Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 23rd March 2015.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke 2:30 pm, 23rd March 2015

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

For too long, thousands of people have been on bail for months or even years, with no independent oversight of the police’s investigation. To put a stop to this, I announced to the House in December that I was consulting on the introduction of statutory time limits for pre-charge bail. That consultation closed on 8 February, and I am grateful to the 300 individuals and organisations that responded. I have today placed in the Library of the House and on the gov.uk website a summary of the consultation responses and the Government’s response.

On the key point of independent review, it is apparent from the consultation that the model where all extensions of bail past 28 days would be done in court would not be viable, as there is unlikely to be sufficient capacity in the magistrates courts. I have therefore decided to adopt the model endorsed by the consultation under which pre-charge bail is initially limited to 28 days. In complex cases, an extension of up to three months could be authorised by a senior police officer, and in exceptional circumstances, the police will have to apply to the courts for an extension beyond three months to be approved by a magistrate. This will introduce judicial oversight of the pre-charge bail process for the first time, increasing accountability and scrutiny in a way that is manageable for the courts.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

I recently visited Hampshire’s cyber-crime unit and spoke to officers detecting online crime, particularly child abuse. I am sure the Home Secretary will want to join me in commending those officers for their dedication. Does she agree that we need to do everything we can to help police in this work and, in particular, to ensure that social media and other websites verify the identity of UK residents using their sites?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, may I take up the point that my right hon. Friend made about the work of police officers in police forces, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the National Crime Agency more widely in dealing with child abuse cases? These are not easy issues, and they do a very valuable job. Over the period of this Government, we have invested £86 million in dealing with cybercrime, and the creation of the national cyber crime unit at the NCA is, I believe, an important element in dealing with cybercrime. We expect social media companies to make it easy for users to choose not to receive anonymous posts, to have simple mechanisms for reporting abuse and to take action promptly when abuse is reported.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary

The Office for Budget Responsibility says that the Chancellor is planning cuts that are much more severe than anything we have seen over the last five years. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the cuts will be twice the size of any year’s cuts over this Parliament. That means a real-terms cut for the Home Office under the right hon. Lady’s plans over the next few years alone of 23% and the loss of 20,000 more police officers on top of those who have already gone. When the terror threat is growing, when more child abuse cases are coming forward, when recorded violent crime is up and when chief constables say that neighbourhood policing cannot be sustained, is she really saying to communities across the country that she and the Tories are prepared to cut 20,000 more police officers?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady knows full well that the funding for counter-terrorism policing has been protected and that this Government are putting more money into dealing with child sexual exploitation. When she comes to deal with this issue, perhaps she could remind people why it is that this Government have had to deal with budget cuts across the public sector: it is because the last Labour Government left us with the worst budget deficit in our peacetime history.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary

But the right hon. Lady has not managed even to meet her deficit plan, and we have already seen the police cut across the country. Her plans mean going further in the scale of police cuts, with 20,000 further police officers going across the country at a time when recorded rapes are up 30%, but fewer rapists are being arrested; when recorded violent crime is up 16%, but fewer violent criminals are being convicted; when online fraud is through the roof, yet fewer fraud proceedings are going up; and when recorded child abuse is up 33%, yet 13% fewer paedophiles are being prosecuted. On her watch, 999 waits are up, the police cannot keep up with extremists on the streets and more criminals are walking free. Is she really saying she is going to go around the country, campaigning with all her Back Benchers, saying she is content for 20,000 more police officers to go—because we’re not, and we won’t?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady mentioned that reports of child sexual abuse have increased, and yes they have. In a sense, that is to be welcomed, because more people feel that they can now come forward and report their abuse, which means that those issues can be investigated and the cases looked into. She talked about the figures for rape and domestic abuse, but I have to say that the volume of domestic abuse referrals from the police rose in 2013-14 to the highest level ever: 70% of those referrals were charged, which was the highest volume and proportion ever; there has been a rise in charged defendants from 2012-13; and conviction rates have risen since 2010-11. The figures on which she bases her rant show once again, I am afraid, that she is not paying attention to what is actually happening. What is happening is the exact opposite of what she and her colleagues said five years ago. She said crime would go up, but crime has gone down under this Government.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

My right hon. Friend will be aware that we in Harlow have had more than 109 illegal and unauthorised encampments over the past 15 months, and there is now a town-wide injunction banning anyone from setting up unauthorised or illegal encampments. Will my right hon. Friend look at how we can strengthen the law, possibly following the Irish example of making trespass a criminal rather than a civil offence?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the campaigning and work he has done on behalf of his constituents whose lives have been blighted by these illegal camps. When we are back in government after the election, we will look at the law—I can assure you of that, Mr Speaker—but we must also make sure that the police use the powers they have and are not frightened of using them, as appears to have happened in certain parts of the country, including in my hon. Friend’s part of Essex.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

I am concerned about a recommendation in a recent Home Affairs Committee report that those arrested on sexual offences charges should be given anonymity. Does the Home Secretary agree that in these circumstances, these prosecutions are extraordinarily difficult, and that the decision should be made carefully by the police? Will she ask the independent panel inquiry also to look at this issue?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. As she will be aware, there was a significant debate about this very thing early on in this Parliament. The Government have not yet responded to the Home Affairs Committee report—for understandable reasons, given that it has only just come out—but I was asked about the matter when I was in front of the Home Affairs Committee last week. This issue has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I think that an assumption of anonymity on arrest is right in general, but there will be cases when it is right for the police to ensure that the name is put out so that other people can come forward to report crimes by the same perpetrator.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Conservative, Harrogate and Knaresborough

The use of legal highs is a significant problem all over the country, and it is certainly a problem in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Such drugs can have devastating consequences. The papers covering my area, the Harrogate Advertiser and The Knaresborough Post, have run a very good campaign highlighting the scale of the local problem. What progress has been made in tackling these dangerous drugs?

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Minister of State, Home Department

It is very helpful when the local media join the campaign against what I term “lethal highs”. As I said earlier, the Government are drawing up proposals for a general ban on the supply of new psychoactive substances throughout the United Kingdom, with a view to introducing legislation at the earliest opportunity. Obviously there is not enough time left for us to legislate in the current Parliament. However, we have already banned more than 500 new drugs, created a forensic early warning system to identify new psychoactive substances in the UK, and supported law enforcement with the latest intelligence on new substances, and we are taking a number of actions in relation to health, prevention and treatment.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Minister told me a moment ago that there were more front-line police officers in Avon and Somerset. However, a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary tells me that the number is down by 10%, from 2,937 in March 2010 to 2,651 in March 2015. In what way is that “more”?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I apologise if I misled the hon. Lady, but I am sure I said that we were taking staff out of the back rooms and putting more on the front line. There are more officers serving on the front line today than there were when the Labour Government left office.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Liberal Democrat, Brent Central

I understand that the Home Secretary has asked officials to carry out a detailed piece of work on the future requirements of the immigration detention estate, in conjunction with her decision to halt the expansion of Campsfield. What is the remit for that work, what is the timetable for it, and will it be made public? Will the Home Secretary direct the officials to look at the international evidence that was presented in our cross-party report on the immigration detention system, which suggests that we could substantially reduce our need for detention places?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

Let me take this opportunity to wish the hon. Lady well for the future, as that was probably the last Home Office question she will ask before she leaves the House.

We will certainly look at the all-party parliamentary group report, and I intend to write to the hon. Lady about it before the House rises on Thursday. We are examining the issue of the detention estate internally, but our work will be informed by Stephen Shaw’s review of the welfare aspects. It is important to ensure that we are providing a humane environment for people who are being detained.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Opposition Whip (Commons)

Crime rose by 6% in Greater Manchester last year. Will the Minister update us on her improvement plan with Action Fraud, and can she assure me that the defrauding of my constituents will be investigated and they will be kept up to date with the progress of that investigation?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady and I have had several discussions about Action Fraud. Let me bring her up to date with the latest figures from the organisation. As we have established in earlier discussions, fraud is historically an under-reported crime. The number of recorded offences has almost trebled, from 72,000 before the introduction of Action Fraud’s centralised reporting system to 211,000 now. As the hon. Lady knows, Action Fraud is also embarking on an improvement plan. It has resulted in a reduction in the number of complaints, which should be welcomed, but we are still keen to ensure that local police forces in particular treat and correspond with victims in a way that enables them to understand the action that is being taken to deal with these crimes.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission

Yesterday huge crowds turned out in our most multicultural city, Leicester, to celebrate English history. Did not that celebration of monarchy and continuity provide a fine example of British values, and should we not learn from that example of history that it is not a good idea to get on politically by bumping off one’s close relations?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We could have an interesting debate about my hon. Friend’s last comment, and I am grateful to him for not suggesting that the princes in the tower is an historic case that the police should take up today. The point he made about those in Leicester coming together yesterday from all parts of the community and celebrating British values is an important one. It is exactly what I was speaking about this morning, when I said that we need a partnership of individuals, communities, families and Government, going across Government and including other agencies, to promote our British values and what it is to live here in the United Kingdom and to be part of our British society.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

The Home Secretary will know that one of her former Cabinet colleagues and a former chief inspector of prisons were among those of us from all parties and both Houses on the recent inquiry into immigration detention which recommended that the Government learn from best practice abroad where alternatives to detention not only allow individuals to live in the community, but are more effective in securing compliance, and at a much lower cost to the public purse. Will she respond positively to our recommendations?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

I have already indicated that we are examining the points made in the recent all-party parliamentary group report, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that there is a need for detention in terms of managing immigration and ensuring that we can remove people safely and appropriately. It is also worth underlining that we cannot detain people indefinitely. This is about the perspective of ensuring that there is the ability to remove, and that is the way in which the Government operate the rules.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Does the Home Secretary agree that until such time as front-line resources and targets are set for rural crime, these crimes will not be taken seriously in rural constituencies? Will she give an edict from the Dispatch Box today that Travellers who are on rural land illegally will be removed forthwith?

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The police already have powers. As I indicated to my hon. Friend Robert Halfon earlier, the police often have the powers in respect of illegal Traveller sites. Crime in rural areas is a very serious issue and we should all take it seriously.

While crime is down 16% in the part of the world of my hon. Friend Miss McIntosh, any crime is bad.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Yesterday I spoke to community leaders at one of my mosques about the young men who had been educated at schools in Brent North and who have now been returned from Syria. They expressed to me their deep concern about the lack of community facilities for some of the community groups and the way in which this was tending to lead to radicalisation of the young men. Does the Home Secretary regret the cuts to the Prevent programme?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The changes we made to the Prevent programme are very simple. We did two things when we came into office: we said Prevent should look at non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism, but we also said that the part of the Prevent programme that was about the integration of communities came better under the Department for Communities and Local Government than under the Home Office, because people were looking at this as people effectively spying on them rather than a proper integration of communities. What we are doing now is standing back and recognising that we need to deal with extremism across a broader spectrum, because Prevent has always been cast in terms of counter-terrorism. That is why in my speech today I talked about the broader partnership with Government, other agencies, communities, families and individuals to deal with extremism and give a very clear message to the extremists that they will not divide us.