss active cases with journalists, so as to prevent prejudicial outcomes?

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I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that I meet the Attorney-General on a regular basis to discuss a number of matters. I will of course continue to do so.

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I am grateful to the Minister for completing the mop-up on Question 5.

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On 6,000 occasions in the last year, the Met police used cautions for serious violent and sexual offences, including seven cases of rape. A caution obviously involves an admission of guilt, and there is huge concern about this. I have to say that the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) seemed slightly flippant. She did not seem to understand the seriousness of the concerns. No one seems to understand why this is happening. What is the Home Secretary going to do to ensure that cautions are used only in appropriate circumstances?

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I have not given any flippant response. What I said was that the Government were reviewing the issue. The Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on cautions, and it is absolutely right that we should look not only at the numbers but at the evidence behind the way in which the cautions are being used and at the circumstances in which they are being used. That is what the review is about.

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Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, while net immigration quadrupled during the first 11 years of the previous Government, it has been brought down by 72,000 in just two years under this Government, despite the fact that the Opposition have fought us every step of the way?

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I can absolutely confirm that. I am pleased to say that net migration has gone down by more than a third since this Government came to power. That is a result of our relentless work to deal with the lack of control in the immigration system under Labour, and it is a great pity that Labour Members have not been willing to support any of the measures that we have taken to ensure that immigration can come down.

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Following today’s report from the Home Affairs Committee on child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming, will the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice set out what joint working will take place with colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that we can prevent other young women from suffering the same horrific ordeal?

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Yes; I have already read the report. It makes a number of important recommendations, which we will respond to fully in due course; and yes, joint working is happening between the Home Office and the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government, as there are clearly a number of problems that need to be solved and they cross the governmental spectrum. We need to solve all of them before we can get a full grip on this issue.

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The fee for a firearms or shotgun certificate for a new applicant is £50. That has not changed since 2001, but research shows that the cost to the taxpayer of granting such a licence is £189. Does the Minister agree that there is absolutely no case for subsidising those who wish to obtain those licences for recreation and leisure purposes, and that they should be charged more?

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I am conscious that the Association of Chief Police Officers has made representations about the cost of gun licences, and the Government are looking at the issue very carefully.

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Last but not least, I call Grahame M. Morris.

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I welcome reports that the Government intend to introduce stronger and clearer guidance on how the police should issue firearms licences, but may I point out to the Minister that following the multiple fatal shootings in my constituency on new year’s day 2010, ACPO, the coroner and the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that the police had not looked at the guidance?

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I am sure they do. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have met his constituent, Bobby Turnbull, and will do so again shortly. As the hon. Gentleman says, apart from the issue of the cost of licences, we are issuing completely new guidance, which we will do by the end of this year.