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Topical Questions

Volume 571: debated on Monday 2 December 2013

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.