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Topical Questions

Volume 590: debated on Monday 5 January 2015

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.