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Topical Questions

Volume 629: debated on Monday 16 October 2017

I wish to update the House briefly on the Government’s decision to launch a consultation on new laws on corrosive substances, knives and guns. All forms of violent crime are completely unacceptable and devastate lives, families and communities. That is why I have launched a consultation on offensive and dangerous weapons, with proposals to ban the sale of the most harmful corrosive substances to under-18s, and to introduce minimum prison sentences for those who repeatedly carry corrosives without good reason. The consultation also includes new measures to prevent under-18s from getting around age restrictions by buying knives online, and proposals to ban offensive weapons such as zombie knives from being kept privately.

I want to send a powerful message that the cowards who burn with acid or cut with knives will not escape the full force of the law. I am clear that, by threatening someone with a knife or by plotting an acid attack, the only life you will be ruining is your own.

Zombies are running wild in our communities. Sometimes those zombies are naked, their minds addled by a psychoactive street substance called Mamba. When will this House have a vote on making the possession of Mamba illegal?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about Mamba and the growth of other elements of drugs. That is why we have introduced a new drugs strategy, to try to help people exit. It involves making sure that local authorities work closely with police, housing and other stakeholder support areas. It is not just about banning, which is important, but about helping people to get off it and to get out and start to live their lives without it.

T4. We have already heard this afternoon that mopeds are being increasingly used in daring and violent crimes by criminals who know they will not be pursued because police officers face prosecution if an accident occurs. Will the Home Secretary support the Police Federation’s call for a change in the law so that the police are free to chase criminals using mopeds? (901104)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question on such an important area. It is vital that the police have the confidence and the allowance to pursue people when they need to do so. That is why we are conducting a review to give them extra clarity that they can pursue people on mopeds.

I have been touring the country speaking to fire chiefs, and we have spoken about the consequences of the Government’s austerity obsession, which, since 2010, has led to 11,000 firefighters being axed, reduced home fire safety checks, increased response times, and, in some areas, fire-related deaths increasing. Does the Secretary of State support calls from some fire chiefs for pre-set flexibility to keep our citizens safe? If not, does she support increased funding for this crucial service?

We must congratulate the people in the fire authorities, who have made sure that the amount of fires has fallen by 50% and the number of deaths from fires has reduced by 20%. They have done incredibly well at, in effect, driving productivity in that way. I will make sure that they are always suitably funded. One of the ways in which they can have more funds is by making efficiencies by merging with police forces. I am delighted that a number of fire authorities are doing exactly that. The proposals are with us at the moment. Fire authorities will be able to make efficiencies and spend more money on the frontline.

T6. After lengthy conversations with the district commander of my local district of Tendring and with Roger Hirst, the police and crime commissioner for Essex, I know that there is a strong feeling that they could do with some additional funding to fund their frontline officers. This could be raised from the council tax precept. Essex currently has a very low per capita precept, meaning that residents in Essex pay less than comparable areas. Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary consider lifting the 2% cap on any precept increase without the need for a referendum? (901106)

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). I will be delighted to sit down with Essex MPs to discuss this. As I said, a number of commissioners have approached us in similar vein, and it is part of our thinking as we look ahead towards the 2018-19 settlement.

T2. I am sure the Home Secretary will agree that tools such as the European arrest warrant, the European Criminal Records Information System—ECRIS—and SIS II, the second generation Schengen Information System, are all vital in keeping British people safe. Given that these key EU crime-fighting co-ordination mechanisms are all overseen by the European Court of Justice, how precisely does she intend to keep Britain within them and keep the Prime Minister’s promised red line against the ECJ? (901102)

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the principle of having continued access to these databases is important for making sure that we keep people safe—people in the UK and people in the EU. As regards what sort of jurisdiction there is with oversight on the final arrangement, we are hoping to have a treaty to engage with them. I point him to other arrangements that are already in place. There are different arrangements with Norway, Switzerland, America, and Europol. We will have a creative and, I hope, positive approach to delivering on that.

T9. While I am optimistic that the Government’s negotiation will in due course produce a wide-ranging deal with the EU, in the event of no deal, what thought has the Home Secretary given to ensuring the free flow of people, where desired, across borders, but also controlling them for the purposes of security? (901109)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I outlined earlier, we are preparing for all eventualities. We have published our offer for EU citizens. We will publish a White Paper later this year outlining our views about a future immigration system. We have also been very clear, in terms of citizens and flow, that we do not want to have a cliff edge. We want to make sure that businesses and the economy across this country can continue to access the labour they need as we move to a new immigration system.

T3. The Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, a church in my constituency, was recently exposed by the Liverpool Echo as overseeing what can only be described as disturbing and dangerous gay cure therapies, which involve rituals and starvation as a cure for homosexuality. What assessment has the Minister made of such therapies to in relation to LGBT hate crime? Will she take forward previous efforts to have an outright ban on such therapies, which have no place in 21st-century Britain? (901103)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. It is very sad to hear what is happening in his constituency. I would welcome him coming to the Home Office and providing me with more detail. One would really hope that in the 21st century such homophobic activity was consigned to the history books. Let me be absolutely clear: there is no place in our society for hate crime. In our hate crime action plan, we have very, very strong laws against those committing homophobic hate crime. I hope that his constituents will not hesitate to use those powers.

Following a spate of vehicle thefts in my constituency, would my right hon. Friend take action to ban the online sale of devices that are helping criminals to steal high-value vehicles by bypassing security coding and reprogramming onboard computer systems?

Vehicle theft is a horrible crime. It is at historic lows, but we are seeing spikes in some areas and we know that the methods used by criminals are constantly evolving. I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are not complacent at all and we are working very closely with industry to make sure we stay ahead of the criminals.

T5. A recent High Court ruling found that asylum seekers who had suffered torture had been detained unlawfully. Can the Secretary of State please provide to the House the date on which those individuals who were wrongfully detained will be freed? (901105)

I am happy to write to the hon. Lady. We are going through the judgment from the High Court, which did outline that the policy, in itself, is potentially okay. I am happy to come back to her with some details on that in due course.

Nottinghamshire police force has decided, without any consultation and with hardly any notice—literally, a note under the clerk’s door—to end community policing in Kimberley and Nuthall in my constituency. I do not expect the Minister to comment on the merits of the decision, but does he agree that in community policing, it is really important to work with and communicate with communities?

I could not agree with my right hon. Friend more. It is not for me to comment on the individual decision. Nottinghamshire police force does a good job and it has difficult decisions to take, but when it takes such decisions, it must make sure that it takes the community with it, particularly on an issue as sensitive as community policing.

T7. What is the point of visa priority services if they do not actually provide any kind of priority? Will the Home Secretary reply to the letter I sent her in August containing several examples of constituents paying through the nose for priority tier 2 or settlement visas but waiting far longer than the promised 10 to 15 days for any kind of response? (901107)

We do have a priority system, and I outlined earlier the high levels of success we have in dealing with applications in the timeframes set out in our service level agreements. Obviously, some cases have complexities to them, which means that they will take longer, and we let individual applicants know that.

The Crown Prosecution Service report on violence against women and girls, which was published last week, demonstrated that real progress has been made in encouraging victims to report their crimes, and in improving the number of perpetrators who are prosecuted and convicted. But we know that many survivors do not involve the police. Women’s Aid found that only half of women in refuges report crimes against them, and only one in five women had seen a criminal case or sanctions against a perpetrator. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the welcome new domestic violence and abuse Bill will not only focus on the criminal justice system but deliver the progress that survivors need across all areas of Government, including housing, health and support for their children?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the significant progress that the Government have made on tackling domestic violence and the support that we are giving to victims. We are not at all complacent, however, and we have a groundbreaking opportunity with the forthcoming legislation to make the prevention of domestic violence and abuse everyone’s business. I am working with vigour and at speed with colleagues across Government to make sure that we have, as my hon. Friend quite rightly points out we should, a joined-up approach that includes housing, welfare and employment.

T8. Does the Home Secretary share my concern that the Intelligence and Security Committee has not met since April? (901108)

I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have plenty of bilateral meetings that cover some of the elements that he has raised. We will be having a meeting of the National Security Committee soon, and when that takes place I will be able to reassure him.

Farmers in my constituency have recently encountered Travellers coming illegally on to their land. Does the Secretary of State believe that the police should be given more powers to deal with this issue?

That is a question that the House feels very strongly about, as evidenced by the number of colleagues on both sides of the House who took part in the recent debate. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government are consulting on exactly that point.

T10. This month, Amnesty International accused the Government of breaching international law on account of the increasing number of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children in particular, being deported to Afghanistan. Last year was the deadliest year on record for civilians there; this year, over 5,000 people have already been killed. Will the Minister commit to changing current Home Office guidance, which states that returning young people to Kabul is considered “reasonable”? (901110)

We obviously keep all routes of return under review at all times to ensure that when we return people, on the basis of the evidence in the cases before us, we are doing the right thing for those people as well as for the United Kingdom. We will continue to do that, with the best interests of those individuals at heart.

The Minister is currently considering an application to bring together fire and policing functions in Northamptonshire, and I commend that to him in the strongest possible terms. What benefit does he see that sort of amalgamation bringing to the delivery of emergency services on the ground?

I see a major benefit in increased accountability and transparency for the people of Northamptonshire. There may also be significant financial benefits just from the efficiencies that such services can find together. I find from going around the country and talking to forces, in areas such as Northamptonshire that are doing great work on collaboration, that there is so much potential. I think we are at the start of this journey, rather than at the end of it.

Last week, all parties backed a near unanimous motion on Ealing Council to introduce a public spaces protection order outside the Marie Stopes family planning clinic there, because three decades of protests by pro-lifers and one year of protests by pro-choicers have made it impossible for residents to pass along the pavement and have obstructed women having legal NHS healthcare. Will the Government issue guidance on whether other local authorities with such facilities within their boundaries should follow suit, or will there be a more national permanent solution?

I commend the hon. Lady for raising this subject. It is imperative that women have access to safe and legal abortion. Although we of course agree that public protest must be allowed, it must not in any way be allowed to intimidate women on the way to receiving the health services they want. I am watching with interest how Ealing Council, which is the first to do this, manages, and we will see whether any additional support is needed. It is a local matter, but as I say, I am very interested to see the outcome of this and I welcome her raising it in the House.

In response to what can at best be described as a fishing expedition by Wiltshire police on the steps of Sir Edward Heath’s house in Salisbury some years ago, some 118 people came forward with allegations against Sir Edward. Of them, 111 have since been dismissed, leaving a handful that are still theoretically on the table. The Home Secretary has now had an opportunity to read both volumes of the report produced by the police and released last week, one of which is of course secret. Will she advise the House whether there is one shred of evidence in either report that Sir Edward Heath was a paedophile, or one scintilla of doubt about that?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I have seen the reports, and I can confirm that the report clearly states that “no inference of guilt” should be drawn from its contents.

Does the Minister agree that, with fire deaths in Cheshire having increased every year for the past four years, cuts to fire services and, indeed, the downgrading of appliances cannot continue without severe consequences for local people?

According to my information, Cheshire fire and rescue service has had a 31% reduction in fires over the past five years, and a 6% reduction in incidents. This year, it had a core spending power of £40.9 million, and at March 2017, it held reserves of £28 million.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that the new emigration procedure post-Brexit will be introduced in this House before the end of this year, and will she also confirm that it will not discriminate against non-EU citizens?

We will bring forward a White Paper on emigration by the end of this year, an emigration Bill will be brought forward at the beginning of next year and the Migration Advisory Committee will complete its report by the end of next year. It will be a very busy 12 months.

With Daesh potentially on the verge of collapse, is the country experiencing an increase in the number of British jihadists attempting to return secretly, and will any of them be formally allowed back in?

There is no evidence that that has happened. Of course, people think that it probably will happen, but at the moment the figures do not match the theory. When anyone returns about whom we have a suspicion that they have been fighting for any group or committed a crime overseas, they can expect to be arrested and questioned by the appropriate police forces. If there is evidence, we will obviously prosecute them for their crimes.

Another day, another awful story of a family split apart by the Government’s draconian family visa rules, this time the Newton family. When will the Home Secretary scrap the ludicrous income threshold and the other unwarranted requirements for spouse and partner visas?

There are no plans to change the current situation whereby people need to be able to show that they can support those they bring into the country. People have to go through a full process, and that is absolutely right to ensure that we have a strong and clear immigration system.

The Home Secretary will be aware that last week’s revelations about Cyril Smith in the child abuse inquiry demonstrate that the cover-up of decades of child abuse reached the highest levels of Government. Will she commit to releasing papers held by all Departments and agencies in relation to the case so that Cyril Smith’s many victims, who were denied justice in his lifetime, can now find it in theirs?

I can reassure the hon. Lady that, where appropriate, those papers are being released. Some papers are held for national security reasons, and she would not want me to persuade the security services to release those. However, I am encouraged to hear her positive approach to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse for perhaps the first time.

In the Newtown area of my constituency there have been seven shootings in the past three months. Local people tell me that they simply do not feel safe, and cuts to police funding and neighbourhood policing are having a devastating impact. Why cannot the Home Secretary see that she is failing in her responsibility to resource the services that are required to keep us safe? How much more will my constituents have to suffer before she changes course?

The hon. Lady makes the valid point that a number of shooting crimes are being committed at the moment. That is why the Government have increased funding to police and specialist policing by £32 million for armed uplift to ensure that we have trained officers on the ground to deal with such threats, and that when we go after criminals who are armed, the police are protected and have the right equipment to do the job and make sure that those people are put in prison.

Emergency workers are there to protect all of us, so an attack on an emergency worker is an attack on us all. Surely the law should therefore come down heavily on any assailant. Will the Home Secretary confirm for the avoidance of doubt that the Government will support my private Member’s Bill on Friday? Will she ensure that magistrates understand that, when they say that police officers and other emergency workers should have to put up with a certain amount of violence in their jobs, that is completely untrue? We should protect the protectors.

The hon. Gentleman will know, certainly if he listened to the Home Secretary’s conference speech, that the Government are extremely supportive of the spirit of his Bill and included such measures in our manifesto. Any drama around the Government’s accepting the principle of his Bill is therefore of his manufacturing, as he well knows from our conversations. We want to support the Bill because we want to send the strongest possible signal that assaulting emergency workers is intolerable and anyone who does that should feel the full weight of the law. As with all private Members’ Bills, there will be detail to work through, but he knows that we support the principle of his Bill, on which we congratulate him.