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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 569: debated on Monday 28 October 2013

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sanctuary Schemes

The Government have put stable funding in place, ring-fencing nearly £40 million for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services, rape crisis centres, and national helplines. Decisions on whether to fund the provision of sanctuary schemes for victims of violence are for local authorities, based on their assessment of local need.

I thank the Home Secretary for that response, but I understand that funding for sanctuary schemes has fallen by over a third under this Government. Freedom of information requests have shown that about 21% of victims of domestic violence who make use of such schemes are now falling foul of the bedroom tax. Does the Home Secretary think that such people, who are in a place where they are safe from their abuser, should be evicted because of the bedroom tax?

The sanctuary schemes obviously have value for a number of people. They are not right for everybody, but for those for whom they work, such schemes are important when put in place. Latest statistics show that last year, 2012-13, 7,100 households had homelessness prevented or relieved thanks to the installation of a sanctuary scheme—a 17% rise on the previous year. On the spare room subsidy, the Government are providing baseline funding of £20 million annually to the discretionary housing payment scheme, which is available to local authorities to help people in such circumstances. The Government have also provided an additional £25 million per annum on top of the baseline funding until the end of the spending review period.

In addition to sanctuaries, which are terribly important, does the Home Secretary agree that it is time to re-examine sentencing guidelines on domestic abuse? In one case in my constituency, the ex-husband, who has been convicted twice of domestic abuse, is now living in the same estate as his terrified ex-wife, and no custodial sentence was handed down. Surely such a person should be in prison.

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims is sitting on the Front Bench and will have heard that question in relation to responsibilities of the Ministry of Justice. Importantly, I have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to look at the policing of domestic violence, and we must examine how the police respond to such incidents. I am pleased that the Government have introduced a number of pilot schemes and are considering various ways that victims of domestic violence can be further protected. Domestic violence protection orders, for example, enable the victim to remain in their home, rather than the perpetrator remaining and the victim being forced out.

Last week I wore pink, in common with 100 others in Lichfield—pink trousers, pink shirt, pink feather boa—to walk for the Pathway project in my constituency. It looks after those—not only women, but men too—who suffer from domestic violence. Will the Home Secretary or one of her team please come to Lichfield to see the good work the Pathway project is doing?

I know that my hon. Friend has a fondness for taking photographs, and I wonder whether he has taken a photograph of himself that could perhaps be circulated to Members of the House for their edification. He makes an important point, however, and I commend the Pathway project in Lichfield. I have noted the hon. Gentleman’s invitation, as has the Minister for Crime Prevention, for one of us to come and visit. May I say what excellent work people in the Pathway project and similar schemes are doing on this important issue?

Crime Figures

Our police reforms are working and crime is falling. Recorded crime has fallen by more than 10% under this Government, and the independent crime survey shows that crime has more than halved since its peak in 1995.

Between 2011-12 and 2012-13 recorded street-level crime in Bracknell fell by 12%, and recorded antisocial behaviour by almost one third. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is possible to save taxpayers’ money and reduce crime at the same time?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Both our constituencies are served by Thames Valley police, and I am pleased that since 2010, crime has fallen by 25% in the Thames Valley police area, including a fall of 30% in my constituency. My hon. Friend is right. Those who said that when police budgets were cut the only thing that would happen would be for crime to go up have been proved wrong. I commend the work of all the police officers and staff who have contributed to those good crime figures.

There has been a 30% increase in reports of rape, and yet a dramatic fall in the number of rape cases referred for prosecution. What is the Home Secretary doing about that?

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to that—we need to look at the matter very seriously. I am happy to say that the Minister for Crime Prevention is doing so. In addition, the Home Office has sat round the table with national policing leads and the Crown Prosecution Service to consider why we are seeing that most recent trend, and to develop a plan for ensuring that cases are referred to the CPS when it is right to do so.

The 12% fall in crime excluding fraud will be welcomed in Wiltshire by my constituents, but businesses repeatedly find themselves victims of seemingly invisible but none the less criminal behaviour online. What support is being given to businesses to tackle those online thefts?

First, the Office for National Statistics now includes figures on fraud reported to Action Fraud in the police recorded crime count. That is an important step forward—we now get a more accurate picture. Crucially, following the launch of the new National Crime Agency, we have established within it an economic crime command, which will enhance our ability in this country to deal with a variety of economic and financial crimes, including the fraud my hon. Friend describes.

The Home Secretary will be aware not only that rape statistics have gone up, but that the figures for child abuse have gone up hugely as well. Five years ago, 50% of rape offences were referred to the CPS, but now only 30% of rape and abuse of children offences are referred. What will the Home Secretary do about that? Does she believe that 20% cuts to the police might have something to do with it?

No, I do not accept the premise on which the hon. Lady’s question is based. We are looking very seriously at the question of child abuse. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims was involved in setting up a group across Departments on the question of child abuse and child sexual exploitation to ensure we can deal as effectively as possible with that most horrific crime.

Crime will fall even further if we can make bigger reductions in police bureaucracy. Front-line officers using body-worn cameras have the potential to reduce the amount of paperwork they have to do back at the station. Will my right hon. Friend indicate how many police hours she believes could be saved by that new technology, which has been endorsed recently by the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I had informal discussions about the use of body-worn cameras at the college of policing last week. I am pleased to say that a number of forces have piloted the use of such cameras. The college will look at best practice so it can ensure they are used as effectively as possible. They will not only reduce the bureaucracy that the police are involved with, but provide greater and enhanced ability to deal with crimes and provide the evidence in criminal circumstances. They will also benefit officers when accusations are made about their behaviour—often, the body-worn camera will show when such accusations are not correct.

Crime has fallen overall thanks to the development of neighbourhood policing under a Labour Government. With the thin blue line stretched ever thinner, there are disturbing signs of a generation of progress in some areas being reversed. Since the general election, shoplifting is up in 23 police areas and mugging is up in 15 police areas. There has been a staggering 44% increase in mugging in London. Does the Home Secretary therefore share the concerns of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary that that which has proved to be so successful and is so valued by communities throughout our country—neighbourhood policing—“risks being eroded”?

May I first welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role on the Opposition Front Bench? I am not sure that his question was the best approach for him to take. I am very sorry that he has failed to recognise the work being done by police officers and staff around the country to ensure that overall levels of crime have fallen since 2010. I would hope he welcomes the work they are doing. HMIC has made it clear that forces, in taking the budget cuts, have focused on ensuring front-line resilience. That is a very good example of how it is possible to do more for less.

International Students

5. What steps she is taking to restrict immigration routes into the UK without limiting the ability of UK universities to attract international students. (900697)

Since 2010, the Government have taken steps to reform all routes into the UK to deal with abuse, but we have been careful to protect our world-class universities. In the past year, we have still seen a rise in visa applications to universities.

Given that we have significantly restricted the ability of foreign students to stay on after the end of their studies, is it worth retaining their inclusion in the immigration figures?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, as it gives me the opportunity to say that they should be in the figures. Those who come here for more than a year are migrants in the same way others are, and use public services. It also gives me the opportunity to say that we have not restricted the ability of students to work where they have a graduate-level job that earns £20,300. We welcome the best and the brightest to do exactly that.

On the Chancellor’s recent visit to China, he made a big and open offer to the most populous country on earth: all Chinese students are welcome to study in the United Kingdom. If they take up that offer, that will have a serious effect on the Government’s aim to restrict immigration to under 100,000. What does the Minister for Immigration think of that big and open offer?

First, I do not think the Chancellor was suggesting that the entire population of China will come to the United Kingdom all in one go. The right hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point, but it is worth remembering that students who come to the UK will stay for their course and then leave. They do not, over time, make a contribution to net migration. We have, however, already seen strong growth in the number of students coming from China. They are welcome at our universities and we want to see them come.

What is the latest assessment the Minister has made of the value of international students to the UK economy and society?

We welcome international students as long as they study at a genuine university or other genuine institution. We have dealt with abuse, which we inherited from the Opposition, but we welcome students and the best of them are welcome to stay here to create businesses, wealth and jobs.

The Minister knows that almost the entire Scottish higher education establishment despise the immigration reforms, which do nothing but make Scotland a less attractive place to come. This is not working for us and we do not have the issues of the rest of the United Kingdom. Can we now make our own course, so that we can make Scotland an attractive and welcoming place for international students?

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts, he will see that there is an increase in the number of international students going to the excellent universities in Scotland. Scotland is attractive to international students, as is the rest of the United Kingdom. I see no evidence that our immigration reforms are turning students away.

International students play a vital role in Sunderland university, which is in my constituency. The changes to immigration rules since the Government came to power have made a lot of areas of the world feel that we are closed for business. What is the Minister doing to address that view and change it back, so that they know we are open for business and welcome international students?

Ministers take every opportunity to make the case that we welcome genuine students and to set out the attractive offer we have. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, said, both the Chancellor and the Mayor of London were in China recently to make that case. The Prime Minister has been to India, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We make the case at every opportunity and I am glad the hon. Lady is doing so, too.

Gang Crime

The Government have a programme for ending gang and youth violence, which provides support to local areas. It focuses on preventing vulnerable young people from joining gangs, helping those who want to leave gangs and tough enforcement against those who commit violence. We will publish our second annual report later this year.

I commend Wolverhampton police, through Operation No Deal and a general clampdown on crime and drug gangs, on recent significant arrests. Will the Minister assure me that significant steps are being made to continue that work? From anecdotal evidence in recent canvassing sessions, I have noticed a pick up in drug dealing, particularly in the south of the city.

My hon. Friend raises a serious issue. As he knows, Wolverhampton is one of the 33 priority areas to which the Home Office is giving particular help on this issue. We are working with Wolverhampton and other areas to tackle gang-related drug dealing as part of the ending gang and youth violence programme, and we will continue to do so and also use the new National Crime Agency and the serious organised crime strategy to ensure that we continue to attack the organised crime routes of drug dealing in too many of our cities.

The good news from Northamptonshire is that overall crime is down 14% in the last three years, but the bad news is that for every 1,000 people in the county, there are 11 crimes of violence, compared with eight per 1,000 in Merseyside and 10 per 1,000 in Greater Manchester. Surprising though these figures may be, will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the Home Office allocates funds to regional police forces, it takes such statistics into account?

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for the local interests of his constituents, as he should be, and we hear all the recommendations he makes to us. His county is lucky to have a particularly good police and crime commissioner, who will, I know, bear down hard on crimes of violence.

Metal Theft

We have already seen significant reductions in metal theft following targeted police action and the banning of cash payments for scrap metal. The implementation of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 earlier this month will further clamp down on rogue dealers while supporting legitimate businesses.

Following visits I have made to bona fide metal recyclers in my constituency that do carry out checks on their clients in Cornwall, will my hon. Friend tell me what action his Department is taking to ensure that rogue dealers are prosecuted and punished, and does he agree that all metal recyclers must have a level playing field on which to operate?

Yes, I absolutely agree. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which I mentioned, is designed precisely to ensure that rogue traders are dealt with properly, and a properly funded licensing scheme will see more effective compliance activity by local authorities and stronger enforcement by the police, ensuring a level playing field for law-abiding scrap metal dealers. For example, we see from the British Transport police that offences are down 44% in the last year.

My local paper still carries adverts providing only a mobile phone number and offering free collection of any scrap metal, cars, vans, caravans and electrical items for cash payments. What can my constituents in Somerset expect by way of checks and investigation into those who place these adverts, especially since fly-tipping of these very items is such a bane to Somerset residents and adds to the cost of their council tax bills?

We have created a new criminal offence to prohibit cash payments to purchase scrap metal and therefore my hon. Friend ought to report that matter to her local police. If it is a registered scrap metal dealer who holds a licence, the local authority will want to look into the matter.

Housing (Illegal Immigrants)

The Immigration Bill will require private landlords to make some simple, straightforward checks so that illegal migrants do not have access to private housing. Existing legislation already makes it clear that illegal migrants do not have access to social housing.

Farmers in my constituency offer temporary housing to the seasonal agricultural workers who pick the delicious crops we grow in West Worcestershire. Will it be the farmers or the gangmasters who are required to verify their immigration status?

If employers make available tied accommodation —meaning it is tied to their employment—they will not have to make further checks, because, as employers, they already have to check someone’s right to work in the United Kingdom, and we do not want to overburden them with bureaucracy.

I congratulate and thank the Home Secretary for the excellent measures in last week’s Immigration Bill, which is strongly welcomed by my constituents. Have Ministers seen the recent report stating that the NHS is currently losing £2 billion a year on health care to non-UK residents who should not be here? May I encourage the Home Office, with other Departments, to do everything possible to continue the good work to clamp down on illegal citizens taking public services from our citizens?

We will be doing the first stage of that in the Immigration Bill by ensuring that people who come here as temporary migrants make a fair contribution to the NHS before they can have access to it. The Secretary of State for Health will also introduce separate measures to ensure that hospitals become more effective at charging people who have no right to free access to health care paid for by our taxpayers.

Legal Highs

We already control hundreds of so-called legal highs and are working with law enforcement partners to disrupt the supply of these often dangerous substances. The Home Office has led communications activity targeting young people and students to advise of the risks of legal highs. We also regularly update public health messaging on those risks. We are not complacent, and we continue to look at ways in which we can enhance our response.

The UK is fast becoming a hub for the European legal highs market, and a recent report from the all-party group on drug policy reform claimed that more than one new substance was coming to Britain each week. Does the Minister share my concern that many legal highs are now purchased online and delivered direct to people’s homes? Will he also look again at the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to see whether it is still fit for purpose, given the new web-based market for legal highs?

I am not sure that I accept my hon. Friend’s premise that we are a hub for that activity. First, however, let me say how sorry I was to learn of the recent incident in which one of his young constituents died, possibly as a result of taking a substance known as AMT. The cause of death has yet to be confirmed. That particular substance is legal, but as a result of that case I asked officials on Friday to look at the matter urgently, and action was taken under our drugs early-warning system at 6 pm on that day. My hon. Friend mentioned internet sales, but only about 1% of drugs are sourced in that way. Nevertheless, we take that avenue seriously and the National Crime Agency is undertaking operational activity accordingly.

The Minister will be aware that there are shops on our high streets, such as UK Skunkworks in Chatham, that sell legal highs alongside other drug paraphernalia. Those shops abandon any responsibility for the sometimes tragic consequences of their activities by labelling the products as being unfit for human consumption. Will he commit to including the over-the-counter sales, and the labelling, of legal highs in his review, so that we can prevent further deaths similar to that of Jimmy Guichard?

I entirely agree with the premise of my hon. Friend’s question. Those so-called head shops often behave irresponsibly. She will know that a study of international comparisons is currently under way, and the consideration of legal highs is very much part of that process.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the three deaths in Kent, two of which were in my constituency. I welcome his early-warning system and temporary banning orders, but may I suggest that the best way to cope with this is simply to say that if someone dies or becomes severely ill as a result of taking a drug that is a close chemical cousin of a banned drug, that should throw up a criminal offence?

The Home Office already takes steps to ensure that when a new substance appears that could be injurious to health, we seek to ban analogous drugs—the family of drugs—as a consequence. Some of the banned drugs have often not yet been created, but if and when they are created, they are already covered. We are trying to deal with this through anticipatory methods as well as by other means. We also try to have an early response system, so that when a substance appears, it can be picked up and banned very quickly.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a dreadful form of abuse and is totally unacceptable. Our approach to tackling it is set out in the Government’s updated violence against women and girls action plan. Key initiatives include piloting domestic violence protection orders, which I referred to in a previous answer, and a domestic violence disclosure scheme. We have also extended the definition of domestic violence to include 16 and 17-year-olds and to include the use of coercive control.

I have visited the women’s refuge in Swindon and was extremely impressed by the help and facilities that it provides. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to support the work of those vital safe havens for victims of domestic violence across the country?

Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to all those who work in refuges and provide refuge for the victims of domestic violence. They are predominantly for women, as the majority of such victims are women, but we must never forget that men can also be the victims of domestic violence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said earlier. The Government are providing stable funding of £40 million to support specialist domestic and sexual violence services, such as the independent domestic violence advisers who offer further valuable support to victims.

The last Girl Guides survey showed that 5% of girls thought it was okay to be threatened with violence for spending too much time with friends, and that 25% thought it was okay for a person’s partner to check up on them and read their texts. What are the Government doing to combat domestic violence by educating young people, particularly young women, about what is acceptable in relationships, and—

Although cut off in her prime, the hon. Lady makes an important point. It is shocking to see the number of girls and young women—and, indeed, the number of boys and young men—who think that violence in a relationship is okay and part of a relationship. She is absolutely right that we must do what we can to educate young people about what a proper relationship should be and what should not be part of it. That is why the Home Office has supported a very successful national teenage rape prevention campaign, which we were able to extend into a teenage relationship abuse campaign. The figures and responses show that those campaigns have had a real impact on young people’s understanding of the nature of relationships.

19. Victims of domestic violence in my constituency sometimes find the first step of talking to someone about it to be the hardest one to take. Residents are well served by the Pendle domestic violence initiative helpline, as well as the national domestic violence helpline. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what she is doing to ensure that the victims of domestic violence are aware of these helplines, which provide them with valuable support at the time they need it most? (900715)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to commend the work of those who provide helplines, and I would like to congratulate him on the success of the Pendle domestic violence initiative. Helplines indeed play an important role in supporting the victims of domestic and sexual violence. That is why the Home Office provides £900,000 to five national helplines each year. We take every opportunity to publicise these helplines, and we have done so through the two campaigns to which I referred in my previous answer—the teenage rape prevention campaign and the relationship abuse campaign. It is important to keep telling people about the availability of these helplines.

The Home Secretary is astonishingly complacent given that reported domestic violence has risen by 31% on her watch, while at the same time as funding for refuges and specialist advice has fallen by 31%, the number of independent domestic violence advisers is falling and specialist domestic violence courts are being axed. Is this a deliberate attempt to target the victims of this violence or does it simply show that she has no influence over her colleagues in other Departments?

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role on the shadow Home Office Front Bench, but I have to say that I thought that the nature of that question was beneath her. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says “facts” from a sedentary position, and she quoted a figure of 31%. I understand, however, that that came from a survey based on the average from 63 local authorities, and that survey did not take into account responses from 201 authorities that said cuts had not been made in their provision. If the hon. Lady wants to cite facts, I suggest she looks at them more carefully in future. This Government take domestic violence very seriously. That is why it is this Government who have put in place stable funding of £40 million and why under this Government rape crisis centres are opening, when under the last Labour Government they closed.

13. What recent assessment she has made of the level of referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service for domestic violence offences. (900709)

The Home Office chaired a meeting with the Director of Public Prosecutions last month. This has led to a six-point plan to increase the number of referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, it should also be noted that last year saw the highest ever conviction rate for domestic violence prosecutions.

I am grateful for that answer and for all other answers given on this subject this afternoon. Since the general election, however, there has been a 13% fall in the number of cases of domestic violence being referred to the CPS from the police. Will the Minister ban the use of community resolutions in all cases of domestic violence?

We have heard from the Home Secretary that the ministerial team in the Home Office take this matter very seriously. We will discuss it later this week with chief constables and others. We are determined to ensure that domestic violence is given the prominence it should have within the legal system. I have also had a discussion about this matter with my colleague, Lord McNally, at the Ministry of Justice.

Immigration

We have taken a number of steps to deal with abuse in the immigration system, and the Immigration Bill will go further. It will ensure that people do not have access to public services when they should not, it will reform the appeal system, and it will establish the House’s and Parliament’s views on how judges should make decisions relating to article 8 of the European convention.

Housing pressure in my constituency is huge as a result of the last Government’s unfettered immigration policies. Can my hon. Friend confirm that he intends to continue his endeavours to cut immigration further, thus relieving the pressure that is undermining the level of new housing being demanded by Labour-led Leeds city council?

My hon. Friend has made a good point. Our reduction in net migration will reduce the pressure on housing, and the provisions in the Immigration Bill ensuring that people who have no right to be here have no access to housing will increase the amount of housing stock available to British citizens and to lawful migrants who are following the rules.

I accept the need to tackle abuse in the system, but may I draw the Minister’s attention to a disturbing anomaly? Families in which neither parent has been given the right to work become dependent on local churches and friends, and experience great distress. Is there no way in which the immigration system can take account of their circumstances, and allow one parent to work? That ought to be the norm, but it seems to be happening less and less often.

If neither parent has the right to work because neither has the right to be in the United Kingdom, the solution to the problem is for them to leave. If the reason is that their case is being examined because they are, for example, claiming asylum, the state will support them while the case is under way. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a specific case in his constituency, I should be delighted if he got in touch with me, and we can have a look at it.

17. What advice would the Minister give councils when residents with dependants have exhausted the immigration appeal process and therefore have no recourse to public funds, but, because they have not left the country either voluntarily or as a result of enforcement, the councils are still continuing to have to meet their high costs? (900713)

In most cases, councils will have no liability to support such people, but they should carry out a human rights assessment. In a limited number of cases they may have to support them, but in most cases they will not. Indeed, by continuing to support those people when they need not do so, all that councils are doing is encouraging them to remain in the United Kingdom when they have no right to be here.

Baroness Warsi has said of “Go Home” ad vans:

“I don’t think it was a particularly positive experience and I am glad that we won't be going back to it.”

She also said:

“I think it’s always important for government to be clear when they are speaking to their communities that all people who are part of this nation legally are absolutely welcome.”

Does the Minister agree with that Cabinet Minister, and what steps will he take to reduce the use of dog-whistle politics?

I entirely agree that everyone who is in the United Kingdom legally, obeying our laws and rules, is very welcome indeed. We have always made that clear. As the hon. Lady knows, the campaign was focused squarely on those who were here illegally. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear last week that we had looked at some of the evidence, that we did not think the pilot had been successful enough, and that we would not be rolling it out further.

Having considered the evidence and decided that the campaign was not successful and should not be repeated, why does the Minister not publish the assessment of that policy, and let us see how many people left the country as a result of it?

During last week’s debate on the Immigration Bill, my right hon. Friend made it clear that we would indeed publish the assessment when we had finished carrying out the evaluation. We are going to do the work properly, and we will publish the information in due course.

One of the parts of the immigration system that has been least open to abuse historically is the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. I know how carefully the Minister looked at the evidence before deciding to end the scheme. Will he now commit himself to monitoring the position, along with his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Work and Pensions, so that we can ensure that the ending of the scheme does not damage either the economy or food availability?

I have a constituency interest, as constituents of mine took advantage of the scheme. The hon. Gentleman is right—it was not abused, but it was nearing the end of its natural life this year, because it was open only to those from Bulgaria and Romania, and they will be able to come to the United Kingdom in any event after transitional controls have been withdrawn. We had to choose whether to create a new scheme, and we decided that we did not need to do so because sufficient labour was available in the European Union. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to keep the matter under review, along with other Departments, to ensure that our agricultural industry is not damaged in any way.

Foreign Criminals (Deportation)

The Immigration Bill will put the law on the side of the public, deporting criminals first and hearing appeals later wherever possible, and cutting the number of appeal routes available. Importantly, the Bill also addresses the abuse of the right to a family life under article 8 and upholds the view of Parliament that convicted criminals should be deported.

My constituents in Poole welcomed the deportation of Abu Qatada but want to be reassured that the changes in the Immigration Bill will ensure that the law is on the side of law-abiding people from now on.

I know that my hon. Friend spoke in the Second Reading debate on the Bill and underlined those points. I was closely involved in the deportation of Abu Qatada, an important success for this Government, which was not achieved by the previous Government. That case showed the number of appeals that are possible and the slowness of the process. That is why it is right that we tackle the number of appeals. Seventeen potential appeal routes are available. We want to reduce that to four and to cut down on the abuses of the system.

The changes in the Immigration Bill will mean that those who are caught trying to enter a sham marriage will be deported from this country. I wholly welcome that, but when the Minister eventually answered some questions from me three months late, he revealed that the number of occasions when a registrar has written to the Home Office under section 24 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to notify it of significant concern about a possible sham marriage has risen dramatically since 2010. There are measures to deal with that in future, but why has that happened?

It is important to tackle sham marriages, and that is why the Bill has specific measures to address that. The Government are very focused on deporting those who should not be in this country. That is why we are taking the steps we are in the Bill.

Stop-and-Search Powers

16. When she expects to respond to the recently closed consultation on stop and search powers; and if she will make a statement. (900712)

The consultation on the powers of stop-and-search ran for 12 weeks over the summer and generated a high volume of responses from national and local community groups to the police and members of the public. There were over 5,000 responses to the consultation, all of which are being analysed. We aim to publish the findings of the consultation and a response by the end of the year.

I am entirely in favour of appropriate stop-and-search, not least because an hour ago in Bermondsey, someone was clearly doing a runner having nicked stuff from a shop not far from my constituency office—they were a bit too far away for me to rugby tackle them, unfortunately. However, will the Minister ensure that the Government’s policy ends the excessive arrest of people who clearly should not be subject to stop-and-search, and the excessive stopping and searching of black, Asian and other minority groups?

That is precisely what the consultation is about. I regret that my right hon. Friend was prevented from being the “have a go” hero that I know he wants to be. I am happy to tell him that, even before the results of the consultation are published, the Metropolitan police have taken their own steps to improve the situation and that, from June 2011 to June 2012, in London, the arrest rate following stop-and-search went up from 10.6% to 17.3%. That suggests that the police are becoming much more sensitive about using that power in a way that leads to arrest.

Human Trafficking

We intend to publish a modern slavery Bill to strengthen further our response to this abhorrent crime. The Bill will consolidate existing offences, increase the maximum sentence available, limit future activities of perpetrators and introduce an anti-slavery commissioner. The National Crime Agency is also prioritising action against those involved in these appalling crimes.

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome the introduction of the legislation. I fear that too many trafficked children currently do not receive the support they need. Will the Government consider including a proposal in the forthcoming legislation to appoint independent guardians to ensure that these vulnerable young people have advocates to access support?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this approach to the support provided to those who are trafficked into this country. I note that the report recently published by the Children’s Society and the Refugee Council made a number of the points my hon. Friend has made. Local authorities already have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of trafficked children in their care. That is not applied as well across local authorities as it should be. We have a major programme of work in place to transform the care system and we will be focusing on this specific vulnerable group.

Last week I attended a very worrying human rights briefing about human trafficking in Libya—the trafficking of people to Europe generally and the United Kingdom—and the impact of the difficult political situation there. Will the hon. Gentleman urgently discuss the situation with the Foreign Office and see what steps are being taken to limit the criminal activities emanating from Libya?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point about the need for work overseas to prevent people from being trafficked into this country. The recently formed National Crime Agency very much focuses on each element of this, really tackling the organised crime groups, and we are already in close contact with our ministerial colleagues at the Foreign Office, but I will certainly note the specific point he makes.

Domestic Violence

The coalition Government acknowledges that some victims of domestic violence have specific needs and require a specialist response. The updated violence against women and girls action plan sets out a series of steps to address these needs, and outlines additional measures to protect hard-to-reach victims.

Many women in observant religious communities find it hard to leave a domestic violence background. What specific practical support can be given to these women so they feel comfortable about leaving a violent background?

The Government acknowledges that victims face a variety of pressures when leaving violent relationships. In order to provide a specialist response for hard-to-reach victims, we have, for example, funded projects aimed specifically at those at risk of forced marriage and female genital mutilation, to raise awareness of the law, legal rights and support services. They can also be helped through the five freephone helplines the Home Secretary referred to earlier.

Sex Entertainment Venues (Licensing)

The Policing and Crime Act 2009 determined that decisions on licensing applications for sexual entertainment venues are best made at a local level. It also sets out the limited circumstances where such a licence would not be required. Hosting regular sexual entertainment without the relevant licence would represent a significant breach of broader licensing conditions, and local authorities are responsible for monitoring and enforcing those requirements.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Some pubs and clubs in my constituency have been regularly exploiting the loophole in the 2009 Act to which he refers. That puts patrons and performers at risk. Will he meet me to discuss how we can tighten up regulations in this important area?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. There is a balance to be struck between having rigorous and appropriate licensing conditions and imposing unnecessary bureaucratic burdens, but I will, of course, be very pleased to meet with my hon. Friend to discuss this further.

Topical Questions

May I first thank and congratulate the police, and, indeed, all the other emergency services, on the excellent work they have been doing overnight and continue to do today for the victims of the terrible storm?

Earlier this month the new National Crime Agency was launched to lead the UK’s fight against serious and organised crime. For the first time we have a single national agency harnessing intelligence in order relentlessly to disrupt organised criminals at home and abroad. I have also announced that we will introduce in this Parliament a modern slavery Bill, which will include measures to send the strongest possible message to criminals: “If you’re involved in the disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, prosecuted and locked up.” Modern slavery is an appalling evil in our midst and no man, woman or child should be left to suffer through this terrible crime. Finally, I have recently introduced an Immigration Bill which will stop immigrants using certain services where they are not entitled to do so, reduce the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK, and make it easier to remove people who should not be here.

On the last point, what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that her plans to introduce charges for foreign nationals using the NHS will not deter bright young talent from coming here to work or study?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that in the Immigration Bill, we will ensure not only that a better process will be put in place to deal with situations where people come here for a very short time, use the NHS and should be charged but the charges are not being retrieved, but that those who come for a temporary period and may use the NHS will actually contribute to the NHS. That is only fair to hard-working people up and down the country. We will be looking, in particular, at the issue of students, and we have been very clear that we will set the surcharge for the use of the NHS at a rate that is competitive, because a number of other countries across the world do exactly this and at a higher charge.

I join the Home Secretary in thanking the police and all the emergency services for their excellent work in response to today’s storm. I know that the House will also want to send sympathies to the families of those who are reported to have tragically lost their lives as a result of the storm.

It is because the police do such a valued and vital job that it is also important to have effective investigations when things go wrong, so that they do not cast a shadow over the excellent work that so many police officers do each day. So does the Home Secretary agree that in order to do that, it is time to replace the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, with a new organisation with stronger powers?

I join the shadow Home Secretary in sending condolences to the families and friends of those who, it is reported, have lost their lives as a result of the storm, and she is right in saying that the whole House will wish to pass our sympathies on to those who have lost loved ones. On her question, I think it is right that we beef up the IPCC—that we give it a greater ability to deal with serious and sensitive cases and complaints that have been made against the police, rather than seeing so many of those complaints referred back to the police for their investigation. I think the public are concerned at the number of cases where they see the police investigating themselves, and the Government are committed to increasing resources at the IPCC. We have given it new powers and, if necessary, we will continue to do that.

The Home Secretary’s response is welcome, but it does not go far enough. Let us consider some of the problems we have seen for the IPCC. So far, the IPCC has proved that it is powerless to direct action in the case of West Mercia police; it is powerless to get seven former police officers to come to interview over Hillsborough; and it is unable to keep the confidence of families over the Mark Duggan case, over undercover policing and Stephen Lawrence, or over the death of Ian Tomlinson. Surely the Home Secretary agrees that the public need to have confidence not only in the police, but in the watchdog, in order for an effective job to be done? The resources are not sufficient, and the watchdog needs the powers to be able to launch its own investigations and ensure that lessons are learnt. That is the best way to ensure that a shadow is not cast over the excellent work the police do. We have been urging her to do this for more than a year now, so why will she not introduce these reforms to give the watchdog the much stronger powers that it needs?

The right hon. Lady knows full well that not only the issue of the investigation of complaints against the police, but the whole question of the integrity of the police goes further than simply the IPCC. We have taken a number of steps: for example, the register of struck-off police officers, which will be introduced as a result of action taken by this Government. It is exactly the sort of thing that would have helped in respect of the police officer involved in the issue relating to the Ian Tomlinson death, to which she referred. This Government are taking action on the IPCC. We are going to increase the resources, we are increasing the powers for the IPCC and we will ensure that it will be investigating the serious and sensitive cases which currently are passed back to the police. I think it is right that these investigations are done by a body that is not the police themselves.

T3. Several constituents of mine who have made complaints against the police to the IPCC feel that it did not have the necessary teeth to act on their grievance. Notwithstanding my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s previous answer, will the Minister say what more can be done to deal with this situation? (900720)

As my hon. Friend will just have heard, it is precisely to address this genuine public concern that we are increasing not only the resources available to the IPCC but its powers, so that it can take on the serious and sensitive cases. The powers we have given it are ones the IPCC has requested because it has identified the gaps in its own powers.

T2. Will the Home Secretary confirm that for the past year, police have had to destroy the DNA of people arrested for but not charged with rape without the right to appeal to the DNA commissioner, which the Prime Minister promised they would have? (900719)

We have amended the rights to retention of DNA to ensure that those convicted of offences are properly on the database, which the previous Government failed to do. We have introduced a new process whereby the police will be able to appeal to the commissioner, and they have not sought to address that in respect of historic DNA cases.

T5. As the Minister will be aware, Essex unfortunately has one of the highest levels of domestic violence in the country, with nearly 27,000 cases reported to the police in 2011-12. Many more victims are afraid to come forward. What specific training is being given to police officers to spot domestic violence cases, given the vulnerable state victims are in following such abuse? (900722)

We have taken a number of actions under the ending violence against women and girls action plan, including domestic violence protection orders and the domestic violence disclosure scheme. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has conducted a review of all forces and their response to domestic violence to ensure that the good practice available in some force areas is spread as widely as possible—including, I am sure, my hon. Friend’s local force.

T4. Will the Home Secretary confirm whether she has held any discussions with her fellow European Union Ministers on developing a common approach to how we will handle the increasing flood of Syrian refugees, particularly so that we can try to avoid disasters such as those we have witnessed in recent days? (900721)

A number of discussions have been held at EU level in relation to Syrian refugees both at the Justice and Home Affairs Council and at the European Council that took place at the end of last week, on which the Prime Minister will be making a statement after questions have finished. We have been considering, and the UK is supporting, a regional programme close to Syria to enable us to work with those countries that have borne the brunt of accepting refugees from Syria, to ensure that the right and appropriate support is given. The United Kingdom has given more humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees than all the other members of the European Union put together.

I recently took part in a knife crime summit in Birmingham following a series of incidents that have taken away more young lives. Does the Minister agree that stop-and-search powers for the police can be an effective way of clamping down on the carrying of knives in certain of our inner-city communities?

I absolutely agree that stop-and-search is an extremely important tool in the hands of the police. My hon. Friend will be aware that the consultation is not about reducing police effectiveness in the use of stop-and-search, but increasing it by making it more targeted, so that it is more effective for the police and gives rise to more confidence in communities.

I recently met a young Tamil man who had previously been deported back to Sri Lanka by the Home Secretary. He showed me his torture scars resulting from the Sri Lankan terrorist investigation department having tortured him. Will the Minister give me a categorical assurance that we are no longer returning men to Sri Lanka to be forcibly abused by the Sri Lankan authorities there?

The hon. Lady will know that we make decisions on asylum on a case-by-case basis and very carefully. We look at the country information we have and use the best available data. Everyone whom we determine does not have the right to our protection has the opportunity to have their case heard by an independent judge. We only return people to countries where we do not think that they need our protection, and we always keep the situation in the country under close review, working with our international partners.

Is there any possible reason for a chief constable or another warranted police officer not to respond to a reasonable request or recommendation from the Independent Police Complaints Commission?

Obviously, all chief constables will take full notice of what the IPCC says and will respond to reasonable requests. I think I know the matter to which my hon. Friend refers, and he will have seen that in that case chief constables have responded to what the IPCC recommended.

T9. According to Refuge, three women a week commit suicide because of domestic violence and their abusers usually escape scot-free. Some campaigners are calling for a specific offence of liability for suicide to be introduced. What does the Home Secretary think is the answer? (900726)

Of course, it is horrific to see the number of women who die at the hands of their abusers or who commit suicide as a result of the abuse they are suffering. This is an issue we have looked at in the past, and for a variety of reasons we decided that we would not go ahead with the proposal the hon. Lady puts forward, but I am happy to look at the issue again.

One of the stubborn points that I hear from my constituents is that although crime is dropping, which is obviously welcome, rural crime is still not coming under control. Will the Minister please take a very close look at the police community support officers? Most of the stolen property turns up in Exeter or Bristol. If we had the resources for PCSOs, we would be able to detail a lot more of the thefts that are going on across places such as Exmoor, get some of the stuff back and deter these criminals if they thought they were going to get caught when they get back with the stuff that they had stolen.

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend and the House that in Avon and Somerset crime is down 21% since June 2010. We should pay tribute to the police in Avon and Somerset for doing that. I will look carefully at the recommendations that my hon. Friend makes about rural crime.

A moment ago the Home Secretary welcomed the setting up of the National Crime Agency, as do I, but unfortunately, as she will know, in Northern Ireland it has been blocked by two parties. What steps is she taking in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland to address this very big failing in relation to tackling crime and criminal gangs in Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have had a number of discussions with both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland on this matter. The National Crime Agency will be working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on matters relating to serious and organised crime and all matters under the National Crime Agency’s responsibilities, and we continue to talk both to my right hon. Friend and to the Minister of Justice and look for a further way forward on this issue.

Following the disturbing reports in The Sun this morning about the impact of the Snowden files on our intelligence services, may I urge the Home Secretary to continue to balance national security with press freedom as she deals with this issue?

My hon. Friend has raised an important point, which he has rightly raised on a number of occasions in the House. It is important, of course, that we protect press freedom, but we also need to ensure that we are able to protect our national security and that we do not see information being published which could give any succour to those who wish to do us harm through terrorism.

The Minister for Immigration will be well aware that I have had to draw his attention to unreasonably long delays in implementing tribunal decisions which have reversed Home Office refusals in individual cases. When will he put an end to the scandal of people waiting six months or, in some cases, more than a year for legally binding decisions to be implemented by his Department?

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right: he has drawn some of those cases to my attention. Sometimes, when tribunals make rulings that require a change in policy, it is important to get that policy right to make sure that we can implement the tribunals’ decisions in the way they intended. If the right hon. Gentleman has any further cases, which he seemed to have, will he please get in touch with me and I will be happy to take those up for him.