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Topical Questions

Volume 636: debated on Monday 26 February 2018

I would like to update the House on the UK’s recent ranking as one of the least corrupt countries in the world following our decisive action to tackle corruption both at home and abroad. Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index ranks 180 countries on perceived public sector corruption. In the latest index, published only last Wednesday, the UK moved up two places from joint tenth least corrupt in the world to joint eighth. We now have the second-highest score in the G20.

Our improved position reflects the proactive approach that this Government have taken to combat corruption, but we recognise that there is still more to do. The national anti-corruption strategy published in December establishes an ambitious framework to tackle corruption to 2022 and contains over 100 commitments to guide Government efforts. I know that Ministers and the Prime Minister’s anti-corruption champion, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), will support me in driving efforts across Government and around the world.

That was a most useful answer, but far too long. It is one of those answers that officials draft and to which a Minister, however busy and distinguished, needs sometimes perhaps to apply the blue pencil. But we are extremely grateful to the Home Secretary for what she has said.

Despite overwhelming evidence from over 90 cities around the world, the Home Secretary still intransigently prevents a pilot study on unsafe drug consumption in the city of Glasgow, where drug-related deaths are at epidemic levels. Why is she being so intransigent on this issue?

I do not find the evidence as conclusive as the hon. Gentleman does. We have looked at this. It is an area that is constantly having different reviews and different champions. If he wants to come and meet the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, I am happy for him to do that, but we cannot see, at the moment, any reason to change the policy.

T2. What progress is being made in bringing together the work of the police service and the fire service as emergency services? Is there not a case also for looking at whether the ambulance service should come under the same jurisdiction? (904019)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. To his last point, the answer is yes, and Northamptonshire is a good example of where emergency services are working across the lights. I am delighted to say that on 1 October, Roger Hirst of Essex police became the country’s first police, fire and crime commissioner. Six other police and crime commissioners have submitted proposals to take on fire, and we aim to make an announcement soon.

Ministers will be aware that I visited Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre last week, after a year of asking the Home Office to be allowed to visit. Are Ministers aware of the long-standing concerns about the quality of medical care at Yarl’s Wood—concerns that were raised with me by so many women last week? Is the Minister aware that victims of trafficking and sexual abuse are being held at Yarl’s Wood, contrary to Government undertakings? Is the Minister aware that some women at Yarl’s Wood are on hunger strike—a hunger strike that the Home Office flatly refuses to admit is happening? The women of Yarl’s Wood are desperate, and we owe them a duty of care. Will the Minister agree to meet with me, so that I can share with her the specific concerns that so many women raised with me?

I am always delighted to meet the right hon. Lady and to listen carefully to any suggestions that she has and her experiences of visiting Yarl’s Wood. We take the health of everybody at any detention centre very seriously. There are high standards there, and if there are any examples otherwise, we will always take a look at them. I was concerned by some of her suggestions afterwards when she made her speech. Immigration detention centres play an important part in enforcing our immigration rules. Some of the people there are very dangerous, and it is right that they are detained and then removed.

T3. As soon as the Government’s best-value inspection of Northamptonshire County Council is concluded at the end of March, will the Policing and Fire Minister facilitate the transfer of the fire and rescue service to the police and crime commissioner? (904020)

As my hon. Friend knows, an application has been made with a business case that has been independently assessed. We have had to delay a decision on that because of the inspection in Northamptonshire, as we need to make sure that the financial projection assumptions made by Northamptonshire County Council are built on rock rather than sand. He appreciates that. As soon as that process is resolved, we want to move ahead with a decision as quickly as possible.

T5. Many constituents have contacted me about the limited provisions on refugee family reunion. Will the Minister undertake to expand those provisions, in line with my constituents’ concerns? (904022)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She will be aware that we had a Westminster Hall debate on that subject last week and that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) has a private Member’s Bill on it, which will come forward on 16 March. This is a policy area where we enable some refugee families to be reunited here. We have a proud track record of so far resettling 10,000 of the 20,000 we are expecting under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. This is an important policy. We are determined to be as compassionate as we can within the commitments we have already made.

T4. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Kent police, which has been rated outstanding for the third year in a row by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary? It is the only police force to get such a rating and is doing a fantastic job in keeping the residents of Kent and Medway safe. (904021)

I can certainly do that. Kent police is regularly rated excellent for the good service it delivers. It performs well across all strands of inspection and has been rated outstanding for the legitimacy with which it keeps people safe and reduces crime. Through my hon. Friend, I would like to congratulate the commissioner, the leadership and all the frontline officers in Kent for the outstanding work they do.

T6. In Rotherham, 1,510 adult survivors of child sexual exploitation have now been identified by the National Crime Agency. Both the Minister and the Home Secretary know that unless there is a package of support around those adults, the cases will start to falter. Will the Minister support Rotherham’s funding application to get a package of care around those adult survivors? (904024)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for the meeting that she asked me to attend with leaders of Rotherham Council and the police. There has been and continues to be significant Government investment in response to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, including £5.17 million to fund transformational change there, funding for police forces to meet the costs of unexpected events and up to £2 million for children’s social care in recognition of social workers’ increased workload resulting from the investigation of CSE. We have previously provided approximately £5.6 million for Operation Stovewood in the last two years, and we are considering an application for funding for the costs of investigation in 2017-18.

T7. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that although we are leaving the European Union, the Government remain committed to very close security and counter-terrorism co-operation with our European friends to keep our constituents safe? (904025)

My hon. Friend is right that successful data transfer—through existing schemes such as Schengen Information System II and the European Criminal Records Information System and, indeed, the use of Europol data—is one of the things that keeps all our citizens safe and keeps other European citizens safe too. That is why the UK has proposed a third-party treaty, so that we can engage just as successfully and just as fully with the European Union as we have done previously, keeping Londoners in Paris and Parisians in London just as safe after we leave as they were before.

T8. I understand that the Minister met the family of Alfie Dingley this morning. Following statements in the House last week that the Minister wants to help to find a solution within the existing regulations, will he update the House on when Alfie and others in a similar position will receive the medicines they need? (904026)

I confirm to the hon. Lady that I did indeed meet the parents and grandmother of Alfie this morning to progress exactly what I said at the Dispatch Box last week about our intention to explore every option within the existing regulations to help Alfie.

But should not the provision of prescription medicines, even if derived from narcotics, be a purely clinical matter?

As I have said, I am looking at this through the lens of what we can do within the existing regulations to support Alfie, and those decisions will be clinically led.

T9. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with Cabinet colleagues on preparing for cyber-attacks against critical national infrastructure? (904027)

This is an area that we will constantly keep under review. It is an area that is sometimes covered by the Cabinet. We have the national cyber-security strategy, backed up by the National Cyber Security Centre. It is something we are very aware of and will continue to discuss in order to make sure that this country is kept safe.

I have been contacted by a local optician in Elgin. He is a tier 2 sponsor, but because optometry is not listed as a priority profession, he has been affected by the tier 2 cap being reached in recent months. Will the Minister and colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care consider including optometrists as priority professionals for tier 2 visas?

The tier 2 cap operates to ensure that our immigration system brings the best talent to the UK while still controlling numbers. Any profession on the shortage occupation list automatically gets priority. The shortage occupation list is determined by the independent Migration Advisory Committee. It has not yet included opticians on the list, but as my hon. Friend will know, it is currently carrying out a major labour market review.

We know that we have a flat-cash police settlement this year and we know that local ratepayers are going to have to pay increased rates to meet the need, but do we yet know who is going to pay for the police pay rise, given the Police Federation’s 3.4% request today?

As the former Policing Minister knows very well, we have to look at the police settlement in the round, balancing the cash that the taxpayer pays from the centre—the Home Office—and the cash that the local taxpayer pays through the precept. We responded to both the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chiefs Council on additional precept flexibility. That allowed us to put forward a settlement that will see investment in the police increase by £450 million next year—an increase that the Labour party opposed.

Is the Home Office confident that it and its agencies can compete with the private sector, and recruit and retain people with the key digital and cyber skills that we need?

For security reasons, I am unable to comment on specific recruitment levels and on the geographical distribution of police and intelligence agencies in specialist areas, but I assure my hon. Friend that we are seeing strong levels of recruitment. GCHQ and the National Crime Agency are doing great work in encouraging the next generation of cyber-sleuths through their Cyber First programme.

I am sure the Policing Minister will be as concerned as I am about the 309 assaults on police officers in Humberside in the past year. What more will the Government do to keep our brave police officers safe on the streets?

I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s concern about an increase in assaults on police, which is why we are looking very favourably at supporting the emergency workers protection Bill—the “protect the protectors” Bill—to try to have greater safeguards through the law. On engagement with police leadership, we keep under regular and constant review the application of operational tools at their disposal, such as Tasers.

In using the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to penalise rogue landlords and breaches in planning law, local authorities can act as a deterrent and also compensate council tax payers who end up footing the bill. Given that Sussex local authorities have used only one such power, what more can my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime do to encourage them to use more of them?

My hon. Friend is right to point out his worries. We hope that the Criminal Finances Act 2017 will give a new boost to training local authority officers to deliver on it and increase the amount we take from rogue landlords and property owners.

A number of migrant workers are starting to lose their jobs because of delays in the renewal and extension of visas. What can the Home Secretary do to speed up the process, so that they do not face that problem in the future?

The hon. Gentleman will have to give me a bit more information—which sort of migrant workers and where? Of course, there has been no change to EU citizens being able to come and go, nor will there be until we have actually left the European Union. In terms of any other types of migrant workers, I ask him to write to me with more information.

The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service has already spoken about the benefits of collaboration between emergency services and will be aware of proposed closer working between Warwickshire and West Midlands fire services, while there is already a strategic partnership between Warwickshire and West Mercia police services. Is there any potential conflict if Warwickshire’s blue-light services collaborate with bodies from different areas?

There is no conflict as far as I can see. We are keen to encourage the greatest levels of collaboration between our emergency services.

When constituents have no recourse to public funds, serious delays in processing their visas result in them being plunged into abject poverty. What is the Home Secretary doing about that?

I did not hear the start of the hon. Lady’s question, but I think she was referring in particular to women who have no recourse to public funds. I am concerned about that, and it will be covered partly in our consultation. If she has other concerns about that particular cohort who are applying for refugee status, I urge her to contact my Department.

With Suffolk police being one of the lowest-funded forces with the highest number of case loads per officer in the country, will the Policing Minister set out a timetable for reviewing the police funding formula?

My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on behalf of Suffolk police, and he knows that next year, as a result of the funding settlement, it will get an additional £3.6 million. I have made it clear that we will be looking at the fair funding formula in the context of the next comprehensive spending review, because we think that is the most appropriate framework to do so. Although we do not have an exact timetable, I expect that work to start soon.

I note the encouraging words from the Immigration Minister, as well as her excellent pronunciation. Refugees would be greatly helped by the passing of the private Member’s Bill on family reunion, which will receive its Second Reading in the House on Friday 16 March. It is supported by the British Red Cross, Amnesty International, the Refugee Council, Oxfam and United Nations agencies. Given the Minister’s good, warm words, which I welcome, how much thought have the Government given to supporting that Bill to enable families to have very clear rights to be together, which of course is the best security they could have?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I am sure he will understand the trepidation with which I seek to pronounce his constituency name—that was the second time I have managed it in a week. As I have said, we will look very carefully at his Bill, which I understand he published only at the beginning of last week, and we will have a full opportunity to debate it on 16 March.

The pronunciation struck me as magnificent, and I hope it will be shared with the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, preferably sooner rather than later.

Order. There are lots of people wishing to speak, but I am afraid there is no time. If there are points of order—I had an indication that there was likely to be one—they must they come after the urgent question.