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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 604: debated on Monday 11 January 2016

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Draft Investigatory Powers Bill

1. If she will ensure that the proposals in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill are limited to the police and security services. (902903)

A small number of public authorities have the ability to use investigatory powers where it is necessary, proportionate and for limited purposes. All public authorities that have powers to acquire communications data have made a strong operational case to retain those powers. In his review of investigatory powers, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, said that there was no public interest in reducing the number of such bodies.

The United Nations has condemned the Bill, which introduces mass surveillance, as having a chilling effect. Will the Home Secretary be kind enough to clarify how many organisations, including local authorities, and employees would have access to communications data as a result of the draft Bill?

I assure my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom does not and has not participated in, or undertaken, mass surveillance. The investigatory powers in the Bill are necessary, and they are used proportionately by the police and other agencies. They are particularly important for the police, including those in his own Hertfordshire force, in dealing with not just terrorists and serious criminals, but the area of child protection, in which he has a particular interest. There is only one new power in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which is access to internet connection records, and I can reassure my hon. Friend that local authorities will not have access to such records.

The Secretary of State will be aware of concerns among journalists that these powers, which the security services and the police need to keep us safe, might have a chilling effect on their ability to publish and to report. What steps is she taking to try to guarantee free speech for journalists within the Bill while enabling the security services and the police to have access to the information that they require to keep us safe?

I am well aware of the concerns of journalists, specifically about the powers to access information that might lead to the identification of their sources. They feel that that could have a chilling effect. We have already made a change in the code of practice to require a higher level of judicial authority to allow access to something that could relate to journalists’ sources, and we will legislate on that in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

The David Anderson report refers to Cambridgeshire county council’s Operation Magpie, which relied on communications data to protect more than 100 elderly and vulnerable persons from attempts to defraud them. Does the Secretary of State agree that such operations may benefit from the powers in the Bill to protect the most vulnerable?

My hon. and learned Friend raises a very important case, and provides a good example of why it is necessary sometimes for local authorities, such as Cambridgeshire county council, to have access to such powers so that they can do that important job of keeping people safe. After the Government were elected in 2010, we increased the requirements on local authorities in terms of gaining access to the most intrusive surveillance powers, but as she makes clear, in trading standards and other such areas, these powers are necessary to keep people safe.

Immigration System

The Immigration Act 2014 and related changes have expedited the removal of more than 2,000 foreign national offenders from this country and stopped illegal migrants from having access to services such as bank accounts, driving licences and rented accommodation. The Immigration Bill will go further, enabling the seizure of earnings from illegal workers, further penalising rogue employers and extending the deport first, appeal later principle to more cases.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but immigration remains one of the top concerns of my constituents. With that in mind, what assessment has the Minister made of the Government’s proposed right-to-rent scheme on those who are here illegally?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the issues surrounding right to rent, which we intend to roll out nationally next month. It is a matter of ensuring that property is available only to those with a right to be in this country. We undertook an assessment of the first phase of the scheme in the west midlands. That found that the scheme was operating as intended, which is why we are now rolling it out further.

Can the Minister outline the steps the Government are taking to root out the problem of illegal working in economic sectors where skills shortages are pronounced, such as the construction and care industries?

We are certainly looking at several employment sectors that may face such risks, such as construction and care, to which my hon. Friend refers. I have had meetings with representatives from those industries and others to see what further steps can be taken to prevent that from happening, and making sure that employers have adequate awareness of the steps that they can take. We have doubled the maximum penalty for employing an illegal worker to £20,000, and through the new Immigration Bill we intend to tighten those restrictions even further and make it easier to prosecute rogue employers.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to an abuse of our immigration system by the Indian authorities in the case of my constituent, Paramjeet Singh, to whom we have granted refugee status from India and indefinite leave to remain in the UK? But while he was on holiday in Portugal last month with his wife and four British children, he was detained with a request for deportation by India. Does the Minister agree that if the Indian authorities have a case, they should take it up with the UK Government? Will the Minister put the case to his counterparts in Portugal and the European Commission to secure Paramjeet Singh’s early return to his family in Smethwick?

I will look carefully at the case that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, specifically at the facts and circumstances which he has drawn to the attention of the House, and I will write to him.

Despite measures having been taken by the Government, the number of sham marriages appears to be on the increase. In 2014, the last year for which we have figures, a total of 2,486 weddings were visited by enforcement officers. Will the Minister look at the possibility of giving registrars the power to cancel ceremonies, thus relieving the pressure on Home Office officials to crash weddings in this way?

The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and I have debated these issues in the past. Since April last year 12,253 notices to marry have been referred to the Home Office through the new arrangements. Of these, 160 proposed marriages were considered a sham, and a further 99 marriages were prevented because couples did not follow the necessary requirements and co-operate with the investigation. This is a serious matter on which we have already taken action. Between April and September last year we arrested 528 individuals and removed more than 279 people involved in sham marriages, underlining our focus on that issue.

Would my right hon. Friend reconsider the question of ID cards, not only in respect of immigration and the introduction of many digital services for all our individuals and citizens, but particularly in regard to national security and the protection of all our citizens from terrorism? Does he agree that this is now a matter of national security?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of the first steps that the coalition Government took was to respond to the Labour Government’s proposals on that issue, which we continue to judge was the right thing to do. We are taking various measures to enhance the security of this country, but our judgment remains that ID cards are not the right way forward.

Does the Minister accept that other countries with ID cards find it much easier to identify, detain and deport illegal immigrants? Given the support now on both sides of the House, may I suggest that the Government re-open the agenda for the introduction of ID cards, which we understood they dropped under pressure from the coalition?

Many of the issues that we face in relation to deportation involve foreign nationals—obviously, by the nature of the work. We have introduced biometric residence permits, and in her speech last October to the Conservative party conference the Home Secretary referred to the further measures that we are taking so that we can remove those people who do not have authority to be in this country. We are using biometric residence permits and other means to achieve that.

Online Crime

5. What estimate she has made of the number of crimes committed online in 2014-15; and how many of those crimes were (a) recorded, (b) investigated and (c) resulted in a conviction. (902907)

Crime is falling and crime is changing. Different types of crime may have an online element and an accurate national picture is critical to informing our ongoing response to cybercrime. That is why the Office for National Statistics recently published, for the very first time, initial estimates of the numbers of frauds and cybercrimes committed per year.

None the less, the organisation Kick it Out, which campaigns to kick racism out of football, recorded more than 130,000 instances of racist abuse of footballers and their teams via social media in 2014-15, and the chief constable leading on digital crime fears that the police are on the verge of being overwhelmed. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that all police officers have the capacity to make risk-based assessments and to prioritise this ever-increasing crime appropriately?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. She has focused her parliamentary career so far on the issue of online harassment, although she did not mention that in detail today. She knows that it is something that she and I both take very seriously. We welcome the preliminary trial by the Office for National Statistics to better reflect fraud and cybercrime in statistics. Having a more accurate picture will allow us to take the kinds of steps that she has advertised to the House today, because we will then be able to get a better idea of the scale and character of cybercrime and to do the preparatory work that she has requested. I take this seriously, as she clearly does, and I know that the whole House will join us in that.

It is not just harassment that is done over the internet; it is also phishing and fraud. Does my right hon. Friend not think that the Home Office might have a role to play in educating internet users in how best to protect themselves against such cybercrime?

As I said, when we get to understand the figures more accurately—the measures we have taken to look at these matters in greater detail will allow us to do that—my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we will need to be precautionary in our approach. He is also right that fraud is a significant element of the problem. In dealing with online fraud, we need to measure what is happening, look at what can be done about it and take appropriate action, and that is exactly what we will do.

The media today reports that as more people use social networking apps such as Tinder and Grindr, reports of burglary and rape are rising. Can the Minister outline what assessment the Home Office has made of the problem and how it plans to attack it across these islands, in co-ordination with the devolved Governments?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have a national cyber-security programme. We have invested more than £90 million in this Parliament and the previous Parliament to bolster the law enforcement response, and we will continue to make that investment. Indeed, the Government have committed to spending £1.9 billion on cyber-security over the next five years, including tackling cybercrime. It is about resources, earlier identification and preparation, but it is also worth saying that we have established the national cybercrime unit, so the Government are doing more, taking the steps necessary, tackling this seriously, listening and learning—unafraid of taking action.

Contraband: Entry into UK

6. What steps the Government are taking to stop firearms, illegal drugs and other contraband entering the UK. (902908)

The United Kingdom’s border controls are among the toughest in the world. Border Force works closely with other law enforcement agencies, including the National Crime Agency and the police, to target and disrupt freight, international post, vehicles and vessels attempting to smuggle prohibited and restricted goods, such as firearms and illegal drugs, into the UK.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he expand on how the National Crime Agency is co-operating with authorities overseas to protect Britain from serious organised crime?

The National Crime Agency does vital work, both here in the UK and overseas, to track down the source of plots and conspiracies, as well as to disrupt the activity of organised crime groups. It has been crucial in recent operations, for example in arresting those suspected of drug smuggling offences in Greece, intercepting shipments of cocaine passing through the English channel and cracking down on Europe-wide people smuggling operations. The NCA is increasingly showing the importance of that international work, and equally it is working through organisations such as Europol to show that we have the best intelligence and good co-ordination to combat organised criminality.

Given that at least 67,500 small planes or boats landed at British ports or airports unchecked by Border Force, does the Minister have any concerns that that might be a route for illegal drugs or firearms?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware, through his experience of being a Home Office Minister, of the steps that are taken by all our various agencies in looking at each potential way in which people may smuggle into this country. We are improving the systems through which general aviation reports are captured in order to ensure that we are tackling non-compliance. We are also working through air traffic control to track flights that fail to report and, through improvements to legislation, take action against those who fail to comply with the requirements. We remain focused on these issues.

My hon. Friend seeks to draw me into issues that we do not comment on. We do not comment on specific issues or particular ports, but I can assure him that Border Force, the National Crime Agency and others take an intelligence-led approach to the way in which people and technology are deployed in order to have the most effect in confronting the criminals who are trying to smuggle stuff into this country.

The single largest item smuggled into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland is illicit fuel. Last month, the Republic of Ireland produced a report that showed that in one month alone €316,000 was spent on cleaning up sludge from waste illicit fuel. Will the Government review the markers that are used in our British fuels? The Dow ACCUTRACE marker is a dud because it can be removed.

The National Crime Agency, working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, is looking at all threats across the border from the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, we have very good relations with the Government there. I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s comments to other colleagues across Government who take a direct interest in this.

Perhaps the most lethal weapon of mass destruction is the AK-47 and similar small arms weapons rather than any nuclear weapon. The Government have done a huge amount in the arms trade treaty. As of December 2015, 79 countries had ratified the arms trade treaty, while 53 have signed it but not ratified it. What more can the Government do to deal with and tackle the illegal supply of weapons across borders and get those countries to ratify the treaty?

We are taking this forward at a European level. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in discussions with other European leaders on how best we can co-ordinate with and lobby Governments beyond Europe as well, to share the focus that we as a Government have on confronting the smuggling of weapons and ensuring that this issue is dealt with even more firmly.

I raised concerns about Hull’s port security with the Home Secretary on 16 November and followed that up with information to her office on 18 November. In the light of today’s reports in The Guardian by Vikram Dodd about ferry security, what additional steps might be introduced to increase security at our ports?

I cannot comment on the individual case that the hon. Lady mentions, but I can say that we take seriously the issue of our ports, and indeed the juxtaposed ports in northern France. We have maintained 100% screening checks on those coming through. Our introduction of operational and technological improvements has prevented nearly 70,000 illegal entry attempts through those juxtaposed ports.

Police Services: Co-operation

The Government are supporting local policing leaders to invest in cross-force capabilities and collaborative initiatives by protecting police funding over the course of this Parliament, using the police innovation fund to incentivise collaboration, and providing new transformation funding to drive further investment and innovation.

That is a very encouraging answer, but bearing in mind the work of the ministerial taskforce on child protection, what steps is the Home Secretary taking to make sure that the police co-operate well with other agencies in schools, in the healthcare system, and in social work?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point about the police’s interaction with other agencies in dealing with child protection. On Friday, I visited a school and talked to people there about the work they do with the multi-agency safeguarding hub in bringing together police and various parts of the school and the local authority to deal with those issues. We recognise the role that schools have to play, including through personal, social, health and economic education and through sex and relationships education. We also announced in March, when we launched our “Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation” report, that we will be looking at the training of staff, to enable them to be better able to spot the signs of where children may be being exploited in that way.

Is the Home Secretary aware that, although there is a lot of good co-operation across the police services in Yorkshire, many criminals in our part of the world flee to Pakistan and, given that we do not have an extradition treaty, that is becoming a great burden on the police services when dealing with very serious crimes?

I am, of course, aware of a small number of particular cases where concern has been expressed. I would not want to comment on individual ongoing police investigations, but both we and the police recognise the significance of the issues. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman says, some of the cases involve very serious crimes indeed.

As my right hon. Friend will know, Avon and Somerset police and Wiltshire police are working together strategically to help increase efficiency. The police and crime commissioner elections are coming up in May. Does she agree that PCCs across the south-west should work together to help merge the authorities in order to not only increase the efficiency of the police, but help tackle cross-authority crime?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Some weeks ago, I visited the new combined firearms training facility that is being used in that way by the Avon and Somerset, Wiltshire and, indeed, Gloucestershire forces. That is a very good example of collaboration. It is absolutely right that police and crime commissioners should also be looking for ways in which they can collaborate, not just in relation to the police, but, increasingly, in relation to fire services.

Such co-operation is vital for the Disclosure and Barring Service to meet its target of 40 days to deal with applications, but it is taking much longer in many cases, including that of a constituent of mine who has been waiting five months since his initial application, causing serious hardship. Is the Home Secretary aware of such delays, particularly within the Metropolitan Police, and what steps will she take to correct the situation?

I assure the hon. Lady that I am aware of the delays taking place in the Metropolitan Police, which is a matter that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), is taking up and looking into in detail.

Northamptonshire has been extremely innovative in developing new policing models, particularly in relation to rural crime, so what steps will the Home Secretary take to share that best practice nationally?

Northamptonshire has indeed taken a number of initiatives and I am very pleased to say that, in collaboration, the police and crime commissioner, Adam Simmonds, has been particularly innovative in his thinking, looking at ways in which collaboration, not only between police forces but with other agencies, can take place. It is part of the role of the College of Policing to ensure that good practice, where it occurs, is spread so that other forces are aware of what action can be taken, to help them deal with the same issues, such as rural crime.

Could the Home Secretary update us on the progress she is making on co-operation between emergency services, be they the police, the NHS or the fire services?

Yes, I will refer later to some of the steps the Government are taking in relation to that collaboration. We are encouraging police forces and fire services in particular to look for collaboration where they can find it. In some parts of the country, such as Northamptonshire, the police and crime commissioner is also actively looking to see what action can be taken in relation to ambulance services, too.

Net Migration Figures: International Students

The independent Office for National Statistics includes international students in its net migration calculations. Like other migrants, international students who stay for longer than 12 months have an impact on communities, infrastructure and services while they are here. We continue to welcome the brightest and best to study at our world-leading institutions. There remains no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the UK.

The Minister will be aware that the UK Statistics Authority and others have expressed concern about the robustness of the international passenger survey and that, therefore, the contribution of students to net migration may be significantly lower than thought. How will he ensure that immigration policy is made on the basis of good evidence?

It is the Office for National Statistics that provides the figures. It includes international students in its net migration calculations, as does Australia, Canada and the US. We keep such issues under review all the time, but I underline to the hon. Gentleman that changing the way we measure migration would not make any difference to our policy because there is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come here to study. We certainly remain open to attracting the brightest and the best.

In Portsmouth, there are 4,000 international students from 130 countries. Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that they help the immediate economy, but that the relationship between such foreign students and Britain should last a lifetime and helps the long-term political and economic future of Britain?

The Government certainly recognise the benefit that international students bring in enriching so many of our university campuses. We want to continue to attract international students to study at our world-leading universities. It is important to note that, since 2010, university visa applications from international students have increased by 17%, and by 39% for Russell Group universities.

Is the Minister not concerned that the word has increasingly gone out to countries such as India and China that Britain is no longer as welcoming a place for international students, and that that is affecting our long-term business relationships quite seriously?

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. When we look at the students coming from China, we can see that the numbers have increased by about 9%. The way in which international markets operate can sometimes be quite complex, particularly in countries such as India, where the use of agents can be important. When I go to India later this year, I will certainly underline the clear message that the UK remains an attractive place for students to come to study.

We all welcome international students, but what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that international students who overstay are removed?

My hon. Friend highlights the important point: we want to attract students to come to this country to study, but we also want to ensure that they leave at the end of their time. That was a particular problem under the previous Labour Government, but we are using exit check data to work with the university sector to see that students leave when they have completed their studies.

Police Funding Formula

I announced in the House before Christmas that I was delaying the implementation of the new funding formula. We are considering the next steps, especially in the light of the excellent spending review settlement on behalf of the police that the Home Secretary has managed to get. I will update the House on the decisions I will make in the near future.

In the autumn statement, the Chancellor said:

“I am today announcing that there will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real-terms protection for police funding.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1373.]

We seem to have smoke and mirrors on police funding, because we now know that the draft settlement for the Metropolitan police in fact contains a 10% cut. That is in a context of increasing need, not least the need to investigate allegations of child abuse that occurred in the past. That need will increase as the Goddard inquiry gives victims and survivors the confidence to come forward. Will the Secretary of State commit to resource such investigations separately within the new formula so that they can be completed quickly and so that the perpetrators, many of whom are now elderly, can be brought to justice before it is too late?

I do not recognise the figure of a 10% cut to the Metropolitan police, and neither does the commissioner nor the Mayor. I think the level of spending was a surprise to Labour Members, considering that they wanted a 10% cut across the board. We did not go along with that.

18. May I press the Minister, when there is a review of the funding formula, to take into consideration the additional costs involved in policing rural areas such as Shropshire? (902924)

When the previous Government announced a review—in 2006, I think—that was one of the reasons why they looked at the funding formula so closely. Yes, we most certainly will look at funding for rural constituencies and rural police forces, just as we will look at why that is so opaque under the present system.

The police were the unsung heroes of the floods crisis, which was the latest example of the growing pressures on a diminishing police service. The Policing Minister was right to apologise for the omnishambles of the chaos over the police funding formula. Will he also admit that it is simply not true that there will be, in the words of the Chancellor,

“no cuts in the police budget at all”?—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1373.]

I visited Lancashire last Thursday on my first visit as the fire Minister as well as the Policing Minister. Although I absolutely praise the work of the police force, which went way beyond what we would expect any of our officers to do, all the other emergency services did so as well. The chief constable thanked me for making sure that there were no cuts.

Will the Minister confirm that when the precept is taken into account, it could mean extra funding for the police of up to £900 million across the country by 2019-20?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If police and crime commissioners take the opportunity of the precept increase, it will amount to an increase of just under £1 billion or just over £900 million, rather than the cut of 10% that the Labour party wanted.

Immigration of Children

10. Under what circumstances her Department permits the immigration of children to join relatives living in the UK. (902912)

The circumstances in which a child can come to the UK to join relatives living here are set out in the immigration rules. We keep the rules under review, but believe that they protect the rights of individuals, while ensuring that there is confidence in an immigration system that is fair.

Save the Children estimates that up to 2,000 unaccompanied children are living in refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk, many of whom have family in the UK. However, the family reunification process between the French Government and the UK Government can take up to 11 months, which results in many children making the dangerous decision to cross the channel. Will the Minister tell the House why the process takes so long and what steps the Government have taken to speed it up?

I do not recognise the length of time the hon. Lady suggests the process takes. We work very closely with the French authorities, but let us bear it in mind that those children are in camps in France, which is part of the European Union. It is important that they are processed properly in that sovereign state.

Some 15 years ago, Victoria Climbié came into this country from west Africa and was placed with a so-called aunt in a private fostering arrangement. The Government no longer collect figures about private fostering, so what measures are they taking to ensure that children who come to this country do not have their welfare compromised in the way that she did?

My hon. Friend has great expertise in this area, particularly given his time as a Minister. He knows that I take the welfare of children extremely seriously, as does the Home Secretary. We make sure that we have the information we need to protect those children.

I spent Friday in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk. I have seen some pretty appalling conditions in my time, including in prisons in Africa and the Caribbean, but nothing could prepare anyone for the squalor of those camps, particularly in Dunkirk. What was obvious, among other things, was that there is simply no process in place on the ground for anyone—particularly children—who is entitled to join their family in the UK. What steps are the Government taking to address that issue and to ensure that children in Calais and Dunkirk who have the right to join their families are able to do so?

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we work very closely with the French authorities. We are working with them to make sure that their processing is done as swiftly and efficiently as possible. I must repeat that these are camps in France. It is a sovereign country and we cannot interfere in French matters.

Just after Christmas, 15-year-old Masud, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, died in the back of a lorry trying to make it from Calais to be reunited with his sister here in the United Kingdom. The Home Office was seeking to defend his exclusion in protracted legal proceedings relating to the Dublin convention. Will the UK Government please reconsider their approach to the Dublin rules and, indeed, to their own family reunion rules to avoid similar desperate journeys ending in tragedy?

Refugees can seek asylum in the first country in which they arrive in the European Union. I cannot comment on an individual case, but it is important to make the point that people should not try to make that journey illegally. We have a relocation programme to bring 20,000 Syrian refugees to this country. I must restate that France is a sovereign country and we must not interfere in its affairs.

Will the Government reconsider the stress and anxiety caused by their policies to children who have one British parent and one non-EU parent? Last week we learned about Andrew McLaughlin, who served this country in Afghanistan and now has to choose between leaving Britain or leaving his wife and child, thanks to the grossly excessive financial requirements in the immigration rules. Why do the Government continue to defend the indefensible?

Our current family reunion policy is already more generous than our international obligations require, and we have no plans to widen the criteria under immigration law. We consider each individual on a case-by-case basis, but we have no plans to change the rules.

20. The Minister will be aware that 3,500 people died last year trying to reach safety in Europe. Twenty-seven non-governmental organisations and charities wrote to the Prime Minister at the beginning of the year, asking him what the Government would do about extending safe and legal routes to the United Kingdom, and about family reunion. When does the Minister expect a response to be forthcoming, and is it likely to be positive? (902926)

I am proud of the support that this Government are giving to people in the camps and in the region, where we can support far more people for the same amount of money than if they arrived in Europe. We have a relocation policy for 20,000 Syrian refugees, but it is important that we help as many people as possible, and we can do that best in the region. We must not encourage people to get on those boats, because nearly a quarter of people do not get off at the other end and die in the process.

Has the Minister had a chance to look at the report by the International Development Committee, which praises the work being done in the region, and urges the Government to reach a rapid decision on the proposal by Save the Children that we should take 3,000 children from Europe?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who I know has considerable expertise in this area. As the Prime Minister said last week, we are looking at those proposals and will come back on that.

Overseas Student Visas

11. How many visas were issued to overseas students to study in the UK in the last year for which figures are available. (902913)

Some 196,000 study visas were issued, excluding dependants, in the year ending September 2015, and we continue to welcome the brightest and best to study at our world leading institutions.

Given that students who come to this country for more than a year are officially classed as immigration, and given the concern about levels of immigration into this country, would it be sensible to give a separate classification to students who come here to study? As we have already heard, those students bring a lot of money to the country, and they extend British influence abroad.

As I have already indicated, the Office for National Statistics includes international students in its net migration calculations, and like other migrants, international students who stay for longer than 12 months have an impact on communities, infrastructure and services while they are here. I underline that having those numbers there does not bear on our policy.

Many businesses in Scotland, higher education institutions, wider civic society and all political parties, including the Scottish Conservatives, support the reintroduction of the post-study work visa as a means to attract foreign students to our universities and boost the economy. Will the Minister join that happy consensus in Scotland, reconsider the Government’s position, and reinstate the post-study work visa?

I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee before Christmas, and underlined the fact that in our judgment, there are already adequate opportunities for students who graduate in Scotland to move into employment that is commensurate with their qualification. I will look carefully at the recommendations of that Committee.

How does the UK’s proportion of the world market in international students last year compare with equivalent proportions in previous years?

Numbers of university applications continue to rise, and that underlines the effect of our crackdown on the abuses that we saw under the previous Labour Government, where people were coming to the country who could not speak English and who were going to bogus colleges.

Policing: Administrative Costs

The Government have made it easier for the police to do their job by cutting red tape, scrapping bureaucracy, ending targets and giving officers the discretion of their professional judgment. In my hon. Friend’s constituency, the number of front-line officers has increased from 87% to 90% in the past 10 years.

The TaxPayers Alliance and HMRC have made clear that they consider Wiltshire to be both efficient and effective administratively in delivering first-class services, so good governance does not have to be taxing. Is the Minister confident that the existing legislative framework allows sufficient latitude for reforming police and crime commissioners, such as Wiltshire’s Angus Macpherson, to flatten and de-layer management structures and rationalise working practices in the interests of front-line policing?

The Home Secretary has already announced that we will be bringing forward legislation in this Parliament to give police and crime commissioners the powers they need. Around the country, many PCCs are already collaborating. We are going to head that up here in government.

There has been a lot of smoke and mirrors from this Government around police funding. Given the specific proposal, which I support, to increase the number of armed units in places such as Cardiff, will the Minister assure us that that will not be at the expense of crucial back-room offices and other front-line policing, such as stopping firearms getting into the country in the first place?

I can categorically give that assurance, but savings can be made in the back room. We have seen savings made across the country through collaboration with other agencies, in particular the fire service.

Police Grant Settlement

The Home Secretary and I have regular meetings with our police partners on issues including police funding. The Government have already published, on 17 December, the police funding settlement for 2016-17. The consultation will finish at 5 pm on 25 January.

The House may be aware of the comments last week by the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire that police forces are once again having their budgets cut, despite promises in the spending review. Will the Minister confirm that the message has got back to the Chancellor that his claim that police funding is being protected is incorrect?

The Chancellor announced a settlement of zero cuts. The Labour party wanted 10% cuts. We did not think that was right and that is why we did not do it.

14. Yeovil police station in my constituency is threatened with closure under a local decision. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with funding now safe, proposed closures in areas that can suffer from antisocial behaviour should be paused to allow further consideration? (902917)

Whether police stations are open or not, and where they should be open, is an operational matter for the police force. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s local force commander and the police and crime commissioner have heard exactly what he says, but this is a matter for local policing and not something for the Minister to get involved in.

On the police funding settlement, would it help the Minister if, when the country votes to come out of the European Union, part of the £350 million a week the UK people give to Europe was spent on police funding?

The Home Secretary negotiated brilliantly the funding agreement for the next four years. That was exceptionally good to hear.

Violence against Women and Girls

Tackling violence against women and girls is a key Government priority. We have introduced a new offence of domestic abuse and are consulting on new measures to protect victims of stalking. We have already committed £40 million between 2016 and 2020 to support victims of domestic abuse. We will publish shortly a refreshed violence against women and girls strategy, setting out how we will do more still to support all victims.

Following the meeting with the Derbyshire police and crime commissioner candidate, Richard Bright, I was shocked to learn that on average between July and September last year one rape a week was reported to Derbyshire police, linked to nights out in Long Eaton, Ilkeston and Derby. Will my right hon. Friend outline what is being done to ensure that victims receive a good level of practical and emotional support following a sexual assault? What can be done to help the police bring predators to justice?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. First, we have generally seen an increase in the number of reports of rape and other sexual violence. It is good that people have more confidence to come forward, precisely because of the support they now feel they will get from the police and other services. It is, of course, important to ensure that support is available to individuals, for example at Rape Crisis centres. I am pleased to say that over the past five years the Government have made money available to ensure that new Rape Crisis centres have opened, unlike under the previous Labour Government when they were closing.

It is believed that 170,000 women and girls in the UK have endured female genital mutilation. It is right that the Government have introduced legislation and are funding projects in Africa and training NHS and education staff, but without significant UK grassroots intervention to change cultural norms, we will never prevent this horrific child abuse. When will the Secretary of State change her approach and invest in helping communities to prevent FGM, rather than failing to prosecute once the crime has been committed?

As the hon. Lady knows, we have taken the question of forced genital mutilation extremely seriously, which is why we have significantly strengthened the law on FGM and have issued a range of materials to support professionals in being able to understand these issues and spot signs of somebody being taken out of the country. I commend the work of the all-party parliamentary group on female genital mutilation and, in particular, of the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who has ensured that information is made available to communities and community groups about what can be done to prevent forced genital mutilation and to ensure that people can spot the signs and stop it taking place.

Topical Questions

Colleagues across the House will recognise the dedication and commitment of the emergency services in response to the current widespread flooding. It has been a demonstration of public service at its best and a testament to the ability of our police and fire and rescue services to work together to keep the public safe from harm. We believe we must build on this foundation and encourage greater collaboration between local police and fire services—an issue raised in questions previously. On 5 January, the Prime Minister informed the House that responsibility for fire and rescue policy in England had transferred to the Home Office with immediate effect, and I am delighted that the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, himself a former firefighter, is the new fire Minister, in addition to his policing, victims and criminal justice responsibilities.

This machinery of government change is a natural progression of the Government’s work on emergency services collaboration. Police and fire services are sharing control rooms and back-office services, and we will shortly publish legislative proposals to enable police and crime commissioners to take on the governance of local fire and rescue services where a local case is made. I am keen to go further still and apply the lessons of police reform in the last Parliament to the fire and rescue service and ensure that policing learns from the tremendous success of fire prevention in recent years.

The Home Secretary has confirmed that the Government’s relocation programme applies to vulnerable Syrian refugees who are also outside camps, but is the programme sufficient, given their number and vulnerability, and, not least, their risk of exploitation by people smugglers?

Yes, we have extended the list of criteria on vulnerability according to which we take people from the camps, but we have also provided specific expertise—for example, by working with the French Government to identify those who have been trafficked.

I shall take the Home Secretary back to a question she was asked several times last week but refused to answer. In late 2014, a terror suspect from east London well known to the UK security services skipped police bail and walked freely out of the UK to Syria via Dover. Let me try again: when was she first informed that this individual had absconded and were any checks made on his passport before he left?

I said to the right hon. Gentleman and other of his colleagues last week, and I will say it again today: I will not comment on individual cases because of issues relating to police investigations and proceedings. I would say, however, that this Government have taken significant steps to enhance our border security, including by establishing the UK Border Force, thereby taking it out of the failed UK Border Agency, which was set up by the last Labour Government.

That is not good enough. The public are concerned about this and deserve answers. A UK terror suspect broke police bail and walked out of this country unchecked, but it gets worse: yesterday, it was reported that the mastermind behind the Paris attacks last year freely entered this country, through Dover again, despite being known to the authorities in Europe. Is this true, and were any checks made on this individual on his arrival in the UK?

I make it absolutely clear to the right hon. Gentleman that this Government have taken steps to enhance our border security, taken the UK into the second-generation Schengen information system, introduced exist checks, and decided to do what the last Labour Government failed to do: put the UK into the Prüm system.

Two straight questions; no answers. On matters as serious as this, that is simply not good enough. Terror suspects are freely walking in and out of the United Kingdom on this Home Secretary’s watch. Terror suspects know the sea border is a weak link, partly because she delayed UK involvement in the Schengen Information System, which would have given the UK access to EU security checks. The British public need answers, not Ministers hiding behind excuses. Will she today order an urgent review of our border security at our ferry terminals and of the police bail regime for terror suspects?

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration indicated earlier, we take a number of steps in relation to our border security, and indeed always look to see whether more can be done in relation to our border security, but I repeat what I said earlier—indeed, I said it to the right hon. Gentleman last week. The Labour Government had opportunities in relation to SIS II and Prüm. The Labour Government failed to get this country into Prüm; it is this Conservative Government that have taken the action necessary.

T3. What are the Government planning to do to combat knife crime, given that in the last 13 months two young people have been tragically and callously killed by the illegal use of knives in Chelmsford? Also, there has been a rise in the number of crimes committed involving knives, partly due to drug-related incidents and gangs coming out from London. (902930)

Tackling knife crime is a priority for this Government. Knife crime is 17% lower today than it was in June 2010, but I know that is little comfort to anybody affected in the way that my right hon. Friend’s constituents have been. May I suggest that I meet him to discuss specific measures that could be taken in Chelmsford related to the work we have been doing across the country on gangs and other antisocial behaviour?

T2. People across the country are rightly very anxious that the Government do everything they can to keep our borders safe at this moment in time. On that basis, for the Secretary of State to stand there and blame a Government that have not been in power for five and a half years is an absolute dereliction of her duty. What can she say to constituents across the country who want to know what she is doing and what responsibilities she is taking to keep our borders safe, in the light of the incidents raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), which people are justly concerned about? (902929)

The hon. Gentleman mentions people’s concerns about border security. It is precisely because this Government recognise the importance of border security that we have taken the steps to enhance our border security that I outlined in response to the shadow Home Security, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). It is this Government that have ensured that the UK is now a member of SIS II and can join Prüm. It is this Government that have introduced exit checks. All these are measures that enhance our border security.

T7. Following the horrendous attacks in Paris, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that young people’s minds in the UK are not poisoned and that they are not radicalised by the poisonous ideology put forward by Daesh? (902934)

My hon. Friend will know that much of this is done online, where there are those who are seeking to corrupt people to inspire them to murder and maim their neighbours. Since February 2010, more than 120,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist material have been taken down from the internet, and our Prevent programme works with communities, schools, colleges and local authorities across the country. Mr Speaker, I am intolerant—intolerant of that wickedness which seeks to do so much harm.

T4. Figures released recently from the Met police show that serious youth violence is continuing to rise across the capital. Since being elected last year, I have lost three of my constituents to serious youth violence. Young people need to be safe on our streets. It is an issue for all of society. Can the Minister not see the link between rising numbers of knife crimes and falling numbers of police officers? London’s Mayor has been letting people down. Is it not time for a Labour Mayor of London? (902931)

I did not realise there was going to be a party political broadcast on behalf of the Labour candidate for Mayor of London on such a serious subject. It was this Government that brought in the legislation, with the help of Nick de Bois, to ensure that those caught with a knife twice will now get six months. That is the sort of legislation we need, but we need to work harder. The Met police do a fantastic job and we should not run them down.

Despite the UK’s strong commitment to allowing 20,000 legal refugees into the UK, the fact remains that there are still thousands trying to enter illegally through the channel tunnel. What does the Minister think can be done to protect freight companies such as Broughton Transport in my constituency, which is threatening job losses and the end of the company?

We fully accept the vital role that hauliers play in the economy, and it is never acceptable for drivers to be attacked or threatened while doing their job. The Government’s funding, improved security measures, port infrastructure at Calais and the surrounding area and the new secure zone will provide a secure waiting area for 230 vehicles. It is expected to be completed by late spring this year. There is an enhanced French police response team comprising more than 1,100 officers. The Minister for Immigration regularly meets the haulage sector, and officials would be happy to meet Broughton as part of this consultation.

T5. The police are coming under increasing strain, picking up the pieces as other public services are slashed. Last summer, however, a National Audit Office report stated that the Government have little understanding of the crucial job that the police do. Will the Home Secretary advise us of the effort she has put into understanding the increasing demands put on the police? (902932)

I think we all understand what a fantastic job the police do in the 43 forces in England and Wales. For many years, they have done jobs that are not part of their front-line job, particularly around mental health. That is why the triage of mental health and mental health professionals in custody suites and elsewhere is a really important step forward. I fully accept what the hon. Lady says and that we need to do more.

Further to earlier questions on the important issue of illegal immigration, will my right hon. Friend tell us what assessment has been made of the effectiveness of the Immigration Act 2014 in tackling this critical issue?

Measures introduced in the Immigration Act 2014 included a number of issues confronting the accessing of services by migrants to which they are not entitled. I can certainly tell my hon. Friend that we have revoked more than 13,000 driving licences and deported more than 2,000 foreign national offenders, as well as exercise new powers to block bail when someone is scheduled to be removed within 14 days.

T6. The Home Secretary will know of the vital work undertaken by the British Transport police to keep the public safe and support policing in her Department. In written answers today, however, Ministers have refused to rule out reducing the number of front-line officers, following the spending review. Does she agree that no police cuts should mean no cuts to policing levels, and will she urge her colleagues in the Department for Transport to rule out such cuts? (902933)

As Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice in the Home Office, I work closely with the Secretary of State for Transport who is responsible for the British Transport police. I am sure he will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments, and I will talk to him about them, but this is not a matter for the Home Office.

Last week, an officer in Crawley suffered an appalling hammer attack. I am pleased to say that he has now recovered. Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the professionalism of Sussex police, which now has the prime suspect in custody?

Let me say what a fantastic job that officer does, along with other officers. I hope that a full recovery happens soon. Body-worn cameras are going to transform policing, particularly assaults on officers, as can be seen from the roll-out of the pilots. Evidence like that is putting away the sort of criminal people who assault our officers.

T8. The message from my constituents who make applications to UK Visas and Immigration is that there is a distinct lack of fairness in the current system. They have a strong sense that the deck is stacked against them, their families and their ability to exercise their legal rights. Will the Minister take steps to address that, not least by allowing staff to exercise discretion in their deliberations in the better interest of fairer decisions on visa applications? (902935)

I am certainly happy to look at any individual cases that the hon. Lady might wish to send to me. Clearly, there are processes in place to ensure that decisions are fairly made and in a speedy manner.

Will my right hon. Friend update us on progress made under the Khartoum process, which aims to tackle the trafficking and smuggling of migrants between the horn of Africa and Europe?

An officials group meeting took place just before Christmas to give effect to the Khartoum process, and, as a consequence, various actions have been agreed to maintain the momentum.

The Home Secretary said earlier that she had extended the vulnerable persons scheme to help those who were at risk of being trafficked. On that basis, will she ensure that it is extended further to help vulnerable children, who are at more risk of trafficking and exploitation than anyone else and who are alone and abandoned in Europe? Masud, whom she heard about earlier, suffocated to death in the back of a lorry.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question, which gives me an opportunity to clarify what I said earlier. I apologise if the way in which I put it gave the wrong impression. I said that we had extended the criteria of vulnerability that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was using to determine who should be resettled under our Syrian refugees resettlement scheme. However, we have also, separately, offered extra support to the French authorities in relation to the identification in the camps of those who have been trafficked.

T10. Given that 1.5 million migrants entered the European Union in 2015 and a similar number will do so in 2016, will the Home Secretary confirm that all European leaders are aware of the impact on fellow EU nations and, in particular, on the United Kingdom, which is already experiencing unsustainable levels of migration? (902937)

My hon. Friend will be well aware that, in the renegotiation, the Prime Minister is highlighting migration as one of the key elements. There is a sense of the impact that migration has on populations, which is why it remains a key issue.

T9. The Minister wrote to me saying that 33,000 asylum seekers were spread across 95 local authority areas. If they were spread across 326 local authority areas, there would be 101 in each area. Why does Rochdale now have 1,071 asylum seekers? (902936)

We have maintained the dispersal arrangements that were agreed by the last Labour Government, and we continue to operate those arrangements with strategic migration partnerships to ensure that people are well settled in this country.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but pressure was very intense today. Demand usually exceeds supply.