Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 574: debated on Monday 27 January 2014

The Home Office’s legislative programme for the year ahead builds on the successes of our work since the last election. Net migration is down by nearly a third since its peak in 2010, with net migration from outside the EU now at its lowest level since 1998. The Immigration Bill will reform the removals and appeals system, end the abuse of article 8, and prevent illegal immigrants from accessing and abusing our public services or the labour market. Police reforms are working: crime continues to fall and stands at its lowest level since the independent crime survey began in 1981. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will, among other things, introduce simpler, more effective powers to tackle antisocial behaviour, which will provide better protection for victims and communities. The Joint Committee scrutinising the draft modern slavery Bill began its work last week. Tackling individuals and organised crime groups who subject victims to horrendous abuse will result in more arrests, more prosecutions and—most importantly—more victims being released from slavery and more prevented from entering it in the first place.

What plans does the Secretary of State have for next month’s illegal wildlife trade conference? Will she publish her action plan for that conference, and set out her plan for Britain to continue to play an important role in this area, on which there is cross-party agreement?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he will be aware, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the lead Department on that conference, but the Home Office is heavily involved. We are working with DEFRA and are committed to continuing funding of the wildlife crime unit.

T2. The Normington report found that the Police Federation harasses those with dissenting views, lacks financial transparency and is a weak voice for officers. The report made 36 specific recommendations. Does the Home Secretary agree that the current chairman presiding over that systemic failure cannot be the right person to reform it? (902190)

I have to say to my hon. Friend that the current chairman of the Police Federation initiated the review. He wanted properly to review the federation’s role and whether it represents officers properly. Obviously, a number of key recommendations have come forward. It is important that the federation has had the review. If any changes require Home Office input, we stand ready to work with the federation on them.

Last week, the Home Secretary refused to come to the House to answer a question on vulnerable Syrian refugees, and sent the Immigration Minister to convey to the House her decision that Britain would not provide sanctuary to any of the vulnerable refugees, torture victims, abandoned children and others whom the Opposition and hon. Members on both sides of the House have urged her to help. He told us that to do so was simply a “token”. Twenty-one MPs asked the Home Office to change its position and sign up to the UN programme, and each time the Minister said no. As a result of the pressure that the Home Secretary has been put under, and in advance of the vote on Wednesday, has she listened, and is the answer now yes?

First, the United Kingdom has a fine record in terms of the amount of money we are providing in humanitarian aid—it is the largest sum of money of any of the European Union countries. We have also accepted in the past three years several thousand asylum seekers from Syria. That is another way in which we are appropriately offering support. Through the mandate programme, we have the ability to take refugees who have family connections here and whose families are willing to support them. However, I am working with the Foreign Secretary to look at what further support can be provided by the Government. Further announcements on that will be made in due course.

I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. As she will know, hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that aid to the region is vital. The majority of people will be helped through that, but the UN and others have made it clear that a minority of refugees are too vulnerable to cope or even to survive in the camps. That is why it is so important to provide extra help. This is not an either/or.

Let me press the Home Secretary specifically on the UN programme. She will know that there is huge flexibility within the programme on the numbers of people whom Britain can offer to help, on Britain’s ability to do security checks on those coming forward, and on Britain’s ability to specify who and what kinds of refugees it can support. Will she therefore tell the House now whether she will agree in principle to sign up to the UN programme—yes or no?

This issue is of concern for hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Government are looking at the most appropriate way for us to provide support and enhance the support we are already giving. As I said in answer to the right hon. Lady’s first question, I am working with the Foreign Secretary, and announcements will be made in due course. She wants an answer from me today, but I can assure her that she will have a response from the Government in advance of the House considering the Opposition motion on Wednesday.

T4. My constituent, Rebecca Holmes, was murdered by an abusive ex-partner while under the protection of the police. We have waited two years for an Independent Police Complaints Commission report in order to learn the lessons. Can the Minister do anything to hurry such reports along, or at any rate to monitor how slowly they go? (902192)

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have given the IPCC extra resources and extra powers so it can carry out its work more efficiently. It is independent, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on individual cases, but if he would like to send me more details, I will happily take up the general point with the IPCC.

T3. I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to next month’s conference on illegal wildlife trade and her continuing commitment to fund the wildlife crime unit. Will she now consider making wildlife crime a notifiable and recordable offence? (902191)

I am glad the hon. Gentleman recognises that the Government is fully committed to tackling wildlife crime in all its manifestations. We are certainly happy to look at any suggestion on how we can enhance our efforts further.

Proposed changes to dangerous dogs legislation contained in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill could mean that police officers, vets or officers from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who deal with or remove a dangerous dog that bites somebody, will be charged with a criminal offence, attracting up to five years in prison or 14 years if anyone dies as a result. Will the Home Secretary look at such unintended consequences before we implement further knee-jerk legislation, compounding an area of law that is already a dog’s breakfast?

I do not recognise my hon. Friend’s description, nor would I describe the legislation he refers to as “knee-jerk”. It has been subject to proper consultation and due consideration by this House in Committee and elsewhere. It is important that we deal with dangerous dogs. It is also important to ensure that dog owners behave responsibly towards those who may be affected adversely by their activities.

T5. The police and crime commissioner for north Wales is a member of one of the coalition Government parties, but that did not stop him last week expressing great concern at the scale of central grants from the Home Office for policing. He was especially concerned about the rising cost of fuel and petrol. Will the Home Secretary tell the House what discussions she has had with police and crime commissioners who represent rural areas on this important matter? (902193)

I assure the hon. Lady that both I and the Home Secretary have many meetings with police and crime commissioners, both from urban and rural areas; indeed, I met all the Welsh PCCs in one group in recent months. If the hon. Lady and her police and crime commissioner are worried about fuel duties, I remind her that it is this Government who have frozen fuel duties and ended the fuel duty escalator that the Government she supported kept throughout their time in office.

Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating Northamptonshire police, the police and crime commissioner, Adam Simmonds, and Chief Constable Adrian Lee on overseeing a 23% cut in violent crime—over halfway to their target of a 40% cut by 2016— that makes it the second most improving force in the country in this area of crime?

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the work done by individual officers, the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner in Northamptonshire. Their work is having a real impact on crime levels in the area, and that is of real benefit to those who live there. The Northamptonshire PCC has been at the forefront of looking at innovative ways for the police to work more effectively—for example, by bringing the blue light services together—and we support him in that.

T6. Given the responsibility of police and crime commissioners for setting force budgets, how many have been consulted on, and voiced their approval of, capping the police precept? (902194)

It is a matter for the commissioners themselves to decide whether to put up their precept, within the limits prescribed. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that this morning the Hertfordshire PCC announced that he was freezing the precept in his area. That seems to be a sensible thing for a Conservative PCC to do.

Does my right hon. Friend understand that many of us believe that, in the matter of Syrian refugees, the United Kingdom, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a particular obligation? How can it be that we are not able to accept some of the children who have suffered so grievously—traumatised, orphaned and, in some cases, disabled—as a result of the unrest in Syria? Surely this is a matter for humanity on the part of the Government, or are we to allow our moral compass to be set by Mr Nigel Farage?

As I said in answer to the shadow Home Secretary, the UK has a good record in supporting hundreds of thousands of refugees in the region. I have heard the concern expressed on several occasions in this place by Members on both sides of the House on the specific issue of vulnerable refugees, and as I said in response to the shadow Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and I are considering what further the UK might do.

T7. Earlier, the policing Minister said he wanted police forces to do more to increase the recruitment of black and minority ethnic officers—I think he said the College of Policing should show some “early energies”. Why does he not go a step further and introduce a legal requirement for every force to increase the number of black and minority ethnic officers serving our communities? (902195)

In no area of the public sector do we introduce quotas of the type the hon. Gentleman suggests—he will recognise as well as anyone that they could cause at least as many problems as they solve—but I agree that we need to do more, which is precisely why the College of Policing is taking practical steps to look at the best way we can achieve this.

May I press the Home Secretary on her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) about the Police Federation? On the one hand, Normington made proposals that required legislation, but on the other hand, there are examples of the federation promoting injustice that Normington gave no answer to. Is there not a clear requirement for the Government to act on this matter?

As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), the Police Federation is considering its response to the Normington review, and I look forward to seeing what it proposes to bring forward as a result of its consideration. The Home Office stands ready to make the necessary changes to enable the federation to put in place the right structure to ensure that it is truly representative of police officers.

T8. The Independent Police Complaints Commission cannot suspend officers, it cannot compel them to give interviews, it cannot prosecute them and its budget is smaller than that of the Met’s complaints department. Given what the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions, is it not time to reform this organisation so that we have a proper, independent, efficient investigatory body looking at the minority of police officers who offend? (902196)

It is absolutely time to reform and improve the IPCC, which is precisely why the Government have given it not just a bigger budget, but more powers, under legislation currently passing through Parliament, so that we can achieve reforms that make it efficient and large enough to do the very important job we ask it to do.

Each year, more than 1 million women suffer from domestic abuse, more than 300,000 are sexually assaulted and 60,000 are raped. These are shocking numbers. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to tackle violence against women?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should all remain concerned about the fact that violence, particularly domestic violence, against women has continued at levels unchanged for some time now. The Government have ring-fenced funding—for example, to support the specialist local domestic and sexual violence advisers and advocates—and made changes to the law, for example introducing domestic violence protection orders to ensure that the victim can stay in their home and that it is the perpetrator who has to leave it when action is taken. So support is being given in a number of areas.

Since the Home Secretary has accepted that there is much understandable concern across the House about the Syrian situation, would it not be far better for the House to reach a unanimous agreement on Wednesday, instead of dividing, given that we all basically want the same outcome, which is to assist as far as possible victims of violence and terror in Syria?

Indeed, it would be good if the House could come together and send a clear message, which is why I have said we will put before the House, and ensure it is aware of, our proposal on this matter. The Foreign Secretary and I continue to work on that.

The Government have taken significant steps to combat online child abuse, working with the police, technology companies and independent charities and experts, but an intensified risk is now posed by the hidden internet software Tor. What action can the Government take?

My hon. Friend has identified an important problem, that of Tor—The Onion Router—which is a secret part of the web. I hope that he will be reassured to learn that one of the specific tasks given to the industry by the UK-US joint taskforce, which I chair along with the assistant Attorney-General of the United States, is that of finding a way to root out criminality from secret parts of the web which are accessible to the terrible criminals who seek to exploit children online.