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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 606: debated on Monday 22 February 2016

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Draft Investigatory Powers Bill

1. What assessment her Department has made of the cost implications for private businesses of compliance with the proposed requirements of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill. (903659)

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill has been drafted in close consultation with industry, and the estimated cost to the public purse of implementing its provisions will continue to be refined as we hold more detailed discussions with industry on implementation. It would not be appropriate to expect telecommunications companies to meet the costs themselves and, as now, full cost recovery will apply to operational costs, including those associated with new obligations under the Bill.

The Select Committee on Science and Technology warned that the Bill risks undermining our strongly performing tech sector because of uncertainty about the costs of complying with the new legislation. Will the Secretary of State assure us that UK businesses will not be placed at a commercial disadvantage compared with overseas competitors?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman of that and, as I said in my answer to his initial question, we will ensure that full cost recovery applies to operational costs for any companies that have, for example, notices issued to them. It is clear that that is what we have done as a Government in the past and what previous Governments have done, and we will continue to do it.

Will the Home Secretary look carefully at the recommendations from the Joint Committee on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill on the definition of internet connection records? We were very clear that greater clarity is needed on the definition to allow the private sector fully to cost its proposals.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the other Members of this House and of the other place who sat on the Committee and did an excellent job of producing a well-thought-through and careful report. We will of course carefully consider the issue of definition. We are looking at all three of the reports from the Science and Technology Committee, the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Joint Committee and we will make revised Bill proposals in due course.

On the specific issue of private businesses, will the Home Secretary outline what recent discussions she and her Ministers have had on that subject with the devolved Administrations?

Discussions with the devolved Administrations have gone on throughout the preparation of the draft Bill. They have continued and will continue, as will discussions between Ministers and officials with companies and private businesses.

Family Visas

The minimum income threshold of £18,600 for sponsoring a partner under the family immigration rules ensures that couples wishing to establish their family life in the UK do not place burdens on the taxpayer and helps promote integration. It has been considered by the courts and upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has said that these rules discriminatorily affect women, 55% of whom earn less than £18,600, compared with 27% of men. The rules also disadvantage young people. What action will the Home Secretary take to reduce these unfair rules?

The threshold was set as a consequence of advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, which carefully considered the level of income in terms of it not being a burden on the taxpayer. The gross median earnings of all employees in Scotland in 2014 were £21,725—higher than that threshold. Issues of legal challenge have obviously been raised by the Court of Appeal. They were considered carefully and the threshold was upheld.

The Secretary of State will have seen Amira’s story, reported by the BBC this morning. She fled Syria and gave birth to her son in the UK, but under the Government’s family visa rules, her husband, a Syrian national, is unable to join them here simply because they cannot afford the visa fees. Will the Secretary of State tell us where this British national should go to enjoy her family life? Her husband’s home country of Syria?

Various different routes could be available. We have the family reunion route, which might apply in these circumstances. Obviously, I am not familiar with all the issues he highlights but, equally, the Government are under certain duties regarding the protection of the welfare of children. This was considered by the court and upheld.

Although I take the point made so eloquently by my right hon. Friend about the burden on the taxpayer, to what extent do we take into account charges made by other countries to British nationals hoping to emigrate to them?

My hon. Friend makes the point about different immigration systems in different parts of the world. We have taken considered advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, looking at costs and at those burdens to see that someone does not place a burden on the UK taxpayer. Obviously, it is for other countries to assess what is appropriate in their own systems.

The financial threshold for family visas is causing particular distress to one of my constituents, who cannot work the hours required because she is a carer for her vulnerable child. This means my constituent is living without her husband and the child is living without his father. Does the Minister acknowledge that he is at risk of creating a generation of children whose only contact with one of their parents will be via Skype?

No, I do not accept that, and these issues of the welfare of the child are absolutely part of our consideration. This matter was considered by the Court of Appeal and our approach was firmly upheld. When the threshold was set in November 2011, the MAC gave the lower threshold of £18,600 but also advised that the threshold could have been set as high as £25,700. The Government reflected and set the current level, which has been upheld by the courts.

The Minister mentions the Court of Appeal, but of course the matter is not entirely settled because this week the Supreme Court will hear the cases of two British nationals who cannot meet the tough financial rules that would allow their non-European Union spouses to come to live with them. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) mentioned Skype. According to the Children’s Commissioner for England, 15,000 British children are growing up in Skype families, where the only contact they have with one parent is via Skype. How can the Minister justify the stress and anxiety caused to these children by the inflexible and unjust rules?

I do not accept the characterisation that the hon. and learned Lady presents—indeed, I do not recognise the number she proffers. This is about ensuring good integration, which is part of the overall requirement in relation to language. This is about not only not imposing a burden on the taxpayer but about promoting integration, and we believe the policy is effective in doing that.

Last year, the Conservative think-tank, Bright Blue, called on the Government to change these rules, noting

“the significant contribution millions of low paid Britons make to our economy and society, as well as the value of having families living together in the same country.”

If the Minister will not listen to the Opposition, will he at least listen to a think-tank from his own party and get rid of these rules, which discriminate against hard-working families?

I say again that we do not believe the rules are discriminatory in the way the hon. and learned Lady suggests. The system is in place to ensure good integration. It ensures that people are not a burden on the taxpayer, and I would have thought she recognised that as being a positive aspect of the policy. If people come here, contribute and settle, we welcome that, but the rules have been set in the way they have, this has been upheld by the courts and we will continue to underline those key themes.

Port Security

Border Force carries out 100% checks of all arriving passengers on scheduled services. It works closely with other law enforcement organisations to deliver effective and intelligence-led responses to a range of security threats. Officers use high-tech equipment and an array of search techniques to combat immigration crime, and detect banned and restricted goods.

I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. Last September, seven men and five children were found in a container in Teesport in my constituency, just three weeks after 20 illegal immigrants were found in South Shields. My local Border Force is facing cuts of about a quarter of its front-line staff, so how can she reassure me that these cuts are not damaging the safety and security of ports outside London and the south-east?

I can reassure the hon. Lady about that, because the approach we are taking comes across in a number of ways. We are looking not only to introduce new technology in Border Force but to ensure that it can operate flexibly and base its activities much more on an intelligence-led approach, so that we can target where the staff need to be. This Government have also enhanced our ability to deal with organised immigration crime through the creation of the organised immigration crime taskforce. The National Crime Agency, set up by the last coalition Government, is also taking this issue seriously and is acting on it.

There are 10 electronic passport gates at Manchester airport in my constituency. The Department is unable to tell me how many people travel through them, how many rejections there have been and how often they malfunction. Does the Home Secretary agree that that is one of the gaps identified by the National Audit Office, which should be looked into?

Increasing the number of e-gates for checking passports was a very good move by this Government, especially as it provides enhanced security at our border.

20. I have been trying to find out for a very long time through written questions how many people arrive at UK airports without valid travel documents, and I am very surprised that nobody seems able to give me an answer. Can the Minister give me an answer today, and, if not, will she take action to find out that important information? (903679)

I can tell my hon. Friend that 18,000 individuals were refused entry at the border in 2014, and that they included those who were travelling on invalid documentation. When someone comes to the UK border they are subject to a range of checks. Officers at the border are trained to detect forged documents. Steps are also taken to intercept those who do not have the correct documents before they travel so that they do not actually reach the border in the first place.

May I congratulate the Home Secretary on her wise words about the value of EU membership in protecting the safety and security of this country? Even though that is the case—and I agree with her—may we have more specific focus on the quieter ports and airports that are used by smuggling gangs?

As I said in response to the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), Border Force takes a more intelligence-led approach to such issues, which means it can be flexible in deploying staff at different ports. That is precisely because it recognises that we need not only to focus on one or two ports, but to have that flexibility across a range of ports.

One of the most powerful arguments for the UK remaining in the EU is that we need and rely on a strong EU co-ordinated approach to security, including at our borders and our ports. As the Secretary of State and I know well, we rely 24/7 on EU criminal justice and security measures. In those circumstances, I assume that the Home Office has carried out a risk assessment of the impact of UK withdrawal from the EU on security at UK ports. Where can members of the public who have not yet decided how to vote in the forthcoming referendum access the conclusions of that risk assessment?

I am not sure whether that is parliamentary language for me to repeat in relation to the hon. and learned Gentleman. None the less, he can rest assured that arguments in relation to those matters will be fully set out for people over the coming months. He will know from his involvement in a different capacity before coming to this House one of the arguments that I put regarding issues such as the operation of various justice and home affairs measures. As a Government, we have set out very clearly the benefits of being part of those measures.

Tony Smith, interim head of the UK Border Force from 2012 to 2013, said today that a vote to leave the EU would pose significant policy and operational issues for Border Force, which is already under huge pressure, not least because of budget cuts, year on year, for many years. In particular, he highlighted the fact that Border Force staff would have to carry out more stringent checks on EU citizens. Will the Secretary of State confirm today that, far from reducing those levels of concern, Border Force will in fact face even more cuts, year on year, for the foreseeable future?

What I am happy to say to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that anyone who comes to the UK border will be stringently checked. We are doing that on a much more intelligence-led basis in looking at individuals who might be of concern. Yes, he is right: we have interactions with other member states in the European Union through the use of things such as Schengen Information System II to ensure that we are able to identify people of concern who are coming across the border. Border Force’s other operations are not about people but about restricted and illegal goods being brought into the UK. The intelligence-led approach can be particularly helpful in identifying areas of concern and whether action is being taken appropriately.

Police and Crime Commissioners

4. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners in reducing the level of crime. (903662)

13. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners in reducing the level of crime. (903672)

Elected police and crime commissioners are providing accountable visible leadership and making a real difference to policing locally. Overall, PCCs have presided over a reduction in crime of more than a quarter since their introduction, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. What assessment has her Department made of the possibility of conflicts of interest arising if police and crime commissioners hold high office in local government, including that of mayor, and what steps have been taken to safeguard against that?

A good scrutiny process is available through police and crime panels to look at potential conflicts of interest. That process is enshrined in law and is undertaken. It is important that when any area looks at the potential for amalgamating roles, such as the amalgamation in the Greater Manchester area of the role of police and crime commissioner with, it is predicted, that of mayor, it is important that there is full discussion and consideration of all aspects to ensure that, whatever role the individual or individuals play, they can continue to do so properly without conflict of interest, and ensure that the best service is delivered.

My local Leicestershire police force recently received a positive inspection report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the work of the Leicestershire chief constable, Simon Cole, and the Conservative police and crime commissioner, Sir Clive Loader, in their efforts to fight crime, specifically the chief constable’s national work on the Prevent programme?

I am happy to extend congratulations, as I am sure everyone in the House is, on the excellent work of the police in Leicestershire, under both the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, Sir Clive Loader, who has done an excellent job but is sadly stepping down at the forthcoming election. I would like to thank him for the work he has done in his first term as police and crime commissioner.

19. The main problem that the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner faces is the shortfall in his budget, which will lead to 250 police jobs being lost in 2016-17 as a result of police cuts, but it is made worse by the lack of certainty about future budgets, which makes rational planning difficult. Does the Home Secretary agree that PCCs could do their job better if their budget was set for the remainder of this Parliament, and what will she do about it? (903678)

The picture that the hon. Gentleman has set out of the South Yorkshire force is not one that I recognise. We have protected, if we take the police precept into account, police budgets across the period of the comprehensive spending review. I should have thought that he welcomed that, given that his Front-Bench team proposed that police budgets could be cut by 10%.

One type of crime that has not reduced is violence and abuse against retail staff. In fact, a recent report by the British Retail Consortium found that those crimes had gone up by 25%. Any level of violence against retail staff is unacceptable, but what steps will the Home Secretary take to enable police and crime commissioners to act to reduce that?

We are all concerned when we see violent acts of any sort, but for those retail staff who are subject to them that is a matter of serious concern. The operational response to those crimes and to the potential for such crime is for chief constables to look into. As I have seen in my own constituency, a number of retail chains have worked closely with local police to try to ensure that they provide extra support and security for their staff.

Although I have had my differences at times with Alan Hardwick, the Lincolnshire police and crime commissioner, does my right hon. Friend agree that his record, along with that of Lincolnshire police, in reducing crime is exemplary, and is an example to all?

Again, I extend congratulations and welcome the work of the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner in reducing crime in Lincolnshire. It is not the only area where crime has fallen, but the fall in Lincolnshire is particularly significant.

Given the Home Secretary’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), has she seen the statement from the Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner to his police and crime panel on 2 February in which he says of the new funding formula:

“It is expected that this will transfer funding from the urban areas to more rural areas and Northamptonshire may benefit”?

Does that reflect Government policy, or is he just letting the cat out of the bag?

As I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would be aware, we have clearly said that the funding formula changes that we were proposing before Christmas are not going ahead. We are pausing that process and looking again at how we can develop a funding formula that reflects needs. If the hon. Gentleman looks at police forces across England and Wales, he will see that everybody—including the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, who is sitting next to him—has been very clear that the funding formula needs to change.

Emergency Services (Duty to Collaborate)

5. What assessment the Government have made of the potential merits of the proposed duty on emergency services to collaborate. (903663)

9. What assessment the Government have made of the potential merits of the proposed duty on emergency services to collaborate. (903668)

There are examples across the country of excellent collaboration between the emergency services, particularly the H3 project in Hampshire, where collaboration between the emergency services has driven efficiencies and a better service for the public. Police and crime commissioners will have a duty to collaborate when the Policing and Crime Bill currently before the House becomes law.

Hampshire fire service and Hampshire police service share a joint headquarters building, resulting in financial efficiencies and a more joined-up service for my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating both Hampshire emergency services on taking the lead in collaborative working?

I had the honour and privilege of being in Hampshire recently and saw for myself the brilliant work being done between the emergency services. That is a result of the collaboration between the chief fire officer and the chief constable, as well as the police and crime commissioner doing excellent work to see that we have the right sort of emergency service for the 21st century.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the new generation of police and crime commissioners who will be elected in a couple of months get behind this very important reform? Will he join me in welcoming the commitment of the excellent Conservative PCC candidate in Kent, Matthew Scott, and his strong desire to implement these vital reforms?

I have seen what Matthew Scott is proposing to do when, as we on the Conservative Benches all hope, he becomes the police and crime commissioner. We need to ensure that we spend taxpayers’ money efficiently and well, and collaboration is the best way forward for that.

The hon. Lady looks so surprised. She is rarely a shy or retiring soul. If she is, she must overcome her shyness.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Minister is well aware that the fire and rescue services collaborate well all over the country, particularly with the ambulance trusts. Why does he consider it necessary for police and crime commissioners to take control of the fire services under the Bill? Surely the two organisations are so different in so many ways that collaboration is possible without the PCC running our fire services.

The truth of the matter is that someone duly elected to run the service, as the PCC would be, is better than anybody seconded on to any committee. I am sure we all want efficient emergency services, and the fire service working closely with the ambulance service and the police is the way we would like to do that.

Critical to collaboration between emergency services will be their communications networks. How much will the new emergency service communications network cost, and when will it be in place?

We are currently going out to contract. There are bids out there, which are confidential. We know that the excellent Airwave system that we have had for many years needs replacing. It was very expensive and the replacement will be cheaper than Airwave.

Shortly the police and crime commissioners will be able to put forward a business case to take over the governance of fire and rescue services. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Mak) pointed out what Hampshire already does. At present we have a commercial trading arm which completely pays for the governance of the fire and rescue authority. What business case can a police and crime commissioner put forward that would allow him to run that service?

The local community may want a more efficient service, which could be the case in Hampshire. I accept that Hampshire is particularly good, but that is not the case all over the country. Even when I was in Hampshire, there were people asking me for more collaboration and more work to be done together, and that request came particularly from the front-line operatives, who are probably the most important people in all this.

Given the funding cuts to the police service and the fire and rescue services already budgeted for by this Government, can the Minister guarantee that placing fire and rescue services under PCC control will not lead to further cuts in the number of front-line firefighters?

Thank goodness the Chancellor did not listen to Labour Front-Benchers when we looked at police funding to 2020, because they wanted a 10% cut, and there will be no cut. We must make sure that we have an efficient service—the sort of efficient service I would have liked to have had when I was in the fire service—and that will be going forward.

Knife Crime

Tackling knife crime is a priority for the Government. Latest police recorded crime figures show that knife crime is 14% lower than it was in June 2010. However, we recognise that there is more to do, and new actions to tackle knife crime will be set out in the forthcoming modern crime prevention strategy.

In Essex, the number of serious offences involving a knife rose 21% in the last recorded year. What action is my hon. Friend’s Department taking to tackle knife crime and address the gang violence that fuels it in so many cases?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I also congratulate him on the arrival of new baby Quince, in whose delivery I believe he was very involved. I am very aware of the concerns about knife crime in Essex, and I recently had a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns)—I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss precisely this issue. We are taking a range of steps, and earlier this month we supported 13 police forces, including Essex, that undertook co-ordinated action against knife crime.

Knife crime, like much other crime, is best dealt with pre-emptively and at the community and neighbourhood level. In Sussex, crime has gone up 8%, but Government inspectors said today that front-line neighbourhood and local policing is “routinely” being taken away. Will the Minister please look again at the issue of the 1,000 police officers and staff who are being taken from the frontline, which will further impact on neighbourhood policing?

May I start by congratulating Katy Bourne, who has been an excellent police and crime commissioner in Sussex? I met her recently, and we discussed the many steps she is taking to deal with crime. Obviously, the deployment of operational resources is a matter for the chief constable, in consultation with the police and crime commissioner. However, the hon. Gentleman should remember his vote in this House to cut police resources by 10%—something that Government Members disagreed with.

Recently in Derby, a young man lost his life following a fatal stabbing in the city centre. Last year, knife crime rose across the UK for the first time in four years. What steps is the Department taking to tackle the issue and to discourage young individuals from carrying knives?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to educate young people and show them that carrying knives is not cool and not something they should be doing. They should understand that it is dangerous and that it can result in the loss of life. That is why we legislated in the last Parliament so that someone caught with a knife twice has a mandatory prison sentence. We are doing more work, and I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the specific issues in Derby, where I know there are concerns.

Has the Minister considered an amnesty? Amnesties have been implemented in the past to invite people to hand in their knives or other weapons, and that was very successful in the west midlands some years ago.

That is a matter for chief constables to determine. However, as I said, we have worked with 13 forces, and included in that work were knife amnesties.

Fraud and Cybercrime

7. What recent discussions the Government have had with banks and industry bodies on steps to reduce fraud and cybercrime. (903665)

Discussions with banks and industry bodies have led to the recently announced Joint Fraud Taskforce. This is the first time that banks, police and Government have joined together to ensure that the public are aware of, and protected from, fraud. The taskforce’s mission is to counter the wicked work of fraudsters.

While I absolutely understand the difficulties in effectively policing the internet, financial scams—judging by my own parliamentary account—seem to be completely out of control, and the most vulnerable people are being targeted. Will my right hon. Friend therefore have another look at this issue to see whether there is some way we can bring these criminals to account?

Because we have taken a fresh look at this, as my hon. Friend recommends, we have launched the joint taskforce; we are continuing to support the Cyber Streetwise campaign, which makes people more aware of, and therefore more guarded about, fraud; and we invested £90 million on cyber-security in the previous Parliament and will invest £1.9 billion over the next five years. We take this seriously, not least, Mr Speaker, because, as you know, in the cyber-age I am a cyber-Minister—up to the minute, up to the mark and up to the job.

Since the cyber-Minister is up to the mark, may I ask him about the activities of a website called Bestvalid, which was discovered recently selling the stolen bank details of 100,000 British citizens? Can he explain, as an up-to-the-minute cyber-Minister, how it was possible for this website to carry on for six months before being closed down, and how much of the £1.9 billion that he is targeting on cybercrime will be used proactively to close down sites of this kind?

The right hon. Gentleman knows, because his Select Committee has drawn attention to this in the past, that it is critically important that the Government work with all other agencies, including banks and private sector organisations, and the taskforce will be missioned to do that. It may be worth saying that this is summed up by the fact that the National Police Chiefs Council has publicly signed up to

“commit our full support to the objectives and actions of the…Taskforce”

to

“work in partnership to…protect the public from becoming victims of fraud and fraud scams, maximising opportunities to stop fraudsters from operating”,

in exactly the way he recommends.

The cyber-Minister will know that people are more likely to be mugged online than in the street, with serious consequences for victims. After five years of the Government saying, “We cut police but we have cut crime”, will he confirm that, when 6 million cybercrimes are included in the statistics, the truth will be told that far from falling, crime is changing, and that our country now faces crime doubling just as this Government continue to cut the number of police officers?

The hon. Gentleman will be disappointed that I am going to say that he is right to draw attention to the scale of this problem. I remind him that we were the Government who made the decision to publish these statistics and to designate cybercrime in the way that we have, because until we appreciate the scale of the problem, we will not develop the solutions necessary to deal with it. As he will know, we are using some of the extra resource to set up the national cyber centre to co-ordinate work in this area.

Police and Crime Commissioners

8. What steps she is taking to encourage police and crime commissioners to support early intervention programmes; and if she will make a statement. (903666)

The Government have supported the first police early innovation leadership academy and provided grant funding for the Early Intervention Foundation. This is really interesting work being done to protect young children. Naturally we will help and encourage chief constables and PCCs up and down the country to help to reduce crime, support victims, and closely engage with their partner agencies, such as the foundation.

The American comedian Eddie Cantor said, “If those currently on the most-wanted list had been the most wanted as children they would no longer be on the most-wanted list.” In that context, will the Minister welcome the work that his Department is doing with the Early Intervention Foundation in creating police leaders’ academies on early intervention, and will he ensure that funding is available so that every police and crime commissioner elected this year can attend such courses, as this is the best crime prevention measure we know?

I praise the work of the Early Intervention Foundation; the work it does is very important. Other agencies also do really important work. We all know that if we can catch them young we can prevent people from turning into the types of criminals that sadly this society sees too often in our prisons.

Following the Government’s troubled families programme, there can be no doubt that early intervention works—it reduces petty crime, encourages school attendance, and gets people into jobs. However, it has become clear—this is why what the Minister is saying is very welcome—that without the active participation of the police such programmes are somewhat ineffectual, so I hope that we will ensure that every chief constable and every commissioner will regard this as a high priority.

I am sure that every chief constable, police and crime commissioner and PCC candidate has heard exactly what my right hon. Friend has said. That is why we have put the money into the foundation and why we are doing a review of the early intervention academy for police leaders, so that we can have proof of the outcomes and let the money follow good resources.

Humberside police has 500 fewer officers than five years ago, across north-east Lincolnshire we have had a 38% rise in violent crime, and sexual offences are up 18%. Is it not the reality that early intervention is not a priority for the police on the ground and that it is being pushed on to ill-resourced local authorities?

I am sure that the Whips Office wrote the hon. Lady’s question, because every single time we hear from the Labour party, it wants more money, and yet its Front Benchers want to cut funding to the police force—[Interruption.] That is the reality.

TrackMyCrime Service

As I wrote earlier, four police forces currently use TrackMyCrime—Avon and Somerset, Kent, South Yorkshire and Humberside—with more to come. According to Minerva IT consortium, it will be made available to 22 forces, including Northampton.

How successful has TrackMyCrime been in supporting victims of crime and keeping them up to date with investigations?

I wrote my previous answer earlier, because I did not know what was going to be asked. The truth is that if all victims know exactly what is going on once they have reported a crime, they will have confidence in the criminal justice system. TrackMyCrime will help in that regard.

Psychoactive Substances Act

12. What progress her Department has made on reviewing the status of poppers within the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. (903671)

The evidence-gathering stage of the review has begun. The Government are considering the next steps to ensure that the health and relationship benefits of poppers, and their risks, are fully assessed in an open and transparent manner.

Eighteen thousand police officers have been cut in the past five years. Is it really sensible to waste scarce police resources on enforcing a ban on poppers and unnecessarily criminalising users of a relatively harmless substance, particularly when the ban may be revoked in a few months?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the Psychoactive Substances Act, because we do not know what effect such substances have on young people—they may cause death—so the blanket ban on them is incredibly important. We are committed to reviewing the benefits of poppers against the harms, to see whether they should be included.

Modern Slavery Act

The Modern Slavery Act received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015. It is too early to make a full assessment of the effectiveness of the Act, but I am pleased that key provisions are already having an impact. The ports have already been using the slavery and trafficking prevention orders to stop offences occurring, and some businesses have already published statements setting out what steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their global supply chains.

In the “Strategic Plan 2015-2017”, the independent anti-slavery commissioner writes:

“The role that the private sector can play in the fight against slavery should not be underestimated.”

What assessment has the Home Secretary made of the effectiveness of the Act’s transparency and supply chain provisions for companies with turnovers of £36 million or more?

First, the independent anti-slavery commissioner is absolutely right, because this is not just about law enforcement and Government taking action in this area; it is also about working with the private sector and businesses. I am pleased that, although the first set of declarations in relation to supply chains will be compulsory from 31 March, a number of companies have already made those declarations. In a month or so, I will hold an event with companies to share good practice among them so that we can ensure that we are getting the best information out there, and then consumers can make their decisions.

Despite some of the good measures in the Act, child trafficking is still taking place across the European Union, hidden within the scandal that is the migration crisis, which is engulfing the entire continent. What work is the Home Secretary doing with her colleagues across the European Union to make sure that the issue is adequately tackled across all 28 member states?

I am encouraging other member states to take the step that we took with the Modern Slavery Act and introduce new legislation. We and other member states are working on organised immigration crime and human trafficking. We have put resources into that and are working with a number of countries to identify the traffickers and to ensure that proper action is taken. The independent anti-slavery commissioner has made his expertise available to a number of countries across the European Union. That is of enormous benefit, because he is expert in this area.

23. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), will my right hon. Friend set out in more detail the importance of the transparency in supply chains provision in the Modern Slavery Act, and how it will be monitored? (903682)

The measure has two important impacts. First, it makes companies think about whether there is slavery in their supply chains. Secondly, their declarations of the action they have taken—or of the fact that they have taken no action—will be available to consumers, who will be able to make choices about which companies to do business with as a result. We are looking at a number of options for ensuring that that information is publicly available in one place.

May I make the right hon. Lady aware of the excellent work of the Palm Cove Society in Headingley, in my constituency? I was shocked to hear about the extent of modern slavery in this country. Does she think that people are sufficiently aware of that, and what more can she do to highlight it?

We are aware of the work that the Palm Cove Society does. The hon. Gentleman is right; I think that most people are shocked to know that slavery takes place in this country, and they would be even more shocked to see the degree and extent of it. It is up to everybody in this House, not just the Government, to make people aware of that and aware of the action that they can take to stop it.

Daesh Propaganda

15. What assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of steps to tackle Daesh propaganda. (903674)

The Government are removing more than 4,000 pieces of terrorist-related content a month. We are also supporting community-based initiatives that provide credible, positive alternatives and challenge Daesh’s core communications. Those campaigns have generated online viewings of more than 15 million.

Daesh commits atrocities every day against Christians, gay people and others who do not agree with its way of life. What are the Government doing to communicate accurately those atrocities across the UK to prevent the spread of extremism, particularly among young people?

My hon. Friend is right. Yeats said:

“All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.”

We have to challenge those extreme opinions at every turn. The UK Government’s “UK Against Daesh” Twitter channel highlights the hypocrisies, hyperbole and wicked calumnies of Daesh. We work with the community organisations that I described a moment ago, and 130 community-based projects were delivered in 2015, reaching 25,000 people. More than half those projects were delivered in schools and aimed at the young people whom we need to safeguard.

I am glad that even on this most solemn of matters, the right hon. Gentleman has been able, as always, to provide us with a poetical flourish.

Topical Questions

Last week, I was in Washington at the five-country ministerial with my counterparts from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to discuss the threat we all face from extremism and terrorism—a threat that is real and growing. In 2014, Daesh in Syria and Iraq directed, inspired or enabled some 20 attacks in other countries worldwide. In 2015, there were almost 60 such attacks, as well as more than 200 attacks carried out by Daesh branches including those in Libya and Egypt.

This is a fight that cannot be won by acting in isolation. It is a global threat, which requires a global response. We must be more open to sharing intelligence with our partners and more proactive in offering our expertise. We must work at an international level to counter the twisted narrative peddled by Daesh and other terrorist organisations, and we must organise our own efforts more effectively to support vulnerable states and improve their ability to respond to the threat from terrorism. At the five-country ministerial, we made commitments to strengthen information sharing, enhance efforts to prevent the movement of terrorists and encourage social media companies to work more with Governments. This is the challenge of our generation, and it is one that we will win by working together.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Does she agree that the creation of the police and crime commissioner role was a great step in the right direction, and that it ought to change radically in future and take on more responsibilities?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It was important to create the role of a directly elected individual who is accountable to the public for local policing, but we called such individuals police and crime commissioners precisely because we wanted to see the role evolve. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary and I are already in discussion about how the role might evolve in relation to the rest of the criminal justice system.

May I commend the Home Secretary for her announcement this weekend and for her decision to put the national interest before self-interest, unlike others? When she began as Home Secretary, she took a Eurosceptic stance, opting out of dozens of EU measures, but she has since opted back in to many—most recently, on the sharing of fingerprinting and DNA. Is it fair to say that the realities of office have shown her the value of EU co-operation in tackling crime and terrorism, and changed her mind on Britain’s membership of the EU?

I have always been very clear about the value of co-operation when it is in the British national interest. We decided to propose to the House that we should opt back in to 35 measures in relation to protocol 36—justice and home affairs measures—precisely because we believed that they were in the national interest.

I think I will take that as a yes. Yesterday, on the “The Andrew Marr Show”, the Prime Minister was explicitly clear that our membership of the EU helps Britain fight terrorism, but within minutes he was directly contradicted by one of his own Cabinet Ministers, who claimed the UK’s EU membership made a Paris-style attack here more likely. This would be bad coming from UKIP, but coming from one of our most senior members of the Cabinet, it is downright irresponsible. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to reaffirm Government policy on this crucial issue and condemn this baseless scaremongering?

The Government’s position on this issue is very clear. As I have just indicated in answer to the first question the right hon. Gentleman asked me, I am very clear that there are many areas in which co-operation with other member states in the European Union is to our benefit in terms of the national security of this country and dealing with criminal matters. As I indicated in response to earlier questions, we do of course take security at our border very seriously, and that is why we have the checks we do at our border.

T3. The Government have agreed to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to create a new initiative to help resettle unaccompanied children from conflict regions. Will the Minister confirm when the initiative will begin and say which organisations the Government will work with to help identify those children? (903686)

Yes, we are working with the UNHCR on the development of a new initiative to settle unaccompanied children from conflict regions outside the EU. Discussions are ongoing with the UNHCR—we have had a roundtable meeting already with a number of non-governmental organisations—and we will obviously come back to the House shortly, when our consideration has concluded.

T2. Following on in the trafficking vein, I want to ask a question about a constituent of mine. I cannot name her because of her vulnerability. She was human trafficked from Nigeria to the UK and held in domestic slavery in London, but escaped to my constituency over 10 years ago. She now has a family and a husband—her children were born in Scotland—but she cannot get indefinite leave to remain. The Home Office has not been at its most helpful. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this issue and see what can be done to help this family settle in Scotland? (903685)

The hon. Lady has raised what appears to be a very serious individual case. If I may, I will speak to the hon. Lady after this session to obtain more details, and we will obviously respond to her formally.

T4. I have met a number of police officers in my constituency who have witnessed extreme trauma while on duty and have been diagnosed as suffering from mental illness or injury as a result. Yet the arrangements for their sick pay and their medical discharge and pension seem to be strikingly different from that of those who have suffered physical injury in the course of their duties. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the Government’s pursuit of parity of esteem between mental illness and physical illness, police forces should ensure that all injuries or illnesses attributable to service are supported in the same way? (903687)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Police officers are entitled to exactly the same sick leave and pay arrangements whether they suffer a mental or physical illness. Any requests for ill-health retirement are, similarly, subject to exactly the same test. It is the responsibility of chief constables to provide for that in their local policies. I am pleased to say that in October 2014 the Government allocated £8 million to the blue light programme to support the mental and physical wellbeing of emergency services personnel.

T5. The Government have always justified their cuts to policing on the basis that crime has not gone up. Since 2010, Greater Manchester police force has lost 1,664 officers, which is more than any other force. Recorded crime in Greater Manchester is now going up, and it is doing so faster than in any other metropolitan area. If crime continues to rise, will the Government reconsider their reductions in the number of front-line police officers, as would be reasonable? (903688)

Let us go over this again. The Government have not reduced the number of police officers on the frontline. Actually, the percentage on the frontline has gone up. The one party that wanted to cut the police budget at the last election was the Labour party—a group of people we did not listen to.

T7. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that police services continue reforms better to protect the public? (903691)

We are taking a number of steps. A piece of work is being undertaken to look at where capabilities would best lie in terms of police reform. I addressed a conference of chief constables and police and crime commissioners earlier this year about this matter. I am happy to say that I have had discussions on precisely this matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). If he becomes Mayor of London, I am assured that he will continue the reforms in the Metropolitan police.

T6. The Europol chief, Rob Wainwright, has warned that up to 5,000 ISIS fighters are already in the EU. How does the Home Secretary feel that being in the EU makes us safer? (903689)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that what is important for the United Kingdom in this respect is that we can be in the European Union and continue with the border controls that we have, unlike the countries that are in Schengen. We will never be in Schengen. We will maintain security checks at the border, which is the right thing for us to do.

The Prime Minister has claimed that he has delivered on his promise that

“if an EU jobseeker has not found work within 6 months, they will be required to leave”—

a promise that he made to JCB workers on 28 November 2014. However, in reply to my written question, number 17574, in December last year, the Immigration Minister admitted that EU migrants can

“keep the status of jobseeker for longer than six months”.

Will the Home Secretary clarify who is right—the Prime Minister or the Immigration Minister?

I think we can safely say that the Prime Minister is right. In a few moments, my hon. Friend will hear precisely how the Prime Minister has set out the agenda in relation to welfare benefits.

T9. I was proud to join Housing for Women last week to celebrate the first anniversary of its operating the women’s refuge in Merton. It supported 38 women and 45 children in 2015. Unfortunately, not all refuges are in the same position, with 30 closing over the last year and 42% of rape crisis centres not having money beyond next month. Will the Home Secretary do everything she can to ensure that no woman is forced to return home to a violent partner and, possibly, to her death? (903693)

I remember the days when the hon. Lady and I served on the council of the London Borough of Merton. She took an interest in domestic violence and support for its victims and survivors then, and she continues to do so now. Of course, the Government have put extra money into refuges and supported various domestic violence services. It is a terrible crime and we need to deal with it.

What assessment has been made of the number of connections police forces have made to the child abuse image database since it launched?

My hon. Friend raises the very important issue of the child abuse image database, which was introduced by the Government and is leading the world in tackling online indecent images of children. We now have all 43 forces connected to the image database and are starting to see real results in protecting children.

Where police and fire and rescue services decide to amalgamate regionally, will the Secretary of State give a guarantee that she will not in any way, shape or form allow the services they provide to be mutualised or privatised?

The reason for enabling police and crime commissioners to bring together policing and fire and rescue services is to be able to offer enhanced services. In looking at a decision to be taken at a local level, a business case will have to be made for bringing them together.