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Topical Questions

Volume 566: debated on Monday 15 July 2013

Last Friday, we witnessed an attempted act of terror designed to divide our community. The motivations behind the explosion outside a mosque in Tipton as people gathered for Friday afternoon prayers are not yet known, but the intention was clear, and the potential for injury and loss of life was obvious. West Midlands police are investigating the incident, and are treating it as an act of terrorism. I do not wish to say anything further that may prejudice their investigation, but as I have made clear previously, this country will not be divided by terrorism. We stand united as a Government, as a Parliament, and as a nation in our opposition to these cowardly acts.

According to the 2011 data, Nigeria, Vietnam and Romania are the three biggest countries of origin for human trafficking into Britain. What actions has the UK taken with law enforcement authorities in those countries to tackle the problem at source?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting matter, and our response to this atrocious crime constantly evolves as the threats change. That includes understanding where the organised crime groups are operating and where vulnerable people are being exploited. UK law enforcement agencies are working closely with their counterparts in priority source countries, through joint investigation teams, supporting prosecutions in other jurisdictions, and providing training to judges, and I am happy to tell him that in each of the countries that he has specifically mentioned there has been cross-border work with law enforcement agencies and others.

May I join the Home Secretary in condemning the attack near the mosque in Tipton? It is vital that we do not let extremists divide us with their brutal and appalling acts.

Does the Home Secretary believe that it is acceptable that in many police force areas people who ring 999 in a serious emergency now have to wait over 10% longer for the police to arrive?

What I am pleased to see is the way in which police forces up and down the country are maintaining their response capabilities and enhancing neighbourhood police teams and their ability to respond in a variety of ways to events that take place. It is clear that the proportion of police officers in front-line roles is increasing.

Except that it clearly is not. More than 7,000 police officers have gone from first response, which includes 999, neighbourhood police and traffic cops. Now we are seeing evidence of increasing delays in 2012 compared to the previous year—a 10% increase in West Mercia, an 18% increase in Wiltshire, and in Devon and Cornwall a 25% increase in waits for the police to arrive. What does the Home Secretary have to say to victims, whether of knife crime, domestic violence or burglary, who have to wait longer as a result of her decisions? She promised that the front line would not be hit. Will she now withdraw that promise and accept that the front line is being hit and the police service is being hollowed out as a result?

The right hon. Lady is very well aware that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has made it clear that the front line in policing is being protected. I note that no Member on the Opposition Benches, be it the shadow Home Secretary or any other hon. Member, welcomes the 10% fall in crime that we have seen since the general election.

T2. Will the Home Secretary update the House on the role of police and crime commissioners in her proposals for the handling of police complaints? (164871)

I am aware that many PCCs have innovative ideas on how to handle low-level complaints, in particular, against the police, and I see this as a positive way for them to engage with their local community. I am giving careful consideration to the role that PCCs can play in the new arrangements because I think they could play a valuable role in improving the area of police complaints.

T3. Multi-agency safeguarding hubs—MASHs—are acknowledged as a key approach to tackling child sexual exploitation. Can the Minister please state how many MASHs have been established across the country? Will an evaluation be done on their effectiveness? (164872)

MASHs are being established literally by the week so I cannot give the hon. Lady an exact figure, but I completely agree that the early successes in some areas of the multi-agency safeguarding hubs suggest that that is an extremely important way of improving our response to child sexual exploitation. I will be visiting one over the next few days and intend to see for myself exactly how they can be most effective.

T5. Too many teenagers in Britain are still the victim of knife crime, which can destroy individual lives and leave families in grief. What steps is the Home Secretary taking across Government to improve education about the folly of teenagers carrying knives? (164874)

My hon. Friend is right to draw the attention of the House to this particularly dangerous form of criminal activity and its occasional prevalence among young people in particular. We are working with police forces across the country and we have put in place a programme of action specifically aimed at gang violence to try to reduce the incidence of knife crime. I am pleased that violent crime as a whole is falling across the country.

T4. Last year, community resolutions were used in more than 33,000 cases of violent crime nationally. In north Yorkshire, they were used for more than 500 violent offences, and more than 250 cases of serious violence involving injury. They were never used for such cases when Labour was in power. Is it any wonder that the public think the Government are going soft on violent crime? (164873)

There is not the slightest shred of evidence for that final, rather wild assertion by the hon. Gentleman, but I will happily agree with him that the use of a community resolution should be for those crimes where it is appropriate. If it is being used inappropriately, we will certainly look very hard at that, but his remarks about violent crime are well out of order.

T8. I am delighted with my right hon. Friend’s decision to use the block opt-out for police and criminal justice measures, but bearing in mind her intention to opt back into the European arrest warrant, will she reassure the House that she will take steps to ensure that British people can be extradited only if there is enough evidence to charge them? (164878)

My hon. Friend raises an important point that I know has been a concern to many hon. Members. The amendments that I have tabled to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which, as we heard earlier, is in Committee, will address this very point by saying that judges should discharge somebody if a European arrest warrant is issued at a point where the requesting country has not already decided to charge and try that individual.

T6. What changes will the Home Office make to the family migration rules in the light of the recent High Court finding that the income threshold is onerous and unjustified? (164876)

That is not quite what the judgment said. We are considering the judgment very carefully. The judge made it quite clear that the Home Office was perfectly entitled to have an income threshold that applied nationally. The judge said that in certain circumstances he had some concerns. Applications where that is the only issue on which the case would have been rejected are being held and we will make an announcement in due course.

Does the Minister accept that, unless safeguards are put in place for landlords taking reasonable steps to verify immigration status, there is a real danger of discrimination against foreign nationals from landlords choosing to avoid the risk by simply not renting properties to them?

The hon. Gentleman raises a good question, which we thought about carefully. To reassure him, first, landlords will have to check the documents of everyone to whom they want to rent property—there are similar checks with employers—so they will have to confirm that someone is a British citizen or has leave to be in the country. Secondly, they are bound by the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate against somebody on the grounds of their race or nationality.

T9. What consideration are Ministers giving to additional resourcing for South Wales police in relation to the pressures on Cardiff as a capital city and the apparent discrepancy of upwards of £1 million with other capital cities across the UK? (164879)

I have heard these representations from various representative areas in Cardiff before, and as the hon. Gentleman will know, successive Governments have not thought that a particular grant should be made. I hope that he will join me in congratulating his police force in south Wales on the 5% fall in crime in the 12 months to December 2012.

May I commend again the Home Secretary’s announcement of a consultation on stop-and-search? Will she advise the House what steps she is taking to increase participation in that consultation, and whether she has drawn any early thoughts from the review by HMIC into stop-and-search as provided by police authorities throughout the country?

I am indeed taking steps to encourage as many communities as possible to respond to the consultation on stop-and-search, and will be writing to a number of faith groups around the country in particular to encourage them to respond to that consultation. The figures that we saw in the HMIC report on stop and search show why it is so important that we hold this consultation. This is a valuable tool for the police, but it must be used properly.

If a US citizen had been held in Britain without charge, it would quite rightly not be accepted or tolerated. Shaker Aamer is the last British citizen at Guantanamo Bay. He has been there for 11 years without charge and has faced more than four months on hunger strike. All of us supported the Home Secretary’s determination to deport Abu Qatada from the UK. Will she demonstrate that same determination and energy to make sure that we see the release of Shaker Aamer so that he can return to his family in Britain?

The UK is committed to using its best endeavours to secure Mr Aamer’s release and return to the UK. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Prime Minister spoke to President Obama at the G8 in June and has followed that up with a subsequent letter. We have long held that indefinite detention without review or fair trial is unacceptable, and we welcome President Obama’s continuing commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Victims of serious crime will be reassured that the Government are minded to opt back into the European arrest warrant. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is much support across the EU for adopting the sort of proportionality tests that the Government are minded to introduce in amendments to legislation?

My hon. Friend is right; a number of other member states have expressed concern about proportionality, and indeed some already operate, in various forms, a proportionality test. I think that the Government’s decision to table amendments in order to introduce a proportionality test in the UK will ensure that we do not see the European arrest warrant being used for the minor and trivial crimes that have led to much concern about its operation.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s earlier remarks about the appalling explosion outside a mosque in my constituency. Notwithstanding the calm and measured response from all faiths in the local community, there is a fear that it was part of a systematic process of attacking mosques in this country. What extra steps is she taking to ensure that such attacks are prevented in other places?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Indeed, over the weekend, I discussed the incident in Tipton and the incident that took place in Walsall a few weeks ago with Chief Constable Chris Sims of West Midlands police. I know that he is ensuring that there are further patrols and a further police presence to try to give the local community support and confidence. The Government are looking at all forms of extremism, and we regularly look at whether there is more we can do to ensure that we stop extremism in whatever form it takes.

Last week I spoke at an excellent conference on female genital mutilation organised by Wandsworth council’s violence against women and girls unit. I took along handfuls of the UK statement against FGM, sometimes known as the health passport. It was warmly welcomed, and indeed gathered up enthusiastically, by community workers attending the conference. I urge the Home Office to do everything possible to get this excellent document into the right hands over the coming days and weeks.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. She has campaigned long and hard on this issue, and very effectively, for which she deserves our support and thanks. It is right that the statement, the so-called FGM passport, is being welcomed by those who see it. I urge all Members of the House, if they represent communities that they feel would benefit from seeing the statement and distributing it, to get in touch with the Home Office, using the number on the website, so that we can ensure that they have copies to distribute to their communities.

What assessment has the Home Secretary made of the police’s capacity to investigate business crime associated with football? There is growing concern about money laundering, fraud and tax evasion. I am particularly concerned, of course, with what has gone on recently at Coventry City football club.

I am not aware of the specific issue the right hon. Gentleman raises in relation to a particular football club, but the whole question of financial crime, which I believe we have not given sufficient attention to across the board in this country, will be given a much clearer focus after the creation of the economic crime command in the National Crime Agency. The command will be able to look at various sorts of financial crime. He mentioned money laundering, which is an area on which we are already putting an extra focus, because of the support it gives to organised crime groups.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Home Secretary is listening to those of us who are worried that some British citizens are being extradited under the European arrest warrant on flimsy grounds. Will she indicate when she will bring forward amendments to the Extradition Act 2003 to deliver greater protections for British citizens?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are introducing those amendments to the Extradition Act and others through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, and I understand from the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), that they will be considered in Committee tomorrow. It is important to ensure that we can add extra safeguards for British citizens who are being extradited under the European arrest warrant.

I am sure that the Home Secretary will agree that dealing with historical sexual abuse requires effective support for victims and witnesses. A constituent of mine has recently been identified as a potential witness in a serious case going back many years, which has caused him great distress, and it does not help that the investigating police force is located some 200 miles away from where he now lives. Will she look at what effective liaison and support could be provided by the local police in such cases?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly valid point. I hope that he will welcome the measures that we have already taken to protect witnesses, particularly in these types of cases—for instance, we are piloting video evidence so that they can give evidence before the court case and not in courtroom surroundings. We are looking at the possibility of stopping multiple cross-examination in court, particularly of vulnerable witnesses. I shall certainly keep the right hon. Gentleman’s specific point in mind.