“This is a global problem and it will take the world to fix it.”

Does the Secretary of State share that sentiment, and what are the Government doing to bring about a better global response than we have seen to date?

In conclusion, it is clear that Ebola will remain a threat for the foreseeable future, and it will not be easy to meet that challenge. We join the Secretary of State in sending our best wishes to Pauline and her family, and we will continue to work with him and the Government to minimise the risk to others.

Mr Hunt: May I first thank the right hon. Gentleman for the constructive tone of his comments and the official Opposition’s willingness to work closely with us on this very important issue? Let me cover some of the important points that he made.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that the disease is continuing to progress in those countries. We now have a total of 7,905 reported deaths, and there are 20,206 reported cases, which is likely to be an underestimate. There are some early—I stress, early—signs that the rate at which the disease is reproducing itself is beginning to fall to about the level where it is stabilising. However, those are early signs, and the truth is that we still need to do a huge amount of work to bring the disease under control.

We think that it is absolutely vital to proceed as quickly as possible with the vaccine that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I can tell him that we currently have three vaccines in the first phase of clinical trials. We have made some changes to speed up the process by which they can be used in the field, and DFID has put in £1.34 million to establish a joint research fund with the Wellcome Trust, so we are making progress on that front.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 43

It has been impossible to get supplies of ZMapp—the drug given to the other Ebola patient treated in the UK, Will Pooley—because it is grown using genetically modified tobacco plants, so there is a time constraint. Clinically, we do not yet know whether it was significant in Will Pooley’s recovery. We have tried other experimental treatments on Pauline Cafferkey, including using some of the plasma from Will Pooley, and we hope that will have an effect.

The review by Save the Children is being conducted in conjunction with Public Health England staff in Sierra Leone, and I hope that it will report in the next few days. We are obviously keen for them to report as quickly as possible, but we do not want to put them under pressure not to do a thorough report. I am satisfied with current protective arrangements on the basis of our clinical evidence, but as we saw with the screening arrangements, with a disease such as Ebola we must constantly keep an open mind about the best ways of dealing with things, and we will look carefully at what Save the Children recommends. I am satisfied with the protections in place for NHS workers in the UK on the basis of advice from the chief medical officer, and we will obviously also look at what happened in the US. At the moment we do not believe that the personal protective equipment suits have been breached, but we must keep an open mind and see what other evidence comes forward.

On the screening procedure, our clinical protocols were followed when Pauline Cafferkey arrived, but organisationally I do not think that it was as smooth as it needed to be. There were a lot of people to deal with, and because it was over the Christmas period we probably did not have as many people to do that as we needed, which meant that those coming for screening needed to wait longer than we would have liked. However, on the basis of revised protocols, and to ensure that we do not repeat this situation—nine more volunteers are coming back this Sunday and 60 more the following Sunday—the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), and the chief medical officer have been to inspect what is happening, to ensure that we learn the necessary lessons. Other volunteers have said that they think the screening procedure is working smoothly. This was a relatively isolated incident, but we must learn the lessons.

On expanding screening to other airports, I will look into whether Glasgow airport was informed and let the right hon. Gentleman know, but we have obviously learned from this event the importance of close working with the Scottish Government, and that has worked very well.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the active monitoring of people who come back, and I think that we have the best system. We are not only actively monitoring those who have been tested for having contracted the disease, but actively monitoring anyone in the high-risk groups. Of the 2,495 people who have been screened since we set up the process, 54 have been identified as having had direct contact with Ebola patients and as being in the high-risk group, and we have an enhanced monitoring process for them. Everyone else is informed exactly what to do if they develop feverish symptoms, which is what happened with Pauline Cafferkey.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 44

I again thank the right hon. Gentleman for his constructive approach to this issue.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to Pauline Cafferkey and all NHS volunteers, aid workers, staff at DFID and Public Health England for the work they are doing to keep us safe in the UK by fighting Ebola on the front line in west Africa at great personal risk. I also thank him for updating the House so succinctly on the improvements to the screening protocols, so that everyone will be screened if they have symptoms, not just a temperature. Will he update the House on the vaccines and say whether there has been any progress on the provision of rapid screening for Ebola? Will he reassure us that he will not follow the knee-jerk response that we have heard calls for from some quarters, which is to quarantine all NHS staff, because of the unintended consequences of such an approach?

Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for her constructive comments and I agree with what she has said on this issue. Some 678 health care workers have contracted Ebola since the outbreak of the disease, and of those nearly 400 have died, the vast majority African. That shows how incredibly brave front-line workers are, and perhaps the fact that—tragically—we have someone in this country who has contracted Ebola is a good way of reminding ourselves that many hundreds of other people have already been in this situation. They are all incredibly brave. We are proceeding as quickly as we can with the possibility of having a much speedier Ebola test, which would obviously be helpful for the screening process.

I agree with my hon. Friend that we do not want a knee-jerk response on quarantining people who come back. The contribution of NHS volunteers and health care workers from western countries in fighting the disease in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia is critical. Some 1,500 people from the NHS have volunteered, but they volunteer on the basis that we will follow proper clinical protocols, meaning quarantining people when it is clinically necessary to do so, but not doing so when it is not necessary. If we are to keep their confidence, we must be proportionate in our response.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Pauline Cafferkey is a constituent of mine and works at Blantyre health centre in my constituency. I have spoken to a number of those whom she has treated and her colleagues over the past few days. I am sure the House will appreciate that there is a huge amount of support and concern for her locally, but also a huge admiration for her work in Sierra Leone as an NHS volunteer. I am sure that that is shared by communities throughout the UK, with the exception of a small handful of people who should keep their opinions to themselves.

On the Secretary of State’s concerns about the screening process, when an experienced clinician describes a process as shambolic, it is not only about the protocol, but about the practicalities. As well as keeping the matter under review, will he ensure constant monitoring each weekend as people come back to ensure that the practicalities are properly kept in check, to ensure that the situation that seemed to happen last Sunday is not repeated?

5 Jan 2015 : Column 45

Mr Hunt: I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about what a remarkable lady Pauline Cafferkey is. When she was asked why she was going, she said, “Why wouldn’t you go when so much suffering is happening in west Africa?” That is the measure of the woman.

On the screening process, I am satisfied that the right clinical processes were followed, but I am not satisfied that it was as well organised as it should have been. That is why we have revised not just the clinical protocols, but the organisation, to ensure that we have the right capacity in place, and that we do not make people wait for as long as they did when Pauline returned on her flight. It is also important to recognise that the Public Health England staff at Heathrow are working very hard doing a difficult job, and are doing their very best.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I commend the federal and state authorities in Nigeria for the work they did in containing the Ebola outbreak there last year. In the space of a four-day visit, I had my temperature taken 34 times—whenever one goes into a public building, one has one’s temperature taken. Everyone who visits a Nigerian airport has to fill out a form giving details of where they have been and where they are going, contact details, and details of where they sat on the plane. Is the Secretary of State confident that he has the same level of traceability in this country as the Nigerian authorities have achieved in their country?

Mr Hunt: Yes, I am. I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the actions of the Nigerian authorities. What has happened in Nigeria in respect of Ebola shows a great deal of hope for what is changing in Africa more generally. There was a perception that all African countries would find it as challenging to deal with Ebola as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have found it, but it is clear that a generation of African countries have developed substantially and are able to respond in a much more effective way. That is a very encouraging change from what might have been the case 10 or 20 years ago.

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I am in no position whatever to comment on the effectiveness of the screening and suspect that no one else in the Chamber is. On long-term preparedness, it is several decades since Peter Piot, now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, first identified Ebola. Worldwide, not enough has been done to address the problems. We should not be looking for a vaccine now; it should have been looked for years ago. I hope the Secretary of State gives full support to the rare disease consortium that has been established by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial college and the Royal Veterinary College to look at infectious diseases that are capable of crossing from one species to another, and in particular this species.

Mr Hunt: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Peter Piot is a remarkable man who came to Downing street to advise the Prime Minister and me early in the development of the Ebola crisis. He is well worth listening to on this subject.

The right hon. Gentleman also makes a good point in that the global response to Ebola was far from adequate. The World Health Organisation has some important

5 Jan 2015 : Column 46

lessons to learn, and tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and I will meet Margaret Chan, when we will no doubt talk about those lessons. In an era of globalised travel, it is important that we have a much faster and more effective response when we have outbreaks of deadly viruses.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the staff of the Royal Cornwall hospital who treated someone returning from Sierra Leone with great professionalism, caring and compassion? Will he reassure me and those staff that, as well as those arriving back from west Africa by plane or train, those arriving back into our ports by ship are effectively screened?

Mr Hunt: I am happy to pass on my thanks to the staff of the Royal Cornwall—in fact, I spoke to someone from that hospital this morning and I know that they are very focused on this issue, as are all NHS hospitals. We have introduced information at all ports and, where necessary, screening. My hon. Friend makes an important point—it is never actually possible to put every single person through a screening process. We are one of the most open economies in the world and people constantly come in and out of the UK. We depend on public knowledge, so that people who have been to the affected areas know to present themselves to get immediate assistance if they develop any feverish symptoms.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State had the chance to consult the British Medical Journal editorial of 13 October, which insisted—more than two months ago—that the Government’s airport screening policy for Ebola was illogical? I spoke to the author yesterday and he argues that we have missed the one case to have been imported while thousands, many at low risk, have been delayed, detained and made to fill in a form just because they have been to west Africa. Experts such as the author insist that what the Government should have been doing is ensuring that all those at risk, especially health workers such as Pauline, know exactly what to do if they start to feel unwell. Might it be sensible to keep health workers away from direct patient contact for 21 days after they return?

Mr Hunt: Perhaps I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman on that point. Health care workers are kept away from direct patient work for that incubation period, so that protocol has been put in place. The BMJ article to which he refers is based, I think, on the misunderstanding that screening is the same as testing. The reality is that the tests for Ebola show up only when the virus has reached a certain level, at which point the patient will have become feverish and started displaying symptoms, so testing before that point is a waste of time. The purpose of the screening process is to identify those at highest risk so that we can make sure that they are actively monitored when they go home and that they know exactly what to do if they do develop symptoms. That is exactly what happened with Pauline Cafferkey.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): There is a saying that when it rains everyone’s roof gets wet. That is apt in the case of Ebola which, as we have heard, poses a global threat. Does my right hon. Friend

5 Jan 2015 : Column 47

agree that the best way to protect the British people from the Ebola outbreak is to continue to actively support international efforts to eradicate it in west Africa itself?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is right. The most important thing we can do is to eliminate this disease at source, and that is why we can be extremely proud of the efforts of DFID and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. As I have said, we are the country that is doing the second most in the entire world to combat the disease in west Africa. There is no better example of the link between proper development policy abroad and security at home.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): May I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, affording as it does an opportunity for the House to pay tribute not only to Nurse Cafferkey and all the other NHS volunteers, but the staff of the Royal Free hospital in my constituency who day in, day out demonstrate all that is best in our NHS? When the Secretary of State meets the World Health Organisation tomorrow, will he highlight a most recent report that states that, although it is possible there has been a diminution in urban areas in west Africa, rural areas in west Africa are still giving great cause for concern? There seems to be no overarching co-ordinated work in those particularly difficult areas. Will he also, as the United Kingdom was the first off the blocks to offer services to sufferers of Ebola, act as some kind of needle to the other countries in the international community that are still failing to help in the fight against this potential catastrophe?

Mr Hunt: The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need all countries to play their part. We have been very involved in international efforts to try to ensure that other countries, particularly in Europe, play their part as we in the UK have been doing. I commend her constituents who work at the Royal Free for their remarkable work, which really is world beating and incredibly impressive. It is also very challenging. The situation that Pauline is in is very difficult for them to cope with, but they are doing so with the highest levels of professionalism. On rural areas, DFID has been focused from the start on how to ramp up community care in rural areas. She is right to say that that is a very important priority.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for the tone and content of his statement. Nevertheless, I think my constituents in Kettering would have two concerns about the Pauline Cafferkey incident. First, what my constituents do not understand is why, when this health worker reported feeling unwell, caution was not prioritised and she was not tested before travelling, as we now know on a crowded underground train into the centre of London. Secondly, I understand that she travelled back to this country with quite a large number of other health workers. When an airport knows that a large number of health workers are about to descend on it, why are resources not in place to deal with quite a large number of people all in one go?

Mr Hunt: We have learned the lessons to speed up the process so that people, I trust, will not have to wait as long. One of the lessons we learned in the Christmas

5 Jan 2015 : Column 48

period is that we do not want people to have to wait as long. I want to stress to my hon. Friend—perhaps he could stress this to his constituents—that the clinical risk of contracting Ebola from sitting next to someone who is not exhibiting feverish symptoms is very low. That is why the clinical advice was, and remains, that it is perfectly safe for someone to travel on a train if they are not displaying the symptoms. We want to go further, however. We recognise that we do not know everything about this disease and therefore want to be precautionary. That is why we have said that if people in the high-risk categories—those who have had contact with Ebola patients—say they are unwell, we will have a different protocol going forward even if their temperature is within the normal range. I hope that will reassure his constituents.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): The Government were absolutely right to start screening on 14 October. May I urge the Secretary of State to resist calls from those who say that screening is not effective and should stop? This was not a direct flight: it went through Casablanca. Although we have put a lot of resources into Sierra Leone and we have resources at Heathrow, there appears to be no international effort in the major hubs in Africa. What steps are going to be taken to help Governments such as that in Morocco, specifically in Casablanca, which receives so many flights from other countries in Africa that end up at Heathrow airport?

Mr Hunt: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point; he has done so on a number of occasions. It is very important that there is not a weak link in the chain. We have been relatively satisfied with the screening procedures at Casablanca, which we have obviously inquired into in great detail because of the fact that Pauline came through Casablanca, but I will ask Public Health England to reassure me that it is satisfied with those screening procedures, and, if not, if there is any assistance we can provide to the Moroccan authorities.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for paying tribute not only to the British defence, NHS, Public Health England and DFID workers, but to the immense courage of Sierra Leonean, Liberian, Guinean and Nigerian health workers, as well as many others. As he said, several hundred have paid the ultimate price for their devotion to their patients. The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) mentioned the health system in Sierra Leone. Will the Secretary of State, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, ensure that as much help as possible is given to the Sierra Leonean Government to strengthen their health system and avoid a collapse that could pose a great risk to the UK?

Mr Hunt: I can reassure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary has spoken to the President of Sierra Leone about that very issue. One of the big learning points from the relative success of Nigeria, which we discussed earlier, in combating Ebola compared with Sierra Leone has been about the strength of the local health system. One particular challenge is that the entire health system in Sierra Leone is now focused on Ebola, raising the risk of other diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis and

5 Jan 2015 : Column 49

HIV, killing more people even than Ebola. Strong local health care systems are an important long-term insurance policy to ensure that countries can deal with infectious diseases.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): We are still learning about Ebola and the efficacy of the screening processes. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with other European countries, particularly European Health Ministers, to share best practice, exchange what we have learned and ensure a comprehensive approach?

Mr Hunt: I have spoken to several European Health Ministers, and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who has responsibility for public health, is in regular touch with them about the international effort. The hon. Lady is right that no one country can solve this on its own, and we collaborate well with others—perhaps most closely with the French, who have taken responsibility for the fight against Ebola in Guinea.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I declare an interest, as my wife worked for Public Health England. I am sure that all PHE staff will appreciate the Secretary of State’s calm and supportive words today.

Local directors of public health have traditionally formed part of the response to such incidents, not least in reassuring the general public—perhaps the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) as well—so is the Secretary of State confident that they still have the resources and organisational support to do this effectively now that they are part of local government, not the NHS?

Mr Hunt: To date, no issues have been raised about resourcing for those very important responsibilities, but we will keep an eye on that. Every local area has had a resilience exercise to ensure it is prepared for what happens if someone contracts Ebola in its area, and so far we have been satisfied with the response, but obviously we will keep it under review.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): I understand the constraints on the availability of the ZMapp drug to fight Ebola, but is the Secretary of State really telling the House that there is nothing the Government can do to minimise those constraints?

Mr Hunt: If we could buy it, we would, but there is no availability internationally, and we are waiting for more supplies. We are using other experimental treatments on Pauline, and it is important to stress that we do not know whether ZMapp actually worked, but we want to do absolutely everything we can.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I wholeheartedly support my right hon. Friend’s comments about the bravery of Pauline Cafferkey and the other health and military workers fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone. Their sacrifice and bravery humble us all. Will he confirm that the Government will continue to follow medical advice and keep a sense of perspective regarding the real threat of contagion when monitoring and setting screening policies here in the UK?

5 Jan 2015 : Column 50

Mr Hunt: Yes, I can absolutely confirm that, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising the point. It is important to say that this is not an exact science, because we do not know everything about the disease, so a balance sometimes has to be struck, but I think my discussions with Professor Paul Cosford and the chief medical officer have brought us to the right place: we follow the clear clinical guidelines, but where there is a precautionary extra step we think would be sensible in the circumstances, we take that as well.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): I place on record my thanks for the work done by Pauline Cafferkey and her colleagues and express my sympathy for the predicament in which she finds herself. I would like to thank the Secretary of State, too, for what he said about continuing to keep screening arrangements under review and looking to improve them on the basis of expert clinical advice. If recommendations emerge quickly for improvements to, or an expansion of, screening, will he move equally quickly to put those recommendations into place?

Mr Hunt: I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. When we have decided to change protocols, they have been changed within hours, not within days.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Pauline Cafferkey is a heroine and the thoughts of the whole House are with her and her family at this difficult time. Many people will be glad that the Secretary of State mentioned the hundreds of African health workers who have died fighting Ebola, showing extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty. Our constituents, including those linked to families in that region, will want to know that we will continue to give the region all the support we can in fighting Ebola long after it has dropped from the headlines.

Mr Hunt: I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. Some 382 health care workers have died of Ebola, and it is worth saying that they include not just local people from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but people from all over Africa as well as small numbers from other parts of the world. The very least we can do is to continue to support an aid budget, which will allow them to continue to improve their local health care systems.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Prime Minister said over the weekend that those displaying symptoms at Heathrow would be referred straight to Northwick Park hospital in my constituency because the isolation units are based there. Those isolation units are, however, strictly limited—I think there were only six at the last count—so can the Secretary of State advise us whether back-up facilities will be put in place? Given the nature of this disease, six isolation may prove inadequate.

Mr Hunt: I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that isolation facilities are available at other London hospitals. The ones he mentioned happen to be the closest, so they are the ones we would use first. Let me briefly clarify that it has always been the case that if someone showed any symptoms, we would isolate them and put them into quarantine. The change in protocol I am announcing today—we enacted it last week, but I wanted to report it to the House at the earliest

5 Jan 2015 : Column 51

opportunity—will mean that even if someone is not displaying the symptoms but says that they are feeling a bit under the weather, they will be isolated if they are in the high-risk category.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): It is somewhat ironic that only a couple of days before Christmas, I wrote to the Prime Minister saying that we should fully recognise all the volunteers who leave this country to do this excellent, selfless work, putting themselves in danger—and here we are today discussing the case of Pauline Cafferkey. Everyone’s thoughts are with Pauline and her friends and family.

I am led to believe that any problem should be dealt with at source, and there is still great concern about the amount of contaminated material, medical waste and contaminated protective equipment that is perhaps not being dealt with properly at source—being buried rather than incinerated, for example. I contacted the office of Professor Dame Sally Davies, and was told to write to her. I did so last week, asking her to look at finding a means of disposing of waste in a far better manner. So far, I have not had word back from her, but I am sure the Secretary of State will want to take this matter on board and ensure that it is dealt with better at the source of the infection.

Mr Hunt: To clarify the question, I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about how waste is disposed of in Sierra Leone, as we are satisfied with the way in which it is disposed of in the UK.

Mr Brown indicated assent.

Mr Hunt: That being the case, I will ask the Secretary of State for International Development to write to the hon. Gentleman with her assessment of how satisfactorily that process is handled in Sierra Leone.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Secretary of State tell us more about the support given across all Departments in finding treatments for Ebola, including support for the current trials being conducted by the Institute of Infection and Global Health at Liverpool university under Professor Tom Solomon?

Mr Hunt: We are giving strong support to that important work. Our support is being led in the Cabinet Office by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is bringing together all the Departments that can provide it. The sooner we can obtain a vaccine or a treatment that works, the better, and this could prove to be a very important part of the process of turning the tide.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 52

Points of Order

5.15 pm

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab) rose

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: I shall come to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe). I am saving him up, which is always enjoyable.

Dan Jarvis: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today the Government tabled a written statement announcing a report on the important issue of supporting veterans in the criminal justice system. I am sure that you would have been as disappointed as I was, Mr Speaker, to see conclusions from the same report published more than two weeks ago in The Sunday Telegraph and numerous other media outlets. What is more, the report was released to the press just after the House had risen for the recess. It is hard to believe that it could not have been ready in time to be presented to Members before we broke up for Christmas. The Justice Secretary has form in this regard. On 14 September last year, just after we had risen for the recess, he announced in the press plans for a victims law, about which the House was not told until three weeks later.

May I ask you, Mr Speaker, whether it is in order for announcements on such important subjects to be released to the media before being presented to the House? If it is not, will you please use your good offices to ensure that the Justice Secretary notifies the House before making such important announcements in the future?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it.

As I understand the position, the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims today issued a written ministerial statement informing the House that the Ministry of Justice had published a report following a review of former members of the armed forces and the criminal justice system, along with the Government’s response, on 21 December. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is preferable for significant reports to be published while the House is sitting whenever that is possible. I appreciate that, in the case of a long recess, it may well be in the public interest to publish sooner—in this instance, sooner than today. Whether it was possible to publish before we broke up for the Christmas recess I cannot myself say for certain, although I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said about the sequence of events and releases to the media.

These are important matters which involve courtesies to Members of the House, of which I hope those on the Treasury Bench will wish to take note. The hon. Gentleman has put his concern on the record, and I hope that that concern is judged weighty by all in the House. We will leave it there for now.

Mr Donohoe: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At exactly 9.44 this morning, a member of my staff received an e-mail telling me that the First Minister would be in my constituency exactly 61 minutes later. I understood that there was a convention, certainly in this place,

5 Jan 2015 : Column 53

which ensured that if a Minister or another Member of Parliament was coming to my constituency, I would be given good notice of the fact. I also understood that there was a similar convention between us and the Scottish Parliament. I wonder, Mr Speaker, whether you could, at the very least, have a discussion with the Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament and try to reintroduce that convention. The First Minister’s predecessor used to provide perfectly adequate time for me to attend such events in my constituency.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I thought that he was on to an important point when he said that there was a convention “in this place”. It is my understanding that there is certainly a very strong convention in this place that if a Member is going to visit the constituency of another on official business, advance notification is offered. However, I fear that I am not aware of the veracity of the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, which concerned the existence of some sort of understanding between separate Parliaments.

Mr Donohoe indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is nodding sagely. If there is such a convention which has generally been honoured, then there is no reason for it suddenly not to be honoured. I cannot deal with the First Minister at this stage. Whether there will be occasion to deal with her in the future, I have no idea—I have no idea whether there will be or not. If there has been a convention and it has been honoured, then it should continue to be honoured, and on a very serious note I do understand the sense of irritation the hon. Gentleman feels that what might be thought to be an expected courtesy has not been observed. That is regrettable. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) witters from a sedentary position that it has been honoured. I am afraid I regard what I have been told as an example of it not being honoured, but I am going to leave it there for today, and if the matter resurfaces, it will have to be dealt with in the appropriate way.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 54

Serious Crime Bill [Lords]

5.20 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In November, this House passed a Modern Slavery Bill to tackle the appalling crime of modern slavery, to pursue and prosecute those who trade in human beings for profit, and to protect and support victims. Modern slavery is just one of the many manifestations of serious and organised crime, and while organised criminals operate globally, the effects of their crimes reach deep into our communities, shattering lives and affecting us all in different ways: the pensioner who loses his life savings to a sophisticated scam; the family who have their home burgled by someone addicted to drugs; the internet user who has their credit card details stolen; the person who buys goods such as alcohol or medicines and discovers they are dangerous fakes; and people who find their insurance premiums inflated because of fraud. Organised crime can also relate to the disgusting and devastating sexual exploitation of children.

There are over 5,500 organised criminal groups operating in the UK, with 36,000 people engaged in organised criminal activity. Organised crime is thought to cost this country at least £24 billion a year, and the cost to the UK from organised fraud is thought to be around £9 billion. It is a threat with many impacts, which must be fought on many levels. Yet, in 2010, when the Government came to power, it was clear that the response to serious and organised crime—both in policy and operational terms—was woefully lacking. So alongside our programme of radical police reform, we overhauled the response to serious and organised crime.

The strategic policing requirement now makes it clear to chief constables and police and crime commissioners that they need to work across force boundaries to address national threats, including those from organised crime and cybercrime. We have strengthened regional organised crime units so that there is an effective and cohesive response at a regional level; we have legislated to break down barriers to information-sharing between law enforcement agencies, and to toughen up penalties for those trading in illegal firearms; and in 2013 we launched a new crime-fighting body, the National Crime Agency, with the powers and mandate to task and co-ordinate law enforcement organisations and assets. In its first year of operation, the NCA led and co-ordinated numerous operations, leading to the arrests of 2,048 people in the UK and 1,181 overseas, and 415 convictions. It seized nearly 213 tonnes of drugs and over 700 firearms, and safeguarded or protected over 1,300 children. On the same day as the NCA was launched, we published our serious and organised crime strategy. It details the action we expect from across Government, agencies and partners in order to drive our collective and relentless response to organised criminality.

Building capacity and capability at a national, regional and force level is vital, but we must also ensure that the NCA, police forces and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to bring offenders to justice, to deprive criminals of the proceeds of crime, and to prevent them from engaging in further criminality.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 55

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way so early in her speech. As she knows, I support the creation of the National Crime Agency and the Select Committee has recently taken evidence from Keith Bristow on his first year in office. Given the failings of the Serious Organised Crime Agency—or, to put it another way, the failure of SOCA to meet the expectations and ambitions of Parliament and Ministers—does she feel the NCA is on the right track and enough has been seized, given the figures given to the Committee and the figures she has given today and the fact that she puts the amount of serious and organised crime at £24 billion?

Mrs May: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the support he has shown for the National Crime Agency. I think that the agency is on the right track. There is always more that can be done, but the NCA is obviously building up its operations and capabilities. One crucial difference between the NCA and SOCA is the way in which the NCA operates with police forces around the country. There is also a clear intelligence hub at the heart of the NCA, which means that operations are being focused on the most harmful threats. In every case, a decision is taken on whether it should be a collective operation, an individual force operation or an NCA operation, and on what assets should be brought to bear in those operations.

I shall talk about those aspects of the Bill that will strengthen our ability to get hold of criminals’ assets, as that forms an important part of the work that is being done. Criminals want to make a profit out of their activities, and the more we can do to disrupt them and to access that money, the better. Of course, there is always more that can be done. Parts 1 to 4 of the Bill deal with ensuring that we are able to give the NCA and other agencies the powers that they need to bring offenders to justice, to deprive them of the proceeds of crime and to prevent them from engaging in further criminality. Under this Government, asset recovery has been stronger than ever before. We have recovered around £746 million of criminal assets. We have returned some £93 million to victims, and denied the use of £2.5 billion-worth of assets that have been frozen by the courts. However, we can and must do even better.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I fully endorse the provisions of the Bill that will make it easier to attach assets resulting from criminal behaviour. The Home Secretary referred earlier to pensioner scams, of which there have been many in my constituency recently, as well as in other parts of north Wales and in Cheshire. Sometimes we have the Cheshire police, the Greater Manchester police and the North Wales police all investigating the same crime. Surely we need better co-ordination if we are not to waste effort in such an unproductive way.

Mrs May: The way in which the National Crime Agency operates involves a decision on how best to deal with any particular organised crime group that comes to its attention. The agency works with individual police forces as well as with the regional organised crime units to ensure that assets are being used as effectively as possible against the organised crime groups. I am not saying that a situation such as the one the right hon. Gentleman describes could never happen, or that different

5 Jan 2015 : Column 56

forces are never involved in investigating the same crime. However, before the NCA came into being, we set up an organised crime co-ordination centre to consider precisely that issue. We do not want anyone to slip through the net, but we also do not want police officers operating against an organised crime group to be put in danger because of the operations of another force. There might be more work to be done in this regard, but there is now a much greater ability to co-ordinate, particularly through the regional organised crime units.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): On the point about co-ordination, we must also remember the incentive scheme that encourages the many bodies involved to investigate and to confiscate the proceeds of crime. Has the Home Office reviewed that scheme yet to see whether it needs to be revised, as was suggested to the Public Accounts Committee last year? Given that the Home Office receives 50% of those assets, despite having no operational role in the process, does the Home Secretary envisage a change being made to that percentage?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are continually looking at that issue. Indeed, the Criminal Finances Board, under the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), has looked into it.

I want to talk about those parts of the Bill that will enable us better to access criminal assets, because that is an important part of what we do. As I said, organised criminals are primarily motivated by profit, and we need to be able to do all we can to strip them of their ill-gotten gains and send the message that crime does not pay. In part, this is about more effective enforcement, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who has responsibility for dealing with modern slavery and organised crime, is currently overseeing the implementation of our plan to improve the recovery of criminal assets. We must also ensure that organised criminals are not able to exploit loopholes in our legislation to frustrate asset recovery and avoid the reach of the law, which brings me to the proposals in the Bill.

Part 1 of the Bill makes a number of significant changes to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. First, we are lowering the threshold for granting a restraint order—the means by which a defendant’s assets are frozen. It will now be easier to secure a restraint order immediately before effecting an arrest as the test for both will be aligned, thus removing the window of opportunity for a defendant to dissipate his or her assets. Secondly, we are halving the maximum amount of time that may be allowed by the court for payment once a confiscation order is made. That will mean that the victims of crime will receive recompense more quickly, and it will also further deprive criminals of the opportunity to live off or conceal their assets.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) rose

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con) rose

Mrs May: I will give way to the shadow Home Secretary and then to my hon. Friend.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 57

Yvette Cooper: Can the Home Secretary tell the House why, under the current legislation, the use of restraint orders to freeze assets has dropped by a third since 2010?

Mrs May: The whole point of what we have been doing, in aiming to improve our ability through the Bill to get at assets and the other work being done by the Minister with responsibility for dealing with modern slavery and organised crime, which I have described, is to ensure that every part of the legislation we have is being operated fully and properly. [Interruption.] Well, the number of orders for over a particular sum of money has in fact been about the same for the past couple of years. The shadow Home Secretary is raising a point about the legislation that the Labour party put in place—the 2002 Act. What I am saying to her is that we have looked at how these things operate to see whether we might operate them better, and I am describing to the House precisely how we are improving that.

Yvette Cooper: The point is to make sure that legislation is enforced; we all support improvements to legislation but we also want to know that it is being enforced. Can the Home Secretary explain why the number of restraint orders used to freeze assets dropped from 1,878 in 2010-11 to 1,368 in the most recent figures? Frankly, her commitment to tackling the problem of the proceeds of crime looks rather weak if all she is prepared to do is change laws but never actually enforce them.

Mrs May: The number has been dropping year on year but it is understood—the prosecution agencies believe that this is the most likely explanation—that that is due in part to the Court of Appeal judgment in the 2011 case of Windsor v.the Crown Prosecution Service. The Court ruled that suspicion that the defendant had benefited from criminal conduct was not sufficient grounds under existing legislation to grant a restraint order. That is a legal interpretation of the previous legislation—the 2002 Act—and how it was being operated by the courts. We are reducing the test from a “reasonable cause to believe” that the defendant has benefited from criminal conduct to a “reasonable suspicion”. We believe that will enable restraint orders to be applied at an earlier stage of the investigation. We have identified that a piece of legislation, as it has been operated by the courts, has had an impact that has led to a drop in the number of restraint orders, so we are addressing that in the legislation we are putting forward. I said that I would give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), so I will now do so.

Gareth Johnson: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way, and I welcome these measures to seize assets resulting from ill-gotten gains. As she has pointed out, the whole principle behind the measures is to ensure that crime does not pay. Will she assure the House that offenders are not able to avoid having their assets seized simply by absconding from the judicial process, by skipping bail for example? Will she assure us that that issue will be tackled?

Mrs May: Perhaps it would be helpful to the House if I went through the other measures in the Bill that will strengthen our ability to deal with how, under existing legislation, offenders can sometimes make efforts to hide their assets or to ensure that their assets are not

5 Jan 2015 : Column 58

available. There are a number of areas in which we need to ensure that those assets can be accessed so that somebody cannot do what my hon. Friend has said and avoid having their assets seized.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): As someone who has prosecuted these matters in the Crown court and dealt with the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 on many occasions, I believe that reducing the test to one of suspicion will have a considerable and positive impact on the Crown’s ability to secure more funds. Lowering the standard to that extent will clearly allow the judges greater recourse to restraint orders.

Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing his experience with the House. As I said earlier, it is clear that there is concern from the courts about the operation of the existing legislation, which is why it is important for us to clarify the situation so that it is easier to issue restraint orders at an earlier stage. It will now be easier to secure a restraint order immediately before effecting an arrest, as the test for both will be aligned.

The third point about accessing assets is that the courts must have the necessary powers to ensure that a confiscation order is paid. The Bill will allow the courts to impose any restrictions or prohibitions they consider necessary as part of a supplementary “compliance order”. In particular, courts will be required to consider whether to impose an overseas travel ban on the defendant. That partly answers the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford raised earlier.

Fourthly, we are extending the powers currently available to the National Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies to investigate the amount and whereabouts of assets—for example to enter and search premises under warrant—so that they can also be used to trace assets once a confiscation order has been made.

Fifthly, we are increasing the time in prison facing those criminals who default on the payment of higher value confiscation orders, so as to deter offenders from choosing to serve time in custody rather than paying up. At the upper end of the scale, namely confiscation orders for more than £10 million, someone who defaults on payment will now face 14 years in prison compared with the current five years. That will act as a very real incentive to payment. We will review the impact of that change on offender behaviour and, if, as we expect, it leads to a greater proportion of higher-value orders being settled on time, we will consider using the order-making powers in the Bill to strengthen the default sentences for other lower-value confiscation orders.

Finally in relation to part 1, we are bringing forward the consideration of third-party claims from the enforcement stage to the confiscation hearing. Although there are undoubtedly third parties who have a legitimate interest in assets that may be used to satisfy a confiscation order, it is often the case that spouses and other third-party associates of the defendant will submit late claims with the deliberate intention of frustrating and delaying the confiscation process. The Bill will enable the court to make a binding determination of third-party claims at the point at which the confiscation order is made, allowing the enforcement of the order to proceed more efficiently.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 59

Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Just before my right hon. Friend moves on, I understand why there are provisions in the Bill for confiscating assets without a conviction being needed—she has made a very powerful case for that—but, given that the provisions are quite powerful, will she also outline what she is doing to protect the civil liberties of those involved?

Mrs May: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for declaring that the provisions in the Bill are quite powerful. The whole point is to try to increase our ability to deal with these issues. Obviously, judgments have to be made about any of the issues with which we are dealing, but until now it has been possible for people to use third-party assets and timing loopholes to ensure that their assets cannot be accessed. They can put the finances that they have made as a result of their organised crime out of the reach of the authorities.

It is important that we tighten that and increase our ability to confiscate the assets of crime. Decisions will be made by courts as part of these processes and they will be properly considered in relation to the individuals concerned, but I am also concerned about the civil liberties of all those who are the victims of organised crime. I think that it is our job to try to ensure that we reduce organised crime as much as possible, and dealing with the assets and profits of organised crime is one way of sending a clear message to criminals and ensuring that they desist or that it becomes less attractive for them to undertake such activities.

Yvette Cooper: The Home Secretary said something interesting about default sentences a few minutes ago. She said that if, as the Government expect, the provision raises money, they will extend it to sentences for those who owe less than £10 million. She will be aware that her party has today produced a rather dodgy dossier claiming to cost a Labour proposal that assumes that changing default sentences does not raise any extra money at all. Does she therefore think that her own dodgy dossier is nonsense?

Mrs May: The right hon. Lady will have to try harder. We have indeed issued a document today that shows that the Labour party has committed to £20.7 billion of extra spending in one year alone, 2015-16. That means extra borrowing and extra debt for the future. It is no good her trying to rubbish the figures in that document. They are very clear, they have been tested and they have gone through the proper processes. The only dodgy figures come when Labour Front Benchers make all sorts of claims without funding their spending commitments.

In part 2 of the Bill we are strengthening the provisions of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to ensure that we have robust legislation in place to tackle cybercrime. In particular, the part creates a new offence so that the most serious cyber-attacks are appropriately punished—for example, those on essential systems controlling power supplies, communications or fuel supplies. Such cyber-attacks are already an offence under section 3 of the 1990 Act and attract a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. We do not believe that that adequately reflects the harm that can be caused and the new offence therefore provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment when a cyber-attack leads to loss of

5 Jan 2015 : Column 60

life, serious illness or injury, or serious damage to national security. When the attack results in serious economic or environmental damage or social disruption, a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment would apply.

Targeting and convicting those involved in the wider organised crime group, such as corrupt and complicit professionals, can prove difficult under current legislation. Part 3 seeks to address that. It creates a new offence of participating in the activities of an organised crime group. Such activities may include services such as transporting persons or goods and providing storage facilities or, indeed, professional legal or accountancy services. Those who do that might know or at least reasonably suspect that their services are contributing to the activities of an organised crime group but choose to turn a blind eye and prefer to pretend that the business is entirely legitimate, asking no questions while taking their share of the rewards in the criminal enterprise. We must use all possible means to disrupt and dismantle organised criminal groups. The threat of prosecution and a sentence of up to five years will discourage complicit professionals and others who help such groups to function.

Offenders must be brought to justice, but wherever possible we must prevent people from being drawn into serious and organised crime and deter them from re-engaging in criminality. Civil preventive orders have proved effective in preventing, restricting or disrupting a person’s involvement in serious crime. To support such interventions, part 3 strengthens the framework governing serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions. Extending serious crime prevention orders to Scotland will bring the benefits of a unified regime across the whole UK. Updating the criteria for the granting of gang injunctions, which currently can be used to address only gang-related violence, will support early interventions to tackle gangs involved in the drugs market. That will allow gang injunctions to be used more widely to break down gang culture and help gang members to exit those destructive groups.

Part 4 deals with an aspect of the illegal drugs market wherein organised crime groups substantially increase their profits from the supply of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, by adulterating the raw product with cutting agents. Typically, drug gangs use lawfully available substances, such as benzocaine, which mimic some attributes of the illegal drugs, but there are currently no bespoke powers available to law enforcement agencies to seize, detain and destroy such cutting agents. Part 4 addresses this gap. The process will be subject to appropriate judicial oversight to ensure that the interests of any legitimate owners of suspected cutting agents are properly protected.

Part 5 takes us into different territory. Here, we seek to strengthen the protection of children and vulnerable women. Crimes against children, especially very young children, are particularly heinous, and all the more so when they are perpetrated by the very people—their parents or carers—who are supposed to protect, nurture and love them. There has been a bespoke offence of child cruelty since 1868. It is now enshrined in section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, but the language of the offence is, in places, clearly antiquated. The Bill therefore updates section 1, in particular to make it explicit that the offence covers cruelty that causes psychological, as well as physical, suffering or harm.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 61

Mr Burrowes: I commend this part of Bill, which I know has cross-party support, including from the Solicitor-General, the late Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, who played an active part in its promotion, me and others. I welcome the updating of the Victorian language of the previous legislation and the extension to non-physical harm, but is this not an appropriate opportunity to go further and update the language on wilfulness? As I understand it, even after clause 65 is passed, the word “wilful” will remain in the legislation. Should we not take this opportunity to remove the word “wilful” and to make it clear that it should equate to recklessness? That already applies in case law and it should also apply in statute.

Mrs May: I believe that the proposals we have put forward are appropriate, but my hon. Friend makes a serious point, which I assume reflects some of his legal experience. I am willing to take that point away and have a further look at it, but I think the proposals in the Bill as we have set them out are sufficient to ensure that we are able to update the offence on the statute book and make sure it covers all types of harm to young people.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): May I suggest that, because this is a complex area and there are questions about recklessness and wilfulness as well as neglect, the Home Secretary will want to consider whether guidelines should be issued after the Bill is enacted, to make sure that prosecutors and all professionals are clear about the Government’s and Parliament’s intentions?

Mrs May: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her suggestion. Crown Prosecution Service guidelines are already in existence. The CPS will want to make sure that the guidelines are appropriate to the changes we make, so that people are aware of the changes in what, as she says, can be a tricky area when it comes to definitions and determinations in such cases.

A particular form of cruelty inflicted on some young girls is genital mutilation. There is absolutely no cultural, religious or any other justification for female genital mutilation. It has no place in this country, or indeed anywhere else in the world, and the Government are committed to eradicating the practice. The Bill as originally introduced included an extension of our ability to take jurisdiction over FGM offences committed abroad. At the girl summit last July, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I undertook to bring forward a number of further legislative changes to tackle FGM in this country, and these were added to the Bill in the House of Lords.

First, to encourage victims to come forward, the Bill now provides for lifelong anonymity from the point at which an allegation is made. Secondly, to target those parents who allow this dreadful practice to be inflicted on their daughters, we have now provided for a new offence of failure to protect a girl from the risk of FGM. Thirdly, to stop FGM being inflicted on a girl in the first place, we have now provided for FGM protection orders, which are modelled on and build on the success of forced marriage protection orders.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab) rose

Mrs May: May I make a little more progress?

5 Jan 2015 : Column 62

In July, we announced a range of other measures, including the creation of a new cross-Government FGM unit to work with criminal justice agencies, children’s services, health care professionals and affected communities. I hope that, together, these measures, including the changes to criminal and civil law, will help to tackle this appalling practice.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mrs May: I have been very generous in accepting interventions. If I am going to accept my hon. Friend’s intervention, I should first accept that of the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart).

Fiona Mactaggart: In preventing FGM, will the Home Secretary consider the provision of refuge places for girls who are at risk? These girls are frightened of reporting this or talking to a doctor, and their families are putting them under pressure. They need refuge, and in my experience Britain currently has inadequate refuge places for any woman who is at risk of violence.

Mrs May: The hon. Lady makes a point not just about FGM but more generally about refuges. Before Christmas, the Government announced the availability of a further £10 million for refuges as a recognition of the valuable work they do, particularly in relation to women who are leaving a domestic environment where they have been subject to domestic abuse. On female genital mutilation, it is important to ensure that the young people involved are aware of what they are able to do in order to escape this danger. It is also important that we send out very strong messages from this place, and generally, about the fact that it is a criminal act that we are not willing to accept in this country, and that we will make every effort we can to ensure that we eradicate the practice.

Sir William Cash: I commend my right hon. Friend and the Government for this incredibly important provision and the manner in which it has been handled in the House of Lords. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who is away at the moment, is chairman of the all-party group on FGM, of which I am also a member. We wonder whether it will be possible to insert in Committee arrangements ensuring that where the court makes an order it should protect a girl against not only the commission of but the risk of commission of a genital mutilation offence. I will deal with that when, I hope, I speak subsequently in this debate. Will my right hon. Friend be interested in listening to those arguments?

Mrs May: I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend says about this later and the detail that I am sure he will fill in. We are addressing the whole question of the risk that an individual may face from female genital mutilation in the new offence of failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM. It is important that those who have responsibility for these young girls and are aware of what might be happening recognise that they need to do something to ensure that the individual is not at risk and is not put through FGM. I look forward to hearing the arguments that my hon. Friend will advance later in relation to his point.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 63

Part 5 of the Bill includes another child protection measure in making it an offence to possess so-called paedophile manuals—material that contains practical advice on how to commit a sexual offence against a child. It beggars belief that such things actually exist, but regrettably the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a command of the National Crime Agency, has seen a number of examples. That being the case, it is right that we act to outlaw the possession of such material. In doing so, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who has campaigned assiduously on the issue.

If there are other gaps in child protection legislation, we are determined to take the necessary action to safeguard those at risk of harm. That is why last month my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that we will amend the Bill to make it an offence for an adult to communicate sexually with a child. Many hon. Members have supported the campaign by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and I pay tribute to them for highlighting this gap in the law.

Before leaving this part of the Bill, I confirm that we will table amendments in Committee to strengthen the protection afforded to the victims of domestic abuse. As the House knows, over the summer the Home Office ran a consultation seeking views on whether a specific offence was needed to criminalise coercive or controlling behaviour in intimate personal and family relationships, and 85% of respondents agreed that the law in this area needed to be strengthened. With over 1 million calls for assistance to the police each year for domestic abuse-related incidents, but only 78,000 prosecutions, it is clear that the criminal justice response to domestic abuse is woefully inadequate. The new offence will provide an additional charging option where there is a pattern of non-violent controlling conduct, the cumulative impact of which can be no less traumatic for the victim.

Mr Llwyd rose

Mrs May: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me the next sentence.

I am aware that a number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), have campaigned for the introduction of such an offence. I pay tribute to Members who have brought this important matter to the attention of the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman still wish to intervene?

Mr Llwyd: I want to say that I am delighted by what the Home Secretary has said. I thank her for her preparedness to discuss the matter over the past few weeks, and I am grateful for this move forward. As always, the devil is in the detail, but I am greatly encouraged by her comments.

Mrs May: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the interest he has taken in this subject and the way he has pursued it.

Finally, the Bill will close a gap in our current legislation in relation to terrorism. Clause 72 extends the reach of the UK courts so that those who prepare or train for terrorism abroad can be prosecuted should they return to this country. As the House is aware, a significant number of UK nationals or residents have travelled to

5 Jan 2015 : Column 64

Syria and Iraq to take part in the conflicts in those countries. We face the very serious threat that those fighters may seek to return to the UK and carry out attacks or radicalise people here. Extending extra-territorial jurisdiction for the offences in sections 5 and 6 of the Terrorism Act 2006 will bolster our law enforcement agencies’ ability to protect the public—but we will need to do more. Later this week, the House will have the opportunity again to debate the wider provisions of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which is designed to disrupt the ability of people to travel abroad to fight and to counter the underlying ideology that feeds and supports terrorism. Given the immediacy of this threat, we will bring forward amendments in Committee to provide for the provisions in clause 72 of this Bill to come into force on Royal Assent.

Before I conclude, I want to advise the House of one further amendment that we will bring forward in Committee. The use of unauthorised mobile phones in prison poses a significant threat to prison security, as well as affording prisoners the opportunity to continue engaging in serious and organised crime while serving their sentence. While significant effort is put into tackling this problem within prisons, physically detecting handsets, let alone SIM cards, is clearly challenging given the ease with which they can be hidden. We need to find a more cost-effective way of denying prisoners the use of mobile phones. Our amendment will therefore confer a power on the civil courts to require mobile network operators to disconnect unauthorised mobile phones in use in prison.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): The Home Secretary has not found time in her speech to mention the provision on the possession of knives in prison, which ensures that that can be dealt with by the courts. Alongside the Attorney-General’s willingness to prosecute when prison officers are threatened with knives, that is very welcome.

Mrs May: My right hon. Friend highlights another important aspect of the Bill. When this was first brought to my attention, it seemed strange to me that the use of knives in prisons could not be dealt with in the same manner as the use of knives in other scenarios in public places. As he says, we have done the right thing in bringing that into the Bill.

The Bill contains a range of measures to protect the public from those who would do them harm. It will give law enforcement agencies and the courts greater powers to strip criminals of their ill-gotten gains and to prosecute those who support and benefit from organised crime, and ensure that no one is beyond the reach of the law. It will enhance the protection of vulnerable women and children who face violence and abuse at the hands of the very people who should care for them most. It will close a gap in our current terrorism legislation. Together, these measures will help law enforcement agencies to keep the public safe and secure. There can be no greater aspiration than that, and I believe it is an objective that all right hon. and hon. Members can support. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

5.59 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): We welcome many of the measures in the Bill and we will support it tonight, but as a policy to tackle

5 Jan 2015 : Column 65

serious crime in Britain, it is still too weak. Rightly, it has been improved in the other place as a result of strong campaigning for amendments to be added, but more still needs to be done. As a final Bill for this Parliament, it is not ambitious enough to deal with the serious crime challenges that face Britain today.

Crime is changing and the criminal justice system is still not keeping up. The challenge from serious crime is increasing, not falling, and more needs to be done. Violent crime is increasing, yet fewer violent crimes are being prosecuted or convicted. More sexual offences are being reported, but fewer are reaching conviction. Reported rapes and domestic violence are increasing, yet fewer are reaching conviction. Far fewer drugs are being seized on their way into this country, and online crime is escalating exponentially and the police are not equipped to keep up. The problem is getting worse, not better, and the criminal justice system under the Home Secretary is not keeping up.

The measures are welcome, but they do not address the scale of the problem that we face. Let me deal with the measures in turn and highlight the areas in which the Government need to go further. The Government must stop the clock turning backwards. We have supported from the start the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction for the two offences under the Terrorism Act 2006, preparation of terrorist acts and training for terrorism. We argued from the start, however, that the Home Secretary would need to go further, restore the relocation powers that she abolished in terrorism prevention and investigation measures, and strengthen Prevent. We will discuss those further measures later this week in the context of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, in which she has had to do exactly that.

We support the measures on accessing child pornography but believe that much more needs to be done to tackle this growing crime. I will come on to that in a moment. We support the measures to tighten the law on hacking and to address the international challenge that online crime poses. We welcome in particular more action to stop criminals benefiting from the proceeds of their crimes—something for which we have been calling for some time. Members in all parts of the House will agree, I think, that we should recover the proceeds of crime. Ill-gotten gains should not furnish the lifestyle of a criminal, in some cases long after their sentence has concluded. Wherever possible, there should be recompense to victims of crime, who have often lost so much.

Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady clarify whether the Opposition would support in Committee or on Report measures relating to the disclosure of beneficial ownership of UK property owned by offshore companies, which is one of the ways that assets are held, and unexplained wealth orders, along the lines of those used in Guernsey, to allow law enforcement officers more time than they currently have? Those two measures are excluded from the Bill.

Yvette Cooper: We support a series of measures where we think the Government should go further. We will table amendments in Committees and we will probe the detail of the Government’s legislation. I am happy to talk further to the hon. Gentleman about the details of those issues, as they are immensely important.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 66

There are areas where we should do more to take back from criminals the assets that they have stolen from victims of crime right across the country. The aspects that we highlighted in the past related to preventing criminals from switching their assets to family and friends and getting away with it, and toughening sentences to deal with the problem of people serving only short sentences, even though they were continuing to squirrel away huge illegal gains. We support the measures to give more powers to the courts to tackle so-called designer divorces and third parties keeping hold of assets, and we support plans to require offenders to pay swiftly. The Government accept that more can still be done and we will probe this further in Committee.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): What has the shadow Home Secretary got to say about those people in Northern Ireland who make a packet out of smuggling fuel and counterfeit vodka, which was described in the Sunday Independent this week as a multi-million pound vodka moonshine operation by the IRA? People such as Mr Murphy and Mr Hughes, who operate in the border area, have never been put in jail and have never been prosecuted for such activity, yet they are at it at large. What can be done to put those people where they deserve to be?

Yvette Cooper: Wherever racketeering and exploitation take place, action should be taken to tackle those serious crimes. It is a problem that we highlighted from the beginning, when the legislation for the National Crime Agency was drawn up, but Northern Ireland is not covered by the work of the National Crime Agency. That continues to be a challenge and to cause problems.

If we can increase the resources taken from the proceeds of crime, that will help victims and also help to improve and support the criminal justice system. I welcome the Home Secretary’s comment today that she believes the Bill will raise additional resources and will save money, and that she will consider extending the relevant measure to those who owe less than the £10 million provided for in the Bill. That is the same policy that she claimed this morning would cost £19 million, and her own document claimed would not save any money at all because it assumed that no one would change their behaviour. So she said one thing at noon and something completely different at 5.30 in the afternoon, and undermined her claims from this morning.

Many other aspects of the Bill have been added as a result of strong campaigns and amendments put forward or supported by Labour in the Lords and by many Members across this House. We welcome, for example, the three new clauses and new schedules added in the Lords for stronger action against the appalling and barbaric crime of female genital mutilation that takes place against young girls. We have called for stronger prevention orders and are glad that they are included, as well as the measures on anonymity for victims and stronger responsibility. I pay tribute to some of the campaign groups which have worked so hard, as well as hon. Members who have pursued the issues. We will look further at the detail in Committee.

Keith Vaz: There is all-party support for the actions taken by the Government. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that despite the legislation and the political willingness to get something done on FGM,

5 Jan 2015 : Column 67

there have been only two prosecutions in relation to FGM? This needs to change. The prosecution authorities need to understand the seriousness of the issue.

Yvette Cooper: My right hon. Friend is exactly right. It is a matter not just of the legal framework, but of making sure that the law is enforced. We must ensure that the law is strong enough and that prosecution authorities, the police and authorities at every level, including schools and other organisations, are properly aware of the seriousness of the crime and of the risks to young girls in this country, and are prepared and ready to take action to tackle this awful crime.

Sir William Cash: Is the right hon. Lady aware that one of the problems has been that front-line workers are uncertain when they may report matters? That is the objective with which I will deal in my remarks later. Will she give a sympathetic hearing to that approach?

Yvette Cooper: We will certainly do so. I am happy to talk further to the hon. Gentleman about the matter. We, too, have spoken about the issues surrounding mandatory reporting not only of female genital mutilation, but of child abuse more widely. There is a strong case for making sure that professionals across the board are aware of the serious damage being done to young people as a result of these awful crimes.

We welcome the proposals to strengthen the law on domestic abuse. I pay tribute to Women’s Aid and Paladin, which have campaigned for the strengthening of the law so that it recognises the cumulative impact of different forms of psychological abuse, as well as physical abuse, and the way that that can trap women in particular and men in abusive relationships, causing huge harm to them, their families and the children. We look forward to discussing the clauses in detail.

On protection for children, I pay tribute to Action for Children for its campaign to strengthen the law on child cruelty, and to the campaign by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and by Lord Harris, who argued, with our support in the other place, that the Bill should include a new offence of sending a sexual message to a child.

As an overall response to the scale of serious crime, however, the Bill does not yet go far enough, because crime is changing and serious crime is a grave and growing problem. Over the decades there has been a welcome fall in the number of high-volume crimes, including most theft offences, domestic burglaries and car crimes, but the number of many of the most serious crimes is going up. Reported rapes continue to rise at about 30%, yet new figures show that the number of arrests has gone down by 8%. Arrests as a proportion of recorded rapes have dropped from 90% to 63% in the past few years. That is completely unacceptable. Violent crime is also increasing, but prosecutions and convictions are falling.

On sexual offences, the Home Secretary sometimes refers to a Yewtree effect and historical offences, but that is not the case, because the latest figures show that the majority of the increase in reported sexual offences

5 Jan 2015 : Column 68

has occurred in the previous 12 months. Reported child sex offences are perhaps one of the most troubling areas of all.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Does not the right hon. Lady accept—I hope she does—that people are reporting because suddenly they have an opportunity to do so and are going to be taken seriously? That was not the case before, and the issue was discussed when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was put through by a Labour Government.

Yvette Cooper: The honest truth is that we do not know what is happening to underlying prevalence, but we do know that reporting has increased. I have been very careful to talk about the reporting of rape: reports of rapes and sexual offences have increased. We want more people to come forward and report crimes because we know that many of them have been underreported. However, the serious problem is that, although more cases are being reported, fewer cases are being prosecuted and reaching conviction. I am not talking about a simple proportion of crimes: these are absolute numbers. Fewer rape arrests are taking place even though more rapes have been reported to the criminal justice system. That is a serious weakness and I am concerned about what is happening in the criminal justice system and policing under this Government.

Sir Paul Beresford: The right hon. Lady ought to look at the Committee stage of the 2003 Act, where a Labour Government, with assistance from the then Opposition, considered that very point and the extreme difficulty involved. Before she tables any amendments, I ask her please to read that Hansard report. The issue was faced then.

Yvette Cooper: I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that we want more rapes to be reported, because we know they are underreported at the moment. It is significant that, over many years under a Labour Government, we saw an increase in arrests, prosecutions and convictions, both for serious sexual offences and for domestic violence. Over the past few years we have seen a drop in the proportion of domestic violence offences reaching conviction and a drop in the number of rape arrests and prosecutions for the most serious sexual offences. That is a serious problem. Those numbers are not falling because the number of crimes is falling. The situation is quite the reverse: they are falling because the criminal justice system and policing under this Government are not able to deal with the scale of the problem and are not conducting sufficient investigations or taking sufficient action.

For example, the number of child abuse prosecutions has fallen from 9,235 in 2010-11 to 7,998 in 2013-14, at a time when more child sex offences have been reported to the police. The number of prosecutions has fallen and there are 800 fewer convictions as a result. That means that more abusers and dangerous criminals are getting away with it. That is a serious concern.

Where in this Bill are the national standards we need and the commissioner to tackle violence against women and girls? Where is the policy for mandatory reporting of child abuse and for compulsory sex and relationship education to prevent abuse in the next generation? Where is the policy to ban the use of community

5 Jan 2015 : Column 69

resolutions for domestic violence so that cases are not diverted to inappropriate apologies rather than taken through the courts? Where is the policy to stop people with a history of domestic violence owning a gun? The Government could introduce so many more policies, but they are not included in the Bill.

Where is the action to enforce the existing law? It is a serious concern that the child abuse inquiry, which has already been stopped twice by chaos over the chairs, is still not established on a firm footing and it is taking the Home Secretary months to work out how to give it the full powers it needs. This is extremely important and it is incomprehensible why it is taking her so long to get it established on a proper footing.

Where, too, is the action to tackle some of the most serious offences of all? I am particularly concerned about the rapidly escalating problem of online child abuse. The Bill includes some measures, which we welcome, but I have pressed the Home Secretary repeatedly to do more and to level with Parliament about the scale of the problem and the challenges that the police and agencies face in addressing it, and so far she has repeatedly refused to do so. She knows that the National Crime Agency has details of between 20,000 and 30,000 cases of online child abuse through Operation Notarise alone, yet she has refused to confirm that figure and so too—I presume under her instruction—has the NCA. Why is that? Surely we have a right to know the scale both of that crime and of the information given to the NCA, so that we can debate the Bill’s measures and whether they are sufficient. Evidence from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre shows that a significant proportion of those who engage in online abuse go on to commit contact abuse.

The number of arrests under Operation Notarise so far totals just over 700 out of more than 20,000. How many of those 19,300 cases could be involved in contact abuse? When will those cases be investigated? The police and the NCA have briefed the media that not all of them will or can be investigated, but is that true? The Home Secretary ought to tell the House as part of the debate on this Bill. Even if they are eventually investigated, how long would it take?

There have already been unacceptable delays in Project Spade, an international operation that caught more than 2,300 people purchasing online child abuse imagery. Their information was passed to CEOP by Toronto police in July 2012, but it was not disseminated to police forces until November 2013. That intelligence included information on Myles Bradbury, who was arrested in December 2013 on the basis of Project Spade but who had abused children in the period when no intelligence was being passed on. There can be no repeat of the Myles Bradbury case, yet the long delays in investigating cases under Operation Notarise risk exactly that. I urge the Home Secretary to tell us what the figures are, how long the delays are, how many of the cases have not yet been investigated and how many children could potentially be at risk by the failure to do so.

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): I am sure my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary are aware that one of the reasons for the delays is that the search engines are charging between £50 and £80 for the information and the police simply do not have the resources for that.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 70

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. If there are such obstacles and delays, Parliament needs to address them. We should be taking action to make sure that the police and the NCA can take the necessary action to protect children and investigate these extremely serious crimes. However, it is very difficult for us to do that if we do not have the full facts about the scale of the problems, the extent of the delays and the problems that may be building up for the future. It is simply not fair on those who may be vulnerable victims of these crimes for us not to act when we know that the information is there and we could be pursuing it.

Finally, the wider issue of cybercrime is another area where the Government need to be more ambitious in their strategy. Adrian Leppard, the commissioner of the City of London police, has said that

“this nature of crime is rising exponentially.”

It is estimated that more than 12.5 million people have fallen victim to cybercrime in a 12-month period in the United Kingdom, yet the commissioner of the City of London police told the Home Affairs Committee that a quarter of the 800 specialist internet crime officers could be axed as spending is cut. Already there are too few people in the police who have the expertise to pursue these rapidly escalating crimes. We do not want the clock being turned backwards on the expertise we have—quite the opposite: we need to make sure we get greater expertise in the police. We will table amendments on that, including to ask the Sentencing Council to review sentencing guidelines for e-crimes. For example, Anonymous hackers who cost PayPal more than £3.5 million were given sentences of between seven and 18 months, considerably less than they would have been given if they had committed a physical crime to the same value.

This Bill and the action taken by the Government are not strong enough. The Government are not yet doing enough to tackle the rise of serious crimes—cybercrime, violent crime, domestic violence, rape, child sex offences—or to protect victims. The Home Secretary has been far too complacent about the drops in volume crimes. We all welcome such falls, but the rise in serious crimes is too often ignored. She needs to do far more to act against the rise in serious crimes, particularly in relation to the protection of children, which is her responsibility.

The Bill has been improved during its passage through Parliament, but it has not yet been improved enough. As it passes through this House, we must improve and strengthen it if victims are not to be let down.

6.20 pm

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I am delighted to contribute to the discussion of this multifaceted Bill. I am probably not regarded as one of the normal Home Office specialists, but this multifaceted Bill covers several areas that extend beyond the usual Home Office remit, and I particularly want to speak about the world of economics and our international relations.

The serious and organised crime strategy rightly sets out how we should respond to an ever-present, ever-evolving and ever-developing threat, particularly in the area of cybercrime. The importance of the Bill is that it recognises the strategy and gives legislative effect to such points. In my short speech, I want to look at some of the economic and international concerns that arise from cybercrime and how the Bill will help. Others more expert than I am

5 Jan 2015 : Column 71

will talk about the recovery of the proceeds of crime, the abuse of chemical substances—that very important matter was not mentioned by either Front-Bench speaker—and obviously, domestic cruelty to children, FGM and the possession of weapons in prison.

Part 2 goes to the heart of what we should be looking at because it covers the area of crime that is expanding exponentially, as the shadow Home Secretary rightly said. The national security strategy has identified that hostile attacks on UK cyberspace by other states and those involved in organised crime now represent a tier 1 threat to national security. As has been recognised, it is of paramount concern that cybercrime is a threat to national security, and it is obviously welcome that the Government are putting £860 million into the national cyber-security programme. Given the expansion of cybercrime, there will of course be real concerns about ensuring that those resources go into assessing how such a crime is evolving and how we should tackle it.

Stephen Barclay: Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that resource allocation is very opaque? The Treasury produced a report for the Cabinet Secretary in the last quarter of last year suggesting that 90% of spending on extremism happens domestically and only 10% internationally. On the very important threat that he is articulating, does he think that Parliament has sufficient transparency at the moment in relation to where the money is going, and to what extent is it being spent on adapting to new threats as opposed to dealing with traditional ones?

Stephen Hammond: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We should recognise that the Government are spending that money and are committed to looking at the specific law enforcement challenges of cybercrime, but we must also consider the economic consequences of that crime.

Particularly through organised crime, but also by foreign state activity, there can be a breakdown of networks, such as those for electricity, telecoms, power, banking, and food and fuel distribution. Everything relies on those logistical systems. Only today, companies have announced that their online retailing is now stronger than their direct retailing, and only today, there have been comments about the amount of money lost in banking fraud. Online retail and on-time logistics are clearly areas of potential attack, and the paralysis of such networks as a result of cyber-attacks is not just a security risk, but probably the most significant and serious threat to our economy except for world economic factors.

If those networks come under criminal control, even for a relatively short period, there would be not only grand-scale theft, fraud and illegal drug dealing, but a cost that would dwarf the figure of £24 billion, which the Home Secretary rightly remarked last year was the cost of organised crime to this country. I say “dwarf”, because daily banking transactions in the UK alone probably total five or perhaps 10 times that amount.

The potential for crime is huge, so it is absolutely right for the national cyber-security programme to break down cybercrime into its two parts: cyber-dependent crimes, which can be committed only by using computers

5 Jan 2015 : Column 72

and computer networks; and the even more significant cyber-enabled crimes, which can be committed offline and online.

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. I am sure that he agrees that many provisions in the Bill will strengthen the law on cybercrime, but does he share my concern that, as some of the statistics perhaps show, business also needs to take cybercrime more seriously than it has in the past?

Stephen Hammond: My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Any number of reports in the past six months have found that major companies have not helped Governments either to assess the risks to their own networks, which creates a national risk, or to assess the threat from organised crime, which leads to serious risks not just to such companies, but to individuals. A number of companies should accept their responsibilities in that area.

The Bill is very important because of the sheer expansion in the potential for cybercrime. Sections 1 to 3 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 clearly set out ways to deal with unauthorised access, but the provisions of that Act are now simply too limited. What was relevant in 1990 is no longer relevant, and the pace of change in equipment and software capability requires a significant updating of the response. Economically, part 2 is a singularly important part of the Bill. It accepts that the current law is hopelessly inadequate, and puts in place a new offence in relation to unauthorised acts

“causing, or creating risk of, serious damage”.

The Home Secretary set out that that applies not only to the area of economics, but in other areas, such as security and the environment.

Simply in the area of economics, such crimes are so serious that they could wreck—that is not too strong a word—the whole economy. It is therefore hugely important that the Bill covers unauthorised acts in relation to computers that result in serious damage. The definition of “serious damage” has rightly been left somewhat opaque, because some of the information inside banking systems would be difficult to assess, but the Bill rightly recognises how far the world has moved since the 1990 Act.

It is clearly right for the Home Secretary to include protections in the Bill. The need to establish a significant link to the UK is now clear—for example, one of the accused, the target computer system or the damage must be in the UK or, if the attack is from abroad, the accused must have been a UK national at the time of the attack and there must be a similar offence in the relevant country. That provides relative protection while putting in place the right measures to enable law enforcement agencies to tackle this crime. There has been some detailing of the need to upgrade sentencing, and the Bill also recognises that the 1990 Act fails to deal with the seriousness of such crimes. It therefore rightly imposes life imprisonment for serious injury or death, while a sentence of 14 years applies for serious economic damage.

The potential to commit cybercrime, and the manner in which is it committed, is constantly evolving, and it is right for the new offence to recognise that and the seriousness of its effects. It is also true that whatever we do in the UK—our attempts to extend protection extra-territoriality in the Bill are important—it simply will

5 Jan 2015 : Column 73

not be enough. Much of cybercrime is international, and although like many in the House I am hugely concerned about the onward march of certain areas of the EU into our lives, no sensible person would set their face against international co-operation.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case about the need to focus on cybercrime. Will he endorse the work done by Europol in that area, which is essential to try to deal with countries and individuals—some of these crimes are committed by countries—that seek to engage in cyber-wars?

Stephen Hammond: I accept the validity of the right hon. Gentleman’s point, and in a moment he will see how much I support what he has just said. We have largely recognised the validity of the EU directive, although there are still two aspects to introduce. That will help the powers of this country by ensuring that we can attack UK nationals who are intending to attack the UK from other EU countries, by extending the legal basis to prosecute an EU national for offences under sections 1 to 3A of the 1990 Act, when the offence is committed outside the UK. The fact that the Bill contains that international dimension will help our ability to co-operate with Europol. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee pointed out, there is widespread acceptance of the internationality of such crimes, and that will only increase. It is, therefore, of ever-increasing importance to the whole world to note which states are not prepared to signify their willingness to co-operate, and it will be a test of resolve for a number of countries across the world as to whether they are prepared to accept that co-operation and the basic premise of the EU directive.

Part 6 of the Bill addresses a number of miscellaneous aspects, and the point about foreign fighters continues the theme of the Bill’s internationality and what it does to counter serious crime and terrorism internationally. No one in the United Kingdom can possibly have missed the reference to foreign fighters and UK individuals, and in many cases that seems to have concentrated exclusively on Syria because of the scale and length of that conflict. However, the case for us to counter foreign fighters and their threat to UK security must not be exclusively based on the conflict in that country, and like many I accept the premise that we must tackle the issue at its source. The Home Secretary’s actions on that are to be commended, as is the continuing commitment to the Prevent strategy. The need to continue thinking about how we use reformed foreign fighters—if there is that possibility—to deter others, and the pressure to dissuade people from travelling, remains as imperative as ever.

There is, however, a gap in our legislative position and protection, and this Bill is serious, strong and a big step forward because it implements powers that will allow us to fill that gap. The measures will ensure that law enforcement partners can prosecute individuals with links to the UK and those who seek to harm the UK, from wherever they are prepared to commit that act of terrorism. Such measures also affect those who have been trained abroad for terrorist purposes more generally, and we can now prosecute those crimes as if they had taken place in the UK. While everybody accepts that evidentially it is sometimes difficult to do that, the fact

5 Jan 2015 : Column 74

that the prosecution will be in the public interest and require the express consent of the Attorney-General puts in place the appropriate balance and gives law enforcement agencies that are tackling terrorism a huge new opportunity to use that extension of the law. That is right because making it a criminal act to prepare and train people for terrorism abroad will be widely welcomed, and we should commend such a measure.

One part of the Bill will make a huge difference to almost all of us across our constituencies. I represent one of the safest London constituencies in one of the safest London boroughs, and I cannot claim that gang crime is prevalent or widespread. Nevertheless, youth gangs have already made several attempts to set up organisations in my constituency, and drug dealing gangs come from other parts of London and have used an estate in my constituency to carry out their crimes. Measures in the Bill on gang-related crime will improve the quality of life for our constituents.

The increased flexibility of “what is a gang?” will help address some of the limitations of definition and locality currently in law by recognising that individuals do not necessarily need a gang emblem, name, colour or anything else to operate, but can work as a collection of individuals who join together to commit a crime. Gangs can move across boroughs and localities across the country, and strengthening the law in that area will be widely welcomed not only by the police but by us as Members of Parliament when we see our constituents enjoy a better quality of life. In many cases the Bill will reduce the threat of criminality on the street corner, and it will inevitably attack those people—often young men—who may be tempted to be inveigled into a life of criminality that blights lives for so many thereafter.

I am fortunate to have been called early in the debate and to make a brief contribution. The Bill is significant because it accepts that there is an evolving threat, particularly in online and cybercrime, and it contains measures to address that.

6.37 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) who has brought a great deal of expertise on cybercrime to the House. As we approach the last 12 weeks before Parliament must be dissolved, some might have thought that the temperature would rise. However, we have a crime Bill that will pass through the House of Commons not unchallenged by the Opposition, but with their support and that of all the other parts of the United Kingdom. That is a recognition of the fact that we are dealing with very serious issues on which there is common ground. I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and support the Government’s agenda, with the caveats expressed by the shadow Home Secretary in such a constructive way. I am not quite saying that peace has broken out, but it is good to see Parliament working together on an issue of such importance.

This would be a Christmas tree Bill, but we have passed Christmas and are now in the new year—I am not sure what the parliamentary term is for so many different parts of the Home Office’s agenda put into one Bill.

Mr Llwyd: The “next Christmas” Bill.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 75

Keith Vaz: The “next Christmas” Bill—perhaps that is right although, sadly, the right hon. Gentleman will not be with us in the House next Christmas. Having won his great concession from the Home Secretary and been praised for his campaigning work, he is departing and we will be the poorer for it.

I have counted at least 10 major areas—not just 10 things that the Government propose to change—that the Home Secretary has included in the Bill as areas that need to be changed, and I welcome them all. My only problem is that I do not think we have enough time in the 12 weeks before the election campaign to give the Bill proper scrutiny and table any amendments.

I start with an area on which there is strong agreement—female genital mutilation. I welcome what the Home Secretary has done. She has made FGM one of the features of her term as Home Secretary. Her Bill amends the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and makes a number of changes that the Home Affairs Committee welcomes—the Committee recommended many of them, and many were suggested by the Opposition, so this is an example of Parliament at its best.

I support all the changes proposed, and I think the House will support them, but one important part of the Committee’s report—the focus on the medical profession—is missing. When we conducted our inquiry and published our report, we looked carefully at how things are done in France. It is not fashionable in the House to talk about the great things that are done in other countries, but France has it right. France has brought multiple prosecutions against those involved in female genital mutilation. We have managed only two, and there have been no convictions since the Act came into force.

I hope this is considered by the Home Secretary and those in Committee. The Home Affairs Committee highlighted the need to focus on the medical profession, as the shadow Home Secretary said. That is missing from the Bill. The medical profession—health workers and those in the medical profession—is very much the front line. The Committee thought that we should go down the road of making the failure to report a criminal offence. That is not in the Bill, and we need to look carefully at the lack of mandatory sanction on those who would discover FGM first—health workers and doctors.

The Committee was not overly impressed with the evidence we received from the medical profession. We thought that hiding behind confidentiality as a means of not wanting to tell anybody that a young girl had suffered from FGM was not enough. We believe that the profession understands the seriousness of FGM, but that it was hampered by its professional standing. We should go some way to addressing that. I hope we do so when looking at training and mandatory reporting.

At the end of the day, we need more prosecutions. The only prosecutions so far were brought under the current Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, and not under the previous one. They occurred three days before she appeared before the Home Affairs Committee to answer questions on FGM. I am sure that that was just a coincidence, but the fact is that it is important that we ensure more prosecutions. I am not commenting on that particular case, but prosecutions

5 Jan 2015 : Column 76

are not enough; we need convictions. That is the best way to send a strong message to the community and those involved in FGM.

I welcome all that the Home Secretary suggests in the organised crime part of the Bill. She mentioned human trafficking in her speech, but not immigration—I know she cannot mention everything on Second Reading. When the Committee went to Calais and talked to some of those vulnerable migrants who had made their way from Eritrea, through north Africa and across the Mediterranean and into Calais, we were struck by the numbers who had paid to go there. Two individuals from Pakistan had each paid €7,000 to get to Calais from Pakistan and were prepared to pay the extra €5,000 to get from Calais to live in London, which was their ambition. There is big money in immigration and illegal migration. Those who profit manage to get away with the fact that it happens beyond our borders. We should look carefully at the stories of the ships in the Mediterranean—I mentioned the story of the Ezadeen in Home Office Questions. People admit to paying huge amounts of money to get on ships, and the crew either disappears or hides among passengers. A lot of money is made out of migration, just as a lot of money is made out of drugs, and we should look carefully at that aspect of organised crime.

I welcome everything that is being done on child protection. I commend the work done so assiduously by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) since her election to the House. She has been a champion for the victims of crime—the children who cannot speak for themselves. It is not necessarily to do with legislation, but with the architecture and the way in which the Home Secretary has addressed child protection. She was right to announce the big inquiry and right to come before the House and say that she was sorry that its two chairs had decided to stand down. She did so in a dignified way. She put the victims at the centre of the inquiry, but it now has no chair.

A copy of the Home Secretary’s latest letter to the panel members has not been passed to the Home Affairs Committee. Given that we are doing the confirmation hearing, that must be a mistake and I look forward to receiving it. Two of the child protection options in the letter involve the panel being disbanded in some way. We have an odd situation. The panel meets weekly—or at least it was doing so until December—and does its work without a chair. It is now told that the Home Secretary might have changed her mind and is being asked its views on whether it should be disbanded. The Home Secretary took an important stand last July and made an important and eloquent statement last December, but I am afraid that we are degenerating. I would not say it is a shambles, but let us say it is a cause for concern. The Committee has 11 weeks to sit before 30 March. We need to know the name of the Home Secretary’s preferred candidate. We have no candidate and cannot do a confirmation hearing. We need that name so that we can start our work.

We also look forward—this is not in the Bill—to hearing the name of the new chief of the UK Border Agency, because we would like to interview him or her before they take up their position.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s proposals on preparation and training abroad for terrorism. Some of the measures should have been included in the Counter-Terrorism

5 Jan 2015 : Column 77

and Security Bill, but let us not be churlish. They are in the Bill and are to be welcomed.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) is right on cybercrime. As the Home Affairs Committee report said, the police officers involved in this complicated area need more training. I am not saying it is a generational problem—although I have problems with my new iPhone—for police officers to deal with sophisticated cybercrime perpetrated by people and organised gangs in places such as Romania, the Ukraine and Russia, but it was not the bread-and-butter stuff of ordinary policing. It has become that, which is why it is important to train police officers, and why the Committee has recommended on previous occasions that specific time should be given to do so.

The hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), who is not in his place, raised, and has done so in his campaigns, the need for more disclosure on the seizure of assets. The Home Secretary is on absolutely the right track on proceeds of crime, and gave us figures far in excess of those given by Keith Bristow. We welcome that, but we cannot deal with cybercrime on our own. We need Europol, which is why I was disappointed when I visited Europol and met Rob Wilson, the head of Europol—[Hon. Members: “Rob Wainwright”]. Sorry, I meant Rob Wainwright. I often meet Rob Wilson in the House. They look almost the same. [Laughter.] I am trying to dig myself out of a hole.

In my meeting with Rob Wainwright—Rob Wilson was probably in Reading at the time—I was disappointed to learn that the Government are not prepared to put up the money for a cybercrime facility for Europol. That was a year ago, and perhaps the Home Secretary has decided that she will support that facility. I do not know, but she may have changed her mind. At that point, we were one of the few countries that were not prepared to support what Europol was doing on cybercrime. I hope we have changed our mind and are supporting that not just with words, but with resources.

The Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary mentioned the proceeds of crime. I am not sure that the Bill deals with the issue—it was raised by the Metropolitan police commissioner with the Select Committee and, no doubt, with the Home Secretary—of those convicted of very serious offences who complete their sentence, leave prison, are given their passports and are then allowed to leave the country without their fines being realised, and so hang on to their proceeds. We obviously cannot keep people in prison beyond the term of their sentence—it would be unlawful even for Parliament to do that—so the judges are unable to intervene. I am not sure whether the legislation allows someone to be detained in some way following release from prison, but it was a concern expressed by the commissioner. He was right to be concerned, because people come out of prison, get their passports and leave the country with the proceeds of crime still somewhere within their empire. If that point is missing from the Bill, I hope that will be rectified through an amendment.

There are many good things in the Bill. I am glad that the Opposition will support the Bill and that the Home Secretary has included several of the recommendations made by the Select Committee. I hope that it will be improved further as it makes its passage through the House.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 78

6.51 pm

Sir James Paice (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am grateful for being called to speak so early in the proceedings on the Bill. I confess that I have often been a sceptic about criminal legislation. Indeed, as the shadow Home Secretary implied, it is easy to pass new laws and forget about the need to enforce them. More importantly, we need to use what is already on the statute book. I do not know how many new offences we have created in the years I have been in this House, but many of them have never even been used. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) mentioned FGM and the fact that only two prosecutions have been brought. So much legislation lies unused, which leads us to question its origins.

I am not sure that I should use the phrase “Christmas tree” about the Bill—perhaps it is an Easter bunny, bearing in mind the season we are heading for. Nevertheless, it seems to be a Bill on which the Government have said, “In these different areas, there are lacunae in the law that need to be dealt with.” The Government should be congratulated on having the wisdom to address those areas. I do not intend to speak about all the different aspects of the Bill, but I shall address two.

The first relates to the work led by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion)—I am glad to see she is now in her place. I entirely endorse the comments made about her work by the right hon. Member for Leicester East. Specifically, she led a parliamentary inquiry into the effectiveness of legislation in tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking. I was privileged to be asked to participate in that inquiry and I learned a great deal from doing so. The hon. Lady chaired it admirably and it was supported by Barnardo’s. We have already debated some of the recommendations and the Government went so far as to include one of them—on grooming—in an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Today’s Bill, while it addresses many aspects of child and vulnerable people abuse, provides an opportunity to legislate for another recommendation, which was to place child abduction warning notices on a statutory footing. I do not intend criticism of the existing notices—it was clear from the evidence that the inquiry received that they serve a valuable purpose—but the police and others made it clear that making them statutory would provide a greater opportunity to intervene earlier and protect vulnerable children. I hope that the hon. Lady will address that issue later and that the Government will look seriously at an amendment on that issue, should one be tabled.

As for my second issue, I make no apologies to the House for returning to the issue that I raised in Home Office questions this morning. I am sorry that the Home Secretary has now left the Chamber, but I entirely understand that she has other issues to address. I am grateful to her for agreeing to meet me and a small group to discuss the increasing problem of illegal immigration. My concern is not the Calais group to which the right hon. Member for Leicester East referred and which we all see in the media, but the increasing problem of food supplies and larger groups. Arising from that are a few points that relate to organised crime and clause 44 of the Bill.

In May last year I wrote to the Minister for Immigration, and I received a reply in July, specifically about this issue. I am afraid that the reply was what one might

5 Jan 2015 : Column 79

expect from an official civil service reply—I am probably guilty of signing many such myself in the past—and it told me how wonderful the Border Force is at stopping illegal immigrants and that it was doing all that it could. The problem is that since then the situation has got far worse. A business in my constituency is one of largest producers of fresh produce, such as salad crops, in this country and in Spain and other parts of Europe. Up to February this year, it had had three incidents in the previous two years of people coming in on its lorries, but since then it has seen a massive increase, culminating in three separate incidents in one week in the run-up to Christmas.

The right hon. Member for Leicester East referred to the situation in Calais, and he has obviously studied it much more than I have. We often hear of individuals or small groups trying to get on board lorries or hiding under them, taking all manner of risks for which I cannot possibly imagine the motive, although it is clearly there. The incidents to which I am referring are those in which people have entered secure lorries that are carrying food. The problem is not individuals, but groups of anything up to 12. One such group of 12 before Christmas included three young children. The group were lying on top of pallets of lettuce in a secure lorry kept at 4o as part of the cool chain. It is clear that those people are in the lorries for many hours—they do not board them at Calais or just outside. They are clearly entering the lorries in Spain or a long way down in France, well before the vehicles reach Calais.

It is also clear that organised crime is involved, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. A dozen or 15 people do not get into a lorry on the off chance or on the whim of one individual. It is clearly organised and large sums of money are almost certainly changing hands. The groups break into the lorries, in some cases through the roof or—in more sophisticated operations—by access to keys that unlock the secure doors at the back. Sometimes the people have plenty of insulation or clothing, and it is clearly rehearsed and organised.

Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman is right and I share his concern about this issue. As he says, security at Calais is very strong and the people are boarding even before the lorries arrive in France. Is there a case for the EU to perform spot checks on the lorries before they get to the border?

Sir James Paice: I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is trying to tempt me on to the issue of Europe. I am not one of those who thinks that Europe has no locus in this issue. It is right that we work with our European colleagues, either as individual member states or through the EU as a whole to address these issues. Whether spot checks or, as the Home Secretary said in her answer to me earlier today, sophisticated imaging equipment that can see through lorries are the right way forward, I do not know. I am not technical enough to know the right answer, but I do know that this is a serious issue that has now gone beyond the problems of this one, albeit very important, business based in my constituency.

We are now seeing lorry loads of fresh produce from Spain, ready packed and prepared to go on the shelf, going straight to supermarket distribution centres.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 80

The lorries are unlocked and people are found inside. The whole load is then immediately condemned as unfit for human consumption, so there is massive cost and massive food waste. Retailers are beginning to be concerned about supply. Relying on lorry-loads of lettuce, celery, spring onions and so on that have to be condemned on arrival causes havoc in their supply chain. The business in my constituency, which is not unique, had 263 lorries a week bringing produce from Spain. This is not just the odd lorry load: this is a very serious and major issue, and large numbers of people are involved. As I said, there were three cases in one week. Lorries arrive in pack houses in this country or go straight to retail depots. There are now serious concerns about supplies of fresh produce.

The senior supply chain manager of the company said: “In my opinion, the people we have all seen on TV around Calais are smokescreens.” I am not saying that that is correct. “The real organised crime goes on out of sight away from the port of Calais. It would not surprise me if some of those people were actually encouraged to be there in Calais, or even paid to create chaos while real organised crime takes place elsewhere.” I cannot judge the veracity of those comments, but they reflect people’s concerns. I wanted to raise this issue today so that we do not concentrate our thoughts just on what happens in the immediate environs of Calais. In my opening remarks I said that this matter is relevant to clause 44. I hope that in the Minister’s concluding remarks—I am not sure who is winding up, but judging by the smile on the face of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) it will be her; not many people smile when they have to wind up, but there is a first time for everything—she will address the specific issue of our food supplies being affected by organised crime using our food supply chain as a means of access to bring in large numbers of people to our country.

Clause 44 refers to people being part of an organised crime group. There is evidence that in some cases drivers may be complicit. I am not saying that every driver is complicit—I am sure that the vast majority are not. Nevertheless, an important message to get across is that a driver who is complicit is not just guilty on their own. If they are construed to have been a part of an organised crime operation, the offence they commit is even more serious and the penalty should accordingly be far tougher. That is the issue I wanted to leave with the Minister. I will take it to the Home Secretary in greater detail and take with me representatives of not just the suppliers but the retailers who face this problem. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise it this evening and look forward to my hon. Friend’s response.

7.4 pm

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The Serious Crime Bill is an opportunity for Parliament to remove all references to child prostitution from legislation. Britain should lead the world in outlawing the term. That would send out a powerful and unequivocal message, in the wake of the shocking sexual exploitation of children in Derby, Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, Oxford and Stockport, that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, only a sexually abused or exploited child.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 81

The term “child prostitute” is inappropriate and is an insult to innocent victims who have been robbed of their childhood and then stigmatised and blamed. Sixteen pieces of legislation use the term “child prostitute”, which implies an element of complicity and gives the idea of a consensual contract of a child offering sex in return for gifts or money. It is shameful that the offence of loitering or soliciting for prostitution, contrary to section 1 of the Street Offences Act 1959, as amended by section 16 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, can still be committed by a child aged 10 or over. There is also an offence of controlling a child prostitute or child involved in pornography. As recently as June 2014, a Bolton man was charged by Greater Manchester police and found guilty of controlling a child prostitute for financial gain.

There can be no doubt that much has been done in recent years to take the word “prostitute” in relation to children out of Government guidance. This is important because language shapes attitudes. However, it is incongruous and wrong that it still remains in statute. I hope that there will be support across the House for the amendments I plan to table to the Bill, which will consign the term “child prostitution” to the history books, together with amendments that will make it much harder for defendants to argue consent in cases of child sexual exploitation. There has been a significant cultural shift away from talking about child prostitution to talking about child exploitation. Underlying that change is the acknowledgment that a child cannot consent to exchanging sex for financial gain. Removing references to child prostitution in legislation is the final piece of the jigsaw.

It seems surprising now that up until only six years ago the sexual exploitation of children was still being referred to as child prostitution in statutory guidance. Fresh guidance in 2009 was entitled “Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation”, whereas previous guidance in 2000 had been entitled “Safeguarding Children Involved in Prostitution”. The 2009 guidance stated:

“Sexually exploited children should not be regarded as criminals and the primary law enforcement response must be directed at perpetrators who groom children for sexual exploitation.”

However, the offences referring to child prostitution still remained on the statute book and that affects attitudes. Describing a young person as a child prostitute means they are not seen as victims and their sexual abuse is seen as self-inflicted. Those attitudes were identified in the Rochdale overview report in December 2013. Social workers talked about the victims making “lifestyle choices”. One Rochdale father described being told by social workers that his daughter was a “child prostitute”.

Figures provided by the House of Commons Library for my recent report, “Real Voices: child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester”, which was commissioned by Tony Lloyd, the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, show that between 1992 and 1996 there were 1,449 cautions—about 300 a year—for prostitution by under-18-year-olds, and 976 court proceedings for loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution under the Street Offences Act 1959. In the four years between 2010 and 2013, 15 cautions were issued to juveniles under the age of 18 and seven defendants under the age of 18 were proceeded against.

5 Jan 2015 : Column 82

Of those seven defendants, three were found guilty but none was imprisoned. Last year, there were five cautions for prostitution-related offences for those aged 15 to 17. Two were proceeded against and found guilty.

The figures show that attitudes are changing, but it is wrong that we still have legislation referring to child prostitution on the statute books because of the message it sends out. Referring to a young person as a child prostitute fuels old-fashioned attitudes that have done so much harm to children over the years, because it feeds the idea that the child is in some way to blame for their own abuse. Even now, Crown Prosecution Service guidelines state that children should generally be treated as victims of sexual abuse, but still add that

“only where there is a persistent and voluntary return to prostitution and where there is a genuine choice should a prosecution be considered.”

It is vital that wider cultural attitudes be tackled and changed if we are to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation. We have seen how the culture at the time protected well-known, high-profile people, including celebrities such as Jimmy Savile. Young people are still too often blamed for being a victim of crime. Police, social workers and prosecutors and juries made up of ordinary people all carry attitudes around with them, and language used in legislation heavily influences those attitudes. The more people I spoke to during my inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, the more I realised that although we can come up with more effective ways of working for agencies, the most important thing we can do to protect children is to tackle the cultural attitudes that cocoon sex exploiters and enable them to get away with what they are doing under our noses. There has been a sea change in the public’s attitude towards same-sex relationships, the decriminalisation of which was an important step in effecting changes in attitudes. We must effect the same change in attitudes to the sexual exploitation of children.

In 2012, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner interim report on sexual exploitation in gangs and groups, “I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world”, called for a Government review of all legislation and guidance that made reference to children as prostitutes or as involved in prostitution. In June 2013, the Home Affairs Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), produced a report entitled, “Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming”, which supported all of the OCC recommendations. In 2012, I chaired a joint all-party group report on children missing from care that called for changes to schedule 5 to the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001. We recommend that the obligation on homes to notify agencies of

“Involvement or suspected involvement of a child accommodated at the home in prostitution”

be changed to

“suspicion that a child accommodated in a home is at risk of abuse or child sexual exploitation”.

I am pleased that that has now been done.

In 2012, in “Out of place: The policing and criminalisation of sexually exploited girls and young women”, the Howard League for Penal Reform highlighted the importance of language:

“To speak of girls and young women’s involvement in prostitution without also stating that they are emotionally, physically or economically coerced is now the same as saying ‘girls and young

5 Jan 2015 : Column 83

women’s involvement in their own abuse’. To state that they are involved in prostitution is regarded as denial that they are being abused.”

In April 2013, the Barnardo’s report, “Report of the Parliamentary inquiry into the effectiveness of legislation for tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking within the UK”, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), also recommended the removal of all references to child prostitution in legislation, as did the report I produced last October.

The Government support the principle that the phrase “child prostitute” should not be used, and Sara Thornton, the chief constable of Thames Valley police, said:

“We try not to use the term child prostitute and our absolute aim is that we don’t use it. I think that if Parliament were to set the standard and say we’re thinking of new legislation and we don’t have the term child prostitute in the legislation, I think that would be a good step.”

The office of Simon Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk constabulary, who is the national lead for child protection and abuse investigation, said:

“It is our opinion that the term Child Prostitution is no longer appropriate and does not truly reflect acts which should always be considered as Child Abuse. Child Prostitution implies complicity by the child when they should only be considered as a victim.”

I agree. The continued use of the term by the criminal justice system gives out the wrong messages to those who are being abused, the adults who abuse them and the general public. It could be argued that those offences involving child prostitution are so little used that it is immaterial that they remain offences. However, I would argue that as long as they remain on the statute book, they influence attitudes to consent, which defence lawyers exploit, and are a barrier to a better understanding and awareness of the nature of sexual exploitation of children. It is shameful to us all that the term “child prostitute” remains in law. It is an outdated insult to victims, many of whose lives have been ruined. It is inappropriate. No one believes it any longer. It is plain wrong and it should go.

7.14 pm

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I would like to address my brief remarks exclusively to the proposals in clause 65 to reform criminal law on child neglect. A lot has been said about consensus, including by the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and this is one policy area where there has been a genuine cross-party consensus.

I reflect on the role of the Solicitor-General, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and, not least, the late Paul Goggins, who did a huge amount of work on this issue. I had the privilege of working with him on my ill-fated attempt to reform this area of law through the Child Maltreatment Bill. In many ways, I am making the Second Reading speech I had hoped to make then—when a Member comes 13th in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, they are not often assured that opportunity. The Solicitor-General and I also attempted to secure a Back-Bench debate, but such was the progress with the Government, whom I endorse, that it was pulled.