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Organised Crime

16. Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): What plans she has to tackle serious and organised crime; and if she will make a statement. [4235]

The Minister for Police (Nick Herbert): Tackling serious organised crime requires effective co-operation and co-ordination across law enforcement. We will work with police forces to strengthen arrangements to deal with serious crime and other cross-boundary policing challenges.

Elizabeth Truss: I am pleased that Norfolk constabulary is collaborating with other police forces in the region to work against the scourge of serious and organised crime. However, I understand that, on a national level, that collaboration is not yet as strong as it is in counter-terrorism. What plans do we have to put serious and organised crime fighting on a similar footing?

Nick Herbert: I know of the close interest that my hon. Friend takes in these matters, having been the author of a publication that proposed better arrangements to deal with serious crime. We will not pursue the Labour party's policy of compulsory mergers of police forces. We believe that it is necessary for police forces to collaborate better to deal with organised crime, just as better collaboration has been achieved in counter-terrorism activity, and that is the policy that we shall pursue.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister accept that the internet is increasingly being used by those who get involved in serious and organised crime? Does he agree that a partnership approach, making use of the talents and expertise of people in business, is essential to reduce the extent of internet use for the purposes of crime?

Nick Herbert: I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), is already in correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman about this matter. E-crime is a serious and growing problem, and it must make sense to tackle it on a partnership basis, with law enforcement agencies and business working together, and that is what we will do.

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Crime Statistics (North Yorkshire)

18. Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): What the percentage increase or decrease in the number of crimes reported in North Yorkshire was between (a) 1980 and 1997 and (b) 1997 and 2010. [4237]

The Minister for Police (Nick Herbert): The police in North Yorkshire notified the Home Office of nearly 22,000 offences in 1980; just over 50,000 in 1997; and 48,500 in 2008-09. During this period there have been considerable changes to reporting levels and to how the police record crime, and I am advised that these figures are not comparable.

Hugh Bayley: Comparable figures show nationally a 38% decline in crime. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the police on reducing crime in North Yorkshire and York? Does he agree with the statisticians in his own Department and the UK Statistics Authority that the British crime survey is the best way of measuring long-term trends in crime?

Nick Herbert: I agree that the British crime survey plays a valuable role, but the problem is that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not complete. For instance, it misses out the recording of crimes against young people. Last week, the experimental figures showed that there may be up to 2 million crimes that were previously being missed by the British crime survey. Police recorded figures also have their problems. We need measures of crime in which the public have confidence, and we will be making further announcements about that in due course.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that many crimes that were previously dealt with as breaches of the peace are now dealt with as antisocial behaviour? Will the Government now grasp the nettle and tackle such crimes using police forces, rather than councils, which are not open over the weekend and in the evening, when most of those crimes are committed?

Nick Herbert: It is important to convey the message that antisocial behaviour may be activity that is criminal and should be treated as such. The public still feel that there is too much antisocial behaviour in their neighbourhoods, and they want it to be prioritised by police forces. The best way to do that is not only by policing but through effective partnerships on the ground, using the full range of resources that can be provided by local authorities, other agencies and the police family working together.

Administration (Police Time)

19. Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): What recent representations she has received on the amount of time spent on administrative tasks by police officers each year. [4238]

The Minister for Police (Nick Herbert): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to group this question with Question 22.

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Mr Speaker: Order. I have had no indication of that grouping. There is a practice now developing of this happening spontaneously. It really will not do. We shall see how it goes today. I call the Minister.

Nick Herbert: I apologise, Mr Speaker. I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Amber Rudd: I thank the Minister for his answer. Recent statistics demonstrate that police spend 14% of their time on patrol and 20% on paperwork. Will he give an example of what administrative function might be cut from their work, so that we can give them the opportunity to spend more time out on the beat?

Nick Herbert: The most important example is the policy we have had for a long time: scrapping the unnecessary stop form, whose introduction made it harder for police forces to interact sensibly with the public, and resulted in a great deal of unnecessary bureaucracy. However, we will not stop at that, but will look at the whole performance framework and the central targets that have bedevilled policing for too long. We will free up police officers, so that they can do the job.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Given that the Minister wishes to free up police officers to spend more time on the beat, and given the recent survey that predicts 35,000 fewer police officers on the beat, what assessment has he made of how many administrative tasks he will have to scrap to maintain an appropriate and effective police presence?

Nick Herbert: I should say to the hon. Gentleman that we do not recognise those figures. Our policy is that we want to do everything possible to enable chief constables to prioritise the front line and maintain police officers out in the neighbourhoods, where the public want to see them. To do that, we must ensure that we reduce bureaucracy.

Mr Speaker: Order. No blame is imputed to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). It is simply that the grouping of his question with Question 19 was not something of which I had notice, and it is not a grouping to which I would ordinarily agree, for reasons of progress down the Order Paper.

Topical Questions

T1. [4244] Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): Later this afternoon, I will make a statement to the House on the Government's plans to consult on the introduction of an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants coming to the UK, and the introduction of an interim limit.

Alun Michael: Does the Home Secretary acknowledge the evidence given to the Select Committee on Justice by Victim Support suggesting that what victims want, other than not to have become a victim in the first place,
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is not to become a victim again in future. Does she accept that consequently a key purpose for the police and all other parts of the criminal justice system must be the reduction of offending and reoffending?

Mrs May: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to the need to reduce reoffending. I entirely agree that we need to do more to reduce reoffending, but I would point out to him that, over 13 years, his Government did very little to address that issue, which is why we have in the coalition agreement a clear commitment to look across the whole criminal justice system to examine what can be done to improve rehabilitation of offenders and hence to reduce reoffending.

T2. [4245] Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): In recent meetings with Worcester's Kashmiri and Bangladeshi communities, I have found a strong welcome for the new Government's focus on improving community cohesion and supporting integration. Does the Home Secretary agree that the English language requirement for people coming to the UK from outside the EU to marry will support those aims and benefit those communities?

Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I begin by offering my condolences to him on the recent death of his father, and pay tribute to the many years of distinguished service given to this country, both in the House and in another place, including as a Government Minister, by the late Lord Walker?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The English language is important in respect of people being able to live in the UK and integrate in communities here, which is why we have indeed already announced that we are tightening up the requirements for English language to be spoken. We require people who are coming into the UK to marry to speak English at a level that was not required before. It is perfectly reasonable to do so.

T3. [4246] Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): Before the election, Warrington Liberal Democrats said in a leaflet headed "Stop The Police Cuts":

Does the Minister agree?

Mrs May: The issue that affects most people in relation to the police is seeing police not sitting in offices filling in forms, but getting out on the street, preventing crime, dealing with criminals, and giving people the safety, security and confidence that they want in their neighbourhoods. That is why we will slash bureaucracy, and get police on the streets-something that the hon. Lady's Government failed to do in 13 years.

T4. [4247] Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Given that there are 11,500 foreign nationals in British jails, will the Home Secretary work with the Secretary of State for Justice and the Foreign Office to ensure that those in-sentence prisoners are deported back to their country of origin to serve out their sentences in their own lands?

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The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue of foreign national prisoners bedevilled the previous Administration for years and led to the resignation of a Home Secretary. In 2008-the last year for which we have full figures-the UK Border Agency removed or deported nearly 5,400 foreign national prisoners. There is always more to be done. There are cases in which the court rules in an individual's favour on specific human rights grounds and the Home Office disagrees with the court's decision, but we all have to respect the court's decision, so we are continuing to look at the administrative improvements needed to avoid administrative obstacles to the removal of foreign national prisoners at the end of their sentence, and to look at the legal problems.

T7. [4250] Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): What will the Home Secretary do if one of the new directly elected police commissioners is an extremist? What will happen?

Mrs May: I believe that introducing that important element of democratic accountability for police forces and not getting involved in operational matters, which will remain with the operational independence of police chiefs, is important. The hon. Gentleman's question implies something with which I disagree. It implies that he is not willing to trust the British people and the common sense of the British people to elect people who will do a good job in their area.

T5. [4248] Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): The Home Secretary is aware of the current discussions about a potential merger of the police forces of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Does she agree that such discussions are worth while at this time to achieve a fairer allocation of police resourcing and a more efficient allocation of resources where it matters-on the front line with our police?

The Minister for Police (Nick Herbert): I can confirm to my hon. Friend that I am due to have a meeting with the chief constables of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire to discuss the matter. I will also talk to locally elected representatives. It is important that if voluntary mergers of police forces go ahead, they do so with the consent of local people.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): The Home Secretary will be aware of the comments made by the Culture Secretary this morning linking the Hillsborough disaster to football hooliganism. That is a disgrace. I have recently spoken to some of the families who lost loved ones at Hillsborough. They are deeply distressed by that and angry about what has happened. How can they have trust in the Government to see through the proper release of the Hillsborough files, given that that is the view held in high parts of Government? As the Home Secretary leads on the matter, will she meet urgently with members of the families and the Culture Secretary to discuss the issue?

Mrs May: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has apologised for any suggestion that crowd unrest was responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. The judicial inquiry was
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absolutely clear on this point. The Taylor report cleared Liverpool supporters of any allegations that they were to blame for the terrible events that took place at that time, and the families of those who, sadly, lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster have conducted a dignified campaign over the years to try to ensure that the information is released and that they can see all the details of what happened at that time. I have already met the Bishop of Liverpool to discuss the work that his panel is doing in examining these issues. I would be happy to meet representatives of the Hillsborough families.

T6. [4249] Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): In my constituency, Kingswood, under the previous Government, the local police station on the high street was bulldozed to make way for flats. Many of my constituents are rightly extremely concerned about that. What steps will the Minister take to ensure a more effective local policing presence in the future?

Nick Herbert: I will happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss that. Local people want to see an available and visible police presence. That does not necessarily mean old buildings, but it means the police using innovative ways to ensure that they have a presence in the community-for instance, by sharing community facilities.

T8. [4251] Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): A cut of 25% in police funding would be devastating for public confidence. What the Minister said before would require large reductions in the number of police officers, community support officers and civilian staff. Those reductions could come about only through large up-front payments in pension, redundancy and other costs. What assessment has the Minister made of the size of those costs, and how on earth will they be paid for?

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman refers to front-line policing and to police doing the job that the public want them to do. We have answered a number of questions on that issue today, and the first thing is to ensure that our police officers are able to get out on the streets, doing the job that they want to do and people want them to do. I find it somewhat surprising that Labour Members continue to raise funding issues, when the people who are to blame for the funding situation in which we find ourselves are their Government.

T9. [4253] Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): As I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware, there are a large number of failed asylum seekers in my constituency and elsewhere in the country. Can she assure me that the situation will be reversed, and that policies will be implemented to ensure that our porous borders cease to be so?

Damian Green: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making two important points. One key problem with the asylum system, affecting both the taxpayer and genuine refugees, is the appalling delays that were allowed to build up under the previous Government. That was unfair on genuine asylum seekers and unfair on the taxpayer. At the same time, as he said, our borders have been allowed to become much too porous over the past 13 years. That is why we are working on plans for a
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border police force, which will give much better protection to our borders than was ever provided under the previous Government.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Speaker: Order. There is very little time left, so we need exceptionally short questions and short answers.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Home Secretary referred earlier to the problem with some CCTV cameras in Birmingham. I understand that more than £3 million has been spent on cameras that are now covered with plastic bags. Does she intend to unmask the bureaucrat who is responsible for that fiasco?

Mrs May: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, a discussion is now taking place between the local police force and local communities about automatic number plate recognition cameras in Birmingham, and that is one reason why we intend, in looking at regulation on CCTV, to include ANPR.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): One of my constituents, who also happens to be my parliamentary researcher, was seriously hurt in an unprovoked attack after he had been out for dinner with a friend in Croydon last week. Does the Secretary of State agree that late licensing is partly responsible for the increase in violent assaults at night? Will she update the House on how plans are progressing to sort out late licensing?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): My hon. Friend provides a powerful example of the impact of violent crime and alcohol, and certainly 47% of violent assaults are believed to be carried out by individuals under the influence of alcohol. That is why we will bring forward proposals to rebalance the Licensing Act 2003 in favour of local communities, and in particular introduce a proposal for a late-night levy to deal with the costs that are attributed to dealing with licensing problems in certain areas.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): My constituency has been targeted by the English Defence League for a series of demonstrations. Recent events have seen violence and disorder on the streets, police diverted to deal with that and property and constituents attacked. On one occasion the entire town centre was boarded up, costing businesses thousands. Could I bring a delegation of people from Dudley to meet the Home Secretary in order to discuss how we might prevent those problems in future?

Mrs May: Certainly I or another Minister will be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and a delegation in order to address those issues. He raises a very important point about the activities of the English Defence League, and we would be happy to discuss that.

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