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House of Commons Hansard
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06 July 2015
Volume 598

The Secretary of State was asked—

Violence against Women

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1. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the findings by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women relating to the UK; and if she will make a statement. [900741]

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16. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the findings by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women relating to the UK; and if she will make a statement. [900756]

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The United Kingdom has some of the strongest protections in the world for safeguarding women and girls. The Government are committed to further supporting women to rebuild their lives, breaking cycles of abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice. We will continue to update our violence against women and girls strategy, as we have done every year, and we will consider the special rapporteur’s findings.

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During the general election Labour pledged to lower the threshold at which victims of domestic violence gain entitlement to legal aid by expanding the types of evidence deemed admissible. Will the Home Secretary revisit that, as the evidence shows that women are being denied access to justice?

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We are absolutely clear that legal aid should be available to victims of domestic violence. The hon. Gentleman asks a question on the details of the legal aid provisions, which of course are a matter for the Ministry of Justice. As it happens, the Policing Minister is also a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, and he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s representations.

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I acknowledge the work that this and the previous Government have done on violence against women and girls, which I have supported. Does the Home Secretary share my concern that the rapporteur’s report identifies that many initiatives to reduce violence against women and girls remain pockets of good practice and that we still do not have a consistent and coherent approach? The other issue identified in the report is the funding crisis. Does she share those concerns, in broad terms? Obviously, I am not asking her to comment on the detail.

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I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he was the Director of Public Prosecutions, gave particular focus to this area of the law to ensure that support was available for victims giving evidence, which has given people the confidence to come forward, as we have seen. The Government have made extra funding available: just before Christmas we announced an extra £10 million for domestic violence refuges. Of course, since the 2010 budgetary decisions were taken, we gave four-year funding—later five years—for combating violence against women and girls to ensure that there was some stability. We talk regularly to all those providing support to victims of domestic violence to ensure that we share best practice.

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Thousands of British women continue to be victims of female genital mutilation. What further work is being done to ensure that people are prosecuted for that heinous offence?

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My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course, we have already seen the first case brought forward for female genital mutilation. There is a widespread view across the House that we must do everything we can to deal with this appalling act. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), for the considerable work she has done to highlight the issue and ensure that the Government continue to focus on it. We want to see more prosecutions so that we can eradicate this terrible crime.

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Since my Female Genital Mutilation Bill became an Act 11 years ago there have been no successful prosecutions in this country for female genital mutilation. The rapporteur is severely critical of the fact that 11,000 young girls under the age of eight are deemed to be at risk. What is the Home Secretary doing about that?

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The right hon. Lady talks about the time when her Bill became an Act, but it was not until after 2010 that cases were put before the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration. She is absolutely right that it has so far proved difficult to get a prosecution, but I can assure her that all parts of the criminal justice system are clear that we want to see people prosecuted for this crime, which is why we are all working together to ensure that we can bring those prosecutions forward and ensure that they are successful.

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UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo was prevented from accessing Yarl’s Wood during her visit last year, amid concerns about violence against women detained in that facility. In that light, we welcome last Thursday’s suspension of the detained fast track policy. Why has it taken the Government so long to realise the error of their ways?

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On the contrary, I continue to believe that there is a place in our asylum system for a detained fast track system. I have always felt that one of the important things about any asylum system is its ability to give people decisions as quickly as possible and as merited from the details of their particular case. We are pausing the detained fast track system while we have a review of certain aspects of it, but I continue to believe that it is an important part of the asylum system.

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In 2013, 4,286 asylum seekers were locked up under the scheme in Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere—a 73% increase on the 2012 figure. Given the concerns about violence against women highlighted by the UN special rapporteur, will the Government, instead of rushing to put in place a replacement for this scheme, work with outside agencies and experts to ensure that procedures are in place that safeguard vulnerable asylum seekers and make detention an absolute last resort?

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As I said to the hon. and learned Lady, we are reviewing the detained fast track scheme. She makes a wider point about detention, particularly about vulnerable people in detention. Because I felt it was appropriate that we looked at that issue, I asked Stephen Shaw to conduct his review of welfare in detention, as he has been doing for some months. He has visited the various detention centres and spoken to a number of people who have an interest in this issue, and he will be bringing his review forward.

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The UN special rapporteur did indeed conclude that there was a lack of consistency in the Government’s approach to violence against women and girls. In addition, recent data show that 16 to 19-year-olds are more likely to be victims of intimate violence than any other age group. When does the Home Secretary plan to respond to the report’s conclusions and, in addition, the need for compulsory relationship and sex education in schools?

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I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not feel able to welcome the fact that in 2014-15 police referrals, charged defendants, prosecutions and convictions for all crimes of violence against women and girls reached the highest volume ever. The criminal justice system is dealing with these issues. Of course, there is always more that can be done. We want people who commit these crimes of violence against women and girls to be brought to justice, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Crime Levels (England and Wales)

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2. What assessment she has made of trends in the level of crime in England and Wales. [900742]

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Police reform is working. Crime is down by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. It is at the lowest level since that survey started in 1981.

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Devon and Cornwall is a region where the population increases significantly during the holiday season. Does the level of crime increase in line with these seasonal increases in the population?

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I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency and saw the excellent work that the police are doing in her part of the world. Over many years, they have become very well adapted to dealing with crime relating to regional population changes. The figures are not broken down in that way, but we know that since 2010 crime is down in her constituency, as it is across England and Wales.

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Over the past five years the Welsh police force has seen swingeing cuts, with an average of over 10% being cut from front-line staff across the force. What plans does the right hon. Gentleman have to ensure that Wales continues to have a functioning police force?

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I think it is a disgrace that anybody should run down the excellent work that the police force does in their constituency. Police forces in Wales are doing a simply fantastic job. Crime is down, and we can prove that because the figures are there for us to see. The hon. Gentleman should stop running down the police and support them.

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24. Crime in my constituency is down, but the sale of so-called legal highs remains a cause of great concern to my constituents. Will the Minister assure them that sufficient powers will be given to the police and other authorities to clamp down on these substances? [900764]

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So-called legal highs or psychoactive substances are a menace to our society. I am really pleased that Her Majesty’s Opposition, along with the other parties in the other House, are supporting the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which is coming to this House for its Report stage on 15 July. It will be here soon and we can get this menace off our streets.

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A growing area of crime is online abuse. The police suspect at least 20,000 people in the United Kingdom of accessing online abuse, but, as of March 2015, only 264 have been charged. It is unclear how many of the rest are living or working with children. When does the Minister expect the police to be able to follow up and carry out safeguarding assessments of all those suspected of viewing online child abuse?

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The National Crime Agency has ongoing reviews, and investigations are taking place. We want more of these people to be prosecuted. [Interruption.] Labour Front Benchers shout, but this is something new: it has happened only in the past five years. The NCA is working on it and we will make sure that we get as many of these people behind bars, if prosecutions are possible.

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The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has expressed concern that knife crime in the capital has gone up since the scaling back of stop and search. Will the Minister guarantee that he will leave it to officers to make judgments as to who are the right people to stop and search, and not allow crime to rise on the altar of political correctness?

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I met the commissioner only a couple of days ago and we talked about the issues my hon. Friend has raised, including when we would enact the provisions promoted by our friend Nick de Bois. I signed the commencement orders on Friday, the police will have those powers within two weeks, and we hope that prosecutions will take place within three to four months. It will be for the police to decide, but they now have the powers.

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Surely the Minister is aware—those of us on the anti-stalking commission suddenly came to realise this—of how much stalking is done on the internet. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) was not running down his police force; he was asking for it to be given more resources so that it could do its job better. So many of our police forces do not have the techniques, technology or back-up to tackle cybercrime seriously.

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The NCA has a cyber-unit whose work is done nationally and regionally through the regional organised crime units. We have introduced two new pieces of legislation, but more needs to be done. I was the Minister for online child protection, so I know all too well what needs to be done. What I told the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) was that the police force is doing a fantastic job with fewer resources and we should be proud of what it is doing.

Police Funding

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3. What assessment she has made of the level of regional variation in real-terms funding changes for police forces. [900743]

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The way the funding formula works means that there is no change based on the region someone is in.

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The Government have made vague references to a review of the grossly unfair police funding formula, but there is no confirmation as yet of when it will conclude. Cleveland, which has one of the highest numbers of crimes per head of population, has experienced a reduction of 18% in overall funding since 2010, whereas Surrey, which has one of the lowest numbers, has experienced a reduction of 12%. That shows how Cleveland has been disadvantaged by cuts being made with no account taken of local need and circumstances. What assistance will the Minister give to forces that are struggling to keep officers on the front line, pending the review?

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The funding formula for 2015-16 has been announced. Crime in Cleveland has dropped by 12%, which is what I think the hon. Gentleman was alluding to. We will consult this summer on the new funding formula for 2016-17 so we have a fairer formula than that which we inherited from the Labour party.

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What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterparts in France to avoid a repeat of the disruption last week in Calais, which placed such an onerous burden on the Kent police and the people of Kent?

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My ministerial colleagues and the Secretary of State have many conversations with their French counterparts at all levels, particularly in Calais.

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19. The Lancashire police federation is clear that further cuts to police budgets will soon result in policing becoming reactive, with only the capacity to deal with 999 calls. Given that 83% of Lancashire police’s work does not generate a crime number, who is going to pick up the work that the police cannot do because of the cuts? [900759]

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What we have proven since 2010 is that police forces can do better with less and they are being much more efficient around the country, including Lancashire where crime is down by 10%. The funding formula for 2015-16 is out, so forces know exactly what they can spend, and the 2016-17 consultation will start soon. You never know: Cleveland may do better. There will be winners and losers, but I hope it will be fairer.

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Crime levels overall in Northamptonshire have fallen substantially in the past five years, despite a very difficult funding background. However, violent crime remains stubbornly high. Might the funding available for our police forces reflect levels of violent crime?

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One of the things we definitely want is for hon. Members, the police and crime commissioners and local communities to be part of the consultation, and my hon. Friend’s comments could well be part of that commentary.

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Recorded crime has risen in the west midlands and Northumbria and fallen in Surrey, yet West Midlands police and Northumbria police have been hit by Government cuts twice as hard as Surrey police. The Prime Minister now talks of fairness in one nation, but how can it be fair that the areas of highest need are the hardest hit by his Government?

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The funding reductions were the same across the country. We are making sure—I hope Her Majesty’s Opposition take part in this—that we look very carefully at the changes we are proposing to funding and the funding formula. I look forward to sitting with the hon. Gentleman, which he has not taken the time to do in all the time I have been the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, and talking about the funding formula that he goes on and on about.

Modern Slavery

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4. What further steps her Department plans to take to eliminate modern slavery. [900744]

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The Government are committed to stamping out the abhorrent crime of modern slavery. We are implementing the Modern Slavery Act 2015, providing the necessary tools to ensure that there are severe penalties for those who commit these heinous crimes, and enhancing the support and protection for victims. We are trialling advocates for trafficked children and have established Border Force safeguarding and trafficking teams at major UK ports of entry, who will work in partnership with local agencies and feed intelligence to the National Crime Agency.

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I appreciate what is being done at ports of entry, but a major challenge is to identify victims once they are in households. How will the Secretary of State ensure that victims are identified in my Twickenham constituency and constituencies across the country?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point because, obviously, modern slavery is often a hidden crime. The Government have been raising awareness of it so that anybody who identifies behaviour or anything else that they feel is suspect knows that they need to take it to the police. Individuals can then be referred to the national referral mechanism and we can ensure that the proper support is available to victims. The Government fund that support and it is currently provided through the Salvation Army. I pay tribute to the Salvation Army, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and has done good work in society across all those 150 years.

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The legal judgment last week about the detained fast track process followed the finding of the Helen Bamber Foundation earlier this year that in two thirds of the 300 cases that had been referred to it, there were signs of torture or trafficking. It is clear that the detained fast track is being abused by the Home Secretary’s officials. I am glad that it has been suspended, but will she promise the House that the suspension will continue until it has had an opportunity to consider Stephen Shaw’s report?

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As I have indicated, we are reviewing the detained fast track. The Minister for Immigration announced to the House that we had suspended it. We are checking how we deal with these people to ensure that we mitigate the risk that those who have been subjected to torture could, inadvertently, be taken into the detained fast track. I say to the right hon. Lady that there will be many opportunities in the coming months to raise this subject in the House.

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The Home Secretary is right that the Salvation Army does an excellent job with adult victims of human trafficking, but that does not apply to child victims of human trafficking, who are given to local authorities to be looked after as missing children. Those children are often re-trafficked. Will she consider extending the Salvation Army programme to child victims?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point, because one concern for us is that victims of trafficking who are taken in by local authorities might be removed from those authorities, and in effect re-trafficked, as he says. We are trialling child advocates in a number of local authority areas to see what system works best for children who are the victims of human trafficking.

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Considering the thousands of victims of trafficking who have gone through the NRM, will the Home Secretary tell the House how many human trafficking-related convictions there were in the last 12 months? How does that figure fit with the Prime Minister’s assertion that we are tackling those who commit these crimes?

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The very reason why the last Government, in which I was Home Secretary, brought forward the Modern Slavery Act was to heighten the ability of our police and prosecutors to bring people to justice. There has been concern for many years, since before 2010, about the lack of prosecutions for modern slavery. The Act gives the police extra powers and has increased the sentences for people who commit this heinous crime. It will improve the ability of the law enforcement agencies to bring people to justice. That is why I look forward, under the Act, to seeing more of the perpetrators of these crimes brought to justice.

Gangmasters Licensing Authority

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5. What plans she has for future resourcing of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority; and if she will make a statement. [900745]

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Future levels of Government funding for all public bodies will be considered as part of the next spending review. We are committed to resourcing the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to ensure it can deliver on its purpose of protecting vulnerable and exploited workers.

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The Minister will recognise that the GLA is massively important in combating people trafficking and illegal working. Can she guarantee that its workforce will not be reduced?

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I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in the GLA, which I agree does excellent work. He will know that we committed in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to a review of it, and that is now taking place as part of the wider cross-Government review of a single labour market enforcement agency.

Lincolnshire Police (Funding)

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6. Whether she plans to increase funding for Lincolnshire police. [900746]

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As I said earlier, the Government are committed to a fundamental review of the police expenditure funding formula for 2016-17, and we look forward to consulting all partners.

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I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work with Lincolnshire police to ensure that we get a fairer funding formula. We need to ensure equitable funding for all police forces. When is the review likely to report, and when will we know the effects for Lincolnshire police and every other force in the country?

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We will work to a tight timescale for consulting and getting the funding formula in place. I hope that we can announce the consultation process in the next few weeks.

I take this opportunity to praise front-line police and the chief constable in Lincolnshire—something that the shadow police Minister always forgets to do. They do a fantastic job, and we should praise them every day.

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Lincolnshire police are in crisis for want of a mere £3 million to £4 million. In my area of 600 square miles, there is barely one police car on duty through the night. This is a crisis: £3 million would be a drop in the ocean compared with what we spend on international development, so will my right hon. Friend persuade the Chancellor to transfer just a little money to us? Charity begins at home.

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As my hon. Friend knows, I arranged for a Home Office team to do a deep dive in Lincolnshire to see exactly how the funding formula was working. Lincolnshire police have done a fantastic job—crime has dropped by 24% since 2010—and we will continue to support them.

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rose—

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rose—

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We are focused on Lincolnshire rather than Hampshire or Northamptonshire on this occasion, but we will hear from the hon. Members ere long in a different context, I feel sure.

Asylum Seekers (Syria)

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7. How many people from Syria have been (a) granted and (b) declined asylum in the last four years. [900747]

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Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, the UK has received more than 6,800 Syrian asylum claims and granted asylum or other forms of leave to more than 4,200 Syrians.

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Given that Lebanon is currently accommodating a Syrian refugee population of somewhere near a quarter of its entire population, does the Minister agree that the international community, including the UK, needs to provide far more places for resettlement, and other opportunities such as flexible family reunion places, to relieve Syria’s neighbours of some of the responsibility they are struggling to cope with?

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Given the numbers and the scale of the challenge, the focus should be on regional aid in the areas affected. That is why the International Development Secretary has committed another £100 million to assist in tackling the Syrian crisis, with the total reaching £900 million. We are focused on the most vulnerable individuals, which is why we have been operating the vulnerable persons relocation scheme.

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Does my right hon. Friend accept that the problem of people coming from Syria is reflected in the people leaving here to go to Syria? Will he have discussions with his fellow Ministers to ensure that the extremism Bill deals with youngsters and other vulnerable people being taken away from this country to Syria, so that they can be protected before that happens?

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My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point about the way in which people can be radicalised, and about how they can be vulnerable and exploited in that way. The new Prevent duty has been introduced precisely to ensure that all governmental agencies are focused on those issues to prevent such travel.

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The Minister was determined to prove that the width of the question could be met by the width of the answer.

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To make an application in the United Kingdom many Syrian refugees face death by crossing the Mediterranean or, as I witnessed at the weekend, by running into the channel tunnel or jumping on speeding lorries in Calais. This is an EU problem. What is to be done about processing some of those applications on the north African shelf so that people are able to make their applications without risking death?

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I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his reappointment as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I look forward to appearing before the Committee, no doubt before too long.

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Next week.

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There we are!

The right hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about the flow of people across the Mediterranean, which is why we have been clear about breaking that link of people thinking that they can get on to vessels and make that perilous journey northwards to the EU. I know that he has made interesting and important comments on this issue, but we must be clear not to establish new legal routes into the EU as that may make matters more difficult. I look forward to appearing before his Committee and giving further evidence.

Extremism

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8. What steps her Department is taking to tackle extremism. [900748]

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11. What steps her Department is taking to tackle extremism. [900751]

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14. What steps her Department is taking to tackle extremism. [900754]

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The terrible events in Tunisia show the importance of our work to defeat terrorism and extremism at home and overseas. We have already increased counter-terrorism funding, and last week a new duty came into effect on public servants to tackle radicalisation. We are determined to go further, and our counter-extremism strategy will set out a wide-ranging response, part of which will be implemented by the forthcoming counter-extremism Bill. Together, we must defeat these pernicious and poisonous ideologies.

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What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that Islamic extremism does not filter into other existing criminal groups such as street gangs, particularly in prisons?

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. The counter-extremism strategy will introduce comprehensive measures to stop extremism spreading. Extremism disruption orders were announced in the Queen’s Speech, and we will also tackle extremist ideology head on in a number of ways, promoting opportunities that life offers to people living in our pluralistic society in Britain, and confronting the extremists’ twisted narrative. We will work with others across the Government, including my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor in the Ministry of Justice, to consider what actions can be taken in prisons to tackle extremism.

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Notwithstanding the dreadful events of the past two weeks, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must tackle extremism across the board, and not focus only on Islamist extremism?

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue, and she is absolutely right. Our counter-extremism strategy will tackle extremism in all its forms, not just Islamist extremism but, for example, neo-Nazi extremism. I am sure we are all of one view that the anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred that neo-Nazis perpetrate is evil and wicked, and that we must do something about it.

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Preachers of hate want to foster a victim mentality in our community that they can then exploit. What is the Secretary of State doing to remove their platform?

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There is not a simple answer to that issue, which is why the counter-extremism strategy will be comprehensive and will work across various aspects of Government. This is not just about government; we want to work with communities and society to ensure that we develop more support for, and understanding of, the values that we share. We need to promote those values and ensure that those who seek to divide us are not able to do so.

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22. The Home Secretary will be aware that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the horrific genocide in Srebrenica in Bosnia, when more than 8,000 mainly Muslim men and boys were brutally murdered. Will she join me in welcoming the work of the Remembering Srebrenica organisation that promotes faith and tolerance between people in this country, and more widely? That is exactly the sort of message that we should learn from such a terrible tragedy and when fighting extremism here at home. [900762]

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The hon. Gentleman does well to remind us of the appalling events in Srebrenica, and I remember the shock we all felt when we saw what had happened. I applaud all organisations that aim to work among faiths to encourage tolerance and understanding, so that we all respect each other’s faiths while being able to continue to worship as each individual wishes.

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We have all been appalled by the terrible attack in Tunisia and our thoughts are with the families and friends of the 30 British nationals who have lost their lives. We know that tomorrow will also be a painful day for the families of the 52 people who died and the hundreds who were injured in the terrorist attacks in London 10 years ago. It is a day that none of us can forget, and tomorrow we will remember those who lost their lives. It is testament too to the hard work of our intelligence services and police that so many plots and attacks have been prevented since 7/7.

We all agree that action must be taken to prevent both violent and non-violent extremism here in Britain and that public sector organisations need to do more. I raised with the Home Secretary several times in the last Parliament my concern that the Government are still not doing enough to support community-led prevention programmes on extremism. May I urge her to look again at that and to make sure that it is a central part of her next strategy on extremism?

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I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and I intend to refer later to the 10th anniversary of 7/7. As she says, no one will ever forget that terrible day, and our thoughts are with all of those who suffered as a result of those terrible attacks.

We have delivered a significant number of community-based projects through the Prevent agenda. It is right that we want to work with communities, and that will be part of our counter-extremism strategy, especially looking at those communities that are perhaps more isolated than others and working with them, as I was saying earlier, to help to ensure that we see across our society a valuing and a sharing of the values that we all hold, so that we do not allow those people who wish to radicalise youngsters and others to divide us.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments because I have seen some very good community-led projects, in Cardiff, Bradford and online, which so far have lived hand to mouth and have not had Government support or backing from the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Home Office. If she is able to offer that support in future, it would be hugely welcome.

May I also ask the Home Secretary about support for policing? She has rightly worked hard to prevent the counter-terror budget from being reduced and to ensure that it was supported, but she will know the concern from various senior police officers involved in counter-terrorism that neighbourhood police should also play a central role, working with communities in the prevention of extremism. Can she assure us that in the next spending round and in her Home Office budget decisions she will also ensure that neighbourhood policing and the wider policing work are properly protected so that they can play an important part in protecting the national security of our nation?

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I can assure the right hon. Lady that in looking at the policing budget I will consider all aspects of policing, and I recognise the role that neighbourhood officers play. We do have Prevent officers working in local communities and doing an excellent job identifying issues there. They are working with local authorities, community groups, schools and others to ensure that we provide support and do what we all want to do—as she suggests—which is to eradicate extremism and the poisonous ideology that leads people to seek to do us harm.

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21. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is imperative that the Government give the security agencies and law enforcement the powers they need to root out extremism and keep our country safe? [900761]

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My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I am sure he will recognise the excellent work that is done by GCHQ in his constituency. We will publish a draft investigatory powers Bill in the autumn, which will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses, and we will bring forward the Bill in the new year. It will do exactly what he suggests is necessary—ensure that our law enforcement and security agencies have the powers they need to tackle this issue.

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What steps are the Secretary of State’s Department taking to join up the work done here in the UK with international work in this area? Does the Home Secretary agree that we need a consistent and joined-up approach if we are to tackle this issue effectively at home and abroad?

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I can assure the hon. Lady that we do a great deal of work with colleagues across the international environment on this issue. Indeed, the UK has been at the forefront of two particular issues in Europe: encouraging the development, by Europol, of an internet referral unit similar to the counter-terrorism internet referral unit run here in the United Kingdom; and supporting the SSCAT project, the Syria strategic communication advisory team, a group funded by the European Union and based in Belgium that provides support for a number of countries around the EU to ensure that a counter-narrative message is given across Europe to defeat extremism.

Domestic Abuse Victims

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9. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the potential effect on victims of domestic abuse of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. [900749]

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15. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the potential effect on victims of domestic abuse of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. [900755]

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The new British Bill of Rights will continue to protect fundamental human rights, including those for victims of domestic abuse. The Government are committed to strengthening victims’ rights further with a new victims law, which will enshrine key rights for all victims.

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The Ministers knows that the UN rapporteur, Rashida Manjoo, is worried about violence against women in the UK and the impact of the Government’s austerity programme on relevant services. She has appealed for safeguards and guarantees that local authorities will continue to operate within the human rights framework in compliance the UK’s international obligations. Does the Minister agree that repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 would further undermine efforts to tackle violence against women and girls in the UK?

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I am tempted to give the very short answer of no, I do not agree. Human rights did not come into existence in 1998 with the Human Rights Act. The Government are absolutely committed to maintaining Britain’s high standards of human rights, which we have had for at least 800 years.

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Prior to the Human Rights Act 1998 and its incorporation of the European convention on human rights into UK law, victims would have had to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to enforce their rights. What the incorporation of the convention into domestic law did was to allow them to enforce their rights here in the UK. Will the Minister acknowledge the benefits, to victims, of the Human Rights Act 1998?

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I suspect victims would like to be able to go to the Supreme Court here in Britain to have their rights upheld. That is what the Government are looking at.

Crime Reporting

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10. What recent guidelines her Department has issued on requirements in crime reporting. [900750]

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The Home Office issues strict guidelines on how police should record crimes reported to them. They must comply with those guidelines. In April, the rules were amended to ensure that all crimes are now recorded within 24 hours of being reported to them, especially if those crimes are reported by carers, professionals and social workers, as well as by the victims.

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There is concern that local police are having to report minor fights between siblings as crimes—a waste of police time when some sort of caution or discretion would be much more helpful. Will my right hon. Friend review the guidelines to make sure we are not wasting police time?

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The most important thing is that people have the confidence to come forward and report crimes such as domestic violence, which was dramatically under-reported over the years. If that has an effect on crime statistics, so be it. The police already have the discretion to give cautions. It is up to them what they do. We want people to come forward and report these crimes.

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Both reporting and fighting crime have become much harder in Merseyside now there are 600 fewer police officers since the Minister’s Government came to power. Is not the real guilty party when it comes to running down the police the Minister and his colleagues, who have run down police numbers and taken away their ability to fight crime?

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I do not know if the hon. Gentleman has noticed, but since 2010 crime in his constituency has fallen. That is because the police are doing fantastic work and a great job with less assets and less money.

Immigration Policies (International Students)

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12. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the potential effect of the Government’s immigration policies on the number of international students enrolling in UK universities. [900752]

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The Home Secretary regularly meets her Cabinet counterparts to discuss a range of issues, including how we can continue to attract the brightest and the best to study at our world-class institutions, while also bearing down on abuse. The UK remains the second most popular destination for university students.

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I am grateful for that answer. In the 2013-14 academic year, 1,685 non-EU students studied at Stirling University, but the UK Government’s decision in 2012 to abolish the post-study work visa means that at the end of their studies they cannot remain and contribute to the local economy or the national economy of Scotland. Given that reconsideration of these visas has been recommended under Smith commission proposals, will the Minister undertake to reintroduce them or at least devolve the powers to do so?

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It is important to understand that the numbers coming to our universities from outside the EU continue to grow. In the year ending September 2014, there was a 3% increase in the number of university-sponsored study visa applications for higher education institutions in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman raises the issues relating to the Smith commission and, certainly at official level, discussions have continued. However, I would highlight the risk: post-study work was abused—there is a route already in existence to allow that at the appropriate salary level—but obviously we will continue to discuss the issue.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are no limits on the number of foreign students who can come here, provided they meet requirements for speaking the English language and educational achievement, and as long as they can support themselves while they are in our country?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are no limits on the number of students whom we welcome to this country and who enrich our universities, but our focus is on ensuring that they leave at the end of their studies. It should not be about work; it should be about study.

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23. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson), does the Minister agree that there is an economic case to be made for greatly expanding the number of international students at university on these islands, that the income derived from them helps universities to maintain their standards, and that allowing young graduates to remain after their studies and make a contribution to the economy, paying taxes, growing businesses and so on, is an economic benefit that we would be foolish to shun? [900763]

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As I have already indicated, there is no cap on the number of students coming to study at our world-leading universities, but the National Audit Office reported back in 2009-10, under the arrangements that existed under the last Labour Government, that 50,000 students may have come here to work and not to study. That is the abuse we have seen when we take our eye off the ball, and that is why we have made those reforms and why we need to continue to focus on the overall student situation.

Antisocial Behaviour (Cities)

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13. What steps the Government are taking to address antisocial behaviour in cities. [900753]

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New and more effective antisocial behaviour powers were introduced in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to protect the public and to stop such behaviour before it can escalate.

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With the Saturday night and, now, daytime alcohol-related antisocial behaviour culture at a serious level in York, resulting in families not going into the city and businesses suffering, will the Minister confirm that there will be no further reductions to policing in York and that adequate policing will be put in place at weekends to ensure we get these problems under control?

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I know this is not the first time the hon. Lady has raised this matter; she raised it in business questions, I seem to recall. She has indeed championed the interests of York in this regard, but I simply say this. We have introduced the new powers precisely because we understand the relationship between alcohol consumption and crime. The new powers simplify what was there already, making it more effective. I hope that, as a new Member of this House, she will welcome those changes.

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rose—

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Order. I was going to give the hon. Lady an opportunity on this question if she wants, because child abuse images online are an extremely antisocial form of behaviour.

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17. They are extremely antisocial, Mr Speaker; in fact, I can think of few more antisocial kinds of behaviour than videoing children and posting their images online. Does my right hon. Friend agree that social media and other communications companies have a responsibility to work with Government and the police to reduce access to indecent images such as these? [900757]

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I do agree with that. Everyone has a role to play in combating this problem, and I welcome the groundbreaking pledges by 20 leading companies at the #WeProtect summit on global action to remove child sexual abuse images from the internet and develop new tools and techniques to tackle this crime. The Government will continue to work with companies, organisations and civil society to make it much more difficult for perpetrators of this heinous, hideous crime.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [900731]

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As was indicated earlier, tomorrow we will mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 7 July 2005. It was indeed a dark day in this country’s history, when ordinary people just going about their daily lives, many of them on their way to work, were cruelly and despicably attacked. Fifty-two people were killed and many hundreds more were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who died and those who still live with the consequences of that terrible day.

Since 7/7, the terrorist threat has continued to evolve, and it is serious. Last year the joint terrorism analysis centre raised the threat to the UK to severe, meaning that an attack on the United Kingdom is highly likely. Recently we of course saw another despicable attack, in Tunisia, where 38 people, including 30 British nationals, lost their lives—the largest loss of British lives to terrorism since 7/7.

The Government are clear: we must fight the threat we face on every front with everything we have. We are working to counter the wider extremism, which may not be violent in its nature, but which we believe can play a part in feeding and sanctioning narratives that inspire acts of terrorism. We must form a partnership with communities and organisations to promote the fundamental values that unite us and confront the pernicious ideology that seeks to divide us. That is why, as I indicated earlier, we will introduce a new counter-extremism strategy to protect people and communities, and ensure that we work to defeat extremism in all its forms.

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Last year, the number of illegal migrants intercepted by the Port of Dover police increased from 148 to 563. What extra steps are the Government taking to prevent illegal migration?

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In relation to those who try to come across to the United Kingdom clandestinely, we have been improving the security of ports where they have juxtaposed controls such as Calais and, of course, Coquelles. We are also looking at questions of security around our ports here in the UK. I would like to pay tribute to the work of Border Force officers and the police in ensuring that the number of clandestines is and has been identified.

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T2. Can the Security Minister reassure me that the police and the intelligence services will have new powers to stay ahead of extremist groups and individuals, not least in terms of technology? [900732]

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Yes, I can. The principles and practices of our enemies may often be barbarically archaic, but the methodology they use is up to the minute. It is vital that we match that with the resources, the techniques and the skills for our security services to counter those threats.

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I join the Home Secretary in remembering the victims of the attack 10 years ago. It was a heinous crime, which will live with people right up to today and beyond.

It is now over nine months since the migrant crisis started at Calais, and things are not getting any better for travellers, hauliers, the people of Calais or, indeed, for those individuals who have been trafficked there. Given the situation and recent concerns in the town of Calais, will the Home Secretary or her Minister confirm now what steps she has taken with the French Government to assess, identify and agree with the French authorities either asylum refugee claims or removal at the border? What steps is she taking to ensure that we improve security in France for UK citizens travelling through the Pas-de-Calais to the port?

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The Government have taken a number of measures to enhance security. The Home Secretary had discussions with her opposite number, Bernard Cazeneuve, last week on this specific element. We have invested £12 million into Calais and are looking at providing enhanced fencing at Coquelles in order to see the speeding up of freight and other traffic through both those points. We saw the appalling situation last week of industrial action being taken in France, which compounded the issues, which is why we are working continuously with our French counterparts. They are deploying more police resourcing and Border Force has deployed to Calais and Coquelles as well to enhance screening and assure our security.

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T3. Can the Home Secretary give reassurances that in respect of our plans to increase online surveillance powers for the police and security services, the public will not, as many fear, lose their right to their own privacy? [900733]

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I can reassure my hon. Friend that, as I indicated in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), we will introduce a draft investigatory powers Bill later this year which will ensure that law enforcement and security agencies have up-to-date powers available to them within the right legal framework, which will respect the need both to provide security and for privacy. I do not see privacy and security as a zero-sum game, as we can enjoy our privacy only if we have our security.

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T9. I have written to the Home Secretary about the risk of fraudulent use of internet wills. I have encountered one such case in my constituency. Fraud is a criminal matter, not a civil matter, but the police seem to be turning their back on that case. Will the Home Secretary look into the issue of internet wills and their use? [900740]

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. We are already looking into it. The practice is taking place across the country, and we do not know the exact extent of it, but we will, I hope, work together to eliminate this horrible crime.

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T4. As we heard earlier, the new Prevent duties were introduced last week. Will the Security Minister update the House on how the legislation will be used to identify and eliminate extremism? [900734]

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Governments have their part to play in delivering the national interest and the common good, but don’t we all? It is vital for communities themselves to play a part, and public services too. The organisations that we have asked to do their bit in respect of their new duties—including prisons, schools, colleges, health authorities and local authorities—already have a duty of care, including pastoral care. They are very well placed to identify radicalism, protect vulnerable people, and secure our national wellbeing and national interest.

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Earlier, Ministers were selective about positive crime statistics. What has the Home Secretary got to say about the 32% increase in sexual exploitation and sexual offences, which is a really serious matter? Will she tell us what plans she has to involve the perpetrators in the criminal justice system?

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We can only bring these abhorrent people to justice if their crimes are reported. There is clearly more confidence now than ever before about coming forward to report both historic crimes and crimes that are taking place today. As I said earlier, that will affect the figures, but I think it is a positive development, and I think we should be very pleased that people have that confidence.

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T5. Many UK haulage firms are being caught up in the terrible events in Calais, including Kersey Freight, which is based in Hadleigh, in my constituency. Drivers have been intimidated, and they are now starting to suffer financially as a result of the crisis. May I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to do all that she can to support our haulage companies in these challenging times? [900736]

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My hon. Friend is right to highlight the pressures on hauliers who are seeking to facilitate trade between the United Kingdom and Europe, and the challenges that they have been facing. We have been working closely with the haulage industry, and last week I had three separate meetings with representatives of different parts of it. We are making sure that hauliers are being given the best information, and we are also working with the French authorities to ensure that the area is policed and the security that our hauliers expect is being delivered.

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In June 2012, the United Kingdom Government signed up to the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Will the Minister tell us why, three years later, organisations such as Women’s Aid are criticising the Government for not taking further action?

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The hon. Lady will know that primary legislation is necessary if we are to comply with all the articles in the Istanbul convention, including article 44, which concerns extra-territoriality. We are negotiating with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we can introduce such legislation. I should add that the Government comply with everything else in the convention. We have criminalised forced marriage, for example, and we have taken steps to deal with female genital mutilation. We have done more than any previous Government, but we do not ratify conventions until we are absolutely certain that we comply fully with them.

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T6. The policy of European Governments on migrants is weak, and because it is weak, it is cruel, encouraging traffickers to bring more and more of them in. What action is the Home Secretary taking to enforce the Dublin convention, whereby migrants are returned to the place where they first entered the European Union? That is happening in only 3% of cases. What is she doing to enforce the traditional law of the sea whereby people are picked up in a humane way, looked after, and returned to where they came from? [900737]

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My hon. Friend has made an important point about the established principle enshrined in the Dublin regulation that those in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country that they enter. Since 2003, when the regulation came into force, it has allowed us to transfer more than 12,000 asylum seekers from the UK to other European states. As for the point that he rightly made about organised criminality, we have established a new taskforce to ensure that we have the best intelligence so that we can pursue traffickers, who seem to see people as some sort of commodity that they can trade, with all the risks and loss of life that that can bring.

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Does the Home Secretary share my concern about the wellbeing of women survivors of domestic violence, many of whom have been denied legal aid and are then repeatedly brought back to court by their former partners because they are not represented by skilled advocates?

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I take the treatment of victims and survivors incredibly seriously, as do my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. We are determined that victims will have their voice heard, that they will be listened to, and that they will be treated with dignity. That is why we have introduced 144 independent domestic violence advocates, stationed at police stations and custody cells to make sure that victims get the respect and dignity they deserve.

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T7. On the occasion of her visit to the Eastbourne and Willingdon constituency, I was very pleased to show the Home Secretary the new partnership-working between local officers at the borough council and local police officers; that is shared space, partnership-working which is really delivering for local people because of the ease with which communications can be shared. I am very pleased to say that that also extends to elected Members, having just received a call from the district commander about this. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such partnership-working, neighbourhood policing rooted in the community and working with agencies is a successful model? [900738]

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Eastbourne is setting the right trend around the country, and I know the Home Secretary was very impressed when she visited the local authority. That is exactly the sort of way in which we can save money by cutting backroom costs, while also working better together than apart.

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Northern Ireland relies a great deal on nurses from throughout the world to be able to have an efficient health service. The rule that an individual must earn £35,000 before they can stay will damage our health service. Will the Minister allow flexibility or change the immigration ruling for Northern Ireland?

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I am happy to look into those specific points and write to the hon. Gentleman, but we take advice on this from the Migration Advisory Committee which looks at this independently, setting the figures and assessing the information, so as to inform us in making our determinations.

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T8. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the rising number of complaints about excessive waits in the EU entry channels at Stansted, causing the airport to slip to the bottom of the airport service quality scores in the last 12 months? Can he tell me what steps he might take to help the airport operator overcome this problem? [900739]

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I highlight to my right hon. Friend that the vast majority of legitimate passengers pass through the border control at Stansted quickly, and Border Force is increasing staff numbers at Stansted, maximising the use of e-passport gates and improving its approach to staff rostering. I can also say to him that I will be meeting Manchester Airports Group, the operators of Stansted, next week, when no doubt we will be able to go into this in more detail.

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I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. Given that many commercial drivers coming in through Calais are now not checking the loads as they come through because they fear they might be attacked, what guidance has the Minister given to police and border agencies on the UK side to deal with commercial drivers who have allowed somebody to come through, or will he at least review the situation?

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I know the hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in this matter for some time. There is clear guidance. It was one of the issues that came up in my meetings last week. Our accreditation scheme sets out in clear terms those hauliers that are part of it and the guidance that is in place, but we will certainly continue to look at what more can be done.

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Tens of thousands of mobile phones are reported stolen every year when the reality is that many of them are lost by the owners, particularly in licensed premises. Will the Minister look at changing the crime status of the loss of mobile phones in licensed premises, because registering these phone losses as serious crimes can have a serious impact on the night-time economy and visitors, particularly when it comes to licensing?

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I will take a close interest in what goes on in pubs and what gets lost in pubs and nightclubs and report back.

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I am alarmed at the effect this Government’s immigration policy is having on young married couples like my constituents Kudzai and Merai Mupunga, who are being denied their basic human right to a family life. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the impact of the minimum income threshold on them and many others?

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The minimum income threshold was set with specific advice from the Migration Advisory Committee and has been upheld by the courts, and that is the basis on which we will continue to operate it.