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Home Department

Volume 454: debated on Monday 4 December 2006

The Secretary of State was asked—

Terrorism (Police Preparedness)

1. What recent assessment he has made of the preparedness of the police to respond to a terrorist incident in London. (106789)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked me to extend his apologies to the House for not being able to attend Home Office questions today. He is representing the Government at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels.

The Home Secretary and I are updated regularly on police preparedness to respond to a terrorist incident in London or elsewhere by a variety of means.

Just one limited radiological event recently showed just how stretched the police and emergency services have been, and even the most rudimentary dirty bomb would pose problems of a completely different order. Can the Minister explain why there has been only one full radiological exercise in London—and that four years ago?

I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise that the emergency services have been stretched. I have been intimately involved, if I may put it that way, with what the Health Protection Agency, the Atomic Weapons Establishment and a range of other emergency services have been doing in connection with recent incidents, and “stretched” is not a word that I would use.

In the aftermath of a terrorist incident in London—which God forbid—the question of costs would soon arise, as it already has in connection with Operation Overt in Buckinghamshire. Last week, the Prime Minister told our local newspaper, the Bucks Free Press, that central Government should cover the costs of Overt. Can the Minister confirm that that is the Government’s view?

As far as I am aware, we have yet to receive the full application from Thames Valley, but when I visited the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and went around the cordon in what felt like the dead of night, that was certainly the assurance that was given. We will look very closely at any submission from Thames Valley relating specifically to Overt, and will view it in a sympathetic light.

When will the Government make telephone intercept evidence admissible in court so that innocent lives can be saved?

Again, I do not fully accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise. He will know that we are looking very seriously at a range of legal frameworks and models that could be used to protect the substance of what we do with intercept evidence, and a report is due in the fullness of time.

We have considered the issue as part of the overall review of terrorism with which the Prime Minister charged the Home Secretary, and the result of those deliberations will be forthcoming at an appropriate time. That will include the important issue of intercept evidence, but I do not necessarily accept the absolute causal link posited by the hon. Gentleman.

One of the problems that contributed to the tragic shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was lack of communication between the police on the surface and those in the underground. In the event of a de Menezes incident tomorrow, the same limitation would still apply. The police were offered a temporary solution to the problem three years ago. Why has it still not been fixed a year and a half after the de Menezes disaster?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is in the process of being fixed. He makes an entirely fair point—

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he needs to understand all the elements involved in the process. It is being undertaken, it will be undertaken and it should be undertaken, as one of the key lessons learnt from 7 July. In broad terms I entirely agree that this needs to happen as quickly as possible, and it is happening as part of the roll-out of Airwave throughout the country. I am particularly alive to its importance, not least owing to my limited 18-month experience as Minister responsible for transport in London.

That really is not acceptable. The issue has been around, and the vulnerability of the London tube has been known about, since 9/11—since 2001, not since last year. The Government therefore have no excuse.

Let us look at another aspect of the extent of police preparedness. One way to improve the ability of the police both to charge and to convict terrorists—apart from the intercept evidence mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley)—is to allow them to interview terrorist suspects after charge. The Government were offered that option more than a year ago by all Opposition parties. It was non-controversial, it was less draconian than the 90-day period, it would have been very effective in improving both speed of charging and probability of conviction, and it was supported by everyone from Liberty to the Commissioner of the Met. Why has it not yet been implemented?

Again, there are a number of elements in the question to which I would not subscribe. The proposal is being considered as part of a wider review. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, because he is very thoughtful on these matters, post-charge interview is not possible under legislation without at least consideration of the inference drawn from the right to silence. The two go hand in hand.

These matters are being considered, and although it is not definite, we intend to produce at least a preliminary report on the outcome of the review relating to all aspects of terrorism before the break at the end of the year, or very soon thereafter. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that his point, as well as the other point about intercept evidence, will be considered fully. However, neither is quite the panacea that the questions have tried to offer—although I realise that that is not what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting. They may help, which is why they are being considered very seriously.

I shall be happy to report the right hon. Gentleman’s interest to the Home Secretary, who I am sure will wish to discuss matters with him further when the time is right.

Criminal Justice System

2. What progress has been made with the review of rebalancing the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. (106791)

The Home Secretary has set out a substantial programme of reforms, which have time scales for change stretching to 2008 and beyond. We are making good progress in delivering what we said we would deliver and some of the commitments he made in July have already been met, but the collective impact of the programme as a whole will give us the criminal justice system that this country deserves.

In most areas of public services, the community is becoming more and more involved in the design and scrutiny of those services. Criminal justice should be no different. I am particularly interested in the concept of community payback, whereby offenders do compulsory unpaid work in neighbourhoods, with priorities decided by residents. Will the Minister inform the House how that concept is being implemented?

I am happy to do that. Much progress has been made on community payback in terms of visibility to ensure that the public are confident that criminals are delivering projects that the community wants delivered. I assure my hon. Friend that in the north-west much work is being done on community sentencing. The public pick the schemes, the schemes are sent to the magistrates, and the magistrates sentence using those schemes. Then they are carried out, there is an award ceremony and everyone feels the benefit. That is a thoughtful response in relation to the criminal justice system. I hope that we can expand that throughout the country.

What is the Minister doing to cut the huge volume of police paperwork, much of which is driven by the courts? For example, over recent years, the requirements of the courts in respect of disclosure have sometimes resulted in whole man years of police time being used on fishing expeditions on behalf of the defence.

The Home Secretary has, in consultation with Ministers, ensured that we consult the police and all the other bodies that are involved in trying to cut bureaucracy and paperwork, so that the public have confidence in the criminal justice system. That is what we want to try to achieve. We will look at all aspects in trying to reduce bureaucracy and to ensure that the public have every confidence in the system.

Despite the recent highly misleading “Panorama” programme about the probation service in the Bristol area, and indeed the Home Secretary’s unfortunate speech at Wormwood Scrubs, is not the probation service driving down the reoffending rate? Has it not been doing so for some time since the last reform? In that light, does the Minister agree that we should invest more in a publicly run probation service with direct employees, rather than abandoning it to the whims of the market?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in the issues relating to the probation service, and I am happy to put on record the Government’s thanks to the service for the work that it carries out. We are all committed to tackling the reoffending rate, which is around 60 per cent. I know that that figure is disputed by the National Association of Probation Officers, the probation officers union, but we all need to agree that we have to cut reoffending. There has been a 47 per cent. increase in the funding to probation. I want us to look innovatively at unpaid work and at the resettlement of offenders to try to cut reoffending.

Ten days ago, Angela Schumann was sent to prison following her attempt to commit suicide with her two-year-old daughter by throwing herself off the Humber bridge. We also know from the NACRO that three quarters of the schemes to move mentally ill prisoners from prison into specialised facilities are unsuccessful because of lack of beds.

When rebalancing the criminal justice system, will the Minister and his Home Office colleagues look at rebalancing spending priorities and perhaps at using some, if not most, of the £1.5 billion allocated for building to provide yet more overcrowded prison places to expand secure and semi-secure mental health treatment at centres, which do more to cut reoffending and so cut crime?

The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point about how to try to refocus some of the spend. On capacity issues and the prison population, clearly it is right that we protect the public and find the appropriate accommodation for dangerous offenders, but as he says, we need to look at the prison population, how to tackle reoffending and the mental health issues that he raised. I am prepared to look at that, including in discussions with the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), on the Mental Health Bill. Lots more work can be done. We must look at the criminal justice system in a thoughtful way. I am happy to continue discussions with the hon. Gentleman.

Last Friday, Lord Ramsbotham, who has no political axe to grind, described the criminal justice system as being in meltdown after a decade of failure in crime and punishment, and he went on to say that the Government’s handling of it was “absurd. Broken. Chaotic”. To what extent does the Minister think that he can do something about that by not passing legislation in a hyperactive way and by just getting on with the business of mending what his Government have broken?

First, I do not accept what Lord Ramsbotham said. I respect him as a former chief inspector of prisons, but I think he is wrong. I have had a number of opportunities to discuss with him the issues that he raises, and it seems to me that although he might not have any political axe to grind he certainly wants to oppose the Government on every aspect of what we put forward, so I shall find those conversations even more difficult in future.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked what I can do. I will do what the Home Secretary has said should be done, which is to rebalance the criminal justice system by ensuring that where legislation is necessary we bring it forward, but also that where we can make the system work better, we do that.

National Offender Management Service

3. What recent progress he has made on plans for the future of the National Offender Management Service; and if he will make a statement. (106792)

The National Offender Management Service is rolling out offender management in custody and the community. The Offender Management Bill, which will support the development of NOMS, was introduced in the House on 22 November.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be aware—as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary certainly will be—of the arrangements in Scotland that put statutory duties on the probation service to co-operate and work in partnership with other agencies. Why cannot we enter into such arrangements in England and Wales—I think everyone would welcome that, and it would go some way towards achieving the targets being set—rather than implement the current proposals, which, however they are dressed up, will mean that there are significant possibilities of the privatisation of core parts of the probation service?

There are lessons to be learned from Scotland, but there is a different legal system there that cannot apply to the UK. I certainly do not accept—I am thankful for the opportunity to say this—that the proposals under the Offender Management Bill are about privatisation; they are about providing the best value partnership for the public to ensure that we tackle reoffending, which everybody is committed to doing.

The proposals that we are bringing forward—which I am sure we will debate at length and in great detail over coming weeks and months—will give us all an opportunity to look at the real issue, which is that we need to do something different from now on. The status quo cannot continue, and we need to look into the probation service.

Is the Minister aware of the report published last week by the Responsible Authorities Group on the effect of local drug rehabilitation services in Weston-super-Mare, about which I have written to the Home Secretary? Does the Minister share my concern that it says that three people who were sent by the probation service for drug addiction treatment in Weston-super-Mare in the last year have died as a result of poor management of their cases by the national probation service, and will he undertake to visit Weston-super-Mare to understand what is going on there—and, potentially, to improve the service?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I am not aware of the letter to the Home Secretary, but I will look into that, and if it is pertinent for me to visit Weston-super-Mare, I will be happy to do so.

I tabled a written parliamentary question regarding continuing consultation with the National Association of Probation Officers—the representative body for probation officers—and I was somewhat surprised to receive the answer that there has been very little of late. Is it not still, at this eleventh hour, worth going back to NAPO to see whether it is possible to get a proper evolutionary change, rather than what might come forward next Monday?

I do not know where my hon. Friend got that answer, but I have certainly met NAPO on numerous occasions and will continue to do so. It is important that the style of our operation should be that we get to the core of the issues. Clearly, NAPO has its members to protect and it is prepared to stick out to protect them in all circumstances; that is its role. Our role should be to tackle reoffending. We need to look at the best ways we can achieve that.

I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) that this operation is not about privatisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) knows that organisations such as the NACRO and Shelter have great expertise in resettlement. Surely he is not arguing against such bodies being allowed to look into resettlement and doing work that the probation service currently does. These issues are important. If we are serious about tackling reoffending, we have to ensure that we get the best possible services for the public.

As the Minister has rightly said, cutting the reoffending rate is clearly of the essence. Given that the governor of Polmont young offenders institution has stated publicly on the record that his speech and language therapist is his single most important member of staff—in enabling boys to access education in order to express their needs, that therapist is vital to their rehabilitation—will the Minister look sympathetically at amending the forthcoming Bill to commit the Government to ensuring that a speech and language therapist is deployed by every young offenders institution in this country?

Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important subject. In this regard, I agree with Lord Ramsbotham, who is also pushing the issue. During the Bill’s progress, I shall be happy to consider ways in which we can improve the situation regarding speech therapy. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are implications for the Department of Health and for the Department for Education and Skills, and I am happy to discuss the matter with other Ministers to see what progress can be made.

I share the Minister’s desire to open up the provision of probation services to a wider range of organisations, but does he share my view that, because many local authorities already have responsibility for housing, training, employment and community facilities, they are ideally placed to be providers of some NOMS services and to bring the different agencies together? Will he confirm that the NOMS Bill will enable local authorities to put themselves forward as new providers?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, for raising the issue of the role of local authorities. It seems to me that once someone becomes an offender, they are forgotten, or seen as something different, by our communities, and he is right to say that local authorities have a key role to play here. I was pleased to see that, two weeks ago, the Local Government Association produced a pamphlet called “Neighbourhood to Neighbourhood”. That is the first time in my memory that local government has accepted its responsibilities in dealing with offenders, including by using its expertise in housing, social services and many other areas. I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a core issue, and I can assure him that we will look at it and that the NOMS Bill will give local authorities the opportunity to be involved.

Tackling Crime

The latest published British crime survey figures show that crime has come down by 35 per cent. since 1997. We are determined to reduce the harm that drug and alcohol-related crime causes communities, and to tackle problems of most concern. Our focus on the most violent crimes remains our top priority. The Government have a broad range of programmes in place that focus on those most at risk of offending, including young people.

Last week, two of my constituents, aged 17 and 18—two young murderers—were convicted and sentenced to life for killing Tom ap Rhys Price, who was murdered just outside an underground station. Further, a 17-year-old was arrested for shooting a 16-year-old. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although we are showing that we are tough on crime and the causes of crime, we need to introduce more preventive measures, perhaps encourage initiatives such as Brent’s “Not Another Drop” campaign and the Damilola Taylor Trust’s “Respect Your Life Not A Knife” campaign, and spend more on youth services? Will he also join me in—

I am aware of the tragic events to which my hon. Friend refers, and our sympathies are indeed with the families of those victims. In particular, I pay tribute to the approach taken by the family and fiancée of Tom ap Rhys Price following his tragic death. I also commend my hon. Friend, who works with the various groups in her constituency to tackle these difficult issues and to prevent any further such tragedies.

Since the 2005 Budget, the Home Office has invested an additional £45 million in specific targeted programmes to prevent offending and antisocial behaviour. Those programmes, which are indeed delivered through local youth offending teams, are focused on those children and young people most at risk of offending, as identified locally by a range of agencies. We support local projects working on knife crime through the Connected Fund, and other initiatives working through the “Be Safe” programmes, which are educating young people on the risks and consequences of carrying knives. We are also supporting the Damilola Taylor Trust campaign. I understand—

The Minister will know that there are more than 1 million class A drug users in this country, probably 250,000 of whom fund their habit through acquisitive crime. Many of them are dependent on heroin and are very young. Does she accept that that is a tragedy? Does she further accept that the best way to treat those people is to put them into residential rehab? Is it not the case that we are far too short of residential rehab beds and that the funding—I am told by so many in that service—is drying up? Can she help?

Of course we acknowledge the link between drugs and crime, but the statistics and the evidence indicate that acquisitive crime is falling. The hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a significant reduction in crime overall. The drug interventions programme involves criminal justice and treatment agencies working together with other services to provide a tailored solution for adults, and we are seeing some significant results. Although residential rehabilitation has its place, he should look at the evidence and information about the drug interventions programme and the success we are seeing there.

Contrary to what is often said in the media, violent crime has fallen significantly in recent years, as have other crimes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the British crime survey shows that violent crime has nearly halved since a peak in 1995. He will also be aware that since 1997 we have introduced more than 14,000 extra police officers to tackle all kinds of crime. They are delivering results. That is not to say that there is no serious crime, and we are prioritising serious and violent crime, but we should pay tribute to the work that our police forces are doing in tackling those issues.

Is my hon. Friend aware that drug taking is increasing among Asian youths, drawing them further into criminal activities? What is she doing to tackle that growing new problem?

As I have said, we are aware of the strong link between drugs and crime. At local level, youth crime prevention programmes are delivering results. However, in relation to a specific community, it is important that we keep under constant review whether all communities have access to the programmes that I have mentioned and whether they are delivering equally for them all. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those issues in relation to Asian youth.

Police Force Amalgamations

5. What recent representations he has received on the reimbursement of costs arising from aborted police force amalgamations. (106794)

Since the announcement on 30 October 2006 of the contributions being offered to police authorities for their additional costs, we have received a small number of representations on this issue from hon. Members, police authorities and police forces, and from members of the public seeking clarification of the offers being made.

Will the Minister please convey to the Home Secretary my congratulations on his having again managed to escape a pending fiasco? I thank him for providing Lincolnshire with £287,000, but does the Minister recognise that the aborting of the shambles of the merger of the provincial police forces has been damaging to police morale, as well as costing the taxpayer £4 million?

Given the fact, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, that Lincolnshire asked for £287,600, which included funding for a range of ongoing projects to do with the whole of the east midlands, and that the Government gave the force £287,600, I shall, despite his tiresome, overblown rhetoric, take that as a thank you.

The issue of amalgamations may have gone, but the issues that they were designed to address have not necessarily disappeared. In all my conversations with West Midlands police, I found that they were keen on amalgamation. Can my hon. Friend assure me that everything is being done by other means, including voluntary co-operation between police forces, to address the gaps in provision outlined in the report that underpinned amalgamation?

To be entirely fair to even the most vociferous critics of the proposals for strategic forces, nobody resiled from the notion that there were gaps at protective service level and that they had to be filled. Certainly, since we stepped away from the policy in the summer, there have been extensive meetings with the West Midlands force and others, both in the Home Office and elsewhere in the country. My hon. Friend makes a very serious point about the fact that the gaps in protective—level 2—services have not diminished; they are still there and will be addressed in the ways he suggests.

Is the Minister aware that there is real anger in my constituency and throughout Cambridgeshire, as people of all parties feel that my local constabulary has been robbed of £142,000—money that could have been spent on five or six beat bobbies patrolling the streets, tackling violent crime and other issues in my constituency? Is not it the fact that there was never any real academic or empirical evidence to support the decision to press ahead with regional police forces? Why does not the Minister have the courage of his convictions and admit that fact?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong in his language and entirely wrong about the final recommendations of the O’Connor report. We have said clearly that we think that strategic forces are indeed the answer. Others have said that they think there are other ways to address the real gaps, which everybody recognises are there. It is time for all forces to consider how to fill those gaps short of merged forces. In a debate on law and order, the hon. Gentleman should not use the word “robbed” so carelessly.

I wonder whether the Minister can help me, as I am a little confused. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) proposed the mergers, I was opposed to them, and some of our mutual friends accused me of not supporting Government policy. As the mergers are not coming about, am I now supporting Government policy, and will the Minister ensure that my council tax payers in Essex are fully reimbursed for campaigning against that foolhardy and ill-thought-out proposal?

We said clearly that, for the additional costs sustained by activity on mergers, councils or police authorities will be duly compensated.

Duly compensated in the context of the criteria that we laid down. By the by, nearly all authorities have accepted precisely what was offered to them.

My hon. Friend may be, in the sense that in a very mature and reflective way the Government have listened to the debate and to what many police authorities and forces said.

Many police forces—not all, by the by, but certainly more than Lancashire and Cumbria—were in favour of merger, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) suggested. However, having listened to the substantive debate, forces and others said that there were other ways to meet the protective services gaps and we are now involved in that exercise. I said clearly on the day that we stepped away from the enforced merger policy that it was for police authorities, working with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Government, to make it clear to all communities up and down the country that they can fill the gaps in ways other than enforced mergers. If they do, all well and good; if they do not, it may be something that we revisit.

Only two thirds of the merger costs incurred by police authorities have actually been reimbursed. In any case, that money should never have been spent on ill-conceived merger plans and management consultants. It should have been spent on policing. How can the Minister justify that waste of millions of pounds when he is reneging on funding for police community support officers, so there will now be 8,000 fewer of them on the streets than the Government pledged in their manifesto just 18 months ago?

On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, let us be clear that, if it were left to the Conservatives, there would be minus 24,000 and no police community support officers at all. PCSOs are doing a very good job, supplementing police forces up and down the country, not least in his constituency. I do not accept the starting premise of his question—that two thirds of merger costs were not reimbursed. Two thirds of applications put in that included merger costs were not imbursed. Over 20 of the 43 forces received their reimbursement in full. We said clearly from the start that we would not allow opportunity and other costs to be thrown in for the hell of it so that forces could accrue more moneys. We have had a range of meetings since the summer and it is entirely wrong of the hon. Gentleman to suggest that much of the work done during the mergers was wasted. Forces up and down the country are making significant advances in filling in the gaps in protective services precisely because of the work that was done over the summer and before.

Alcohol-related Crime

According to the British crime survey 2005-06, published on 20 July 2006, victims believed the offender or offenders to be under the influence of alcohol in 44 per cent. of all violent incidents—approximately the same level as for 2004-05. The offender was judged to be under the influence of alcohol in 54 per cent. of incidents of stranger violence—a decrease from 60 per cent. in 2004-05.

Those figures back up my concern based on my constituency experience that insufficient priority is being given to provide treatment programmes for those addicted to alcohol. That is given much lower priority than treatments for those addicted to illegal drugs. Will the Minister look again at the need for increasing funding for treatment programmes for those addicted to alcohol—both for health reasons and to reduce the crime figures?

We are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that dependent drinkers get the treatment that they need. We also have an alcohol harm reduction strategy, which is about not only tackling those who are dependent on drink, but changing the culture and doing something about binge drinking. My hon. Friend will know that recently we launched an advertising campaign called “Know Your Limits”, which set out to do something about that. I can also tell her that we are considering introducing an alcohol interventions programme, which might include referrals from alcohol-related offences for health treatment, counselling and other such support.

My hon. Friend will have read reports over the weekend about a minority of criminals with serious mental health problems committing serious crimes. Some 10 years ago, the Department of Health was concerned about double diagnosis, where mental health patients in the community were also becoming alcoholic. Such a dual diagnosis must surely be a contributory factor to that serious crime, so is my hon. Friend monitoring the situation?

We are, indeed, monitoring it. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), the criminal justice system reform document, “Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System in Favour of the Law-Abiding Majority” looked into how to use an alcohol intervention programme to support people who need help, following alcohol-related disorder. I said that we are also working with the Department of Health with respect to alcoholism where people are dependent on drink. We are very much aware of the problem and we are also reviewing the alcohol harm reduction strategy. We know that alcohol is an important issue and we want to see what more we can do to tackle it.

Has the Minister made any assessment of the link between alcohol abuse and the use of knives in committing serious offences?

I am not aware that we have done any specific research into that, but we are, of course, tackling alcohol-related violence wherever it occurs, and we have introduced a number of measures to deal with it. We have recently increased the maximum sentence available to the courts for the possession of a knife from two years to four. As I have said, we are determined to crack down on violence, whether alcohol-related or involving the use of knives, or whatever.

Illegal Immigrants (Employment)

To strengthen the existing powers to prosecute and fine the employers of illegal migrant workers, we took action in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 to introduce a system of civil penalties for careless employers and a criminal offence of knowingly employing illegal workers. That will come into force by the end of 2007.

Does the Minister agree that certain sectors of industry lend themselves to that kind of abuse more readily than others? Coming from the construction industry, I have considerable experience of that sector. Does he agree that the construction industry is just such a sector? What is he doing and who is he speaking to in the trade unions, trade bodies and other appropriate organisations and Departments to try to halt such abuse?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. We are working with a wide range of employers and the CBI, as well as with trade unions, to understand how we can come down much harder on the cause of illegal immigration, which is obviously not the great British weather, but the opportunity to work in a sustained and growing economy. That is not only why we are doubling the resources that we are investing in enforcement and removal, but why we are proposing a new package of measures, so that those employers who break the rule, undercut competitors and employ people illegally will now face not only civil penalties, but where necessary, unlimited fines and imprisonment.

The Minister must be aware that there is not a Member who does not have within their constituency those who have applied for asylum who often have to wait months, sometimes years, for their asylum applications to be dealt with and, likewise, those who have had their asylum applications turned down who are, again, held in limbo for some considerable time before being removed from the country. Invariably and inevitably, those people are sucked into the black economy. Is not the reason for illegal immigrants simply that the Home Office and the immigration and nationality directorate have not got a grip on the asylum system?

Far be it from me to intrude into the fantasy life of another hon. Member, but if the House will permit me a brief intervention, it is fanciful to argue that we can tackle illegal immigration while opposing penalties for smuggling people in, as the Conservative party did in 1999; while opposing the simplification of the appeals process in 2004; and while proposing to halve, by £900 million, the budget for the IND and to vote against ID cards, too. All those measures are required to police illegal working and illegal immigration in a modern economy. Yes, we need to increase resources. That is why we will double resources over the next few years. Yes, we need to change the law, and proposals will come into place in 2007. But let us not pretend that the kind of measures proposed by the Conservative party would have any impact whatsoever.

Will the situation not be made much worse by the Minister’s decision on Romania and Bulgaria, whereby EU citizens from some countries will be prevented from working, whereas citizens from other countries, such as Poland and Hungary, are allowed to work? Does that not create enormous confusion in the minds of employers? What steps will he take to ensure that he publicises those changes, rather than concentrating on removal, to make employers more aware of the situation, rather than acting in a way that could cause even greater problems for the operation of the lamentable immigration and nationality directorate?

There are very few things about which I disagree with my right hon. Friend but, unfortunately, this is one of them. As he will know, the question that all EU countries must confront upon the accession of Bulgaria and Romania is not whether to lift restrictions on their labour markets but how quickly to lift them over the next four or five years. The decision that we took—it commanded some support not only in the business community, but in the House—was that we should not throw the door open very quickly, but gradually.

We need to understand the impact of the last wave of accession. My right hon. Friend is right to say that it is important that we help employers to understand their obligations. That is precisely why I wrote to 500,000 of them over the last few weeks. We will spend significant amounts more over the next few months so that employers know their obligations. He alluded to an important point: without a means of establishing someone’s identity in this modern economy, the job is difficult. That is why we need ID cards.

One has to admire the Minister’s chutzpah in criticising employers of illegal immigrants when one of the employers caught using illegal immigrant cleaners was the Home Office in July. Tonight, a BBC “Panorama” special will expose how ridiculously easy it is to obtain a fake passport from another EU country and to be allowed freely into this country with it. Will he tell the House what penalty is appropriate for an employer who relies on that same fake passport as evidence of the right to work and will he not admit that the biggest problem is not the employers, but the fact that the Government’s system of border control has been exposed as completely inadequate?

The hon. Gentleman will know something about this matter, because the Opposition abstained on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act in 2005. The Act proposed a penalty for knowingly employing illegal immigrants and introduced new sanctions of unlimited fines, and imprisonment. The premise of his point is wrong. Business in this country has a responsibility to help to police illegal immigration. That is precisely why the CBI has joined with us, so that it can help draw up the rules that drive out bad employers. He is right to say that we must strengthen border controls—indeed we must, but that is exactly why biometric identity systems will be so important, not just for British nationals, but for foreign nationals and those who seek to visit this country from abroad. Over the months to come, as we debate the matter over and again, I anticipate that many members of the Opposition will join the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who made it clear on the radio a year or two ago that, where the police have said that they see a case for using ID cards to tackle illegal immigration, he believes that that is true.

What is my hon. Friend doing about people who have been granted leave to stay and allowed to take employment, but whose span of time has run out and who are waiting to renew that permission? Many employers are letting those people go.

We have a number of measures in place, but, ultimately, there is no substitute for a big expansion in the available resources to police that. That is why I am glad that we were able to take the first step a week or two ago, outlining plans to hire 800 extra officers and investigators to uncover those businesses that break the rules. The transformation and overhaul of the IND will not be done overnight. It will take place over months and years to come. Ultimately, there will be no substitute for that in tackling the problems that my hon. Friend outlines.

Northamptonshire Police

8. If he will take steps to prevent the loss of police officer posts from the Northamptonshire police in 2007-08. (106797)

It is for Northamptonshire police authority to set the budget and, with the chief constable, decide on police officer and police staff numbers and on their deployment.

That is a disappointing and complacent reply. There is strong local concern, because the way in which the present police funding formula works means that Northamptonshire faces the loss of between 30 and 42 full-time police officers next year. Will the Minister meet a delegation of hon. Members, the police force and the police authority so that we can get to the bottom of this serious financial crisis?

I will be happy to consider that, if the hon. Gentleman gets his facts right. If the formula had been strictly applied, it would have meant £600,000 less for Northamptonshire in 2007-08, so it has benefited from the 3.6 per cent. flat level.

The biggest problem faced by my constituents in Northamptonshire, on some of the more difficult estates, is that there is not the same uniformed presence that exists elsewhere. That is because the Conservative-controlled county council decided to pool the funding for police community support officers and cut funding for youth services, so that it could keep council tax down. Will the Minister ensure that the Opposition take the battle against crime and the causes of crime seriously?

I can only agree with my hon. Friend and thank her for her comments. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) cannot even get his facts right, let alone represent the concerns of the people in Northampton as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) does.

It is interesting that the Minister picks one statistic for one year. If he were being totally informative, he would have mentioned that year after year the police in Northamptonshire have been underfunded by the national formula. This Government have cut millions and millions of pounds from the funding. Is that not a disgrace, and should he not apologise for it?

The hon. Gentleman’s feigned anger shows again that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is exactly right. Tweedledee and Tweedledum here are not serious about properly representing the people of Northamptonshire, whereas she clearly is.

Identity Cards

From the start of the 2003-04 financial year, up to the end of September 2006, a total of £58.2 million was spent by the Home Office on the identity cards scheme.

Given that the huge cost is one of the reasons why so many people are rightly sceptical about the ID cards scheme, why are the Government so unwilling to publish the gateway reviews and come clean about the true accumulated cost of the project?

I note with interest that the Liberal Democrats’ website says that they:

“Support the inclusion of biometrics in passports…as a means of combating…illegal immigration, terrorism and fraud.”

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have read the cost report that we laid before the House not too long ago and he will remember that about 70 per cent. of the costs set out in it will be incurred anyway as we upgrade our identity systems to support biometric passports as well. He is looking for some Christmas reading, so he will be delighted to know that, just before Christmas, we will publish our action plan for identity cards, together with detailed plans about how we will use biometric identity systems to tackle illegal immigration, a cause to which I am delighted that he subscribes.

When the report is published, will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that cost does not stop terrorists or illegal immigrants coming into this country? When he examines such things, he should remember the needs of the people of this country before he starts listening to the wishy-washy Liberals.

Recently, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), gave me a written answer saying that no costs had been calculated for the deployment of ID cards in the private sector—indeed, all the cost estimates so far have been only in respect of the Home Office. Is any quotation of possible savings from the introduction of ID cards not ludicrous until a full and comprehensive cost estimate is provided for not only the private sector, but the full public sector and not just the Home Office?

The private sector will make investments in exploiting ID cards as it sees fit and when it sees a net positive business case for doing so. We are fulfilling our obligation to the House to provide six-monthly estimates of the costs as we see them. When we laid the cost report before the House not long ago, we took the opportunity to set out the net benefit case. The net benefit stood at between £1 billion and £1.7 billion a year, in addition to helping our ability to strengthen controls, tackle illegal immigration and identity fraud, and disrupt terrorism.

North Yorkshire Police

10. What assessment he has made of the recently completed baseline assessment report on the North Yorkshire police; and if he will make a statement. (106799)

The baseline assessment forms an integral part of the police performance assessment for each force, which we published in October. North Yorkshire was assessed as doing better than its peers in most areas, and had demonstrated improvements compared with last year.

I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating North Yorkshire police on its success. Last year, the number of police officers in the county increased by almost 100, which was one reason why the total amount of crime in the county fell. However, the number of crimes varies enormously from one community to another. There were 3,949 crimes in York’s city-centre Guildhall ward compared with only 121 in York’s rural Wheldrake ward. Will the Government continue to target extra resources on fighting crime in the inner-city hot spots in police areas that are predominantly rural in character?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating North Yorkshire on its performance. I take his point about the rural-urban dichotomy in crime, which is startling in North Yorkshire’s case. I know that the North Yorkshire force has already put in place the architecture for neighbourhood policing and that will be implemented in full during the rest of the year and beyond. I have no doubt that City of York will get its fair share, and that will reflect the crime levels there, as opposed to other parts of North Yorkshire.

I congratulate North Yorkshire police on reducing crime overall, but does the Minister share my concern about the fact that violent and sexual crimes in North Yorkshire are on the increase, and that antisocial behaviour has reached unacceptable levels in the rural wards of market towns such as Thirsk, Bedale, Boroughbridge and Easingwold? What are the Government doing to allow the provision of community support officers to continue under North Yorkshire’s budget, and what extra finances will they give the force?

I am happy to join the hon. Lady in congratulating North Yorkshire on its performance, and I am equally happy to congratulate her on hopefully staying in north Yorkshire, albeit in the constituency next door to hers. I take her points seriously, as does the chief constable of North Yorkshire. On every front—on violent crime, antisocial behaviour or the elements alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley)—North Yorkshire is on the case. Resources, as reflected in the recent police settlement, are still going up, and are going in the right direction.

Drug Rehabilitation Programmes

11. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of drug rehabilitation programmes in prisons and young offender institutions. (106800)

Research shows that drug treatment programmes in prison can reduce the reoffending rate by 10 to 15 per cent. below predicted levels, when effective aftercare arrangements are made. The Government have boosted funding for prison drug treatment significantly since 1997. It is up by 738 per cent., and a comprehensive framework is in place to provide treatment based on individual need.

Given the importance of the issue, is the Minister aware that London prisons receive only 5 per cent. of the drug rehabilitation provision offered to those in the community? Why, then, have the Government cut the very programme introduced to plug the gap, namely the integrated drug treatment system, by some 60 per cent.?

I do not accept that we have cut the programme. We are trying to get the most, and most effective, treatment for offenders, both in prison and outside. As for the figures, as I said, there has been a 738 per cent. increase since 1997 and clinical services are up by 483 per cent., so we cannot be charged with not trying to deal with drugs in prison. We certainly have a good record on what we are trying to achieve.

May we have an investigation into the distressingly large number of addicts who die shortly after being released from prison? In a recent case in my constituency, a young addict was forcibly detoxed, against his wishes and those of his family. The result was that he died on the day when he was released from prison. He took what was probably his usual dose of drugs, but his body was no longer tolerant to it. Should we not treat drug addicts with the same humanity as we do those who are addicted to alcohol?

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we try to support offenders in any way that we can, particularly those with drugs problems. That is why we made the investment that we did. I am happy to speak to him about the case that he mentioned, and, obviously, if any lessons can be learned, we will learn them.

Immigration (UK Skills Shortages)

12. What recent estimate he has made of the number of workers from Romania and Bulgaria required to satisfy current UK skills shortages when developing his Department’s proposed restrictions on such immigration. (106801)

We have made it clear, not least during this afternoon’s questions, that we will impose controls on Romania and Bulgaria’s access to jobs for a transitional period. The opening of our labour market will take account of the needs of our labour market, the impact of the A10 expansion and the positions adopted by other member states.

Is the Minister aware of concerns in my constituency about the number of workers who may come to Britain from Romania and Bulgaria who will be unskilled or semi-skilled, rather than the skilled people that the country needs? Will she deny the suggestion, emanating from her own Department, that some 45,000 undesirables could well come to the country as a result of her policies?

Those coming from Romania and Bulgaria do not have any automatic right to work. Although we have not placed restrictions on skilled workers from Romania and Bulgaria, we will double enforcement and ensure that anyone who works does so legally. If they do not do so, sanctions will be enforced.