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Topical Questions

Volume 604: debated on Monday 11 January 2016

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.