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Topical Questions

Volume 564: debated on Monday 10 June 2013

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?


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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.