The Secretary of State was asked—
Uncontrolled mass immigration increases pressure on public services and can drive down wages for people on low incomes. That is why we are committed to reducing net migration. Where we can control immigration, our policies are working; we have reduced non-EU immigration, raised the standards required to come here and clamped down on abuse. Without our efforts, met migration would have been far higher.
But net migration is much higher now than it was when the Conservatives came to power—54,000 higher. It now stands at more than 300,000, which is more than double their target. Is the Home Secretary trying to take the public for fools by suggesting that her party will repeat its broken promise to cut migration drastically?
I have been very clear that of course we have not met the net migration target we set, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that this Government have clamped down on abuse—860 bogus colleges can no longer bring in overseas students—and tightened every route into the UK from outside the EU, and we have set out clear plans for what a Conservative Government would do to deal with free movement. We on the Government Benches will take no lessons from a Labour party that allowed uncontrolled mass immigration.
Contrary to that reply, is not the reality that the Home Secretary is leaving office with net migration higher than when she arrived, because it now stands at 298,000? She claims she has cut migration from outside the EU, and that is true: it is down from 196,000 to 190,000. Rather than all this waffle, why will she not finally admit that her record at the Home Office is one of complete failure in that area and a series of broken promises?
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), I fully accept that we have not met the net migration target that we set, but we have tightened every route into the United Kingdom from outside the European Union, and we have said clearly what a Conservative Government would do to deal with free movement from the European Union. I say once again that it ill behoves the Labour party to make such comments, because in government it presided over uncontrolled mass immigration that had the impact of keeping incomes at the lower end of the scale down and was identified by its own policy guru as a 21st century wages and incomes policy.
The public certainly want immigration to be properly controlled, and far better controlled than it is at the moment, but they also want some honestly about immigration. Is not the fact of the matter that while we remain in the EU with free movement of people we cannot guarantee how many people will come to this country, so we should not be making promises that we are in no position to keep? Is not the fact of the matter that we cannot control the number of people coming to this country while we remain in the EU?
My hon. Friend is right to identify the significant increase in the number of people coming to this country from inside the European Union as the key reason we have failed to meet our net migration target. However, crucially, not only has the coalition already taken steps to tighten up on movement from inside the European Union—for example, by reducing access to benefits—but the Conservative party has clearly set out what we would do in government after the election to deal with free movement and tighten up further to reduce migration from inside the European Union.
Does the Home Secretary recognise the sense of grievance felt by citizens of Commonwealth countries who for years have abided by the rules when trying to get into this country as immigrants, only to see EU citizens being able simply to walk in and out of the country at will?
My hon. Friend makes a point about Commonwealth citizens, many of whom have come to the United Kingdom and contributed greatly. We are clear that we want to tighten the rules on people coming from inside the European Union, particularly in relation to the ability to claim benefits, which I believe will have an impact on the number of people coming here, but in order to do that we need a Conservative Government to be elected on 7 May.
Could the Home Secretary bring herself to say the words, “Net migration is 54,000 higher than when Labour left office”? Could she stand at the Dispatch Box and say that today—not tens of thousands, as she promised—and could she say to the House with no ifs and no buts that she has broken her promise made at the election?
The right hon. Gentleman’s question is the third that I am answering from Labour Members. In response to the first two, I said clearly that the Government have not met their net migration target. I am not trying to claim that we have; I am very clear about the fact that we have not met our net migration target, but this Government have recognised the significance of immigration as an issue, and the impact that it has on public services and wages at the lower end of the income scale, and it is this Government who are doing something about it.
Our law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to face a decline in their ability to obtain the communications data they need. This is caused by the use of modern technology and changes in the way in which people communicate. We believe that further changes to the law are needed to maintain capabilities. We cannot let cyberspace become a haven for terrorists and criminals.
It is very clear that although this Government have taken some steps to close the gap, significant gaps remain. The Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill identified that, but we have not been able to bring those measures through in this Parliament. We need to remedy that. Given that about 95% of serious crime cases involve the use of communications data, those measures are an essential tool in fighting crime, and we are determined to take further action to close the gap and make sure that our police and security agencies have the powers they need.
On issues of national security, there are reserved powers. We therefore retain that focus on ensuring that security is assured. Clearly, communications data and other measures play an important part. I am sure that discussions with others, including devolved Administrations, will take place in future, but ultimately this is a matter for the UK Government.
The Minister and his boss must be aware that our police, under-resourced as they now are, are still in a mode of fighting traditional crime. Cybercrime, as we all know, has been the great challenge. Throughout the country we are unequipped to deal with it, and it is what most citizens will face in the form of fraud and other criminal activity.
This Government have invested heavily in capabilities to deal with cybercrime through the establishment of the new cybercrime unit in the National Crime Agency and the work of police forces throughout the country to ensure that we have the digital forensics—the digital information to fight the new crime types. The hon. Gentleman clearly does not recognise the important achievements of this Government in cutting crime, at a time of having to save money to deal with the deficit that we inherited from Labour.
We continually monitor and evaluate the Channel programme to ensure its effectiveness. Through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 we have placed the programme on a statutory basis. The duty aims to secure local co-operation and delivery in all areas and we, of course, work closely with international partners to make sure that we are sharing expertise and best practice in tackling extremism and radicalisation. I have today published the latest annual report on our counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, alongside the annual report on the serious and organised crime strategy, and copies of both reports will be made available in the Vote Office.
More than 2,000 people have gone through Channel since it was rolled out nationally in 2012, and hundreds have been offered support. This is dealt with case by case. It is not appropriate for everybody to be put into the Channel programme, but it has been effective and we are seeing significant numbers of people referred to it.
I welcome my right hon. Friend bringing clarity about what is and what is not acceptable in the context of radicalisation and extremism. In an environment where our press and media are prone to hysterics and have the capacity to achieve the objectives of the enemies of our society by sowing fear and anxiety where none need exist, will she continue to proceed calmly and on the basis of the evidence?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about proceeding on the basis of the evidence. I am grateful for his comments about remarks that I made earlier today about the necessity for us to develop a wider partnership to counter extremism across its broadest spectrum so that we can deal with the hateful beliefs that the extremists are propagating.
I too welcome the Home Secretary’s comments in her speech this morning. Only by working with communities are we able to tackle this problem. I also commend the Metropolitan police and Turkish authorities for bringing back to London the three young men from Brent. It is sad that we missed the opportunity of doing this with the four young girls from Bethnal Green. What is the message to families to get them to report areas of concern so that they do not feel stigmatised if they do so?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about my speech. He is right. As I made clear in that speech, Government cannot deal with this alone; we need to work with families, communities and civil society. The message that the Government have given to families consistently in relation to those who might be travelling to Syria to get involved in terrorist-related activity, or to be with terrorist groups, is that the sooner they can give information to the authorities, the easier it is to work with them to ensure that their young people are not put into that danger.
In the all-party group on Islamophobia we have heard countless times of the need to offer more support to the mothers of young Muslims who fear that their children might be in danger of being radicalised. What specific efforts are being made to support the mothers who are tackling this issue?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I am pleased to have been involved with two civil society organisations that have been working with families—particularly, in one case, with women. FAST—Families Against Stress and Trauma—is giving support to families whose young people may have travelled and helping them to prevent young people from travelling. Inspire’s “Making A Stand” programme is about Muslim women up and down this country saying that radicalisation is not taking place in their name, and working together as Muslim women to ensure that their young people are not radicalised.
The Home Secretary said this morning, and has just reiterated, that she wants a new partnership on Prevent between communities, individuals, civil society and Government. When she came into government, she inherited 93 Prevent areas, which she cut to 23 and then put up to 30. She now says she wants 50, and they might go up to 90, so we are going back to where we started five years ago. Why the rollercoaster in such an important area for this country?
No, we are not going back to where we started. First, the hon. Lady has made a fundamental mistake in her question in saying that my speech this morning related to Prevent. It did not; it related to the new counter-extremism strategy that the Government are introducing. Secondly, when we came into government we found that the Labour Government were funding extremist organisations, and members of the Labour party were standing on platforms embracing extremist hate preachers. Government Members take a very different view.
Domestic Abuse: Police Response
Domestic abuse is an appalling crime, and this Government are determined that the police response is the best it can be. The Home Secretary commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to review the response to domestic abuse across police forces in England and Wales. We are driving change through a national oversight group. All 43 forces have action plans on domestic abuse. In November, HMIC highlighted the commitment of forces to improving their response.
This Government have a truly terrible record on tackling domestic abuse, whether it is closing specialist courts, restricting legal aid, or failing to prosecute. There is a rising number of offences, but since they came into office there have been 4,000 fewer prosecutions. What are they going to do about that?
I totally refute the hon. Gentleman’s assertions. This Government have a record to be proud of in the work we have done on domestic abuse, not just the ring-fencing of stable funding of £40 million but the introduction of new laws, protection orders, and measures on stalking abuses. We have done more in the five years we have been here than the Labour Government before us did in all their 13 years. What is more, I seem to recall that Labour Members are not proposing to reverse any of the legal aid cuts, and we have preserved legal aid for cases in which domestic abuse plays a part.
On legal aid for victims of domestic violence, I and other colleagues have come across women who are victims but who have had to fork out from their own pockets, and some have just given in after spending too much, moving too often and finding that the system does not work. Surely the Minister must acknowledge that there is a problem. What is she going to do about it?
I reiterate that the £2 billion annual cost of legal aid, combined with the economic circumstances left by Labour, meant that hard choices had to be made. Labour was also committed to reducing legal aid. We have retained legal aid in key areas impacting on women, particularly with regard to injunctions to protect victims from domestic abuse and in private family law cases where domestic abuse is a feature.
Today I delivered a speech on the challenge of extremism in which I set out the need to develop a better understanding of the threat from extremism; to promote more assertively our values and the proposition that everybody living in this country is equal and free to lead their lives as they see fit; to ensure an effective response from the state; and to build up the capacity of civil society to identify, challenge and defeat extremism. I made it clear that the challenge to the extremists must be centred on a new partnership consisting of every single person and organisation in our country that wants to defeat extremism.
In the light of recent incidents, including that of the three young London girls who travelled to Syria, does the Secretary of State have any plans to set up a hotline for parents concerned about extremism, so that they can seek professional advice if they believe their children could be at risk, as is the case in Australia?
There are a number of opportunities available to families to report concern, including the anti-terrorist hotline. The Metropolitan police also made a further call to families last week to encourage them to report as early as possible, and organisations such as Families Against Stress and Trauma are actively working in communities to help people understand what they need to do when they are concerned about their children.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have looked at addressing the issue of those people and groups who act in a way that does not meet the current proscription threshold, and we will, indeed, introduce extremist banning orders and extremist disruption offers, which will do exactly what my hon. Friend says.
In her response to the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), the Home Secretary referred to the three girls from Bethnal Green academy. When the first girl left in December, what specific assistance was given to the school by the Home Office?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. The approach to recording hate crime has developed over the past five years and I am pleased that we are now able to see much more clearly what is happening. I was very clear in my speech today that this is an issue for a future Government, but a future Conservative Government would require the police to record anti-Muslim incidents as well as anti-Semitic incidents.
The Government are committed to tackling the threat of serious and organised crime. In 2013 we launched a comprehensive new strategy and a powerful new crime-fighting organisation—the National Crime Agency—which are already making a difference. We continue to strengthen our response through the Serious Crime Act 2015, the Modern Slavery Bill and strategy, and the anti-corruption plan. We have also forged new collaborative relationships with the private sector to tackle money laundering and to combat online child sexual exploitation.
The National Crime Agency has clearly had a good start, with 300 convictions in just the first six months. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Serious Crime Act 2015 will ensure that the National Crime Agency continues to have the resources and powers to address serious and organised crime?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is right that the National Crime Agency has made a good start. We have looked carefully at where powers are needed to increase the weapons that it has in its arsenal, and the Serious Crime Act really assists the National Crime Agency and other police forces in making sure that they can tackle particularly criminal finances to stop the Mr Bigs keeping hold of their money.
One of the most serious forms of organised crime is child sexual exploitation. The National Crime Agency was given information over a year ago about 20,000 people who had downloaded abusive images of children. Twelve months later, only 2% have been fully investigated or charged. What has happened to the other 98%? With that kind of backlog of CSE cases, does the Home Secretary really think that this is the right time to cut thousands more police?
The hon. Lady disappoints me. We have had this conversation on several occasions. The fact of the matter is that the National Crime Agency, through Operation Notarise and others, has protected more children from abuse than any other agency, and it is ensuring that children at risk of abuse are looked after and protected in a way that has never happened before.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the signal successes of the NCA is that it has made more than 600 arrests in dealing with online child sexual exploitation through the operation that she has just mentioned? Will she assure the House that this will continue to be a high priority, not just for the NCA but for each individual local force?
My right hon. Friend, who has considerable experience in this area, will know full well that the National Crime Agency and local police take this issue incredibly seriously. Bringing the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre into the National Crime Agency, as a command within it, has increased both capability and capacity to consider such crime and to make sure that we find those criminals who want to hurt our children and prevent them from doing so.
Police reform is working, and crime is down by more than a fifth under this Government, according to the crime survey for England and Wales. We are taking decisive action to cut crime and protect the public, including through working with the National Crime Agency. We are tackling the drivers of crime, including through our drug and alcohol strategies, and we have intensified our focus on issues such as violence against women and girls, gangs and sexual exploitation.
I thank the Minister for that answer. While police funding has been cut by about a fifth, police-recorded crime has fallen by 14%, and by 28% across Elmbridge in my constituency. Will she join me in commending front-line officers in Surrey and across the country for the great job they are doing? Does that fall not demonstrate how vital reform is, and that public services cannot be judged only by the amount of money going in?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in commending front-line officers in Surrey, and I congratulate all police forces that, with their police and crime commissioners, are rising to the challenge of driving efficiency and cutting crime. Effective policing plays a key part in reducing crime, and PCCs are ensuring that forces focus on the issues that matter most to local people. My hon. Friend is right that money is not the only thing that we need in order to cut crime; dedicated officers are our greatest resource.
There is no doubt that the huge increase in the use of so-called legal highs has an impact on crime rates. I have seen that in my constituency. The Government have agreed to ban legal highs, but have not yet acted to do so. Will the Government take action in this Parliament, and if not, why not?
Given that this Government have actually banned and outlawed 500 legal highs, I do not think it is accurate to say that we have taken no action. We obviously want to move to a general ban on legal highs—lethal highs, as I call them—and that is on the shelf, ready for the new Government.
There is a glaring difference between the Government’s complacency and the City of London police commissioner’s view that online crime is growing exponentially. Does the Minister agree with the Office for National Statistics that if all bank and credit card fraud were included, the statistics would show that overall crime was up by 50%?
I am having a lot of disagreements with the Labour party today. The ONS is working to incorporate measures of cybercrime in the main crime survey. It looked at this issue specifically and said, when it published the latest crime figures, that it had found that although there may have been some movement by criminals into fraud and cybercrime, it certainly had not been enough to offset the substantial falls in traditional crimes, such as burglary and vehicle theft, over the past 20 years. Action Fraud’s reporting is up. That is a specialist reporting agency. We are acting on fraud.
Early Intervention Programmes
As part of the work of the Home Office crime prevention panel, the Early Intervention Foundation and the College of Policing recently launched new guidance to help front-line police support early intervention. The police and crime commissioners from Dorset, Lancashire and Staffordshire were involved in the development of the guidance.
May I ask the Minister to do something very practical? We are grateful that she launched the report, but will she ensure that every single police and crime commissioner and every single chief constable gets a copy of it so that they can not only reduce crime by cutting down dysfunction in the population early on in life, but save the taxpayer a lot of money through not having to invest money late on through late intervention?
The early intervention guidance for police will provide invaluable support in stopping potential criminals before they commit crimes, which will save the police a great deal of work in the long term. The guidance is already available online. We encourage all police officers, police community support officers, chief constables and PCCs to read it. I am happy to take up his suggestion if I have time, because the more officers have access to it, the better. I am sure that we can get it done before Thursday.
The Home Secretary and I hold regular bilateral meetings with police work force representatives. I have said since day one as the police Minister that my door is always open to those representatives.
The Minister will know, then, what pressure front-line policing is under. The Government promised to protect and even increase front-line policing numbers, yet 8,000 front-line jobs have gone. Why will the Home Office not look at alternative ways of saving money, such as introducing better procurement practices or scrapping police and crime commissioners, rather than pursuing plans to axe yet another 20,000 officers?
I would have thought that the hon. Lady would have praised the work that is being done by Avon and Somerset police, rather than following the party line. In her constituency there has actually been a 5% increase in front-line officers, who are not doing back-room work, and a 21% cut in crime.
Avon and Somerset police have indeed done very well. However, an understandable operational response to difficult budgets is to withdraw policing from rural areas, which empirically have a lower level of crime. That is understandable, but wrong. Will the Minister reassure me that he will tell all police forces that they have a duty to people who live in rural areas? Those people must not think that they are being exposed to crime or abandoned by the forces of law and order.
I assure my right hon. Friend that each time I go into any force I say to anybody who listens to me not only that it is their duty to address rural crime—my constituency has large rural areas—but that all crime, no matter where it is, needs to be detected and prosecuted.
Visas: Income Threshold
The minimum income threshold of £18,600 for sponsoring a partner under the family immigration rules ensures that couples who wish to establish their family life in the UK can stand on their own feet financially. The requirement prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration. It has been upheld by the Court of Appeal and is helping to restore public confidence in the immigration system.
The Minister has just asserted that the purpose of the minimum income threshold is to ensure that a spouse from overseas who comes to live here is not a burden on the taxpayer. However, at £18,600, the threshold is more than £3,000 higher than the living wage. Does he not think that it should be reviewed to ensure that the original purpose of the minimum income threshold is what counts and that it does not discriminate against those on the living wage or below, or against people who happen to live in the wrong part of the country?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the income threshold was set on the basis of advice given to the Government by the Migration Advisory Committee, which considered this issue in great detail to assess the appropriate level. Perhaps he will find interesting the fact that the 2014 annual survey of hours and earnings for the Office for National Statistics showed that median earnings of those in full-time employment were appreciably higher than £18,600 in all parts of the UK.
In practice, the length of time in which a sponsor is required to demonstrate that they have met the minimum income threshold is driving families apart. Would it be sufficient for a sponsor to demonstrate that they have secured permanent employment on such a salary, and not have a situation where several months have to pass with someone providing bank statements to show their income, during which time their partner is separated from them?
Migrant partners with an appropriate job offer can apply to come to the UK under tier 2 of the points-based system, and those using the family route to come to the UK must be capable of being independently supported by their sponsor, their joint savings, or non-employment income. We have considered the issue in an appropriate way to ensure that people are not a burden on the taxpayer, and I underline again that the system has been tested and upheld in the courts.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware that the minimum age for spouse visa applicants and sponsors was increased to 21 in 2008, and the Government defended that position. The Supreme Court found in 2011 that although the Secretary of State was pursuing a legitimate and rational aim in seeking to address the problem of forced marriages —the hon. Gentleman will know that such issues exist—increasing the minimum marriage visa age from 18 to 21 disproportionately interfered with the right to a family life under article 8 of the European convention of human rights. We keep such issues under close review, but they are complex.
Will the Minister think again about this whole policy? It is cruel on children who are denied the right to live with their parents, contrary to the principles of the conventions on human rights, and really not necessary. Its only effect is that of hurting the very people who should not be hurt because of it.
While ensuring sufficient resources so that those arriving are supported at reasonable levels, the minimum income threshold is also intended to ensure that family migrants can participate sufficiently in every-day life to facilitate their integration into British society. That is one of the fundamental purposes of the policy, and I think that is right.
Post-study Work Visas
13. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the potential introduction of a scheme to allow international students graduating from Scottish further and higher education institutions to remain in Scotland to work for a defined period of time. (908240)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary meets colleagues regularly for discussions on a range of issues, including how we can continue to attract the brightest and best to study here while bearing down on abuse.
The recommendation comes as part of the Smith agreement. It recognises that the higher education sector is a multi-billion pound industry, and Edinburgh university is one of the most successful participants in that. More than 10,000 foreign students are now studying at Edinburgh, generating some of the highest quality research in the UK. Does the Minister agree that keeping more of those excellent students in the UK while their research is commercialised would be of enormous benefit, not just to the Scottish economy but to the UK as a whole?
My hon. Friend will know that the Russell Group of universities, of which Edinburgh is a member, has seen a 30% increase in the number of applications from overseas students since 2010, showing that studying in the United Kingdom is an attractive offer to students. There is no cap on the number of students who can stay in the UK after completing their degree, provided they have a graduate-level job, get an internship or become a graduate entrepreneur.
The Minister will have seen the Scottish Government’s post-study work working group, which recommends that a post-work study visa is reinstated for a wide range of people, including businesses, education and student representatives. Will the Minister consider that or will she ignore it again? What can the Scottish people do to progress that agenda and ensure that our economy and higher education institutions benefit?
The Minister will be aware of the reduction in the number of students from the Indian subcontinent. One of the major reasons for that is that they are unable to remain in the United Kingdom for a few years to work and to pay off their fees. This policy, therefore, discriminates against those who come from poorer nations, rather than those from richer families.
I repeat that since 2010 there has been an increase in the number of visa applications from overseas students. It is difficult to say what the drivers are for our seeing more students from some countries and fewer from others. For example, we are seeing a significant increase in the number of students from China, which indicates that it is not the reforms that are stopping people coming.
Police Forces: Finance
The Home Secretary and I have made it clear that there is no question but that the police will have the resources to do their important work. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has reported that forces up and down the country are reducing crime and protecting communities, while balancing their books.
Since 2010, Lancashire police has lost 700 posts and 11 police stations have been closed due to £60 million-worth of cuts, with more to come. Offences such as burglary, theft and violence are all on the rise. The Lancashire Police Federation says that the police are at breaking point. Will the Minister please apologise to the people of West Lancashire for failing to honour his promise to protect front-line policing?
On Friday night, I went out with the very impressive section 136 team at Worthing police. The initiative, under which community psychiatric nurses go out on patrol with the police, is being piloted in Sussex. Given that up to two thirds of police call-outs are estimated to relate to mental health and substance abuse problems, this has the potential to free up a lot of police time and save a lot of money. These pilots really work, so will they be rolled out across the whole country?
That pilot and other pilots around the country are working. I have seen them myself. It is our intention to continue to roll them out. We are working enormously closely in particular with the mental health team in the Department of Health. I have seen dramatic changes not only in my constituency but around the country. There are people who should not be in cells and should not be arrested. They should be in a place of care, where they need to be. That is what we expect to happen.
My Greater Manchester police force has had to make savings of £145 million in the five years to 2015, and has lost more than 1,300 police officers as a result. Across the country, the picture is pretty similar. Will the Minister say whether, as a result of the changes to police forces, response times have improved or got worse on his watch?
Police Numbers: Lancashire
Crime has fallen by a fifth across the country and by 9% in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. That is because we have proved that more can be done with less. We should be very proud of police forces across the country, particularly in Lancashire.
Unlike the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), I want to praise the work of the Lancashire constabulary in my county, where crime has gone down by 19% since 2011. Antisocial behaviour is down by 35.8% and robbery in the past 12 months is down by 47%, which is a remarkable figure. Will the Minister assure the House that the Lancashire constabulary will, under a Conservative Government, have sufficient resources to carry on doing its great work in the next five years?
Not only will we guarantee that, we will continue to roll out the specialist equipment that is helping the police day in, day out, especially body-worn cameras. They are ensuring that more people in the community are protected, the officers are protected and we get more convictions, something I expect to see in Lancashire, as well as in the rest of the country.
This month, the Government introduced a new scheme to tackle sham marriages and sham civil partnerships allowing the Home Office to investigate suspected sham cases under an extended 70-day notice period. Since April 2014, we have intervened in more than 2,000 suspected sham marriages, and last year 30 organised crime groups involved in arranging sham marriages were disrupted, with many receiving long custodial sentences.
This has been a priority for me since I took on the immigration responsibilities last year. We will take strong action, including prosecution and seizure of assets. As for an update, this financial year we have undertaken more than 2,000 operations, resulting in 1,200 arrests and more than 430 removals, which compares with 327 sham marriage operations, resulting in 67 arrests in 2010, showing that, unlike the last Government, this Government are committed to this issue.
Police reform is working and crime is down by more than one fifth under this Government, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. According to the latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics, police recorded crime in Northamptonshire fell by 18% between June 2010 and September 2014.
We are blessed in Northamptonshire with excellent and hard-working policemen and women, and it is marvellous that crime has fallen. Given that we were told by Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition that crime would rise because of the police budget cuts, why does my right hon. Friend think it has actually come down?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work as a police special constable. He rightly says that the Opposition doubted our ability to bring down crime. However, our police forces have proved that where there is a will there is a way, and they have cut crime by more than 20% this Parliament, according to the crime survey. We should be very proud of them.
For too long, thousands of people have been on bail for months or even years, with no independent oversight of the police’s investigation. To put a stop to this, I announced to the House in December that I was consulting on the introduction of statutory time limits for pre-charge bail. That consultation closed on 8 February, and I am grateful to the 300 individuals and organisations that responded. I have today placed in the Library of the House and on the gov.uk website a summary of the consultation responses and the Government’s response.
On the key point of independent review, it is apparent from the consultation that the model where all extensions of bail past 28 days would be done in court would not be viable, as there is unlikely to be sufficient capacity in the magistrates courts. I have therefore decided to adopt the model endorsed by the consultation under which pre-charge bail is initially limited to 28 days. In complex cases, an extension of up to three months could be authorised by a senior police officer, and in exceptional circumstances, the police will have to apply to the courts for an extension beyond three months to be approved by a magistrate. This will introduce judicial oversight of the pre-charge bail process for the first time, increasing accountability and scrutiny in a way that is manageable for the courts.
I recently visited Hampshire’s cybercrime unit and spoke to officers detecting online crime, particularly child abuse. I am sure the Home Secretary will want to join me in commending those officers for their dedication. Does she agree that we need to do everything we can to help police in this work and, in particular, to ensure that social media and other websites verify the identity of UK residents using their sites?
First, may I take up the point that my right hon. Friend made about the work of police officers in police forces, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the National Crime Agency more widely in dealing with child abuse cases? These are not easy issues, and they do a very valuable job. Over the period of this Government, we have invested £86 million in dealing with cybercrime, and the creation of the national cyber crime unit at the NCA is, I believe, an important element in dealing with cybercrime. We expect social media companies to make it easy for users to choose not to receive anonymous posts, to have simple mechanisms for reporting abuse and to take action promptly when abuse is reported.
The Office for Budget Responsibility says that the Chancellor is planning cuts that are much more severe than anything we have seen over the last five years. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the cuts will be twice the size of any year’s cuts over this Parliament. That means a real-terms cut for the Home Office under the right hon. Lady’s plans over the next few years alone of 23% and the loss of 20,000 more police officers on top of those who have already gone. When the terror threat is growing, when more child abuse cases are coming forward, when recorded violent crime is up and when chief constables say that neighbourhood policing cannot be sustained, is she really saying to communities across the country that she and the Tories are prepared to cut 20,000 more police officers?
The right hon. Lady knows full well that the funding for counter-terrorism policing has been protected and that this Government are putting more money into dealing with child sexual exploitation. When she comes to deal with this issue, perhaps she could remind people why it is that this Government have had to deal with budget cuts across the public sector: it is because the last Labour Government left us with the worst budget deficit in our peacetime history.
But the right hon. Lady has not managed even to meet her deficit plan, and we have already seen the police cut across the country. Her plans mean going further in the scale of police cuts, with 20,000 further police officers going across the country at a time when recorded rapes are up 30%, but fewer rapists are being arrested; when recorded violent crime is up 16%, but fewer violent criminals are being convicted; when online fraud is through the roof, yet fewer fraud proceedings are going ahead; and when recorded child abuse is up 33%, yet 13% fewer paedophiles are being prosecuted. On her watch, 999 waits are up, the police cannot keep up with extremists on the streets and more criminals are walking free. Is she really saying she is going to go around the country, campaigning with all her Back Benchers, saying she is content for 20,000 more police officers to go—because we’re not, and we won’t?
The right hon. Lady mentioned that reports of child sexual abuse have increased, and yes they have. In a sense, that is to be welcomed, because more people feel that they can now come forward and report their abuse, which means that those issues can be investigated and the cases looked into. She talked about the figures for rape and domestic abuse, but I have to say that the volume of domestic abuse referrals from the police rose in 2013-14 to the highest level ever: 70% of those referrals were charged, which was the highest volume and proportion ever; there has been a rise in charged defendants from 2012-13; and conviction rates have risen since 2010-11. The figures on which she bases her rant show once again, I am afraid, that she is not paying attention to what is actually happening. What is happening is the exact opposite of what she and her colleagues said five years ago. She said crime would go up, but crime has gone down under this Government.
T3. My right hon. Friend will be aware that we in Harlow have had more than 109 illegal and unauthorised encampments over the past 15 months, and there is now a town-wide injunction banning anyone from setting up unauthorised or illegal encampments. Will my right hon. Friend look at how we can strengthen the law, possibly following the Irish example of making trespass a criminal rather than a civil offence? (908219)
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the campaigning and work he has done on behalf of his constituents whose lives have been blighted by these illegal camps. When we are back in government after the election, we will look at the law—I can assure you of that, Mr Speaker—but we must also make sure that the police use the powers they have and are not frightened of using them, as appears to have happened in certain parts of the country, including in my hon. Friend’s part of Essex.
T7. I am concerned about a recommendation in a recent Home Affairs Committee report that those arrested on sexual offences charges should be given anonymity. Does the Home Secretary agree that in these circumstances, these prosecutions are extraordinarily difficult, and that the decision should be made carefully by the police? Will she ask the independent panel inquiry also to look at this issue? (908223)
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. As she will be aware, there was a significant debate about this very thing early on in this Parliament. The Government have not yet responded to the Home Affairs Committee report—for understandable reasons, given that it has only just come out—but I was asked about the matter when I was in front of the Home Affairs Committee last week. This issue has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I think that an assumption of anonymity on arrest is right in general, but there will be cases when it is right for the police to ensure that the name is put out so that other people can come forward to report crimes by the same perpetrator.
T4. The use of legal highs is a significant problem all over the country, and it is certainly a problem in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Such drugs can have devastating consequences. The papers covering my area, the Harrogate Advertiser and The Knaresborough Post, have run a very good campaign highlighting the scale of the local problem. What progress has been made in tackling these dangerous drugs? (908220)
It is very helpful when the local media join the campaign against what I term “lethal highs”. As I said earlier, the Government are drawing up proposals for a general ban on the supply of new psychoactive substances throughout the United Kingdom, with a view to introducing legislation at the earliest opportunity. Obviously there is not enough time left for us to legislate in the current Parliament. However, we have already banned more than 500 new drugs, created a forensic early warning system to identify new psychoactive substances in the UK, and supported law enforcement with the latest intelligence on new substances, and we are taking a number of actions in relation to health, prevention and treatment.
T8. The Minister told me a moment ago that there were more front-line police officers in Avon and Somerset. However, a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary tells me that the number is down by 10%, from 2,937 in March 2010 to 2,651 in March 2015. In what way is that “more”? (908224)
I apologise if I misled the hon. Lady, but I am sure I said that we were taking staff out of the back rooms and putting more on the front line. There are more officers serving on the front line today than there were when the Labour Government left office.
T5. I understand that the Home Secretary has asked officials to carry out a detailed piece of work on the future requirements of the immigration detention estate, in conjunction with her decision to halt the expansion of Campsfield. What is the remit for that work, what is the timetable for it, and will it be made public? Will the Home Secretary direct the officials to look at the international evidence that was presented in our cross-party report on the immigration detention system, which suggests that we could substantially reduce our need for detention places? (908221)
Let me take this opportunity to wish the hon. Lady well for the future, as that was probably the last Home Office question she will ask before she leaves the House.
We will certainly look at the all-party parliamentary group report, and I intend to write to the hon. Lady about it before the House rises on Thursday. We are examining the issue of the detention estate internally, but our work will be informed by Stephen Shaw’s review of the welfare aspects. It is important to ensure that we are providing a humane environment for people who are being detained.
Crime rose by 6% in Greater Manchester last year. Will the Minister update us on her improvement plan with Action Fraud, and can she assure me that the defrauding of my constituents will be investigated and they will be kept up to date with the progress of that investigation?
The hon. Lady and I have had several discussions about Action Fraud. Let me bring her up to date with the latest figures from the organisation. As we have established in earlier discussions, fraud is historically an under-reported crime. The number of recorded offences has almost trebled, from 72,000 before the introduction of Action Fraud’s centralised reporting system to 211,000 now. As the hon. Lady knows, Action Fraud is also embarking on an improvement plan. It has resulted in a reduction in the number of complaints, which should be welcomed, but we are still keen to ensure that local police forces in particular treat and correspond with victims in a way that enables them to understand the action that is being taken to deal with these crimes.
T6. Yesterday huge crowds turned out in our most multicultural city, Leicester, to celebrate English history. Did not that celebration of monarchy and continuity provide a fine example of British values, and should we not learn from that example of history that it is not a good idea to get on politically by bumping off one’s close relations? (908222)
We could have an interesting debate about my hon. Friend’s last comment, and I am grateful to him for not suggesting that the princes in the tower is an historic case that the police should take up today. The point he made about those in Leicester coming together yesterday from all parts of the community and celebrating British values is an important one. It is exactly what I was speaking about this morning, when I said that we need a partnership of individuals, communities, families and Government, going across Government and including other agencies, to promote our British values and what it is to live here in the United Kingdom and to be part of our British society.
The Home Secretary will know that one of her former Cabinet colleagues and a former chief inspector of prisons were among those of us from all parties and both Houses on the recent inquiry into immigration detention which recommended that the Government learn from best practice abroad where alternatives to detention not only allow individuals to live in the community, but are more effective in securing compliance, and at a much lower cost to the public purse. Will she respond positively to our recommendations?
I have already indicated that we are examining the points made in the recent all-party parliamentary group report, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that there is a need for detention in managing immigration and ensuring that we can remove people safely and appropriately. It is also worth underlining that we cannot detain people indefinitely. This is about the perspective of ensuring that there is the ability to remove, and that is the way in which the Government operate the rules.
T9. Does the Home Secretary agree that until such time as front-line resources and targets are set for rural crime, these crimes will not be taken seriously in rural constituencies? Will she give an edict from the Dispatch Box today that Travellers who are on rural land illegally will be removed forthwith? (908225)
The police already have powers. As I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) earlier, the police often have the powers in respect of illegal Traveller sites. Crime in rural areas is a very serious issue and we should all take it seriously. While crime is down 16% in the part of the world of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), any crime is bad.
Yesterday I spoke to community leaders at one of my mosques about the young men who had been educated at schools in Brent North and who have now been returned from Syria. They expressed to me their deep concern about the lack of community facilities for some of the community groups and the way in which this was tending to lead to radicalisation of the young men. Does the Home Secretary regret the cuts to the Prevent programme?
The changes we made to the Prevent programme are very simple. We did two things when we came into office: we said Prevent should look at non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism, but we also said that the part of the Prevent programme that was about the integration of communities came better under the Department for Communities and Local Government than under the Home Office, because people were looking at this as people effectively spying on them rather than a proper integration of communities. What we are doing now is standing back and recognising that we need to deal with extremism across a broader spectrum, because Prevent has always been cast in terms of counter-terrorism. That is why in my speech today I talked about the broader partnership with Government, other agencies, communities, families and individuals to deal with extremism and give a very clear message to the extremists that they will not divide us.