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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 590: debated on Monday 5 January 2015

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Border Exit Checks

The Government are on track to deliver their commitment to introduce exit checks on scheduled commercial international air, sea and rail routes by April 2015.

It is clear that exit checks, which were scrapped by the previous Labour Government, are a critical part of any competent immigration system. I know that progress has been made, but how sure is the Home Secretary that she will hit the target of 100% exit checks by March?

As I indicated in my original answer, we are on track to ensure that we have exit checks in place by April 2015. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention the significance of exit checks in the immigration system, and I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Minister for Government Policy and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister for Schools who have together been supporting the Home Office to ensure that we can meet our commitment.

19. Given the situation at our border in Calais, does the Home Secretary regret scrapping fingerprinting, which used to help us to identify and deport those who were trying to enter our country illegally night after night? (906762)

We are doing a great deal of work with the French authorities in relation to the situation at Calais. The hon. Gentleman mentions fingerprinting, and it is important that those who are coming to Calais and trying to get across to the United Kingdom should be fingerprinted when they first enter the European Union. In most cases, they are coming in through Italy.

But what is the Home Secretary doing to identify the 50,00 failed asylum seekers that the Public Accounts Committee has said her Department has failed to identify?

I think it is a bit rich for Labour Members to stand up in the Chamber and complain about the immigration system when many of the problems that we are dealing with have been inherited from the last Labour Government’s failed immigration policy.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the problem of illegal immigrants does not exist only in the locale of Calais? There is ample evidence that many of them are getting into lorries as far afield as Spain, and this is particularly affecting lorries bringing fresh food into this country, as their whole load has to be condemned when the immigrants are discovered. Is she aware that our retail sector is becoming increasingly worried about fresh food supplies? Will she meet me and representatives of the industry to discuss ways of getting on top of this issue?

I am certainly happy for either I or the Immigration Minister to meet my right hon. Friend and representatives of the industry. We are aware of this issue, and we are looking to introduce an improved ability to identify people in lorries when they pass through our juxtaposed controls in Calais, but as my right hon. Friend has said, the problem is that those people are often getting into the lorries further afield. Also, even if we find them at Calais, the load is still considered to have been damaged and contaminated.

Police and Crime Commissioners/Police Oversight

2. What assessment she has made of the effect of city deals and other forms of devolution on the future of police commissioners. (906744)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall answer questions 2 and 16 together.

Police and crime commissioners have brought direct accountability and localism to policing in this country, and, as we have seen in London, incorporating the role of the PCC in mayoral devolution has worked really well, especially under this excellent London Mayor.

I have to say that I have received no request for the grouping of questions 2 and 16, but we will see what we can do if the Minister continues to smile nicely.

I thank the Minister for that response. Given the terms of the Manchester city deal, does he agree that police and crime commissioners could become surplus to requirements? Would not culling them result in useful savings?

No; the police and crime commissioners are doing an excellent job. They bring accountability. The only bid to incorporate the PCC role at the moment is the bid from Manchester, and I look forward to seeing it working on the ground.

How will these arrangements work in the north-east of England, which has one economic zone—incorporating Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear—but two police authorities and two police and crime commissioners? Does the Home Office propose to merge the police authorities and their commissioners or to transfer their functions to a new individual?

It is entirely up to the local community to decide what it wants. If we look at other parts of the country, we can see that West Mercia and Warwickshire are working closely together. If the police authorities in the right hon. Gentleman’s area wanted to merge, they would need to put their business plan to us. It is not only the big cities that could come together; such proposals could involve rural areas as well.

Does the Minister recognise that the police and crime commissioners can work only within the resources and policy frameworks that are set nationally? Will he take this opportunity to support community policing and to reject the ridiculous suggestion from Tom Winsor that the police should ignore offences such as shoplifting and antisocial behaviour?

We will make sure that local communities decide what sort of policing goes on in their area, and PCCs have the role of making sure that is happening. There are excellent Labour and Conservative PCCs around the country, and I cannot understand why the Labour party wants to get rid of its own people who are doing a good job.

Mental Health

3. What steps she is taking to improve the approach of the police to working with people with mental health problems. (906745)

6. What steps she is taking to improve the approach of the police to working with people with mental health problems. (906748)

13. What steps she is taking to improve the approach of the police to working with people with mental health problems. (906756)

17. What steps she is taking to improve the approach of the police to working with people with mental health problems. (906760)

We have taken a number of significant steps in this area: we have launched schemes including street triage, and liaison and diversion; we have reviewed the Mental Health Act 1983; and we have introduced an agreement supported by more than 20 partners nationally to improve the way the police and their partners deal with people with mental health problems. Police cells are now being used less frequently as a place of safety, and I am pleased to say that our work is already having an impact.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the successful street triage initiative. Health is a devolved competence in Wales, so what work is her Department doing with the Welsh health authorities to ensure an efficient system of street triage there?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing out that of course this matter has a different relevance in relation to Wales and the Welsh health authorities. We are working on health and policing with the Welsh Government, Welsh PCCs and the chief constables to spread best practice, but I am pleased to say that, through the non-devolved police aspects of this national work programme, funding from the Home Office innovation fund is supporting a pilot triage scheme in Dyfed-Powys—the first such initiative in Wales. It is another example of the benefits of PCCs, because it has been championed by Chris Salmon, the PCC there.

I wish you a happy new year, Mr Speaker.

Plymouth’s Charles Cross police station reputedly has England’s busiest custody suite. Does my right hon. Friend have any plans to locate a community mental health nurse at Charles Cross to help people with mental health and autistic challenges?

As my hon. Friend will know, the provision of mental health nurses in police custody suites is a local issue, but I am pleased to tell him that from April 2015 NHS England will commission liaison and diversion services across Devon and Cornwall, including in Charles Cross police station, and that will provide people in police custody who may have mental health issues and autistic challenges with access to mental health nursing.

It is clearly good news that the number of people detained overnight in police stations under the Mental Health Act has been reduced by 25% in the past year alone. Clearly, it is important that individuals who are ill need to be treated medically, rather than be detained in police stations. What further action can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that people who are ill receive the medical treatment they require?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the success of the work already being done across the country, including in London, to reduce the number of people with mental health problems who are being held in a police cell as a place of safety. Police cells should only ever be used as a place of safety for somebody with mental health problems in exceptional circumstances. We are encouraging police forces across the country to look at the success of the triage schemes that have already been undertaken and take on board the very good practice which is having a beneficial effect for those with mental health problems and for police resources.

May I urge the Home Secretary to make it absolutely clear that there is no place at all for children with mental illnesses being in our police cells? I believe she has confirmed that that is the case, but I would be grateful if she would do so again.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that a police cell should not be a place of safety for a child with mental health problems—we are very clear about that. That is one issue that has emerged from the review we have undertaken, with the Department of Health, of sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act, and I am clear that in future we should not see children being held in a police cell as a place of safety when they have mental health problems.

Some 1,600 acute beds in mental health facilities have been lost on this Government’s watch. What assessment has the Home Secretary made at local level about beds being available for people who actually need them? Does she really think it is acceptable that in some cases people are having to travel up to 200 miles to access a crisis bed? Is that not why people are ending up in police cells, rather than in mental health crisis beds where they should be?

Under this Government we are seeing a significant change in the way in which people with mental health problems are being dealt with by both the police and the NHS: it is this Government who have reviewed sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act; it is this Government who have introduced the street triage pilots, whereby more and more people are being taken to proper places of safety in health care settings rather than being put in police cells; and it is this Government who have put mental health clearly on the agenda in relation to health matters—unlike the Labour Government.

Police officers locally tell me that because of the cuts they are being used far too frequently as the service of last resort because the other services are just not there to step into the breach. Distressed family members have come to me when they are worried about the behaviour of their relatives, who they fear might harm themselves or someone else, but they really do not want to go to the police. What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the police are absolutely used only as a last resort and that other agencies are there to step in?

The situation in which the police were being used as a first resort rather than a last resort—particularly for those with mental health problems—carried on year after year under the previous Labour Government with no action being taken. This Government have introduced the street triage pilots, the liaison and diversion services, and the care crisis concordat, which has been signed up to by 20 national bodies and which is having a real impact out on the streets. We have more to do in this area and we will be doing more. The number of people with mental health problems taken to a police cell as a place of safety has fallen, and it has fallen as a result of the action that we have taken.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that, under sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act, police cells should not be used for children. In our inquiry into policing and mental health, the Home Affairs Committee heard distressing evidence from families and guardians of young people with mental health problems taken into police cells. Will the Secretary of State consult those families and guardians on how policing of mental health for children can be improved as a matter of urgency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am happy, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for policing, to ensure that we do more of what we are already doing, which is talking to people who have experienced this problem at first hand and therefore gaining more understanding of the issue. This matter has been addressed not only by the Home Affairs Committee but by the Health Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), which has produced a report making exactly that point about young people. It said that children should not be taken to police cells as a place of safety when they have mental health problems.

Migration Target

4. What recent assessment she has made of the likelihood of the next migration target being met. (906746)

Where we can control migration, our reforms have cut non-EU migration to levels close to those not seen since the 1990s. However, EU immigration has almost doubled to unprecedented levels in the past two years. Many EU migrants are coming to the UK to work because of this Government’s success in rebuilding the economy and creating jobs.

Does the Home Secretary agree that when the Prime Minister said “no ifs, no buts” about getting net migration down to tens of thousands, he made a promise to the British people that he now appears to have broken?

I have been very clear and said publicly that yes, we have been blown off course in respect of our net migration target. I have just indicated that in the figures I mentioned in relation to EU migration. The Prime Minister has set out a number of ways in which we intend to address that particular issue, but it is this Government who have been addressing issues across the immigration system that have led to non-EU immigration coming down to levels close to those of the 1990s.

I strongly support the work that the Home Secretary has done with regard to controlling bogus student visa applications. That was a huge problem that she has got rid of. However, how would she answer my constituent Sir James Dyson, who said that if her latest remarks about automatically sending all students home on completion of their studies were taken literally, there would be dire consequences for businesses such as his which rely on engineers and scientists from overseas?

We have been very clear in all the changes we have made to the immigration system that we welcome the brightest and the best to the United Kingdom. We have no limit on the number of people who are coming here genuinely to study in a proper educational establishment. I am pleased to say that visa applications from university students rose by 2% in the year ending September 2014, with an increase of 4% for the Russell Group universities. We also need to recognise that the latest survey showed that in one year 121,000 students came in from overseas and only 50,000 left. Figures suggest that in the 2020s, we will see 600,000 overseas students each year in this country.

Entrepreneurs in Shoreditch to whom I speak greatly welcome migration. The Home Secretary’s colleague the Business Secretary came to an event organised by Tech City News to applaud the input of migrants in Shoreditch, so who is right: the Home Secretary or her colleague the Business Secretary?

There is no difference between two members of a Cabinet in a Government who believe that the brightest and the best should be able to come to the United Kingdom to work. We listen to business, and when we changed the system for non-EU economic migration we made every effort to do it in a way that business applauded.

Immigration from the EU is the No. 1 issue in my constituency and across north Northamptonshire. The Prime Minister is the only party leader who will make any attempt to reduce immigration from the EU, and he has given a further guarantee that if he fails to do that the British people will have the chance to vote in a referendum by 2017 to get out of the EU. I am looking forward to that referendum; is the Home Secretary, and might she be voting to come out?

Order. The question relates purely to the likelihood of the next migration target being met, so this is not an occasion for a general dilation on the EU. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not hoping for any such thing.

My hon. Friend was attempting to tempt me, Mr Speaker, but I am grateful for your guidance in this matter. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Prime Minister is the only party leader who has set out an intention to deal with free movement in the European Union and to do it in a way that enables us to do what everybody wants and to have the degree of control over our borders that we wish to have.

Will not the Home Secretary just concede that her immigration cap did not work and could never work, because we live in an interconnected, globalised world of which the free movement of people is a key feature? Will she agree that any future attempt at a UKIP-inspired immigration cap will be as disastrous as the last UKIP-inspired immigration cap?

I said in my original answer that we have been blown off course from the net migration target. The hon. Gentleman says that it is impossible to bring about changes in net migration, but I remind him that migration from outside the European Union has come down to levels close to those of the 1990s.

It is clearly progress that net migration from non-EU countries is now at levels not seen since the 1990s. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what action the Home Office is taking to ensure that those who have no right to be within the jurisdiction are removed from the country, such as foreign prisoners when they have completed their sentence of imprisonment and those who have been found by an immigration appeals tribunal to have no right to asylum here? What action is being taken to ensure that those people leave the country when they are told that they have no right to be in the country?

My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of dealing with those who have no right to be here. We are addressing it in a number of ways. For example, we are working hard with a number of other countries to ensure that they are willing to take back their foreign national offenders; we have ensured that there are fewer appeal routes for people who no longer have a right to be in the United Kingdom; some foreign national offenders have a right of appeal outside the country rather than inside the country; and we have undertaken a pilot with university students in the south-west to remind them when their visa comes to an end so that they leave the country. The issue is being addressed in a number of ways.

Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

I take this opportunity to thank John Vine, who left his post as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration at the end of December. His work has been invaluable in assisting Ministers and improving the operation of the immigration system, and I shall meet his successor once appointed.

Recent National Audit Office figures have shown that the Government’s border management and immigration policies have not stopped 10,649 foreign national offenders sitting in British prisons. One of the Home Secretary’s predecessors lost his job over this issue. A year on from the Department’s latest plan of action on this matter, there is still no real impact on the figures. When will the Home Secretary and a new chief inspector get a grip and deal with the problem properly?

As the Home Secretary has already said, we have got a grip on the issue. We are taking further steps through the operation of the Immigration Act 2014 to ensure that if there are appeals, they are heard outside this country’s jurisdiction, and that article 8—the right to family life—does not trump the ability to remove someone from the UK. It is that work and work across Government that are making sure that we are able to remove foreign national offenders from the UK.

I join the Minister in paying tribute to John Vine for his work as chief inspector of borders and immigration.

The chief inspector’s latest report on British citizenship applications shows that, on the Minister’s watch, scant regard was given by the Department to checks on criminal behaviour, fraud or immigration status. Since that report’s publication, what steps has the Minister taken to check histories and remove citizenship, if appropriate? Will he instigate proper investigation and record keeping? If he will not, a future Labour Government will.

Contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman just stated, the chief inspector was clear that criminal record checks had been carried out in all cases that were examined. We have reminded caseworkers of the need to ensure that the appropriate guidance is adhered to, but I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that the issues identified by the chief inspector arose in large measure from decisions of the last Labour Government to grant leave to people without going through the full requirements. We are still clearing up the mess that they put us in and we are focused on turning the ship around.

Crime Levels

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. England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades, with the survey showing crime at the lowest level since it began, in 1981.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will she join me in congratulating Thames Valley police? We saw a 30% drop in recorded crime between June 2010 and June 2014. What does that say about the extent to which Thames Valley police are keeping my constituents safe?

I am happy to do as my hon. Friend suggests and congratulate Thames Valley police on all they have done in reducing crime by 30% in their area, but I also congratulate all police forces that are rising to the challenge of driving efficiency and cutting crime. Effective policing plays a key part in reducing crime, as does tackling the underlying drivers of crime, which this coalition is also doing.

The Minister does not have much to say about card crime, which is up by a quarter, or online banking fraud, which is up by 71%. More and more people shop online, particularly over Christmas and the new year, but Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary found that just 2% of police had any training in cybercrime. When will the Government stop being so complacent about crime that is still rising?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place. Up to now, cybercrime has been a lesser interest. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the trend among all people now is to buy online, but I would say that what is illegal offline is also illegal online. Policing cyberspace is just as important as policing the streets, and that is what our police force is doing.

The police in my constituency do an excellent job. Will the Minister join me in congratulating them on reducing crime by 13% and keeping us all safe in the great city of Brighton and Hove?

I am more than happy to congratulate my hon. Friend’s local police on their efforts to reduce crime and their success in doing so. As I said, I congratulate all police forces across the country who are managing the reductions efficiently and cutting crime.

I might not have put it that way, but when one compares murder with shoplifting, that is one issue. The important point is that all crime should be tackled, regardless of what it is. Someone might start with shoplifting, but who knows where they will end up? Our objective is to cut all crime.

Indefinite Leave to Remain

9. What assistance her Department offers to people without five years’ residency applying for indefinite leave to remain, who have been delayed in entering the country on a spouse visa because they are waiting for a determination on a British passport application for a child born outside the UK due to delays in obtaining the initial spouse visa. (906751)

In considering immigration applications, UK Visas and Immigration will not generally take into account the time taken to establish the British citizenship of a child of the applicant. That is because the child’s status will affect the immigration requirements on the applicant, such as the minimum income threshold to be met by foreign spouses, which should be dealt with before an application is made.

Is the Minister aware of the impact on family life of these long delays? Such are the delays that by the time the spouse’s visa is granted, there may be one or two children, and then the mother will often have to make a decision about whether to stay abroad and be delayed there by starting the probationary period or to come to this country and leave the children abroad.

I am obviously happy to look at any individual cases that my hon. Friend may wish to highlight and I can examine further. A British passport is not issued to a child born overseas until the Passport Office is satisfied that all the relevant identity, nationality and child protection issues have been identified. I am sure that my hon. Friend would support that.

Syrian Refugees (Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme)

10. How many Syrian refugees have been resettled in the UK under the Government’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme to date. (906753)

We remain on track to relocate several hundred people under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme over the next three years. Between the first group of arrivals on 25 March and the end of September, 90 people were relocated to the UK under the scheme. In addition, over 3,400 Syrians and their dependants have been granted asylum or other forms of leave to remain since the start of the crisis.

The Minister will no doubt be aware that 2015 has already seen two worrying trends for Syrians fleeing the violence of war: first, an increase in restrictions imposed on those seeking to settle in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon; and secondly, even more refugees boarding boats and taking risky journeys in the Mediterranean. Does he recognise that our unwillingness to offer anything more than tokenistic safe legal routes for resettlement and family reunification of refugees exacerbates both those trends? We have no moral standing when arguing with neighbouring countries that they should keep their borders open, and desperate people will take any route to try to improve their lives when facing violence such as Syria’s.

This Government have taken important steps by providing aid that is benefiting hundreds of thousands of people in the region, and focusing on some of the most vulnerable cases that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme is designed to address. On borders, we are supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and we are in dialogue with Syria’s neighbours, recognising the importance of effective management and also the fact that international law is clear that refugees should not be turned back in these circumstances.

Italian Ministers told the European Scrutiny Committee that increasingly people coming on boats and being rescued from them are refugees from areas such as Syria, not just economic migrants. When will the Government sign up to the UN programme so that we do our fair share, like other countries?

This country is doing its fair share in many different ways through the direct aid that is being provided—£700 million that is directly affecting and benefiting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people—and the asylum that is being granted through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. We are also working overseas with countries affected to create a long-term settlement of this issue, as well as confronting the organised crime that exploits the vulnerable.

The UK does indeed have a very proud tradition of offering refuge to those in desperate need. The Government’s relocation programme for Syrian refugees was supposed to help orphan children, sexually abused women, victims of torture, and those needing specialist medical treatment. Other European countries are providing this support, with 310 people going to Ireland, 1,000 people going to Norway, and 1,200 people going to Sweden. As the Minister said, in the UK last year only 90 people were accepted. How many victims—specifically, how many orphan children and sexually abused women—will the UK be offering support to this year?

We remain on track to support several hundred vulnerable individuals over the next three years. The figures underline that. Those who benefit from the scheme are chosen by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with whom we work in close co-operation. It is therefore the UNHCR that advances and puts forward individual cases based on the vulnerability-type factors that the hon. Lady identified.

Border Security (Calais)

11. What recent discussions she has had with the French authorities on border security at Calais. (906754)

It is in the interests of both the UK and France to work together to tackle migratory pressures at Calais. The Home Secretary last met the French Interior Minister on 5 December. We continue to work closely with the French authorities on all matters of border security and cross-border criminality to maintain the integrity of our joint border controls.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the £12 million in the agreement will be spent on bolstering security and not on a welcome centre at Calais? Will he also reject representations from UKIP that the border controls at Calais should be scrapped and brought back to Dover?

I am very pleased to underline the points that my hon. Friend makes. We are not providing financial support for any day centres. Our financial support is focused on security at Calais and on confronting the organised criminality that seeks to take advantage of those trying to come to the UK. The juxtaposed controls absolutely benefit this country and we have no plans to change that.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and I saw for ourselves the security measures that have been introduced with the help of the Government, though part of the fence that we saw blew down over the Christmas holidays because of high winds. As the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) said, the area is now a magnet for those who wish to come to our country. Does the Minister agree that the problems in Calais are best addressed at the external frontiers of the EU? That means Frontex doing much more to ensure that the Mediterranean is policed properly but humanely, so that there is no repetition of what happened to the Ezadeen ship as it arrived in the EU very recently.

I agree that the problems lie beyond the UK’s shores. That is why, for example, we have taken part in the Khartoum process, which is an EU-African Union mechanism to focus on human trafficking. With reference to the EU border, Frontex has in place Operation Triton. As we are not within the Schengen zone, we do not participate directly, but are providing assistance. This is a matter that we continue to discuss with other EU Ministers.

The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee is quite right about our trip to Calais, where we found that in the past year more than 10,000 potential migrants had been apprehended by the good work of the border police and by the investment of no less than £150 million by Eurotunnel on fencing over the past 10 years. Is not the real problem that when potential migrants are apprehended, the French police take them 2 miles outside town and release them without even taking their fingerprints, so they can come and do it all over again?

I agree with my hon. Friend on some of the incredibly good work being undertaken at the northern French ports, particularly the work of Border Force, and the investment that has been provided there. We are investing further in security at Calais. We continue to have discussions with the French authorities on how we can strengthen the response, and those discussions will continue in the weeks ahead.

Given these discussions, why have the French authorities set up a Sangatte 2 camp in Calais? What effect does the Minister think that will have on the situation?

The French Government will clearly make their own determinations and responses on matters relating to what happens on French soil. Our focus is on security at the juxtaposed controls and on combating organised crime, on which we have good joint working with the French and other Governments. It is clear that we should not establish measures that may act as some sort of magnet and may make the problem worse.

Regionalising Police Forces

The Government have no plans to move away from the localism that local police forces give us. Localism is something for which the hon. Gentleman campaigned for many years.

Does the Minister recognise that although there may be advantages to be gained by regionalisation, such as economies of scale, larger police forces could mean a greater distance between the public and the police and less local accountability?

I am slightly confused, because the hon. Gentleman campaigned for the introduction of police and crime commissioners when he was a Conservative Member and sat on the Government Benches. Is he now saying that they should not be there? Perhaps it is just a UKIP policy: one day one thing, and the next day another. At the end of the day, local democracy means that local authorities can make decisions. If they want to amalgamate, they can submit a business plan to us. Manchester has done that, but it is the only one.

Would not regionalising policing mean either the abolition of PCCs or a multiplication of several times over in the size of their constituencies? Does the Minister agree that either course would be a terrible slap in the face for those who campaigned so hard for so long for the system we now have?

There are many present in the Chamber—including, perhaps, one Opposition Member—who have campaigned for localism over many years and who passionately believe in it. PCCs give that to the community and I cannot understand why anybody would change their mind about them.

Proposals to merge Northamptonshire police with an east midlands police force, as advanced by the Labour party when it was in power, would have been disastrous for Northamptonshire. The present proposals from the police commissioner and the head of the local fire brigade to increasingly merge their operations make lot of sense on so many levels. Will my right hon. Friend encourage this?

Not only will I encourage it, but I have seen it going on around the country. Taxpayers’ money needs to be spent efficiently and it must be done in a way that is right for the emergency services. I have seen that happen, and if it happens in my hon. Friend’s constituency then so be it, but it will be a local decision.

Lincolnshire Police Budget

15. What recent discussions she has had with the chief constable of Lincolnshire on the budget of the Lincolnshire police. (906758)

The Home Secretary and I meet all the chief constables regularly and I personally met the chief constable of Lincolnshire very recently.

With more than 8,000 front-line police officers out of 16,000 cut already, is not the Lincolnshire chief constable right to warn that the loss of a further 6,000 front-line officers, along with other cuts, will simply mean that police forces across the country will collapse? They will go and there will not be any need for PCCs because there will not be any forces.

I am sure the residents and constituents of Stoke-on-Trent South will be interested to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s interest in Lincolnshire. At the end of the day, it is for Lincolnshire and its chief constable to decide what they want to do and we will support them in those decisions. They do not have to be about a reduction in police officers; actually, we have seen an increase in the number of police officers on the ground in Lincolnshire.

I am surprised that my otherwise good friend the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) is suddenly taking such an interest in the Lincolnshire constabulary. To put things in perspective, the reason our budgets have suffered for many years is the sparsity factor formula put in place by the previous Labour Government which transferred resources from rural authorities to places such as Stoke-on-Trent. Having said that, we have still managed to cut crime in Lincolnshire by 20% over five years.

To be honest, I perfectly understand that any chief constable and PCC will campaign for extra money, but at the same time I cannot understand the sudden interest taken in Lincolnshire by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello). When this Government came to power, 91% of police were on the front line; that figure is now 93%. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is absolutely right to say that there has been a 20% cut in crime in Lincolnshire.

Like many other chief constables around the country, the chief constable of an efficient and effective police service in Lincolnshire has made it clear that the Government’s proposed cuts will see meaningful neighbourhood policing ceased; response times get longer; officer safety put at risk; the ability to investigate historical child sex exploitation cases limited; and public confidence in policing severely eroded. Is he right to say that and is it right for the Home Secretary to spend £50 million on next year’s PCC elections when what the public want is for that money to be invested in front-line policing?

I do not recognise the figure of £50 million, but it is not unlike the Labour party to make up figures as it goes along. At the end of the day, Members either believe in localism or they do not, and running down the police of this country, as the Opposition do regularly, is not the answer. We need to support our police, make sure we can get the austerity through and make sure that more police are on the front line. That is what we are doing.

Special Demonstration Squad

18. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the findings of the investigation by Chief Constable Mick Creedon into the activities of the special demonstration squad. (906761)

Operation Herne is conducting a criminal investigation into the conduct of former special demonstration squad officers, and that work is continuing. As I said in my statement to the House on 6 March 2014, there will be a public inquiry into undercover policing and the activities of the special demonstration squad and I will update the House on the public inquiry as soon as it is appropriate to do so.

I thank the Home Secretary for her attention to this matter. It has taken the Met nearly two years to reply to my freedom of information request about their theft of dead children’s identities for undercover policing. From only three out of 18 year groups had a child’s identity not been taken for the purpose of legend building. The so-called legends are broadly as likely to have been stolen from dead children as to have been invented from scratch. Given their feet dragging on this matter, what confidence can the Home Secretary have that police attitudes to undercover practices have truly changed?

I know my hon. Friend has taken up and worked very hard on this particular issue. I believe that one of the assistant commissioners from the Metropolitan police gave very clear evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on the fact that the approach to the use of dead children’s names and identities has changed within the Metropolitan police. They are very clear that this should not be happening now, and as I say, they have changed the action they take.

Citizenship Applications

20. How many applicants have been granted citizenship over the last 20 years; and what estimate she has made of the number of errors or mistakes made in decisions on citizenship in that period. (906763)

The published national statistics of British citizenship grants show that there have been more than 2.4 million grants of citizenship over the last 20 years. The recent report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration endorsed decision making in the overwhelming majority of cases examined.

None the less, will my hon. Friend say when errors were made and what the consequence of such changes would have been? Is he able to find out how many such citizenship errors should not have been made?

The Government are clear that the grant of UK citizenship is a privilege for those who deserve it, not an automatic right for those who do not. Some of the issues identified by the chief inspector relate to a decision in 2007 to grant a large number of people the right to remain here indefinitely even if they did not meet the rules, and we are working through a process on that. We have also tightened the rules so that if someone has a bad immigration history, they are banned from becoming a British citizen for at least 10 years.

Topical Questions

A few days before Christmas, Merseyside police officer Police Constable Neil Doyle was brutally killed while off duty. I am sure the whole House would want to express our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Before the Christmas recess, I set out proposals further to reform policing in England and Wales. I announced plans to introduce a statutory limit of 28 days on pre-charge police bail to prevent individuals from spending months or, in some cases, years on bail only for no charges to be brought. I published joint proposals with the Department of Health to reform the use of sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to ensure that those with mental health problems, particularly children, receive proper health care and support, rather than the closing of a police cell door when they are in crisis.

Under this Government, police reform is working and continues to work. According to the independent crime survey for England and Wales, our reforms have seen crime fall by more than a fifth and the proportion of police officers on the front line rise to more than 90%. Although police spending rose year on year when Labour was in power, we have successfully delivered savings to reduce the deficit while protecting the front line.

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Has she noticed the progress made by Staffordshire police in dealing with the scourge of uninsured vehicles by confiscating and ultimately crushing them in public, and would she recommend the use of that practice elsewhere?

I am happy to applaud the work done by Staffordshire police. The issue of uninsured vehicles is a problem that affects people across the whole country, and I am sure that other police forces will want to look at the work of Staffordshire police force and its success.

May I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to PC Neil Doyle, as well as his colleagues and his friends and family, and all police who take so many risks to keep us all safe?

James Dyson has called the Home Secretary’s new plan to expel overseas postgraduates “short-sighted”, and has said that it will lead to “long-term economic decline”. The Conservative former Minister for Universities and Science, the right hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), has said that it is “mean-spirited” and will damage our exports and our universities. Even Conservative central office backed away from her policy yesterday, so does the Home Secretary stand by her plan? Does she believe that overseas graduates should all have to return home before they can even apply for a high-skilled job in British science or the NHS—yes or no?

The right hon. Lady will have heard my previous responses on that issue, and I am clear that our policies are right and ensure that the brightest and best are coming to the United Kingdom. Of course we want people who wish to come here to do genuine degrees at proper educational establishments, but the Government have been clearing up the abuse that was allowed to run rife with student visas under the previous Labour Government, and 800 colleges are no longer able to take in overseas students. We want the brightest and best to come to the UK, and that is exactly what our policies are destined to ensure.

The Home Secretary has ducked the specific question of whether she wants overseas students to have to leave the country before they can apply for any high-skilled job in Britain. I hope that means that she is backing away from the policy and that it was simply a proposal from her special advisers—that is obviously why they have been banned from the Tory candidates list.

The Home Secretary needs to reflect on all her immigration policies because border checks have got weaker, asylum delays have risen by 70%, low-skilled migration is up, and her net migration target is in tatters, but the numbers of overseas university students fell last year. Criminals have been given citizenship, the Syrian scheme has been delayed, yet the Home Secretary claimed that her immigration policy is an achievement to be proud of. Will she tell the House whether she is proud of targeting postgraduates while illegal immigration gets worse? How proud is she of giving killers British citizenship while Syrian refugees are refused entry?

I will tell the right hon. Lady what I am proud of. I am proud that this Government have taken immigration seriously and looked across every route of migration into the United Kingdom. We have dealt with—and continue to deal with—abuse in the student visa system, which was allowed to increase significantly under the previous Labour Government, and non-EU migration is now at the levels of the late 1990s. That is a direct result of policies undertaken by this Government, and the Labour party needs to get its story in order. On the one hand people have been told to back off from conversations about immigration on the doorstep, yet on the other hand the right hon. Lady seems to want us to do a variety of things that her Labour Government failed to do when in office. We are dealing with the mess of the uncontrolled immigration system that was left by the previous Labour Government; this Government are getting to grips with our immigration system, unlike the Labour party.

T2. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Metropolitan police on a 14% reduction in crime over the past five years, and a 4% reduction in the last year alone? Does he agree that outer-London boroughs such as Havering need resources, as well as central London? (906825)

I congratulate the Metropolitan police on their excellent work—indeed, I was on patrol with them fairly recently and I know well the part of the world that my hon. Friend represents. Not only has crime fallen by 15%, but that has been done by increasing the amount of police on the front line from 86% to 91%. That is something we should all be proud of.

T3. A recent study by the university of Bedfordshire and Victim Support found that one third of 11 to 17-year-olds have suffered physical violence in the past year. Will the Minister make it a priority to ensure that young people are taught how to report crimes and are fully supported throughout the process? (906826)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Abuse is not acceptable and victims of abuse need to know where to get the support they need. The Government are committed to ensuring that that is the case.

T4. I welcome the Government’s extra funds to support victims of sexual abuse, but will my right hon. Friend outline exactly how we will do that? (906827)

The Government have announced an additional £7 million for victim groups that support survivors of sexual violence. Two million pounds is available for organisations that are reporting an increase in referrals prompted by the independent panel inquiry into sexual abuse. There is another £2.85 million Home Office fund for providers of support across England and Wales, and a £2.15 million uplift on current Ministry of Justice funding to 84 existing rape support centres. Effective, timely support for victims of child sexual abuse is a matter of national importance.

T5. There has been a net loss of 293 police officers from the Cleveland police service since 2010, and our police commissioner says that the budget has been cut by another 5.1%, which could further jeopardise public safety. Does the Home Secretary agree that such losses and cuts are the reasons behind the drop in confidence in policing for the first time in a decade? (906828)

Crime in Cleveland has dropped by 16% in the past four and a half years, and by another 2% this year. Cleveland police should be congratulated, not run down.

T7. Does the Home Secretary share my concern at the rise in rural crime, some of it organised, some of it opportunistic? Will she take this opportunity to make rural crime a target for police activity, so that action is taken to stamp it out? (906830)

My hon. Friend will know that, in her force constabulary area, there has been a 16% cut in crime, thanks in large part to her excellent PCC, Julia Mulligan. As an MP for a rural constituency, I too take rural crime very seriously. My hon. Friend is right that much of rural crime, particularly that involving large agricultural vehicles, is undertaken by organised crime groups. I am pleased that the regional organised crime units are working with local forces to ensure that we tackle rural crime and make it a No. 1 issue.

T6. Considering the warning that Tony Robinson has been given about his obligations under the Official Secrets Act, what guarantee can the Home Secretary give that other special branch officers, former special branch officers and others with knowledge of prominent people and historical child abuse will be able to speak out without such obstructions again? (906829)

I am very clear that the Official Secrets Act is not a bar to giving evidence to the police or to the inquiry. Arrangements are in place that enable Crown servants to disclose such material when it relates to child abuse. I am clear that that lawful authority should be given in those cases, but I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue on a number of occasions. I am willing to continue to look at it to ensure—I want this, as he does—that all evidence available is made available to the inquiry, and where appropriate to the police, for proper investigation.

T8. I listened carefully to the Home Secretary’s earlier answers on immigration, but may I ask her to ensure that efforts to curb immigration will not harm our higher education system or deny British businesses access to skills that they can find only internationally as a result of any new restrictions on visas for graduates at British universities? (906831)

My hon. Friend raises the important issue of the UK’s excellent offer to international students. I am pleased that Britain remains the second most popular destination for international higher education students, but it is right that we clamp down on abuse. As the Home Secretary has indicated, there is a migration issue to address when 121,000 non-EU students come to Britain and stay for more than 12 months, and yet only 51,000 leave. Many universities are acting appropriately to ensure that students leave at the end of their studies, but we are clear that our policies support the brightest and the best coming to the country, and that they support the university sector in that way.

The charity Youth with a Mission provides missionaries in Wrexham who help with food banks and work hard in the local community. On 23 December, the charity received notification that its highly trusted status was being suspended. Will the Home Secretary look closely at that faith-based organisation? Many churches within Wrexham have approached me because they are concerned that that help will be removed from my local community.

I am not aware of the specific case the hon. Gentleman raises, but if he wishes to give me the full details of it, I will ensure that it is looked into.

Drones have been a feature of this place for generations, but drones of the 21st century—unmanned aerial vehicles that provide a growing security threat, invasions of privacy and potentially criminal activity—are a matter of great concern. Does the Home Secretary agree that the current regulations need to be reviewed from her Department’s perspective?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. We continue to keep a close eye on the regulations. I would not say that they are being reviewed, but we will look at whether they need to be addressed in view of that current threat.

Let me give the Home Secretary another chance to answer the question that she has failed to answer so far. When Sir James Dyson describes her plans to further restrict post-study work opportunities as a short-sighted attempt to win votes at the expense of the economic interests of the UK, it is a serious matter. Will she think again?

I say to the hon. Gentleman exactly what I have said in answer to the other questions that I have been asked on this matter. As a Government, we are very clear that the brightest and the best should be able to come here and we have no limit on the number of people who can come to an educational establishment to study for a genuine university degree, but we have sorted out, and continue to sort out, the abuse that remains from the system that was run by the last Labour Government.

I recently met the chief officer of the special constabulary in Bedfordshire, Mr Wayne Humberstone, who is leading a growing force that is about to start operating out of a rural police station in Riseley in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to stress again the importance of the special constabulary to effective policing and to encourage employers to allow more employees to make such a contribution to society?

All hon. Members should encourage employers in their constituencies to allow people who work for them to become specials and serve their community. I pay tribute to the work that has been done in Bedford. The specials in my constituency of Hemel Hempstead do a fantastic job and we should all encourage people to become specials.

A growing number of my constituents are victims of cyber-crime, but they complain that they hear nothing once the crime has been reported to Action Fraud. As the Minister could not tell me how many successful prosecutions there were for cyber-crime or what proportion of cases reported to Action Fraud were investigated, how can we have any confidence in the crime figures and what will she do to ensure that cyber-crimes are properly investigated and prosecuted?

Cyber-crime is a crime that we are getting to grips with, and we are learning about the parameters of cyber-crime. Action Fraud is doing excellent work, but I agree that it needs to do more to make sure that people who report fraud get full information. I am working closely with Action Fraud to make sure that they do.

Will Ministers make it a priority to introduce mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation and to strengthen policies and procedures to provide victims of FGM with much needed appropriate support?

My hon. Friend will be aware that at the Girl Summit in July the Prime Minister announced our intention to introduce mandatory reporting of this unacceptable practice. We are consulting on how best to introduce the new duty. Alerting the police to cases of FGM will allow them to investigate the facts and increase the number of perpetrators apprehended. The NHS will support anyone affected by FGM and will offer appropriate advice and procedures when needed.

In October the Immigration Minister said, in response to a National Audit Office report, that he intended that this country would join the Schengen information-sharing agreement, which would provide our border posts with information about people involved in serious crime—such as the person who murdered the son of my constituent, Mrs Elsie Giudici—during the course of the year. Is that facility now available, and if not, when does he expect that to happen?

We are finalising the arrangements for joining the second-generation Schengen information system for the benefits that I have identified and to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I regard it as an important enhancement to our work in identifying those with criminal records. It is being advanced and I expect it to be in place very shortly.