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Topical Questions

Volume 577: debated on Monday 10 March 2014

Since my statement last Thursday, hon. Members will have had the opportunity to read for themselves Mark Ellison’s report into the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, as well as that of Operation Herne into allegations of misconduct by the special demonstration squad. Both reports’ findings are deeply shocking. They will have an impact for the police, particularly the Metropolitan police, for years to come.

I have asked the chief inspector of constabulary to look at the anti-corruption capability of forces so that we can ensure that forces have all the capability that they need to pursue corruption. We must continue the programme of integrity and anti-corruption measures that I set out on Thursday.

Our reforms are changing the culture of the police through direct entry, a new code of ethics, greater transparency and professionalisation, and reform of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I am also, as I said on Thursday, tabling amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to introduce a new offence of police corruption.

From this autumn, the police will for the first time have the opportunity to bring in talented and experienced leaders from other walks of life to senior ranks, opening up policing culture. I believe that that is one of the most important reforms in shaping the police of the future.

Finally, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to the family of Stephen Lawrence, who continue to live through experiences that the rest of us cannot imagine. They have done so with dignity and stoicism. They deserve truth and justice.

I very much associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s comments. My constituents have raised with me the issue of scam sites dealing with passports and European health insurance cards, of which I, too, have been a victim. What pressure is she bringing to bear on search engines to stop that shoddy ripping off of hard-working people?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Government are already taking action to tackle rogue websites which masquerade as legitimate Government services, exaggerating the nature of the services they provide or deliberately underplaying the services that people can get for free or at a lower cost from official sources. The Government Digital Service is leading a cross-government exercise with organisations such as the Advertising Standards Authority, the National Trading Standards Board, Which? and search engines to raise awareness of the issue and ensure that enforcement action is taken, where appropriate. Ministerial colleagues have also met Google to discuss the enforcement of its policies for advertising on its search results pages. Google will continue to support us by removing misleading adverts and by closing the accounts of repeat offenders.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) on his promotion and his ability to generate headlines in his new job, and welcome the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) to her post in the home affairs team.

I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the Lawrence family, who have had to endure further betrayal with the information from the shocking Ellison review last week. Twenty-one years after the death of Stephen Lawrence, reforms are needed so that those failures do not continue to cast a long shadow over the vital and valiant work that so many police officers do each day and, in particular, so that we can build confidence among the black and ethnic minority communities. Does the Home Secretary therefore agree that the Independent Police Complaints Commission should now be replaced with a new, stronger police watchdog? Will she tell me whether she agrees with the four proposals I made in my letter to her on reforming stop and search—on section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994; on section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; on race discrimination; and on banning targets?

Of course it is important that we ensure that the IPCC is able to deal with the cases of complaints against police officers. I have been concerned for some time about the fact that the police have, in effect, been investigating serious and sensitive complaints against police officers themselves. That is why I am changing the arrangements for the IPCC, increasing its resources and ensuring that in future it will be taking on the serious and sensitive cases. It is also why we have provided a number of other new powers to the IPCC to ensure that it has the capability it needs. However, as I said on Thursday, I am of course continuing to look at this issue.

I assure the right hon. Lady that we do need to look at stop and search. I have consulted on it and the Government are now finalising the package we wish to put in place in response to that consultation.

I thank the Home Secretary for her answer, but given the seriousness of this, I urge her to go further and faster, both on the IPCC, which is simply not strong enough, and on stop and search. She and I agree that its targeted use is really important, but too many searches are simply not targeted at all. We have not heard anything from her since her statement in July; the critical Equality and Human Rights Commission was four years ago; and we are told now that reform is being blocked by regressive attitudes in No. 10. It turns out that the Prime Minister said before the election that he wanted to

“free the police to do far more stopping and far more searching.”

Does the Home Secretary agree with the Prime Minister or is she losing the argument within the Government?

What we all want is to ensure that stop and search, a particularly valuable tool for the police, is properly used by the police. The recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which I requested, found that the stop and search powers were not being used properly in far too high a percentage of cases—about a quarter of the cases it looked into. Stop and search is important and a very valuable tool; when it is used properly and well targeted, it has the right impact. I am pleased to say that the Metropolitan police have already started to make some changes in their operation of stop and search, which is having some impact.

T3. Trading standards officers and local police have seized more than 189,000 illegal cigarettes and more than 16 kg of illicit tobacco from shops in my constituency in the past 12 months. All of that is untaxed and much of it is counterfeit, but the existing penalties do little to stem the flow of this harmful trade. Does the Home Secretary share my view that trading standards officers should be given the power to shut down these shops where all other enforcement methods have failed? (902898)

I agree that Trading Standards needs to take that issue seriously, as I believe it does. Of course, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which is responsible for criminal investigation of fiscal offences, is well aware of the loss of money to the Treasury as a consequence of that activity. The good news is that the UK Border Force is successfully active on this front. The Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether to charge and prosecute in particular cases.

T2. Two women a week die at the hands of their partners or former partners. In Oldham, between October 2012 and September 2013, more than 5,300 women were subject to abuse, a third of whom were abused in front of children. With 13% fewer domestic violence cases being prosecuted, what are the implications for justice for these women? (902896)

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Last year, the figures showed that 76 women lost their lives at the hands of a partner, ex-partner or lover. That is lower than in previous years, but even one such case is one too many, and we are all agreed on that across the House. My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention is doing work on such issues, looking at prosecutions and at ensuring that the right response is available so that women can indeed see justice when they have suffered at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.

T4. The all-party parliamentary group on mental health, which I chair, recently launched an inquiry into crisis care. Will the Home Secretary outline what the Government are doing to ensure that when vulnerable people with mental health problems come into contact with the police, they get an appropriate level of care? (902899)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work on the all-party group, to which I gave evidence last week. On vulnerable people, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake a specific inspection of the treatment of all vulnerable people in custody, because that is an extremely important area, which requires improvement in the performance of the health service and the police and across the criminal justice system, which we are determined to make happen.

When a retired police officer says that senior officers briefed him to report a fight involving alcohol as just drunk and disorderly rather than as a public order offence, I am concerned. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that targets do not lead to the massaging of crime figures?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take alcohol issues very seriously indeed, including the way in which they are recorded by the police. There is a great deal of alcohol harm in this country: £21 billion is the cost to the public purse from antisocial behaviour, damage to the health service and lost productivity. As Ministers, we all expect the police to record crime accurately.

T5. One consequence of an unfettered free movement directive is that illegal gangmasters from the European Union operating in the fens are linked to antisocial behaviour and human trafficking. What action is the Minister taking to end that phenomenon? (902901)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I know how hard he works locally on that issue. The Government are taking firm action to combat illegal gangmasters in his constituency and elsewhere. We have set up a cross-Government multi-agency taskforce to apply the full range of enforcement powers. We are doubling the penalties on employers for breaching the national minimum wage and for employing illegal migrant workers, and we will bring forward a modern slavery Bill next Session to deal with that heinous crime.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the numbers of UK nationals who are subject to an overseas arrest warrant for serious offences such as murder and child sex crimes?

Of course I am aware that a number of UK nationals are subject to such warrants. Indeed I applaud the work that is done by the National Crime Agency, particularly in some of the areas that the hon. Gentleman has identified, in relation to working with other police forces across the world to ensure that whoever and wherever the perpetrators are, they are brought to justice.

T6. Does the Secretary of State agree that alongside the police, the public and social services have a vital role to play in helping to identify the victims of domestic abuse and, importantly, ensuring that they are signposted to the right services that will help them? (902902)

Yes, I wholly agree. If we are to end violence against women and girls, all front-line services have to play a crucial role. A multi-agency approach is vital, as indeed is a cross-departmental approach, and that is reflected in the updated action plan that we published at the weekend.

Ministers will be aware of how upset and repelled the community is that the self-same police force that was supposed to be finding Doreen and Neville’s son’s killers was actually engaged in spying on them to undermine their campaign. Inquiries are all very well, and reforms are all very well, but can we be given an assurance that we will know who authorised the spying on Doreen and Neville Lawrence?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I think that everybody in this House and across the country was shocked at the findings of the Ellison review, particularly at somebody from the special demonstration squad effectively being, in the terms that Mark Ellison put it, a spy in the camp around the Lawrence family. Every effort will be made to ensure that the truth comes out about that. If the hon. Lady has read the Ellison report, she will know that the record-keeping of the special demonstration squad was, to put it mildly, sadly lacking. However, every effort will be made. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has made it clear that they will want to ensure that they are providing every piece of evidence possible to the inquiries that are taking place.

Does the Home Secretary accept that, with regard to the despicable crime of FGM, her announcement earlier about the involvement of hospitals in helping to bring people to justice will be widely welcomed? Does she also accept that, if it is not already being done, there is also surely a role for GPs in being able to report where they come across instances of this terrible crime?

I entirely agree that it is very important that the NHS plays a particularly good role. The public health Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), has been very active on this front and has made great steps forward. She is looking at how the whole NHS can help the cross-departmental effort to tackle this appalling crime.

In my constituency, many fairly young couples are struggling with the new rules on being able to marry someone from outside this country. They feel that they are being made to pay the price of the Government’s failure to keep to its migration targets. Has the Home Secretary now decided how to respond to the various reports on this or on whether any changes are going to be made?

We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution, but family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense, and family migrants must be able to integrate. That is precisely what our rules are about. We believe that this is fair to applicants and to the public. The hon. Lady may know that there is an ongoing court case. Therefore, while we absolutely maintain our position on this, applications are currently being put on hold pending the outcome of that case.

The Facewatch online crime reporting system makes it much quicker for businesses to report crime. Will my hon. Friend encourage more businesses and local authorities to follow the lead taken by the west midlands crime reduction team and introduce Facewatch elsewhere to reduce crime further?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a doughty champion for businesses both large and small in her constituency. I am very interested by the Facewatch business, and I look forward to seeing it tomorrow in Farnborough at the security and policing exhibition, where I shall promote it and other UK businesses in selling these great services globally.

The Welsh Government have put their money where their mouth is and are funding 500 additional police community support officers. Will the Minister for Crime Prevention, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), explain why his colleagues up and down the country are openly accusing Conservative councils of being hypocritical for not putting their money where their mouth is and supporting PCSOs?

I—[Interruption.] I am terribly sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Front Benchers by answering a question about policing, since I am the Policing Minister. He will know that across the country crime is coming down and a higher proportion of police officers are on the front line. The streets of Britain are safer today in England and in Wales than they ever have been since we started recording crime statistics.

Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary accept that there are countless employers in the food and farming sector who do not use illegal gangmasters and who instead pay good pay and provide good accommodation for their workers, and that where there is job displacement it is because British workers are not prepared to do that work, rather than because employers are somehow taking on illegal migrants on the cheap?

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which was a very particular scheme that ensured that people were brought across to do work in the agricultural sector. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made clear in his speech to the Oxford Farming Conference recently, we need to look at ensuring that people here in the United Kingdom are able to take on the jobs that are available to them, and at the moment we have no intention of reintroducing the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.