The Secretary of State was asked—
This Government are determined to stamp out the abhorrent crime of modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Bill will give law enforcement agencies the tools to tackle modern slavery, and enhance support and protection for victims. We will shortly publish our modern slavery strategy setting out wider work to tackle these terrible crimes. I was pleased to announce on Thursday the appointment of Kevin Hyland as designate independent anti-slavery commissioner.
I absolutely agree that dealing with this crime is about more than action by Government. That is why I am pleased that we have introduced into the Modern Slavery Bill a clause that requires larger businesses to show what they are doing to ensure that slavery is not taking place in their supply chains. We must all work together on this issue. I am pleased that we have been able to introduce that amendment, and I am sure that it will be supported throughout this House.
The national referral mechanism, which is one of the ways of identifying victims, is flawed—as, indeed, the Home Secretary’s recent report implies. What is she going to do to make sure that victims, whatever their immigration status, are identified and effectively protected?
The hon. Lady is right. Concerns about the national referral mechanism have been raised for some time. That is why the Government had a review of the NRM undertaken. That review has now been published, and we will set out our response to it in the modern slavery strategy that will, as I said, soon be published by the Government. We recognise the issues that have been raised in the review of the NRM, and I am pleased that it has taken place. We will of course put support for victims at the heart of what we are doing.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Kevin Hyland on his appointment as anti-slavery commissioner designate and expand a little on how his role will help to stamp out this dreadful crime?
I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Kevin Hyland on his appointment. Many people in this House who have been involved in looking at the issues around human trafficking and modern slavery will know of the very good work that he did as a detective chief inspector in the Metropolitan police, particularly on human trafficking matters. As the anti-slavery commissioner, he will be able to ensure that the agencies, particularly law enforcement agencies, are doing what they need to be able to do tackle this crime. As right hon. and hon. Members may have seen, he has already said publicly that one of his concerns about identifying this crime is ensuring that when victims of trafficking and slavery come forward, the police are able to recognise that they have been victims.
As the Government have been so open in getting outside views, as well as views from this place, in building up their Bill, might not the Home Secretary adopt the same strategy with the implementation of the Bill that she has promised us in December? Would it not be possible to make that a Green Paper and for her then to come forward with her final proposals when, I hope, she secures Royal Assent in February next year?
The right hon. Gentleman has given considerable time and effort to this issue. We are grateful for the work that he has done with the Government in challenging us on the Bill and on the measures we are undertaking. The strategy has been developed with outside input; the Government have not just developed it themselves. I am sure that when the strategy is published, and as it is implemented, he will be very willing to come forward and provide views to the Government on it.
Police reform is working. Crime is down by more than a fifth under this Government, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades, with the survey showing crime at its lowest levels since the survey began in 1981.
I would like to acknowledge the important role and hard work of the Cheshire constabulary in reducing crime in Cheshire by 17% since 2010. I also acknowledge the important role of the reforms in policing that this Government have taken through, with a more targeted approach to measures, stronger accountability, and a greater emphasis on innovation. What further steps are this Government taking to improve the effectiveness of policing in the fight against crime?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the officers and staff of the Cheshire constabulary on the very good work they have done in helping to ensure that crime in that county has fallen by the percentage that he mentioned. We continue to work on driving out crime and on helping the police to be able to deal with crime. The College of Policing is further professionalising the police. The police innovation fund is genuinely looking for ways in which police forces can be provided with funding for innovative ideas to find new ways of dealing with crime and ensuring that we are able to drive crime down even further.
This Friday the Cheshire police commissioner John Dwyer and I will hold a meeting with members of the Chester Asian community who are concerned about a recent spate of burglaries aimed at Asian families by people looking for gold and jewellery. What advice would my right hon. Friend give to people who are concerned about this spate of crime?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on arranging that meeting to look at a particular problem that affects the Asian community. There are, of course, other communities that are also particularly affected by gold theft. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the crime prevention panel, which we have set up at the Home Office and which is looking at further ways to prevent crime from happening, is looking at that very issue. It is looking in particular at issues relating to the safe storage of gold and other similar valuable items in homes and external locations, and it hopes to be able to report on the matter in the new year.
I absolutely agree that all child abuse is a particularly abhorrent crime and, obviously, that which takes place online is no less abhorrent than that which takes place offline. That is why the Government have put a particular emphasis on dealing with online child abuse. A number of steps have been taken by the Government, led by the Prime Minister. I am pleased to say that next month the Prime Minister will also lead an international conference on online child sexual exploitation, endeavouring to further increase our ability to deal with these issues.
Given the importance of the European arrest warrant in bringing people to justice and reducing crime, will the Home Secretary explain to the House why today’s motion in the House of Lords gives peers a chance to vote on and specifically endorse the European arrest warrant, when last week, as you will recall, Mr Speaker, MPs were denied such an opportunity?
I was very clear about that. In fact, we spent a considerable amount of time last Monday discussing the Government’s motion. We were very clear that that motion would be binding on the Government in relation to the package of 35 measures. The regulations are now being discussed by the House of Lords. Sadly, of course, this House did not have a full opportunity to debate those matters last week, because the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), chose to move a closure motion to stop debate.
Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating the Northamptonshire police, including not only Chief Constable Adrian Lee and Deputy Chief Constable Martin Jelley, but particularly officers of all ranks, on the fact that the crime rate in Northamptonshire is down by 21% since June 2010?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating not just the chief constable and his deputy, but officers of all ranks in the Northamptonshire constabulary on the work they have been doing to bring down crime to the extent of 21% over the past four and a half years. That is excellent news for members of the public. Once again, I congratulate the officers on the hard work they have done that has led to that fall in crime.
The Home Secretary will be aware that the National Crime Agency has the details of between 20,000 and 30,000 people who have accessed child abuse images online. There have been 600 arrests. What action is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that the many other thousands of perpetrators of this vile crime are brought to justice?
I am pleased to say that the National Crime Agency has enhanced the ability of police in this country to deal with these particularly abhorrent crimes. By bringing the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre under the NCA, it is now able to have access to the tasking powers of all police forces and to the national cyber crime unit and other functions within the NCA. The NCA is very clear that it is looking at all the evidence brought before it. I am pleased that it has already made the number of arrests that the hon. Gentleman has referred to and, as I have said, it will look at the evidence brought before it and take action appropriately.
3. When she next plans to meet the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to discuss student immigration. (906020)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary meets colleagues regularly for discussions on a range of issues, including on how we can continue to attract the brightest and the best to the UK while bearing down on abuse.
The Government’s arbitrary immigration target has clearly been shown to be both unworkable and misguided. A particularly misguided aspect is the decision to include international students in the target. There is now consensus—from the Labour party, political parties across the House and even Government Members, as well as from universities, trade unions and business—that the target should not include international students. Will the Home Secretary and the Minister join that consensus?
The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no, we will not, because students continue to use public services. If we look at the Office for National Statistics data for the 12 months to September 2013, we see that 50,000 non-EU students left, whereas 124,000 entered the country, which suggests that students have an impact on net migration.
I say to the hon. Gentleman and the sector generally that there is no cap on the number of legitimate students who can come to study within the UK. Indeed, we have seen significant increases from a number of countries, including China, Brazil and Malaysia. The UK very much remains open to business for students.
The Minister spoke at the Home Affairs Committee seminar on international students, but at the sessions in which he did not speak, there was heavy criticism of his policies. Indeed, the director general of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker, said:
“When some politician in the House of Commons thinks it would be wonderful to say something [detrimental] about international students, or some clever minister thinks of sending out a van to hound immigrants, they don’t think what it would look like in international papers.”
Will the Minister listen to the voices of the Institute of Directors, universities and the business sector, and look again at such policies?
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have heard from reports of that particular session in the conference hosted by the Home Affairs Committee that I made it very clear that we approach this issue in a measured fashion. The number of visa applications for our universities has gone up 5% this year, with an 8% increase for Russell Group universities. I very clearly say to the sector that trying to talk down the offer we have is not in the best interests of the sector or of our country. I certainly look forward to continuing to work with the sector to ensure that we attract students to our world-class institutions.
The Home Office does not hold figures centrally on the number of police who go on sick leave with stress. We have a world-class police force, and the best way to get up police force morale is to support our police, and to say that they do a fantastic job and that we have the best police force in the world.
In a recent survey on officers’ morale, the Police Federation found that nearly 5,000 officers are planning to leave the service within the next five years because of pay cuts and cuts in conditions. Another survey by Unison says that 75% of police staff feel increasingly stressed. Will the Minister heed the unions’ call to review the gap between rising demand for services and cutbacks to the workforce?
As a trade unionist, I always listen to trade unions, but they are not always right. We will make sure that we listen very carefully. I have seen the figures for the slight increase in stress-related illness. We have committed £8 million to blue light services to try to help with stress and well-being. The best way to ensure that morale goes up in our police forces is for everybody in this House to support them and say what a fantastic job they do.
Does the Minister agree that one of the key contributors to morale in any job is the satisfaction of doing a good job? On that basis, will he join me in praising Warwickshire police? Over the past year, there have been 1,185 fewer victims of crime than in the previous year.
The Home Affairs Committee found that morale had sunk to its lowest ebb in recent memory. Surveys have demonstrated that 5,000 police officers want to leave the police service because of low morale. Figures have shown a staggering 63% increase in duty days lost to sickness owing to anxiety, while the sickness figures more generally are soaring. Does the Home Secretary accept that, with her demanding ever more out of a police service that she has cut by 16,000, she is making police officers sick?
I get on very well with the shadow Minister, but what he has just said is appalling. He is running down the police force and the fantastic job they are doing. With less officers on the front line and less officers in the back-room staff, they are doing a fantastic job. He should be ashamed of himself, and he should praise the police.
Changes to the appeals and removals system introduced under the Immigration Act 2014 have reduced the number of immigration decisions that can be appealed from 17 to four. New appeal provisions now allow us to deport harmful individuals before their appeals are heard if there is no risk of serious, irreversible harm. We have also introduced new powers to stop foreign criminals using family life arguments to delay their deportation.
I am encouraged by what the Minister has said, and I appreciate all that he and the Home Office are doing to deport criminals—including EU nationals—who are guilty of serious crimes. He will know of the case of Mr Peter Pavlisin, a Slovakian national who brutally attacked his pregnant Gloucester girlfriend in January 2013 and was sentenced. Will he update me on when a decision on Mr Pavlisin’s deportation will be made?
I cannot comment on the specifics of my hon. Friend’s case, but I can underline the Government’s commitment to removing foreign national offenders from this country—just under 5,100 were removed last year. There is a cross-Government approach to ensure that we do all we can to redocument and remove foreign national offenders and, with the changes in the Immigration Act 2014 that I underlined, we have changed the law to ensure that we speed up those deportations.
My constituents are rightly concerned about the £800 million annual cost to the taxpayer of housing more than 12,000 foreign offenders in UK jails. Will my hon. Friend outline what steps can be taken to reduce that cost, while still ensuring that justice is served?
I can certainly underline the steps that we are taking to speed up the process. Moving offenders straight from prison to deportation is saving the taxpayer £27.5 million, and Operation Nexus ensures that police officers work alongside immigration enforcement officers to ensure that the information needed to aid deportation later in the process is provided. We are taking an end-to-end approach.
Recently, the Australian Government decided to deport an individual following serious concerns about the impact of his views on the safety of women. To prevent us from having to deport individuals as the Australians did, and given that his seminars promote choking and sexual assaults in order to seduce women, will the Home Secretary consider using her powers to exclude Julien Blanc from the UK if, like me, she assesses that his presence is not conducive to the public good?
The Government firmly underline their commitment to promoting the role of women within government, business and the whole country, and they condemn any action that might stand against that. The hon. Lady has alluded to a case highlighted in the press. I cannot comment on the specifics of that particular case, but I can assure her about the steps this Government are taking, and about the record of this Home Secretary in excluding more people on grounds of unacceptable behaviour than any of her predecessors.
Vehicle Scanning Machines
Border Force operates an array of search techniques as part of its multi-layered search regime, including detection dogs, carbon dioxide monitors, heartbeat detectors and scanners. In the past 12 months nearly £10 million has been invested to support and increase those methods of detection and bolster port security in the UK and at juxtaposed controls. The Government have also committed to invest £12 million at the port of Calais further to enhance security.
May I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that written parliamentary question 213850 on the number of lorries screened by body scanning machines and sniffer dogs when they enter the UK has not been answered? The Government have confirmed that currently just five vehicle scanning machines cover all our ports, including 51 points of entry. Will the Minister clarify why five is an adequate number?
Border Force uses an array of different techniques to secure our border which, as I have highlighted, include body detection dogs, carbon dioxide detectors, heartbeat monitors and scanners, as well as physical searches. I will look into the outstanding parliamentary question highlighted by my hon. Friend. Last year 18,000 people were detected at our juxtaposed controls—a 60% increase. That underlines the focus of our Border Force officers on preventing people who should not be here from coming to this country.
The Minister is right: those pieces of equipment are useful, but they are not 100% effective. As of today, 2,300 illegal migrants are in Calais, seeking to come to the United Kingdom. According to the mayor of Calais, in her evidence to Parliament on 28 October, some will risk their lives to do so. Does the Minister agree that we need to do much more work with the countries at the point of entry—Greece, Turkey and Italy—to prevent people from going there, rather than waiting until they get to Calais when it could be far too late?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in that we need to look beyond the borders of the EU. That is precisely the emphasis that has been given by several countries, including the UK and France. Indeed, Italy is hosting a conference in a few weeks to do precisely that in relation to the horn of Africa. He is right to make that point, but equally the Government are focused on security at Calais, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has agreed with the French Government an investment of £12 million in security at that port.
Online Child Abuse
In its first full year, National Crime Agency activity has safeguarded or protected more than 1,000 children. As part of its response, the NCA is leading an unprecedented UK-wide operation called Notarise, which is identifying and taking action against individuals who view indecent images of children. To date, Operation Notarise alone has led to more than 700 arrests.
The head of the National Crime Agency made the link between online and physical child abuse. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is vital that we protect the most vulnerable children as part of stopping child abuse. What are the Government doing about the Education Committee’s findings in its inquiry into residential care, which found children’s homes in the same places as many abusers and potential abusers?
What is illegal offline is illegal online. It does not matter how the abuse takes place, it is still illegal activity and victims need our support and protection. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary leads the cross-government response to this issue and we are working hard to make sure we give victims the support they need and deserve.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister will lead an international conference on reducing and eradicating online child abuse. Will the Minister update the House on the measures that the Government are taking so that perpetrators of this appalling crime are brought to justice no matter where they live in the world?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the global response being led by the Government and the Prime Minister to make sure that we are doing everything we can to work globally with international partners and the private sector. We are taking steps, particularly in the Serious Crime Bill, to ensure that we are doing all we can to give the support and protection that is needed through law enforcement.
What representations has the Home Secretary received from the Mayor of London or the Metropolitan police about the implications of ongoing investigations into organised child sexual abuse to ensure that he can adequately resource these exceptional police operations?
The Government’s drugs strategy sets out a balanced approach to tackling drug misuse, including controls under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. There are positive signs that our approach is working, such as a long-term downward trend in drug use, and people going into treatment are more likely to free themselves from dependency than ever before. An assessment of the drugs strategy is under way.
The coalition Government have no current intention to decriminalise drugs. Drugs are illegal where scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health. We recognise that drugs are a complex and evolving issue, so we continue to develop our strategy and look at other evidence-based approaches to help us to respond to emerging threats and challenges.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend join the ministerial team. She is aware of the unanimous vote a few weeks ago for an impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis on this matter, but does she agree that to be tough on drugs we need to focus more police time on chasing drug dealers?
I was pleased with the Minister’s confirmation, in a response to a recent parliamentary question, that the Government have accepted a recommendation to develop proposals for a blanket ban on the sale of new psychoactive substances—so-called legal highs. What work will now take place to ensure that that is a reality?
As the hon. Gentleman says, we accepted the panel’s recommendation to develop proposals for a blanket ban. We have already initiated statutory consultation on the proposals with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and we will consider its advice carefully. Work has begun and is moving swiftly. We will develop proposals for a blanket ban and set out further detail in due course.
We remain on track to relocate several hundred people under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme in the next three years. Between the first group of arrivals on 25 March and the end of June, 50 people were relocated to the UK under the scheme. Numbers are released as part of the publication each quarter of the Home Office official statistics, and the increased number of arrivals under the scheme up to the end of September will be published on 27 November.
On 9 December, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is staging a Syrian resettlement conference in Geneva. Given the unprecedented magnitude of the Syrian refugee crisis, will the Minister ensure that the UK Government are represented at that conference? Will he also take the opportunity to commit to expanding the vulnerable persons relocation scheme?
We certainly recognise the contribution and role played by the UNHCR. Indeed, the vulnerable persons relocation scheme has been developed alongside UNHCR and the specific cases we accept depend on referral by it. I underline to the hon. Lady the contribution the UK has made to the region: £700 million in aid, the vulnerable persons relocation scheme and the asylum claims we are accepting here.
In the past few months there has been increasing evidence that the countries surrounding Syria have begun to close their borders to reduce the number of refugees they allow through, leaving many in a desperate situation. I join the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) in urging the Government to step up to the plate at the pledging conference because we have no ability to put diplomatic pressure on other countries if we are doing so pitifully ourselves.
The contribution of the UK stands up to scrutiny and our overall contribution bears comparison with any international country. We are providing £700 million in aid, which is assisting hundreds of thousands of people each month. The vulnerable persons relocation scheme deals with the most vulnerable individuals, and I underline the fact that we have granted asylum to 3,000 people from Syria since the start of the conflict.
23. I welcome what the Minister says on Syrian refugees coming in this direction, but will he comment on British citizens travelling in the opposite direction? He may be aware of a story in today’s Daily Mail regarding allegations that British citizens have been involved in barbaric and brutal beheadings in Syria and Iraq. Will he assure me that those claims will be investigated very urgently, including claims that an individual from Cardiff was involved? Will he join me in welcoming the absolute condemnation of those acts by the Muslim community across Cardiff? (906042)
I am sure that the whole House would join the hon. Gentleman and me in utterly condemning those responsible for the brutal murder of Peter Kassig and the appalling images we saw over the weekend. The Government remain resolute in confronting terrorism in all its forms and pursuing those responsible for heinous terrorist acts, and I endorse his comments about British Muslim communities across the country standing up against this brutality and heinous evil. We stand together in condemning these actions and taking whatever action is appropriate.
The UNHCR report published in July called for participating states to plan for the resettlement of more vulnerable refugees from Syria in 2015 and 2016. Given that this tragic conflict shows little sign of abating, will my hon. Friend indicate what responsibilities we have regarding such forward planning?
As my hon. Friend will know, we have stated clearly that we intend to accept several hundred people under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme over the next three years, and we are doing exactly that and will be following through on it, but clearly we remain focused on getting a solution in-region, given the significant numbers affected, which is why our aid programme—the £700 million and the assistance it is directly providing—matters so much.
Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is an extremely harmful practice that we are committed to tackling. On 22 July, the Prime Minister hosted the UK’s first girls summit, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to tackling FGM here and overseas. At the summit, the UK announced an unprecedented package of measures to tackle FGM, including several commitments to strengthen the law, improve the law enforcement response, support front-line professionals and work with communities to prevent abuse.
I want to push the Minister and set this point in a broader context. There are worrying minorities in this country that do not believe in equal rights for women—it is not just FGM, but a number of other awful things that happen to women. Is it not time that women in this country, especially new immigrants, knew their rights and protections under the law?
I could not agree more, and that is why we are working closely across government and in communities to push this information down into those communities. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, some of these communities are particularly closed off, which makes it even more imperative to work with their members to take these messages in, including in schools and through front-line professionals.
Last year, we removed just under 5,100 foreign national offenders—a 12% increase over the last two years—and since 2010 the Government have removed more than 22,000 foreign national offenders, despite a 28% increase over that period in the number of legal challenges and appeals designed to frustrate or delay removal.
The Minister did not mention that the number of deportations of criminals has fallen by 7% since 2010. The recent National Audit Office report suggested that 40% of the delays were down to avoidable processing errors. Will he explain why the Home Office is so inefficient?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman was listening. Since 2010, we have seen a 28% increase in the number of legal challenges to deportation decisions designed to frustrate or delay the removal of foreign national offenders, and that is why we introduced the Immigration Act 2014 and other changes to speed up the deportation process. This Government are focused on this issue, unlike the previous one, who failed so miserably in office.
What responsibility does the Home Office accept for its failure in the pre-vetting and walking-out process for the Libyan personnel who unleashed a tidal wave of criminal offences across the UK and then had to be deported from this country?
I think the hon. Lady is referring to the Libyan soldiers who are receiving training in Cambridgeshire. Clearly, action was taken in those circumstances and they were removed. Clearly, unacceptable offences took place, which have been investigated and the appropriate steps have been taken.
Police reform is working and crime is down by more than a fifth under this Government, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. Since June 2010, the number of crimes recorded by the police has fallen by 12% in Kettering, by 21% in Northamptonshire and by 16% in England.
I declare my interest as a special constable. How is the fantastically good work being done by Northamptonshire police being fed into the crime and policing knowledge hub within the Home Office so that Northamptonshire’s best practice can be spread throughout the country?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a special constable for the British Transport police. The information is being fed in through the College of Policing, and I am grateful to him for praising the crime and policing knowledge hub in the Home Office, which is developing a deep understanding of the various drivers of crime.
Last week I met members of Nottingham’s Jewish community, which expressed deep concern about the dramatic increase in anti-Semitic abuse to which Members and others have been subjected on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. I am sure that these concerns are shared across the east midlands, including in Kettering and Northamptonshire. I understand that when the police put in RIPA requests to Twitter, they are sent via America and it sometimes takes so long that potential investigations are hampered. What is the Minister doing to ensure that companies such as Twitter and Facebook fulfil their responsibilities under British law?
It is quite extraordinary that crime has fallen by more than a fifth in Northamptonshire since this Government came to power. Could it be because under this Government, the proportion of police officers out on the streets catching criminals and deterring crime in Northamptonshire has gone up?
The Government risk sounding very complacent about areas of crime that are still getting worse. Can the Minister explain the Government’s lack of action on violent assaults, which are up by 20% in London over the last year, and online banking fraud, which has soared by 70% nationally?
Police and Crime Commissioner By-elections
In the west midlands, 200,000 people voted in the by-election for the PCC and in South Yorkshire it was 150,000. None of those would have had a vote if we had carried on with the old unaccountable police authorities—not one.
We are thinking carefully about the two by-elections and about what methodology would help to increase turnout, but if Labour Members keep running them down, it is no surprise that police and crime commissioners in their own areas—and the shadow Minister told me that they were doing a fantastic job—[Interruption.] Members can try and shout me down, but, at the end of the day, they will not succeed.
The Home Secretary and the Chancellor meet regularly to discuss budget matters. No decisions have been made about police budgets after March 2016.
Does the Minister agree that many forces, including Durham police, will be unable to cope with large budget cuts—especially at a time when they must manage an historic level of demand as well as dealing with increasing challenges such as child exploitation and cybercrime—without cutting police numbers, which our police and crime commissioner, Ron Hogg, says is absolutely inevitable?
No, I do not accept that. What I do accept is that where cuts have taken place, crime has fallen. Let us consider the area that the hon. Lady represents. I quote:
“Despite these difficult times, I am very proud to report that County Durham and Darlington remain among the safest places in the country to live…This performance puts us in an excellent starting position for the period of continued austerity.”
I believe that is from County Durham’s Labour police and crime commissioner, Ron Hogg.
Over the weekend we saw yet another brutal murder at the hands of ISIL, that of United States aid worker Peter Kassig. Both the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and the Minister for Security and Immigration, referred to it earlier. I am sure the House will agree that, along with the recent shocking attack on the Canadian Parliament, it demonstrates the deadly threat that we face from terrorism at home and abroad. That is why protecting the British public remains the Government’s No. 1 priority, and why we are taking urgent action to ensure that our police and intelligence agencies have all the tools that they need to keep people safe.
As I have told the House previously, and as the Prime Minister confirmed in Australia last week, we will shortly introduce a counter-terrorism Bill which will include new powers to disrupt people’s ability to travel abroad to fight as well as their ability to return here, and will combat the underlying ideology that feeds, supports and sanctions terrorism. The legislation will strengthen our armoury of powers, which will be among the toughest in the world in terms of cracking down on returning foreign fighters.
May I associate myself with the Home Secretary’s comments about recent international events?
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recently launched its “flaw in the law” campaign, which rightly demands legislative change to make it illegal for an adult to send a sexual message to a child. When will the Home Secretary give the police the power to intervene earlier, rather than leaving them unable to act until a child has been coerced into sharing an indecent image, lured to a meeting offline or, in the worst cases, sexually abused?
I agree that we need to be able to intervene earlier, so that we can ensure that predatory behaviour is tackled before children are put at risk. Officials had a further meeting with the NSPCC as recently as last Friday to discuss the matter further. I can assure the hon. Lady and the House that we will complete our consideration of the issue as a matter of urgency, so that we have the opportunity to table an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill should we wish to do so.
T3. As the Minister will know, over the last few months I have been chairing an inquiry in which a cross-party group of Members of Parliament has been investigating immigration detention and the treatment of detainees. We have heard some very disturbing evidence from detainees themselves about the impact on their mental health, and also from representatives of the Royal College of Psychiatry and the British Medical Association. The panel would like an opportunity to discuss the Minister’s written evidence with him in person. May I encourage him to come and give evidence to our inquiry? We should be very happy to work around all manner of difficulties in his diary. (906125)
I welcome the work of the all-party parliamentary group. Let me emphasise that our priority is to ensure that detention is as short and possible, as well as being safe and secure. Obviously we have made changes in relation to the process for mental health provision, in which Public Health England has been involved, but I will certainly continue to reflect on the recommendations that the inquiry makes.
T5. Magistrates in Dudley tell me that as a result of the reduction in the number of police officers people accused of quite serious crimes such as burglary, assault, domestic violence and even rape are no longer being taken to court in the black country. The number of cases taken to court by the police is down by a third. Why do the Government not understand that my constituents want to see police on the streets, offenders in court and criminals in jail? (906127)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that there are now more police on the streets, not in back rooms. In my Ministry of Justice role, we have looked very carefully at cautions, which we feel were being used inappropriately. There are now pilots, and there will be a deferred prosecution, and if people do not abide by that, they will be in court. It is for the Crown Prosecution Service, not politicians, to decide who goes to court and who does not.
T4. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Leicestershire police on signing up to the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme, to use stop-and-search less and more fairly, saving police time and further increasing the trust between the police and the community they serve so well? (906126)
I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Leicestershire police on signing up to the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme. I am very clear that the police should be using stop-and-search powers lawfully in a targeted, intelligence-led way. We want to ensure that local communities can hold their force to account for its use of the powers, and the scheme is part of a package of reform that will contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of stop-and-search, but also the better use of stop-and-search and improved stop-to-arrest ratios. I also congratulate Leicestershire police on the fact that over the last four years crime has fallen by 22% in their force area.
May I join the Home Secretary in passing on the thoughts and prayers of those on the Opposition Benches to the family and friends of US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, murdered in an act of vile barbarism by ISIL?
This morning, we learned that a British terror suspect has left Britain, reportedly to join ISIL. He was previously on a terrorism prevention and investigation measure which, under the Home Secretary’s reforms, ran out in January. We understand she had already taken his passport away. She has told us that
“there has been no substantial increase in overall risk since the introduction of TPIMs”.—[Official Report, 4 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 25.]
She told us, too, that when TPIMs ran out either people were no longer at risk or there would be sufficient surveillance and restrictions by the police and Security Service to manage the risk. How come that has completely failed in this case?
Of course, this country is now facing a more severe threat than it has in recent years. That was reflected in the fact that back in August the joint terrorism analysis centre raised the threat level from substantial to severe. That reflected concerns about western attack plans that were being put together in Syria and elsewhere. As the right hon. Lady knows—I referred to this in my answer to the first topical question—the Government are looking at further legislation that is needed and we will be publishing a counter-terrorism Bill so we can take this through this House. I look forward to her supporting the Government in taking further measures to ensure that we can deal with terrorists.
The Home Secretary did not answer the question about what has happened to this man who has left the country to fight with our enemies, and I think Parliament has a right to know whether her change to the legislation made that possible. She talked about there being a more serious threat, but it is significant that there are hardly any TPIMs in use, raising serious questions about whether they are fit for purpose at the moment. Two terror suspects have absconded—one in a black cab and one in a burqa—because the Home Secretary removed the relocation powers and now another has absconded because there were not sufficient checks in place once the TPIM ran out. So will she agree as part of that legislation to reverse the Government’s position on the two main changes she made—first, to restore relocation powers and, secondly, to provide additional controls where needed once TPIMs run out, before any more terror suspects are able to run away?
The right hon. Lady will know that both I and the Prime Minister have made it clear that in the new counter-terrorism Bill we propose to bring forward the Government will be looking at the issue of TPIMs and looking to see whether any further measures are necessary. A number of proposals in relation to TPIMs have been made by the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, David Anderson, and the Government are looking at the package of proposals he has put forward.
The Home Secretary will look carefully before she makes any decision on whether water cannon can be deployed. We received a formal application from the lead officer on this only in March 2014, but once we have looked at all the appraisals relating to the need for water cannon, the Home Secretary will make a decision.
T8. Can we do something practical about prosecuting cases of female genital mutilation? Many such cases have been taken to court in France, but we are in a disgraceful position here. Can we get it through to the communities that tolerate FGM that we in this country are serious about this issue? This barbarism has to stop. (906131)
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that the Opposition should even begin to criticise the Government on this, because we have done more in two years than was done in the 13 years of the Labour Government. Prosecutions are important, and the first one will come to court after the new year, but our focus has to be on prevention and protection, and it is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and I have recently written to the Home Office about the problem of illegal encampments in Harlow and Thurrock, and about the police response to them. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this matter, and will he set out the powers that the police have to deal with illegal or unauthorised Travellers’ encampments?
T9. Given the 400% rise in anti-Semitic incidents this summer, I was pleased to hear that the Home Secretary had met representatives of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and of the Community Security Trust. Will she tell us what discussions she has had with Twitter and Facebook on this matter? (906132)
As the Minister for Crime Prevention has said, we have had discussions with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the CST on the various issues that they have raised concerning anti-Semitic incidents, and in particular on how the police are responding to them. The extremism taskforce has been looking at how social media companies respond to Government requests relating to extremist material and hate crimes. We have initiated discussions on that matter and more generally on how extremist material can be taken down from such sites, and we will be progressing that work.
The Home Secretary will know that at least four people have recently been killed by a substance known as DNP, including, tragically, my 23-year-old constituent Sarah Houston. The substance is readily available on the internet, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency cannot ban it because it is not a pharmaceutical product. Will she look again at reclassifying this substance as a class C drug so that no further young lives are so tragically lost?
I am sorry to hear about my right hon. Friend’s constituent. We keep under constant review the way in which these matters are evolving and the way in which these substances are classified, and I undertake to look into the issue that she has raised.
Further to the question asked earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), may I tell the Home Secretary that my Syrian Christian constituents, the Fallou family, have relatives who have fled from Nineveh across the border into Turkey? They have applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and been told that the first interview that could possibly be timetabled for them would be in 2017. Will the Home Secretary raise this crucial matter at the conference in Switzerland later this year?
Will the Home Secretary join me in praising the work of North Yorkshire police? They have launched a street triage scheme in which York-based mental health professionals join police officers on their patrols. That partnership will allow vulnerable people to receive immediate assistance and a proper mental health assessment at the scene.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating North Yorkshire police on the work they have done on this new street triage scheme in York, and indeed the other local parties who have made it possible. The changes the Government have introduced through the street triage pilots, which are now being taken up by a number of other forces, are having a significant impact on the way the police are dealing with people with mental health problems. That presence of a health care professional means that in many force areas we are seeing a significant reduction in the number of people who are being taken to a police cell as a place of safety. That is better for not only the police, but, crucially, the individuals themselves.
In condemning, like everybody else, the barbaric murder carried by out by the ISIS gangsters, would the Home Secretary consider that the various aspects of the counter-terrorism Bill the Prime Minister referred to in Australia should be examined by various Committees of this House, particularly the Home Affairs Committee? Does she accept that there must be concern about police officers, instead of her, having the right to take away passports and about the whole question of whether people should be rendered stateless? I do not minimise the danger of those returning from Syria, but I hope the Home Secretary will bear it in mind that there are implications that should be examined by the various Committees.
When we publish the Bill, the hon. Gentleman will be able to see the details of our proposals, including on the temporary seizure of passports, which I have spoken about, as has the Prime Minister. The Bill will, of course, receive proper scrutiny in this House and in another place as it goes through its various stages. I do not think it is the job of the Home Secretary to suggest to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee whether or not he should have an inquiry into this Bill. I have noticed that the Home Affairs Committee is not backward in coming forward on looking at matters the Government propose.