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Topical Questions

Volume 616: debated on Monday 31 October 2016

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 gave law enforcement agencies new powers, which must now lead to results. Progress is being made, but there is still much more to do. That was why on Anti-slavery Day last week, I announced an £8.5 million fund to transform our domestic police response. That will include funding for more than 50 additional analysts, specialists and investigators. Last week at the Vatican, I announced the £11 million modern slavery innovation fund, which forms part of the £33 million that we have dedicated to overseas aid. The fund will support, trial and test innovative ways of tackling modern slavery. These funds reflect the Government’s commitment to apprehend the perpetrators and protect the victims of these terrible crimes. I look forward to the first meeting of the prime ministerial modern slavery taskforce this week.

Leicestershire County Council is looking at how it can support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give to Leicestershire County Council about providing full reimbursements of costs incurred under the national transfer scheme?

I pay tribute to Leicestershire County Council and all the local authorities that have stepped up and accepted unaccompanied children under the national transfer scheme. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to funding local authorities for the care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. In July we significantly increased the rates by up to 33%. We will keep these arrangements under review.

We are experiencing a cut of over 30% to fire and rescue services funding, with 10,000 jobs lost. Rescues are at an all-time high, with firefighters carrying out, on average, more than 100 rescues per day. Speed is essential when responding, but with fewer firefighters and fewer fire stations, the possibility of a slow response could mean the loss of life. Will the Minister acknowledge that now is the time to invest in the fire and rescue services and stop the reckless cuts—to prioritise saving lives, not saving money?

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I also take this opportunity to express my sympathy to all those affected by the recent devastating fires in Exeter, Birmingham, Doncaster and Cheshire, and to thank the firefighters for their efforts. They do save lives every day, as she outlined.

The hon. Lady should bear in mind that authorities still have more that they can do to reduce costs, as they say themselves. Over the past few weeks I have been talking at many conferences at which people have recognised the need to improve procurement and work collaboratively. She should also bear in mind that, since 2010, fire authorities’ non-ring-fenced reserves have managed to rise by 150%. There is still money so that we can ensure that authorities find future efficiencies.

T2. One area that we have not covered today is rural crime. Many farmers in my constituency are greatly concerned about the prospect of becoming a victim of rural crime. What more can the Department do to help to reassure farmers that we will keep them and their businesses safe? (906868)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this really important subject. It is absolutely crucial that we support our farmers to ensure that the UK maintains a thriving farming industry. I welcome the Dyfed-Powys rural policing strategy, which sets out the force’s commitment to work with the wider rural community and other agencies to prevent crime and enforce the law. The modern crime prevention strategy published by the Government in March supports this approach.

T4. Last Thursday, “Newsnight” reported serious allegations of sexual assault by the most senior lawyer on the child abuse inquiry, Ben Emmerson, QC. The disclosure was made in early September, but no action was taken until 29 September. The Home Secretary’s predecessor hand-picked Mr Emmerson for the inquiry. Can she therefore tell us why it took so long for action to be taken, why the investigation into his conduct was dropped, and why he is still reportedly being paid £1,700 a day even though he no longer works on the inquiry? (906870)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have set out what we knew at the time and its relevance. It is really important that this inquiry continues. The hon. Lady asks questions that are for the head of the independent inquiry. It is essential for the authenticity of this inquiry that it is held independently. It is not run by the Home Office, and that is an essential part of its integrity. I urge her to stop knocking the inquiry and start getting behind it.

T3. Essex constabulary and Essex county fire and rescue service have a long track record of working closely together and are seeking to do more of that in the future. What can my right hon. Friend’s Department do to support police and fire services and encourage them to work more collaboratively? (906869)

My hon. Friend is right that we are delivering on our manifesto pledge by allowing, through the Policing and Crime Bill, police and crime commissioners to take on the governance of fire authorities. There is also a statutory duty to collaborate, which applies to all the services that work together. It is important that our police and fire services work closely together, and I know that those in Essex are keen to be at the forefront of that work.

T6. Lewisham uses the London crime prevention fund to employ officers dedicated to working in a serious youth violence team, but the post-April 2017 funding levels are not clear. How will the Minister ensure that serious youth violence work is properly funded regionally so that it is delivered at a local level? (906873)

The hon. Lady raises a point that is an aspect of our annual funding formula. This year’s decision will take place after the autumn statement and the House will vote on it in February. We have also delivered our manifesto pledge by announcing that we will review the police funding formula. I have written to, and am engaging with, all chief constables and, indeed, police and crime commissioners across the country.

T5. Police officers across this nation put their bodies on the line when protecting us. Some 23,000 officers were assaulted last year and sentences do not appear to be acting as a deterrent. Can Ministers assure me that they are liaising with other Departments to challenge sentencing guidelines and to vest in the Attorney General the power to challenge unduly lenient sentences? (906871)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, about which both the Home Secretary and I feel very strongly. We had an Adjournment debate about the issue the week before last. It is important that people acknowledge that police officers should be respected. They police by consent, which is unique to our country; we should be proud of that. My hon. Friend is right that sentencing should reflect the crime. I am in discussions with colleagues in other Departments, including on whether we prosecute for a criminal offence or under police Acts. There are some issues that we need to look at, but it is right that police officers should feel that they are respected and safe in their job.

T8. Dungavel detention centre should close, but only as part of a wider plan to reduce the use of detention. Is not the Immigration Minister embarrassed to preside over one of the most bloated detention estates in the European Union and the only one without a fixed time limit? (906875)

Pre-departure detention is always the last resort and we aim to minimise the number of those kept in detention. The new facility at Glasgow airport will facilitate the closure of Dungavel and will be a more purpose-built facility.

T7. To give some certainty to the many EU citizens who live in Wimbledon and the surrounding area, will the Minister say when he expects to be able to announce the reciprocal arrangements? (906874)

As the Prime Minister has said, we wish to protect the status of EU citizens working here. At the same time, of course, we expect the status of British citizens living and working elsewhere to be respected as well.

Ten days ago, Allan Richards was convicted in Birmingham of the most horrific catalogue of offences against children, some as young as eight. I congratulate West Midlands police on the forensic investigation that brought him to justice, but he was a serving police officer for more than 30 years. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that the inquiry into what happened will be independent, that whistleblowers will be given protection and that, if other agencies, including the Crown Prosecution Service, made mistakes, they will form part of the investigation?

The Independent Police Complaints Commission will take on this hugely important case which, by definition, will be an independent investigation. I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the Policing and Crime Bill will go further by giving even more protection to whistleblowers and more powers to the IPCC to take on and lead such cases without the need for the involvement of, or a recommendation from, the police in the first place. I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman with more detail.

T9. Given the closure of the Calais camps last week, will Ministers update the House on what steps are being taken to protect migrants against illegal trafficking through the use of lorries on cross-channel ferries such as the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, which serves my constituency? (906876)

Since the removals from the camps started—they have largely been completed—there has already been a tremendous reduction in the number of clandestines and illegal refugees trying to get across to the UK. We hope that, working closely with the French, we will be able to continue to ensure that my hon. Friend’s constituents, as well as everyone else’s, feel better protected.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that she is publishing new guidance on immigration and asylum claims from Eritrea today? In future, will the Home Office listen to concerns raised in the House about human rights abuses in countries of origin, rather than being forced into policy change by the immigration tribunal?

It is certainly important that with Eritrea, as with other countries, we act on the best possible information. Although Home Office officials have been in country and we consider reports produced by other EU countries, we are looking at the results of the tribunal with interest.

I am, like many of my Staffordshire colleagues and the Staffordshire police and crime commissioner, incredibly concerned about the business case for Staffordshire fire and rescue service’s proposed life skills centre. Will my hon. Friend the Fire Minister meet me and my Staffordshire colleagues to discuss and review the business case to assess whether it offers value for money?

My hon. Friend has raised this case with me. I know that she feels strongly about it, as do colleagues around Staffordshire. I will happily meet her and Staffordshire colleagues to look at the matter. I have also asked the police and crime commissioner, and indeed the chief fire officer and representatives from the fire authority, to talk to us about this process and exactly how they are delivering on it.

The Home Secretary said earlier that the lack of any miscarriages of justice was one of the reasons why she would not instigate an inquiry into Orgreave. She will be aware, of course, that 95 miners were charged, and that many were remanded in custody and went through difficult trials based on charges and evidence that later collapsed. Will she reconsider what she has said about injustice and, given her predecessor’s record of a whole series of inquiries and reviews in cases where injustice was suspected, will the Home Secretary think again about her decision?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. This Government’s record on inquiries is strong. We have not been shy about setting them up when they are needed. This was not an easy decision, and the fact that I made a decision that she and her colleagues do not approve of does not mean that I did not take incredibly seriously the matter or the meeting that I had with the families. When I weighed this up using a true public interest test, it did not meet that test. I urge the right hon. Lady and her colleagues to read the written ministerial statement that I have made today.

Two of my constituents have been defrauded of in excess of £60,000, and their cases are not helped by the lack of co-ordination between Action Fraud and the local force. They are unable to get updates on the investigation. What can be done to improve that co-ordination?

Following my hon. Friend’s contribution at the previous Home Office questions, I will be visiting Action Fraud to take up his specific case, and more generally to discuss how Action Fraud deals with constituents and inquiries from Members, to make sure that the service is improved.

The Home Secretary’s decision is a slap in the face of the campaigners, the victims and their families, some of whom have lost their lives in the wait for justice. It is not just Labour Members who disagree with the decision; the police and crime commissioner, South Yorkshire’s chief constable and the Independent Police Complaints Commission all said that there was evidence to support a public inquiry. Will the Home Secretary ensure that all material pertaining to Orgreave is released, and at the very least the operational order of the day, which has never been made available to the IPCC?

The Policing Minister has spoken to the police and crime commissioner, who has agreed that he will work with South Yorkshire police to make sure that information that the hon. Lady requires is released. I repeat what I said earlier: I made this decision, and the Government made this decision, thoughtfully, having assessed carefully what the facts were and thinking about the families involved. The fact that we arrived at a different decision from hers does not make it wrong.

May I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to come to Middlemoor, the home of Devon and Cornwall police, and also to Clyst St George, the home of Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service, to thank them for their quite extraordinary work over the weekend in Cathedral Close in Exeter at an incident that saw the loss of England’s oldest hotel, the Royal Clarence?

We all saw over the weekend the dreadful scenes in Exeter. I would be delighted to come with my right hon. Friend to thank the police and the fire and rescue teams who did fantastic work dealing with such a difficult situation.

Just recently, two very brilliant human rights campaigners in Zimbabwe were refused visas to come to this country to speak not just in this House but elsewhere, despite the support of our ambassador in Harare. Will the Minister for Immigration please look into what is going on there? Quite honestly, we are letting in people who have done dreadful things, yet two decent, law-abiding, respectable, hard-working people—one of them has been given asylum in America—have been refused entry.

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady in person to discuss this issue. I am aware of a number of cases involving Zimbabwe that we have under review.

As part of a comprehensive strategy to improve the resilience of our fire and rescue services, it is necessary to take all reasonable steps to stop fires from starting in the first place. Will my right hon. Friend therefore liaise with the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the long-awaited review of building regulations takes place, and that our strategy on the installation of fire sprinklers is brought into line with those of other countries?

I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for his question. I will make sure that my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government hear what he says. There are suppression products other than sprinklers that builders can use, but we are keen to make sure that homes continue to be safe. That is one reason why the number of fires is now, fortunately, pretty much at a historically low level.

May I take the Home Secretary back to her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson)? She said that people should not “leap to anger”, but I can tell her that people have been angry about Orgreave for 30 years. Specifically, Margaret Aspinall has said:

“We will never have the full truth about Hillsborough until we have the full truth about Orgreave.”

Will the Home Secretary agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), who asked for full disclosure, and will she please, because this is never going away, just think again?

I do not agree that there is an equality of seriousness between Hillsborough and Orgreave. Ninety-six people died at Hillsborough: it is a different situation. Two Hillsborough criminal investigations are going on now, and they have access to the Orgreave material. There will be no change in that respect.