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Topical Questions

Volume 545: debated on Monday 21 May 2012

On 10 May we introduced in the other place the Crime and Courts Bill, which will establish the National Crime Agency. The NCA will be a powerful operational crime-fighting agency which will defend our borders, fight serious and organised crime, tackle economic and cybercrime, and protect children and vulnerable people. I will be further discussing the workings of this important new agency when I meet representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers later this week.

The weekly e-mail from Commander Williams showed that crime in Merton and Wimbledon was falling again last week. Residents of the Wimbledon constituency rightly attribute that to the Mayor of London ensuring that police numbers were kept up during his first period of office, so what can the Home Secretary say to the residents of Merton who want to ensure that the police can recruit the brightest and the best talent?

That was one of the issues that Tom Winsor looked at in the second part of his review of pay, terms and conditions for police, and he has proposed a number of ways for direct entry at various levels in the police for those from outside the police so that we can see a broader range of experience and skills being brought into policing. Those proposals, like other proposals from the Winsor report part 2, are currently going through the appropriate police negotiating body and other bodies.

The borders inspector has said that the number of people absconding at border control, slipping through without permission, escaping from detention or disappearing after temporary admission has more than doubled since the election, and the number who are later caught has fallen. Can the Home Secretary explain why that has happened?

We take the issue of security at the border extremely seriously. That is why we have been following up the report of the chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, as his title then was, in relation to the Border Force and ensuring that the—sadly—poor situation that had developed over a number of years under the Labour Government is being addressed.

The problem has got substantially worse since the election. At terminal 3 alone the number of absconders was 115 in 2009; in 2011 the report estimates that it was “between 300 and 350, significantly higher than previous years”, and the proportion being caught later has halved. That is what the report says. Time and again, the situation is getting worse month on month, not better. Is not the truth that this is another example of failing border control and weaker action on illegal immigration on the Home Secretary’s watch? We have controls being downgraded hundreds of times, hundreds of staff being cut and at the last minute re-recruited, drugs and gun checks stopped, and more people like Raed Salah managing to walk through, when they should have been stopped. Will the Home Secretary get a grip?

I say to the right hon. Lady that it is this Government who are putting in place controls on our immigration system; it was the previous Labour Government who allowed people to come in without any controls on the immigration system. We are putting in place a policy that will see the number of people coming into this country reduced and in both the UK Border Agency and the UK Border Force, we are putting right the problems that grew up under the previous Labour Government. She talks about the relaxation of controls, but the inspector said that that had been happening since 2007. It is about time that the Labour party accepted responsibility for what it did in government.

T4. I commend my right hon. Friend’s steely determination in dealing with Abu Qatada and his slippery legal team, but the fact remains that such a situation might happen again. That man has cost the British taxpayer £3.2 million over the past 10 years. In light of that, will she report what progress she has made in investigating how the Italian Government made early deportations of suspected ne’er-do-wells like Abu Qatada? (108055)

I have indeed undertaken, as I think my hon. Friend knows, to look at how deportations are managed in other countries, and not just in Italy but in France which, as has recently been mentioned, was able to deport two individuals rather more quickly than we have been able to deport Abu Qatada. I will report to the Commons when that work is complete. We want to be able to deport as quickly as possible people who should not be in the United Kingdom, and I am pleased that we are now closer to deporting Abu Qatada than we ever have been.

T2. Given that the vast majority of international students leave the UK at the end of their courses, why do the Government insist on counting them when calculating net migration figures, which other countries do not do, to the detriment of institutions such as Edinburgh university in my constituency that are competing with other countries for those students? (108053)

First, I assure the hon. Lady that there is not a limit on the number of students coming in. The reason we include them in the immigration system is simply that the UN definition of an immigrant is someone who comes to a country with the intention of staying there for more than a year, so any student who comes to stay for more than a year, according to the UN definition, is an immigrant.

T5. Of course, controlling immigration does not happen only at our borders; it also involves ensuring that migrants abide by their obligations under immigration rules. With that in mind, what more is being done to tackle the problem of persistent over-stayers? (108056)

We have taken action against employers, in particular, as the main reason for people over-staying is in order to work illegally. Last summer we had a big effort against over-staying illegal workers. I am happy to report to my hon. Friend that that is working. The last quarter of 2011 showed an increase in enforced removals and voluntary departures of those who should not be here, on both the previous quarter and the last quarter of 2010, so the effective and tough measures we are taking are now visibly working.

T7. A 20% cut will see 1,200 police officers go in the west midlands. A further 20% cut in the next comprehensive spending review would mean, in the view of the police service, the end of community policing. Has the Home Secretary told the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, and can she rule it out? (108058)

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we are not going to speculate about a future spending review. He might have pointed out that the latest figures show that recorded crime in the west midlands has fallen by 7% overall, and he might have congratulated the chief constable on that achievement, despite the fact that, like every other chief constable, he is having to make savings.

T6. I, like many other MPs, was horrified and disappointed to receive an e-mail today from the Police Federation implying that Tom Winsor was effectively discriminating against black and minority ethnic applicants to the police. Instead of trying to smear Tom Winsor as a racist, would it not be better for the Police Federation to look at how to increase the number of successful BME applicants? (108057)

I share my hon. Friend’s view about the e-mail that the Police Federation sent this morning, which included the absurd claim that British policing will be transformed into some kind of paramilitary model, which is palpable nonsense. Tom Winsor’s independent report included an equality statement and the Home Secretary specifically asked the negotiating bodies to consider the impact of his proposals on equality and diversity.

T9. The crimes of the nine Oldham and Rochdale men convicted of the appalling sexual exploitation of vulnerable and young children have been condemned throughout the community. In Oldham, the police are working across agencies and on Operation Messenger to prevent such attacks, which they say exist across the UK in all communities and in all kinds of homes. What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that such vital work does not suffer under the police cuts, and will she commit to ensuring that the Government’s response to these crimes is based on evidence, not on a knee-jerk reaction? (108060)

The hon. Lady raises a very important issue in relation to the terrible situation that we have seen in Rochdale, but, as she and others have said, sadly we see too many such cases throughout the country of grooming and sexually exploiting girls. We have already had a report from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre on the issue, and we will look at it again and at how it is dealt with across the country. We have made sure that in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 there is a specific duty on police forces and on police and crime commissioners in relation to the care of children.

T8. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Staffordshire police and, in particular, Chief Constable Mike Cunningham on meeting the requirements of the budget reductions in the spending review while maintaining visible front-line policing? (108059)

I will happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating Staffordshire police on that achievement. They, like many other forces, have seen an overall fall in crime—in their case, of 7%—despite having to make savings, and the chief constable has made a particular commitment to protect neighbourhood policing.

Binge drinking by young people is a serious public health issue. “Men in Black 3” will be on our screens soon, and cinemas are important channels for alcohol marketing, so will the Home Secretary take the lead on more effective controls on advertising in cinemas?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. I am not quite sure why he felt that “Men in Black 3” had to be promoted in his question, good though the first two films were. We have looked at the issue of alcohol advertising in relation to the alcohol strategy, but I will certainly take on board his point about cinemas.

I thank the security Minister for the interest that he has taken in the superfluous security fencing at Milngavie reservoir since I raised the issue with him in 2010. Can he confirm that the Home Office has now acted, along with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, to give Scottish Water the power to remove any unnecessary and unsightly security fences?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting that important constituency issue. As she knows, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure has reassessed the site following the installation of a water treatment facility and confirmed the security measures, and I can confirm that I have signed the necessary direction.

As the Minister responsible for national security, will the Home Secretary provide us with her understanding of the comments made yesterday by the Justice Secretary, who told the BBC that he has revised his proposals for closed material proceedings in civil cases so that judges always have the final say on when they are used?

The right hon. Gentleman will see the Government’s proposals when the relevant Bill is published, but I am sure that with his wealth of knowledge and experience he will know that, on a number of issues such as control orders in the past and terrorism prevention and investigation measures now, the decision to hear such matters in closed proceedings, and the decision on whether they should go ahead, is initially taken by the Secretary of State and then put to the court for the court to agree.

In recent times there have been a number of controversial applications to extradite British citizens to the United States, including that of Mr Christopher Tappin. Some appear to have been based on American police sting operations on British soil. How are they approved, and how many have been approved in recent times?

I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s concern about the matter. Operational activities such as covert investigative action would have to be approved in this country by the relevant law enforcement agency. As to the types of investigation, the approval processes and the numbers, I am about to write to my right hon. Friend, and I will set them out in detail for him.

Does the Minister share my concern that the former chief constable of North Yorkshire, having been deemed guilty of serious misconduct, was nevertheless paid £250,000 in compensation when the police authority decided not to extend his contract? Will the Minister take some action to stop the use of public money in this way? How many police officers would £250,000 pay if the money had been used for that instead?

I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman still had two thirds of his important question to go. I apologise for almost stopping him in his tracks, but I should know that nothing can stop the hon. Gentleman in his tracks.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about that matter. Such a payment is permissible under the current law. Tom Winsor has made recommendations in his independent review relating to the matter, which we are looking at carefully. I can understand that the people of north Yorkshire, and indeed more widely, would be concerned about this payment.

The Home Secretary can be proud of the fact that adult victims of human trafficking are being looked after better than ever before, but there remains the scandal that some child victims of human trafficking, instead of being put into special safe homes, are returned to local authority care only to be re-trafficked time and again. That scandal needs to be ended; what can be done?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who does a lot of essential work with the all-party group on human trafficking, that re-trafficking is an important issue. However, those who have expertise in looking after children are, by and large, in local authorities, so that is a natural place for children to be put where they can be kept safely. Where there is the problem of re-trafficking, clearly it is for the Government and for local authorities to look at ways of better protecting children from the traffickers.

In December, the Home Secretary announced a national review of stop and search as used by the police. What progress is being made with that review and when will the report be published?

Initially, I asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to look at good practice in relation to stop and search. It has been doing that, and it is currently putting the results together. Alongside that, similar activity is taking place in a number of police forces, particularly the Metropolitan police, who have been looking at their stop-and-search arrangements and actively working with communities to ensure that this important power remains available to them but that they are operating it in the correct and proper manner.