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Topical Questions

Volume 618: debated on Monday 5 December 2016

To mark the UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, it is vital that we work together across Government and across political parties to do all that we can to end violence against women and girls. As I made clear at the College of Policing conference last week, protecting vulnerable people is one of my top priorities. As the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) said, we must include men in that as well. Last week, I hosted an event with ministerial colleagues, campaign groups and survivors to raise awareness of and demonstrate my commitment to ending female genital mutilation within a generation. This Conservative Government will continue to take steps to achieve our ambition that no woman should live in fear of abuse, and that every girl should grow up feeling safe and protected.

Despite those good intentions, twice as many women report rape now than four years ago, and the proportion of reports that lead to successful prosecutions has gone down. In my constituency, I speak to women who have been raped and had to wait up to 20 months for specialist counselling. When will the Home Secretary improve the care for victims of violence?

The right hon. Lady will be aware that we encourage the reporting of crime, particularly rape. We want people to have the confidence to do that and to know they will be treated well. We absolutely recognise the need for funding to support people, which is why the new violence against women and girls strategy has been launched, and we have pledged an increase of £80 million to 2020 to make sure we do just that.

T2. The Waveney domestic violence forum is concerned that judges are requiring it to admit to its caring dads programme violent fathers who are uninterested and show no remorse. It is finding it difficult to run these programmes when some attendees want to be there and others do not. Will Ministers work with the Ministry of Justice to resolve this problem? (907655)

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I appreciate the concerns of the Waveney domestic violence forum. I can assure him that I am working closely with the Secretary of State for Justice to improve the family justice response to domestic abuse, and with the judiciary to consider what additional protections might be necessary. We are also supporting innovative pilots, working with perpetrators of domestic abuse, which include disruption as well as support.

The worrying rise in post-referendum hate crime, which we all condemn, has disproportionately affected women—we have seen hijabs ripped off girls, death threats to Gina Miller and family, and the tweet at the weekend about wanting to “Jo Cox” the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). Thankfully the instigator of the tweet has now been charged. Are the Government, after years of inactivity towards social media platforms, embarrassed by this burgeoning abuse of women on and offline? Is it not another aspect of Brexit for which they clearly had no plan?

The hon. Lady is right to raise these horrendous crimes, which have no place in our society, but she is wrong to say that we have been sitting on our hands. We have introduced not only the hate crime strategy but a whole series of offences, for which I am pleased to see the police successfully prosecuting people. We have also done groundbreaking work with the internet industry, which is taking seriously its responsibility to take down dreadful incidents of online hate crime.

T3. As I am sure the Minister will be aware, Sutton is a low-crime London borough—I commend the excellent work that the local police force does to keep it so—but in the past few weeks there have been three serious assaults on our high street, including two involving knives. What more can the Government do to tackle knife crime in London boroughs and places such as Sutton? (907657)

My hon. Friend is right to raise this serious situation. I commend him and the Metropolitan police which, along with other police forces, has been working on Operation Sceptre, which includes knife sweeps. I recommend that he speaks to the head of Sutton Borough Council to see if they are interested in working with the Institute of Community Safety to undertake an area review and make sure that everything is being done to stop this dreadful crime.

T4. Last Thursday, I met Jenny Hockey, a 70-year-old retired sociology lecturer who was, extraordinarily, arrested on 17 November as part of a council-directed dawn raid to chop down six trees on her street, with the assistance of 12 officers from South Yorkshire police against—it now turns out—the views of the local police and crime commissioner. What assurances can the Home Secretary give the House that in future councils do not drag police officers into such absurd, draconian initiatives? (907658)

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. It is a local matter, of course, but it sounds like that important balance we tread between peaceful protest and responding to the law might have been handled in a rather tricky way in his constituency. I would always urge that peaceful protest is allowed, but I wonder sometimes whether police forces strike the right balance, as in the example he has given.

T5. My right hon. Friend’s predecessor wisely introduced a two-year visitor visa for China. What plans does she have to extend that to countries that are developing and are our key business partners, such as India? (907659)

As was made clear during the Prime Minister’s recent and very successful visit to India, it is one of our largest visa markets, and we continue to make improvements to the visa service by expanding our priority services, including new products, and expanding our reach of visa application centres across India. There continue to be large numbers of visa applications from India. Indeed, the latest figures we have, for last year, show that 385,000 Indian nationals visited the UK—an increase of 6% year on year.

T7. The chief constable of Northumbria police has dismissed the idea that Britain’s exit from the EU would lead to a reduction in the number of foreign criminals operating in the UK. Under the Government’s soft Brexit, do they intend to retain their participation in the European arrest warrant framework? (907661)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is not appropriate for us to outline our negotiations as they are ongoing. I will say, however, that, as both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have clearly outlined, we put security first, and the security and safety of our citizens is paramount for this Government.

A fire at an illegal waste site in Slitting Mill caused weeks of distress for local residents, and significant cost to Staffordshire fire and rescue. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss what additional changes to the law can be made to prevent such instances, as well as how the costs incurred by the fire service can be recovered from the site operators?

My hon. Friend has previously raised this issue with me on behalf of her area’s fire service. I appreciate that what the fire service had to deal with was really challenging. Balancing out the best way to deal with the problem itself incurs costs, so I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss it.

T8. Why do the Government have no data at all on what happens to victims of human trafficking after they exit Government-funded shelters, or about how many go back to their traffickers? The all-party group specifically raised this matter in a report five years ago, and the Government promised to respond. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Department has done? (907662)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue; we are pressing to do exactly that. I have spoken to Kevin Hyland, the independent commissioner, about this subject, and I have had a roundtable on working with commissioners and the police force to ensure that the police not only press charges, but collect the information from the victims of modern slavery, so that we can make sure that investigations can lead to convictions. I share the hon. Lady’s views.

Why has the Home Office blocked three Iraqi Syrian bishops from coming to the UK to consecrate the first Syriac Orthodox church? Is it not at least disrespectful and probably shameful that they have been given the reason that they do not have enough money or that they might not leave the UK at a time when we should be showing solidarity with Church leaders at the frontline of persecution?

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on individual cases, but let me say that all these applications are considered on their individual merits, in line with UK immigration rules and guidance. There is no policy of denying entry clearance for visas from Syrian nationals.

In the first nine months of this year, there were almost 600 assaults on police officers in the West Midlands police force alone. Will the Minister meet me, representatives of the Police Federation and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) to discuss the growing problem of assaults on emergency service workers?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the debates we have had in the Chamber and elsewhere about this issue. It is completely unacceptable to see any kind of assault on a police officer, and that is an aggravating factor. We are working with the Ministry of Justice and are in contact with the Sentencing Council, which is independent, on this issue. I shall meet the Police Federation in the next few days.

I welcome the recently announced Home Office measures on police competence to investigate sexual offences. Will the Home Secretary accept from me that it is time for the police service, and particularly the Met police, to take a serious look at their respective detective training regimes, which I suggest are at the core of the unfortunate publicity?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Home Secretary outlined last week the importance we place on this issue. It is important, as we saw with the Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary inspection, that the Met police takes the opportunity to get to grips with training to ensure that its teams are properly trained to deal with these delicate issues.

If the refugee family reunion section of UK immigration rules was widened, many refugee children could arrive directly from the conflict region rather than via Calais. Will the Home Secretary commit to look again at these rules so that children do not have to risk their lives to be with their families?

We are constantly looking at our immigration rules to ensure that we have the right balance to support vulnerable children on the continent—most of them coming from Calais—whom we are trying to help, but we have other programmes that enable us to give direct help to vulnerable children who are out in the conflict regions.

As the Home Secretary knows, those of us with coastal constituencies in the south of England are feeling particularly vulnerable to the activities of people traffickers who are bringing illegal immigrants across in private boats. What measures have been taken since the review of small ports and airports that was promised by the previous intelligence Minister?

I share my hon. Friend’s view that we need to be constantly vigilant in case people traffickers are trying to get ahead of us, and if they fall between the cracks of our security and ply their evil trade. We have launched a number of initiatives, including Operation Kraken, which enables us to work closely with voluntary and private sector groups along the coast to ensure that any incidents are reported.

The Government seem determined to place restrictions on freedom of movement at the heart of Brexit, but the horticultural sector is heavily dependent on 80,000 workers a year coming from the European Union to work. Will the Government commit themselves to ensuring that Brexit, whatever form it takes, will not leave the industry in the lurch, and that it will continue to get the workers it needs?

The result of the referendum made it clear that we need to control the number of people coming from the European Union, and the negotiations will take that and other matters into account.

Past waves of immigration have proved successful because of the integration of new communities into existing ones. The report by Louise Casey has not yet been published, but it has been said that it suggests a form of cultural separatism in the Islamic community. Is that true and, if so, will we be responding to the report in an appropriately thoughtful way?

My right hon. Friend’s question gives me an opportunity to thank Louise Casey for her report, and to say to him and the House that we will of course study it carefully to learn better how to improve integration in our communities.

I trust that we shall be hearing about it in the House before very long. In fact, I think I can say that with complete certainty.

What steps are the Government taking to identify and address criminal activity associated with Scottish limited partnerships?

That question has been raised by other SNP Members during the passage of the Criminal Finances Bill. I shall be meeting them shortly to discuss it, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has agreed to conduct a review.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; that is very generous of you.

I am currently dealing with two ongoing constituency cases that have been caused entirely by incompetence on the part of VFS Global. One of them involves a granny who is stuck in Iran and cannot go to Scotland to see her daughter and newly born granddaughter in Glasgow because of the ludicrous booking system for visa appointments. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the issue?

As the Immigration Minister, I should be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that specific issue.

Will the Home Secretary indulge my obsession? Will she tell me what plans she has after Brexit to redesign our passports after Brexit—and will they be blue-black?

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution to this vital debate, and I look forward to further discussions with him about the best way to handle it.

A person has been convicted and will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of four young men. Is the Home Secretary aware of that murder, and is she aware that if the police in London had acted differently, two of those lives might well have been saved? It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the Met, when investigating murder, seems on occasions to model itself on Inspector Clouseau.

I shall be happy to look into the specifics of the case but, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I cannot comment on them here. Obviously the Metropolitan police are out there every day investigating and preventing crime for the benefit of London.

Will the Policing Minister assure me that, when the review of the formula for policing allocations is conducted, the needs of rural constabularies such as Wiltshire will be properly considered?

I can say to my hon. Friend that, in the funding formula review, we are looking at all aspects. Rural forces are feeding directly into that. I am aware of the issues that they are raising. We will look at that and feed back on it as we go through the review.

Many Russian nationals who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and the corruption that he unveiled have harboured their assets in the UK. An opportunity to deal with that issue has been provided by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and 27 other Members in the form of an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill. Will the Government now support that so that we can keep Russian corruption out of London?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I met his colleagues and my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) to discuss that matter. The Department is looking at the amendment as tabled. We already have a number of powers to deal with people who have been accused in this area. However, we will look at the amendment and reflect on it. We will get back to Members on Report.

I am sure that Ministers will want to join me in welcoming the first Syrian family to arrive in my constituency under the community sponsorship scheme and to congratulate St Monica’s parishioners, who are providing support to the family, but will Ministers also look at the wider funding and commissioning arrangements across all Greater Manchester local authorities for the support of asylum seekers and refugees to ensure that we can look after all these people properly?

I join the hon. Lady in congratulating her constituents on welcoming the family. I also congratulate all the community groups who have generously stepped forward to welcome families. Often those families need a lot of assistance—for example, help with their children, with translation and with learning the English language. Having community support around them is so helpful. Of course, I will keep the support under review.

New Member

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:

Sarah Jane Olney, for Richmond Park.