House of Commons
Monday 20 November 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
May I take this opportunity to add my good wishes on the anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip? Long may she reign.
To tackle knife crime we are taking action centred on four key strands: the first relates to police enforcement; the second relates to retailers and responsible sales; the third involves tightening the legislation to ensure that the police have the powers that they need; and the fourth is to encourage early intervention so that people do not get the knives in the first place.
My constituents in Yateley woke up to a nightmare after Halloween when they found that knife-wielding yobs had been on a slashing spree, including slashing car tyres and soft-top roofs. Some of them were as young as 12 and from outside my constituency. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that the youngest in society cannot get their hands on knives and go on these armed rampages, terrorising communities? They are putting themselves at risk, too.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment, and I have huge sympathy with his constituents. It is of course illegal for anyone under 18 to buy a knife, and we are working with retailers to ensure that that becomes the case more and more; we are making sure that that is enforced. We are also working with local communities, and we have a community intervention fund which will work with schools and local groups to ensure that young people are aware of just how dangerous it is to carry knives, for them as well as for their potential victims.
Dan, the beloved son of Lynne Baird, was knifed to death in a brutal attack. He was one of 253 additional victims in the past 12 months, with knife crime rising 15%. Does the Home Secretary not begin to understand that the consequence of having 2,000 fewer police officers in the west midlands is that knife crime, gun crime and violent crime are soaring? The Government are betraying the first duty of any Government, which is to provide safety and security for their citizens.
It is because we recognise that the first duty of this Government is to keep the citizens safe that we have such a comprehensive plan to look at violent and serious violent crime. We recognise that the police need their resources, but it is more than that. It is about early intervention, and about making sure that those knives and guns do not get into the hands of the people who can do such damage. It is also about ensuring that we work with retailers online to ensure that people cannot access knives through those sources.
Knife crime and youth violence are on the increase in Manchester as well. What consideration has the Home Secretary given to some of the tactics that are used in policing what is increasingly being called gang violence, even though often it is not? In particular, what consideration has she given to what is often the overuse of joint enterprise and to threats to life against young people? Such tactics are pushing away from the police the very communities they are seeking to bring on board.
The hon. Lady raises a good point; it is absolutely essential that we give the police the tools that they need to keep people safe, but we must also ensure that they are used in a way that reassures the local community. One of the areas that is often raised with me is the role of stop and search. We know that it is effective when used properly. I am determined to reassure the police and the communities that the police can continue to use stop and search, and should do so, in order to arrest the increase in knife crime, where it is taking place.
There are two ways; my hon. Friend makes a good point. We have to work with the communications service providers and internet providers to ensure that it is not as easy to buy knives online. We also have to ensure that we work with the retailers, so that when people order knives, they have to actually go and collect them. That is the legislation that we are going to bring forward, so that people cannot lie about their age. If they order a knife online, they will have to go and collect it.
Unaccompanied Child Refugees
We have a comprehensive framework for refugees and their families to be safely reunited in this country without the need for dangerous journeys. Our family reunion policy allows children to join refugee parents, and there are immigration rules in place for extended family members lawfully resident here to sponsor children, where there are serious and compelling circumstances. Children recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can also join close family members through our mandate resettlement scheme.
Bedford is proud to have given homes to six refugee families through the vulnerable person relocation scheme, but there are hundreds of unaccompanied children stranded in Europe for whom family reunion is the only safe, legal route. Will the Minister look again at family reunion so that unaccompanied refugee children can join their close family and not just their parents?
I welcome the Minister’s response, but the generosity and decency of the British people is such that they want the Government to do more. The £50 million raised by the BBC’s Children in Need charity last week is testament to that generosity of spirit. Will the Minister match the welcome rhetoric with deeds that will break the logjam of children waiting to be reunited with their families in the UK?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that that is a good example of the great generosity across this country. We see it not only at events such as Friday night’s, but in the community sponsorship programmes and in communities wanting to do what they can to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We should all be proud of what we do as a country and of what the Government are doing to bring over children who need support and help. We are doing that, and our rules do allow for family reunion as well.
One of the dangers that unaccompanied children face is human trafficking, meaning that they may end up being sold for sex in this country. Did the Minister see the appalling report in The Times last week about children as young as five being sold for sex on the streets of Glasgow? What engagement has the Home Office had with the National Crime Agency, Border Force, the Scottish Executive and Police Scotland to stamp that out?
My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to a horrific case that many of us will have seen, and the Home Secretary spoke to Michael Matheson just today to offer our full support and help. My hon. Friend also highlights why it is important that we do all we can to deter people from making perilous journeys and to crack down on the rogue traders and the despicable behaviour of human traffickers. I am pleased by the work that has been done recently across the Home Office, the police, immigration enforcement and the NCA to break down some of those routes, but there is always more to do, and we must stay focused.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that we focus as much as we can on developing and improving the situation upstream. That is why I am pleased that the Prime Minister was able this summer to put an extra £75 million into the Department for International Development to work with our partners around Europe to ensure that we do as much as we can to tackle the real problems upstream.
I welcome the announcement this weekend of an agreement to transfer a Syrian teenager from Greece under the Dubs scheme. I wrote to the Home Secretary about that case on 7 August. The boy has been locked in a police cell in Greece because there was no other safe accommodation for him, even though a local council here had offered a place. I understand that he still has not been given a transfer date, so I hope that the Minister can look into that urgently. However, given that we still have 280 empty local council places, 90 of which were supposed to be filled by people from Greece, and given that there are around 3,000 lone child refugees in Greece, does he agree that it is not good enough for only four eligible children to have been identified in Greece? Does he agree that we cannot carry on with just a blame game between Britain and Greece and that urgent action must be taken to change the scheme so that more children can come?
I am sure that the right hon. Lady will appreciate from previous answers that she has received that it is not just a matter of having empty spaces, but it is good news that children are now coming through from both France and Greece. As I have pointed out before, these other countries are sovereign states, and it is absolutely right that we do things in a way that works for them. I have been to Greece and to Italy to talk to people about what more we can do to make the process work fluidly. Ultimately, however, these are sovereign states that are working with the children, and we have to do what is right and what is in the children’s best interests.
The 15-year-old Syrian boy referred to by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) waited 14 months before the news of his transfer came through. What could be done to speed up transfers under the Dubs scheme?
We are always working with our partners in other countries, including Greece, on how we can make the system move as fluidly as possible. I am as keen as the hon. Gentleman to see people coming through that system as quickly as possible, but ultimately we have to do what is in the best interest of those children and we have to respect the law of sovereign states such as Greece.
Indefinite Leave to Remain
One wonders how long many of those cases are waiting. So often, we are told the cases are complex and, after maybe a year or two, the Department still cannot make a decision. Furthermore, even when people have won their appeal, they find it takes six or nine months to get a reply, and then their documents very often get lost, or they get their passport back without having their visa stamped. I recognise the Minister inherited this mess, but his reply seemed complacent on actually sorting it out.
I am slightly surprised by the right hon. Gentleman’s closing comments because I had not actually answered that question yet. I thank him for his question, which gives me a chance to highlight the excellent work done every day by the team at UK Visas and Immigration. I can confirm that UKVI processes 99.5% of all cases within the service level agreement of six months. The just under 0.5% of cases that take longer are those very complex cases, and we liaise with people on that. I simply do not recognise the picture he just painted.
I encourage the Minister to redouble his efforts. Everybody knows the Government’s difficulties with immigration from the European Union, but what we cannot understand is why, after seven years of a Conservative Government, we have still not got to grips with immigration from the rest of the world. We need more police officers, more border officers and quicker decisions, and these people who have no right to stay here must leave, otherwise it undermines the whole system.
UKVI decides 99.5% of cases within the timetable set out in its service level agreement. All of us in this House should be very clear that, if people are here illegally, we want them to return to their homes. Under the compliance environment, the ability to work and to employ people should be restricted. We are very clear that people who are here illegally will be removed.
Leaving the EU: Immigration Rules
As we leave the European Union, we will be able to control our immigration more effectively. We will make sure we do that in a way that supports our economy; after 40 years of free movement of labour, we will need to do that. We will address the situation with the evidence we get from the Migration Advisory Committee, which will be reporting towards the middle end of next year.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Will the Home Secretary confirm to dairy farmers and other businesses in Dumfries and Galloway that they will still be able to hire migrant labourers on long-term contracts after Brexit?
I am aware of the issue with dairy farmers, as well as the other needs of industry for migrant workers. Rest assured that, when we decide on the right immigration policy after we leave the European Union, we will make sure it continues to support our economy.
The all-party parliamentary group on migration, which I chair, recently conducted research asking a whole range of businesses about their labour needs and the effect of Brexit. Those businesses uniformly told us that it is not just a case of access to highly skilled labour but many jobs that are characterised as low skilled would also be difficult to fill if they could not access the EU labour market. Will the Home Secretary consider that report? What assurances can she give businesses across a whole range of sectors, from food processing to construction to care?
I share the hon. Lady‘s view. We talk enthusiastically and positively about wanting to be a country that attracts the brightest and best to support our economy, but we recognise that there will also be a need for migrant labour in different areas—potentially in construction and potentially in dairy farming, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) said. Dairy farming is exactly the sort of area on which I hope the Migration Advisory Committee will be able to report next year.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State could also take seasonal workers into account. In my constituency we will have people turkey plucking, with Christmas coming up. A lot of these people are migrant workers—people who work on farms, fruit farms, and in the tourism and catering industries—but many are only temporary, so will she indicate whether this might be looked on favourably in the future?
My hon. Friend raises a good and important point about Christmas. I reassure her that we will be looking carefully at the need for migrant labour in that sector, too, but, above all, we will want to rely on the evidence, which is why the report from the Migration Advisory Committee is going to be so important.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I add my good wishes to Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, on my behalf and that of my SNP colleagues, on the occasion of their 70th wedding anniversary?
Data analysis submitted to the MAC by the Scottish Government shows that in Scotland EU nationals who work in Scotland contribute an average of £34,400 each per annum to gross domestic product—that is more than £4.4 billion a year. Does the Home Secretary agree that that evidence shows that Brexit is putting a vital contribution to Scotland’s economy at risk?
I point out to the hon. and learned Lady that we have not left the EU yet, so that labour will continue to be available until we do. I am delighted to hear that there has been an additional submission from Scotland, and I am sure the MAC will look carefully at the evidence provided.
Scotland’s demographic profile is very different from that of the rest of the UK, because over the next 10 years Scotland’s population growth is projected to come entirely—100%—from migration, whereas the comparator figure for the UK is 58%. Will the Home Secretary look carefully at supporting the devolution of immigration to Scotland, in response to this strong evidence of divergence and to address concerns such as those raised by the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack)?
The hon. and learned Lady will be aware that immigration remains a reserved matter. We will, nevertheless, be considering the needs of the UK as a whole. I recognise that Scotland has some particular circumstances and need for skilled labour. There is a Scotland-specific shortage occupation list, which will cover some of the areas she has drawn attention to, but I am sure that she, like me, will look forward with eager anticipation to the MAC’s report next year.
We on this side of the House would also like to congratulate Her Royal Highness on her 70th wedding anniversary.
Does the Secretary of State share the concerns of the National Farmers Union, which reports a fourfold increase in the number of vacancies because of the falling number of EU workers, of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which says that the growth of the car industry depends on access to skilled labour in Europe, and of the Nursing & Midwifery Council, which reports a 96% drop in nurse registrations from the EU? Does she not recognise that industry wants answers on these issues sooner rather than later?
What I recognise is the incredible value that EU workers and professionals provide in the UK—we are fortunate to have so many of them working here. We will make sure that the immigration policy we design as we leave the EU continues to get the best out of that, but also adds some controls; we must acknowledge the fact that, having voted to leave the EU, the public expect us to put some controls on it. We will do that, but in a way that continues to welcome EU workers, who provide such important work in areas such as hospitals and schools.
Fire and Rescue Service: Remuneration
It is the responsibility of the National Joint Council to consider what pay award is appropriate for firefighters in England; central Government have no role in this process. The 2017-18 firefighter pay negotiations are still under way.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but National Audit Office figures show that 30% of central Government funding has been cut from the fire and rescue service since 2011, with a further 20% cut by 2020. Basic pay for firefighters is nearly £3,000 less in real terms than it was in 2010. Is it not time that the Government stopped hiding behind cash-strapped authorities and stumped up the cash that these vital public servants deserve?
With respect, there is a reason why we have fewer firefighters in this country: at the last count, we had had 48% fewer fires over the past 10 years. The hon. Gentleman talks about a cash-strapped service, but he will be aware that single fire authorities such as the one in his area have had multi-year settlements and are part of a system that is sitting on £616 million of reserves—and that figure has grown by 153% since 2010.
When he looks at the budgets for fire workers and police, I urge the Minister to consider the example of Essex, where the police and crime commissioner is now responsible for both those entities and is able to drive forward efficiencies and savings, which will be better spent if that policy is rolled out elsewhere.
I thank my hon. Friend for again giving me the chance to congratulate the Essex leadership, and particularly Roger Hirst, on seizing the opportunity that this Government provided to bring together the governance of fire and police. We did that not only in the name of better accountability and transparency, but to provide the opportunity to continue to pursue savings and efficiencies on behalf of the taxpayer.
I completely share the hon. Lady’s desire to see firefighters get a fair pay settlement. I defer to no one in my admiration for them, not least because I have met a number of the firefighters who did such heroic work at Grenfell Tower. The fact is that the Government will always listen to the evidence. With respect to making a case for fresh Government funding, the challenge for the fire service is to provide the evidence that it cannot manage the demand in the system now and explain its plan for reserves because, as I have stated, reserves in the fire system have grown every year since 2010. That is not the action of a system that is strapped for cash.
May I correct the Minister, because Home Office figures show that fire deaths are actually up 17% in the past 12 months? He will also be aware that funding for local authorities has been slashed. Firefighters risk their lives every day to keep us safe and they have seen a real-terms cut in their pay every year for the past seven years. They cannot spend warm words from the Minister. The National Fire Chiefs Council, the employers representatives on the National Joint Council and the Fire Brigades Union all agree that to increase firefighters’ wages additional central Government funds must be provided, so when will the Minister stop passing the buck and start taking responsibility for this own actions?
In response to that artificial rant, let me state the facts again: over the past 10 years, the total number of fires attended by fire and rescue services has more than halved. I am not offering warm words: the taxpayer is investing £2.3 billion of public money in the fire service. If there is evidence that that is not enough, we will always listen to it, but the first question we will ask is, “What are you doing with your reserves?”
Immigration Detention Centres
The alternative to detention is to encourage compliance, thereby leading to fewer illegal migrants in the first place and an increased use of voluntary returns. We will continue to work with partners to ensure we are always exploring the best practice and opportunities in this space.
Given that more than half of migrants leaving detention centres are released into the community and not removed, that monitoring illegal immigrants in the community costs more than 80% less than detention, and the sheer inhumanity of Britain’s immigration detention regime, many believe that it is now time to look at alternatives that actually work better in other European countries. Will the Minister agree to a pre-Christmas meeting with me and Detention Action, which has recently published detailed research on alternatives to detention?
I respectfully say to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not recognise what he outlined at all. In addition to the fact that we do not have indefinite detention in this country, our policy is that there is always a presumption of liberty and that individuals are detained for no longer than is necessary. In fact, to be clear, some 93% left detention within four months, but we are always looking at best practice.
It is completely wrong to say that we do not have indefinite detention. If someone is locked up and not given a timeframe for when they will be released, that is indefinite detention. Will the Minister not take on recommendations from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, the all-party parliamentary inquiry on detention, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Labour party for a statutory requirement of 28 days before release?
Detention is an important part of our process and of enabling returns, but we must be clear: to be lawful in this country, detention never lasts longer than is reasonably necessary to achieve the purpose for which it was authorised, which is to return somebody. That is the policy that we run.
As always, my hon. Friend makes an important point. There are people in this country who are in prison and whom we would obviously like to return as foreign national offenders. I am pleased to say that we have returned a record number of people—almost 6,500—this year, but there is always more to do, and we will be very focused on doing just that.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct in saying that detention plays an important part in our immigration system, but, of course, while people are in detention, they should be free from abuse. There were some recent allegations of abuse at Brook House immigration detention centre in my constituency. What discussions has the Home Office had with the operator, G4S?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Many of us—if not all of us—will have seen the unacceptable situation on the BBC “Panorama” programme. I met the operator of Brook House several times, including to look at the work that will be done to review what happened as well as to draw up an action plan. I will continue to keep my focus on that matter.
Last week, the chief inspector of prisons reported that the survivors of torture, rape and trafficking are still being locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. That corroborates what was set out by Stephen Shaw and many others. Why is the Home Office failing to implement the policy for adults at risk in immigration detention and why are vulnerable people still being detained?
Regional Organised Crime Units
Regional organised crime units are a critical part of the national policing network, and an efficient and effective vehicle for tackling complex and serious organised crime. Since 2013, the Government have invested £140 million in ROCU.
I recognise my hon. and learned Friend’s concern about hare coursing. If there is any suspicion that a crime has been committed, the concern should be referred to the relevant police force. Regional organised crime units lead investigations into complex and serious organised crimes. Decisions on investigations adopted by these units that are based on threat, risk and harm are for the police.
Does the Minister accept, though, that as important as the concept of regional co-operation is, organised crime is core business in our large conurbations, including Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Yorkshire and down here in London, and that nothing should be done at the regional level to stop local police forces driving down against the organisational criminals, who distort and destroy people’s lives?
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman’s observations. Tackling organised crime regionally is only one part of the line. That line goes from the grassroots of policing using local police forces alongside local authorities all the way up to the National Crime Agency, which can use its international reach to ensure that it stops organised criminals becoming suppliers, or becoming bigger and trafficking people, money and drugs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) wrote an excellent article in The Times last week about county lines for moving drugs around the country, which is an insidious problem in all counties, including Somerset. Will the Minister reassure the House that the regional organised crime units have the connectivity with one another to tackle this inter-regional problem?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to point out what we are doing about county lines. County lines is a growing problem—recently particularly in Merseyside, the south-east and Somerset—whereby some of the worst type of criminals take advantage of mentally ill or vulnerable people, using their properties to supply drugs, hide weapons and so on. The National Crime Agency is taking a part lead, alongside the regional organised crime units, to ensure that we deal with the issue. It is also linking up with local mental health trusts and local authorities to deal with the situation of people who are vulnerable to being exploited.
The Minister says that crimes should be referred to the local police force, but my area of Derbyshire has seen 411 fewer police officers in the last eight years, and three police stations in my constituency have closed, in spite of rising crime including knife attacks on Halloween. How does the Minister feel that local police forces will cope with both regional organised crime and local crime?
This year, the Government and police and crime commissioners are investing a record sum in regional organised crime units across the country. That is why, in the year alone, there have been convictions totalling 2,375 years and confiscation orders of more than £25 million, half of which can go back into police forces to catch the next lot of bad guys. Regional organised crime units have seized 300 kg of cocaine and 39 kg of heroin, and have safeguarded 65 vulnerable children in a year alone.
Scottish Fishing Industry: Visas for Crew
I have already had meetings with some of my hon. Friends from Scotland, and I am meeting a number of Scottish MPs to discuss the issue this very week. I was due to meet representatives of the industry during my recent visit to Edinburgh, but they were sadly unable to attend on the day.
I will take that as my invitation to the meeting. I suspect that the Minister has already heard about the problem, which is that the few visas available are transit visas, meaning that boats are pushing for the visas allowed—not where the fish are to be found. This leaves many crew members vulnerable and exposed to exploitation. Will the Minister speak to Border Force about its insistence that crew members should be classified as unskilled labour?
It is a cross-party meeting, and I am happy to ensure that the right hon. Gentleman has the details about that meeting later this week. We are obviously looking at all these issues, particularly in the light of leaving the European Union and our future immigration policy, so I look forward to hearing the views of Scottish MPs.
UK law enforcement successfully identified suspects in nine out of 10 of the most serious cyber-crimes from October last year to March this year, and have arrested suspects in seven out of 10 of them. We are demonstrating that cyber-criminals will face the full force of the law—no matter how untouchable they think they are—and will be brought to justice.
Following the national cyber-security strategy, the Government set up the National Cyber Security Centre, which issues a range of advice to businesses and individuals. To complement that, the National Cyber Security Centre also helps to support the national campaign, Cyber Aware, the Take Five campaign and Cyber Essentials.
Last week, the chief executive officer of the National Cyber Security Centre said that, in its first year of operation, the centre had responded to over 600 significant incidents. Some of those threats come from hostile states and from areas of the world that are ungoverned. What practical steps are the Government going to take to build the international coalition that will be required to deal with this issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises some really valid questions and points, which we have to build on. That is why, alongside the national cyber-security strategy, we have been working with the National Crime Agency and its international network—we have NCA officers all the way round the world. Embedded in that is the National Cyber Crime Unit. GCHQ, as an intelligence agency, works with many of the member states of the European Union and the “Five Eyes” to tackle this issue. We have seen a number of very successful operations, most recently in December, when, in an operation led by Europol, we took down the Avalanche cloud hosting service that was sending over 1 million fraudulent emails a week.
Net Migration Target: International Students
I can be very clear: there is absolutely no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK, and nor is there any plan to impose one. What we have seen this summer is that students are now compliant, and that means their effect on the net migration figures is marginal.
We are now coming to the end of a very successful two-year pilot allowing Chinese nationals a two-year, multiple-entry visa for the price of a six-month single-entry visa. It looks as though that will be made permanent in the new year. Will the Secretary of State commit to introducing the same scheme for Indian nationals, our best allies in trade post-Brexit?
I was in India just a couple of weeks ago, and I had some conversations about the pilots we are running in China. The hon. Gentleman is a little premature, because the pilot with China is still running. It is based on a different situation from the situation with us and India, but we will look at that pilot, and I will feed back after it has ended and we have a chance to review it.
Recent polling by ComRes shows that much of the British public do not consider international students to be immigrants, and they want to see them work for a period here to contribute to the economy. Will the Minister commit to increasing the UK’s post-study work opportunities so that we can continue to attract the brightest and the best students to the UK after Brexit?
But should the Minister not take the student figures out of the immigration figures, because students do not come here as asylum seekers? They actually come here and contribute to local economies, so there is a contradiction in the Government’s position.
An awful lot of migrants who come here do not come as asylum seekers, and that is quite a wide issue. With regard to students, the net migration figures are assessed and published by the Office for National Statistics, which is entirely independent of Government, and those figures are based on the UN definition of a migrant, which is somebody who is in the country for 12 months or more.
Does the Minister realise how pleased the directors of Jaguar Land Rover will be with the answer he has just given? They sponsor students at Birmingham University and other universities in Birmingham, so they will be very relieved to know that those students can get graduate visas.
My hon. Friend has just highlighted what many of us are very clear about, which is that students play a hugely important part in our national economy. They are huge contributors and have a great contribution to make when they leave university, when that is done in the appropriate format. We would encourage more people to come and study in this country at the excellent institutions we have right across the country.
The Minister will be aware that the Financial Times reported on 8 November that an ally of the Home Secretary is in favour of removing international students from the Government’s migration targets. Some people suspect that the unnamed ally may, in fact, be the Home Secretary herself. Whether or not that is the case, the Minister has conceded that international students make an enormous contribution not just to academia but to the economies of our university towns. Will the Government listen to voices on both sides of the House and remove international students from the migration target?
Obviously, we are all allies, so it is quite easy for me to answer the right hon. Lady’s question. I direct her to have a look at the answer I gave a few moments ago. The key thing with students is that, thanks to the work that this Government have done since 2010 in shutting down about 920 bogus colleges, students are now complying, so the effect on migration is marginal, at best.
We are fully committed to transferring 480 unaccompanied children under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. We are working closely with member states, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration and non-governmental organisation partners to identify and transfer children to the UK in line with each individual member state’s national laws.
I have an ongoing and heartbreaking case of a constituent—a British citizen whose one-year-old daughter is trapped in an Iraqi war zone. Attempts to get her a passport have stalled at the Home Office. After persistent attempts to meet the Minister, I was assured that my constituent would now be able to make a fresh application and the fee would be waived, but the Home Office has kept the papers and told him that he must get new ones from Baghdad. Given that this is a British citizen’s child, will the Minister meet me to see if we can resolve the situation?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for agreeing to meet the leader of Northamptonshire County Council to discuss the financial support that the Government provide to the local authority to accommodate these refugee children. Will he undertake to keep the level and appropriateness of that funding under constant review?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We always keep these things under review. For example, there is the national transfer scheme, which was changed in 2016. I have met local authorities only in the past few weeks. I look forward to having further conversations with councillors such as his who do such excellent work to help people.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—no pressure.
We are taking a range of actions to tackle knife crime. I am particularly concerned that children and young people should not carry knives. Early intervention and prevention are key. That is why we have launched the new anti-knife community fund worth half a million pounds for voluntary groups that work with children and young people to support early intervention and prevention projects. The successful bids will be announced very shortly.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. I thank her for her answer; she responded to the pressure well. Does she agree that it is a concern that, under the current Mayor, knife crime in London has risen in the past year? Does she also agree that the decision to close Wimbledon police station is clearly wrong-headed in that regard?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments.
Every death from knife crime is a tragedy for the families, friends and communities affected by it. That is precisely why addressing knife crime is a Government priority. This includes work such as supporting intervention with young people when they enter hospital accident and emergency units, to try to reach them at a vulnerable time, and supporting the police in their Operation Sceptre work, which this July saw 32 forces involved in a week of action that resulted in nearly 3,000 knives being seized or recovered.
On my hon. Friend’s local police station, since 2015 we have protected overall police spending in real terms, and crimes traditionally measured by the crime survey of England and Wales have fallen by over a third since 2010. But of course any decisions on police stations are a matter for police and crime commissioners, and, in London, a matter for the Mayor of London.
In a kindly spirit, I welcome the Minister, but I ask her, please, to look at the facts. We cannot confront knife crime without police on the streets and without the police who used to have the time to go into schools and talk to students. That budget is being cut. Will she look again at the capacity of the police to be on the streets and in schools?
That is a matter on which I hope we can work across the House, because knife crime, sadly, affects most of our constituencies. In terms of actions that the Government are taking, at a national level we are supporting the police with Operation Sceptre, which has had a great deal of success. There is also an emphasis on local police forces doing their bit—knowing the terrain and the local population, as they do, and using intelligence-led targeting to make sure that we get the people who are carrying the knives.
Police Funding Formula
We have not yet made a decision about what was called the fair funding review, but I assure my hon. Friend that a new formula will not be introduced without a full public consultation. In the meantime, we are completing our review of demand and resilience in the police system ahead of the 2018-19 funding settlement.
The Minister will know that Derbyshire has been particularly badly affected by the current formula, so we would greatly appreciate some progress on the new formula. In the meantime, can he assure my local police force that there will be at least an inflationary rise in its funding for next year?
I assure my hon. Friend that I have spoken directly to the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable in Derbyshire to get an update on the performance of the service and the demand on it. That will feed into the review that I have signalled, which will, in turn, feed into the decisions about the 2018-19 funding settlement, for which he will not have to wait too long.
The Minister says that he wants evidence for police funding. How about the document that every chief constable and PCC in the country signed up to this month, which warned that without extra investment on Wednesday, up to 6,000 more police officers could be lost by 2020 and that usable resources are, in fact, a fraction of the figure that he keeps citing? If he thinks that the UK’s most senior police leaders are wrong, will he commit today to making no further cuts to police officer numbers during this Parliament?
I can confirm that decisions about police funding have not been finalised, but that that will be done shortly. An announcement will be made to the House as part of the draft grant settlement for 2018-19 in the usual way. On the report that the hon. Lady cites, I hope she understands that we have worked with that report closely, because the Home Office and the police system wanted to do a proper job of updating our understanding of the pressures that the police are under, which are real.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Student Loans Company
The Student Loans Company’s performance has improved year on year for the past six years. SLC services account for about 1.8 million applications per year. It responds to about 4.5 million phone calls from borrowers and has more than 6 million repaying or due-to-repay customers, with loans totalling over £100 billion. In addition, it has delivered a range of new products for the Government on time and successfully, including postgraduate loans and simplified advanced learner loans.
This year, the SLC has processed more than 1.4 million applications for student funding, and so far this academic year it has paid out approximately £2.5 billion in maintenance funding and £2 billion in tuition fee payments to providers. Customer satisfaction remains high, at about 85%, and, for borrowers in repayment, at about 72%. It receives complaints from just 0.1% of its 4.7 million customers. The SLC is, of course, constantly looking to learn lessons from this low level of complaints and to use these complaints to improve the quality of its services.
The Department for Education is also working closely with the SLC on a range of initiatives that will further improve the user experience for the SLC’s borrowers and in respect of staff engagement. Proposals currently being developed include greater digitisation of the student loan application and repayment processes and investment in more efficient SLC systems.
Following two independent investigations into allegations about aspects of his management and leadership, the SLC has terminated Steve Lamey’s contract as chief executive officer of the SLC. The SLC and its shareholders expect the highest standards of management and leadership and, having taken into account the findings of the investigations, have concluded that these were not being upheld by Mr Lamey during his time in his role. The SLC board acted swiftly and has appointed the current chief executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency and of the Institute for Apprenticeships, Peter Lauener, as interim CEO, with effect from 27 November. He will remain in post at SLC until a permanent appointment is made.
Mr Lauener was formerly chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Education and Skills Funding Agency. He has had a long and successful career in a number of senior leadership positions in the Department and its partner organisations, and I have every confidence that he will provide the drive and stability the SLC requires at this time, as we recruit a permanent chief executive.
This announcement was snuck out over the November recess on the same day as the Secretary of State for International Development resigned. Since last Monday, two articles in The Times have raised severe questions about the process. Why, in the Minister’s letter to me on 17 October, sent six weeks after I wrote to him about the SLC, did he refer to the suspension of the chief executive as a neutral act that did not imply wrongdoing, when he was actually made fully aware of the allegations against Steve Lamey in June, as his written reply has told me?
Will the Minister publish the findings of the performance review of the SLC, issued two months before the suspension, in which, as The Times says, Steve Lamey was rated “outstanding”? Was the Minister aware at the time that Mr Jenkins’s report on Mr Lamey had concluded that he was
“making a real and positive difference”
to the Student Loans Company, and was a popular and effective leader who staff found supportive, before the decision was made to sack him? Will he also publish the findings of the internal investigation, in which 52 of 58 allegations against Mr Lamey were dismissed, so that all Members can understand the issues at the SLC?
Who appointed the chair and the other three board members of the SLC, and what were the criteria and processes for those appointments? Can the Minister confirm that Simon Devonshire, the board member who heard and dismissed Mr Lamey’s appeal, and David Gravells are also members of the same venture capital trust?
The lack of proper co-operation between the SLC and HMRC has led to significant overpayment of debts. Can the Minister tell us how many overpayments amounting to more than £10,000 have been made since 2015-16? I have just been told that the Government have tacitly admitted their failure in this regard by saying that from 2019 onwards, HMRC and the SLC will co-operate on these matters. However, that does not address the fact that Mr Lamey and the HMRC’s permanent secretary have blamed each other for the issue. Mr Lamey has claimed that he asked for real-time updates that HMRC would not share. Who is telling the truth?
The BBC’s “Panorama” has raised questions about private providers of courses in which students have fraudulently enrolled in order to claim loans. How much has been paid to students of private higher education providers who were subsequently determined to be ineligible in the last five full financial years, and what mechanisms are there to enable the misused taxpayer money to be reclaimed? In the light of all that, will the Government now suspend the sale of a further chunk of the student loan book?
The Minister recently admitted that changes in interest rate thresholds on student debt would cost £175 million by 2020. Can he tell us where the money will come from? Given that tens of thousands of graduates are footing the bill for SLC failures, what confidence can Parliament have in the competence of this Minister, who is the key shareholder in the Student Loans Company?
I would encourage the hon. Gentleman not to denigrate the hard work of the dedicated public servants at the Student Loans Company, who are undertaking a vital task in securing the finance that young people and learners in this country need to pursue higher education and who, as I have said, are doing so in a successful way: fewer than 0.1% of the SLC’s 4.7 million customers complain each year. They are delivering an important service, and the hon. Gentleman should support them rather than running them down.
The hon. Gentleman asked about a number of matters. He asked about the investigations that led to the dismissal of Mr Lamey from his position as chief executive of the SLC. The concerns were brought to the board’s attention in May, and to the attention of the Department for Education.
I learnt about it in May, as I have just said. The two investigations were immediately set in motion to get to the bottom of the allegations received by the SLC board. One was led by the Government Internal Audit Agency, and the other by Sir Paul Jenkins, former Treasury Solicitor and head of the Government’s legal services. They concluded that Mr Lamey had not shown the leadership which would be expected of someone in that role, and accordingly the board decided that he should no longer continue in the role. As a consequence of the SLC’s decision, the Department decided to relieve him of his responsibilities as accounting officer of the SLC.
The hon. Gentleman asked about ineligible payments, some of which were highlighted by the “Panorama” programme that was broadcast a few days ago. I am sure he will be interested to know that the level of ineligible payments made to alternative providers has been falling sharply in recent years. In fact, it has fallen by over 80% since 2012-13, from about 4% of all payments to 0.5% of all payments in 2015-16. This rate is low; of course we want to eliminate fraud wherever we can identify it, but this is a low rate of ineligible payments to these providers. Indeed, the rate is now no higher than the average across the HEFCE-funded higher education system. So if I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not use this as a means of running down the newer entrants to our higher education system—which he often does from the Dispatch Box—because it cannot be used to support that sort of attack. This reduction in the level of ineligible payments is the direct consequence of the controls that previously the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and now the Department for Education have been putting in place to ensure that public money is not abused.
We take the issue of overpayments extremely seriously, and the hon. Gentleman mentioned some of the steps we are taking. We want close and effective co-operation between HMRC and the SLC so we avoid the risk, to the extent that we possibly can, of students overpaying when they repay. I understand that the Chancellor will be considering this issue further in the Budget later this week, so the hon. Gentleman might want to wait to see the contents of the Budget for further details. We are committed to improving the interface between HMRC and the SLC. We ensure that all borrowers, as they enter the last two years of their repayments, are given the opportunity to move directly to a direct debit system of repayment, so that they eliminate almost all the risk of overpayment.
I welcome the Minister’s efforts to reform the SLC, and he will know that our Select Committee on Education is doing a value-for-money inquiry into universities. As well as looking at the management of the SLC, will the Minister use this opportunity to look at reducing the rate of interest for students, which is much higher than in many other countries in the developed world?
We keep all aspects of our student finance system under review, to ensure that it is fair and effective as a system, and that it is meeting our core objectives of removing financial barriers to access, funding our university system fairly, and sharing the costs of doing so equitably between individual students and the general taxpayer. The rate of interest is heavily subsidised. This is to be compared with unsecured personal commercial borrowings. The Bank of England benchmark reference rate for unsecured personal commercial borrowing would be well over 7%, and this is a particularly unique product, which is written off entirely after 30 years with no recourse to a borrower’s other assets, and it only enters the repayment period when people are earning more than £25,000. So it is a unique product, and it is not easy to compare any element of it with loan offerings from elsewhere in the commercial sector.
In recent years the SLC has been plagued by mishaps, complaints of inefficient bureaucracy, and poor customer service. The latest student loan sell-off is also concerning; we saw the problems for many graduates, receiving letters telling them they must pay even though their earnings had not reached the repayment level. Can the Minister confirm that the SLC will not now, or in the foreseeable future, syphon loans off to a third party?
Devolved Administrations are shareholders in the SLC. Can the Minister outline the discussions he has had with fellow shareholders on the circumstances of the dismissal of the chief executive of that company?
Over 1,400 people are employed by the SLC in Glasgow. Can the Government confirm that any shake-up of practices will not involve a plan to move any part of the company from Glasgow and that all employees will have an opportunity to be consulted in any future discussions?
At a time when graduates are paying up to 6.1% in loan interest, student debt in England is nearly treble what it is in Scotland, so does the Minister not think that, while the SLC could use a radical-shake up and reform, his policies could, too? The Budget is just around the corner, so while the Minister works to clear up the managerial problems, why does he not clear up the mess of his policy and stop saddling English students with the millstone of debt around their necks?
I am not sure that we need lessons from Scotland on our higher education policies. Over successive Administrations in this country, those policies have resulted in levels of access for people from disadvantaged backgrounds that should frankly be the envy of Scottish National party Members rather than a source of criticism. The hon. Lady asked about the work that SLC staff do from its location in Glasgow, and of course that is valued. We support everything they are doing to ensure that the SLC continues to perform at the level that we all want it to, as an important agency of the Department for Education. As I have said, it is now in its sixth consecutive year of improvement in all its operational metrics, and we want that to continue. I am sure that Glasgow will play its part in that.
The new Office for Students comes into existence progressively from 1 January 2018, with its full operational existence commencing in April 2018. The Student Loans Company has its own statutory existence, independent of the Office for Students, and it will continue to carry out its vital function of ensuring that the loans we make available to remove barriers to access to higher education continue to be made available seamlessly to the students who are in need of them.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I hope the Minister appreciates that the problems at the SLC go beyond the actions, or lack of them, of the previous chief executive. The Jenkins report pointed to “bad behaviour” among the whole of the executive leadership team. Will the Minister tell us what that bad behaviour is, how long he has known about it and what action is being taken to stop it?
The SLC board has taken prompt action to address the shortcomings in the leadership of the company that were identified in the two investigations that I have mentioned: the Government Internal Audit Agency report and the report by Sir Paul Jenkins. I have every confidence that the new chief executive we have put in place, Peter Lauener, who has worked successfully across a range of Department for Education partner organisations including the Institute for Apprenticeships, will do the job that we need him to do.
Of course value for money is a critical part of our reforms, as it has been since the Green Paper, the White Paper and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. We want the SLC to hold universities to account for the tuition fee income that they receive from the SLC, and to ensure that students are made aware of where the best teaching is available across the system and where really good outcomes are emanating from specific higher education institutions. We want that to be made clearer to students so that they can make informed choices about where to study, and so that universities can be held to account for the use of public resources.
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the precise criteria against which the SLC was assessed. I can tell him that the organisation is steadily improving from when the coalition Government inherited it in 2010. As I have said, it is in its sixth consecutive year of performance improvement, and that is something that we should be celebrating. No one is denying that all organisations have room for improvement, and we want to work with the company to ensure that steps are taken in particular to improve the interface between itself and HMRC.
Does the Minister agree that it is imperative not only that university students get value for money but that they are able to see where their money goes, and that both of those elements will be promoted by the Office for Students, which will be launched on 1 January?
I am happy to confirm that. Indeed, we are consulting on the new regulatory framework that the Office for Students will use as its operating manual. Among the things that we are consulting on is how we can clarify to students how institutions use their tuition fee income so that they—and the Government—can be confident that that income is supporting the core activities that we intend it to be used for: teaching, producing world-class research, and helping students to go on to get great outcomes in the world of work.
I have huge sympathy for Mr Lamey—not least because he has such a fantastic surname—but I also have sympathy for the Minister, because I have been in his shoes. Given the failure of the SLC to which colleagues have alluded, it is important that the House understands how often over the past year the Minister met Mr Lamey, the chairman and the senior management team. In the spirit of probity, will the Minister put before the House a list of those meetings so that the proper inquiries can be made?
I would of course be happy to do that, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the SLC is in many ways a successful organisation, so we should not denigrate it. Opposition Members are doing a massive disservice to public servants who are working hard in Darlington and in Glasgow to ensure that students are getting access to the finance they need to undertake higher education. It is an achievement for an organisation to have 4.7 million customers but to receive complaints from less than 0.1% of them each year, so we should not endlessly run the SLC down. Of course it has room to improve, and the Government are committed to helping it do so.
Order. That question is not altogether adjacent to the matter of the management and operation of the Student Loans Company. If I am being very polite to the hon. Gentleman, which I invariably am, I will say that his inquiry is at best tangential. It has at best a nodding acquaintance with the SLC, but no better than that. However, the Minister is a versatile and dextrous fellow, and I feel sure that he will be able to handle the matter eloquently and pithily.