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Topical Questions

Volume 620: debated on Monday 23 January 2017

We are determined to protect children and vulnerable people. That is why today the Government have tabled an important amendment to the Digital Economy Bill. The amendment will give the police the power to go to the courts to compel phone companies to shut down phone lines being used by county lines gangs to sell illegal drugs. These gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money to and from the urban area. Once caught up in county lines, people are at risk of extreme violence, trafficking and exploitation by those behind this despicable crime. Closing the phone lines will seriously disrupt this criminality and the exploitation that is an integral part of county lines drug dealing.

During a recent delegation as part of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, it became clear that international parliamentary colleagues are concerned about the rise of hate crime, and in particular anti-Semitism from the left in UK universities. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me, and indeed with Baroness Royall when she said that Labour does not take anti-Semitism seriously, as seen by the inaction against members of Oxford University who were accused of anti-Semitism, and that this has, of course, a wider impact on hate crime in general?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter, particularly during Holocaust Memorial Week. As he will know, the Government published a hate crime action plan to drive forward action to tackle all forms of hate crime, and to enable Departments across the Government to work with police and communities. However, I completely agree with him that all organisations, including universities and political parties, have an obligation to stamp out anti-Semitism wherever it is encountered.

Recent revelations from the Public Law Project indicate that country guidance in Eritrea was altered to suggest diminished risks of human rights abuses when there was no evidence to support that, solely in order to lower the number of refugees allowed entry. In a significant case in the upper immigration tribunal last October, it was found that the new Home Office guidance on Eritrea was not credible. We know that the guidance has since been withdrawn, but was the then Home Secretary involved in the issuing of that wholly misleading guidance, and can the present Home Secretary say how many refugees may have been wrongly denied entry and how many of them were children?

The hon. Lady has raised an important part of our immigration policy, whose purpose is to ensure that we keep all countries to which we are returning people under review. Quite rightly, Home Office staff will visit appropriate countries—and, indeed, they visited Eritrea in 2014—to make their country assessments. I am confident that Home Office processes are delivered in the correct way, but the hon. Lady can rest assured that we will always keep the position under review.

T2. Although the current police funding formula has not been fully applied to Leicestershire police, meaning a loss of £5.6 million annually even under that unfair funding formula, Chief Constable Simon Cole and his excellent team of officers have continued to drive down crime locally, but can my right hon. Friend reassure me, and them, that they and Leicestershire will secure a fair funding deal very soon? (908319)

My hon. Friend has made a good point about the excellent work that is being done by Chief Constable Simon Cole and his team in Leicestershire. We are working to ensure that we achieve a fair, transparent review funding formula, and that all the chief constables and the police and crime commissioners feed into it. I assure my hon. Friend that we will deliver that work as quickly as we can.

T6. Waffle, Mr Speaker—waffle is all that we get in answer to questions about dealing with hate crime on Facebook and Twitter and on the internet. If Germany can fine these companies half a million pounds every time they fail to take down hate speech posts within 24 hours, why can we not also take practical action to hold them to account for their failure to deal with hate speech? (908323)

The hon. Gentleman has made a very important point. Hate crime has no place whatsoever in our society. It destroys communities and people’s lives, and we are taking every possible action against it. We have the strongest legislative framework in the world, and that includes working with internet providers. I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we have agreements with internet providers, and that when hate crime is identified, they will take the horrendous stuff down.

T3. Cheshire constabulary is currently rolling out Operation Shield, which allows people to mark their valuables with a unique DNA liquid to prove their ownership of stolen items in the event of their recovery. What is the Department doing to support similar crime-fighting initiatives? (908320)

My hon. Friend has highlighted a very good example of the use of modern technology to fight crime. I congratulate Cheshire police on their forward-thinking work. We are supporting such work through the police transformation fund when innovative ideas come from the police themselves to ensure that crime-fighting is efficient as well as effective in the future.

T8. Off- road bikers are vandalising the mountains above Blaenau Gwent. These troublemakers churn up the land, worry animals and intimidate local people. (908325)

Them too, sometimes.

Off-road bikers often go where the police cannot. Will the Home Office look into the possibility of resources, agreement and licensing to enable drones to be used to help us to tackle the problem?

I recognise the challenges involved in dealing with those who use bridle paths and footpaths inappropriately and ruin them for the majority of other people. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and both he and the police deserve credit for wanting to crack down on such practices. The use of drones is another good example of modern technology. Police forces and fire brigades are sharing them, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman’s local police force to consider doing the same. It might be possible to make a bid through the police transformation fund.

T4. In the light of recent terrorist threats across the globe, will my hon. Friend the Minister update the House on what steps the Government are taking to ensure that we are not vulnerable to similar attacks? (908321)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that counter-terrorism is always ongoing. In 2015, under the strategic defence and security review we committed to updating the CONTEST review, the strategy to deal with counter-terrorism both here and abroad, and I can inform my hon. Friend that that update will be published soon. In addition, the Government have committed to increasing by 30% in real terms funding to counter-terrorism in the lifetime of this Parliament.

T9. In 2016 Bradford university, which is in my constituency, was listed by The Times among the top 200 most international universities, but has seen its international student numbers fall by nearly 45% since 2010. As my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) has outlined, the benefit that international students bring to cities such as Bradford cannot be overstated. What will the Minister do to reverse this trend and ensure that one of our greatest assets can continue to attract students? (908326)

I share the hon. Lady’s view about the importance of overseas students, particularly perhaps at the University of Bradford. Some universities have seen an increase, some have seen a decrease; we have seen more students coming over from China, fewer from India. This is the market on the move, and I urge the hon. Lady perhaps to work with her university and to come back to us with any suggestions she might have to try to improve the outcome for it.

T5. We in this place have referred before now to the good work of the police officers, men and women, and police community support officers in the St Ives constituency. It is only right that they receive their fair share of the money in the policing budget. What measures is the Department taking to ensure that Devon and Cornwall police receive a fair funding settlement? (908322)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and it was useful to meet him and colleagues last week. I also want to thank his police and crime commissioner, as well as his chief constable, for feeding into the work we are doing to ensure that the new police funding formula is fair and transparent and has input from forces right across this country.

Violence against doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health workers has been on the rise in England and Wales over the last few years. Scotland has a specific criminal offence for such violence; is it not time that we had the same in England and Wales?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and it links in very closely with the work we are doing around making sure that offences against police officers are dealt with in the strongest possible terms. The punishments are there, but we must make sure that the Sentencing Council has these things working correctly, and we are working with colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to look at this issue at the moment.

T7. I was pleased recently to attend the “little litter pickers” celebration organised by the innovative Halcon One Team in Taunton Deane. The litter pickers are just one aspect of this commendable One Team community partnership, bringing together the police, social workers, teachers and local residents to tackle serious deprivation, with real results in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour. Does the Minister agree that the Halcon One Team can act as a model across the country, and will she join me in commending all the team’s hard work, especially that of Sergeant Andy Murphy? (908324)

I am absolutely delighted to commend the work of this multi-agency Halcon One Team, which operates in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is, indeed, a marvellous example of where the police and local agencies work together in their communities with vulnerable people, tackling environmental issues and providing young people with a constructive alternative, to avoid them being dragged into a life of crime and antisocial behaviour.

In the light of Holocaust Memorial Day this week, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, which remind us of the worst example we have ever witnessed of where anti-Semitism can lead? In the light of the publication of the Community Security Trust 2016 anti-Semitic incident report next week, and bearing in mind the fact that last year saw the third highest annual level of anti-Semitic hate incidents in the UK, what are the Government doing to combat rising levels of anti-Semitism?

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me this opportunity to join her in thanking the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust for the extraordinary work that they do in reminding us all of what took place. I am one of the MPs—I am sure that there are many here—who took the opportunity to visit, and I will always remember the impact of that. I work closely with the Community Security Trust, and I made the hate crime action plan my priority. We will continue to work with the trust to ensure that we do what we can to stop any form of anti-Semitism.

T10. More than 30,000 unaccompanied child refugees arrived in Greece and Italy last year. Building on the good work that we did in Calais, can the Minister give me an update on when we expect the first children to come from Greece and Italy under the Dubs criteria and whether he has a sense yet of how many there might be? (908327)

In 2016, we transferred more than 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK from Europe, including more than 750 from France as part of the UK’s support for the Calais camp clearance. Following consultation with local authorities, I remind the House that the Government will transfer “a specified number” of children, in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, who reasonably meet the intention and spirit of the provision. This will include more than 200 children already transferred from France. We will announce in due course the basis on which the remaining places will be filled, including from Greece and Italy, and the final number.

This afternoon we have been talking about police funding in the abstract, but there is also a human cost to policing. This weekend in the Crumlin Road area of north Belfast, a police officer was shot and badly wounded. Will the Home Secretary please pass on to Chief Constable George Hamilton the unqualified support of the whole House for the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and our deepest sympathy to the friends and family of the police officer who was shot this weekend, who has not been named?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for this opportunity to do exactly that. We are very lucky to have the good work, bravery and courage of the PSNI, and I will, on his behalf and that of the whole House, pass on those good wishes and thanks.

The French dispersal centre, which took unaccompanied children from Calais, is set to close on 10 February. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the cases of all children who might have a right of entry to the UK are considered before then?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I spoke to my new French counterpart just this morning about the actions that we are taking together to ensure that the correct assessment of the children who would like to come to the UK continues. A substantial number of centres are still open, and we still have a number of staff out there. We will be reducing our work there, as the Calais camp has largely dispersed, but we will continue to have an interest and ensure that we work closely with the French to stop a new camp coming up.

My constituent Eann McInnes has twice tried to get his family to visit Scotland from Morocco while they sort out their visa arrangements, but twice the Home Office has frustrated the process, stating:

“The right to a family life could be enjoyed in Morocco, and does not necessarily have to be in the UK”.

However, my constituent has a genetic disorder that can be treated only in the UK. Will the Minister commit to looking into this case again, and will he meet me to work out how the family can be reunited so that they can live together?

I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that specific case and to see what can be done.

Is the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service aware of the stark warning that was given to his predecessor by the chief constable of Cumbria, Jerry Graham, about the failure of the previous funding formula to take into account

“the cost premium for the sparsity, rurality and geographical isolation of Cumbria”?

Will the Minister meet all Cumbria’s MPs to discuss this important issue before his new proposals come out?

I am very aware of the changes and, despite the encouragement of some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, I think it is important that we do this work methodically rather than rushing into it. I have been liaising with Cumbria’s chief constable, and I will be talking to him and the police and crime commissioner. Indeed, I am happy to take input from any source to ensure that we have a clear and transparent process.

Mr Speaker, as the matters we are about to discuss are of the utmost confidentiality and may give succour to Her Majesty’s enemies, I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 163), and negatived.