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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 571: debated on Monday 2 December 2013

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police Reform

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that we have scrapped national targets, improved police accountability, reformed pay and conditions, abolished bureaucracy, set up the National Crime Agency and College of Policing and brought in elected police and crime commissioners. Those are the most radical reforms in the history of policing.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will she also confirm that crime has fallen to the lowest level on record?

Again, I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that crime is down on both the reported measures of recorded crime and the crime survey. Recorded crime is down by more than 10% under this Government, and that is backed up by the independent crime survey, which shows that crime has halved since 1995 and is indeed at its lowest level since the survey began in 1981.

Has the Home Secretary had an opportunity to look at Lord Stevens’ report, which was published last week? In it, he says that the police are in danger of

“beating a retreat from the beat.”

Is it not time for us to reaffirm the importance of neighbourhood policing and the wider social justice purpose of policing?

The figures show that the proportion of police on the front line has gone up under this Government.

The Home Secretary will know that I am a strong supporter of the police, but I hope she will bear in mind the lack of confidence that exists in the way that complaints about the police are investigated. For the public to have confidence in the police, it is important that complaints are properly investigated. I have some serious issues in west Yorkshire about how a particular case has been dealt with. Will she look again at how West Yorkshire police investigates complaints about its own police officers?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of ensuring that complaints against the police are dealt with properly and the concern that members of the public often have about the police investigating themselves. That is precisely why we are giving extra resources and powers to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In future, the IPCC, rather than the police themselves, will investigate serious and sensitive complaints against the police. I am pleased to say that for the other complaints that will remain with the police at local level, many police and crime commissioners are looking at how they can introduce a degree of independent oversight or consideration of those complaints.

Greater Manchester police is constantly having to reform because its numbers have been cut by more than 400 since 2010. For the next 12 weeks, our local police and 150 specialist officers are being deployed to control a very small protest against the development of shale gas at Barton Moss. I am concerned that the police response to what is a small protest is complete overkill and very costly and that crime could soar in my constituency given that our diminished force is now being diminished even more.

I am pleased to say that crime in the Greater Manchester area is down by 9%. The hon. Lady raises the issue of how a particular protest is being policed by Greater Manchester police. That of course is an operational matter, which is entirely for the chief constable and officers of Greater Manchester police.

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the Government are taking firm action to ensure that police forces accurately report crime statistics?

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the Home Office does ensure that there are rules about what particular crimes should be recorded. This is a matter that will be looked at, and is looked at, by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. Under our new arrangements, the police and crime commissioners have, in at least one case, taken action. In Kent, the PCC asked HMIC to come in and look at the recording of crime to see whether there were any problems and to ensure that lessons were learned.

In an unprecedented step commissioned by the Opposition and a royal commission in all but name, Lord Stevens reported last week with the most comprehensive analysis in half a century of British policing. He sounds the warning bell that the Government’s reforms, and cuts to the front line—10,460—and partnership working risk returning our police service to a discredited model of reactive policing. Does the Home Secretary agree with Lord Stevens and does she support his recommendation that there should be a guaranteed level of neighbourhood policing? It is what works and it is what local people want.

Of course, Lord Stevens produced a number of recommendations in his report and I am happy to say that the Government have put quite a few of them in place through all the reforms we have been making—reforms that have, I might say, been opposed at every stage by those on the Labour Front Bench.

Illegal Drugs

We are committed to tackling the supply of illegal drugs in the UK and overseas. Action to restrict drug supply is a priority for the police and the new National Crime Agency. The coalition Government’s new serious and organised crime strategy emphasises the importance of tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that it is vital that the police target resources to crack down on the supply of drugs and will he therefore welcome the success of Operation Silence, recently launched by West Mercia police to target drugs in Worcester? Would he agree with the local police officer who said:

“To be as determined and tenacious as our drug dealers is morally the right thing to do”?

Yes, I do agree with that. I am pleased to hear that robust action is being taken to damage that trade in my hon. Friend’s area and elsewhere in the country. I agree that visible law enforcement activity can be effective in restricting the supply of drugs and I am pleased to see the partnership in West Mercia and Warwickshire to steer drug misusers into treatment.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Border Force and the National Crime Agency on their recent seizure of 850 kg of cocaine and does he agree that that shows that our approach to securing borders and tackling organised crime is paying dividends?

I congratulate the National Crime Agency and Border Force on that seizure, which is believed to be the largest cocaine seizure in Britain for more than two years. It is a good example of the benefits that intelligence sharing and partnerships between law enforcement agencies can bring about in disrupting drug traffickers and other criminals. That is a key element in our efforts to tackle organised and serious crime.

If tackling illegal drugs is a priority for his Government, can the Minister explain to the House why police seizures of drugs fell by 9% in the past year to the lowest level since 2005?

The hon. Gentleman might also reflect on the fact that drug use is at its lowest level since 1996. The number of drug offences in 2012-13 was also down by 9%, so we are clearly making significant progress in these matters.

Are not the Government adding to the supply of illegal drugs by criminalising a relatively low-harm drug, khat? That action will drive a wedge of antagonism between the police and two already marginalised communities. Is not the experience that every drug that is banned has an increase in its use and supply?

No, that last point is not true at all. Some of the action we have taken on so-called legal highs, for example, has been very successful in driving down the use of those substances. As for khat, the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to exchange views with me at great length in the Select Committee on Home Affairs last week and I refer him to the comments I made on that occasion.

24. Can the Minister assure me that when new drugs or legal highs are discovered, he will take swift action? We do not want inordinate delay due to research, because of the harm done to people. (901356)

I agree. We have a very good early warning system in this country, which is perhaps further ahead than those elsewhere in Europe. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that as a consequence of the action we have been keen to see occur, last week we saw a week of action from the police, the National Crime Agency, Border Force and others that led to 39 arrests and the seizure of thousands of pounds of cash, a firearm and 9 kg of substances from a head shop in Kent.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), does the Minister personally agree that khat should be reclassified as an illegal drug?

I am tempted to say that I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago and at great length in the Home Affairs Committee. I went through the careful procedure that led the Home Secretary to conclude that the matter should be dealt with in the way that she dealt with it. That matter was decided long before I was a Minister in this office.

Online Crime

The Government are taking a range of steps to combat online crime. They include significantly strengthening law enforcement’s capabilities through the creation of the national cybercrime unit, the establishment of specialist regional policing teams and training 5,000 police officers in digital investigation skills.

Investigating and preventing online crime often requires specialist technical skills. Will the National Crime Agency be able to bring in non-police specialists, to ensure that it has access to the widest range of technical skills to tackle cybercrime?

My hon. Friend makes an important point on the need for specialist capabilities in the new national cybercrime unit, and indeed in the National Crime Agency. The NCA has established a specials programme to encourage people to volunteer to provide specialist knowledge. I do not know whether my hon. Friend, who has a strong background in IT, is making his case for being a special in the National Crime Agency, but that is certainly something that we are seeking to encourage.

20. The Olympics were overseen by police Operation Podium to stop online criminal ticket touting. Will the Minister look into working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to make the rugby world cup an event of national significance, and to stop real fans being ripped off? (901352)

I think the hon. Gentleman will be aware that ticketing fraud has been looked at by colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Operation Podium was a great success for the Metropolitan police. The economic crime unit in the National Crime Agency is very focused on combating all forms of fraud. Certainly, we will continue to reflect on the need to take firm action on all fraud, wherever it occurs.

Immigration: Romania and Bulgaria

6. What assessment she has made of the expected level of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria between 2014 and 2018. (901338)

My hon. Friend will know that we consulted the Migration Advisory Committee on that question, and it advised us that making an estimate was not practical because of the number of variables, so we have not done so.

I am grateful for that answer. Having seen the numbers last week for the increase in migrants from the EU, does the Minister still believe that we can get total net migration down to the tens of thousands in this Parliament without having some restrictions on immigration by Romanians and Bulgarians next year?

If my hon. Friend looked closely at the net migration statistics last week, he will have seen that what was interesting about them was not only the reduction in emigration by European Union nationals, but the fact that the increase in migration from the European Union involved people from not eastern Europe, or Romania and Bulgaria, but some of the southern European states, reflecting the weakness in their economy and the strength of ours.

Yesterday was the national day of Romania, celebrated in Bucharest, and also in White Hart Lane, where a young, talented Romanian, Vlad Chiriches, was man of the match. Is it still the Government’s position, as set out on the website in Bucharest, that we want Romanians to come to this country to live and work, provided that they do not claim benefits? How many members of the Government support the retention of the restrictions?

Of course, since 2007, Romanians and Bulgarians have been able to come to Britain to study, if they are self-sufficient, or to work in a skilled occupation, where they have asked for permission to do so. All that is happening at the end of the year is that the general restrictions are being lifted. Of course, if they want to come here to work and contribute, they are very welcome to do so; the changes set out last week by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary make it clear that we do not want them coming here just to claim benefits. I think that those reforms are welcome and are supported by Government Members.

I congratulate the Government and the Minister on getting non-EU immigration figures down. I want to be helpful to him. He will know that the respected think-tank Migration Watch UK has predicted that between 30,000 and 70,000 Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants will come to the UK every year for five years. What figures, within those parameters, does he favour?

As I said, we consulted the Migration Advisory Committee. I have seen a range of forecasts. I have seen the Migration Watch UK one, forecasts from the two countries concerned, which are much lower, and other forecasts that are much higher. The fact that there is such a range of forecasts from independent commentators demonstrates how sensible the Government’s decision was not to join in.

Three million Bulgarians have left their country to work in other countries over the last few years, because they have had the right to access 15 European countries. Is not a lot of the rhetoric that we have heard recently just scaremongering, following on from the disgraceful situation in the Eastleigh by-election? [Interruption.] I see a Member squinting; in that by-election, it was said that 3.1 million Bulgarians—more than half the population of Bulgaria—would be coming here in January next year. Why does the Minister not publish the actual number of Bulgarians who have come here to work in the past few years, so that we do not have this rhetoric running around the media?

I wish that I could control the rhetoric running around the media, but unfortunately I cannot. Today I did an interview with the BBC in which I was more or less told that there is no problem, which was interesting, because, as I gently pointed out, it is running an entire week of programmes on the subject. That suggests it has a strange sense of priorities. To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s point seriously, the Government have been clear that if people want to come here to work and contribute, as Romanians and Bulgarians have done since 2007, that is absolutely fine. The changes we made last week are about ensuring that people do not come here to claim benefits. It is also worth noting that 79% of the new jobs created since the Government came to power have gone to British citizens.

Although I welcome the measures that the Government have taken on benefits, which will have an effect, are not the concerns about immigration from Romania and Bulgaria really just the tip of a wider problem? With much of southern and eastern Europe still heading into recession, tolerance of the free movement of people is quite close to reaching its natural end.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is why our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week that we very much want to look at free movement and how we negotiate future accession arrangements for large countries. He set out a range of things we might want to consider, other than just time limits—for example, relative income levels in countries—which I think has great merit.

The Minister did not really answer the question from the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), so let me give him another go. Given that figures published last week show that net migration rose to 182,000, from 167,000, over the previous year, before the impact of any Romanian and Bulgarian immigration in January, does he think that the target, as set out in the Prime Minister’s solemn manifesto pledge, of having a net migration in the “tens of thousands,” to quote the hon. Member for Amber Valley, by May 2015 will be met—yes or no?

When the right hon. Gentleman’s party was in power, net migration reached 2.1 million. I should also point out, to help the shadow Home Secretary, who was challenged on this yesterday by Andrew Neil, that most of that immigration was from countries outside the European Union. There was a large bar chart showing that on the television screen, but she denied what is reality.

Access to Benefits

My hon. Friend will have noted the steps set out last week by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to tighten up the benefits system and ensure that those coming to Britain do so to work and contribute, rather than to take out of the country.

A thought-provoking article on migration published last week by Civitas shows that the British sense of fairness dictates that there should be some link between what people put into the welfare state and what they get out of it. Does my hon. Friend agree that in the case of new immigrants there is very little link at all, and does that not need to be looked at?

My hon. Friend is spot on. A number of the changes we set out last week do exactly that. For example, we are limiting the period over which a jobseeker can keep claiming benefits to six months. Colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions have strengthened the habitual residence test to ensure that it is tougher. We have also made sure that if people who come here are not exercising treaty rights and we remove them from the United Kingdom, we can stop them returning unless they demonstrate that they are going to do so.

Much of the detail on access to benefits is determined locally, and it is quite difficult, even after checking with the House of Commons Library or the website, to understand what some of the precise definitions mean. What steps has the Minister taken to ensure that local authorities and the various agencies interpret what he thinks is a toughening consistently across the country?

On the hon. Lady’s point about benefits, those are not decisions for local authorities but for the Department for Work and Pensions, which trains its staff very carefully and gives them clear guidance. They are rolling out the new habitual residence test, which is robust and has a clear script with questions that people are asked. There will be further changes on access to housing benefit. We will make sure that where these decisions are for local authorities they are provided with clear guidance so that they can make the right decisions in the tougher regime.

On 1 January, when the transitional controls on Romania and Bulgaria are lifted, will entry also be permitted to non-EU citizens who have Bulgarian or Romanian passports? If so, will the very large number of Moldovans who have Romanian passports be entitled to benefits, like Romanians and Bulgarians?

I may be missing something, but if people have Romanian or Bulgarian passports and are citizens of Romania or Bulgaria, they are entitled to come to Britain because those countries are members of the European Union. Indeed, they could come to Britain today; the transitional restrictions are only about whether they can come here to work. People with a Romanian or Bulgarian passports—citizens of those countries—are of course able to come to Britain today.

My constituents are pretty accepting of migration and have been for very many years, and I have always been liberal about migration to our country, but what does worry them is not just the benefit position but whether we have enough school places and social housing. Do we have enough public services to meet the challenge of a fresh wave of immigration?

It is very good, of course, that the hon. Gentleman takes a very liberal approach; he will have been delighted, then, when his party was in power and had net migration of 2.1 million over its period in office, but I do not think that was the general view. On the availability of public services, it is exactly because of the pressures on school places and on access to GPs that the Government have reduced net migration by nearly a third since the election. We want to make sure that people who are coming here are doing so to contribute and to pay their way, and that immigration is properly controlled.

Deportation Appeals System

We are making changes in the Immigration Bill to reduce the number of appeal rights and to ensure that those convicted of criminal offences will, in most cases, be able to be deported first and their appeal to take place from overseas.

I am grateful to the Minister for tightening up the previous Government’s deportation regulations so that the scandalous waste of time it took to deport Hamza and Qatada can never happen again. Can he confirm that the proposals he has tabled are unlikely to be struck down by the European Court of Human Rights? If they might be, is he prepared to take action against the European convention on human rights first?

We have looked very carefully at this, and we are confident that the measures in the Immigration Bill, including the changes that clause 14 makes to put article 8 on a proper statutory basis, are robust. The Home Secretary has made it clear that at the election we will have to deal with the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the convention. Indeed, that has been reinforced by comments from Lord Sumption, who pointed out that the Court is now engaged in judicial law-making, which is in constitutional terms remarkable, taking many contentious issues that should be questions for political debate and turning them into questions of law to be resolved by a tribunal. I could not agree with him more.

Domestic Violence

11. What assessment she has made of trends in the number of referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service for domestic violence offences. (901343)

The Home Office chaired a meeting with the former Director of Public Prosecutions in September. This has led to a six-point plan to increase the number of referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service. I am meeting the new Director of Public Prosecutions this week to discuss what more we can do to secure more convictions. However, it should be noted that last year saw the highest ever conviction rate for domestic violence prosecutions.

I thank the Minister for that answer. However, as we know from the crime survey, instances of domestic violence are increasing quite dramatically at the moment, and there has been a 13% fall in the number of cases referred to the CPS from the police since the election. Is a six-point plan really enough to tackle this serious problem?

I agree that it is a serious problem, and that is why the Home Secretary and I have been working to deal with it. The six-point plan includes Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary looking specifically at police referrals to the CPS, reviewing the use of out-of-court disposals for these cases, and convening a national scrutiny panel to look at the trends in, for example, rape referral levels. We are taking these matters very seriously. As I said, I am meeting the DPP this week.

I welcome the Government’s decision last week to introduce Clare’s law and, in parallel, domestic violence protection orders. Does the Minister agree that those two steps will do a great deal to protect women against domestic violence?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and welcome the action she has taken for a long time on these matters. The pilot schemes for both Clare’s law and the protection orders demonstrated that they were useful. They were well used in the pilot areas and make a difference in driving down the incidence of domestic violence.

Referrals are going down, but reported cases of domestic violence are going up. Today’s The Times also reports leaked figures showing that other crimes, including burglary and street robbery, are going up. Does the Minister now regret the Government’s complacency and the way in which they have undermined crime prevention specialist units, neighbourhood police and domestic violence support services?

I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong on almost all counts. On the piece in this morning’s The Times, the hon. Gentleman might want to know that crime recorded by north-west police has fallen by 17% since June 2010 and that West Yorkshire has seen a drop of 15% in the same period. We welcome the fact that we now have a system whereby people—and women in particular—have more confidence to come forward to report domestic violence. [Interruption.] I hope you can hear me above the hubble-bubble opposite, Mr Speaker. I hope the situation will lead in due course to an increase in the number of prosecutions and convictions. Given that the matters are now firmly in the public mind, as they should be, historical cases are also coming forward and they are pushing the figures up.

Immigration Status Inquiries

12. How many random inquiries on immigration status have been made in public places in each of the last six months. (901344)

That is a surprising answer, because a number of us have witnessed immigration officers at Metropolitan line and other tube stations around London stopping people and asking them for their immigration status. Will the Minister assure me that no immigration officer would ever stop anyone randomly in a public place, ask them for identity documents and then call in the police to assist them with their inquiries, when there is no requirement to carry identity cards at any time in this country? Indeed, such identity cards do not even exist.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not conduct random operations; we conduct intelligence-led operations, as did the previous Government, and they are very successful. The street operations we have conducted this year have led to the arrest of almost a third of those encountered. They are very successful in enforcing our immigration laws. We do not stop people at random; we are not empowered to do so by law and even if we were, we would not do so as a matter of policy. We stop people when we think there is intelligence to indicate that they are breaking our immigration laws, and I make no apology for that.

I thank the Minister and his staff for the support they gave recently to a constituent of mine to clarify a situation and smooth over the problems.

The number of illegals being identified by the police at the ferry terminals in my area—which is part of the common travel area—has fallen only slightly. Is the Minister able to tell the House the number of people in that category who are stopped but not properly processed and who simply disappear?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks.

I do not have the figures to hand, because I was not aware that he intended to ask that question. I will look at the issue in detail and write to him, but on the common travel area in general, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims signed an agreement with the Irish Justice Minister in, I think, December 2011. We are taking steps with the Irish Republic to strengthen the common travel area to make sure that our borders continue to get more secure.

Violence against Women and Girls

13. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Education on preventing violence against women and girls. (901345)

The Department for Education routinely attends meetings of the violence against women and girls inter-ministerial group. We are committed to working in collaboration with the Department of Education to deliver actions from the violence against women and girls action plan to help young people better understand issues such as consent and healthy relationships.

Given that two women a week die at the hands of a partner or ex-partner and, alarmingly, that 50% of young men and 43% of young women feel it is acceptable for men to be aggressive towards their partners, the situation needs collective action. What in particular is the Home Secretary doing in conjunction with the Education Secretary about the introduction of compulsory relationship and sex education, not just in the secondary maintained sector, but in the primary and secondary sectors?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point to the appalling figures for the number of women who lose their lives each week in this country at the hands of a partner or former partner. Sadly, that figure has not changed for many years. Regularly, for a number of years, about two women a week have lost their lives in that way.

I share the hon. Lady’s concern about the figures showing the number of young people who think that abuse within a relationship is normal. That is something that we must change. It is why the Home Office will shortly relaunch our very successful “This is Abuse” national campaign, which shows young people when actions constitute abuse and helps them to understand that.

Early next year, Home Office Ministers will meet Ministers from the Department for Education and teaching unions to raise awareness among staff and pupils about risks linked to violence against women and girls. I am pleased to say that the Department for Education is providing funding to the PSHE Association to work with schools that are developing their personal, social, health and economic education curricula, which includes sex and relationships education.

Human Trafficking

14. What steps she is taking to ensure that all appropriate powers are available to seize the UK and overseas assets of people engaged in human trafficking. (901346)

The Government are committed to tackling human trafficking and are determined to build on the UK’s strong record in supporting victims. The proposed modern slavery Bill, the first of its kind in Europe, will strengthen our response by increasing the number of successful prosecutions and convictions. The new serious and organised crime strategy makes it clear that attacking criminal finances is at the heart of our efforts to pursue all organised criminals. We are committed to strengthening legislation and ensuring that existing powers are effectively deployed both here and overseas.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Given the challenges of seizing traffickers’ assets, will he ensure that greater urgency is given to getting hold of them and making sure they go to compensate the victims of these horrendous crimes?

I think that it is important to underline to my hon. and learned Friend the steps that are being taken. Last year, about £1 million was taken off human trafficking offenders by way of enforcement of confiscation orders. Equally, I am absolutely clear on the need for more action. That is why the new National Crime Agency has been tasked with making the tackling of modern slavery one of its priorities, and why we are introducing the modern slavery Bill to up prosecutions and up such enforcement action. Indeed, the Bill will include provision for a new commissioner to get a stronger operational response on the recovery of assets and on other prosecutions.

One of the poisonous sidelines in the deplorable trade of human trafficking is of course the existence of rogue and criminal gangmasters. Are the Government minded to support Labour’s call to extend the gangmasters licensing regime to cover sectors to which this devastating trade has now spread, because it has gone beyond its traditional areas into construction, social care and other sectors where these rogues and criminals reside?

I can say to the hon. Gentleman that the National Crime Agency is working closely with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and, indeed, has been involved in an important operation in Cambridgeshire in the past few weeks. Evidence is being taken by the Centre for Social Justice as part of our preparations for the modern slavery Bill. We are focusing on provisions that relate to enforcement by policing and law enforcement agencies, but we will clearly keep operational matters under review.

On the basis of figures about UK citizens receiving consular advice for alleged trafficking and the fact that very few seem to be brought to justice overseas, is the Minister giving proper attention and resources to ensuring that UK citizens who ply this evil trade abroad are properly brought to justice?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on the need to look at this complex issue both domestically in the UK and overseas. That is why we are working with other Governments and our embassies to strengthen support services for victims and to prevent these appalling crimes from occurring. The National Crime Agency has a focus on looking internationally and co-ordinating its work with overseas law enforcement agencies, so ensuring that where there is evidence, those involved in these pernicious crimes will be brought to justice.


We have reduced net migration by nearly a third since its peak in 2010. Immigration continues to fall, with immigration from outside the EU at its lowest level since 1998. We will continue to take steps to keep immigration under control, while allowing the best and the brightest to come to Britain to contribute to our economy.

I welcome the Minister’s answer, but will he assure me that the Government will remove people who are not here to work and prevent them from coming back, unless they have a very good, legitimate reason for doing so?

From last week’s announcements, my hon. Friend will have noted that we are changing the relevant regulations so that if EU citizens in Britain are, for example, involved in low-level criminality or rough sleeping, and not exercising their treaty rights, we will be able to remove them and prevent them from coming back, unless they can demonstrate that they will immediately be exercising those treaty rights. I think that those changes will be welcomed in the country.

Will the Minister address that part of his responsibilities in this policy area as they affect would-be foreign students coming to study in this country? On 17 October, he painted a pretty positive picture in a written answer to me on this issue, but that stands in stark contrast to what the UK university sector is saying about a massive loss of income and of international good will for our country.

I am surprised by that, because figures published last week showed a 7% increase—an increased increase on the previous statistics—in the number of such students going to our universities. There is no reason why a student who is properly qualified, who can speak English and who can pay their fees cannot come to a university, and if they get a graduate-level job, they can stay afterwards to work and to continue contributing, so I am not sure why the university sector is saying that. The increase in the number of students does not support its argument.

Although I can understand, given the grotesque underestimate by the previous Government, my hon. Friend’s reluctance to predict the number of Bulgarians and Romanians likely to come to this country, may I encourage him to give the public and local authorities some indication so that they can plan? Furthermore, even at this late stage, may I invite the Government to support new clause 1 to the Immigration Bill to extend the transitional arrangements—and let us see the courts of these islands, or indeed the European Court of Justice, defy the will of Parliament?

On the first point, predictions only have any value if they are accurate. I am sure that my hon. Friend was listening carefully to my earlier answer, but the figures from independent commentators—from the countries concerned to Migration Watch and other forecasters—are wide-ranging. Indeed, from what I think I heard an Opposition Member say, there is a political party in this country that thinks that all 29 million citizens of those two countries are going to arrive at Heathrow airport on 1 January. With that range of forecasts, it would not be wise to make any predictions.

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures

TPIMs provide some of the most restrictive measures available in the democratic world and, unlike control orders, they have been consistently upheld by the courts. The Security Service and police believe they have been effective in reducing the threat posed by TPIM subjects, and the Government have made it clear to the police and Security Service that every available power under TPIMs should be used to its fullest possible extent.

In the last year under the Homes Secretary’s scheme, Ibrahim Magag and Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed have absconded. Does she have any idea where either man is, and will she confirm that, contrary to what she said last time she was in the House, she has no idea where Mr Mohamed’s passport is?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to make verbally the amendment I made in Hansard. In my statement to the House about Mr Mohamed, I told the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, that I thought the police had his passport. I wrote to him afterwards explaining that that information was incorrect. The police did not have his passport, because when he returned to the UK, he was not in possession of a passport and therefore it was not possible to remove it from him.

The Home Secretary’s weak TPIMs regime reaches a milestone on 26 January 2014, when seven out of the eight TPIM orders expire and cannot be renewed. This includes the TPIM governing AY, who is believed to be a key member of the group behind attempts to blow up transatlantic flights with liquid bombs and who travelled to Pakistan to learn bomb making, and AM, who was involved in the same plot. Lord Justice Wilkie concluded that he was “highly intelligent” and

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

Will she explain why these individuals will be freed from all restrictions by the end of January 2014?

The hon. Lady is aware of the legislation, as is everybody else, but I take issue with her description of TPIMs. As she will have heard me say in answer to her hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), TPIMs provide some of the most restrictive measures available in the democratic world. The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation stated:

“In terms of security, the TPIM regime continues to provide a high degree of protection against untriable and undeportable persons who are judged on substantial grounds to be dangerous terrorists,”.

The hon. Lady talks about people coming off TPIMs as if no one had ever come off a control order. In fact, 43 people came off control orders because the previous Government revoked them because they were quashed in court, or in six cases because people absconded and were never seen again.

Police Service

We have moved away from a single point of recruitment and are introducing entry direct to senior police ranks to encourage the most able and those with strong evidence of delivery. There are now different routes to enter as a constable, including having a level 3 qualification, a police qualification or relevant policing experience.

Some claim that a person cannot serve as a senior police officer without having served in the lower ranks, but direct entry is successful in the armed forces and the prison service. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the College of Policing should look at best practice in those professions to ensure that direct entry encourages the best and brightest talent from all walks of life to join the police service?

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that the College of Policing will do exactly that. Clearly, many of the best and brightest people already join the police service, but we can always make it better. The proposals are designed to ensure that a wider talent pool is available to the police.

Project Spade

In July 2012, prior to its incorporation into the National Crime Agency, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre received information via Interpol from Toronto police as part of Project Spade. The NCA CEOP command has now undertaken additional assessment of the data provided, and information was provided to police forces on 26 November. Investigations in the UK are therefore ongoing. Being part of the NCA brings advantages for CEOP, including the ability to draw on specialist skills, resources and the international network.

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary talk often about the need to combat child abuse images, and keep asking for more powers. We now know that when excellent police work happens in Canada, which released 386 young children, and 2,345 specific suspects are passed on to CEOP and the British police, the British police do nothing for 18 months. Does the Minister agree it is important for the police to get the basics right, not to keep asking for more powers?

That is precisely why CEOP has been moved to the National Crime Agency. Since its launch, the NCA can already demonstrate operational success in tackling child exploitation. As part of a recent operation by the NCA, which has been up and running for only a couple of months, 25 individuals were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the distribution of indecent images of children. The move to the NCA has made CEOP even more effective than it was in the past.

Topical Questions

My Department continues its work to bring forward a modern slavery Bill, which will strengthen our response to that appalling crime. We propose to introduce new legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows, and will publish a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill will clarify existing legislation and enable the courts to restrict activity that puts others at risk, ensuring that more traffickers are identified, disrupted and brought to justice. We are determined to build on the UK’s strong track record in supporting victims and fighting traffickers.

The House will be aware of Friday’s tragic incident in Glasgow, in which a Police Scotland helicopter crashed into the Clutha pub. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their friends and families. The national police operational co-ordination centre stands ready to assist Police Scotland in any way it can, and the National Police Air Service has also offered air support to Scotland for critical incidents.

I am sure the whole House joins the Home Secretary in her condolences to those affected by the growing tragedy in Glasgow.

Recently in Fleetwood, a joint operation between Wyre borough council, Fleetwood police, and local pub landlords through Pubwatch targeted the illegal use of drugs. Interestingly, a drug sniffer dog was used among customers, which was totally welcomed by customers and landlords alike—except, perhaps, by the one person arrested. Does the Home Secretary welcome more of those joint and direct operations by police and local councils on the front line to bring back confidence in our communities?

I thought the hon. Gentleman was applying for an Adjournment debate, but then I realised he has already had it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he gives me the opportunity to welcome joint action at local level. I commend Wyre borough council, Lancashire police and publicans for their work. I am pleased to say that we will announce shortly a number of local alcohol action areas, which will seek to tackle alcohol-related crime and health harms, and diversify the night-time economy beyond businesses centred on selling alcohol.

I join the Home Secretary is sending our sympathy to those who have lost loved ones or been affected by the tragic helicopter crash in Glasgow. We pay tribute to the emergency services who are still working hard to help people.

The Home Secretary will be aware that before the election the number of prosecutions and convictions for rape, domestic violence and child abuse was going up year on year as a result of the bravery of victims and hard work by the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Government agencies and support workers. The police recognised today that the number of prosecutions and convictions for rape has fallen since the election, even though more crimes are being recorded. The number of cases being referred by the police to the courts has dropped by 33% since the election. Will she tell the House why that has happened?

The right hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the figures; they are a concern and the Government are looking at them. My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention will be taking this issue forward. As he said in response to an earlier question, there was a meeting at the Home Office between Ministers and the Director of Public Prosecutions a couple of months or so ago to look at the issue and find out where the problem lies. Historic incidents are now being reported— we have seen a number of reports of claims of crimes in relation to Operation Yewtree and others—but it is right that we look carefully to ascertain what the issue is. That is exactly what the Minister for Crime Prevention will be doing when he takes this matter forward with the incoming Director of Public Prosecutions later this week.

I have to say that there seem to be a lot of meetings that are just not working. The trouble is that this is not just about rape: prosecutions and convictions are down for domestic violence and child abuse, too, even though the number of reported crimes in those areas is also increasing. The police are referring 13% fewer domestic violence cases and 28% fewer child abuse cases to the courts since the election, before which the figures were going up. Those are shocking figures: there are more crimes and more serious offenders are getting away with it. The police are being hollowed out and specialist units cut. The Home Secretary said three years ago that tackling violence against women was her priority. I urge her to start treating it as such.

I note that we are seeing higher conviction rates for rape, and we should all welcome that. I tried to answer the right hon. Lady’s question in a way that was serious and sensible. This is a matter that we need to be concerned about and consider, but we cannot know what the answer is until we have identified why, for example, we have seen fewer referrals from the police. Until we—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady is muttering from a sedentary position and making certain assumptions. I take a simple view: it is right and proper to consider the causes behind these figures. Only when we do that will we be able to ensure that the action we take will address the issue. I repeat that she must recognise, as I am sure she does, that the figures for higher reports of violence and abuse include a significant increase as a result of historical operations—

Order. I am extremely grateful to the Home Secretary. I remind the House that topical questions and answers are supposed to be brief. We can be led in that now by Mr Martin Vickers.

T2. My constituents are concerned about immigration from Romania and Bulgaria and would like to see the transitional period extended. Public opinion in neighbouring EU states shows that that view is widely shared. Have the Government had discussions with other EU Governments on united action? (901359)

It is not possible to extend transitional controls due to the terms of the accession treaties signed by the Labour party when it was in government. Eight other European countries will remove those controls at the end of the year. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has, however, been working with our European colleagues to tighten the rules so that we see a reduction in the abuse of free movement.

I welcome that fact that now, under Clare’s law, victims of serial perpetrators of domestic violence will be able to get disclosures from right across the country. The Home Secretary knows that victims are probably at their most vulnerable at the point of disclosure, so will she ensure that organisations such as Women’s Aid and domestic violence advisers have sufficient resources to be able to protect those victims at that point?

I recognise the interest that the right hon. Lady has taken in the question of Clare’s law and the work that she did to promote the concept behind it, following the sad and tragic death of one of her constituents who did not have access to information about their partner. What we have seen among the police forces that have been piloting Clare’s law is a real understanding of the need to work closely with other organisations such as Women’s Aid to ensure that there is support for victims. I am pleased to say that the Government have ring-fenced £40 million for local support, including for independent domestic violence advocates, who often play a key role in such cases.

We are indeed taking steps. It is not right that someone who is here illegally should be able to access UK driving licences, which are used not just for driving but to get access to benefits and services. The Immigration Bill strengthens our ability to issue licences only to those who are lawfully here and enables us for the first time to revoke licences held by those who should not be here.

Does the Minister share my concern at reports that, because of pressure on police numbers, police officers are increasingly attending domestic violence incidents singly, which makes it more difficult for them to separate partners and puts the officers themselves at risk?

I am confident that the police can deal with domestic violence incidents more effectively now that domestic violence protection orders are in place, which enable them to separate the perpetrator and victim immediately by requiring the perpetrator to leave the premises.

T4. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is right for the Government to review the implications of the free movement directive, particularly for EU migration—and I welcome her remarks last week—and to look at individual measures such as imposing a cap on numbers of European migrants, once they reach a certain threshold? (901361)

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to look at the issue of free movement—and it will be possible to do that because the Conservatives have a commitment as a party to renegotiate the treaty and to look at free movement within it. In future, we should consider a number of measures regarding the accession of countries into the EU and into free movement, so that we can protect public and other services that are available to our citizens.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the police and crime commissioner for the Thames Valley has blamed her 20% cut in spending on the police for the cuts he has made to the community safety funds for local government. My authority of Slough has been cut by £40,000, while the right hon. Lady’s has been cut by nothing. Can that be fair in an era when Slough has already reduced crime by 5% and needs these resources to carry on making progress?

I am happy to tell the hon. Lady what is fair. What is fair is that recorded crime in the Slough community safety partnership is down by 26% in the 12 months to June 2013, which is greater than the overall figure for England and Wales. That was between 2012 and 2013, so I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome this improved service to her constituents.

T5. After the wave of mass immigration under the previous Labour Government, my constituents believe that this country is full, and do not want to see unrestricted immigration from Romania, Bulgaria and, as it now turns out, up to one third of Moldova. At this late stage with a month to go, I urge the Home Secretary to think again and not to waive the transitional controls. (901362)

Obviously I understand why my hon. Friend’s constituents are concerned, given the appalling job that was done by the Labour Government. In fact, under Labour twice as many people arrived from outside the European Union as arrived from within it. However, as I said earlier, the transitional controls under the accession treaties that Labour signed can last only until the end of the year, and eight other European countries are removing those controls. That is why we have announced changes to ensure that anyone who comes to this country comes to work and not to claim benefits.

A number of my constituents who have been given leave to remain in this country, in some cases after appealing, are now spending several months waiting for the paperwork to come through, with the result that a number of them cannot take up job offers. What steps is the Department taking to deal with that?

If the hon. Lady knows of any specific cases and has not already written to me about them, I suggest that she do so. Since we split up the UK Border Agency, UK Visas and Immigration has been concentrating on improving its customer service standards. We have already reduced the backlog of cases by a significant amount in the current financial year, and we will continue to do so. The new director general is focusing on improving performance for our customers.

T6. What action is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that child victims of trafficking are receiving all the support to which they are entitled, and would she consider piloting a system of independent guardianship? (901363)

Ultimately, child trafficking is a form of child abuse. When such crimes take place, not only should those responsible be brought to justice, but victims should receive all the support that they need. Local authorities have a strategy duty under the Children Act 2004 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and the Department for Education, recognising the specific needs of child victims of trafficking, is considering ways of strengthening support arrangements for them.

The Home Secretary will, I hope, be aware of the tragic murder of my constituent Bijan Ebrahimi, whose killer was sentenced last Thursday. He was attacked because his neighbours thought, quite unjustifiably, that he was a paedophile. I have written to the Home Secretary, but may I urge her to do all that she can to ensure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has the resources that will enable it to report as quickly as possible? Resolving this matter is very important for community cohesion in the area.

The hon. Lady has made a very serious point about what is, as she says, a terrible case. I have not yet seen the letter that she sent to me, but I will look at it extremely carefully. We are providing extra resources for the IPCC to try to ensure that it can do its job effectively in looking into the way in which complaints about the police have been dealt with.

T7. What improvements are planned to exit and entry checks at ports of entry on the Irish sea which form part of the common border area with the Irish Republic? (901364)

I know that this matter is of concern to my hon. Friend and his constituents, because he wrote to me about it early this year. As I said earlier during Home Office questions, we continue to work closely with the Irish Republic following the protocol signed by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims. We work closely with the Republic in sharing intelligence to strengthen the controls that ensure that our country is properly protected.

Given the record number of animal experiments that were recorded in 2012, what action are the Government taking to create a downward rather than an upward trend?

I am pleased to say that we are taking strong action in that regard, in particular by promoting the alternatives to animal experiments to the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. We are leading the world in that regard.

T8. At a time when Britain is showing strong leadership internationally against sexual violence, is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary aware of the work done domestically and locally by the Norfolk Says No campaign against domestic abuse, which completed a great week of work last week? (901365)

I congratulate those who are involved in the Norfolk Says No campaign. We need more such examples of excellent local practice to ensure that our message reaches women in their daily lives, and police and crime commissioners have a role to play in the matter.