7 July 2014 : Column 1

House of Commons

Monday 7 July 2014

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Serious and Organised Crime

1. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effect of serious and organised crime on communities. [904643]

12. Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effect of serious and organised crime on communities. [904654]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): Serious and organised crime has a damaging and corrosive impact on communities across the United Kingdom. This includes violence, drugs trafficking, fraud, modern slavery and child sexual exploitation. Reducing the effects of these crimes and bringing the perpetrators to justice is why I launched a comprehensive new strategy and a powerful new crime-fighting organisation, the National Crime Agency, in October 2013.

Andrew Stephenson: I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Last month, the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims visited Brierfield in my constituency to meet the local police and learn about their success in tackling organised crime in Pendle. Will my right hon. Friend offer assurances of her Department’s continued support for protecting communities such as Brierfield from serious and organised crime?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Protecting communities lies at the heart of how we want to deal with serious and organised crime. We work with a range of partners to ensure that we tailor our response to the needs of individual communities such as Brierfield. We are also ensuring that every possible avenue is taken to deal with serious and organised crime. Lancashire police’s Operation Genga is bringing together about 20 local organisations to address the issue, and it is a very good example of the benefits that can be achieved through such a partnership approach.

Chris Heaton-Harris: What actions is my right hon. Friend taking to seize more of the proceeds of organised crime?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend touches on an important issue. Criminals pursue criminal activities for profit, and by seizing their assets we can have a significant impact on them. We have set out in the serious and organised crime strategy our approach for attacking criminal finances. We want to make it harder for criminals to move, hide or access the proceeds of crime. The criminal finances board, overseen by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), oversees cross-departmental work to improve performance on accessing and recovering assets. We are also taking extra powers in the Serious Crime Bill, which has already started its passage in another place, to make it easier for us to get hold of criminals’ assets.

18. [904660] Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary say why the number of arrests based on Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre intelligence on serious, organised child abuse has gone down in the past year?

7 July 2014 : Column 3

Mrs May: CEOP is an important part of our panoply of organisations that are dealing with various aspects of serious and organised crime. Bringing CEOP into the National Crime Agency was right because it now has access to the agency’s capabilities, but it is important that CEOP continues to have access to a range of capabilities. Sadly, one of the issues that has been raised is the extent to which it can continue to have access to things such as communications data. As that degrades, of course, it becomes harder for CEOP to investigate certain crimes.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Home Secretary will also know that much serious and organised crime is related to fraud. Is she not worried that many people, both outside and inside this House, are saying that the Serious Fraud Office is not fit for purpose, is not resourced enough and depends on advice given by the big accountancy firms? Everyone is saying that we need a powerful Serious Fraud Office. Does she agree that it needs reforming?

Mrs May: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to ensure that we have strong capability for dealing with fraud. That is precisely why I wanted the National Crime Agency to have an economic crime command, which it does. That economic crime command will be looking at a variety of economic and financial crimes. Fraud will, of course, be key within that. It will also look at other issues such as money laundering. That is also why we have changed our approach to the reporting of fraud such that we are now better able to capture incidents of fraud through Action Fraud. We have ensured that the capabilities of City of London police, given its expertise in that area, are fully available. Of course we need a strong Serious Fraud Office, but we also want that strength in the economic crime command within the National Crime Agency.

Passport Office

2. Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the performance of the Passport Office. [904644]

6. Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): When she next plans to meet the chief executive of the Passport Office. [904648]

8. Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): What recent estimate she has made of the time taken to process passport applications. [904650]

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): Since January, Her Majesty’s Passport Office has been dealing with a higher demand for passports than for the same period over the last 12 years. The overwhelming majority of straightforward applications continue to be dealt with within three or four weeks, but we recognise that some people are waiting too long. A package of additional measures has been introduced to help HMPO deliver passports on time while still maintaining security. Ministerial colleagues and I are meeting the chief executive of HMPO on a regular basis.

Pat Glass: Back in the real world, the situation is unfortunately getting far worse, not better. My office dealt with 17 urgent inquiries last week and has already received three this morning, including that of my constituent Andy Sheen, who has been waiting since May for a

7 July 2014 : Column 4

renewed passport for his two children. When can my constituents and others hope to have anything like a normal service again?

James Brokenshire: The Passport Office has introduced a number of measures and is increasing the number of passports being dealt with each week. I recognise that right hon. and hon. Members are raising individual cases, which is why we have strengthened the MPs’ service and put in place the seven-day upgrade arrangements so that passports can be delivered to people who need to travel.

Ian Murray: Over 40 constituents have come to me about late passport applications. It is not just about their passports; it is about their family holidays and individual holidays this summer. Surely the Minister should have foreseen these problems, given the massive increase in foreign applications. What percentage is due to the massive increase in foreign applications and what will he do to ensure that this does not happen again?

James Brokenshire: The pressure has been the result of a significant increase in domestic applications. The forecasting that HMPO has undertaken, and its expectation, is that it is domestic applications that have really added to the pressure and led to the highest level of applications in 12 years. Clearly we are focused on those individual cases, which is why additional resources have been put into examination, but there is also the specific measure, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned, to ensure that there is a focus on those who need their passports to travel and to go on their holidays.

Heidi Alexander: My constituent Ms Papafio-Gordon is today celebrating her 21st birthday, but she faces the prospect of not being able to go on holiday tomorrow because of delays in renewing her passport. She has already had to cancel two holidays. She booked tomorrow’s flights only after being told that her passport would be couriered to her home yesterday, but it never arrived. Will the Minister look into the case to ensure that my constituent, on her third attempt, can go on holiday tomorrow?

James Brokenshire: The hon. Lady raises an individual case. I know how hard Passport Office personnel are working to ensure that passports are delivered on time to enable people to travel. If she gives me the details of her constituent’s case, obviously I will look into it.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): May I commend the staff of the Passport Office for dealing with constituents from Bedford and Kempston who have had passport difficulties, and the Minister for his calm handling of the issue. When looking forward on the handling of passports, will he consider advising people a year early that their passports are due to expire so that they can renew them without having to wait until the last minute?

James Brokenshire: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising the incredible work being undertaken in passport offices up and down the country to meet this exceptional demand. Clearly we will reflect carefully on a range of issues once we get through this exceptionally

7 July 2014 : Column 5

busy period to see where further improvements can be made and to ensure that service is improved further in the years ahead.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I, too, would like to draw attention to the service that my office has received from HMPO, whose staff have been incredibly courteous and helpful in difficult circumstances. It is important that long-term lessons are learnt. Will the Minister assure the House that the review of operating procedures will focus on improving efficiency and ensuring that customer service is at the heart of all HMPO activities in future?

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend makes an important point about focusing on customers and further improving operating procedures. A real focus will be put on that once we have managed this period of excessive demand. Indeed, with regard to forecasting, we are bringing in the Home Office’s scientific lead to examine those projections as well as ensuring that any changes that can be made to improve performance will be made.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): It is important that we learn the lessons and improve the operation of the Passport Office, but I want to take this opportunity to put on the record my thanks to the Minister and to the staff of the Passport Office for going the extra mile to ensure that all the constituents who came to me received their passports in time to travel, including arranging for them to be couriered to those who live in remote locations.

James Brokenshire: It is worth recognising that many people working in the Passport Office are going the extra mile to see that people are receiving their passports in time for travel. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for enabling me to highlight the exceptional work that is being undertaken in passport offices.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): On 8 June, the number of passports classed as “work in progress” stood at 493,289. Figures I have obtained show that two weeks after the emergency measures were brought in by the Government, on 22 June, the figure stood at 537,663. Will the Minister update the House on whether the “work in progress” figure is less than when he introduced the initial emergency measures?

James Brokenshire: This is an exceptional period of demand. To put this into context, the Passport Office would usually handle about 5.5 million applications per year, and this year it has received about 4 million applications already. That gives some context to the work that is involved. “Work in progress” figures will run into hundreds of thousands because of the output that the Passport Office is delivering—about 170,000 a week. That gives a sense of the scale of the work that is involved. Yes, there are pressures there, but the Passport Office is responding to the challenge.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): What matters when Departments miss their targets is how everybody reacts, and the Home Secretary and Ministers have reacted with energy and determination to resolve this problem. May I thank the Passport Office, which so far, even though it has been a close-run thing in several

7 July 2014 : Column 6

cases, has managed to resolve 100% of my constituents’ problems so that they can travel on time? Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking my constituents for their patience and my constituency office for its resilience in making sure that so far everybody has got away on time?

James Brokenshire: I am pleased to give that recognition to my hon. Friend’s constituents, and, of course, constituents across the country who are working with HMPO to see that issues are resolved. We have put additional measures in place to assist colleagues from across the House with their individual inquiries, recognising the need to ensure that passports can be delivered to enable people to travel on their holidays.

Counter-terrorism Strategy

3. Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy; and if she will make a statement. [904645]

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): Today marks the ninth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings. I am sure the whole House will wish to convey our thoughts and prayers to those who lost friends and loved ones on that day and remember how we must remain vigilant against those who threaten our country and our way of life. Contest, the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, has been effective in reducing the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from terrorism. The number of successful prosecutions and foiled plots over the past year demonstrates the skill, dedication and professionalism of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and security and intelligence agencies in meeting that challenge.

Mr Bailey: May I associate myself with the Minister’s condolences for those who lost their lives during that atrocity, and others as well?

Community engagement and peer pressure are essential if we are to curb the recruitment of jihadists to the Syrian conflict. Why have the Government cut funding to the Prevent project, which is designed to do this, and to the groups carrying it out?

James Brokenshire: I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman’s rightful focus on the need for strong community engagement. The Prevent programme is about seeking to prevent people from becoming involved in terrorism, with measures that are able to channel individuals towards programmes that might take them off that course. However, he misunderstands the fact that the Government undertook a clear separation between broader integration work and Prevent, with its specific focus on counter-terrorism. It was right to have that focus and to ensure that actions and programmes were not misinterpreted as being about involvement in or prevention of terrorism rather than community integration.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): It was reported this weekend that MI5 could have stopped Michael Adebolajo committing murder if it had more powers. Is the Minister aware that when the Home Affairs Committee was in Kenya, senior ambassadors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told us that in all

7 July 2014 : Column 7

likelihood he would have been in prison in Kenya had it not been for the UK authorities requesting that he be returned to this country?

James Brokenshire: As my hon. Friend will know, the Intelligence and Security Committee is currently completing its review of the investigations related to that case, and I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment further in that regard. The Home Affairs Committee has conducted a broad review of counter-terrorism powers—indeed, I gave evidence to it. Clearly, we keep powers under review, and we have sought to extend extraterritorial jurisdiction for a number of terrorism offences in relation to the Serious Crime Bill, which is currently before Parliament.

20. [904662] Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I also associate myself with the Minister’s initial comments. He and the Home Secretary will be aware that a number of organisations that operate in Cardiff have recently been proscribed. Will the Minister clarify the names of those organisations and outline how he intends to ensure that individuals involved in them do not simply rebrand themselves and go under other organisational names in the future? They are not welcome in Cardiff by either the Muslim community or the wider community.

James Brokenshire: I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman’s comments, and I know of the work he is undertaking locally in Cardiff in combating extremism and ensuring that community groups are brought together to confront it. We have made further changes to proscription in terms of aliases related to al-Muhajiroun, and have added the names of other terrorist organisations. We will keep that focus and keep the issue under review. Obviously, the police are also looking at whether there are prosecution opportunities.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Although I would be the first to commend the leadership and oversight exercised on this policy by my hon. Friend and the Home Secretary, none of it would have been possible without the exceptional contribution of a very talented team of officials across all Departments, including the Ministry of Justice, where I used to work with Michael Spurr and his team on security. The United Kingdom is lucky enough to have world-leading, quality officials and insight in this area. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would confirm that and put it on the record.

James Brokenshire: I am delighted to confirm that. Obviously, there are many people who work hard, day in, day out, to keep our country safe, and it is right that they are commended.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It was reported yesterday that 16-year-old twins from Manchester may have flown to Syria in order to join ISIS. So far, 500 British citizens have gone to Syria to fight. On Wednesday, the Muslim Council of Britain will hold a meeting with all Islamic scholars throughout the United Kingdom to look at the issue of engagement with communities. What further steps do the Government propose to take to deal with those who seek to lure our young British citizens to fight abroad, especially with regard to the internet?

7 July 2014 : Column 8

James Brokenshire: A number of steps have been taken. There has been real leadership in a number of quarters in British Muslim society, which is very welcome. The right hon. Gentleman highlights the issue of the internet. I draw to the House’s attention the fact that the counter-terrorism internet referral unit has now taken down 40,000 items from the web that are illegal or promote terrorism. It is important that we retain that focus.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On this day, it is absolutely right that we remember those killed or injured on 7/7. On counter-terrorism work today, allegations are being reported that AY —previously on a control order and then a terrorism prevention and investigation measure order that lapsed—is now freely recruiting and radicalising young men to go to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS. Given the potential security threat of those men returning to the United Kingdom, does the Minister still believe that the TPIM orders that he introduced are fit for purpose?

James Brokenshire: Yes, I do. We have some of the most robust and effective legislation in the world to deal with terrorist suspects, and we will not hesitate in using every power at our disposal to protect the security of this country. Clearly, if there is evidence that people are engaged in terrorist-related activity, the police will investigate and take action.

Reducing Crime Levels

4. Lorraine Fullbrook (South Ribble) (Con): What steps she is taking to further assist the police in reducing the level of crime. [904646]

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green): We have freed the police from central targets, and police and crime commissioners are addressing the issues that matter to local people. We are cutting bureaucracy so that officers can be at the front line where they are needed, and the College of Policing is driving up professional standards. We are working with forces to tackle national priorities such as organised crime, gangs, modern slavery and violence against women and girls. The evidence is clear—police reform is working and crime is down.

Lorraine Fullbrook: The Minister will be aware that crime in Lancashire has been cut by 10%, but there is some variation in overall levels of crime across the country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the police need to be more innovative and to share best practice right across the country in cutting crime and keeping our streets safer?

Damian Green: I agree with my hon. Friend, whose point about innovation is correct. That is precisely why we have introduced an innovation fund, which all forces have bid for. She will be aware from last year’s precursor fund that Lancashire successfully bid for the collaboration we want—a joint initiative with Lancashire county council to create an early action response service for missing people, vulnerable people and those with mental health issues. That is precisely the innovative collaboration that will enable crime to continue to fall.

7 July 2014 : Column 9

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): Did the Minister see the comments made recently by the Police Federation in Manchester about the city centre of Manchester being a dangerous place? Will he take this opportunity to agree with me that Greater Manchester police and the city council work very effectively to keep the streets of Manchester safe, and will he assure the House that GMP will have all the resources it needs to do just that job?

Damian Green: I agree that Greater Manchester police is doing a very good job, as, indeed, the figures show: crime in Greater Manchester is down 24% since 2010. It is the use of the resources available to Sir Peter Fahy and his force that will continue to make Manchester safer than it has been before.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): The police in North Yorkshire, and in Selby in particular, are innovative, especially about rural crime. I am pleased that crime is falling there, but the planned closure of Selby’s police custody suite could have an adverse impact on policing in the district. Having to take those arrested all the way to York could take two bobbies off the beat in Selby, leaving the town exposed. Although the decision could save tens of thousands of pounds, does the Minister agree that it is a short-sighted move, and will he urge the chief constable to rethink?

Damian Green: The decision to close the custody suite at Selby was first taken in 2000, under the previous Government, and it has been a source of some controversy ever since. The custody suite was reopened, but, as my hon. Friend says, the chief constable has now decided to close it again. I would be very happy to look at the case, and to discuss it with the police and crime commissioner.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): The Home Secretary introduced police and crime commissioners. Tragically, Bob Jones, the PCC for the west midlands, died last week. He was an outstanding champion of all that is best in British policing, and a man of great personal integrity. He has yet to be buried, but the Home Secretary’s legislation obliges a by-election to be held on 21 August. How much will a by-election for an electorate of 2 million cost, and does he anticipate a turnout higher or lower than the 13% who elected Bob Jones?

Damian Green: I absolutely echo the hon. Gentleman’s tribute to Bob Jones, who gave his life to public service over many decades. He held his beliefs very strongly, and he expressed them very strongly. My condolences and those of the home affairs team go to his wife, and his friends and family.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a by-election is triggered by two people calling it. He will also be aware that, frankly, it was not done at the behest of either his party or mine. I take the point that the by-election will take place in the middle of August. It is therefore the responsibility of all politicians—particularly, I should say, of Members of Parliament in the west midlands—to ensure that people get out and vote. As people now realise, the police and crime commissioner is an important post, and it is important that the people of the west midlands have a say in who the next police and crime commissioner is.

7 July 2014 : Column 10

Mr Speaker: It is always helpful if answers are comprehensive, but they do not have to include the kitchen sink.

Neighbourhood Policing

5. Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effect of recent changes in the level of neighbourhood policing. [904647]

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green): The Government strongly support neighbourhood policing. It provides a visible presence in communities, cutting crime and disorder. By slashing red tape and sweeping away central targets, we have empowered chief constables and police and crime commissioners to respond to the individual and specific needs of their communities. Police reform is working. Crime is down by more than 10% since June 2010, and victim satisfaction is up.

Mr Slaughter: However the Minister dresses it up, in wards where there used to be six neighbourhood officers, there are now two. Consequently, my constituents feel less safe. Antisocial behaviour and crime are actually going up in areas such as Shepherd’s Bush and White City. May we have safer neighbourhood teams back? We need preventive, rather than reactive, local policing.

Damian Green: I feel that the hon. Gentleman would benefit from hearing some of the facts about what is happening. Across the Metropolitan police, there are 2,600 more police officers in neighbourhood teams to boost local policing. Specifically in Hammersmith and Fulham, the number of officers in the borough will have increased between October 2011 and 2015. Very specifically, there will be an increase of 92 officers in the safer neighbourhood teams he values so much. That is why crime in London generally and Hammersmith specifically has been falling.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): I know that my right hon. Friend will be aware, not least because it was mentioned at Prime Minister’s questions last week, of the death of Cherylee Shennan in my constituency. I want to put on the record my thoughts about Detective Sergeant Damien McAlister and Detective Constable Karen Kenworthy, both of whom were severely injured in an attempt to save Cherylee’s life, and give him the opportunity to echo them. They serve as a constant reminder to everyone in this House of the danger that police officers put themselves in every day to keep us and our streets safe.

Damian Green: I am sure that the whole House will echo my hon. Friend’s sentiment about those officers. Damien McAlister and Karen Kenworthy showed the bravery that we get from officers all over the country in the most difficult of situations. Such bravery is essential, particularly in tragic situations such as the one he mentions, and it should never go without being noticed.

Organised Sexual Abuse of Children

7. Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): What steps she has taken to co-ordinate lessons learnt across Government from investigations into organised sexual abuse of children. [904649]

7 July 2014 : Column 11

The Minister for Crime Prevention (Norman Baker): The national group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, which I chair, is already delivering a number of significant improvements to our response to child sex abuse, including addressing lessons learned from the investigations and inquiries into historical and organised child sexual abuse. The Home Secretary will make a statement on child abuse immediately after this session.

Duncan Hames: I appreciate the Minister’s efforts in this regard. When the Prime Minister said in answer to my question last month that he was happy to look at the case for an independent inquiry, I was optimistic. We may not have long to wait now. The Government set great store by the police investigations. Does the Minister share my dismay at reports that the Metropolitan police has assigned only seven officers to Operation Fernbridge?

Norman Baker: That is an operational matter for the police, rather than a matter for Ministers. However, we take these matters extremely seriously and all Ministers have made it plain that we expect the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and others to take all the necessary steps to bring those who are responsible for heinous crimes to justice.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): Brave survivors of child sex abuse have done a fantastic job of lobbying on this issue over the past week. Are the Secretary of State and the Minister satisfied that the victims of child sex abuse are receiving all the support that they should be receiving from policing and health bodies?

Norman Baker: We published a new victims code in December 2013, which sets out the entitlements of victims of the most serious crimes. Other steps are being taken, such as the videoed pre-trial cross-examination pilot, to ensure that we make it as easy as possible for children to give evidence and to ensure that they are not re-traumatised by the process.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): This question would more normally be heard at Education questions because tackling child abuse is about not just detecting crime but prevention, education and safeguarding children. Will the Minister say what arrangements exist for the Department for Education to co-ordinate that action?

Norman Baker: As the former Minister for children knows, there are existing and strong links between various Departments, including the Department for Education and the Department of Health, to ensure that such matters are dealt with on a cross-departmental basis. We intend to continue and strengthen those links between Departments.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): The National Association for People Abused in Childhood is finding an increased demand for its support and help. It has written to the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims to ask for greater support and services to help those who are coming forward with cases from many years ago, with all the problems that they have experienced as a result. Will the Government do more to ensure that those services are in place?

7 July 2014 : Column 12

Norman Baker: The Minister with responsibility for policing and victims will respond to the letter as soon as he can, if he has not done so already. The fact that these matters are receiving extra coverage these days, and the fact that the Government has made it very clear that we take these matters seriously, is encouraging people to come forward, including those with historical allegations, and that is exactly right. We expect the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to investigate them properly.

Terrorism

10. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): If she will bring forward legislative proposals to criminalise the non-reporting by family members of their reasonable suspicions of other family members travelling abroad for purposes of terrorism. [904652]

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): We want to support communities to respond to the challenge of preventing terrorism, and to encourage them to refer individuals who may be at risk of radicalisation and exploitation. Prevent practitioners, working with local authorities, the police and other agencies, are providing outreach and targeted projects. We believe this offers the most effective approach.

Mark Pritchard: Of course, not all family members will know whether members of their family have gone abroad to prepare for acts of terrorism, but some will. For the sake of social cohesion, community cohesion and national security, will the Minister seriously consider bringing forward new legislation to keep this country safe?

James Brokenshire: We keep legislation under review, as I have already indicated this afternoon. It is already an offence, under the Terrorism Act 2000, to fail to disclose information about acts of terrorism. Many families have come forward to identify those who might be travelling to Syria. It is important that we support them and encourage others to report loved ones as well.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): My Muslim constituents report that public discourse about terrorism and security threats is beginning to create a climate of suspicion and hostility towards them in the community. What can the Minister do to ensure that, alongside protecting public security, attention is paid to community cohesion and harmony?

James Brokenshire: I entirely understand the hon. Lady’s point. Indeed, that is why we work on social cohesion with the Department for Communities and Local Government. Some fantastic British Muslims are demonstrating leadership, showing that they oppose so much extremism that is done in their name but does not reflect their communities or their religion. We continue to work with them to promote those very clear messages.

Modern Slavery

11. Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): What steps she is taking to end modern slavery. [904653]

7 July 2014 : Column 13

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Government have made much progress in tackling this horrendous crime. Our ground-breaking Modern Slavery Bill will have its Second Reading tomorrow in this House. Later this year, we will publish a modern slavery strategy, which will co-ordinate a comprehensive programme of national and international activity. It will include: the national referral mechanism review, which will report its interim findings shortly; child trafficking advocate trails, which will launch in the summer; and establishing specialist teams at the border.

Andrew Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and congratulate her on introducing the Bill, the first of its kind in the world to tackle this disgusting crime. Does she agree that it is important to work with businesses to tackle this part of the problem by eliminating forced labour from supply chains?

Mrs May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. It is absolutely vital that we work with business on the issue of forced labour and slavery in supply chains, which is why I hosted a round table recently with representatives of business organisations and individual businesses, together with other Ministers, including the Under-Secretary with responsibility for modern slavery and organised crime. We are doing a great deal with businesses to help to raise awareness so we can prevent people from being abused and exploited. Of course, companies have a social responsibility to take appropriate action. If they do not, their reputations will suffer.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Two thirds of the children identified and found as trafficking victims by the authorities go missing again. Will the Home Secretary legislate for a guardian for each of these children, to keep them safe and to act in their best interests?

Mrs May: We are trialling the child advocate concept in a number of ways in the coming months. We have made it absolutely clear that, through the Modern Slavery Bill, we will provide for the opportunity to put it on a statutory basis. I hope everybody in this House would want us to use the work of those trials to identify the best approach to take in relation to individuals, whatever their title, who work with trafficked children, to take them through and to help to give them the support they need. We need to ensure that we find and take forward the best approach.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): Does the Home Secretary agree that the trafficking prevention orders included in the Modern Slavery Bill will be a valuable tool for police seeking to disrupt trafficking gangs? What discussions has her Department had with police on the practical implementation of the orders?

Mrs May: I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the police welcomed the concept of prevention orders that we are putting in place through the Bill. She is absolutely right: crucially, the prevention orders will enable us to ensure that action can be taken against someone who has been convicted of an offence of modern slavery so that we can reduce the possibility of that offence being recommitted. Up until now, it has been possible for

7 July 2014 : Column 14

someone who has served a sentence for such an offence to come straight back out, become a gangmaster and carry on with what they were doing in the first place. The prevention orders will enable us to prevent that from happening.

Migration (EU Accessions)

14. Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): What representations she has received on the potential effect on UK migration figures of further EU accessions. [904656]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): Representations about EU migration often focus on the large inflows from existing member states since 2004, and we have been clear that, unlike the previous Government, we will always impose the toughest possible transitional controls on free movement from new member states.

Stephen Phillips: I am grateful for that answer. The simple fact of the matter, as my hon. Friend knows, is that the last Government totally underestimated both the number of migrants from newly entered countries who have made their way to the United Kingdom and the impact of that on the tolerance of ordinary, hard-working British people when it comes to immigration. Does the Minister agree with me—if so, she can tell us—that if further countries join the EU we must put in place measures that slow access to labour markets unless and until we can be sure that the vast migrations of the past simply cannot happen again?

Karen Bradley: My hon. and learned Friend puts it more succinctly than anybody could, and my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have been absolutely clear that there will be new arrangements for future accessions to slow access to labour markets until we can be sure that they will not lead to mass migration.

Cyber-crime

15. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What steps she is taking to combat cyber-crime; and if she will make a statement. [904657]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): Cybercrime is a tier 1 threat to national security. We have strengthened law enforcement capabilities with the establishment of the national cybercrime unit in the National Crime Agency, and by establishing cyber-teams within each of the regional organised crime units, as well as by developing the capability of local police forces. We are also funding the Cyber Streetwise campaign, and Action Fraud’s reporting system for fraud or financially motivated cybercrime.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful for that answer. A friend of mine tells me that a well-known retailer was recently attacked from abroad four times in as many weeks by a cyber organisation.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): John Lewis.

7 July 2014 : Column 15

Michael Fabricant: I think the hon. Gentleman might have guessed it right. What steps is the Minister taking to stop such foreign cyber-attacks on legitimate companies in the United Kingdom?

Karen Bradley: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He perfectly sums up the threats we in the UK face from cyber-attacks on businesses and public services. Working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Home Office is involved in the cybercrime reduction partnership, and we have set up CERT-UK, the computer emergency response team, which includes CISP—the Cyber-Security Information Sharing Partnership—through which businesses can share their experiences of cyber-attacks.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): According to Which?, the average amount lost by people because of scams, including online scams, is £1,500, and online shopping scams are by far the most likely to fool people. The Home Affairs Select Committee has expressed concern that there appears to be a black hole where low-level e-crime is committed with impunity. What impact does the Minister believe the initiatives she has announced are having, and what more can the Home Office do to raise awareness of e-crime for our citizens?

Karen Bradley: The hon. Lady makes an important point—that we need to raise awareness and to make sure that people know where they can report cybercrime. Action Fraud, which I visited last week when it was hosted by the City of London police, is the portal through which people can report cyber-attacks. That is where information will be disseminated and intelligence shared, ensuring that local police forces have the information and intelligence they need to be able to act against this crime.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Chief Constable Alex Marshall, head of the College of Policing, recently said on BBC Radio 4’s “Law in Action” programme that “at least half” of calls to front-line police officers originated from complaints about social media. What is my hon. Friend and the Government doing to make sure that police officers at all levels have the skills necessary to tackle online crime?

Karen Bradley: It is vital to ensure that police officers and local forces understand how to tackle cybercrime and where to report it, and I am very pleased that the College of Policing is providing training for all officers so that they know what to do. As I have said, Action Fraud and other online databases are available, and I know that the police are making sure that they gather the information and share the intelligence.

Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary has reported that only three police forces in England and Wales have an effective cyber-attack strategy, and that although reported cybercrime is up by about a quarter, the number of prosecutions is down? Why has she allowed that to happen?

Karen Bradley: The Government take cybercrime extremely seriously. That is why it is a tier 1 national security risk. We have invested £860 million in the national cyber-security strategy, and have so far committed

7 July 2014 : Column 16

£70 million to the national cyber-security policy to build law enforcement capabilities. It is vital for training to be provided, and the Government are committed to ensuring that it is. The report to which the hon. Gentleman referred represents a view of, as it were, a “snapshot” taken some time ago. We have been working very closely with, in particular, the National Crime Agency to ensure that the issue is addressed and training is given.

Illegal Immigration

16. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps she is taking to reduce illegal immigration. [904658]

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): In every year of this Government, more illegal migrants have left the UK than in any year under the last Government. The Immigration Act 2014 is the latest step in this Government’s reforms, ensuring that there is a tough response to those who abuse the system or flout the law.

Andrew Selous: When immigrants are told that they have no legal basis on which to stay in the United Kingdom and should make arrangements to leave, how long is it before the Home Office takes steps to ensure that they do, and what do those measures involve?

James Brokenshire: As my hon. Friend will know, we have established immigration enforcement and special command in the Home Office to focus rigorously on ensuring that such people are removed. However, as the Immigration Act makes clear, it is also necessary to create a system that makes it that much tougher for those people to gain access to benefits, and ensures that they are supported so that they are able to leave. That is a focus that the Government will continue to maintain.

Topical Questions

T1. [904668] Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I echo the earlier comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). I too was deeply saddened to hear of the death of West Midlands police and crime commissioner Bob Jones, and my thoughts and prayers are with Bob’s family and friends and his colleagues. He had given years of public service as a councillor, a member of the West Midlands police authority for more than 25 years, and then as the area’s first police and crime commissioner, and his contribution to keeping the people of the west midlands safe was very impressive. I know that he will be greatly missed.

Last week I visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories to meet senior politicians from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. During my visit, the bodies of the three abducted teenagers were discovered near Hebron. Since then, we have also heard about the terrible killing of a Palestinian teenager. No reason, belief or cause can justify the abduction and killing of innocent civilians.

7 July 2014 : Column 17

In spite of that harrowing news, I was able to hold encouraging discussions on how best to combat modern slavery as part of our efforts to garner greater international co-operation on that important issue. Those discussions will feed into the substantial work that the Government are doing to stamp out the horrendous crime of modern slavery. As I said earlier, the Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Bill will be debated tomorrow, and the Bill’s progress will take place alongside the work that the Government are doing to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with this horrendous crime.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): It is almost a year since my constituent Bijan Ebrahimi was horribly murdered, and we are still waiting for the results of the inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into the involvement of the police in the days leading up to his death. As the Home Secretary will know, a separate IPCC inquiry is proceeding, and the chief constable is currently suspended. Can she assure me that the IPCC has been given all the resources that it needs to bring both inquiries to a speedy conclusion?

Mrs May: I am sure the hon. Lady will recognise that as the cases that she has mentioned are live, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the details. However, we are committed to ensuring that the IPCC has the resources that it needs to be able to investigate all serious and sensitive complaints against the police, and to carry out the rigorous scrutiny that the public expect. We have given the commission an extra £18 million and £10 million capital this year, so that it can deal with all serious and sensitive cases involving the police.

T2. [904669] Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say what steps she and her Department are taking to ensure the police use technology to a greater extent to improve their effectiveness?

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Damian Green): We are taking a number of steps, because my hon. Friend is right that digital technology makes the police more effective, not just by giving them access to information out on the street so they can make better decisions, but by enabling them to stay out on the streets and not have to return to the station. I mentioned the innovation fund earlier. Over £11 million of its first £20 million was allocated to IT projects that give police precisely the sort of technology they need to keep crime coming down.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): First, may I welcome the Home Secretary’s words about her visit and about the terrible loss of young lives in the middle east, and also her tribute to Bob Jones, who, as she knows, was a very kind and thoughtful man as well as a great public servant, and is a friend who will be missed by very many of us?

May I also join the counter-terrorism Minister, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), in remembering the 52 people who were killed on 7 July 2005 and pay tribute to their families and also the 770 people injured that day? That is why the whole House and the whole country recognises the continued need for vigilance against terrorism and those who want to kill, maim or divide us.

7 July 2014 : Column 18

The Home Secretary will shortly outline her response to calls for action against historical child abuse, but let me ask her about the child protection system today. Since she changed the law, there has been a 75% drop in the number of people barred from working with children even though the number of offences against children has gone up. Why has it fallen so much, and is she worried about that?

Mrs May: There has, indeed, been a fall in the number of people who are automatically barred from working with children. That fall has taken place since 2010 because we did change the system: I think we restored some common sense to the barring regime, because the scheme is now focused on groups of people who work closely with children or other vulnerable groups. Unless they have committed the most serious offences, we no longer bar people who do not work with those groups, such as lorry drivers or bar staff. They were barred under the old scheme, and I do not think those bars did anything to help keep children safe, but anyone working closely with children is still barred and that is the important point.

Yvette Cooper: I have listened to the Home Secretary’s response and I have to say I find it very troubling. What is to stop a lorry driver who is convicted of a very serious offence applying to work with children or becoming a volunteer in the future? The figures show the numbers who have been barred have dropped from 11,000 to 2,600. That means there are people who have been convicted of sexually assaulting a child, possessing or distributing abusive images of children, grooming or trafficking who are not being barred from working with children in future, and there has also been a serious drop in the number of those who are barred on the basis of intelligence about grooming even where convictions have not been secured. I really would urge her to look again at this because I am concerned that this system is exposing children to risk.

Mrs May: We all want to ensure that the system we have makes sure that those who will be a risk to children are not able to work with children, but I repeat the point I made in response to the right hon. Lady’s first question: under the previous scheme a large number of people found themselves automatically barred who were not directly working with children and were not working closely with children. The new scheme that we have has, in fact, barred some people who would not have been barred under the old scheme. The Disclosure and Barring Service can now pick up and consider serious offences by those who apply for criminal records checks to work with children and those in the new update service, so I say to her that the scheme we have introduced does actually mean some who would not have been barred under the previous scheme are today barred from working with children.

T3. [904670] Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): The news of UK citizens becoming radicalised and then travelling abroad to participate in terrorism and conflicts is very worrying. Will my right hon. Friend outline how the Prevent strategy is being used to tackle the problem at source by stopping people being radicalised in the first place?

7 July 2014 : Column 19

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): My hon. Friend rightly identifies the concerns in many communities at how Prevent is acting to safeguard them by working with families, communities and, indeed, with those front-line agencies that may be best able to pick up when someone is being radicalised and exploited. That focus remains, as well as, obviously, seeking to work with the internet industry to take down images that are seeking to promote terrorism or radicalisation.

T7. [904675] Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): Over the past year I have been holding joint events with neighbourhood policing teams on dealing with antisocial behaviour, allowing constituents to share their concerns on a serious issue. Victims often report that they are left frustrated and concerned because despite the number of agencies involved, action is not always co-ordinated and progress can be slow. What will the Minister be doing about this?

The Minister for Crime Prevention (Norman Baker): I refer the hon. Lady to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which does a great deal to improve matters and which I must say some of her colleagues opposed when it came before the House. It introduces a range of sensible, well-judged new powers that will enable some of the problems that have occurred locally to be diminished. The measures include cross-working between different bodies involved in crime prevention.

T4. [904672] Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims will know that the Independent police and crime commissioner in Gloucestershire has taken the opportunity in both of the past two years to put up council tax by 2% rather than have a proper look for savings. Will the Minister, in a spirit of public service broadcasting, set out some areas where other police forces have taken the opportunity to keep council tax down?

Damian Green: Many police and crime commissioners across the country have taken different decisions about taxation, and across the country we have seen crime coming down. Of course the great virtue of the system we have introduced is that if people in Gloucestershire or anywhere else are unhappy with the decisions taken by their PCC, they can, unlike under the old system, vote in 2016 to get rid of them. That is why introducing democracy into police governance is a good thing.

T9. [904677] Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): My constituent Peter Hobson works hard, but earning the minimum wage for a 40-hour week will never enable him to pass the income threshold for his wife to obtain a visa to live with him in the UK under the rules introduced by the Government two years ago. In a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on 6 December 2012, the then Minister for Immigration committed the Government to keeping the impact of these rules on family life “under review”. Will the Home Secretary publish the outcome of that review?

James Brokenshire: I hear the point the hon. Gentleman has made, but he may also know that an outstanding case at the Court of Appeal is precisely examining these

7 July 2014 : Column 20

issues. The Government are awaiting the judgment on that case and, obviously, we will reflect further in the light of it.

T8. [904676] Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): At the weekend, millions of people turned up to watch the Tour de France across Yorkshire, and millions are on today’s route. Will the Home Secretary join me in paying tribute to Yorkshire police forces and the Metropolitan police? Does she agree that the presence of the French gendarmerie, with their experience of manning cycle routes, is another emblematic symbol of the importance of European police co-operation?

Damian Green: I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend, not least because I was in Yorkshire before the Tour started last week to see the police preparations for the operation, which were extremely thorough, as we would expect. The fact that everyone in Yorkshire—I hope it is the same for everyone in Essex and London today—was able to enjoy a peaceful event, with the world watching us, is a tribute to the calm and well-ordered way the British police go about their business.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I understand that the National Crime Agency has suggested to chief constables that they should think carefully about requesting a registered intermediary. The number of requests has increased, and with that, of course, have come consequent costs to police budgets. Does the Home Secretary not think that the way forward might be a central budget for intermediaries requested by the police, so that the best evidence can always be obtained from vulnerable witnesses?

Damian Green: The hon. Lady makes a reasonable point, because clearly registered intermediaries do a good job. I will look at the details of what she says the NCA is saying, because the system does not appear to be working badly. I will certainly look at any details she may care to provide me with.

Sir Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Does the Home Secretary agree that essential to restoring the public’s confidence in the immigration system is not just counting people into the UK, but counting them out of the UK? What progress is being made on that?

Mrs May: I can tell my right hon. Friend that this Government are committed to introducing exit checks by the time of the next general election. We have a programme that is working well; we already receive a significant amount of information on people exiting the country from the advance passenger information, provided through the airline industry. I have had discussions with representatives of the rail industry and our ports on how we can ensure that we are also getting exit checks for those who travel out of this country by rail and by sea.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I have been asked to raise this question by my constituents, Mr and Mrs Egan, who are foster parents. Their foster child had a passport which, the agency acknowledges, was handed in and destroyed. Apparently he cannot get another one until his natural father completes a lost or stolen form. The father is in Kurdistan and cannot be

7 July 2014 : Column 21

traced. As things stand, the child will have to wait three years until the destroyed passport expires before they can have another one. I am sure that this is not what anyone intends to happen, but the consequence is that the child will end up in emergency care instead of being on holiday with his foster parents. Will the Minister take a look into that case?

James Brokenshire: This is obviously a complex case, but I recognise the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. If he shares some further details with me, I will investigate further.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Human trafficking is an abhorrent crime, and I warmly welcome the Modern Slavery Bill. Will the Home Secretary listen carefully to the suggestions from UNICEF that it is important to make child trafficking a particularly serious offence with particularly severe penalties?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): The Modern Slavery Bill introduces the stiffest penalty of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of the offences listed in the Bill, and that includes anyone committing those offences to a child. I am determined that we do not get into a situation where the defence has further arguments it can put forward by arguing over the age or possible age of a child which might stop the perpetrator of this heinous crime not being found guilty and not being convicted of life imprisonment. I am convinced that the offences as listed cover the child exploitation cases that have been raised. I am also determined to bring this Bill forward in this Session so that we can convict people.

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm whether the Glasgow Passport Office offers a full passport service? If the answer is yes, will he explain why my constituents have been directed to offices as far afield as Belfast, Durham and Peterborough to pick up their passports? If the answer is no, will he tell me why does it not offer such a service?

James Brokenshire: Many passport offices are handling the applications that are coming through. Applications are being routed to different offices. Our focus is on ensuring that the current excessive workload is being dealt with effectively. Indeed, the Passport Office is rising to that challenge, with the output rising week on week, and our focus remains on continuing that performance.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Public understanding and co-operation in the fight against terrorism is absolutely vital, yet at the moment we have

7 July 2014 : Column 22

five tiers of terrorism threat level, ranging from “low” to “critical”. Is the Minister of State confident that the public understand how they should respond when the threat level goes up and down?

James Brokenshire: We do have different threat levels, which are, I think, recognised and understood. Clearly, it is a question of communicating where there is a change in the threat level, and we do keep these issues under careful review.

Mrs Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): As many as one in four road accidents are caused by drivers either speaking or texting on their mobiles. What work is being done to step up prosecutions for this very dangerous and life-threatening activity?

Norman Baker: That is a matter I take very seriously, not least because of my previous role in the Department for Transport. We are also engaged with mobile phone companies on a whole range of issues to ensure that their products are responsibly used, but the hon. Lady makes a valid point, which I will happily take forward. If she has any particular suggestions, I would be happy to hear them

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Will the Home Secretary undertake to review the workings of police information notices, or PINs? Thousands have been issued by constabularies, including to myself, but in too many cases they do not even follow the Association of Chief Police Officers guidance, to the extent that people are not even aware that they are under investigation and therefore cannot defend themselves.

Damian Green: I am always happy to continue to look at the PINs system and how it is operating. I am very aware that my hon. Friend has had his own issues with the Sussex police in this regard and I am happy to keep it under close review.

Mr Speaker: Last but not least, I call Kelvin Hopkins.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Alcohol continues to be implicated in a high proportion of crime, especially crimes of violence. When will the Government take effective steps to reduce levels of alcohol abuse and the associated crime?

Norman Baker: We are taking a large number of steps to deal with alcohol abuse, including the introduction of late-night levies, including the local action areas and including the early morning restriction orders. We are also dealing with the industry and securing voluntary action from it. In fact, I am meeting the industry in about 45 minutes to see what progress has been made.

7 July 2014 : Column 23

Child Abuse

3.35 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the sexual abuse of children, allegations that evidence of the sexual abuse of children was suppressed by people in positions of power, and the Government’s intended response.

I want to address two important public concerns: first, that in the 1980s the Home Office failed to act on allegations of child sex abuse; and, secondly, that public bodies and other important institutions have failed to take seriously their duty of care towards children. I also want to set out three important principles. First, we will do everything we can to allow the full investigation of child abuse and the prosecution of its perpetrators, and we will do nothing to jeopardise those aims. Secondly, where possible the Government will adopt a presumption of maximum transparency. Thirdly, we will make sure that wherever individuals and institutions have failed to protect children from harm, we will expose those failures and learn the lessons.

Concern that the Home Office failed to act on allegations of child abuse in the 1980s relates mainly to information provided to the Department by the late Geoffrey Dickens, who was a Member of this House between 1979 and 1995. As the House will be aware, in February 2013, in response to a parliamentary question from the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), the permanent secretary at the Home Office, Mark Sedwill, commissioned an investigation by an independent expert into information that the Home Office received in relation to child abuse allegations, including information provided by Mr Dickens. In order to be confident that all relevant information was included, the investigation reviewed all relevant papers available relating to child abuse between 1979 and 1999.

The investigation reported last year, and its executive summary was published on 1 August 2013. It concluded that there was no single “Dickens dossier”, but that there had been letters from Mr Dickens to several Home Secretaries over several years that contained allegations of sexual offences against children. Copies of the letters had not been kept, but the investigator found evidence that the information Mr Dickens had provided had been considered and matters requiring investigation had been referred to the police. In total, the investigator found 13 items of information about alleged child abuse. The police already knew about nine of those items, and the remaining four were passed by the Home Office to the police immediately. The investigation found that 114 potentially relevant files were not available. Those are presumed by the Home Office and the investigator to be destroyed, missing or not found, although the investigator made clear that he found no evidence to suggest that the files had been removed or destroyed inappropriately.

The investigation found no record of specific allegations by Mr Dickens of child sex abuse by prominent public figures. On completion of the investigation, the Home Office passed the full text of its interim report and final report, along with accompanying information and material, to the police for them to consider as part of their ongoing criminal investigations.

7 July 2014 : Column 24

As Mark Sedwill has said, the investigator recorded that he had unrestricted access to Home Office records and he received full co-operation from Home Office officials. The investigator was satisfied that the Home Office passed all credible information about child abuse in the time period, from Mr Dickens and elsewhere, to the police so it could be investigated properly.

I believe that the permanent secretary, in listening to the allegations made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East and ordering an independent investigation, did all the right things. I am confident that the work he commissioned was carried out in good faith, but with such serious allegations the public need to have complete confidence in the integrity of the investigation’s findings. I have, therefore, today appointed Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, to lead a review not just of the investigation commissioned by Mark Sedwill, but of how the police and prosecutors handled any related information that was handed to them. Peter Wanless will be supported in this work by an appropriate senior legal figure, who will be appointed by the permanent secretary. Where the findings of the review relate to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it will report to the Attorney-General, as well as to me.

I will ask the review team to advise my officials on what redactions to the full investigation report might be needed in order that, in the interests of transparency, it can be published without jeopardising any future criminal investigations or trials. I expect the review to conclude within eight to 10 weeks, and I will place a copy of its terms of reference in the House Library today.

In addition to the allegations made by Geoffrey Dickens, there have also been allegations relating to an organisation called the Paedophile Information Exchange, a paedophile campaign group that was disbanded in 1984. In response to another query from the hon. Member for West Bromwich East, the permanent secretary commissioned another independent investigation in January this year into whether the Home Office had ever directly or indirectly funded PIE. That investigation concluded that the Home Office had not done so, and I will place a copy of the investigation’s findings in the House Library today. To ensure complete public confidence in the work, however, I have also asked Peter Wanless to look at that investigation as part of his review.

I now turn to public concern that a variety of public bodies and other important institutions have failed to take seriously their duty of care towards children. In recent years, we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse, including abuse by celebrities such as Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, as well as the systematic abuse of vulnerable girls in Derby, Rochdale, Oxford and other towns and cities. Some of those cases have exposed a failure by public bodies to take their duty of care seriously, and some have shown that the organisations responsible for protecting children from abuse—including the police, social services and schools—have failed to work together properly.

That is why, in April 2013, the Government established the national group to tackle sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, which is led by my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention. That cross-Government group was established to learn the lessons from some of the cases I have mentioned and the resulting reviews and inquiries. As a result of its work,

7 July 2014 : Column 25

we now have better guidance for the police and prosecutors, new powers for the police to get information from hotels that are used for child sexual exploitation, and better identification of children at risk of exploitation through the use of local multi-agency safeguarding hubs. In the normal course of its work the group will publish further proposals to protect children from abuse.

I know that in recent months many Members of the House from all parties have campaigned for an independent, overarching inquiry into historical allegations of child abuse. In my correspondence with the seven Members of Parliament who wrote to me about the campaign—the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), and the hon. Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), for Wells (Tessa Munt), and for West Bromwich East—I made it clear that the Government did not rule out such an inquiry.

I can now tell the House that the Government will establish an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. The inquiry panel will be chaired by an appropriately senior and experienced figure. It will begin its work as soon as possible after the appointment of the chairman and other members of the panel. Given the scope of its work, it is not likely to report before the general election, but I will make sure that it provides an update on its progress to Parliament before May next year. I will report back to the House when the inquiry panel chairman has been appointed and the full terms of reference have been agreed.

The inquiry will, like the inquiries into Hillsborough and the murder of Daniel Morgan, be a non-statutory panel inquiry. That means that it can begin its work sooner and, because the basis of its early work will be a review of documentary evidence rather than interviews with witnesses who might themselves still be subject to criminal investigations, it will be less likely to prejudice those investigations. I want to be clear, however, that the inquiry panel will have access to all the Government papers, reviews and reports that it needs. Subject to the constraints imposed by any criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses from organisations in the public and private sectors, and in wider civil society. I want to make it clear that if the inquiry panel chairman deems it necessary, the Government are prepared to convert it into a full public inquiry, in line with the Inquiries Act 2005.

I began my statement by saying that I wanted to address dual concerns: the concern that, in the past, the Home Office failed to act on information it received, and more broadly the concern that public bodies and other institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse. I believe that the measures that I have announced today address those concerns. I also said that I wanted the work that we are doing to reflect three principles. First, our priority must be the prosecution of the people behind these disgusting crimes. Secondly, wherever possible and consistent with the need to prosecute, we will adopt a presumption of maximum transparency. Thirdly, where there has been a failure to protect children

7 July 2014 : Column 26

from abuse, we will expose it and learn from it. I believe that the measures announced today reflect those important principles, and I commend this statement to the House.

3.46 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): I thank the Home Secretary for sight of her statement. Child abuse is a terrible, devastating crime that traumatises children when they are at their most vulnerable and ruins lives. Perpetrators need to be stopped and brought to justice. Too often, the system has failed young victims, not hearing or believing them when they cried out for help, and failing to protect them from those who sought to harm them. There have been particularly troubling cases of abuse involving powerful people and celebrities, and the failure of institutions to act. As Members in all parts of the House and from all parties have made clear, when allegations go to the heart of Whitehall or Westminster, it is even more important to demonstrate that strong action will be taken to find out the truth and get justice for the victims.

The Home Secretary is right to announce today that she has changed her position on and response to child abuse, but I want to press her on the detail. We need three things: justice and support for victims; the truth about what happened and how the Home Office and others responded; and stronger child protection and reforms for the future. Any allegation that a child was abused, even decades ago, must be thoroughly investigated by the police. Will she tell us whether all the allegations uncovered or put forward in any of these investigations will be covered by Operation Fernbridge? Will the files that she said had been passed to the police go to Operation Fernbridge? We understand that it has only seven full-time officers working on it. Does she think that they have the resources and investigators they need? She referred to the importance of prosecutions when there have been child sexual offences. She will know that prosecutions have dropped in recent years. Does she believe that that is cause for concern, when recorded offences have increased?

Secondly, we need to know what happened when the allegations were first made decades ago. The Home Secretary will know that former Cabinet Ministers have said that there may have been a cover-up. The previous response from the Home Office was not adequate; the 2013 review to which she referred was not announced to Parliament, did not reveal that more than 100 files had gone missing, and has never been published. Will she tell the House whether she or other Ministers saw that review, and whether they were told about the missing files?

I welcome the involvement of Peter Wanless, who is well respected, but will the Home Secretary clarify whether this is simply a review of a review, or whether it will look again at the original material? Will this review have the power to call for further information, range more widely, and interview witnesses if necessary? She talked about publication of the review; does she mean the original 2013 review, the new review, or both? It would be very helpful to have transparency.

Thirdly, as the Home Secretary will know, I raised the issue of the need for an overarching inquiry directly with her in Parliament 18 months ago, when she made a

7 July 2014 : Column 27

statement about abuse in care homes in north Wales. She and the Prime Minister rejected the need for such an inquiry at the time, but I welcome her agreement to it now. There is currently a range of reviews and investigations in care homes, the BBC, the NHS and now in the Home Office. Also, more recently, there is an inquiry into events in Rochdale and Rotherham. At their heart, they all have a similar problem: child victims were not listened to, heard or protected, and too many institutions let children down. Reform of those individual institutions must not be delayed, but isolated reforms are not enough. An inquiry needs to draw together the full picture to look at the institutional failures of the past and to examine the child protection systems that we have in place that may continue to fail children today. An inquiry must also be able to take evidence from the public, in public, as the Hillsborough review was able to do. I welcome her comments on that and her decision to keep under review whether an inquiry has the powers it needs and whether a public inquiry is needed.

An inquiry must also cover the child protection system in operation today. The Home Secretary’s answer in Question Time to my question on the 75% drop in the number of criminals barred from working with children suggests that the Home Office is still too complacent in that area. I urge her to include the vetting and barring system and the current child protection system in the overarching review. It is important that we do not have systems in place that store up future child protection problems.

The cases that have emerged involving child abuse and sexual assaults by high-profile, powerful people and celebrities have been deeply disturbing, as has the failure of the system to stop them and to protect children and young people today. Previously, the Home Office had not done enough to respond, but I welcome the further steps that the Home Secretary has announced today. She will understand that that is why we seek assurances that the investigations will now be strong enough. She and I will agree that we need justice for victims, the truth about what happened and a stronger system of child protection for the future. People need to have confidence that the process will deliver justice for past victims and protect children in the future.

Mrs May: The right hon. Lady shares my concern to ensure that we have proper safeguards and protection for children in the future and that not only are lessons learned but that action is taken as a result of those lessons being learned following the various reviews into both historical and more recent cases of child sexual exploitation.

The right hon. Lady asked whether all the matters that are felt to be for the police to investigate will be matters for Operation Fernbridge. Actually, a number of investigations are taking place across the country into historical cases of child abuse; it is not appropriate that all those investigations will be in relation to Operation Fernbridge. The National Crime Agency, for example, is leading on Operation Pallial, which is the investigation into potential sexual abuse in children’s care homes in north Wales, and other investigations are taking place elsewhere. All allegations do not necessarily go to a

7 July 2014 : Column 28

single force; they go to whichever force is the most appropriate to deal with the particular cases and to ensure that people can be brought to justice.

The right hon. Lady asked about the number of prosecutions and offences, which is a matter that is most properly for my right hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General, but she will have noticed that he is on the Treasury Bench and has noted her comments.

My right hon. Friend, the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims answered a parliamentary question in 2013—in October 2013, I think—in which reference was made to the missing 114 files.

The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) asked what I had seen as Home Secretary. I saw the executive summary of both the interim report and the final report commissioned by Mark Sedwill. I did not see the full report for very good reason: the matters that lay behind the report were allegations that senior Members of Parliament—and, in particular, senior Conservative Members of Parliament —may have been involved in those activities. I therefore thought that it was absolutely right and proper that the commissioning of the investigation and the work that was done should be led by the permanent secretary at the Home Office, not by a Conservative politician.

The right hon. Lady asked a number of questions about lessons learnt. Some of those lessons are already being acted on. As I mentioned, the national group that my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention is leading has already brought forward proposals on how the police and prosecutors could better handle these matters, and it will continue with its work. That will of course feed into the work of the wider inquiry panel that I am setting up. I want it to look widely at the question of the protection of children. I want it to ensure that we can be confident that in future people will not look back to today and say, “If only they had introduced this measure or that measure.” We must ensure that the lessons that come out of the various reviews that are taking place are not only properly learned, but acted on.

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and her setting up of the independent inquiry panel. She set out three clear principles. The most important of those principles is that the panel should do nothing that prevents these heinous crimes from being properly investigated and those who are guilty of them from being prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Mrs May: Although it is right that we look at the lessons that need to be learned, I am sure that the view shared across the whole House is that it is absolutely essential that we do nothing that could get in the way of prosecuting the perpetrators of these appalling crimes. That is why it is right to set this review up as an inquiry panel so that it can begin its work without jeopardising the criminal investigations taking place.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Frightened survivors of child abuse deserve the truth. I hope and think that they will welcome today’s statement, particularly the announcement that they will have access to all documentation. Will the inquiry team be able to see the

7 July 2014 : Column 29

files of the special branch, the intelligence services and any submissions made to previous Prime Ministers on people such as Sir Peter Hayman and others?

Mrs May: May I first commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done over a number of years on these issues? He and a number of other hon. Members and hon. Friends have been relentless in their pursuit of these issues and their determination to bring truth and justice for the victims. As I said in my statement, my intention is that the fullest possible access should be made to Government papers in relation to these matters. As I am sure he and others will recognise, where there are issues relating to who can have access to some files, we will need to have an appropriate means of ensuring that the information is available to the inquiry panel. However, as I have said, I am looking to appoint a very senior figure to chair the panel, so I expect it to be possible to ensure that all Government papers are available.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for her swift and decisive action in this case. Having seen my constituent Mr Tom Perry suffer for years to bring his abusers at Caldicott school to justice, resulting in an eight-year custodial sentence at the beginning of this year for its former headmaster, Peter Wright, may I urge her to ensure that these investigations are expedited? As there is still no duty to report suspected abuse, will she ask the inquiries to look again at mandatory reporting of suspected abuse in regulated activities? I have already discussed that with the Secretary of State for Education and hope that the Home Secretary will take it up as well.

Mrs May: I commend my right hon. Friend for her comments. Obviously she has seen a very specific case and knows how long it has taken her constituent to find justice for the treatment that he received. I will indeed raise the specific issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, but it is exactly those sorts of issues that I expect the inquiry panel to look at: namely, are there any gaps in what we currently do that mean we are not properly protecting children and, if there are, what appropriate mechanisms could be put in place to ensure that those gaps are filled?

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): While welcoming today’s announcements by the Home Secretary and the observations by her shadow, may I press her on the issue of record keeping? When I became Home Secretary, it became very clear to me—I was asking for information in a quite unrelated area—that there had been a downgrading of the archiving and record-keeping functions of the Home Office. I say that in a non-partisan way, because this issue has continued and is made more complicated in the so-called digital age. Will the Home Secretary ensure that both panels look very carefully—taking advice, if necessary, from the head of the National Archives—at the adequacy or, I am sure, inadequacy of existing mechanisms and resources for ensuring that proper records are kept, particularly in areas such as this?

Mrs May: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course the keeping of proper records is very important. Over the years that we are dealing with, there have been a number of approaches to record

7 July 2014 : Column 30

keeping within the Home Office and, indeed, within other Government Departments. In the 1980s, the system was changed to the so-called Grigg system. Subsequently, the National Archives has issued guidance to Government Departments on the approach that they should take to the keeping of records. Of course, that is exactly the sort of issue that I expect could be part of the inquiry’s work.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Whatever disagreements we may have, she has always been outspoken in confronting complacency and corruption wherever she finds it. When former public servants give evidence to the inquiry panel, will they be released from any obligations they may have under gagging clauses in severance agreements or, where necessary, the Official Secrets Act?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. It is my intention that people should have the ability to speak openly in giving evidence to the inquiry panel if they are called as witnesses, or in giving written evidence if they so wish. I will have to look at the legal issues around the Official Secrets Act, but it is intended that everybody should have the ability to speak openly. Only if people can speak openly will we get to the bottom of these matters.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to set up the various inquiries. Will she pass on my thanks to Mark Sedwill for the very full letter that he sent to me and the Home Affairs Committee? It is the first time that a Home Office letter has arrived before the deadline. As she knows, we will be examining Mr Sedwill tomorrow. In his letter, he said that the head of the inquiry would be an independent legal figure. The Home Secretary has just announced that it will be Mr Wanless, assisted by a legal figure. Is that correct? Has there been a change, then, since Saturday night? What steps did the Home Secretary take when she discovered that the 114 files were missing?

Mrs May: On the way in which the review is being set up, yes, we have decided on a slightly different approach. The permanent secretary will be appointing a senior legal figure, as he has said. I felt that it was appropriate to ask for somebody to lead the inquiry who was involved in child protection matters and who was independent in a different way, working with the senior legal figure. Peter Wanless will be leading it, but a senior legal figure will be appointed, and the permanent secretary will make the announcement in due course.

On the 114 files that have not been found, that figure was first given in a parliamentary answer last October, and it was repeated in the very full letter that Mark Sedwill gave to the right hon. Gentleman. The investigator was unable to say what had happened to those files—that is precisely one of the problems. There is no evidence as to whether the files were destroyed or have been mislaid. Obviously, the new review will be able to go back over the work that the investigator did to see whether any further evidence can be adduced.

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Having sadly had to deal with a number of historic child sex abuse cases in my time as a Law Officer, may I assure the Home Secretary that the victims of these hideous

7 July 2014 : Column 31

crimes suffer from them well into their adulthood and often into middle and old age, so the need to bring to justice those who have committed these terrible crimes is surely uncontroversial. Will the Home Secretary make sure that those who have evidence to give or allegations to make can do so in the most convenient form possible—that is, to one central police force which masterminds the national investigation—rather than having a whole host of police forces collecting the information and giving it to the Crown Prosecution Service? At the moment, there seems to be a drip-feed of insinuation, which is causing a lot of distress to innocent people. What we need to see is the guilty prosecuted and brought to justice, rather than the innocent having their reputations trashed.

Mrs May: I take very seriously the point made by my hon. and learned Friend. In a sense, we are dealing with two types of allegations. The first are allegations that may be made in cases relating to the information given to the Home Office in the 1980s. There are also allegations about activities at children’s homes in different parts of the country. I will reflect on my hon. and learned Friend’s comment about the appropriate way in which those allegations can be made and properly investigated. I also echo his other point, because I think we have all seen, in interviews given by people who are well into their middle age or older and who were abused as children, that this is not a matter that goes away. It is not something that can be forgotten. It lasts with people for the rest of their lives and we owe it to them to give them truth and justice.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Survivors of child sex abuse are very brave in dealing with the horrific attacks that they have had to endure. How will the proposed inquiry engage with and thoroughly involve the victims of child sex abuse?

Mrs May: I think it would be most appropriate for the chairman and panel themselves to decide what to do on that matter, rather than Government trying to tell them what to do. Once the name of the chairman is announced, I am sure that Members of this House who have experience of dealing with these matters will wish to make their views known, but I think it is best to leave it to the chairman and panel to identify how they wish to work and take evidence and comments from people. May I commend the hon. Gentleman, who is another Member of this House who has done a great deal of work on this matter in trying to uncover the truth about those who have been victims?

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of the overarching inquiry, which is important because if we wish to empower children to resist and report child sex abuse, we need to demonstrate that as adults we are prepared to talk openly about these things. Will she give her view on whether it is correct that no Government record should be destroyed without a record of its being destroyed being kept? If that is what has happened in these 114 cases, is she confident that it is not still happening, and is she satisfied that the Lord Chancellor’s code of practice on the management of records—

7 July 2014 : Column 32

to which I think the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) referred—is actually being complied with and, indeed, that it is adequate for the purpose?

Mrs May: As I indicated in response to the right hon. Member for Blackburn, the panel may well look at the question of record keeping. It is right that there are certain processes in place, as I also indicated in my earlier response. One of the issues we are dealing with is that, over the years and the time period we are looking at, a number of different approaches to record keeping were taken by Government Departments. It is, I think, best practice to identify what has happened to particular records when they are identified, but the practice of what is done has varied over time. That is one of the aspects that we will obviously need to consider.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I very much welcome the announcement of the panels of inquiry, but may I ask the right hon. Lady a specific question about a north Wales matter? Some 18 months ago, Mrs Justice Macur was appointed to look at the Waterhouse inquiry, specifically to see whether its remit was too narrow and whether there was evidence of wider sexual abuse. She completed her work in July last year; since then, there has been silence. Will the right hon. Lady look into that matter, and advise the House when the findings will be published?

Mrs May: I am very happy to do that, and to write to the right hon. Gentleman about the outcome of my inquiry. In relation to certain matters in north Wales, I am obviously aware that Operation Pallial, a criminal investigation, is also taking place. That may be affecting the issue, but I will certainly look into it.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): I strongly welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement of the inquiry. For too long, survivors of appalling abuse have been denied the transparency and justice they deserve, and in Oxford we know too well the long-term toll that that can take. For that reason, we must not raise false hopes today. Does the Secretary of State agree that, in addition to access to Government and police papers, transparency from local authorities will be essential to achieving a just and effective inquiry? How does she intend to achieve such transparency?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is also well placed to comment on these matters. She has done a considerable amount of work, particularly following the recent cases of child sexual exploitation and grooming in her constituency and elsewhere in Oxford, under the Thames Valley police. She is right: I intend the terms of reference for the panel of inquiry to be drawn quite widely, and they will therefore relate not just to central Government papers. I will publish the terms of reference in due course, when it has been possible to discuss them with the appointed chairman. She is also right that local authorities, with both their direct responsibilities for child protection and their responsibilities for placing children in care of various sorts, will be an important source of information.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Whatever investigations and inquiries take place in the coming months and possibly years, will the Home Secretary

7 July 2014 : Column 33

ensure that there is support for victims, including, crucially, counselling which for many years has been far too difficult for both children and adults to access? Given the way in which child abuse is sometimes discussed publicly, will she work closely with ministerial colleagues to make sure that the child protection system and those working in child protection are not in any way undermined by inquiries into historical abuse?

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman’s question about counselling support for victims is more appropriate for other Departments to consider, but I will certainly raise it with my colleagues. In relation to the way in which we discuss this issue, he is right that many people are working assiduously to protect and safeguard children, and I in no way wish to undermine the work that they are doing. It is important for us to look at a number of allegations and cases where people have been prosecuted for historical abuse, but we have of course seen more recent cases of abuse—I mentioned a number of areas in my statement—and it is important for us to learn from those cases to ensure that we have the best systems in place to provide the protection for children that we all want.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. Does she not agree that the situation has dramatically improved since, say, 2003? The public attitude has improved, and legal changes have led to improvements; in fact, the authorities are now in a position to be proactive when they get the chance and when information is brought forward. Does she agree that agencies such as the police and social services should have a legal obligation to provide information to the inquiry on request, and to act in a positive manner towards it?

Mrs May: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that all agencies should act constructively and positively in relation to the inquiry—I encourage them to do so—because that is how we can get to the truth. We have seen that in similar inquiry panels that have taken place. On his first point, I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he has done over many years in looking at the legislative structure, dealing with the issues and working with the police to ensure that the best possible support is given in relation to the activities of paedophiles. Most recently, we have of course seen the new offence of possessing paedophile manuals in the Serious Crime Bill.


Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary look at Operation Rose in Northumberland, which took place a few years ago? It is becoming more apparent that it was a whitewash as more victims come forward each day and each month.

Mrs May: I am happy to take away the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. It is precisely because I want to ensure that we cover all the cases that have come up that I think it is important that the terms of the inquiry panel are drawn quite widely. I will look into the matter that he raises.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): The country will welcome the principles behind my right hon. Friend’s reviews and panel. Will she, along with other Departments, make it clear to all children, especially

7 July 2014 : Column 34

looked-after children, that if they have worries that they cannot communicate to the people who are looking after them, there is an outside place to which they can go with confidence to talk about their worries?

On archives, may I refer my right hon. Friend to the letter that she has received from Dr Richard Stone—I do not expect her to respond to it this afternoon—about the hidden stories of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry? As a member of the inquiry, he did not have access to the papers while trying to implement the recommendations. It seems to me to be important that we learn the lessons from that.

Mrs May: I will obviously look carefully at the letter to which my hon. Friend refers and at examples from other inquiries that have taken place.

It is important that young people who are victims of sexual abuse feel able to go somewhere to report it. As has been said by more than one Member today, I hope the fact that we are talking about this matter and our acknowledgement of what has happened to young people in the past and the importance of dealing with it will give victims greater confidence that if they come forward, they will be listened to and heard.

We have seen recent cases that have been taken forward by police forces. Sadly, I see the list of the operations that the police are taking forward to deal with child sexual exploitation and grooming up and down the country. Frankly, the number of cases is shocking. Again, as young people see those cases being dealt with, hopefully it will give them the confidence to come forward if they have been victims of abuse.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): As well as setting off these reviews by the great and the good, the so-called independent experts and the people that are known to the Government, would it not be more convincing if the Home Secretary had said, “I’m going to do something else. I’m going to make sure that all those cuts in the public sector and in local authorities are reversed, and that people who deal with child abuse every single day get a decent pay rise”? That is what the Government ought to do if they really mean it.

Mrs May: This Government have a record of being willing to deal with and address issues of child sexual exploitation. I particularly commend the work that was done by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) as Minister for children on the strategy to deal with child exploitation strategy, which is having an impact. Of course the Government must constantly look at whether we can do more. That is why it is important to have the panel to look at the lessons learned.

Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): May I add my welcome for the measures that the Home Secretary has announced? They will offer great reassurance to the public. It is important that all public institutions, including Parliament and the NHS, are held to account. In that respect, will she confirm that the inquiry will have full access to information from quasi-public bodies, such as the BBC, as well as from institutions where we know significant child abuse has taken place, such as the Church?

7 July 2014 : Column 35

Mrs May: As I have said, the terms of reference will be published in due course. It is my intention that it should be a wide inquiry. It should therefore be possible for it to look not just at state institutions but at other bodies to see whether they have been protecting children appropriately or not, as the case may be.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): In the mid-1990s, a senior ex-Whip who had served in the 1970s told the BBC that the Whips Office routinely helped MPs with scandals, including those, in his own words, “involving small boys”, and that they did so to exert control over those individuals and prevent problems for the Government. That is just one powerful example of how personal and political interests can conspire to prevent justice from happening. May we have a full commitment that the inquiry will consider not just the police and social services but what happens at the heart of power, and that if those systems are found to exist today, they will be overturned, whether or not it makes life uncomfortable for political parties, Parliament or the Government?

Mrs May: It is not my intention that political parties be outside the scope of the inquiry. It has to be wide-ranging and it has to look at every area where it is possible that people have been guilty of abuse. We need to learn lessons to ensure that the systems we have in place are able to identify that and deal with it appropriately.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I welcome the reviews announced by the Home Secretary today. We want those reviews to be thorough, but we do not want another Chilcot—we do not want them to drag on interminably. May we be assured that there will be some form of time scale by which they will be expected to report? As far as the 114 missing files are concerned, they are either destroyed, missing or not found. It seems to me that somebody believes they may still be there. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that somebody is still looking for the files and that no stone will be left unturned until we know exactly where they are?

Mrs May: On the timetable, as I indicated I would expect the inquiry panel work to go beyond the general election. It is necessary that it has sufficient time to do its job properly and comprehensively, but I undertake to have a progress update report presented to Parliament before May 2015. The deadline or final timetable is something that needs to be discussed with the chairman of the panel, because it will be partly determined by the way they intend to operate the work of the panel. It will also be determined by the progress of the criminal investigations, because we do not want to jeopardise them.

The investigator certainly did not find any evidence that the files were, in any shape or form, in existence, but I think what I am saying is that there is no categorical evidence that they had been destroyed, because that had not been recorded—hence the issues that have been raised about the recording of matters relating to records.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Sir Jimmy Savile was the honoured invited guest at 11 new year’s eve parties hosted by a Prime Minister. He was given the keys to two hospitals by Health Ministers. He was a trusted friend of royalty. Can we know whether the

7 July 2014 : Column 36

intelligence services had surveillance on this man? If they did put in reports, why was no action taken on them?

Mrs May: In response to an earlier question, I addressed the issue of my expectation of the panel being able to have as much access to Government papers as possible. On the wider issue the hon. Gentleman raises, this is precisely why we need to look back at these cases and ask why somebody who was serially abusing a large number of people—children and adults—over a period of time was able to do so while continuing to be feted by society at large.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The Home Secretary was right to be cautious about an overarching inquiry. Is she now convinced that an inquiry that covers multiple decades and multiple institutions, in the public sector and outside, will be sufficiently focused and effective? The last thing we want is for the inquiry to fail to draw a line for those who have suffered such horrors in their early years.

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. There is often a tension between ensuring that a report or an inquiry can look as widely as is necessary to get to the truth, while at the same time ensuring that it does not continue for so long that it ceases to have relevance when it reports. I will be discussing this matter with the chairman of the inquiry to ensure that it can be conducted in such a manner that lessons can be learned sufficiently swiftly for action to be taken to ensure we are protecting children today.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): On behalf of nationalist Members, I welcome the inquiry and the other investigations that the Home Secretary has mentioned, but will she assure me that, where possible, she will keep the devolved Administrations informed of the progress of the inquests and work with them to ensure that we really get to the heart of the matter?

Mrs May: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we will talk to the devolved Administrations and work with them on the work of this inquiry. Some matters will cover England and Wales, and other matters are of a devolved nature, which makes it particularly important to work with the devolved Administrations.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I read the executive summary of the 2013 review, according to which 114 files were said to have been lost or destroyed. The investigator says, however, that he looked only at what he called the central Home Office database. What about files that might be held by the Security Service or other agencies? Will the Home Secretary confirm that files held by such bodies and those held on other databases will be incorporated in the review?

Mrs May: I certainly think it important for other databases to be interrogated and looked into. As I indicated in response to an earlier question from the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), there are issues around access to certain matters that relate to secret and intelligence material. I am sure,

7 July 2014 : Column 37

however, that there are ways of ensuring that all appropriate material—whether it be appropriate for the review or for the inquiry panel—will be looked into.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): In the 1970s and ’80s, there was a confusion between sexual liberation and sexual exploitation, and that gave cover for the abuse of some children to escape challenge. Much progress has been made, but victims of child abuse are still being blamed for their own exploitation. Does the Home Secretary agree that if we are to make significant progress in protecting our children, the independent inquiry panel needs to look at current attitudes as well as understand historical attitudes?

Mrs May: The hon. Lady makes an important point about the atmosphere and attitudes against which these abuses took place. We need to be very clear about what amounts to abuse today. That is why, in a related context, the Home Office has run a “This is Abuse” campaign for teenagers to help them identify when abuse is taking place. Sadly, some might have seen abusive relationships that were portrayed to them as normal. We need to ensure that everybody understands what abuse is, and understands their ability to say no.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): The Home Secretary mentioned political parties. On alleged child abuse by past or present Members of Parliament, will she confirm whether the inquiry will consider any allegations or evidence held by the Whips?

Mrs May: The intention of the inquiry panel is to be able to look as widely as possible at these issues. I should perhaps clarify a point: the inquiry panel will not be conducting investigations into specific allegations, which would properly be matters for criminal investigations. It is looking across the board at how these matters have been approached in the past and asking the question—I intend this to be drawn quite widely—whether the proper protections for children were in place, and if not, whether those gaps still exist today, and if so, what we need to do to fill those gaps. I expect as much information as possible to be given to the panel to enable it to achieve that.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): In the course of doing constituency casework, every Member will come across vulnerable adults and children. Does the Home Secretary agree that Members of Parliament and caseworkers should undergo Criminal Records Bureau checks? We have legislated for everybody else in similar positions of responsibility to have those checks, so is it not time that we did so here, too?

Mrs May: There is, in a sense, a paradox here, in that a Member of Parliament can go into a school without a CRB check, but the inquiry panel will be considering how we can protect children, whether there are gaps anywhere, and whether we need to fill those gaps. I expect its report to identify areas in which the panel considers it necessary, potentially, to legislate further in order to protect children.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend for—uniquely, it would seem—understanding the gravity of these never-ending

7 July 2014 : Column 38

revelations and the need for transparency and urgency in the investigation of them, and gently regretting the rather partisan approach taken by the shadow Home Secretary, which contrasts with the all-party spirit of the 141 Members who called for the inquiry.

Will the panel have the power to summon evidence and subpoena witnesses, will it be able to go where it needs to go, and, crucially, will it be able to trigger criminal investigations of anyone who is found to be responsible for covering up such acts, rather than just the perpetrators?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I also commend him for the work that he has done for many years, and not just as Minister for Children: I remember how assiduous he was during our time in opposition in trying to ensure that children were properly protected, and that issues such as the abuse and exploitation of children. and their lack of safety, were taken into account and dealt with properly.

If the panel found allegations that it believed would be dealt with more appropriately by the police through a criminal investigation, I would expect the allegations to be passed to the police for that purpose. The panel will be able to call witnesses. Its initial structure will not enable it to require witnesses to come before it, and it will have to consider whether calling a witness would in any way jeopardise or prejudice a criminal investigation that was taking place if that individual was involved in the investigation. However, as I have said, if the chairman decides to recommend that the inquiry panel be turned into a full statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005—which would, of course, have the right to require witnesses to come forward—we will make it absolutely clear that we will go down that route.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): In the early 1990s, I interviewed seven young men in my constituency, all of whom had been victims of child abuse at Bryn Estyn in north Wales. None of them asked for compensation, but all of them said “We want someone to say sorry.” That was uppermost in their minds: they wanted someone to admit that what he or she had done was wrong.

I had to bring parliamentary business to a halt two nights running on the Floor of the House in order to get the main allegations contained in the then secret Jillings report into the public eye. Shortly afterwards a public inquiry was set up, and all talk of that was shut down for three years. I have given evidence to Operation Pallial, one of the inquiries that have been taking place. Can the Home Secretary give any time frame for when it might report? In my view, this has dragged on for far too long.

Mrs May: The right hon. Lady has raised an important point. I cannot give her a time frame for Operation Pallial, in relation to its termination. Obviously it is ongoing, and is dealing with individuals and matters as it comes across them and is able to deal with them. However, I will write to the right hon. Lady about what it has been doing and how long it thinks the process might take.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The police are becoming increasingly successful at breaking up human trafficking rings. Adult victims of human trafficking

7 July 2014 : Column 39

are looked after in safe homes which are run safely and are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. Unfortunately, however, children are given to local authorities to be looked after, and there is evidence that they are often re-trafficked and abused again. Will the Home Secretary consider installing for children a system similar to the one that we have for adults?

Mrs May: The purpose of the child advocate trials that we are introducing is precisely to find out how we can best ensure that child victims of human trafficking are given the support and help that they need. As my hon. Friend has said—and he recognises this through the work that he has done, particularly when he was chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern day slavery—some youngsters sadly find themselves being trafficked again when in local authority care.

This is appalling. I am afraid that over the years this country can take no comfort at all from its record on children in local authority care, and we have seen many appalling cases as a result of that. I hope that the child advocate trials will show us where best practice is and how we can best support these children.

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): I welcome the Home Secretary’s report, and may I suggest that one of the things the inquiry panel might look at is the adequacy, or otherwise, of multiagency activity in pursuing the point she has just made? She has talked twice now about the investigator having determined that files had not been removed deliberately or inappropriately, but she has also said the record of housekeeping on this matter has been varied. Can she tell the House how the investigator determined that these files were not removed deliberately or inappropriately, and if she cannot tell the House that, will the inquiry look specifically into that issue?

Mrs May: The review that will be taking place under the direction of Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, with the support I indicated earlier, will precisely be looking at the investigator’s review to see whether it was conducted properly and whether the information was properly dealt with, and will look at what the Home Office did in relation to the files and so forth. So it is a matter that will be looked at by the review of the review.

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for her important and measured statement. With the apparent loss of in excess of about 100 Home Office documents that are relevant to this statement, current testimonies from past victims take on a greater importance. In view of that, is the Home Secretary satisfied that the police, and in particular the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, have the necessary powers to protect victims from ongoing blackmail? In particular, I gather that there are general concerns around the potential use of photographs and films from the 1970s and ’80s which have now been digitised in order to discourage victims from coming forward.

7 July 2014 : Column 40

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes an important point and, if I may, I will look into the specific issue he has raised about the films or videos from the 1970s which have been digitised. I am satisfied generally that CEOP does have the powers it needs, but he has raised a very specific issue and I will look into it and get back to him.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The three principles of justice for victims, transparency of process and learning the lessons are absolutely right and necessary, but does the Home Secretary not consider that they may not be sufficient unless there is a care package of support attached to the inquiry, because otherwise victims may still feel reluctant in coming forward? She referred earlier to it being for other Departments to look at that; I believe it is for hers.

Mrs May: It is, of course, right that the Home Office is establishing the inquiry panel, and we will be discussing with the inquiry panel what it considers will be necessary for it to be able to ensure it can undertake its investigations and review in the best possible way.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): As someone who called for an overarching review, may I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement? Does she agree that one of the possible causes of the seeming culture of impunity that existed in the ’70s and ’80s was the fact that the courts made no adjustment whatsoever for the evidence of children and young people and there was a statutory requirement that juries in England and Wales had to be warned about the absence of corroborative evidence in sexual complaints?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend’s experience of matters relating to the courts is, of course, greater than mine, but I think he is absolutely right that one of the things that has developed over the years has been a willingness of the criminal justice system as a whole to recognise the need to put in place more specific support for those vulnerable witnesses, to ensure they are able to bring their evidence forward. Of course justice requires that the evidence that people give is appropriately challenged, but it is important that over the years—not just in issues relating to child abuse, but in some other matters as well—the courts have recognised the need to make sure that witnesses are not put off coming forward by what is going to be their experience at trial.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I am still a little unclear as to the scope of the Wanless review into the 114 missing files. The Home Secretary described it as a “review of the review”. Will it have the power to go further and take evidence from other people who may know something about the missing files that was not the subject of the original investigation in 2013?

Mrs May: I have put a copy of the terms of reference of the review in the Library, so it will be possible for the hon. Lady and others to see those. She described it as a review of the 114 files, but it is not a review of the 114 files; it is a review of all the work that was done by the investigator to see how the Home Office handled the letters from Geoffrey Dickens and other information that became known to it to ensure that it was handled appropriately. As I indicated, the review will be looking at other matters that relate to the police and prosecuting

7 July 2014 : Column 41

authorities. It will also look at whether further information is available in relation to the 114 files and whether the original review’s assessment of their significance was reasonable.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Whether in private homes or public institutions, child sex abuse is, sadly, all too prevalent in British society. Therefore, will the Home Secretary look again, for current cases, at the tariff for serious sexual crimes, given that the current tariffs and sentences are clearly not working as a deterrent?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. This is a matter more properly for the Justice Secretary to look at, and I will ensure that it is raised with him.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Operation Fernbridge has been given details of the blocked 1988 investigation into child prostitution, sex rings, prominent people and children’s homes in Lambeth. Can we be certain that it has sufficient resources to see whether those files still exist—and if not, where they have gone—and to prosecute if possible? In addition, this year in Bassetlaw six people have come forward and made allegations of historical child abuse, but there have been no prosecutions, Nottinghamshire police have lost files and Nottinghamshire social services have destroyed files. Will that be in the remit of one of these investigations now taking place?

Mrs May: On the resources available to Operation Fernbridge, it is an operational matter for the commissioner to determine what resources are appropriate for the level of investigation that is necessary. I am sure that we all want the same thing: to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. The whole point of the inquiry panel is to look at lessons learned as a result of these various reviews of historical allegations that have taken place. Obviously, I would expect it to be wide ranging in ensuring that it is indeed identifying all the lessons that need to be learned and the actions that need to be taken.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am happy to call the hon. Gentleman if he can confirm on the record that he was here at the start.

Jason McCartney: Absolutely, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Good. I call Jason McCartney.

Jason McCartney: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Much of Geoffrey Dickens’s former Huddersfield West seat was incorporated into my constituency, so there is much local interest in this in my part of the world. I very much welcome the announcement of today’s independent inquiry. Will the Home Secretary assure me that it will look into all the evidence and all the allegations, no matter how old?

Mrs May: The point is that the inquiry panel should be able to look at historical allegations and identify what lessons need to be learned. As I indicated in response to an earlier question, I think it is appropriate for me to make it clear again that it will not be for the

7 July 2014 : Column 42

inquiry panel to determine a particular allegation; if there is an allegation where a criminal investigation is more appropriate, it should be referred to the police for criminal investigation. It will, however, be looking across the board at these historical allegations and at why so many children in so many different environments—in the care of the state and in other areas—found themselves the victims of this abuse and apparently nothing was done to protect them properly.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Further to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), we know that special branch suppressed files alleging criminality in the Cyril Smith case. Allegations have been made that the intelligence services have been involved in the hushing up of police inquiries. Will the Home Secretary accept in terms, and tell the House today that she accepts completely, that without access to those records, including those of the intelligence services, this new inquiry will not be able to establish the truth?

Mrs May: I had hoped that I had made it clear to the House that it is my intention and expectation that all material, or Government papers, will be made available to the inquiry panel. The caveat that I put on that—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members will recognise this—is that if, when we are dealing with this material, intelligence matters are involved, certain care will have to be taken in the way in which that material is dealt with. I intend that, as far as possible, Government papers will be made available to the inquiry so that that inquiry can come to a proper determination.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): I welcome the inquiry that the Home Secretary has announced. Much of the discussion that we have had today has been around historical cases. Is she confident that if such a bundle of documents were to be handed to her today, it would be treated in a much better manner?

Mrs May: I would hope that, if a similar bundle were handed in to the Home Office today, officials would ensure that those documents went to the police and were properly investigated. In the case of the material that came in to previous Home Secretaries, the evidence of the review was that material that should have been handed to the police was handed to the police, but we will be looking to ensure that that is what actually took place. Obviously, if such material were handed to the Home Office today, I would expect the Home Office to keep appropriate records and ensure that the police were taking those matters on board as appropriate.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): May I press the Home Secretary on the issue of intelligence files? Is she confirming to the House that all special branch files that are not connected to national security will be made available?