Skip to main content

Home Department

Volume 579: debated on Monday 28 April 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Border Systems Programme

Keeping the UK’s border secure is our priority. By the end of this Parliament, we will develop replacement primary border security systems, deliver exit checks, improve resilience of all current business-critical systems, increase advance passenger information coverage, and complete implementation of second-generation e-gates.

I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s answer. However, what progress has been made in the procurement process for the e-borders contract given that the UK industry was first approached in early 2013 and nations such as Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico have been able to complete similar procurements and implementations in as little as six months?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the procurement process. We have done two things in the Home Office: first, we have looked to make absolutely sure that we have identified the right technology that is necessary; and secondly, we have changed the approach we take to procurement to move away from the mega-monolithic contracts that tended to be entered into by the previous Government so as to be able to parcel the contracts up into smaller packages that mean we are more flexible and that a greater range of companies is able to bid for those contracts.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is right: the process has been slow. The e-borders programme has been a disaster costing the taxpayer millions of pounds, with four years of unresolved negotiations with the original providers. In his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Sir Charles Montgomery said that 5 million people leave this country without providing advance passenger information. How many of the 14 core services that were due to be provided by e-borders will be provided by the end of this Parliament?

I outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) what we will have completed by the end of this Parliament. I am happy to repeat the list that I read earlier. We will have delivered exit checks, increased advance passenger information coverage, introduced second-generation e-gates, developed primary border security systems, and improved the resilience of all our current business-critical systems.

It is clearly very important to have exit checks back, because without them it is hard to have a sensible immigration policy. Sir Charles Montgomery from Border Force told the Select Committee that full e-borders capability would not be provided by the time of the general election. What is not going to be in place, and do we need it?

I have already established twice in my answers what is going to be completed during this Parliament by the time of the next general election. My hon. Friend is a member of the Home Affairs Committee and has obviously heard Sir Charles Montgomery, the director general of Border Force, give evidence on a number of occasions. One of the points Sir Charles has made in his evidence is that we have been increasing the amount of advance passenger information available to us so that we now have 80% coverage in all transport and more than 90% coverage in aviation.

The official Opposition and I support exit checks. I wonder whether the Home Secretary has read what the Deputy Prime Minister has said:

“I have for some time been concerned with the urgency with which the Home Office is seeking to implement the coalition agreement commitment that I personally insisted on, that exit checks should be restored…Do I think, given what I know now, that new exit checks will be in all exit places by 2015? I think that is unlikely”.

For once, I agree with Nick—does the Home Secretary?

I share the Deputy Prime Minister’s concern to ensure that we are able to provide for the commitment that we made in the coalition agreement that we would introduce exit checks. By April 2015 we will have enabled exit checks to take place for those who are leaving the UK by scheduled international travel by air, sea and rail services.

Whatever entry or exit checks we deploy, my constituents are concerned that we should not grant asylum to people who come to our shores through other safe countries. What use is being made of the Dublin convention whereby we send back such people to the last safe country they left?

I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend that we do use the Dublin regulations; indeed, I defend those regulations regularly in the Justice and Home Affairs Council within the European environment. It is very important that people are returned to the first country by which they entered the European Union. Unfortunately, because of court judgments we are not currently able to return people to Greece, but we are working with the Greek authorities to improve their capability for dealing with asylum seekers so that we will be able to do so in due course.

Human Trafficking

I am determined to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery. Later this year we will introduce a Modern Slavery Bill, to ensure that our laws properly protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice, together with an action plan, to galvanise those involved in stamping out this horrific crime. In addition, we are reviewing the identification and provision of care for victims. Earlier this month at the Vatican, I launched the Santa Marta group, which will bring together senior law enforcement chiefs from around the world and play a critical role in taking practical steps to end modern slavery.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she is also working with other countries to stop people being trafficked into the United Kingdom, to stop criminals targeting vulnerable people and, primarily, to protect our communities from those criminals?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, because working internationally and co-operating across borders is a key part of our being able to deal with this issue and tackle modern slavery and the human trafficking that often lies behind it. The action plan, to which I have referred and which I intend to publish later this year, will set out very clearly how we will undertake a range of activities with source countries. It will include the work of British embassies to prioritise the issue of trafficking, encouraging greater use of joint investigation teams and providing support to victims who want to return home. Of course, there is always more to do and I am always keen to explore any further efforts we can make.

I welcome what the Home Secretary has said, but does she agree with my constituent, Jane Launchbury, that this is also a key opportunity to introduce a system of legal guardianship to ensure that the most vulnerable children can be supported through the numerous interactions they will have with officialdom? Will the Home Secretary outline which steps the Bill will take to ensure that victims of child trafficking will be protected?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to make sure that we provide properly for all victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and, obviously, we all have particular concerns about child victims. The Modern Slavery Bill will enable us to strengthen our response to human trafficking and modern slavery, for both adult and child victims. We are taking some important steps. I announced in January our intention to trial specialist independent advocates for victims of child trafficking. They would support and guide the child through the immigration, criminal justice and care systems, ensuring that the child’s voice is heard and that they receive the best form of support and protection they need. Of course, we have to consider that matter following the passing in the Lords of an amendment to the Immigration Bill that has put on hold our proposals for those pilots.

I thank the Home Secretary for the initiative she has taken on this front. The Joint Committee of both Houses has reported to her. Does she know yet when she may able to respond?

I am not able to give the right hon. Gentleman a date as to when I will be able to respond, but we are grateful to the Joint Committee for the detailed work it did and the commitment it showed in looking at this issue. That is why I want to look at it and to make absolutely sure that we respond to all the points the Committee raised.

I, too, had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee, which concluded unanimously, across all the parties, that key to prevention of human trafficking is improved protection of its victims. In view of the 47% increase in the number of victims identified, can the Home Secretary assure us that she knows what happens to them when they leave shelters, often after 45 days, and whether there is continuing support and protection available to victims beyond that which is automatically provided?

The hon. Lady refers to the Committee’s report and she is right to say that we want to ensure the protection of victims. Part of that is ensuring that the perpetrators can be caught, because if the victims have support and protection, they are more likely and willing to come forward to give evidence. In dealing with modern slavery and human trafficking, we must never take our focus away from dealing with the perpetrators. The Modern Slavery Bill will give us an enhanced ability to deal with those who are perpetrating this abhorrent crime.

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Many people will leave the refuge or protection they have been in after 45 days, but in many cases they will be able to go into a further form of protection that will have been discussed, and the charitable and voluntary sectors are working very well on that.

I commend the Home Secretary for her lead on this issue. I am sure that she realises that the Modern Slavery Bill could be a world leader. A lot of countries are looking at us with regard to the Bill. I just want to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that although it is absolutely right to go after the perpetrators and give them the strongest possible sentences, it is incredibly important that we support the victims in order to get those convictions.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am grateful to him for the work that he has done on the particular issue of modern slavery and human trafficking. We will follow a twin-track approach: the legislation will obviously enable us to strengthen our law enforcement ability, particularly to deal with those perpetrating this crime, and it will also of course set up the anti-slavery commissioner. The action plan that I intend to publish will focus very clearly on the support that we can give victims. We want to ensure that victims are supported and we want people to give evidence against the perpetrators, because if we can reduce the number of perpetrators, we will reduce the number of victims.

The Home Secretary refers to having limited voluntary pilots, which is all very well, but numerous charities, the cross-party Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill and the other place all support having independent guardians or advocates to protect trafficked children and support putting this on a full statutory basis. Will she say whether she will attempt to overturn the new clause—clause 65 of the Immigration Bill—and if so, why?

We, of course, want to ensure that we provide that support for child victims and, as I said in response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), that is why we have brought forward the trials of independent advocates. They align almost entirely with the role of child trafficking guardians, but with some exceptions: our advocates support all child victims of trafficking, whether trafficked into the UK or within the UK, and obviously focus on the needs of children, not on those of adults. We are trialling them because the support currently given is inconsistent—some local authority areas give better support than others—and we want to ensure that the system introduced is the one that will work and provide the best level of support.

Violence against Women

The coalition Government published our updated action plan on 8 March, setting out recent progress to tackle violence against women and girls. We have begun the national roll-out of the domestic violence disclosure scheme and domestic violence protection orders; commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s review into domestic abuse, and announced steps to ensure the recommendations are acted on; and criminalised forced marriage. We are continuing a robust programme to tackle female genital mutilation.

As the Minister is aware, the all-party group on domestic and sexual violence recently published a report on women’s access to justice, with a number of recommendations. I am grateful to the Minister for giving evidence to that inquiry. Will he set out what steps he will take to review our findings and to implement the recommendations?

As the hon. Lady knows, I very much welcome that particular inquiry. She has considerable experience in this field, as I readily recognise. We are giving proper consideration to the recommendations, as she would expect, and we will make an announcement in due course. I very much welcome the work that has been done.

In Greater Manchester last year, over 10,000 more domestic violence incidents were reported to the police, which is a 21% increase on the year before; yet 29% fewer domestic violence cases were referred for prosecution. Will the Minister explain the reason for that, and what will he do about it?

Let me first say that the Home Secretary and I share a concern about some figures that come out from individual police forces. That is why my right hon. Friend has written to chief constables and police force leads on domestic abuse, making clear our expectation as a Government that every police force will have an action plan in place by September to improve their response to domestic violence and abuse. It is important, however, to stress that three out of four cases of violence against women and girls do result in convictions.

Will the Minister update the House on what progress has been made towards involving general practitioners and other medical practitioners in exposing and bringing to justice those who engage in the horrific and despicable crime of FGM?

I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that there is good co-operation across Departments. The Department of Health is closely involved in the matter and the public health Minister in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), has been very supportive of the efforts of the Home Office. My right hon. Friend will know that under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, anyone who has information showing that a child is at risk is required to inform social care or the police. He will also know that the Department of Health has taken steps to ensure that FGM cases are monitored in the health service so that we have a full picture by later this year.

22. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Metropolitan police and the Mayor of London on securing the first UK prosecution for female genital mutilation? Will he update us on what progress has been made towards making it mandatory to share key information with all the relevant agencies? (903707)

Obviously, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, I cannot comment on cases that are before the courts. I strongly support the efforts of the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that prosecutions take place, and the police forces who are taking the matter forward in a productive way. I mentioned a moment ago the action that the Department of Health is taking and she will be aware that guidance has been issued to schools by the Secretary of State for Education, so there is a joined-up approach across Government. The question of mandatory reporting will be considered by the Department of Health and others as the initiative unrolls.

In the past month, two women in Hackney have been killed by violent partners, one with her 23-month-old child. Those women had talked to their friends about the risks that they faced. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that funding for organisations such as the Family Rights Group, which is based in Hackney, is not stopped by the Department for Education so that friends and family members, as well as potential victims, have somewhere to go?

I am not familiar with the DFE funding, but I can tell the hon. Lady that the Home Office has allocated £40 million to deal with these important matters. I am deeply sorry to hear of the events in her constituency. We seek to learn lessons from each case. I remind her that we have introduced domestic violence disclosure orders and protection orders to help women in such situations.

Last year, 1.2 million women suffered from domestic abuse and 330,000 suffered from sexual assault. Does the Minister agree not only that those are terrible figures in themselves, but that the initiative to drive women’s rights across the world, which was announced recently by the Foreign Secretary, will stand a chance of gaining credence or traction only if we sort the problem out at home?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that those are appalling crimes. There is a call to the police about domestic abuse every 30 seconds, which is a shaming statistic for our society. There is also a cost, which is obviously a secondary consideration, of £15.7 billion a year. We have to do everything we can, as the Home Office is doing, to get a grip on this matter. Colleagues in the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office are similarly concerned and are taking action within their portfolios.

The shocking report on domestic violence by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary revealed that high levels of vacancies in domestic violence units and unsustainable case loads were leading to quotas being imposed on victims that were deemed to be high risk. Given that evidence, does the Minister accept that the Government’s hollowing out of the police force has resulted in the loss of specialist officers, inhibited the ability to pursue cases and, most importantly, left victims at risk? When will he accept responsibility for the Government’s actions, instead of blaming others?

I am sorry to hear that contribution from the hon. Lady, because this is an issue that all Members of the House, irrespective of gender or party, feel strongly about. To politicise it in that way is not helpful. She talked about the police force, but she ought to remember that crime is down by more than 10% under this Government and that there are therefore fewer crimes to investigate. To imply that the police are unable to deal with this matter is simply not right. We attach a high priority to the matter. That has been made clear by the Home Secretary, by myself and by the action that the Government is taking.

Human Trafficking (Labour Exploitation)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out in detail much of the work that the Government are doing to tackle human trafficking and slavery. To better tackle labour exploitation, we have moved the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to the Home Office to strengthen its links with law enforcement agencies.

This is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I know from personal experience how effective the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is. It is particularly effective because it focuses its attention on the areas with the highest risk of criminality and exploitation, rather than on lower-risk areas. Has she considered, and will she discuss with her colleagues in government, whether there is scope for using the model of the GLA in other high-risk labour areas, where similar work could be done?

When the Minister looks at that suggestion—I had responsibility for the GLA for two years as a Minister; it is an excellent organisation—will she also consider the status of the GLA’s board members, now that it is in her remit? Will she, first, upgrade the status of the sole representative for human trafficking on the board from delegate status to full status; and secondly, not do what the Government are proposing, which is to reduce the numbers of union representatives representing the work force on the GLA?

That is also an interesting suggestion that I will look into, although I cannot promise where we will get to.

When I visited the migrant camps at Calais with the deputy mayor of Calais, every person there said that they had paid traffickers to get there, putting them in danger of labour exploitation in the UK. Will Home Office Ministers consider supporting a joint initiative by Dover and Calais for the French police to clear those camps and repatriate people or process their asylum claims, as the case may be?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know how hard he works in his constituency on these matters. We work closely with our counterparts in the French police to deal with this issue, and my hon. Friend makes an important point. Many victims of modern slavery that I have met came into the country willingly but illegally, because they felt they were coming for a better life. They have been exploited; that is not right and we need to stamp that out.

Alcohol Abuse

6. What recent progress she has made on tackling crime and antisocial behaviour arising from alcohol abuse. (903688)

The coalition Government has overhauled the Licensing Act 2003, giving local areas stronger powers to deal with problem premises. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 will provide front-line professionals with powerful new tools to tackle alcohol related antisocial behaviour. We are also banning the worst instances of cheap and harmful alcohol sales, and we are working with 20 local alcohol action areas to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder.

Given strong evidence that a higher price for alcohol means less public disorder and better health, when will the Government do the right thing—as they have finally done with plain packaging—and introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol?

Minimum pricing is on the radar; it has not been ruled out and the matter is still under consideration. We are looking with interest at what is happening north of the border in Scotland, and helping the Scottish Government in its efforts.

I would have called the hon. Member for Norwich South (Simon Wright) if he had been standing, but he is not so I will not.

Will the Minister update the House on how early morning alcohol restriction orders and the levy for late night licence holders are working to contribute to the costs of policing antisocial behaviour?

I am very pleased by the roll-out of the late night levy, including in Newcastle, Cheltenham and elsewhere. I believe that Islington is next, and Chelmsford is showing an interest as well. We are looking at the responses from local councils on early morning restriction orders to see what feedback we have received, and we will amend the measures as necessary.

16. Prince of Wales road in my constituency is the centre of Norwich’s night-time economy, and residents and councillors have launched a stakeholders forum to consider how to deal with the impact of excessive alcohol consumption in the area. The Minister has received a copy of the first report ordered by Councillor Ben Price. Will he join me in welcoming that community-led activity, and will he meet me and Councillor Price to consider how we can take forward the report’s recommendations? (903700)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work with his local councillors on this important matter. I welcome the community strategy document he mentions and would be happy to meet him and Councillor Price.

Illegal Drug Use

Drug use in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level since records began, in 1996. The number of heroin and crack cocaine users in England has fallen below 300,000 for the first time since 2004-05. Drug-related deaths in England and Wales have continued to fall over the last three years. Numbers successfully completing drug treatment free of dependency in England have risen since 2009-10.

I congratulate the Government on their success in reducing the use of certain drugs, but we are still not recording the use of many drugs, particularly legal highs. Given that we are seeing a fall in cannabis use but there is a great deal of evidence of an increase in legal high cannabinoid use, does the Minister not agree that if we want to protect our young people, we need to record all the drugs they are taking, including legal highs?

I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s question and I agree that many of the chemical highs or new psychoactive substances—the so-called legal highs, although I prefer not to use the word “legal” because that implies that they are both legal and safe and some are neither—can be more dangerous than other drugs that people recognise as dangerous. There has been a decline in drug use among young people, but he is right to draw attention to that aspect. I established an expert panel on it late last year and I look forward to receiving its recommendations shortly.

Drugs are often produced and sold by international crime gangs. What is the Minister doing to work with the international community to protect this country from the illegal movement and sale of drugs by such gangs?

I am happy to say that in the cross-governmental serious and organised crime strategy, we work in partnership with countries where drugs are produced and transported, as well as with the wider international community, to disrupt the organised criminal networks that distribute drugs. Our approach is to build political will and practical capacity to tackle high priority criminal groups. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), takes this matter very seriously.

Female Genital Mutilation

9. What discussions she has had with her ministerial colleagues on implementing the recommendations of the joint royal colleges’ report “Tackling FGM in the UK” published in November 2013. (903692)

10. What discussions she has had with her ministerial colleagues on implementing the recommendations of the joint royal colleges’ report “Tackling FGM in the UK” published in November 2013. (903693)

The coalition welcomed the joint royal colleges’ report published last November. The Government is committed to eradicating female genital mutilation and is taking action in each of the areas recommended in the report. As part of our strategy, eight Departments have signed a cross-government declaration reaffirming our commitment to protecting current and future generations of girls from this abuse, and each Department is doing what it can to eradicate the practice in the UK.

Given that the Minister accepts that both strong political leadership and joint working are essential to tackle the problem, will he give me an assurance that he has met the Secretary of State for Education to discuss the matter?

I have certainly been in correspondence with the Education Secretary, and I have met on more than one occasion the relevant Education Minister. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Education Secretary has now written to schools, which is a very helpful development.

I am a little concerned to hear that answer, given that the Minister talked about good co-operation across all Departments. Given that the survey quoted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children reports that one in six teachers is unaware that FGM is a crime and that 68% are unaware of any guidance from the Government on what to do if they suspect a pupil is at risk, can the Minister assure the House that he will meet the Secretary of State for Education, discuss this very important issue and report back to the House on what agreements they make on how to tackle this despicable crime?

I agree with the hon. Lady that it is a despicable crime. That is why we take it so seriously not just in the Home Office but across Government. I refer her to the cross-government agreement I mentioned in my original answer, which has been signed by eight Departments, including by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), on behalf of the Department for Education. We are in regular contact on these matters across Departments and will continue to be so.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to interdepartmental working and a multi-agency approach, but does he not agree that until more perpetrators are brought before our courts and convicted, the elders and parents in the communities in which these atrocities take place will not take the law seriously?

It is a matter of some regret, in my view, that there have been no successful prosecutions since the practice was outlawed in 1985. I am delighted that there are now two cases pending, although obviously I cannot comment on matters before the courts. What I can say is that in my view there is certainly a willingness on the part of police forces, the Director of Public Prosecutions and others to ensure that where the crime is perpetrated, those responsible are brought to justice. The DPP wrote to me and the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims earlier this year with a suggestion for a particular change that might be enacted to try to make prosecutions more likely and more successful. We are looking at that suggestion now.

Student Visas

The Government have overhauled the student visa route with a range of measures to combat abuse, while continuing to attract the brightest and best students to the UK’s world-class universities. Our reforms have resulted in 700 education providers being removed as sponsors to bring students into the UK. The total number of tier 4 student visas has fallen by a third since 2010, while visa applications from university students continue to increase.

I welcome the clampdown on abuses of the student visa system, but will the Minister assure the House that our world-class universities, including my local award-winning university, Huddersfield university, where overseas students come from more than 120 countries, will still be allowed to grow their courses with these students from around the globe? May I invite the Minister to come and visit Huddersfield university?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing his local university, and I note from the latest statistics that the total number of non-EU students at the university of Huddersfield has risen by 16%. I am happy to meet him to discuss the position further, but there has been abuse of the student visa system and we are tackling this while placing no limit on the number of genuine international students, whom we welcome to our world-class universities.

Although it is quite right that action should be taken against bogus colleges, does the Minister accept that both the tone and the nature of some of the Government’s actions have created an impression, widely understood by very reputable higher education institutions, that it is now less easy for able students from many parts of the world, including the Indian sub-continent, to gain access to courses here for legitimate study?

I do not accept that. I note that the Higher Education Funding Council for England published a report on 10 April indicating that student entrants were up. We continue to work with colleagues across Government. It is notable that we have seen new entrants from key markets including China, Malaysia and Hong Kong. We very much welcome international students to study at our fantastic universities.

18. Does my hon. Friend accept that although of course we warmly welcome students from all over the world to our excellent universities, they must leave when they are meant to do so? May I suggest that he encourages the universities themselves to play a greater part in seeing to it that that happens? (903703)

I agree with my right hon. Friend. There has been abuse of the system, with people coming to this country not to study, but to work. We have worked closely with the universities sector, and there has been a successful pilot with one university to encourage universities to see that students do leave at the end of their studies. We will continue to roll that out, as well as working with immigration enforcement to see that those who are not entitled to be here do leave.

Has the Minister seen the comments from Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow university, who says that this Government are in effect saying to international students, “Don’t come here, we’re closed for business, closed for education”? I know that the Home Office—I hear the Home Secretary saying this—always thinks it knows better than the Scottish academic and university community, but will the Minister at least acknowledge that we have a bit of an issue with this?

There is no limit on the number of students who can legitimately come to this country to study. When the hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics and the information, he will see that the number of visa applications coming to universities has gone up by 7%. We continue to underline that this country welcomes students to our world-class universities in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Violent Crime

The number of charges brought for violent crime has fallen. This is broadly in line with falls in police-recorded violent crime under this Government, but in fact the percentage of violent offences that result in a charge has increased under this Government. In addition, the independent crime survey for England and Wales for 2012-13 shows the number of violent crimes at its lowest level since 1981.

Does the Minister share my concern about some of the offences for which community resolutions are now used? I think of crimes such as domestic violence and knife crime. Does he not think that community resolutions should be banned for such offences, although they might be the best remedy for others?

I share the hon. Lady’s concerns about any inappropriate sentencing, so I am sure she will welcome the steps the Government have taken, such as stopping the use of cautions for serious offences, including those involving the possession of a knife, offensive weapon or firearm in a public place. Community resolutions and cautions have a part to play, but we have taken steps to ensure they are not used for the most serious crimes.

The Minister seems to think that community resolutions can be appropriate for violent crime, but does he think that even in those circumstances they should perhaps form part of a criminal record at least?

The hon. Lady will know that we are looking at the whole issue of out-of-court disposals. We want to reach a position where the use, as she says, of community resolutions is restricted to crimes where this is appropriate, but not for those where such a resolution would damage the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system. I hope she acknowledges that the amount of violent crime in this country is at such a low level now.

Before a prosecution is made, the police first have to record a crime. In Lincolnshire, more than a quarter of all reported rapes are dismissed as “no crime”, compared with a national average of 9%, and there are similarly high rates in other police areas. A police whistleblower claims that officers in some forces pressurise vulnerable victims to drop their allegations to make the crime statistics look better. What action has the Minister taken to explain and reduce the extreme variation in the number of rapes categorised as “no crime” by different police forces?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s underlying concern, but I hope he will be reassured that the “no crime” rate for rape has fallen year on year, from 12.6% in 2010 to 9.6% in 2013. At the same time, the Crown Prosecution Service is now achieving its highest ever rape conviction rate, with 63% of prosecutions resulting in successful outcomes and the average custodial length going up 21 months over the past 10 years. Everyone shares the concerns, but the hon. Gentleman should be reassured that the position is actually improving.

Metropolitan Police Recruitment

It is for forces to determine their own recruitment arrangements: this is a matter for the commissioner and Mayor’s office for policing and crime in London. However, the Home Office is working with the College of Policing to improve both the standards of new recruits and the training available to them. We also support the Met’s ambitions to promote positive action to create a more diverse work force, including through direct entry.

I am very interested by the Minister’s response, because in Lewisham just 7% of our police officers come from black and ethnic minority communities, yet nearly half our population identifies as such. Can he tell me when he proposes to introduce legislation to change the law to allow the Met proactively to recruit one black officer for every white officer taken on?

The hon. Lady is referring, I assume, to the Northern Ireland example, where I know that that kind of recruitment was done. I would point out that although she and I share the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s desire to make the Metropolitan police force reflect better the community it serves across London, the situation is more complicated and variegated in London: London is a city of very many communities, not two. However, we are encouraging the Metropolitan police, working with it and the College of Policing, to use the parts of the Equality Act 2010 that allow a degree of flexibility to use mentoring and the language provisions that might be necessary for certain skills and to allow them to use the tipping point provisions if they have two candidates of equal merit to choose one from an under-represented community, so that they can achieve the commissioner’s ambition of making the force more representative.

Prison Service

19. What assessment she has made of the relationship between recent trends in levels of crime and the cost to the public purse of the prison service. (903704)

Police recorded crime figures and the independent crime survey for England and Wales both show that crime has fallen by more than 10% under this Government. Over the same period, the number of people in prison has increased for a number of reasons, including the police detecting more crimes and longer sentences for more serious offences. Between 2010 and 2013, we made almost £400 million in savings across prisons through efficiencies, benchmarking and the capacity management programme.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but at what point does the fall in crime get reflected in a substantial decrease in penal and prison costs?

As I have just said, we have been imprisoning more serious criminals and locking them up for longer and we have been making savings in the prison system through efficiency programmes, so we are meeting my hon. Friend’s challenge already. Many people would argue that at least one of the reasons for the reduction in crime is precisely that we are locking more criminals up and keeping them in prison for longer.

UK Border Security

Our borders are significantly more secure than they were in 2010. This Government have created Border Force as a separate command, extended coverage of exit checks and put in place a rigorous operating mandate requiring 100% passenger checks at primary controls. We have also established the border policing command as part of the National Crime Agency to tackle organised crime at the border.

The Minister will be aware that the common border area facilitates passport-free travel with the Republic of Ireland, but what steps has he taken to improve the quality of passenger lists being handed over by Irish airports and Irish airlines to assist the police in monitoring the border?

I can tell my hon. Friend that there is excellent co-operation between the UK and the Republic of Ireland to prevent abuse of the common travel area by strengthening the external border. The joint UK-Ireland programme of work focuses on aligned visa policy and processes, investment in border procedures, increased data sharing and unified passenger data systems to achieve the end results my hon. Friend is calling for.

Child Sexual Exploitation

21. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of existing legislation for tackling child sexual exploitation. (903706)

The coalition Government remains committed to ensuring that all necessary legislation is in place to tackle child sexual abuse. I welcome the hon. Member’s recent inquiry into this issue. I am reassured by the inquiry’s conclusion that there was no evidence to show that justice could not be served owing to the lack of a specific child sexual exploitation offence. The inquiry report made a number of wider recommendations which are now being actively considered.

There are currently 16 pieces of legislation that use the term “child prostitute”. I have spoken to young people who have been victims of child sexual exploitation, and they say the expression makes them feel dirty and complicit. Will the Minister commit to introducing a process to remove this term from the law?

I am very sympathetic to that suggestion. Children who are sexually exploited, whether for commercial or other reasons, should not be referred to as prostitutes. They are victims. We will consider references in all legislation and guidance as opportunities arise, as well as considering carefully the wording used in any new legislation or guidance.

Topical Questions

The Home Office continues its work to reform the police and cut crime. Under this Government, crime has fallen by more than 10% according to both the independent crime survey for England and Wales and police recorded crime, and the latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics last week show that England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades, with crime at its lowest level since the crime survey began in 1981. The Government are taking decisive action to cut crime and protect the public. We are tackling underlying drivers of crime through our drugs and alcohol strategies and antisocial behaviour reforms, we have intensified our focus on issues such as modern slavery, violence against women and girls, gangs and sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, and we have improved our national crime-fighting capability with the launch of the National Crime Agency. The evidence is clear: our police reforms are working and crime is falling.

The highly critical report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary raised troubling concerns about the police response to domestic violence when it comes to victims. When victims find the courage to contact the police, they need both to be believed and treated with respect. What further steps will the Home Secretary be taking to make sure that all front-line officers receive greater training in this area to make this a reality?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. The HMIC report was truly shocking and will have been of concern to all in this House who worry about the way in which domestic violence and the victims of domestic violence are treated by the police. I have written to chief constables making it absolutely clear that I expect them to bring their action plans for dealing with this issue forward by the autumn—by September or October of this year. I will be chairing a group that will be ensuring that action is taken, and we are of course working with the College of Policing, which this Government set up, to look at the training that is available to police officers.

T3. In the light of the Care Quality Commission’s recent mental health review, will the Secretary of State outline what action she is taking to eliminate the use of police stations as section 136 places of safety? What representations is she making to ensure that properly resourced and fully staffed places are provided in mental health units? (903675)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am clear that people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 should be taken to police stations only in truly exceptional circumstances. I am pleased to say that the work we have been doing with the Department of Health and the triage pilots involving health workers going out with police officers in certain parts of the country are already bearing fruit, with fewer people being taken to police cells as a place of safety. The Health Secretary and I have already commissioned a review of the operation of sections 135 and 136 because we want to ensure that appropriate support and provision are available for people who are experiencing mental health problems, and to ensure that they are dealt with in an appropriate way.

New figures show that in the past 15 months there has been a 7% drop in the number of sex offences being taken to court, at a time when the number of such offences being reported to the police has gone up by 16%. Over the past 12 months, there has been a 9% drop in convictions for violent crime, even though the number of recorded violent crimes fell by only 1.5%. The Home Secretary has said that her police reforms and policies are working. Why, then, are more criminals getting away with it on her watch?

I challenge the right hon. Lady’s comments. The basic issue here is that the overall number of crimes has been falling, which is why some of the figures relating to the number of people being taken to court are falling. When concerns are raised in relation to how the police are dealing with domestic and sexual violence, of course we take action to look into the matter. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims said earlier, we have seen good movement in the figures relating to the way in which rape is being dealt with, particularly in relation to the number of successful prosecutions.

But the Home Secretary’s action is not working. Fewer rape cases are going to court, as are fewer domestic violence cases, fewer child abuse cases and fewer sexual offence cases, even though the numbers of sexual offences and domestic violence and child abuse cases being reported to the police are all going up. According to analysis by the House of Commons Library, the resulting drop in convictions is the equivalent of 13,000 more violent offenders, 3,500 more sex offenders, 13,000 more domestic abusers and 700 more child abusers getting away with their crimes. This is happening on the right hon. Lady’s watch. Those are the facts. The number of cases going to court is going down in areas where the recorded crimes are going up. What is she doing about it? She is the Home Secretary. Why will she not act to ensure that victims get the justice they deserve—

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for pointing out that I am the Home Secretary. We have seen a higher number of cases of sexual violence being reported, and it is good that people are willing to come forward to report such cases. Some of these are historical cases, and there has been an upturn in the number of people coming forward, particularly as a result of the revelations relating to Jimmy Savile and other such cases. As I said earlier, the number of successful prosecutions by the CPS for rape and sexual violence has hit an all-time high, so I suggest that the right hon. Lady goes away and looks again at her figures.

T4. With crime down by more than 10% since 2010, and by 11% in Warwickshire, will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the hard-working officers of the Warwickshire police force for their contribution to that? Does he agree that the Opposition were wrong to suggest that crime would rise as we started to deal with the legacy of deficit and debt that Labour left behind? (903676)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I would add to his point about the Warwickshire force the fact that it and its neighbour, the West Mercia force, have been among the most successfully radical in collaborating across force boundaries. One reason that they are providing such good services to the people of Warwickshire is that they have managed to merge back-office functions and specialist functions, meaning that they can spend more time cutting and preventing crime, which is what my hon. Friend’s constituents want.

T2. There were at least 68 deaths from legal highs in 2012, with more likely in 2013 and 2014. It is simply madness that children can walk into a shop and buy these harmful products. I know that the Minister has launched a review of legal highs—he referred to it earlier—but given that people are dying as a result of consuming these products, when can we expect meaningful action on this issue? (903674)

There has already been a great deal of meaningful action, including a month of action from police forces, which resulted in the successful seizure of products, and a number of arrests and prosecutions. I have also issued guidance to local councils on how they can deal with these so-called “head shops”, which has led to successful interventions to seize more material, so we are in fact taking strong action. I hope that the review panel, which will report very shortly, will recommend even stronger ways to tackle these chemical highs. However, we must not get this out of perspective, because the number of deaths from what we might call “traditional drugs” is still very high, and we need to concentrate on that.T5. Early one Sunday in September 2011, Bedfordshire police deployed 200 officers to free 24 people who were being kept in slavery, some of whom had been there for more than 20 years. Such operations are very expensive. In order to encourage the police to undertake more of them, what are we doing to make sure that they are refunded from the often considerable assets of the slave traders? (903677)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Anybody would agree that it is absolutely wrong that somebody who has been involved in a crime such as slavery should be allowed to keep their money. I am determined that this Government will give law enforcement agencies and others all the powers they need to get that money back. I also give this message to the slave masters: if you are involved in the disgusting and hideous trade in human beings, be under no illusion that this Government will find you, prosecute you and lock you up.

Is the Minister aware of figures from the Mayor’s office for policing and crime—MOPAC—showing that the number of Metropolitan police officers working on the ground in the London boroughs has fallen by 16%, or 3,000 officers? What action will he take to put more bobbies on the beat?

The hon. Gentleman can be assured that although the Metropolitan police force has had to make savings, as have police across the country, the overall level of crime in the Metropolitan police area has fallen by 13% since June 2010, showing that the Mayor, the deputy mayor responsible for MOPAC and the commissioner are doing a very good job in keeping London’s streets safer than ever before.

T7. In tackling the scourge of legal highs, may I urge the Minister to look at the work that Thames Valley police and Milton Keynes council have been doing to rid our communities of these substances? I have seen many distressing cases in my surgery of bright young people having been dragged into a downward spiral because they have had easy access to these drugs. (903679)

I welcome the steps being taken in Milton Keynes by Thames Valley police. I know that they raided the central Milton Keynes market and seized various chemical high products when young people were spotted using pills and powders that they thought had been bought from market stalls. That is a good example of what can be done with existing legislation. We have also banned hundreds of these substances as we have found them, but there is more to do, which is why I have set up this expert review panel.

It has been found that 86% of people on tied visas have had their employers keep their passport, and that 62% of them have received no salary at all. This Government changed the visas arrangement to ensure that domestic workers were tied to a single employer and could not change. Will this Government now reverse that?

We are aware of no evidence to suggest that someone’s having a tie to an employer with whom they have an existing relationship is a problem. This Government are determined to deal with the lack of enforcement on the part of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and others, in order to ensure that people on a domestic worker visa are treated appropriately within the law.

T8. The Government are rightly proud of having ended the shameful practice of child detention for immigration purposes. If those children are ultimately to be detained, is it not incumbent on the Home Office to ensure that their cases have been fully resolved before they turn 18, or, failing that, to be consistent in its approach until those cases have been completed? (903680)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the important steps that the Government have taken in banning the detention of children. Indeed he will also recognise the work of the family returns panel, which analyses those cases to assess whether it is appropriate for a child to be returned and in what circumstances.

The criminalisation of the drug mephedrone, once a legal high, resulted in a 300% increase in its use in my area. Will the Government look at the practical new approach that is being tried in New Zealand, whereby the responsibility for the safety of legal highs is being placed on those who profit from the sale of them?

The answer is that an international comparator study has been undertaken, and that includes talking to countries that have a whole range of different approaches, including New Zealand, Ireland and Portugal. We are assessing what works best with the object of minimising the harm from drug use.

T9. An increasing number of people are buying illegal drugs on the internet. Indeed, the recent global drugs survey found that 22% of respondents had used websites such as Silk Road. Given that increasing problem, what extra resources are being made available to the National Crime Agency, and how will the Minister prioritise this matter among the NCA’s work? (903681)

I know that my hon. Friend, as a member of the Centre for Social Justice’s addiction panel, has significant experience in this area. He is absolutely right that the National Crime Agency is looking at organised gangs that use the internet to further their trade in illegal substances, and I will be working with it to ensure that suitable disruption happens.