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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 600: debated on Monday 12 October 2015

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police Funding Formula

1. What modelling has been conducted by her Department on the potential effect on individual police forces of proposed changes to the police funding formula. (901481)

How funding should be allocated to the police in future is a complex and important matter, and we conducted a detailed analytical review before launching a public consultation on reform of the current funding arrangements. We have considered carefully the responses received from that consultation, and my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister has written to all police and crime commissioners and chief constables with refinements to the proposed model in the light of the feedback received.

In 2013-14, just 22% of the 7.3 million emergency and priority incidents that the police responded to were crime-related. The police are being asked to shoulder the workload caused by cuts in other Departments, and the Public Accounts Committee has stated that the Home Office has no data about that added burden. How will the Home Office work with other Departments to ensure that the impact of spending decisions is not borne wholly by the police service?

The Home Office is already working with other Departments to ensure that, if matters are better the responsibility of other Departments, those other Departments take them on board. A good example is what we have been doing for people with mental health needs. We have worked with the Department of Health, and it has provided funding to ensure more places of safety that are not police cells. We have significantly reduced the use of police cells for those in mental health crisis or with mental health problems. As a result resources have been released for the police and, crucially, there are much better outcomes for people with mental health problems and issues.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important for police forces to spend their money effectively, and that the police innovation fund helps them to do that? Does she share my delight that Kent police have decided to issue every front-line officer with a body-worn camera that increases the effectiveness of police patrolling, as well as helping to keep officers safe?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and I commend him for the work on the innovation fund that he did when he was Policing Minister. This is an important development and he is right to welcome and commend Kent police for what they are doing with body-worn video cameras. That is an important step forward. We are also looking at the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to ensure that every part of the system can support the use of evidence from body-worn video cameras. I am sure the whole House recognises that that important step forward is of benefit to the police but also to victims.

Chief Constable Steve Finnigan of Lancashire police recently described the cuts to policing as “nothing short of madness”. Although I welcome the Government’s decision to consult on the funding formula, and the Policing Minister’s ability to engage with local forces, under the proposed model a constabulary such as Leicestershire could lose up to £700,000 a year, while others would gain. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is time to make the case to the Chancellor that the Home Office should be a protected Department because it deals with the security and safety of the British public?

I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s question. In his capacity as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee he has previously questioned the funding formula for policing, and indicated that an alternative formula might be a better way forward. That is what we are doing; we are trying to find a formula that will work across police forces, and that is why we held and responded to a public consultation. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister has written to police and crime commissioners and chief constables with a revision of that formula, and he will discuss the matter with them.

Northamptonshire police have been particularly innovative in finding joint operational and cost-saving initiatives with the local fire service, but it faces a particular challenge involving violent crime. How might those two important factors be factored into the new police funding formula?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments on Northamptonshire police, who have indeed been very innovative. They have been at the forefront of work to join together the police force and the fire authority to ensure savings and a better service for the people of the county of Northamptonshire. We are trying to adopt a funding formula that is simpler than the previous one, that is fair across the board and that people can look at and understand; a funding formula where people can appreciate why the elements are in there. That cannot be said of the current funding formula.

Police and Crime Commissioners

Elected police and crime commissioners provide accountable and visible leadership, which I hear the whole House now supports. PCCs are an excellent body taking the lead role, as we have just heard, in driving collaboration between forces and other emergency services to deliver more effective services and better value for money.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In West Mercia, the main advantages of having commissioners are accountability and transparency, which local people very much appreciate. We have just selected our new Conservative candidate, Mr Campion, who, if elected, will do an excellent job. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will continue to look at ways to devolve power and responsibility to police and crime commissioners, as this experiment is working?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point and I wish Mr Campion well in his bid to represent his community as a PCC. We will soon be introducing legislation that will allow more collaboration and more help to be brought to the police, fire and ambulance services—that is the sort of thing we would expect.

Will my right hon. Friend enable PCCs to follow up complaints about policing made by the people they serve?

That is exactly what we would like them to be doing. All too often, complaints go all the way through the system when they could actually be dealt with locally.

Rother District Council is one of only 17 remaining local authorities that have not decriminalised on-street parking offences, meaning that the Sussex police and crime commissioner is required to provide police resources to ticket cars that stay longer than two hours in a bay. Will the Minister consider freeing up police resources by requiring those remaining local authorities that enforce in their own car parks to additionally enforce on-street parking?

Although this is a matter for the local government department, I want as much capability as possible on the streets in every constituency. I do not think issuing parking tickets is a role for a police officer.

It is anticipated that Government cuts to Merseyside police could reach £27 million next year. This has been brought to my notice by the police and crime commissioner for Merseyside. Police community support officers and the mounted police section are under threat of disappearing altogether. Teams tackling sex offences, hate crimes and serious and organised crime are also likely to be seriously affected. Does the Minister share my concern about the impact the cuts could have on crime rates?

Can I first say to the hon. Lady that my thoughts and prayers are with the family of the police officer lost on Merseyside? I had the honour and privilege of going to Merseyside to pay my own respects, as well as meeting with officers.

I fully understand different PCCs trying to negotiate a position, but scaremongering is not the best way forward. I will come back with further ideas—that is what the consultation is all about, and that is what I promised I would do when I started it.

The turnout in north Wales for the police and crime commissioner elections last time was 14.83%, which under the Trade Union Bill would make them null and void. Will the Minister look at how he can improve turnout, perhaps by considering again what he refused to do last time—a freepost in all PCC elections?

I have a great deal of respect for the right hon. Gentleman and his work in his role as a Minister, but we did that during the west midlands by-election and it made absolutely no difference to the turnout. What will make a difference to the turnout, without any shadow of a doubt, is having that coincide with other elections, which is what is going to happen this time. I am really pleased that the Labour Opposition now realise the work that PCCs do and are now supporting them, rather than trying to abolish them.

I echo what the Minister said about the tragedy in Merseyside last week, but I disagree profoundly with his description of Jane Kennedy’s comments as “scaremongering”. The impact on Merseyside of the proposed changes to the police grant will be very damaging. Will he meet her and Merseyside Members to discuss the matter?

I will meet again with Jane Kennedy. She knows my door and has my personal phone number and personal email, as do all the PCCs—I made sure of that from day one. I am saying that no one knows exactly what we will end up with in the formula. We have consulted and said it would change. We have come back with other ideas. I expect other ideas to come back. No one knows the numbers. No one knows the size of the cuts, so let us wait and see. As I said, the consultation continues.

25. I recently joined Staffordshire’s police and crime commissioner and other local MPs to call for greater integration of the back-office functions of our police and fire services. That option was presented to avoid front-line fire services being cut, but we have now seen fire engines removed from both Cannock and Rugeley stations. What are the Government doing to encourage police and fire authorities to share back-office services? (901505)

We are already seeing around the country the sort of innovations my hon. Friend talks about, and I have no idea why they are not doing it in that part of the world. It is common sense to break down silos and get the emergency services working together to secure more money for the front line. It is what we would all expect.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Visa Applications

3. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the visa application process for visitors from sub-Saharan Africa. (901483)

The Government regularly monitor the effectiveness of the visa application process in sub-Saharan Africa as part of their monitoring of the global visa service. We are committed to the UK benefiting from a safe and secure visa service while providing a first-class operation to genuine visitors.

Next month marks 10 years of formal co-operation between the Governments of Scotland and Malawi, but I have heard from the Scotland Malawi Partnership that Malawian nationals are finding it increasingly difficult to apply for visas, making strengthening community links more difficult. Given that the partnership has told me that every part of the system seems to be becoming about charging more and delivering less, will the Minister meet me and representatives from the partnership to discuss those concerns in more detail?

I am always pleased to meet hon. Members to discuss the work of the Scotland Malawi Partnership, and I fully recognise the close bonds and ties that have existed for many years. Our focus is on delivering a high-quality service, and I am pleased to note that about 86% of applications from Malawi are successful. We are considering closely how we can improve the service further, however, and I am certainly happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issues on his and the partnership’s mind.

The Mayor of Calais has a point, does he not, about there being a unique pull factor—[Hon. Members: “She!”] I do apologise. I am sure she is a most impressive lady and a friend of our nation. Anyway, she has a point about there being a unique pull factor in the benefits we pay, how we deal with discretionary leave to remain and the fact that people can vanish into the black economy. Rather than just concentrating on visa applications, therefore, will the Minister undertake to remove all these pull factors into this country?

I think my hon. Friend, in his own distinct way, has highlighted the important distinction between legal and illegal migration and the challenges we have faced in terms of migratory flows and those putting their lives at risk on the Mediterranean sea and in the hands of people traffickers. We are examining all options, as part of the Government’s comprehensive stance, and focusing in particular on those people traffickers and smugglers selling people false hope and putting their lives at risk.

High-Profile Policing

Naturally, the Government do not issue specific guidelines for police forces on high-profile policing. The College of Policing sets the standards for professional practice to support police forces and other organisations so that the public are protected.

I have been going to Conservative party conferences for more than 30 years. [Hon. Members: “No!] They’re only jealous. The policing at these conferences has always been high profile, but this was the first one where I have witnessed those working in hotels and the conference centre, as well as delegates, having to run a gauntlet of demonstrators shouting vile abuse at people—tantamount to hate crimes—spitting and throwing eggs. The police response was totally inadequate. What conversations will the Minister have with the police chief for Manchester, and what action can be taken in future to ensure that those attending conferences can do so safely?

I think we would all agree that people attending any party political conference or people working there should not need to go through the type of abuse that took place there. This is a matter for the Metropolitan—I mean the Greater Manchester police; it is usually a matter for the Metropolitan police— and, to be fair, I have already had conversations about this issue. A review is going to take place, and I believe that the Conservative party will be having consultations, too.

May I say that Labour Members share the disgust of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) for what was seen to happen there, which does not have any place in legitimate protest? Those involved in no way spoke for anyone on the Opposition Benches.

High-profile policing is incredibly important in Chesterfield, and the Minister will be as alarmed as I was to learn that there has recently been a significant increase in the number of burglaries in Chesterfield and Derbyshire. Will he listen to representations from the police and crime commissioner about the real pressure on our police force and will he help the police and the police and crime commissioner to cut burglaries in Chesterfield?

Of course I will work closely with the police and crime commissioner and chief constables in the 43 authorities for which I have responsibility. As for the conference itself, the vast majority of police officers did a fantastic job. It was often decisions made above them that told them what they had to do. I am naturally concerned if there has been an increase, which is against the national trend: crime has continued to fall under this Government.

If the Conservative party conference is to return to Blackpool one day, it is absolutely key to get the Lancashire police funding formula right. Increasing concern has been expressed this weekend among Lancashire MPs of all parties, so I would be grateful if the Minister would meet me and other Lancashire Members to discuss the police funding settlement.

I thought it was you, Mr Speaker, in your days on the Back Benches, who could manage to get such a question in. It was very cleverly done by my hon. Friend, and I will naturally meet any delegation from any party to talk about police funding.

What a difference 30 years makes. Thirty years ago, we were talking about the police being harnessed by a previous Tory Government to close down the pits, sack the miners and carry out ethnic cleansing of the pit villages. Now we are told by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) that they are starting to get worked up about the cuts in pay and cuts in police forces. You want to be careful what you wish for.

I know that policing is devolved and that we have an extremely professional and able police force in Northern Ireland, but when considering high-profile policing and looking at the other end where cuts are coming through in Northern Ireland and there are fewer police on the ground, is the Minister aware that that means that the paramilitaries and those working in crime will see their opportunities? Will he discuss how to tackle that problem better?

With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, this is a devolved matter, and as the former Minister of State with responsibility for Northern Ireland, I know just how devolved it really is, which is right and proper. The National Crime Agency currently operates in Northern Ireland, but this is a devolved matter, so it is something the hon. Gentleman needs to take up with David Ford.

Police and Security Services: Investigatory Powers

6. What changes she plans to make to the investigatory powers of the police and security services. (901486)

18. What changes she plans to make to the investigatory powers of the police and security services. (901498)

The Government have been clear about the need to provide law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies with the powers they need to protect the public. A draft investigatory powers Bill will be published this autumn for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.

I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. I wonder whether she recognises the growth in internet-based communication systems, such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and many others, of which terrorists might be making use. Will she consider taking powers to support the security services in tracking relevant individuals who might want to do us harm?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. New services are obviously being developed. The law makes it very clear that any communications service provider offering a service in the United Kingdom should be in a position to respond to a warrant when it has been decided that there should be access to intercept material on the basis that it is necessary and proportionate. That was made clear by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and we put it beyond doubt in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014.

Does the Home Secretary agree that it is incumbent on organisations such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, which routinely encrypt messages, to co-operate with the authorities to ensure that those who may do us harm are prevented from doing so?

I assure my hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), that we want to ensure that our law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies have the powers that are necessary to keep us safe. They do an excellent job, but it is our role, here in Parliament, to ensure that they have the legislative backing to enable them to do it. I believe, and the Government believe, that there should be no safe space for terrorists, criminals or paedophiles on the internet.

In the light of the High Court ruling in July, may I ask the Home Secretary whether she will now do what should have been done in the first place, and ensure that access to our private data is authorised by a genuinely independent body or a court?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that each of the three reviews of the powers and legislation relating to interception of communications and access to communications data came up with a different answer in respect of the authorisation process for access to intercept material. David Anderson suggested that there should be a judicial authorisation, the Royal United Services Institute suggested that there could be a hybrid, and the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament suggested that the authorisation should remain with the Secretary of State. We have been considering the matter very carefully, and, as I have said, a draft Bill will be published in due course.

Will the Home Secretary tell us which is more important to the Government, national security or accountability, truth and justice for victims?

All those things are important, and I do not see that it is necessary to draw a distinction between them.

Hate Speech

No one in this country should live in fear because of who they are. We have made progress in tackling hate crime, but we are determined to do more, including challenging those who spread extremist messages and seek to divide our society. We will therefore develop a new hate crime action plan, working in partnership with communities and across Government to ensure that we have strong measures to stop these deplorable crimes.

Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that in tackling hate speech, the Government will continue to protect and cherish freedom of speech in this country, and, in particular, that Christian Ministers need have nothing to fear when preaching biblical principles in their own pulpits, as their predecessors have done for more than 1,000 years?

I assure my hon. Friend, who campaigns so much for the protection of religious freedoms, that we value the role of faith in society, and will protect everyone’s right to practise their faith. Freedom of speech is a fundamental value that binds our society together, and we will always protect that right. Nothing that we are doing, or planning to do, to tackle hate crime and extremism will stop the United Kingdom’s long tradition of preaching.

I am very grateful for the Minister’s answer. Will she assure the House that nothing in legislation will undermine not just Christianity, but people who preach other faiths?

I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing nothing in legislation that will prevent the right to believe, and the right to practise and preach. What we are doing is focusing on people who seek to use religious texts as an excuse to promote hatred and extremism. That is what we want to stop.

Does the Minister agree that the Secretary of State’s speech to the Conservative party conference could itself be defined as hate speech, and that it did nothing for her bid for the leadership of the Conservative party and everything for a potential bid for the leadership of UKIP?

Is the Minister aware of the current case of Pastor James McConnell in Belfast, who is being prosecuted for a sermon he delivered in his church to his congregation, and does the Minister accept that, with all the best will in the world, it is ordinary, decent citizens who are fearful of stepping over a line who will be prosecuted and persecuted under the crime of hate speech, and not those paramilitaries and terrorists we need to focus on?

Order. I listened intently to what the hon. Gentleman said and from the phraseology he used it seems that a prosecution is currently under way. If that is so, the sub judice rule applies and therefore a degree of caution in the ministerial response would be prudent.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; you took the words out of my mouth. I clearly cannot comment on that matter, but I do want to assure the hon. Gentleman that using religious texts as an excuse for hatred and as a reason to incite hatred is not acceptable and we will not stand for it.

Last week the Women and Equalities Committee visited Oldham, Manchester and Birmingham and heard from a number of local organisations about their continuing concern about hate crime, and particularly hate speech. I know the Government take this issue very seriously. Can the Minister update the House on the progress they are making in terms of the reporting of hate crime, which is clearly still a considerable concern in many communities?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. We met last week and discussed some aspects of this. We are looking at the feasibility of the reporting of hate crime and will be making a decision shortly.

Balancing freedom of speech with the need to ensure we have a strong, diverse and cohesive society is a challenge for any Government, but what practical funding does the Home Office offer to support communities like mine that want to run initiatives to bring diverse communities together and promote that more cohesive society?

As I just said, we are looking to introduce a new hate crime action plan and we are looking at all the ways we can support those local communities who want to work actively to promote community cohesion and our shared values.

The Government want universities to ban speakers who say things that do not break the law but which do promote hatred or violence. Can the Minister give one clear example of a statement made in a UK university which should now be banned?

I welcome the shadow Minister to her place and look forward to working with her. I think she will agree that this is about how we protect our shared values and how we make sure we work together and keep our citizens safe. I hope she will work with the Government to make sure we do that.

Domestic Violence

Tackling domestic violence is a key priority for this Government. We have created a new offence of domestic abuse, we are making improvements to the police response and this year provided over £20 million to fund specialist domestic and sexual violence services, national helplines and refuges.

What steps will the Minister take to improve the witness testimony experience of survivors of domestic abuse through special measures, which may increase reporting and conviction rates?

We are looking through the refreshing work we are doing in our whole violence against women and girls strategy and we are considering how we can make sure the victim experience is such that victims are treated with the dignity and respect they need. We are working with the Ministry of Justice to make sure that happens.

Does my hon. Friend agree that forced marriage is a particularly iniquitous and hidden form of domestic violence that is going on in this country at the moment, and will she look at funding for the forced marriage unit, which is doing excellent work in the Foreign Office to try and protect young British girls from being married off against their wishes?

I have visited the FMU, which is a joint Home Office and Foreign Office unit. It does excellent work and I know that its outreach programme is getting to those girls who may be victims of forced marriage and making sure this does not happen.

23. Does the Minister support the HeForShe campaign which many world leaders have signed up to as impact champions, and will she encourage her own party colleagues, including the Prime Minister, to sign up to help end discrimination and violence towards women? (901503)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Could she perhaps provide more information about that campaign? We support many campaigns and I would like to find out more about that one.

Will the Minister join me in supporting the work of citizens advice centres across the UK and their Talk about Abuse campaign, a national campaign to help friends and family members to support the victims of domestic abuse?

I attended the launch event of that excellent Citizens Advice campaign, which has already helped me with a case in my own constituency, in which I was able to refer someone to the citizens advice bureau to get the specialist and expert support that they needed.

Reports of domestic and sexual violence are increasing across the country. However, in an attempt to deal with the relentless Government cuts, local authorities and the police are stopping specialist abuse support to victims and instead providing generic services or no services at all. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality or ethnicity, feels safe and supported in their home?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place on the Front Bench and I look forward to working with her. We have worked together on a number of previous campaigns and I know that she will be excellent in her new role. As I have said, the Home Office is refreshing its violence against women and girls strategy, and part of that involves looking at commissioning and local commissioning to ensure that those specialist services, which she rightly says victims need to get the support that they require, get the funding that they need.

Refugee Crisis

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 7 September, the Government will expand existing resettlement schemes to resettle up to 20,000 Syrians in need of protection. In the past few weeks, we have established a cross-departmental operations centre for Syrian refugees, based in the Home Office, and we look forward to welcoming refugees in a well-organised way in the months and years to come.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but one further practical step that the Government could take would be to expand the family reunion criteria, which, as he will know, are currently restricted to spouses and dependent children. Will the Government help to keep already traumatised families together by allowing elderly parents and other family members to find temporary protection in the UK, as the Refugee Council and the Red Cross have requested?

The family reunion scheme has been used successfully in the past, and it is still being used. In addition, we have the vulnerability criteria of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which include vulnerable families.

Last week, I visited the jungle camp in Calais. It was clear that the fence and other security measures were making it very difficult for people to get to the UK, but conditions at the camp are desperate and getting worse. Will the Minister tell us what further actions the Government are planning to take in response to this situation?

The Government are working closely with the authorities in Calais to make sure that this does not happen.

16. Oldham and many other areas are under incredible financial pressure at the moment, but we want to do our bit to support refugees. What practical and financial support will be provided by the Government beyond the single-year funding that is currently provided, and will any such support reflect the good practice set out in the UNHCR’s gateway programme, which has shown the long-term benefits of financial front-loading? (901496)

As the hon. Lady will be aware, the year one costs are taken care of, to cover the cost of refugees coming to this country. The Government have looked carefully at covering years two to five, because we are conscious of the fact that local authorities will be incurring extra costs. In the letter that I wrote on 1 October to the chief executives of local councils, it was made clear that the Government would be assisting them with the extra costs incurred.

Does the Minister agree that it ought to be a high priority for the Government to crack down on human traffickers and people smugglers, who profit from the misery of others? What steps are the Government taking to crack down on this evil trade?

The Government are well aware of the point that my hon. Friend has made. I am pleased to report that I went to Portsmouth last Friday to visit the naval base to which the cutters run by Border Force returned from the Mediterranean. During their time in the Mediterranean they apprehended many people smugglers. It is the Government’s policy to ensure, through the taskforce, that that will increase, because this is a serious problem.

Today, The Times and The Guardian have published a statement signed by more than 300 leading lawyers, including 12 retired judges, a former President of the Supreme Court, former Law Lords, 103 Queen’s counsel and prominent academics, calling on the United Kingdom Government to take a

“fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within the EU and those still outside it.”

They say that the UK’s “present offer” to take 20,000 is “deeply inadequate”. Does the Minister and his Home Secretary think they are wrong?

I listened to that interview carefully; the person concerned was asked what they did think was adequate and was not able to answer. I hope that listeners to the programme and people who have read this correspondence will be aware that this Government are doing a lot in the countries around Syria and our expenditure has so far been more than £1 billion to help people in the areas around Syria. In addition, we have our programme to help 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, which I am very proud of and want to see delivered very efficiently.

If the Minister wishes to see the advert—I have a copy here—he will see that it was signed not by a person, but by 342 lawyers. Let me follow up with a second question. The Home Secretary suggested in her conference speech that she wanted to work with other countries

“to review the international legal definitions of asylum and refugee status.”

Is she really wanting to dilute the international protection offered to those at real risk of serious harm or persecution?

My right hon. Friend made it clear in that speech that it was our intention to be able to deal with a lot of fraudulent applications for asylum, so that we can concentrate on those people who really need it. The hon. and learned Lady should be very proud of this Government taking 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees over the course of this Parliament.

I join the Minister in commending the work of the cutters, HMC Protector and HMC Seeker, which this year have rescued 1,650 people and played a part in the apprehension of no fewer than 26 people traffickers. Can he explain to the House why these cutters are being withdrawn from service at this time, given that we are clearly not seeing the drop off in the number of people coming across the Mediterranean that we have seen in previous years around about this time?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the cutters’ return to Portsmouth was part of their planned period in operation, which was agreed with the other countries. Other ships have taken over, and I know that we play a very significant part in the apprehension of people traffickers.

Innovation in Policing

The 43 forces around the country are empowered to bring forward innovation and different ideas. The integrated public contract command and control system that West Mercia and Warwickshire police have developed with the Hereford and Worcester fire and rescue services is an example of that, and it was partly paid for by the police innovation fund.

I thank the Minister for his reply. My constituency is home to a business called SmartWater, which has pioneered forensic marking technology. This innovative technology helps the police to prevent and detect crime. Does he agree that a collaborative approach between the public and the police to encourage the marking of property could revolutionise policing in the UK?

I am very aware that the Home Secretary visited my hon. Friend’s constituency and this excellent company with her in 2013. In my constituency, SmartWater is particularly being used in rural areas to protect very valuable agricultural plant—this is about not only prevention, but tracking it after it has been stolen.

Innovation is, of course, to be welcomed, but many forces are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver even on core policing functions. According to the National Audit Office, Northumbria police force has already suffered the highest level of funding cuts in the country. On that basis, can local people really have any confidence that we will get a fair deal from Ministers this time around?

In 2010, it was said that the cuts would be devastating, policing would suffer and crime would go up—it went down. We will look very carefully at the consultation. I stood at this Dispatch Box and promised that I would come back with different figures and so on, based on the consultation. That was a promise I gave the House and it is exactly what I have done, and I will continue to listen.

Crime Rate Trends

It will not be a surprise to hear that police reform is working. The independent Crime Survey shows that crime has dropped by nearly a quarter since 2010 with 150,000 fewer burglaries and almost 400,000 fewer violent crimes.

This autumn, Nottinghamshire police, like many other forces, is rolling out body-worn cameras, which have a huge potential to reduce crime and to increase convictions. Will the Minister encourage the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to embrace that technology and the evidence it produces, particularly in difficult crimes against women such as domestic violence where powerful evidence from the scene of a crime or the aftermath could play a big role in increasing the currently quite poor rates of conviction?

Domestic violence is one of the more difficult crimes to prosecute, not least because the victim very often changes their mind or does not want a prosecution to take place, but when they see the video evidence of what they look like when the police officers arrive, their confidence often grows, which means that we see more convictions going forward, so I completely agree with my hon. Friend.

For the past five years, the Government have claimed that they have cut the police and cut crime. Now we know the truth: once fraud and online crime are included in the crime statistics next year, crime will have risen by up to 40%. Will the Home Secretary finally admit therefore that crime is not falling but changing, and that with the threat of terrorism, the demands of protecting our children and of growing violent and sexual crime, this is the worst possible time to cut another 23,000 police officers?

This Government are not cutting 23,000 police officers, as the shadow Minister knows full well. Yet again I have to say that he is much better than his comments. We would be really happy—I would be really happy—if more people had the confidence to come forward and report domestic violence and those figures went up. I am sure that that would be welcome across the House. It is also right and proper that this Government, unlike the previous one, include fraud in the figures.

Settling of Refugees

13. What discussions she has had with local authorities on funding and other practical arrangements for the settling of refugees. (901493)

14. What discussions she has had with local authorities on funding and other practical arrangements for the settling of refugees. (901494)

The UK has established networks to accommodate and support resettled people. We know that an increase in numbers will require an expansion of current networks, so we are currently working with a wide range of partners including local authorities to ensure that people are integrated with sensitivity in local communities. In particular, we are working with local government operations to see how the funding for that will operate.

I thank the Minister for his response. The refugees who will be granted residence in Britain under the new scheme will be vulnerable victims of torture and sexual abuse and those with acute physical and mental medical needs. Contrary to what the Minister said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), my local authority in north-east Lincolnshire is unclear about the extent of the extra support that will be provided to help adequately meet the needs of the most complex cases. Will the Minister confirm that, in addition to the funding of basic needs such as clothing and housing, consideration has been given to the funding of other services such as counselling, translation services and training?

I can happily confirm that that is the case. I pay tribute to Councillor Dave Green, the leader of Bradford council, for being one of the leaders in this area. I saw for myself how the things that the hon. Lady mentioned take place in Bradford, and those things will be greatly expanded.

What is the Minister doing to extend the funding that local authorities are given to support refugees from one year to three years? The Minister will be aware that Hull city council has offered to support Syrian refugees and it was very keen to do so, but what are the Government doing to help us fund that work?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I have answered that question before. I have written to the chief executives of all the local councils explaining that we will help with funding for years two to five.

May I touch on a different aspect of housing and migration? When sanctions were introduced for landlords renting to those disqualified by immigration status, it was agreed that there would be a pilot in the west midlands and that that pilot would be evaluated before its roll-out. An evaluation by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has shown widespread discrimination—up to 42%—against lawful migrants, those without British passports and those who appear to be foreign. In the light of those results, will the Secretary of State assure the House that the results of the Home Office evaluation will be published before the Second Reading tomorrow and that if similar patterns of discrimination are shown the roll-out will be abandoned?

I welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman to his role and look forward to our discussions in the future. I can confirm that the Government will publish the results of the consultation before the Committee stage of the Bill.

Topical Questions

I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the people of Turkey after the terrible attack that took place in Ankara at the weekend.

A week ago, in the small hours of the morning, Police Constable David Phillips was killed in the line of duty. PC Phillips’ death serves as a terrible reminder of the real dangers that police officers face day in and day out as they put themselves in harm’s way to deal with violent criminals and dangerous situations. The murder investigation is ongoing, Merseyside police have made arrests and I am sure that the whole House will agree on the importance of bringing his killers to justice.

Police officers put themselves in danger doing a vital job and it is important that we ensure that their families are looked after if the worst happens. As the law stands, widows, widowers and surviving civil partners of police officers who are members of the 1987 police pension scheme stand to lose their partner’s pension if they remarry, form a civil partnership or cohabit. In recognition of the level of risk that police officers face in the execution of their duty, the Government have pledged to reform the 1987 police pension scheme—

We will reform the scheme to ensure that the widows, widowers and civil partners of police officers who have died on duty do not have to choose between solitude and financial security. The Government will lay these regulations in the coming weeks and the change will be backdated until 1 April 2015.

Order. The Home Secretary has clearly brought great happiness to the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), and that will be recorded in the Official Report. We are extremely grateful.

I welcome the statement made by the Home Secretary, and I also welcomed the restatement in the Prime Minister’s conference speech of his commitment to end the brutal practice of female genital mutilation among British citizens and those living in Britain. What steps are being made by the Home Department to ensure that those commitments become reality?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, I suspect that this might be the first time I have stood at this Dispatch Box and said something that brings happiness to the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), so the moment is historic and not just something to be recorded.

The Prime Minister has taken a particular interest in FGM and last year he co-chaired with UNICEF the girl summit, the first of its kind. At the time, we announced a number of steps that we would take on FGM. The Home Office has set up an FGM unit, focusing Government efforts in this area, and we have, for example, introduced the new protection orders, which we fast-tracked so that they were available in July and could be used to protect girls who might have been taken abroad during summer school holidays for the practice of FGM.

On behalf of everybody on the Opposition Benches, may I echo the Home Secretary’s tribute to Police Constable David Phillips, who died working to keep the people of Merseyside safe? I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending a message of condolence to his family and of gratitude for his service to the public.

Today, the former head of the Supreme Court, three Law Lords, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, five retired Court of Appeal judges, a president of the European Court of Human Rights and 100 QCs who represent the Government have described the Home Secretary’s response to the refugee crisis as “deeply inadequate”. Why does the Home Secretary think that she is right and all of them are wrong?

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that asking as his first question one that has already been asked by the Scottish National party spokesman might not be a route he wishes to go down in future. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees has answered the question, but I will respond to the right hon. Gentleman.

This country and this Government can be proud of the efforts we are making to support refugees from the Syrian crisis. We have put £1.1 billion in for those in the refugee camps and in communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. We are the second biggest bilateral donor to the region and to those refugees after the United States of America. In addition, we have been operating our Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which we are expanding so that the 20,000 Syrian refugees who are most vulnerable will be brought to the United Kingdom over the course of this Parliament.

Let me tell the Home Secretary why I repeated the question. Could not the public have legitimately expected the Home Secretary to answer a question about the biggest humanitarian crisis since the second world war? Her response reveals her fixed mind on this issue, which is simply not good enough because she is not responding to the unfolding nature of the crisis. Her position is flawed for one reason: she is trying, out of convenience, to draw a false distinction between refugees still in the region and those who have arrived in Europe, whom she describes as the wealthiest, fittest and strongest. I say to her: look at the TV pictures today; these people are not wealthy, fit or strong. They are desperate and they need our help. Is it not time to stop digging in, show some humanity and reach out a helping hand?

The question was rightly answered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees—an appointment, I remind the House, that the Prime Minister made recently to ensure that there is a very clear focus on the job of making sure that the 20,000 Syrian refugees whom we bring to the United Kingdom are given accommodation and other types of support when they arrive here. As I said, the UK can be justifiably proud of the work that it is doing, and of the people whose lives it is keeping going through the provision of medical supplies, food and water in the refugee camps. Through our scheme we are taking the most vulnerable—not those who have been able to reach the shores of Europe, but those who are not making that journey. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will send a very clear message that it is better for people not to try to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and through other routes into Europe because sadly people are still dying doing so.

T3. My right hon. Friend will be aware that most goods vehicles coming into the United Kingdom are operated by overseas companies. How can Her Majesty’s Government encourage those firms to operate appropriate levels of security to prevent people using those vehicles to gain illegal entry to our country? (901538)

We have strengthened our partnership with the haulage sector and food industry to reduce the challenge of clandestine stowing away. My hon. Friend highlights an important point about the international aspect. We hosted a conference in Brussels setting out and sharing good practice because we need to ensure that there are high standards not only among UK hauliers but among EU hauliers.

T2. Does the recently updated Home Office country information and guidance on Eritrea take into account the recent findings of the UN commission of inquiry into human rights in Eritrea? (901537)

We keep our country guidance up to date. The hon. Gentleman highlights a particular piece of evidence. Our guidance is constantly reviewed and we look at all forms of evidence in setting out the approaches that our entry clearance officers should take.

T5. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a great achievement for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and her colleagues. What progress is she making in working with other European countries to tackle modern slavery, especially in the light of the report from the Centre for Social Justice on organised crime groups that move men, women and children across EU borders into slavery? (901541)

I thank my hon. Friend for his compliments about the Modern Slavery Act. A number of measures from the Act, including the new offences, are now live. We shall shortly implement the section on transparency in supply chains, which has the potential to change international opinion on slavery. We have also been successful in having modern slavery included in the sustainable development goals at the UN, which should mean that there is increased focus on the issue. We are also working with other European Governments to ensure that slavery is at the top of their agenda too.

T4. A month ago a very impressive young woman came to my surgery asking for my help. She is in her mid-20s and is a high-flying accountant—or she would have been had her wings not been clipped by the shock news that she has no status in this country through no fault of her own, but because her parents have overstayed their welcome. She is now estranged from them. Does the Home Secretary have any sympathy with children in those circumstances who have done nothing wrong? Could I write to her and ask her to use some discretion in looking at this case? (901540)

It is very difficult to comment on an individual case without knowing all the facts and circumstances, but if the hon. Lady would like to write to me with that information, I will consider it carefully.

T8. I am proud that in Kingston offers have come in thick and fast to host Syrian refugees since we offered to do so not after the terrible image of Alan, but more than 12 months ago. This has not always been easy because some of the refugees come from incredibly traumatised backgrounds. Is the Home Secretary assessing which Syrian refugees have been victims of torture and ensuring that they are housed close to areas where they can access rehabilitative services? (901544)

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are looking in great detail precisely at placing vulnerable refugees in areas where there are the facilities to deal with them.

T6. As Ministers will know, crisis funding for domestic violence refuges ends on 31 March 2016, so where should the many thousands of women and children fleeing violence now turn for lifesaving support after that date? In particular, will the Minister commit to the provision of sufficient permanent funding for women’s refuge in future? (901542)

In response to earlier questions, I talked about the refreshing of our violence against women and girls strategy, which includes looking at how we commission services, but it also looks at prevention. We need to make sure that women are not in the position where they need to go to refuges, so we are looking at how we make sure that the right provision is available and at how we do all we can to prevent this crime happening in the first place.

T9. In my constituency the CCTV equipment is coming to the end of its functional life. What funding is in place to replace this scheme? (901545)

In most cases CCTV is funded by the local authority, working closely with the police in that local area. I have visited many areas where new CCTV cameras have been installed. That is something we will work on together, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

T7. I am sure the Minister will welcome the appointment of Ian Hopkins as the new chief constable of Greater Manchester, but the Manchester Evening News is reporting that he could face £157 million of cuts because of the funding formula. Regardless of those negotiations, will the Minister guarantee that any negotiated settlement will not be undermined by the comprehensive spending review? (901543)

The funding formula changes were introduced because nearly every force in the country wanted them. I appreciate that there are concerns out there, but people do not know exactly what is happening, and the changes are separate from the spending review.

In about two weeks’ time we are expecting the return of the last British resident, Shaker Aamer, from Guantanamo Bay, and I thank the Government for their actions in support of that measure. However, the last 16 residents of Guantanamo Bay who returned to Britain had been subject to torture and were paid compensation by the Government. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many of those 16 were subject to gagging orders as a result of the settlement?

Obviously, arrangements were put in place between the Government and the individuals concerned. My right hon. Friend is right to indicate that as part of that settlement sums of money were paid, but I will not go into the details of any individual settlement.

The Home Secretary has just said that she does not want people to make dangerous journeys, but the family reunification rules are making them do exactly that. A 17-year-old Syrian boy whose parents have been killed and whose brother lives here was told that the only way he could apply was to travel in person to apply to the nearest embassy or consulate. On the way to Turkey to do so, he was kidnapped and tortured for four days. That was a very dangerous journey, required by the family reunification rules. Will the Home Secretary personally review this case and agree to look at the family reunification rules so that we can support more desperate and vulnerable families? I urge her personally to do this.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees referred earlier to the work that we are doing. Obviously, there are the existing family reunification rules, but we are also expanding the vulnerability criteria whereby we identify with the UNHCR those refugees who will be resettled here in the United Kingdom. That includes a category of vulnerable families.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that she has not personally authorised any intercepts of MPs’ communications? Perhaps after last week, will she confirm that any future Government that she may head will not intercept MPs’ communications?

My hon. Friend will be aware that we do not comment on individual applications for intercept. Indeed, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 it is an offence for anyone to identify an individual warrant or an individual interception that takes place. The Wilson doctrine applies, but of course it is subject to proceedings that are taking place at the moment.

PC David Phillips was the very best of all of us in Wirral. His death has shaken people everywhere, but especially his family and friends in my constituency. An amazing £145,000 has already been raised in his memory. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Government stand absolutely ready to assist Merseyside police in their efforts to bring the guilty to justice, to help PC David Phillips’s family and to properly mourn and praise this dedicated and courageous officer?

I do not think I could have put that any better as the Policing Minister. I made my offer to the chief constable to visit if he wanted me to—if they had not wanted me to go, I would not have gone—and he asked me to do so. I had the honour and privilege of talking to police officers who were on the shift that David Phillips was part of, and to the other officers who were there. It was probably one of the most moving experiences I have ever known. I also had the privilege of laying flowers just after his family had left. We will give all the support we possibly can to the chief constable and the investigating officers, but we now need to let them get on with the job.

Order. As I intimated was likely at the start of Home Office questions, we have been notably deprived by the absence of that intellectual iconoclast, the Minister for Security, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), but we have pressed on as best we can, regardless of that deprivation.