The Secretary of State was asked—
Child Sexual Exploitation
6. What steps her Department is taking to protect 16 and 17 year olds who are victims of child sexual exploitation. (902152)
Before I answer the question, may I say that later this afternoon I shall of course make a statement on the Paris terrorist attacks? I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with the people of France, particularly with the victims—and their friends and families—of those terrible and horrific attacks.
Tackling child sexual exploitation is a top priority for this Government. We have already prioritised child sexual abuse as a national threat in the strategic policing requirement, and made significant progress since the “Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation” report in March 2015.
I am sure that all of us in this House want to concur with the sentiments expressed by the Home Secretary and send our condolences and very best wishes to the families and friends of all of those who were killed or injured in the dreadful terrorist attacks on Friday night.
I hear what the Home Secretary says about sexual exploitation, but, according to the Children’s Society, more than three quarters of reported sexual crimes against 16 and 17 year olds result in no police action against the perpetrator. How does the Home Secretary feel that her proposed cuts to policing will impact on those figures?
We should all welcome the fact that more people, including young people and children, now feel able to come forward and report when abuse or exploitation has taken place, but, as the hon. Lady will be aware, the question of how the reports are then dealt with is not to do with police numbers. We saw that in the Rotherham report. Sadly, reports came through that police and others had been aware of the child exploitation that was taking place, yet appropriate action was not taken. Following the “Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation” report in March this year, there will be a requirement that all police officers are trained in raising their response to child sexual exploitation. We have also revised the guidance, so that we provide clear information about how to identify child abuse and neglect and what action to take.
May I also associate myself with the comments made earlier by my right hon. Friend?
The recent report “Old Enough to Know Better?” by the Children’s Society has recommended that, when the victim of a sexual offence is 16 or 17 years old, it should be considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would send a very strong message to perpetrators and build on the work already done by this Government to protect the victims of sexual exploitation?
I agree that we always need to send very clear messages to the perpetrators about how seriously we take this crime and the intent to deal with it. The courts will always consider a case more seriously when the victim is a child, and that includes 16 or 17 year olds. The Sentencing Council’s definitive guidance on sexual offences came into effect in April last year, and it provides for the courts to sentence more severely individuals in cases where victims are particularly vulnerable, as will often be the case with sexual exploitation involving 16 or 17 year olds.
22. The Secretary of State will be aware that a really quite frightening proportion of the 16 and 17-year-old girls who are victims of sexual exploitation have been in the care of the local state. What action is she taking to prevent the grooming of such vulnerable young women into sexual exploitation? (902169)
Sadly, the right hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that a shocking number of those who find themselves being exploited and subjected to child sexual abuse will have been in the care of the state. That is an appalling record for the state, and it has gone on for many years. It is one reason why the Justice Goddard inquiry will look at how institutions have, or have not, undertaken their duty of care. As part of the work that we did following the Rotherham report, we are working with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Education to see exactly what approach should be taken at local authority level with those in care and others who report abuse to the local authority.
I would not link the voting age with child sexual exploitation. In the Home Office, we have included 16 and 17-year-olds in our consideration of a number of areas, including this issue and domestic violence. We recognise the vulnerability of those who are 16 and 17, who are sometimes treated as and considered as adults but are equally as vulnerable as younger people and need the protection and care we should be giving them when we deal with these difficult issues.
Her Majesty’s Passport Office takes complaints seriously and has a robust process to examine customer concerns. Ultimately, complaints can be referred to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman for adjudication.
I thank the Minister for that answer. May I bring to his attention the case of Muhammad Ifran Ayub, who is seriously ill awaiting a heart transplant and has been trying for two years to get a visa for his two-year-old son, who is currently in Pakistan away from both parents? There have been a series of failures in dealing with this case. Will the Minister meet me and the family to discuss it?
I will always consider representations made by right hon. and hon. Members. It is difficult for me to comment in detail on the Floor of the House on the individual circumstances of the case, but HM Passport Office has to examine documentation very carefully and, sadly, fraud and other criminality can at times be involved. It needs to consider cases dispassionately and, when there are compelling circumstances, reflect them in the decisions it takes. I will look at the facts that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
The police continue to make significant progress on tackling hate crime. The recording of hate crime has improved and the True Vision website was launched in 2011. Guidance for officers was published in 2014 and there is improved training on the handling of hate crime cases and support for victims.
I am grateful for that answer and associate myself with the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Given the horrific attacks in Paris at the weekend, many Muslim communities are concerned about the potential increase in anti-Muslim hate crime in this country. Can my hon. Friend reassure those communities in my constituency and across the country that the Government are committed to tackling such hatred in all its forms?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is absolutely clear that there is no excuse for hatred—no religious excuse and no other excuse. Hatred will not be accepted by this Government. We work closely with community organisations such as Tell MAMA to ensure that we are aware of community work to stop hate crime and to ensure that we increase reporting of it. We have also announced that Muslim hate crime will be recorded separately by the police to ensure that we have a full assessment of its levels.
Further to the comments of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), these terrible events in Paris mean that it is very important that police officers engage fully with local communities. The Government were right to suspend the operation of the police funding formula, which deals with frontline policing. Although the counter-terrorism budget has been protected, dealing with such offences means that we need bobbies on the beat. Will the Minister speak to the Home Secretary and see whether we can present an argument to the Chancellor to protect front-line policing so that the police can deal with such issues, which impact on local communities?
I am not sure that I need to speak directly to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as she heard what the right hon. Gentleman said. It is important to point out that the proportion of police on the frontline has gone up and it is incredibly important that we work with communities to ensure that we root out these crimes.
Is my hon. Friend aware that ISIL has sought to justify its attack on the Bataclan theatre by saying that it was an attack on promiscuous youth and the perversion of French homosexuals? Does she agree that that is the worst of all hate crimes and would be condemned by all decent people?
Merseyside police have done fantastic work over the past decade or so in tackling hate crime. Does the Minister understand that there is real concern that the likely impact of spending cuts in the spending review could make it a lot harder for Merseyside police to maintain that brilliant work?
I commend the work of Merseyside police, and police across the country. Hate crime has been coming down, and there has been increased reporting of it, which means that more victims are prepared to come forward. That is due to the excellent work of the police and the criminal justice system, and we should all congratulate them on that.
Building on earlier comments, and noting that prevention is better than cure, may I ask the Government what extra measures they are taking to prevent hate crime, rather than tackle it once it has occurred? Also, I offer a reminder: Ministers should always be temperate in their language.
But it is about resources. The Merseyside police and crime commissioner has said that proposed cuts
“will affect the teams which fight serious and organised crime, investigate rape and sexual violence and tackle hate crime.”
The chief constable of that service asks if he should take resources out of teams dealing with child abuse, gun crime, hate crime, or online fraud. What is the Minister’s answer?
The hon. Lady, who was a member of a Government who saw increases in crime, should congratulate this Government on reductions in crime, and on the fact that hate crime is going down. That is down to the excellent work of our police, and we should commend them for that.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out on 19 October, our intention is to welcome 1,000 Syrian refugees before Christmas. The Government are working closely with others to put in place the plans and structures to deliver this. Details of numbers will be published in the regular quarterly immigration statistics.
My city of Manchester is very willing to take its fair and equitable share of refugees, but has not had a fair share of local government funding cuts in recent years. In the light of that, will the Home Secretary commit to funding the resettlement scheme fully, and extend local authority funding to support refugees beyond one year to a minimum of three years?
On behalf of my constituents, may I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s remarks concerning events in Paris at the weekend? Our sympathies are with those who suffered. We want to see the Prime Minister’s objectives met. The events of the weekend have verified that he is right to seek refugees who have UN approval, but, given those events, will the Home Secretary go further and make sure that the credentials of every refugee coming to this country are double-checked?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We want to ensure that we can put into action our undertaking to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over this Parliament. As he implies, we take them directly from camps, so that we are able to take the most vulnerable, but we also ensure that there are proper security checks. In fact, at the moment, there are two levels of security checks: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees undertakes security checks that involve biometrics, the checking of documents and interviews; and further checks, including further biometrics, are undertaken by the Home Office once people have been referred to it for resettlement in the UK.
The Home Secretary will know that many of the Syrian refugees whom Britain expects to help over the coming months are fleeing exactly the same terrible ISIS brutality that we saw on the streets of Paris this weekend. Does she agree with me that, as we stand in solidarity with Paris, it is important that we both strengthen our security against such barbarism and continue to give sanctuary to those fleeing it, so that we ensure that the terrorists cannot win?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: many of those refugees will be fleeing ISIS. Of course, some will be fleeing the actions of the Syrian Government. It is important that we provide sanctuary to those who have been displaced by conflict in Syria, partly by resettling a number of refugees here in the United Kingdom. As the right hon. Lady will know, we are also the second biggest bilateral donor to the region of funds to support refugees; a very important contribution of £1.1 billion is made by the UK taxpayer.
21. What steps the Government is taking to tackle people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Prior to resettlement, a mechanism needs to be established through which refugees can claim asylum. What is the impact of this on the overall progress towards resettlement? (902168)
Refugees who are resettled under the scheme for resettling Syrian refugees are provided with five years of humanitarian protection. Of course, there are also individuals who will come here and claim asylum and who will be dealt with under the normal asylum processes, but those who are resettled under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme are given five years’ humanitarian protection here in the UK.
On behalf of representatives from Northern Ireland, may I associate myself with the comments of the Home Secretary and commend her for the stance she took during the weekend? Had someone suggested a week ago that the refugee crisis was being abused by terrorists, they could have been set aside as a heartless xenophobe. I fear that the public will not be as resistant to that message as they would have been a week ago. How do we ensure that the compassion of this country is kept to the fore, while recognising that there will always be a few who abuse our good will?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The British people showed huge compassion and there was an outpouring of offers of help for those who would be resettled from Syria. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees is looking at how we can ensure that those offers of help can be turned into practical assistance. That generosity of spirit will, I am sure, continue. There has been quite a lot of speculation in the press about the potential abuse of the route for refugees to come into Europe. It is important not to make judgments until the full facts are known.
Many local authorities, including my own, wish to resettle some of the Syrian refugees who may come into the country. If the refugees are dispersed around the country, some families will inevitably lose contact with loved ones and will wish to get in touch. Will a database be available to them as a means of communication?
Obviously, records of where the Syrian refugees are resettled will be maintained. If I understand my hon. Friend’s question, it was about Syrian refugees who may wish to access information about others who may have come to the country. As she will have noticed, the Minister is here and will have heard that, and he will consider the point she has made.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, may I associate myself with the comments of the Home Secretary in relation to the terrible events in Paris on Friday night? With the first 100 Syrian refugees due to arrive in Scotland for resettlement this week, does the Home Secretary agree that it is imperative to make it clear to the public that these refugees are fleeing the same evil forces as were behind the attacks in Paris? Will she work with the Scottish Government and local authorities throughout the country to make sure that communities are supported to understand that and to make the vulnerable refugees feel as welcome as possible?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her remarks. It is one of the reasons why I was very clear yesterday when I did a television interview and set out the security arrangements that we have in place in relation to refugees, so that people can set aside concerns and understand that there are proper security arrangements. These individuals have been fleeing evil of various sorts, including the very evil that led to the attacks in Paris on Friday, and we wish them to be welcomed and to be able to reach sanctuary here and get the assistance that they need for their particular concerns, medical or otherwise. So it is right that the whole House should send out a message that we welcome and open our arms to those who have fled for their lives from the terrible evil of what is taking place in Syria.
Like colleagues across the House, I have received many generous offers of support from my constituents for refugees fleeing unimaginable violence in Syria. Will the Home Secretary join me in thanking Dartington Hall in my constituency, which is offering not only to house refugees, but to provide them with valuable support? Will she assure me that everything is being done to make sure that such clear and credible offers of support are generously followed up?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the offer that has been made by Dartington Hall in respect not just of accommodation, but of support for refugees. That has been mirrored by organisations around the country. It is right that the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees has been working with charities, faith groups and other organisations to make sure not only that all the offers of help are listed and looked at, but that we can turn them into practical help for Syrian refugees, depending on what support is appropriate in the circumstances of the refugees that come to any particular region, such as my hon. Friend’s constituency.
I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. We are all aware that the Syrian refugees who are coming to the United Kingdom are particularly vulnerable individuals. They will need time and privacy to settle and integrate into the communities that they go to. Will the Home Secretary tell us what work the Home Office is doing to support local communities to give the refugees the time and privacy to integrate?
I am happy to tell the hon. and learned Lady that a considerable amount of work is being done by the Home Office, primarily with the local authorities that are receiving the Syrian refugees, to discuss the sort of support that is available to them. That links in to the last question I answered from my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston): it will often be possible for charities and other organisations to provide support and help for refugees in settling into life in whichever part of the United Kingdom they come to.
May I, too, join the Home Secretary in the comments she made at the beginning of Question Time? In the light of the terrible events in Paris this weekend, which we in this House are united in condemning, it is vital that the first refugees to arrive in the UK from Syria are properly supported and welcomed. As the Prime Minister has said, those who will be brought here are among the most vulnerable men, women and children in the refugee camps. What steps have been taken to ensure that adequate resources are allocated to provide not only the necessary accommodation, but the care and support that will be needed? What messages are planned to ensure that they are welcomed when they arrive here?
The considerable amount of work that the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees has been doing with teams from the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for International Development is about ensuring that those refugees who are referred to the UK and accepted for resettlement here are given the right package of support. It is not simply a case of allocation; there is careful consideration of what is available in any particular local authority in terms of accommodation or to meet the medical needs that individuals have. A considerable amount of work goes into ensuring that people are given the right support when they come to whichever area they come to. It is also important to recognise that individuals and families should be given a degree of privacy. They are making a huge move in coming to the UK, so it is right to give them not just the right support, but the time and space to settle into the UK.
According to the crime survey for England and Wales, violent crime is 27% lower than in June 2010. We are taking effective action, including our ongoing action to tackle gang and youth violence, and our work to end violence against women and girls.
The Minister will be aware that the violence reduction unit in Scotland has taken an innovative approach to tackling violence by working with dentists, hairdressers, vets and others to identify domestic abuse. It has also successfully carried out work among gangs on promoting positive alternatives. What lessons can her Department learn from the success of Scotland’s violence reduction unit in its first 10 years of existence to reduce the level of crime?
The weekend before last, three young men were murdered in three separate incidents in north-west London alone, demonstrating that gang and serious youth violence remains a genuinely serious problem on the streets of London, as it is elsewhere. Next spring, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime funding for the gangs project is due to end. Will the Minister speak with the Mayor of London to ensure that that necessary funding to tackle the threat of gangs continues after next May?
It is clearly important that we tackle gang violence and look at the exploitation within gang culture, which sees very vulnerable young people exploited and forced into gangs. I will of course be working with all to ensure that there is appropriate support for combating that.
The British crime survey shows an 87% rise in the reporting of rapes between October 2012 and March 2015. Sexual violence investigations need specialist expertise and supervision to ensure that cases are handled correctly and prosecutions are brought. What assurances can the Minister give that the proposed police cuts will not impact on the training and supervision of officers working on sexual violence cases?
The hon. Lady, who has significant experience and expertise in this area, will know that the increased recording of violence against women and girls is good news, because it means that more victims are prepared to come forward. I am very impressed by the work that I have seen police forces doing across the country to ensure that victims come forward and receive the right specialist and multi-agency support that they need.
Investigatory Powers: Police/Security Services
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 in a clear and transparent legal framework. The draft Investigatory Powers Bill was published on 4 November and will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, particularly in the light of the terrible events in Paris, which continue to unfold. Can she confirm that the new investigatory powers commissioner will have greater resource and technical expertise than is currently available in the rather fragmented arrangements?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I can confirm that the new investigatory powers commissioner will have the necessary resources, and they will have increased resources, including technical expertise, within their remit to ensure that they have that support and advice. Indeed, their budget will be such that it will also be possible for them to buy further technical expertise, should they need it.
Some constituents have asked me to write to the Home Secretary and state that intercept warrants should be granted by a judge, rather than by the Home Secretary. Does she agree with me that, on the contrary, the accountability for and the scrutiny of her decisions in this place are more transparent than a judicial judgment?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. What we have proposed in the draft Bill is a double lock, so there will be the necessary accountability—because the decision is made by the Secretary of State—on whether the use of these intrusive powers under warrant is necessary or proportionate, and then there will be consideration by a judicial authority. We will therefore get that independent consideration by the judicial authority and the accountability of a Secretary of State signing the warrant.
The dreadful events in Paris make it even more important that the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is subject to full and proper scrutiny by the Joint Committee to ensure that it provides both maximum security for our citizens and the toughest protection of our civil liberties. Can the Home Secretary confirm that it will get that full and proper scrutiny and that it will not be fast-tracked?
As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, we consider all counter-terrorism legislation carefully and review the necessary timetables, but this is a significant Bill and I think that it is important that it receives proper scrutiny. As he has said, we have put in place important safeguards and enhanced oversight for the Bill, and greater transparency in the powers that the security and intelligence agencies and the police and law enforcement agencies have available to them. It is right that it gets proper scrutiny.
A combination of technological evolution and a lack of transparency meant that we ended up in a position where the British people had no idea of the way in which legitimate investigatory powers were being used. Given the ongoing fast evolution of technology applications, what steps is the Home Secretary taking to make sure that we do not end up in that position again? There is no reference to future applications in the Investigatory Powers Bill.
One of the aims of the Bill is to be more transparent so that people can clearly see the powers that are available to the authorities. There is a balance to be struck by drawing the Bill up in such a way that we do not have to keep returning to new legislation as technology advances, and, on the other hand, not drawing it so widely that we do not have the necessary transparency and there is not foreseeability in terms of the use of powers. I think we have that balance right, but of course the scrutiny process will look at it.
GCHQ and our other security agencies have, unfortunately, all too much to do without delving into the personal communications of innocent citizens, but will the Home Secretary reassure the House that any abuse that occurred of such intrusive powers would, under the new legislation, constitute a criminal offence?
Yes, I am happy to give my right hon. Friend the reassurance that he requires in relation to including within the Bill offences that would apply were abuse to take place in the use of the powers. He is absolutely right in saying that of course the security and intelligence agencies do not have the time, the effort or indeed the intention or desire to look into the communications of everybody in this country; they are focusing very clearly on those who are suspected of wanting to do us harm.
As we have heard, the whole House is united in sending its sympathy and solidarity to the people of France following the terrible events on Friday. These callous attacks confirm the ability of ISIL to hit at the heart of Europe and place an obligation on us all to redouble our efforts to protect the safety of our country and that of our neighbours. We welcome the Government’s response to the weekend’s events and reaffirm today our commitment to work constructively with them, including on modernising legislation with regard to the powers of the police and security services. But of course, alongside the powers, we need the people to put them into practice. Will the Home Secretary say more about the funding announced today by the Prime Minister to recruit 1,900 extra officers for the security services and whether that funding is additional to the counter-terrorism budget?
First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the attacks that took place in Paris. It has been clear from statements made by a number of Members of this House that there is a very clear message from this House of our utter condemnation of the brutality of those attacks.
In relation to the announcement, I was going to refer to that in the statement that I will be making later on. It is right that earlier this year the Chancellor made it absolutely clear that he was looking at the whole question of the funding that was available for security, particularly that for counter-terrorism. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the funding for the security and intelligence agencies is a matter that is dealt with separately from other Departments’ funding, and it has been, and will be, possible to provide the funding for these extra 1,900 officers.
I thank the Home Secretary for what she has said and appreciate that she will say more shortly. Let me also say that the united message coming from this House today is that ISIL will not prevail in this attack on our values. We welcome the action that the Government are taking in respect of the security services, but I am sure she will agree that the threat we face cannot be tackled by counter-terrorism operations alone—it also depends on the capability of the police to respond to an emergency and, as Sir Ian Blair said this morning, on effective neighbourhood policing to provide early intelligence. She will be aware of concerns within the police about the forthcoming spending review. In the light of the events in Paris, are the Government looking again at the requirements of the police and revisiting their assumptions on the police budget going forward?
As the right hon. Gentleman would expect, and as I have made clear over the past couple of days, following the events that took place in Mumbai in 2008 we enhanced and broadened the capabilities of the police to deal with the sort of marauding firearms attack that we saw there. We are looking at the attacks that took place in Paris on Friday to see whether there are any further lessons that need to be learned. It is absolutely right that we review the preparations that we have in place to see whether any changes are needed in relation to the capabilities of the police, or indeed the training of the police. The right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues tend to think simply in terms of questions of money and numbers, but very often it is about training and preparation for the sorts of attacks that might take place.
Order. As Members know, it is my usual practice to run exchanges on important ministerial statements very fully, and therefore I simply signal to those who have not been able to catch my eye at this time, on account of constraints of time, that if they are here at 3.30 there will be a very full opportunity to explore these matters at that point.
I made a statement to this House last Monday, and since then, as Members can imagine, I have had lots of good working relationships with police and crime commissioners. Frontline policing is a matter for frontline police, chief constables and their PCCs; it is not a matter for Ministers to interfere with.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but the issue of frontline policing relates to the budget awarded to each police and crime commissioner. Staffordshire has already lost 447 warranted police officers since 2010 and we are looking at losing a further 300 under the current funding settlement. Given the importance of policing to the Prevent agenda—it provides a vital resource for Prevent—can you assure me that you will work with police and crime commissioners to review the budget?
I am not sure that Mr Speaker is going to be reviewing the budget, but I certainly will be looking very carefully at it. The number of frontline police officers in the hon. Lady’s constituency is up in percentage terms compared with what was there before, and crime is massively down. No one knows what the budget will be, because I have not announced it yet.
20 . Technology is increasingly playing an important role in tackling crime. Given the encouraging results from body-worn video cameras, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking, and what plans does he have, to work with police and crime commissioners to enable more frontline police officers to benefit from this technological advance? (902167)
A lot of new technology is coming into force, along with different crimes—we have a completely different crime pattern these days from what we have inherited over the years. Body-worn video cameras in particular are transforming frontline policing. They are a wonderful asset. If police and crime commissioners and their chief constables are not looking at them now, I fully expect most of them to do so in the very near future.
I am confused. If the Minister’s decision to suspend the imposition of unprecedented cuts on Cumbria’s police force because he wants them to be £5 million greater is not interfering with frontline policing, I am not sure what is. Will he at least reassure my worried constituents and those across the county that he will not go ahead with the £31 million of cuts, which he somehow managed to forget to announce when he said the figure would be £26 million?
I stood at this Dispatch Box last week and announced that we would stick with the existing funding formula for 2016-17. I did not forget anything—I announced it and was questioned very fully. Crime has fallen in Cumbria, which the whole House will welcome.
What particular discussions does the Minister plan to have with the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall about the future funding formula for policing, given that the majority of demand on police time now comes from non-crime activities and the current formula is based purely on crime?
The police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall found a mistake we had not noticed in the funding matrix and I fully apologised for that in the House last week. I will work very closely with the PCC for Devon and Cornwall, not only on the new policing formula, but on the nature of crime, which is changing around this country on a daily basis.
I strongly agree with the statement made by the Home Secretary earlier in solidarity with the French people, the victims of barbarism—a barbarism that will never be allowed to triumph.
Neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of policing yet, despite promises to the contrary, 12,000 police have gone from the frontline in the past five years. From Cornwall to Cumbria, police and crime commissioners of all parties are expressing concern. Does the police Minister agree with the Conservative PCC for Thames Valley, where the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister live? He says that the cuts have “gone too far”, run the risk of reversing a generation of progress on crime and will endanger investment such as that for combating child sexual exploitation. Is he right?
What the police and crime commissioner of Thames Valley should be congratulated on is cutting crime by 31% in the past five years, with a very difficult spending round. As we develop the new funding formula, I am sure there will be lots of conversations across the House about how the process should be taken forward. There will be winners and losers, but at present it is suspended. I congratulate Thames Valley on the work it has been doing.
Cybercrime is a threat that the Government take very seriously. In the last Parliament, the Government committed £860 million to the national cyber-security programme, and we will continue to invest in that programme.
It is estimated that cybercrime is costing the UK at least £34 billion annually. If we add computer crime to October’s headline crime figures, we see that they more than double to over 14 million offences. Yet the City of London police, one of the lead forces, argue that less effort should be put into solving crimes against victims whom they judge not to have taken sufficient precautions. Does the Minister share my concern that this amounts to a charter for criminals?
No, I do not. I think that our personal security is a very important thing. We also have responsibilities as citizens to make sure that our computers in particular have the right software so that it is more difficult—not to stop it completely, but to make it more difficult—for cybercrime to take place. We are taking cybercrime very seriously, which is why we have put it in the crime statistics for the very first time.
Norwich airport in my constituency suffered a minor cyber-attack on its website last week. First, will the Minister join me in encouraging businesses to check their defences? Secondly, will he redouble his efforts to ensure that we are safe from cyber-terrorism in the light of the callous attacks, about which we are all agreed?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. As I said, we have a responsibility personally, but so do companies. We are working very closely with the banks in particular, but all companies have a responsibility to protect the data they hold, particularly individuals’ personal data.
The Government have committed to resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees in the lifetime of this Parliament. The Prime Minister has said that we want to see 1,000 brought to the UK by Christmas. We have no plans to increase this number. It is now important that we focus on bringing these vulnerable people to the UK.
In refusing to assist refugees already in Europe, the Secretary of State has given great support to the creation of hotspots to fast-track registration. May I bring to the Government’s attention the recent report from International Rescue? The report says that
“the way hotspots are currently being rolled out is causing chaos, increasing tensions and violence, and leaving more people without basic shelter.”
In the light of that, will the Government stay on the sidelines in respect of helping refugees in Europe?
The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that our taking 20,000 refugees on the grounds of vulnerability is only a part of our efforts for refugees. The Government are spending more than £1.1 billion on helping refugees in the countries adjacent to Syria. I think he will agree that our record is second to none in that respect.
I congratulate the Minister on tackling the problem at the Syrian end of the continent. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which the Government can tackle people smugglers and their awful business model is by breaking the link between getting on a boat or lorry in one part of the world and getting settlement in Europe?
The whole House has expressed its shock at the appalling attacks in Paris on Friday night, and earlier today people from around the world took part in a minute’s silence to remember the victims. As I said earlier, I will give the full details of the Government’s response to the attacks in a further statement this afternoon. While the terrorists tried to instil fear, the people of Paris have shown that they will not be cowed into submission. The same is true here in the UK as we stand shoulder to shoulder with the French.
The business of the Home Office, of keeping people in the UK safe from all threats, continues. Today the British Government are being represented at the WePROTECT summit in Abu Dhabi by the Minister for Internet Safety and Security. WePROTECT was launched by the Prime Minister a year ago as a global alliance to combat online child sexual exploitation—a terrible crime that respects no borders. The event builds on the commitments made a year ago, extending the reach of the WePROTECT initiative, with more countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia joining us to combat that threat. While we build such global alliances to tackle international threats, it is also important to remember the tireless work of the police and security services to keep us safe at home.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the police constable who was seriously injured responding to a call-out in east London last night. Our thoughts go out to him and his family.
May I endorse those comments?
The Home Secretary referred earlier to the double lock process in the Investigatory Powers Bill, but the wording of the Bill appears not to deliver that safeguard. Will judges review the process undertaken by the Home Secretary, in the same way as applies in a judicial review, or the evidence itself?
T2. More than 1,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors have arrived in Kent this year, putting immense pressure on local services. Kent welcomes the Government’s commitment to increased funding, but foster homes are full so we need to find homes for those young people around the country. What steps are the Department taking to create a dispersal system for unaccompanied asylum seekers? (902198)
I commend Kent County Council on the work it has done in dealing with the pressures of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We continue to work with Kent, the Department for Education and the Local Government Association to ensure a more equitable dispersal of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and we hope to come to the House shortly with further details on such schemes.
T6. Despite the fact that we have the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, the Government are pushing through yet another Investigatory Powers Bill. Will the Home Secretary let us know whether commercial virtual private network providers will be classed as telecommunications operators under the Bill? (902202)
T3. On behalf of my constituents, may I express our gratitude for the work of the security and intelligence services in protecting us from the sort of evil attacks that we have seen in Paris this weekend? Will the Minister for Security join me in publicly thanking those authorities whose work is usually done out of the public eye but is so important to our everyday lives? (902199)
My hon. Friend does the House a great service in drawing attention to that work. It is true that much of the work of our security services is, by its nature, secret and therefore they are not often enough given the sort of praise he has given them today. In what they do, they stand between us and chaos, and their work—alongside that of the police—is vital to our communal wellbeing and our personal safety.
T7. In its inadequate judgment, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary found that Humberside police are not prepared to face their future financial challenges. Can the Home Secretary guarantee that there will be no more cuts in Humberside police’s funding that would further jeopardise their ability to deliver safety and security for my constituents? (902203)
I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and make any guarantees, as the funding formula beyond 2016-17 has yet to be debated and the Chancellor has not made his autumn statement. I praise the work of Humberside police. They have developed some really interesting innovations and collaborative work, but obviously more needs to be done nationally as well.
T4. A marauding terrorist firearms attack of the type we saw in Paris is a scenario the security services, police forces and others have trained and exercised for over a number of years. Will the Security Minister update the House on what lessons we might be able to learn from the terrible incidents in Paris to further protect the people of Great Britain? (902200)
There is always more to be learned from such events. The threat we face is dynamic, not static. France is one of our closest allies and we are working closely with it. The UK has a comprehensive approach to preparing for such tragic incidents, as demonstrated by the firearms exercise Strong Tower. As soon as the attacks happened, the police and agencies took steps to maintain the security of the UK. Prepared, fearless and certain: that is how we stand.
It is critically important that they have the resources, but they also need the right powers. That is precisely why we are bringing together those powers—they have been mentioned several times during this question session—in a clear, transparent and comprehensive way. This is a balance between giving those who are missioned to keep us safe what they need to do the job, and having the right checks and balances in place to maintain the role of this House in holding Ministers to account for the exercise of those functions.
It is incredibly important that the police tackle antisocial behaviour. It makes a difference to so many of our constituents and is an issue that comes up in our postbags.
Does the Home Secretary accept the word of the police and crime commissioner for Merseyside, Jane Kennedy, when she says that proposed budget cuts will affect the ability of the police to deal with serious and organised crime, sexual crimes and hate crimes? Does she not think that the police and crime commissioner is in a better position to know this than she is? If not, why did she create the position in the first place?
We created police and crime commissioners because they are locally accountable, which is exactly what happened in the May elections. PCCs were opposed by the Labour party. There are excellent police and crime commissioners out there, but at the end of the day the Government have to decide police funding. We have not come to a conclusion yet. The House will have to wait.
T8. Following a recent stabbing in Basildon, there is increased concern about the devastating effect of knife crime. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what more she can do to deter young people from carrying knives? Will she give her support to organisations such as Only Cowards Carry, which works with schools and other local organisations to highlight this issue? (902204)
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Overall, knife crime has fallen since 2010, but I am aware that there have been particular instances, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, that give rise to concern. We are working hard to deter young people from carrying knives and taking such steps as introducing a new minimum custodial sentence for repeat knife possession. I am aware of the group Only Cowards Carry and I absolutely commend its work. It is very important that it brings to the attention of young people the dangers of carrying knives and what can happen when knives are used in attacks. Sometimes being very graphic can get a message across to young people. It is difficult, but it is an important message.
About a fortnight ago, with the competence for which it is renowned, G4S placed dozens of asylum seekers in two unsuitable hotels in my constituency, with no prior liaison with the council. Will the Minister assure me that in future, not only in Wolverhampton but around the country, there will be liaison by agencies such as G4S before asylum seekers are placed?
I will certainly look into the facts the hon. Gentleman has brought to the House’s attention. Sadly, when there are pressures, asylum seekers sometimes have to be placed in temporary accommodation, such as hotels, but we are absolutely clear that it should be for the shortest time possible, and liaison with local authorities is clearly an important part of that.
T10. Following the pause in developing a new funding formula, will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Department will work with PCCs and chief constables to find a formula that works for my constituents in Avon and Somerset? (902206)
It is important that chief constables and PCCs buy into the new formula, which they asked for when they said the existing formula, which had been around for a very long time, was opaque and complicated. So of course we will work with chief constables and PCCs from around the country. They welcomed that in respect of the initial funding formula, and I am sure they will do the same now.
With the massive cuts to police forces, my local police force, Humberside, is now judged to be inadequate by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and has the lowest level of officers since 1979. On that basis, my constituents would like to know this: how is it that the Home Office can fund 42 press officers but not police officers on the beat?
I answered that question, up to the last part, earlier on. Humberside has done really well over the last five years—the level of crime is falling massively—but we will all have to wait for the autumn statement, although I have acknowledged that the existing formula will be used through to 2016-17, which was welcomed in the House last Monday when we paused the process.
According to statistics released over the summer, many areas of Rochester and Strood, in common with many urban areas, continue to see incidents of serious crime, which is a major concern to my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend assure them that police forces such as Kent will still be able to field effective front-line services under revised funding formulas?
Kent has been at the front line of innovation, in particular through the piloting of things such as body-worn cameras. It is doing remarkably well, but we must ensure a fair and transparent funding formula that everyone can understand. That way we can move forward.
In his statement the other week, the police Minister kindly agreed to reconsider police funding for Cardiff, given how other capital cities across the UK are funded. Given the tragic events in Paris and the particular challenges faced by cities hosting major sporting and cultural events, will he meet me to discuss how to ensure the resources are there for cities such as Cardiff?
Large sums of money have been spent on PCC by-elections since their introduction in 2012. Have any discussions taken place about changing the law to require deputies to be elected alongside commissioners and remove the need for a by-election, and to divert that money to front-line policing?
It is now quite clear that the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have entered Europe over the last few months have not undergone basic security checks. Is now the right time for the EU to reconsider the principles of free movement of people and labour?
It is clear that significant lessons need to be applied and examined. We are clear, from our perspective, about the checks we put in place at our borders, and in the light of the weekend’s events, Border Force has strengthened its activities at the channel ports, which is the right thing to do.