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Topical Questions

Volume 631: debated on Monday 20 November 2017

I recently returned from America, and I would like to update the House on progress made there. Along with the US Justice Department, I met representatives from Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter to discuss our collective efforts to fight child sexual exploitation online. I was very encouraged by the development of Project Arachnid, which is groundbreaking software developed by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, backed by significant investment from this Government as well as start-up funding from Google. The technology proactively detects child sexual abuse material online and issues notices to content hosts, so that they can remove it. It has so far crawled 1 billion web pages to identify illegal material, and approximately 300,000 new images of child sexual abuse have been vetted. Appalling images of children being abused and extremist content have absolutely no place on our internet or in our society, and we will work internationally to combat them.

From December, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 will stop police cells being used as places of safety for people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. In Lincolnshire, with around 750,000 residents, there will be only four hospital-based places of safety, and two of those will be in Lincoln’s Peter Hodgkinson Centre. Last year, 89 people were detained in police cells because there were no other options. Will the Minister give an assurance that moneys will be made available to provide adequate resources for this change?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I assure her that the Government have made £30 million of funding available to local areas to improve places of safety provision. Around half of that has been allocated and a second round of funding opened on 18 October, to which applications are invited. The legislation also provides that any suitable place may be used as a place of safety to help to supplement local provision.

T5. I welcome the reduction in traditional crime, but we still face challenges with online crime. On Friday, I attended a workshop run by Barclays in Ely to educate my constituents about how to keep safe online. How is the Home Office working with the police and other stakeholders to tackle online crime? (901900)

Like my hon. and learned Friend, I recently met a number of banks to discuss how they can help to keep people safe online. Barclays has done an extremely good job with its latest campaign, as has NatWest; I went to its launch today. The Government work closely with them in the joint fraud taskforce to make sure that we come up with joint responses and help each other fund tackling such problems.

T2. Will the Minister ensure that any scheduled repayments from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service do not have a negative impact on the residents of Sunderland and the wider Tyne and Wear area because of the constraint of the cap on the precept? (901897)

I am aware of this issue, and I am more than happy to have a meeting with the hon. Lady to give her the assurances she seeks.

T7. As we leave the European Union, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK will continue to be at the very forefront of international intelligence and security co-operation, working with our international partners? (901902)

The short answer is yes. We are very determined to do that. We have made a very ambitious and full offer on law enforcement and national security to our partners in the European Union, and I hope we will be able to move forward in a really positive way to ensure the security and safety of people in both the United Kingdom and Europe, as well as other partners more widely.

T3. I welcome the new Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), to her role, which covers knife crime and serious youth violence. I warmly invite her to come to the all-party group on knife crime, which I chair.Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, told the Home Affairs Committee that she has to find £400 million of savings over the next two years, despite the Mayor of London using the maximum precept that he is allowed. This means 10% fewer police officers in London, less prevention, less early intervention and less serious crime investigation at a time when violent crime and knife crime are rising. Will the Minister pass this on to the Treasury and ask for more police funds in the Budget? (901898)

Order. Some of these inquiries are very good, but there is an emerging tendency for colleagues to have a script prepared that—forgive me—is rather too long for topical questions. It may be exceptionally good and delivered with brilliance in every case, but it is too long and takes too much time. For future reference, please may I ask colleagues to curb this tendency, because you are crowding out other colleagues who may also wish to take part?

As a London MP, I assure the hon. Lady that I am very interested in the Met police having the resources they need. To my eyes, they do in the sense that the level of resources and number of police officers per head are—for good reason—far and away above those anywhere else in the country. I do not recognise her figure of £400 million, because no decisions have been made yet about the funding settlement for 2018-19. As I have already said, that announcement will be made shortly.

The return to the United Kingdom of those who have fought for Daesh is a matter of grave concern. Is my right hon. Friend confident that the Home Office has the necessary powers to deal with them and to neutralise any danger they may pose?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point about the threat that these people pose. That is why the Government will where possible—where we have the evidence—prosecute, as we have prosecuted them in the past, people who go to fight, no matter whom they fight with, if they commit an offence overseas. We also use things such as temporary exclusion orders, deprivations of citizenship and terrorism prevention and investigation measures as ways to make sure we mitigate the threat.

I call Mohammad—[Interruption.] It is very good of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) to drop in on us. We are deeply obliged to him. I call Mohammad Yasin.

T4. Research from Women for Refugee Women shows that women who have survived rape, female genital mutilation and other forms of gendered violence are still routinely detained in defiance of the guidance on the management of adults at risk. Will the Minister urgently assess why the guidance is failing these vulnerable women? (901899)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to this important matter. I am aware of the research, and I think it is absolutely essential that the guidance is properly adhered to. I will be looking into it and having conversations with Justice to ensure that that is the case.

Women who have suffered a sexual assault are at great risk of mental illness. Will my hon. Friend advise us what steps the Government are taking to support women and their mental health following a sexual assault?

My hon. Friend has led a strong campaign for ensuring that more notice is taken of mental health. Rape and sexual violence are devastating crimes, and the Government are committed to ensuring that every victim has access to the specialist support they need, including mental health services. The Government are protecting funding of over £6.4 million for 85 female rape support centres across England and Wales, which provide independent specialist support to female victims. In 2017-18, the Government will also provide £27 million for 47 sexual assault referral centres in England.

T6. My Gallowgate constituent Umma Adado is required to take an English language test, and to do that she needs to provide her passport, which is being held by the Home Office. We have requested that this be released at least three times now, but it has not happened. Will the Minister agree to intervene personally in the case, to release the passport and to release my constituent from limbo? (901901)

There has been a spate of crimes in Wilsden, a normally quiet village in my constituency, culminating in popular local vet Terry Croud being subjected to a hammer attack and having his car stolen on Friday last week. The police and crime commissioner says that the Home Office is getting more money from the Treasury for policing, but it is not passing it on to police forces. Will the Home Secretary commit to West Yorkshire police getting sufficient funding, so that they can catch those vile thugs and people in Wilsden can again sleep easily at night?

I will restate what the Home Secretary said earlier: public safety is a No. 1 priority for the Government. We are determined to make sure that the police have the resources they need, which is why we are reviewing funding. I have spoken to police colleagues personally, and as I said previously, decisions on the 2018-19 funding settlement will be put before the House shortly.

T8. We have hundreds of new cases of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, and literally thousands of adult survivors who have not received support or justice. Two weeks ago, the Home Office rejected our application for additional funding for victims and survivors. Will the new Minister please meet me, the council and the police, so that we can find a solution once and for all for the victims and survivors? (901903)

The hon. Lady has done a great deal of work on this subject for her constituents. I will be pleased to meet her and relevant parties to discuss it further.

Rural parts of my constituency, such as the village of Allhallows, have suffered from an increase in antisocial behaviour, but in rural areas getting support from the police and PCSOs can be difficult, leaving troublemakers free to intimidate residents. Will the Minister work with our police force to see how we can boost support in places such as Allhallows?

I have spoken with or visited every single police force in England and Wales, including Kent, so I am well aware of the concerns felt by colleagues from rural areas about pressures on the police and the support that rural communities get. That all feeds into the process of evidence-based decision making by the Government on the right funding settlement for 2018-19.

T9. Will the Home Secretary take steps to ensure that police forces are better resourced to roll out domestic violence protection orders more widely? (901904)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will always make sure that police forces have the resources they need.

Sadly, children as young as 14 are dealing drugs in Southend. What can we do to protect those vulnerable individuals, but also to punish those who coerce vulnerable children into such pursuits?

It is a combination of enforcement and early intervention—enforcement because that sort of illegal abuse of children is wholly unacceptable and we need make sure that we stop it, but we also need to make sure that children do not fall victim to words that might be said to them that might lead them to fall into the trap of using drugs.

A third of the 110 firearms incidents on Merseyside in the past year resulted in injury—indeed, there was yet another gun injury in my constituency last month. What will the Home Secretary do to make sure that Merseyside police can deal with that increasing threat?

I met a number of Merseyside MPs recently to discuss that threat, and I speak to the hon. Lady’s chief constable on the subject every week. After the initial meeting, I looked at proposals being offered by the Home Office. I have asked that we go back and look again for more assistance for Merseyside and the wider region, because more needs to be done. That is why we are investing in the network of regional organised crime units, and I will continue to meet with police to make sure we get some results.

I am sure the whole House will welcome the fact that more women who have been victims of domestic abuse are coming forward to report crimes. What is the Home Office doing to ensure that women are properly supported by the criminal justice system and that we get more successful prosecutions?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Victims of domestic violence and abuse deserve the best treatment and justice. Despite record numbers of prosecutions and convictions, sadly there are still nearly 2 million victims of domestic abuse every year in England and Wales. That is precisely why the Prime Minister put at the centre of the Queen’s Speech a new domestic abuse Bill. I look forward to it being a Bill around which we can all agree and coalesce, because it will tackle violence in the home, both helping victims and making sure the perpetrators of these vile crimes are brought to justice.

This morning, I met students from Leyton Sixth-Form College who talked persistently about the rising levels of knife crime and gang activity. Is that entirely unconnected with closing police stations—I do not have a single one open now in my constituency—and falling police numbers?

Closing police stations is a matter for local police and crime commissioners to decide. The issue of young people and knife crime is incredibly serious, and the age of perpetrators is reducing. We need to ensure early intervention is in place, so they understand the danger of knives and of carrying them. We have introduced legislation to ensure that if somebody is caught carrying a knife twice there will be a custodial sentence. It is a combination of prevention and enforcement.

A Member cannot ask two questions in substantives or two questions in topicals. A Member can try to do one in each, but attempting to do a bit more than that is possibly biting off more than one can chew—or wanting more bites of the cherry.

Last month in this House, the Home Secretary told me that some papers would be withheld from the Cyril Smith inquiry for reasons of national security. This week, the Prime Minister has written to me to say:

“We are clear that the work of the security services will not prevent information being shared with other such inquiries.”

Will the Home Secretary confirm, for the survivors of Cyril Smith who have waited for justice for decades, that she was wrong and that the Prime Minister is right?

I am happy to confirm that the Prime Minister is always right. I will certainly look carefully at the letter the hon. Lady has received to ensure that we comply with it.

Does the Home Office accept that there are some areas of police activity—tackling aggressive antisocial behaviour and domestic violence, and some aspects of counter-terrorism work—that are in danger of being severely undermined unless additional specific resources are made available, especially for efficient and hard-pressed forces such as West Midlands?

We accept that police forces are under pressure because of the high level of terrorist activity this year, which has been unprecedented, and because of the success of some of our campaigns to increase reporting, such as on child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse. We are looking at what we can do, which is why we have invited comments from all police forces and will be taking them into account.

Eighteen months since the Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into force, the power to injunct offending companies is yet to be used. Will Ministers say when they will start to use it?

I am proud of the Government’s work on the Modern Slavery Act and the fact that we are a world leader in delivering on it. We will always ensure that we protect people who have been victims of modern slavery. If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me about his particular concern, I would be happy to address it.

I understand the Home Secretary met a constituent of mine at a Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance event on 26 July. She assured her that she would monitor her case and not go away and forget about the conversation. Will the Home Secretary have a fresh look at the case, because my constituent has been waiting for three years for a decision on her asylum claim and wants to get on with her life?

Every case matters. I understand that every case is an individual looking for help. If the hon. Lady wants to meet me afterwards and give me the details of the individual’s case, I will certainly look at it.

Surely a Kingston and Surbiton knight of the realm must be capable of brevity. I call Sir Edward Davey.

I will try, Mr Speaker.

Has the Home Secretary read last month’s statistical bulletin on crime figures in England and Wales, which looks at the problem of the difference between recorded crime and the outcomes of the crime survey? If not, will she read it and send me her comments?

I think I have been given an essay question here. I have read the bulletin and am aware of the issues it raises—the fact that recorded crime is on the rise; that this does not necessarily mean that actual crime is; and that there are disparities within the figures depending on the types of crime. I think that that partly answers the right hon. Gentleman’s question, but perhaps we could discuss it at a later date.