Edward Argar debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

Oral Answers to Questions

Edward Argar Excerpts
Tuesday 10th January 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
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13. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling rural crime.

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has regular meetings with Cabinet colleagues and others to ensure a joined-up approach to tackling crime, including rural crime. Rural crime has a huge impact on those individuals and communities affected, which is why prevention, policing and prosecution are all vital to tackling rural crime, which remains a priority.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski
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I thank the Minister for that answer. I raise the question on behalf of Councillor Dan Morris and Stuart Jones, who are both farmers in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agreed that rural crime is often linked to organised crime groups who target and exploit rural communities across a range of crime types, such as organised plant and livestock theft, burglary targeting firearms, fly-tipping and poaching? Sentencing needs to reflect the serious organised criminality involved in these offences.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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My hon. Friend highlights a number of crimes that particularly impact rural communities—crimes highlighted in the National Police Chiefs’ Council strategy on rural crime. It is important that the courts have appropriate sentences available to them. Although sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the judiciary, sentencing guidelines are clear that offending that involves a high degree of planning or that is committed for profit, as is often seen in organised crime, will attract tougher sentences.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Hudson
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Rural and wildlife crime sadly continues to affect our local communities, from theft of farm machinery, fly-tipping and vandalism to the distressing theft of animals and animal cruelty. These are just some of the issues facing rural areas. Cumbria has the excellent Cumbria farm watch and horse watch schemes—partnerships between people and Cumbria police. What reassurances can my hon. Friend give my constituents that the Government are supporting the police and communities in the fight against rural crime?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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My hon. Friend is right to highlight the work going on in Cumbria. I pay tribute to the work of the police and crime commissioner Peter McCall and Cumbria police to tackle rural crime through Operation Lantern. Alongside Government investment in 20,000 more police officers nationally, we are supporting the police through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 by introducing new hare coursing offences and supporting the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) to prevent quad bike theft.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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Fly-tipping has doubled in Barnsley during the last year, costing the local council nearly £200,000 to deal with. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues across Government to ensure that fines and sentences for fly-tipping are a strong enough deterrent?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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The hon. Lady is quite right to highlight a rural crime that blights both rural and urban communities, but predominantly rural communities including mine in Leicestershire. We have regular discussions with colleagues in both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about issues such as this. I am happy to meet her in due course if she wants to highlight any cases.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister for his answer to those questions. Back home in Northern Ireland the Ulster Farmers Union, in which I declare an interest as a member, have regular meetings with the Police Service of Northern Ireland to put invisible markings on machinery and to have visibility on tractors. One of the big problems is machinery from Northern Ireland and from the UK mainland going down to the Republic of Ireland. Has the Minister had any opportunity to talk to the Garda Síochána to work across the border to ensure that those criminal gangs involved in machinery theft are curtailed?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I have not had any direct discussions with the Garda on this matter, but in looking at the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s rural crime strategy I have seen the work being done in Northern Ireland to highlight exactly the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises—both marking and the challenges around farm machinery. If he wants to write to me with further details from his constituency perspective, I would be very happy to receive that.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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3. What recent progress he has made on tackling the backlog of court cases.

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Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) (Lab)
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20. What steps he is taking to support victims in the criminal justice system.

Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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In May, we published our landmark draft Victims Bill and a wider package of measures to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. The Bill will enshrine the overarching principles of the victims code in primary legislation, increase oversight of criminal justice agencies’ treatment of victims and enable improvements in the quality and consistency of victim support services. The Bill will be introduced as swiftly as parliamentary time allows. Alongside those measures, we are more than quadrupling the funding for victim and witness support services by 2024-25.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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The reality is that victims are not being supported. My constituent, Mr Singh, is subject to identity theft. He and his family have been held by Border Force, his immigration status is in jeopardy, his family are being placed in danger and his health records are in utter chaos. Various Ministers, Secretaries of State and one of our recent Prime Ministers have all promised action, yet not one of them has bothered to honour their word. Will anyone in this Government help Mr Singh?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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The hon. Lady and I have worked together on previous cases. While I suspect that some elements of what she is referring to come under other Departments, hence her involving the Prime Minister and others, I am happy to meet with her to see if there is something I can do to assist.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan
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Only 1.5% of recorded rapes result in a charge, compared with 5.4% of all other crimes. Does the Minister accept responsibility for this, and for so badly letting down victims?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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We all have a shared desire to improve victims’ experiences, particularly in cases of rape and serious sexual offences. The rape review action plan set out the steps we are taking, and we are seeing continued increases and improvement in respect of total police referrals, receipts for a charge, CPS charges and Crown court receipts. There is more still to do. We are ambitious to go further, but we are making good progress and we will continue to focus on this.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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I thank the Lord Chancellor for meeting with Claire, the mother of Sharlotte-Sky, before the Christmas recess to hear about the pain and anguish she has suffered through the criminal justice system in order to get justice for her daughter, who was tragically killed in Norton Green in 2021. As the Lord Chancellor heard, the problem with this case is around the taking and testing of blood when it comes to death by dangerous driving. Can we have a review to ensure that blood can be tested regardless of consent to speed up answers for victims and help police to find answers to those problems quicker?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being able to attend that meeting as I was caught in another meeting. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has related that meeting to me, however, and I know that he and we reflect carefully on the points made in it.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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6. For what reason he triggered Operation Safeguard in November 2022.

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Edward Argar Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Edward Argar)
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We are determined to reduce any unnecessary bureaucratic barriers that make it harder for our police, and our criminal justice system more broadly, to work as effectively as possible. Although I am not aware of any discussions about the specific issue that my hon. Friend mentions, or about the section 29 exemption for policing under the DPA, I am aware that the Police Federation is doing some work on the issue. If he is willing to write to me with more details, I am very happy to look into the matter further.

Ian Lavery Portrait Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab)
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T10. Figures unearthed by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) show that the Prison Service has lost more than 99,000 years of prison officer experience since 2010. That is startling. Is this absolute failure of Government policy what has caused the current state of chaos and crisis in His Majesty’s Prison Service?