The Secretary of State was asked—
Migration (Africa to the EU)
1. What steps the Government are taking to tackle migration from countries in Africa to the EU. (904375)
We are working closely with European and African partners to address illegal migration to the European Union. November’s Valletta summit created a coherent framework and road map for action. As current chair of the Khartoum process, the Government take a leading role in driving forward projects to combat people smuggling and trafficking from Africa, focusing on capacity building, training and communications.
Just before Easter weekend, 52 suspected migrants, many of north African descent, were held after two lorries were stopped at the Dartford crossing and in Canterbury. Given that Kent is on the front line of these desperate attempts, can my right hon. Friend outline what additional support can be provided to our region’s police and border guards to prevent these clandestine actions?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I recognise the role that Kent plays in these matters, being on the front line, as she says. There is a dedicated unit in Kent and specialist debriefers to support the police to gather further intelligence to deal with this vile trade, but importantly, of course, we want to stop people from arriving in the UK clandestinely. That is where the work we are doing, particularly with the French Government, on improved security at the juxtaposed controls in Calais and elsewhere on the continent is important, as is the work of the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and, in particular, the border crime command in dealing with partners across Europe and in Africa to break the criminal gangs and to stop trafficking and people smuggling taking place.
The deal with Turkey was brokered after intense negotiations, which seem to be lacking in respect of north Africa. I hear what the Home Secretary says about the Khartoum process, but the numbers coming from north Africa to Italy have increased by 80% over the last year, and only last night President Obama said that Libya was the worst mistake of his presidency. Italy faces a summer of crisis. Does the Home Secretary agree that one way to stem this is to enable international boats to enter Libyan coastal waters to intercept those criminal gangs and stop them duping innocent people into putting their lives at risk?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we need to look carefully at what is happening and at what happened last summer for people coming through Libya into Italy, primarily through Lampedusa, but also, now that the spring and summer months are upon us and the weather is better, at what could happen again. It is not just about boats entering Libyan waters—the United Nations has discussed the action that can be taken in relation to these matters. It is also about working upstream. It is about working with the source countries to ensure that people have less incentive to be moving away—that is where our development aid work is particularly important—and also about working with transit countries to break the model of the smugglers and people traffickers, so that people see that making this dangerous journey does not enable them to settle in Europe.
The Home Secretary may remember that at our last Question Time when we discussed this, I asked a specific question about whether we were searching all lorries, and she told me I had misunderstood the situation. I am not sure I have, because we now read that only half the lorries are being searched. Many people are stowing away in lorries; they are arriving here, and they are never sent back. It is making a mockery of our immigration rules, so will she give a direct answer to a direct question: will all lorries now be searched at Calais?
I apologise to my hon. Friend if there was any misunderstanding in the answer that I gave last time round. We do search lorries at the juxtaposed controls. The point of having the juxtaposed controls is that it enables us to do more, but it is a question of using various techniques to try to ensure that we can identify clandestines who may be aboard lorries. One of the challenges we face is that, because of the extra security measures we have taken, particularly at Calais and Coquelles, it is obviously much harder for people to get on lorries at those places. We are now having to work with the French Government—it is not just about searching lorries; it is about working upstream as well—to try to identify places further afield where people may be trying to get on the lorries, so that we can catch them at that stage, rather than relying on searches or techniques that are used at the border.
The Home Secretary will be aware that organisations such as UNICEF and Save the Children are urging the British Government to do much more to help vulnerable refugees and especially unaccompanied children. She has mentioned the people traffickers and stopping the organised gangs, but there is a very real risk of child sexual exploitation with these vulnerable children travelling across to Europe, so what more are she and the Government doing to make sure this problem is tackled?
We are very conscious of the issues that could arise concerning children, particularly children who are being trafficked and exploited in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. That is why the expertise of the independent anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, is being used. He has already had discussions with people in Calais and he will visit hotspots elsewhere in Europe in the coming weeks to ensure that he can help to identify these issues and share his expertise so that others can identify those who might be exploited or trafficked.
2. What plans she has to relocate or offer asylum in the UK to refugees in mainland Europe. (904376)
5. What plans she has to relocate or offer asylum in the UK to refugees in mainland Europe. (904379)
The Government are opposed to EU relocation proposals, which do nothing to address the underlying issues the EU is facing and simply move the problem around Europe. Our focus should be on securing the external border, returning those with no right to be in the EU and addressing the underlying issues in source and transit countries, so that people no longer feel that they have no choice but to travel to Europe.
At the weekend, it was reported that the Children’s Commissioner had written to the French Government urging action to speed up asylum claims to help lone children in the Calais refugee camps to reach relatives in the UK. These children must be absolutely petrified and feeling completely isolated and vulnerable—a situation that we would not countenance for our own loved ones. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with her French counterparts in order to stress the critical need to get these poor children safely reunited with their families in the UK?
The Home Secretary and her colleagues have had regular discussions with their French counterparts precisely on this matter in order to speed up the process. Indeed, I can report that there has been a significant improvement over the last few weeks in the time it takes to process these applications.
Charity workers at Calais have deep concerns about the 129 missing children, following the dismantling of parts of the jungle. Does the Home Secretary agree that the authorities must do more, and will she make representations to the French authorities urgently to seek these children out and, in particular, to determine with haste which of these children are eligible to come to Scotland and the rest of the UK?
I am pleased to report again that there are regular discussions between the Home Secretary and her French colleagues on this matter. The Department for International Development recently announced the provision of a further £10 million-worth of special funding precisely to help unaccompanied children in Europe. Details about how the money will be allocated will be announced shortly.
Does the Minister agree that, far from lagging behind the European Union on this issue, the UK is actually doing far more than any other country in Europe through its massive support for the camps and the refugees in the region, while also resettling the most vulnerable refugees from the camps to the UK?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Government believe that relocating children around Europe is not the answer. Under our scheme to relocate the most vulnerable people from Syria and the countries around it, 51% of the people being brought over here are children. I hope that Members on both sides of the House would accept that this is a well measured and well carried-out scheme, which has led to significant improvement in many children’s lives.
Nevertheless, thousands of children are still waiting to be resettled. We have been having this debate for weeks and months. I am ashamed when I listen to debates in the European Parliament about this issue and hear concern and compassion—something that seems to be singularly lacking in this place.
The right hon. Lady will be aware, I am sure, that under our resettlement scheme many children have been resettled—more than 50% of those coming here are children, as I have said. I remind her and other Members that the policy of UNHCR is to keep children in the areas around Syria, and it has been very successful in identifying children with the greater families to make sure that they have a good chance of a better life in the future.
23. Will the Government expand the current definition of the family unit to include de facto family members and simplify the system so that vulnerable children can come here much more quickly than is currently the case? (904398)
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are currently looking at reports from the UNHCR on precisely the issue of unaccompanied children, and I hope he will agree that lots of efforts are under way to ensure that that happens.
I call Callum McCaig.
22. Thank you, Mr Speaker; I was not expecting to be called. The Government have rightly made a big deal of the Syria donor conference in London, but the UNHCR has said that financial solidarity is not enough. Why will the United Kingdom Government not listen, and why did they not step up to their responsibilities at the Geneva conference and do more to help Syrian refugees? (904397)
I was at the Geneva conference on behalf of the Government, and I wish to place on the record that the British Government were congratulated by many other Governments on the work that they have done in relocating Syrian refugees. Our programme for resettling them has been significantly greater than those of all the other countries in the European Union put together.
At Easter, along with three other SNP Members, I spent several days visiting the camps at Calais and Dunkirk. During our visit, we met many refugees with strong ties to the United Kingdom. Why is the Government’s record on “take charge” requests under the Dublin convention for those with strong ties to the UK so poor, and what exactly will the Government do to ensure that there is greater awareness of, and a faster process for, such requests?
The hon. and learned Lady has rightly mentioned the Dublin convention and its effect. It is our Government’s policy to ensure that the convention works properly. With that in mind, we have seconded officials not just to France, including Calais, but to other parts of Europe—Athens, Rome and Germany—to ensure that what she has asked for happens and that the process is speeded up significantly.
I am afraid that the Minister’s answer is not good enough. There was no evidence of any Home Office presence in any of those camps, and what is happening to children in the camps is utterly disgraceful. In the Grande-Synthe camp—
It is up to the French.
If I am allowed to speak, I shall try to continue.
Order. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) is chuntering, from a sedentary position, “It is up to the French.” The hon. Gentleman is welcome to his opinion, but his opinion is not enhanced by his suddenly winking at me as though in self-justification. The hon. and learned Lady is a distinguished advocate, and she must be heard. Even if she were not a distinguished advocate, she would still be heard.
This is not a laughing matter, and it is not “up to the French” when those children have connections with the United Kingdom. That is my point.
In the Grande-Synthe camp, I met a 16-year-old girl who was working hard for exams in a pop-up school in a tent. She had made the journey to northern France on her own. Her father is in the United Kingdom, but owing to the absence of guidance from the French authorities and the failure of our Government to act, she was stuck in limbo and uncertain about her future. Children like her are very vulnerable in the camps. It is time for the Home Secretary to show leadership. Will she give us a commitment that her Department will ensure that those with a legal right to join their families in the United Kingdom are granted that right as a matter of urgency?
I shall try to avoid repeating what the chunterers were saying earlier, because the hon. and learned Lady has made a serious point. However, I must reiterate that those children are in France and are predominantly the responsibility of the French Government, with whom we are working very closely by placing officials with them.
The children in question have a clear path. They should claim asylum under the Dublin convention, which they are perfectly allowed to do. It is then the responsibility of the Home Office—the British Government —to ensure that their asylum claims are processed speedily and effectively. If they do have the relationships with families in the United Kingdom that the hon. and learned Lady has been told that they have, I can assure her that the process is very much speedier and more efficient than it used to be.
3. What assessment she has made of recent trends in the level of cybercrime. (904377)
While overall crime has fallen by more than a quarter since 2010, it is also changing, as the hon. Gentleman knows. An accurate national picture is critical to informing our response to cybercrime, which is why the Office for National Statistics has now published, for the first time, initial estimates of the number of cybercrimes committed, based on a preliminary field trial. The ONS estimates that there are 2.5 million incidents of computer-misuse crime per year.
The Office for National Statistics estimates that there were some 5.1 million incidents involving such crimes last year, which adds about 40% to the baseline figure for crime in the UK. Will the Minister accept that crime appears to be going up, rather than down?
I think crime is changing. The hon. Gentleman is right that this is about skills, which is why we established the National Cyber Crime Unit in the National Crime Agency, and about resources, which is why we have put £1.9 billion into this area of work. However, the issue is also about recognising that many such crimes can be prevented through straightforward good practice by citizens.
I think—I know you do too, Mr Speaker—that questions should always have a purpose beyond challenging the Government and should actually deliver positive results for Members. Following the hon. Gentleman’s question, I will write to him and to the whole House with details of how he can advise businesses in Scunthorpe and his constituents on how to stop these kinds of cybercrimes.
I await that with eager anticipation.
The west of England is leading the way in tackling cybercrime following the £1.9 billion investment announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last year. Given the atrocities in Brussels last month, will the Minister update the House on how he is working with our allies to tackle cybercrime?
What is critical in tackling cybercrime is the partnership between the private and public sectors, which is why the Home Secretary launched a joint taskforce to look at how allies, comrades, friends and others can work together to tackle this issue. It is also important to emphasise that GCHQ states that 80% of such crimes can be prevented by the straightforward good practice that I identified earlier, which is precisely why I take the matter so seriously and why public information is at the heart of what we do.
For five years, the Government’s alibi has been, “We cut police, but we cut crime.” The Police Minister has told Sky that citizens are more likely to have a crime perpetrated against them online on their computers while they are asleep than in the street. With cybercrime statistics set nearly to double the national crime rate, will the Minister finally admit that, far from the alibi of the past five years being the case, crime is not falling? Crime is changing and the truth is that crime is rising.
It is always unfortunate when a shadow Minister prepares a question in advance and does not listen to what has been said immediately beforehand. I said in my first answer that crime is changing. It is falling, but it is also changing and because it is changing we need the additional skills, resources and approaches that I described to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin).
Given that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) made a bit of a hash of his question, I want to help him as much as I can: I refer him to the two sets of guidance that we have just published, which I will happily furnish him with following questions.
Fire and Rescue Service (Funding)
4. What assessment she has made of the effect of changes in the level of funding on the work of the fire and rescue service. (904378)
Fire and rescue authorities have delivered significant savings since 2010, and fire deaths and injuries are at near historical lows. Authorities can still work smarter and reduce costs. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, single-purpose fire authorities’ non-ring-fenced reserves rose by 136% to £561 million. Those resources should be targeted at achieving long-term efficiencies.
Last year, an on-duty firefighter tragically took his own life at Stalybridge fire station citing a number of workplace pressures, which is part of a pattern of abnormally high firefighter suicides in Greater Manchester over the past few years. As fire and rescue budgets have been severely reduced, the job of a firefighter is clearly now even more demanding. What can the Home Secretary say to reassure me that the Home Office takes seriously the pressures that firefighters face and is working to ensure that firefighters do their job in a safe and well-supported environment?
First, may I send my condolences to the family of that individual firefighter in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? The suicide of any firefighter is a great tragedy, and of course we recognise the pressures and the difficult job that firefighters do. However, the number of fires they are having to be called to has been reducing—as I said, the number of fire deaths and injuries is now at near historical lows—and so the job of being a firefighter has been changing over the years. For example, firefighters are now doing more fire prevention work, which is very valuable work for communities. As we look forward to greater collaboration between firefighters and the police service, we can look to an even better service being provided for communities.
As I am currently on attachment with the Northamptonshire fire and rescue service, as part of the fire service parliamentary scheme, I have had the privilege over the past few months of seeing the increasingly close way Northamptonshire’s police and fire and rescue services are working together to deliver more effective emergency services, at a far lower cost. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to congratulate both Northamptonshire police and Northamptonshire fire and rescue service on the innovative and enthusiastic way in which they are facing these challenges?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in doing exactly that, as we see in Northamptonshire a very good example of the benefits collaboration can bring. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims was in Northampton last week to open a joint fire station and police station, which shows the benefits of collaboration, not only in saving money, but in providing a better service to the public.
18. Fire services for the six largest cities outside London will have had their budgets cut by half between 2010 and 2020, and thousands of firefighters will have lost their jobs and many fire stations will have closed. Firefighters do a superb job, as we know, but can the Home Secretary say honestly that community safety is not being compromised and that no lives will be lost as a direct result of the cuts? (904393)
As I indicated, we have seen a significant reduction in the number of incidents; from 2004-05 to 2014-15, the number of incidents fire and rescue services went to declined by 42%. As I said in response to the question from the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), although firefighters do still find themselves being called to fires, a lot of their work is also about other services to the community. They are doing an excellent job but we want to see how that can be done even better and how they can work better in collaboration with the police, as we have seen in places such as Northamptonshire.
Cuts to the fire and rescue service have already cost us 6,700 front-line firefighters and cuts to the police have already cost us 12,000 front-line police officers. As the Home Secretary knows, reserves can be spent only once and there are significant, real cuts to come. With the public less well protected with every day that passes, will she admit that her cynical plan to merge both services will not protect or restore a single police officer or firefighter to the front line, or make a single member of the public safer?
Yet again, the Labour party goes down the road of thinking that the only thing that matters is the number of police officers or firefighters available. The hon. Lady talks about full-time firefighters, but may I pay tribute to those people who volunteer as firefighters in their community, as they are often overlooked when we examine the issue of firefighters? What matters is not just the number of people we have, but how we are spending the money and how we are deploying our resources. That is where the efficiencies we have seen and the collaboration we see will result in not just savings, but a better service to the public.
Asylum (Unaccompanied Children)
6. What support her Department is providing for local authority provision for unaccompanied children seeking asylum. (904380)
The Home Office provides financial support to local authorities by meeting reasonable additional costs for those local authorities taking on responsibility for the care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Immigration Bill will underpin arrangements to secure more equitable dispersal between local authorities.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but given the number of cases where people over the age of 18 are pretending to be children, what can local authorities do to ensure that their limited resources are being best directed to very vulnerable children?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I also thank those in Northamptonshire for the work they are doing to deal with the pressures they have experienced and for the way in which they have approached this through the discussions and round-table meetings that have taken place. Clear age-assessment tests are undertaken to ensure that support is provided to those who require it and not to those who do not. Let me add that I will be writing to all local authorities this week with an update on progress on the national transfer scheme to aid the more equitable dispersal.
20. Can the Minister say how much money from the overseas budget has been used to help local authorities to resettle asylum seekers? (904395)
The hon. Gentleman is asking not about unaccompanied asylum-seeking children but a broader question about the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. We have set out the different funding mechanisms available to those who are resettled and some of that is fundable through overseas development aid. That is how we are ensuring that appropriate support and welcome are given to the people arriving.
I think the Minister would agree that we can perform our duty as a country only if all areas take up their responsibility, so it is good to hear his answer. May I ask him about education support? Vulnerable children should not lose their chance of a future, so how will local authorities with experience of helping asylum-seeker children support those with less experience of educating those children?
We have had discussions with the Department for Education and the Local Government Association about the voluntary dispersal arrangements we want to see, underpinned by the Immigration Bill currently in the other place. We are continuing the dialogue on precisely how elements of that are implemented and on how we can learn from the expertise of authorities that have had greater involvement in these matters.
24. During the recess, Scottish National party MPs visited the Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps and witnessed unaccompanied children being forced to share bed space with unrelated adults. That is clearly a troubling and serious matter. Does the Minister think the Government are doing enough to support those children? Surely it is time to step up to the plate and do more. (904399)
We are working closely with the French Government. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees said in answer to a previous question, we have had a secondee working in the Ministry of the Interior in France to speed up the process in relation to children identified as having links to family here in the UK. Equally, the French Government are putting greater support in through a charity to raise awareness and identify children better to give them the help they require.
It is good to see the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) back in his place.
Recruitment (Overseas Workers)
7. What discussions she has had with her ministerial colleagues on the effect of changes to immigration rules on recruitment of overseas workers. (904381)
The Home Office works closely, at ministerial and official levels, with interested Departments on all significant changes to migration policy. The reforms we have announced have been collectively agreed. May I too welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place?
May I thank all colleagues who sent me messages during my involuntary absence? I’m back.
Will the Minister explain how it is that his Department is proposing a £35,000 salary threshold, which will have a detrimental impact in many areas where we have shortage occupations? Can he explain why the initial priority list of jobs did not include NHS nurses? I was treated by nurses from all over the world, including some from European Union countries, and I know that in London there will be a major recruitment problem. Already, we cannot provide enough nurses for our NHS and, if we take away recruitment opportunities from NHS trusts in London and elsewhere, we will have major shortages.
It is great to see the hon. Gentleman back in his place, and clearly fighting fit.
In essence, the £35,000 threshold applies to gaining settlement, allowing people to extend their time in the UK. We took considered advice from the Migration Advisory Committee at the time it was set, back in 2011, and employers have had five years to prepare for the change. Occupations on the shortage occupation list, including nursing and other shortage skills, are excluded from the requirement. We have carefully considered the independent advice from the MAC on that important matter.
Has the Home Office assessed the impact of the changes on the Scottish economy? Is it not the case that the new arbitrary target, combined with the abolition of the post-study work visa, prevents Scotland from attracting and retaining the brightest and best the world has to offer? Why have this Government prioritised narrow political interests over measures to grow our economy?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady has got it completely wrong. The Government have made it clear that the UK remains open for business. I would gently say to her that we take advice from the expert Migration Advisory Committee, which has advised against different salary thresholds in UK countries and regions. Our thresholds are based on UK-wide data, and salaries in Scotland are slightly higher than the UK average. Advancing the point that she makes might lead to higher salary thresholds in Scotland.
Police and Crime Commissioners
8. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners in reducing levels of crime.
9. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners in reducing levels of crime.
11. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners in reducing levels of crime. (904386)
Elected police and crime commissioners are providing accountable, visible leadership, and are 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.
In Fylde, concerns have been raised about the police and crime commissioner spreading resources away from rural areas. What assurances can the Home Secretary give me that police and crime commissioners will be accountable to the Government for failure to spend adequately in rural areas?
One of the changes that has been brought about as a result of the introduction of police and crime commissioners is a greater focus in some areas on rural crime. The national rural crime network, for example, has been set up, and I pay tribute to Julia Mulligan, the PCC in North Yorkshire, for being a leading light in developing that. It is an issue that I discussed with Chris Salmon, the PCC in Dyfed-Powys, and farming representatives when I was in mid-Wales a few weeks ago. We can now ensure, in some police areas, that PCCs put the right focus on rural crime, but to do so the right PCC needs to be elected.
Police and crime commissioners provide crucial accountability in the criminal justice system. They ensure that the public have a direct input in how their local streets are policed. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is now time to widen the scope of the work of PCCs to see where else in the criminal justice system they can make a contribution?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he is absolutely right. We used the title, “police and crime commissioners”, when we set up the office, precisely because we thought that they could have a wider role. I am pleased to tell him that the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary and I have commissioned work to look at precisely the issue that he has raised. What else can PCCs do in the criminal justice system, and what further responsibilities can they take on in the interests of providing better services to the local community?
In Cheshire, crime is down, and John Dwyer, the police and crime commissioner, has managed to get 2,000 police officers on the beat. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a Conservative PCC in Cheshire to keep crime down and keep our communities safe?
I commend the work that has been done by John Dwyer as the first PCC for Cheshire. He has done an excellent job in getting, as my hon. Friend said, more police officers and in managing the budget well. As my hon. Friend said, crime is down, and a Conservative PCC in Cheshire after the 5 May election will continue to do an excellent job and provide an excellent service for local people.
Is the Home Secretary aware that, in areas such as mine in north Wales, the police and crime commissioner has had to put up the precept at more than the rate of inflation to compensate for Tory Government cuts? Is it a fair use of taxpayers’ resources to compensate for cuts imposed by central Government?
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that we are protecting police budgets when the precept is taken into account, which is in sharp contrast to proposals from his Front-Bench team, who want to cut police budgets by 10%.
The Home Secretary might know that we are very pleased with our police and crime commissioner in West Yorkshire, but has she picked up from PCCs the problems with intelligence gathering in particular communities that are impenetrable owing to their language and culture? Police have real difficulty penetrating organised gangs.
There are obviously challenges in relation to dealing with certain communities with organised gangs where, as the hon. Gentleman says, there may well be language difficulties. Police and crime commissioners are finding many innovative ways around that. Looking at their recruitment policies and at how volunteers and special constables in particular can be used to ensure that the language skills are available is a very good idea, which has been adopted by some PCCs around the country.
On Friday, the South Yorkshire PCC announced the loss of 850 police staff because of Government cuts. Also last week, the National Crime Agency’s application to the Home Office for support for Rotherham’s 1,400 victims of child abuse was rejected. How are we meant to bring down child sexual exploitation when the Government are cutting police resources?
I indicated earlier that overall the Government are protecting police budgets when the precept is taken into account. We have also made money available to the national policing lead precisely in relation to the issue of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation, and ensured that the National Crime Agency has the resources it needs to be able to do that job. The hon. Lady has an excellent record in dealing with this issue. Her constituency has faced particularly challenging times as a result of child sexual exploitation, and I can assure her that I and other Ministers involved take the issue very seriously indeed. That is why we have taken steps such as setting up the Goddard inquiry, and why we have made money available to the national policing lead in order to better co-ordinate the work that is done in this area.
Unaccompanied Child Migrants
10. What recent assessment she has made of the risks of trafficking or exploitation to unaccompanied child migrants in France who intend to seek asylum in the UK; and if she will make a statement. (904385)
The French and UK Governments have put in place a programme, run by the non-governmental organisation France terre d’asile, to identify and help potential victims of trafficking in the camps around Calais. As has been said in previous answers, unaccompanied refugee children in France should claim asylum there. That is the best way to ensure that they receive the protection and support they need. It also provides a legal and safe route to the UK for those with close family in the UK.
But as we know from the earlier questions to which the Minister referred, there are 129 missing children, who are obviously those most at risk of such exploitation. I had a very welcome letter recently from her colleague, the Immigration Minister, about the situation of children in the camps. He said that these cases are being given priority so that the children can
“receive the protection and support they need and are reunited as soon as possible with any close family members in the UK.”
How many have been reunited?
The right hon. Lady knows that we are not giving a running commentary on numbers, but I can assure her that the work is taking place and that any unaccompanied asylum-seeking child in France should claim asylum there with the support of the NGOs, and if they have family in the UK, we will reunite them.
In view of the clear link between trafficking and forced prostitution, and following the French Government’s change last week to their prostitution laws, criminalising sex buyers but not the vulnerable women involved, and similar changes in Sweden and Norway years ago which reduced trafficking substantially, do Ministers agree that that should be considered in this country?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in this issue and we have discussed the point outside the Chamber. I am aware also of the Home Affairs Committee’s current inquiry into the matter, and I look forward to seeing the evidence.
12. What steps the Government are taking to tackle (a) criminal gangs and (b) paedophiles operating online. (904387)
This Government have committed to spending £1.9 billion on cyber-security over the next five years, including for tackling cybercrime. Our response to online child sexual exploitation includes law enforcement agencies taking action against online offenders, finding and safeguarding victims, and working with the internet industry to remove illegal images.
We await the new child sexual exploitation response unit, which will be established any day now. Can the Minister assure the House that the new unit will result in a step change, not just bringing abusers to justice, but working with parents, communities and schools to provide children with the skills, understanding and confidence to keep themselves safe online?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the response unit, which will deliver significant benefits by assisting local areas experiencing particular issues and/or high volumes of child sexual exploitation cases, by offering a range of support, including advice from expert practitioners who have first-hand experience of tackling child sexual exploitation.
Going missing can be an indicator that a child or young person is being exploited by organised gangs to traffic drugs across county lines. What more can be done to ensure that police forces work together and share information on missing children in order to combat the criminal exploitation of young people?
The hon. Lady, who has incredible expertise in this area, is absolutely right; we need police forces to take this seriously and recognise that a missing child is a child who is being exploited while they are missing. There is therefore a fantastic opportunity for intelligence gathering and safeguarding those children to stop them going missing in future.
One of the proposed measures for tackling criminal gangs and paedophiles online is the Investigatory Powers Bill, which will start its line-by-line scrutiny tomorrow. One of the main concerns that we have outlined about the Bill as currently drafted is the proposed test that judges would undertake when considering applications for warrants to use the most intrusive powers, specifically the reference to judicial review. Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice and current Chief Surveillance Commissioner, told the Bill Committee in oral evidence just before Easter that judicial review was “not a sufficient test” to apply and that the Government should look at this again. Given that someone of his seniority who is held in such respect feels that the test is not good enough, will the Government reconsider the Bill’s wording in relation to judicial review?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has great expertise in this area, but I am not sure that I necessarily agree with his comments. There is a double lock, and it is about necessity and proportionality, but he is right to make the point that the Bill is incredibly important when it comes to protecting children, as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children pointed out in oral evidence to the Committee considering the Policing and Crime Bill.
Violence against Women and Girls
13. What steps the Government have taken to tackle violence against women and girls. (904388)
Our new violence against women and girls strategy, published last month, sets out an ambitious programme of reform, backed by increased funding of £80 million, to make tackling these crimes everybody’s business, to ensure victims get the support they need and to bring more perpetrators to justice. We have also introduced a new domestic abuse offence to capture coercive control, and we have consulted on new measures to protect victims of stalking.
Last month, True Honour, an honour-based violence charity led by my constituent Sarbjit Athwal, and of which I am proud to be a trustee, was recognised with charity status. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on her Department’s progress in tackling honour-based violence?
First, I commend True Honour, the charity in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and Sarbjit Athwal for the work they do in this area. It is an incredibly important issue. Of course, the Government have already significantly strengthened the law on forced marriage and female genital mutilation. We have issued a range of materials to support professionals, including new statutory multi-agency FGM guidance, and our forced marriage and FGM units are carrying out ongoing outreach programmes. It is very important that we help people to identify where young people may be subject either to forced marriage or to female genital mutilation and to take appropriate action.
Serious and Violent Crimes
15. What assessment she has made of recent trends in the level of the most serious and violent crimes. (904390)
Violent crime is 25% lower than it was in June 2010, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. Our new modern crime prevention strategy includes actions to tackle a range of crimes, including violent and knife crime.
Noureden Mallaky-Soodmand is a convicted violent Iranian criminal who was transferred to my constituency upon release from prison because the paperwork needed to deport him could not be sorted out. He is now back in prison after brandishing a cleaver and threatening to decapitate people in Stockton. Can the Minister tell me when I will get full answers to my parliamentary questions on which authorities in Stockton, if any, were told about this dangerous man in our area?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot comment on the specifics of the case. If he will forgive me, I will write to him.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. (904340)
In 25 days’ time, the public will go to the polling booths to vote for elected representatives in local authorities, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and for the mayoralty of this great city. We have a great tradition of democratic accountability in this country, and I am proud that on 5 May that principle will be extended to policing. For the first time since we introduced them in 2012, the public will be able to hold their local police and crime commissioner to account for their record in office. It is easy to forget what went before PCCs: the unelected, unaccountable and invisible police authorities, which no one knew existed. Today, a majority of the public know about their PCCs, and PCCs have been associated with greater clarity of leadership and heightened accountability by the Home Affairs Committee. Even the Labour party, which until recently opposed PCCs, and the Liberal Democrats, who did everything they could to sabotage the first elections, support the role and have nominated candidates in May’s elections. PCCs have worked hard over the past three and a half years to keep their communities safe, so I hope that the House will join me in congratulating the first PCCs on their successes and encouraging the public to hold them to account in the most powerful way possible on 5 May: at the ballot box.
Levels of violent crime and domestic abuse remain unacceptably high in Croydon, and the borough was of course hit hard in the 2011 riots, so it is very worrying that it is about to lose a third of its remaining neighbourhood police bases, on top of 83% of its police community support officers—reductions that are much higher than the average in London. Will the Home Secretary therefore meet me to discuss real public concerns that these cuts will damage the fight against crime in Croydon?
To repeat what I said earlier, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government have protected police budgets over the comprehensive spending review period, when precept is taken into account, which is in sharp difference to what the Labour Front Bench suggested—cutting them by 10%.
T2. My right hon. Friend may be aware that I am participating in the police parliamentary scheme, seeing at first hand the excellent work of Greater Manchester police. What is being done to ensure that there are adequate and safe levels of community policing in my constituency? (904341)
I congratulate all hon. Members who take part in these parliamentary schemes. I would also recommend the fire scheme and the armed forces scheme. With the Chancellor’s help, we have managed to protect budgets, subject to the precept. For anyone interested in neighbourhood policing, I would say that those who have a Conservative police and crime commissioner and a Conservative mayor have more chance of having more officers on the beat.
In the aftermath of the attacks in Brussels and Paris, the security of the UK border is uppermost in people’s minds. However, we are a fortnight into the new financial year, and the Home Secretary is still refusing to answer questions on the budget for Border Force. A whistleblower says staff were told three weeks ago to expect front-line cuts of 6%, although, since media reports of that came out, we hear that the Home Office has been back-pedalling. I hope the Home Secretary is backing down, because our borders cannot face cuts on this scale. I therefore invite her to clear the issue up today: what is the 2016-17 budget for Border Force, and is it up or down on last year?
The right hon. Gentleman has written to me on this subject, and I have responded to him. The Home Office’s budget was published under the comprehensive spending review as normal last November. As with the rest of the Government, individual allocations within Departments are not routinely published. However, what matters—he is right—is that we have a secure border, and that is why we have a transformation plan with Border Force and why we have changed Border Force over the last few years from the dysfunctional United Kingdom Border Agency we inherited from the last Labour Government.
It will not have escaped the notice of the House or anybody watching that the Home Secretary has not answered the question. We know that financial transparency and this Government do not go well together, as we are about to hear, but what are the Government trying to hide? I hope the delay in publishing the budget is due to the fact that she is listening to us and backing down on those 6% cuts.
Let me turn to another area where the Home Secretary is moving under Labour pressure: police bail for terror suspects. I have called on the Government for months to close a loophole that has allowed individuals on bail, such as Siddhartha Dhar, to leave the country for Syria. I welcome the fact that the Government last week indicated that they are prepared to move on the issue, but I am worried that they are not going far enough. Does the Home Secretary agree that passports and travel documents should be surrendered as a condition of release from police custody? Will she work with Labour to amend the Policing and Crime Bill to that end?
We have been looking at this issue for some time, and we have decided that we will bring forward an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill. However, it is important that the police continue to have a degree of operational judgment about the conditions they wish to put in place in relation to bail. The type of bail the right hon. Gentleman is talking about is pre-charge bail—a situation where somebody has not yet been charged with an offence. Decisions will be taken, as they were in the case of Siddhartha Dhar, by individual police officers as to the conditions that should be applied, and that should continue to be the case.
T4. How many of the approximately 800 British citizens who have joined militant groups in Syria have returned, and how many of them are back in communities? (904343)
Around half of those who have travelled to Syria have returned to the United Kingdom. Obviously, the sort of action it might be necessary to take against individuals is considered on a case-by-case basis. That includes considering the sorts of activities in which they may have been involved in Syria and whether any intervention is necessary.
T3. Last week, 18-year-old Mohammed Hussain, a Kurdish refugee, died underneath a lorry as he attempted to flee violence and be reunited with his family in Manchester. The tragic story of Mohammed highlights the dangerous routes that many refugees are forced to take. When will the Government open up family visa opportunities to British citizens and settled residents so that we can prevent deaths like that of Mohammed from happening again? (904342)
The hon. Gentleman highlights the appalling risks that some people have taken to get through the security and other steps that have been put in place. Our very clear message to those people is that they should claim asylum in France. On the issue of resettlement, we are certainly making the process clearer and working with the Red Cross and others on the guidance provided.
T5. Has the Home Office team had time to reflect on the extraordinary National Union of Teachers motion that condemned the Prevent duty? Do Ministers agree that we all have a responsibility to do all we can to prevent young people from engaging in terrorism and extremism? (904344)
It was Ruskin who said:
“Let us reform our schools, and we shall find little reform needed in our prisons.”
It is in that spirit that the Prevent duty missions teachers to identify those vulnerable young people and safeguard them from being drawn into terrorism. Schools are stepping up to that mark, as they know their students best. They are well equipped and well prepared, and they are safeguarding our children and so securing our future.
Thank you for reminding us of Ruskin.
T6. The Home Secretary recently said at the launch of the Conservatives’ PCC election campaign that “the Conservative Government has protected overall police spending for the next four years”.However, Sir Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has confirmed House of Commons Library research that shows that forces will see a £160 million cut next year alone. In the light of that, and given the importance of the upcoming elections, will the Home Secretary admit that funding for our police forces has not been protected and is being cut again for each of the next four years? (904345)
If we take the precept into account, we can see that police funding has been protected over the past four years. The one person we did not listen to was the Labour shadow Secretary of State, because he wanted to cut it by 10%.
T7. What success have the Government had in recent months in deporting overstayers who have been working here illegally? (904346)
I underline the important work in confronting crimes linked to those working illegally. In 2015, more than 38,000 people were removed or deported from the UK, including a 28% increase in voluntary returns. That highlights the fact that people realise that it is so much tougher to get work here.
What recent discussions have Ministers had with chief constables about the growing menace of scrambler bikes being ridden recklessly on our roads, with the potential to cause great accidents, usually by young men wearing masks and without number plates?
I had those sorts of discussions when I was at the Department for Transport, and we continue to have them. Unlicensed, unauthorised and unsafe vehicles on the roads are a menace, and the police should use all the powers they have.
T8. The Investigatory Powers Bill, which is going through the House, provides important capabilities, along with new safeguards, to tackle cybercrime. Will Ministers update the House on how the changing nature of crime is being fought by the Bill?
The motives of terrorists, paedophiles and people traffickers may differ, but their means are the same, and they take advantage of the internet. The Bill will provide the police and security services with powers that are necessary to keep us safe. Powerful new measures, steely determination and an iron will mark all that we do.
Anyone from Malawi who wants to visit the UK has to apply online with a credit card. Given how few people in Malawi have access to electricity, let alone the internet or banking facilities, what steps is the Home Office taking to make sure that people who have a legitimate request can apply?
The hon. Gentleman has raised that issue with me previously, and I am happy to continue to discuss it with him and with the all-party group. Clearly, agency and other mechanisms are available, but we will continue to ensure that we have a high-quality visa service.
T9. It is right for the police to be given more powers in relation to the use of Tasers, stop-and-search and the Investigatory Powers Bill, but with greater powers should surely come greater responsibility. Therefore, will the Home Secretary confirm to the House that proper safeguards will remain in place to ensure that the police continue to have the support of the general public? (904349)
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance, in relation to the Investigatory Powers Bill and, crucially, the double lock authorisation that will be available for the use of the most intrusive powers; in relation to the work that we have done in introducing the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme, to ensure that stop-and-search is properly used and properly targeted; and in relation to the work that we have done with Chief Constable David Shaw to identify rather better how Tasers and other restraint are being used. The police need those sensitive powers. What people want to know is that they are being used properly, and the Government are ensuring that that is the case.
Over the past 12 months, a further 39 uniformed police officers and PCSOs have been lost from Enfield’s streets, while violent crime, including assault and possession of a dangerous weapon, has increased by 13%. Ten days ago, there was an attempted drive-by shooting in my constituency. That situation in a London suburb is totally unacceptable and very frightening for residents. There can be no doubt that the hollowing out of neighbourhood policing is putting public safety at risk. What does the Minister intend to do about this situation?
What we intend to do, with the help of the Chancellor, is to make sure that the Metropolitan police has got the funding that it asked for, not to cut funding by 10%, as the Labour party requested. Neighbourhood policing is an operational matter for the commissioner and the Mayor, but I repeat what I said earlier: looking at the statistics, we can see that if we want more police on the beat, we should vote Conservative.
As part of special branch, Hampshire marine unit provides vital crime prevention along our coastal borders and within the marine environment of the Solent and the Isle of Wight, through operations such as Project Kraken. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that vital crime prevention service is protected under current reforms?
My hon. Friend raises an important point and describes the variety of tasks that our police forces carry out, and the variety of skills and operational capabilities that they need. I am very conscious of the marine capability requirements in Hampshire. It is, of course, an operational matter for the police to determine how they spend their budget and what they use it for. Crucially, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has ensured that we can protect police budgets, when precept is taken into account, over the next four years.
Two weeks ago, when four of my colleagues and I were in Calais, the French authorities tear-gassed the Calais camp simply because a protest was going on outside it. Does the Home Secretary approve of such measures, and if not—if she agrees with me that measures should be proportionate to the situation and that refugees must be treated humanely—will she contact her French counterpart and express the concerns of this Parliament?
I was in Calais last week having discussions with the French authorities about those issues, and the very clear message was that those who are there should claim asylum. That is the best and most effective way for them to get the help that they need, and that is the clear message that needs to come from this House.