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Home Department

Volume 457: debated on Monday 19 February 2007

The Secretary of State was asked—

Identity Cards

The Government remain committed to the introduction of identity cards, which are essential in combating identity fraud and illegal immigration and in disrupting organised crime and the continued threat of terrorism. We shall start introducing biometric immigration documents for foreign nationals from 2008 and ID cards for British citizens from 2009.

How much do the Government intend to spend this year on the introduction of ID cards, and what is the latest estimate of the total cost of the scheme? Will the hon. Gentleman not accept even now that this enormously expensive and ineffectual scheme would be much better scrapped and the money spent on building prison places so that he does not have to go on releasing violent offenders to commit still more offences?

Three points are relevant. First, 70 per cent. of the costs of identity cards will be spent anyway on introducing biometric passports. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would want us to scrap biometric passports, because 53 of the 55 major passport-issuing countries propose to introduce those documents. I am sure that, like me, he would not want a British passport to become a second-class document in the world.

Secondly, we will present costs, as we are required to do, in April. We present an updated cost report every six months, as is required under the Identity Cards Act 2006. Finally, let us consider the alternative. If we cancelled the system that underpins ID cards, we would be cancelling the system that underpins biometric visas, ID cards for foreign nationals and biometric passports. That would render us defenceless in the war against illegal immigration.

I surveyed my constituents on the issue and received more than 700 responses. Of the people in East Dunbartonshire who responded, 87 per cent. said that they would rather the money was spent on more police in their community than on the Government’s ID cards project. When will the Government realise that their plans for ID cards are unnecessary, unwanted and undeniably a complete waste of money?

I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to a slightly wider-ranging survey than the survey that she conducted in her constituency—the British social attitudes survey. According to that survey, over the last couple of weeks, 71 per cent. of the British public have said that ID cards are a good idea. I am with them. I am one of those who think that if a person has nothing to hide, they will not be worried about ID cards.

The Government say that they believe that ID cards will help in the fight against terrorism. Spain has ID cards, yet it became the victim of the atrocious bombings that took place in Madrid. What is the compelling case for the use of ID cards in the fight against terrorism?

We have always been clear that the role of ID cards will be to disrupt terrorist activities. The hon. Gentleman will know, because it has been said in the House before, that al-Qaeda training manuals specifically encourage terrorists or would-be terrorists to adopt as many identities as possible to hide themselves from the security services and the law. Biometric ID cards carry a single important advantage, which is that they lock the individual down to a single identity, so that such fraud becomes harder, if not impossible, in the future.

The Minister said that 70 per cent. of the costs of ID cards would be covered by biometric passports. How is it possible to make that assertion when we still have no information from the Government on the technical costs of the ID cards project and when there is still a vast discrepancy between the cost estimates? The estimate from the Government is £5.4 billion and up to £19 billion is estimated by the London School of Economics. Does that not give rise to the suspicion that the costs of biometric passports are being artificially inflated to give an impression that the cost of the ID cards project is lower? When will the Minister publish a full comparative analysis of the costs of both projects?

The hon. Gentleman would be wise not to pray in aid the LSE report, which ignored research from the National Physical Laboratory, exaggerated the cost of verifying identity information and had some pretty basic problems with its maths. It overstated the number of people who might have problems giving biometric data by an extraordinary 1,800 per cent., so I am not sure that that is the report to pray in aid in support of the hon. Gentleman’s argument. We publish reports every six months. It is absolutely right that we bring such accountability and transparency to the project. We will publish the next report in April.

En passant, I notice that not a single Labour Member has stood to support the Minister, despite his comments about the support for his case.

In December, the Home Secretary announced that the ID card system was to be based on the Department for Work and Pensions customer information system database. That is the national insurance number system. There are in existence 76 million supposedly valid national insurance numbers—29 million more than there are eligible British citizens in the United Kingdom, which is more than the population of Romania and four times the population of Bulgaria. How does the Minister think that that flawed database is a suitable foundation for an ID card system, which is, after all, supposed to prevent identity fraud?

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman started with a survey of the support that there is for the scheme—[Interruption.] Well, let us talk about the support on each side of the House. Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who chairs the Conservative policy review group, said:

“Identity theft is a significant area of crime and the measures we have of establishing identity are inadequate. We should not be stupid about that.”

We will put in place two systems in order to underpin the national identity register. One is the DWP’s CIS index, which is a tried and tested system and operates at very high volumes. The second is the new biometric warehouse. The link between the two will establish one single record in both systems. That is the right approach because it is lower risk and will make it possible to bring in the project in a shorter time. The system will use tried and tested technology. I repeat: to shut down that system will render us defenceless against tackling illegal immigration. We will use the same system to process biometric visas, tougher checks for people abroad and ID cards for foreign nationals in the United Kingdom.

Answer was there none. The Minister described the database as tried and tested. The Government themselves have already admitted that they have issued up to 300,000 national insurance numbers to foreign nationals every year and that over 98 per cent. of those are issued without any check whatever on immigration status. That is part of the reason why, under that so-called tried and tested system, we wrongly spent £4.5 million in tax credits to immigrants in one year alone. Rather than protect against identity fraud, is not there a real risk that the ID card will legitimise existing identity fraud?

Absolutely not. What is clear is that the right hon. Gentleman has not looked at the report that we published before Christmas, which set out exactly how these matters would be addressed. It is tried and tested technology. It uses the same biometric technology that is going into passports, of which there are 2.5 million already in circulation. I come back to the point that, if we were to shut down those systems and cancel the contracts, as he proposes, we would render the country defenceless against illegal immigration just at the time when the pressure on our borders is going to grow, if anything.

Asylum Seekers

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive on the removal of failed asylum seeker families. (121291)

I have regular conversations with the Scottish Executive about matters relating to the removal of families who are appeal rights exhausted. In addition, our regional director for Scotland has regular meetings with his officials.

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome his recent acceptance that the practice of removals using dawn raids has a traumatising effect on children. When can we expect to see published a full agreement between the Scottish Executive and the Home Office on the practice of removals? Can he commit in principle to having as part of that agreement the appointment of a lead official, perhaps from social work or education, to ensure that the rights of children are always protected and heard in removal cases?

I am grateful for that question. Our immigration officers in Scotland do an extremely difficult job under very difficult circumstances. I am particularly grateful to Glasgow city council for its work to ensure that when people have broken the law and an independent judge has passed a verdict, it is possible to remove them in the most civilised fashion. We are proposing a number of changes in Scotland. One is to ensure that there are teams that are responsible for a case from the beginning to the end, so that the decision is made entirely in Scotland. I think that the First Minister was right to propose that. Agreement has now been established in principle on the appointment of a lead professional to ensure that there is the right liaison on matters that relate to health and education when children are to be removed.

I am sorry to be a dog with a bone, but the Minister has not answered the question that I asked on 5 February during the debate on the UK Borders Bill. Why do clauses 1 to 4 and, I think, 21 exempt Scotland? The hard-working immigration officers in Scotland, to whom he has just referred, will not have the power to detain, but that power will be extended to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Will he take this opportunity to explain the logic of that? What special arrangement has he reached with the Scottish Executive? Immigration officers in most of the United Kingdom have to be given in legislation powers to detain and powers on forfeiture, but apparently it is not necessary to apply that to Scotland. I simply do not understand the logic. Will he explain it to me now?

As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, as I was last week. As I promised him last week, I furnished him with the relevant advice that afternoon, and I have ensured that copies of it will be placed in the Library. I will happily review it with him if parts of the letter and the supporting advice are unclear.

As I am not at present entirely comfortable about the dependability of executives, can the Minister assure the House that we truly do have a uniform policy throughout the United Kingdom and that the Scottish Executive are doing precisely what they should be doing?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary urges me from a sedentary position to pass on to the hon. Gentleman the best wishes of Labour Members. I am happy to be able to give him the assurance he asks for.

There is no doubt that the longer a family remains in Scotland, the harder it is to remove them if their application is unsuccessful, as roots are put down and children develop relationships at school. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that, in Scotland, removals, and decisions about them, are made as swiftly as possible? I understand that there are some quirks within the Scottish legal system that mean that certain kinds of decision are not made as quickly in Scotland as they are in England.

My hon. Friend is right that there are aspects of the Scottish judicial system that lead to decisions being made more slowly: for example, when there are judicial reviews, they are not processed at the same speed as in England. However, the First Minister made the crucial point that it is important to have teams that are based in Scotland that are responsible for decisions from the beginning to the end. It is important to make sure that decisions are both taken in Scotland and as swiftly as possible. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last year set a target of ensuring that 90 per cent. of decisions to grant, or to remove and deport, are taken within six months. We are now able to move towards achieving that in Scotland, as faster decisions are often fairer decisions.

Police Recruitment

The capacity of the police service remains at an all-time high. At the end of September 2006, there were 140,005 police officers in England and Wales, an increase of 14,236 since 1997.

Of course I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, but as there is increasing concern throughout the country about the funding that police forces might receive in future, not least in my county of Cheshire, and as—despite what the Home Secretary has just said—police officer numbers are falling for the first time since 2000, and also as the Government are scaling back on community support officers, is it not now clear that it is important that the Chancellor of the Exchequer reviews his decision to freeze the Home Office budget until 2011?

As I said, in fact there are 14,236 more police officers than there were in March 1997, just before this Government came to power. In Cheshire, there are 6 per cent. more police officers—124—in addition to which there are 77 extra police community support officers, which did not previously exist, and there are 437 additional support staff. That is because of the massive increase in resources that we put into policing in Cheshire and throughout England and Wales, all of which was opposed by the hon. Gentleman and his party.

On police numbers, the Home Secretary will be aware that one of the responses to the recent tragic wave of gun crime in London has been increased numbers of armed police patrolling the streets of south London. He will also be aware that gun crime is not just an issue for south London, but a huge issue for Hackney and Harlesden and even for the shire counties. Does he agree that stemming the tide of gun crime is not just a question of increased numbers of police patrols—although that is welcome—or even of changes in the law, but of doing more to stem the catastrophic educational failure of many of our young men, including black men, and more to support families and communities?

First, may I express my condolences and those, I am sure, of the whole House to the families and loved ones of those who so tragically died recently through gun crime? I agree with my hon. Friend that this is an important issue, which is why so many of our London colleagues attended a meeting that we held last Friday on this very subject. I also agree that although extra police numbers and the roll-out of neighbourhood policing is of course an important issue, there are others that are important. We require more powers for the police, and we will review how we can do that. We obviously require an adoption and acceptance of personal responsibility, which we try to assist by intervening through parenting orders and the many other facilities that are provided to help parents. We also provide empowerment in a range of areas, including education, which is undoubtedly an important issue. Although I would argue that much has been done in all those areas—that is why crime and serious crime, including gun crime in London, has fallen—there is nevertheless a great deal left to be done. We have called together representatives of the communities, Ministers, the police and experts in a summit, which will be held this Thursday, in order to explore what further police action, powers and empowerment, or interventions in the local community, might be necessary to help tackle these awful crimes.

Because Milton Keynes is expanding so quickly, police numbers per head of population have actually fallen in recent years. Perhaps that is why crime went up in 2005 by 27 per cent., and by 23 per cent. last year, according to the Government’s own figures. Bearing that in mind, is the Secretary of State prepared to look again at funding formulae that seem to discriminate against areas with high population growth?

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his figures from, but in fact there are now 223,061 police service personnel, of whom 140,000—approximately 14,500 more than when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in power—are being devolved to neighbourhood policing, so it is not just a matter of more numbers: there are more police visible on the streets. Moreover, resources have extended considerably over that period. On the British crime survey, to which he referred, again, I do not know where he gets his figures from. There has in fact been a 34 per cent. reduction in violent crime, compared with the 100 per cent. increase that occurred under the previous Government. The most recent figures, from September last year, show that more serious violence is down by 19 per cent., other offences against the person involving injury are down by 7 per cent., and firearms offences have fallen by 14 per cent. None of that is a ground for complacency, but it shows that the provision of police and the reduction in crime is considerably better than anything that we saw under the last Government.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on the increased resources for the police that have undoubtedly been provided—not least the support officers, who work very effectively with the police in the Knowsley command area. However, I ask him to look forward to 2008, when Liverpool will be the capital of culture and extra demands will therefore be placed on policing in Liverpool. Will he make sure that he finds the formula to ensure that Merseyside is adequately policed to meet those demands?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety has already met Liverpool representatives and he has agreed to meet them again. In fact, only last Thursday or Friday night, I, too, met them. This matter was raised in the course of our discussions, and I referred them to my hon. Friend the Minister.

Is the Home Secretary aware, from his present job and his previous job, that the Ministry of Defence is cutting the number of its police officers, which is having an impact on the civilian police force? For example, Colchester garrison has seen a 40 per cent. cut in MOD police numbers. Will he investigate that?

I regard those figures with a degree of scepticism as I have not seen them verified, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I will look into the matter and discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Since 1997, Durham has had an increase of more than 300 police officers, but if the police authority precept increase is capped at 5 per cent. this year, it will mean a loss of 100 officers next year. I am told that when the police authority sets its budget this week it will consider breaching the cap to solve the structural problem with the precept in Durham. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider Durham as a special case when considering the precept increase.

I am sure that Durham is a special case, along with every other police authority in England and Wales. Happily, capping is a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, not for me.

Violent Crime

4. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the use of head cameras in dealing with violent crime. (121293)

Interim results from the Home Office review of the Plymouth police head camera project have shown encouraging results in obtaining earlier guilty pleas and providing irrefutable evidence for court cases where witnesses and victims are unwilling to attend. A final report on the Plymouth project will be available in the summer and further conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the technology will be made at that time.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The early results appear to include drops of 8 per cent. in violent crime and 18 per cent. in wounding in the first three months, and that has resulted in police authorities and other enforcement authorities from across the country and abroad beating a path to Plymouth’s door. Will he therefore ensure that the resources are available to learn the early lessons, in terms of both training and equipment, for Plymouth and other police authorities?

I know that my hon. Friend keeps in touch with her local borough command unit commander and is very supportive of her local police. She will be pleased that the head camera project is still ongoing and that the interim report shows encouraging results. However, it covers only the first 10 weeks of a six-month project. It is therefore too early to draw firm conclusions on which to commit funding resources before a final evaluation is made of the new technology. The early signs are encouraging, however, especially in areas such as domestic violence, in which victims and witnesses are often reluctant or completely unwilling to attend court. The project has some time to run yet and I cannot say how we will stand in advance of the outcome of the full trial, but so far, so good.

Antisocial Behaviour Orders

The effectiveness of the Government’s antisocial behaviour policies has been assessed in two key independent reports published just before the new year, by the National Audit Office and by the Youth Justice Board. Both confirmed that our twin-track approach of support and enforcement is effective in protecting our communities from antisocial behaviour.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Recent figures from the Youth Justice Board show that more than 50 per cent. of ASBOs have been breached, a third of which have been breached on five or more occasions. Is not that proof positive that ASBOs are just another political gimmick from this Government? Is it not time that we tackled the real long-term causes of antisocial behaviour?

That is not true and it simply will not do. If we are to tackle antisocial behaviour, we must tackle every aspect of it, including support for those who need it through to enforcement. To isolate breaches of ASBOs, which are just one spot on a continuum of assorted interventions that the Government are making on antisocial behaviour, undermines professionals who are working up and down the country to repair many of the dysfunctional aspects of our communities. That is not on: it does discredit to the hon. Gentleman and is a shame for those who are trying seriously to work with communities in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and elsewhere.

As my hon. Friend knows, the press often describes how young people given ASBOs regard them as some sort of badge of honour. Will he tell me what more the Government can do to change the attitude of those young people and make them more socially responsible?

I thank my hon. Friend for the question, but I do not accept the starting premise that children up and down the country regard ASBOs as a badge of honour. I do not doubt that some do, but if they persist in their antisocial behaviour they can wear their badge of honour with pride while they are doing time for breaching their ASBO. However, the real issue—as my hon. Friend implies—is that there is much that we need to do at the other end of the process, in terms of supporting families and parents. The assorted interventions that we have made in our communities up and down the country, from Sure Start, nursery provision and children’s centres all the way through to parenting support and other elements, are vital in tackling antisocial behaviour. It is not just about ASBOs, so I thank my hon. Friend for his question, as I know that in general much good work is happening in Yorkshire.

Is the Minister aware that there has been a considerable number of ASBO breaches in my borough of Bexley? Residents have worked hard with the police and the community safety partnerships, but the breaches undermine the credibility of ASBOs, so what further reassurance can the Minister give my constituents who suffer increasing antisocial behaviour in our area?

I congratulate all in the London borough of Bexley, including the hon. Gentleman, who take the matter seriously. I take the point that when there is a breach it can undermine much of the work that communities have put in, but the hon. Gentleman, and the people of Bexley who are working so hard on the matter, should be under no illusion that when there are breaches and people persist in not taking the help and support afforded by antisocial behaviour interventions, and when a minority insist on damaging the cohesion of our communities in Bexley and elsewhere, they will be dealt with swiftly.

Does my hon. Friend agree that across the country more and more community safety partnerships are getting better at obtaining and enforcing ASBOs? Should not the message from the House be that if people behave at an acceptable standard there will be no action in court, but that if they misbehave there is the certainty of consequences?

That is absolutely right; I thank my hon. Friend. We also need to say clearly that, overwhelmingly, we are talking about only a minority of people in each of our communities—not about criminalising an entire generation through ASBOs, as it is sometimes erroneously put by commentators, or about ignoring antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend is right: across the country, through crime reduction partnerships and community safety partnerships more and more communities are dealing both with the causes of antisocial behaviour and the support necessary to challenge them, as well as obtaining effective intervention that firmly gets people who would indulge in antisocial behaviour to desist.

Since ASBOs were introduced the failure rate has spiralled year after year. The National Audit Office report states that well over half of all orders are being broken, and in County Durham 74 per cent. of ASBOs are being breached. Recently, when the Government’s respect tsar, Louise Casey, responded to questioning from the Public Accounts Committee on the NAO findings, she was unable to confirm that a formal qualitative assessment of the use of the orders was being undertaken. When will Ministers publish a detailed evaluation of the use of ASBOs? Does the breach rate have to hit 80, 90 or even 100 per cent. before that information is made available?

Again, that question is not terribly helpful in terms of the discussion. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to quote the NAO report in full, he could have gone on to say that in terms of the whole continuum of interventions we have been talking about it showed clearly that about 65 per cent. of people desisted from antisocial behaviour after one intervention and 85 per cent. desisted after two. A whopping 93 per cent. of people desisted from antisocial behaviour after further intervention. In answer to the original question, I said that there had been authoritative responses and effective evaluations from both the Youth Justice Board and the NAO and before that there was a substantive report from Campbell, who I think was the key author. In March or April we will say in more detail how we want to build on the evaluation of the effectiveness of ASBOs, based on the Campbell report and what the NAO and the Youth Justice Board have said.

In the middle of the hon. Gentleman’s rather erroneous question, there was an entirely fair point about evaluation. As I said, in March or April we will announce how to take things forward, building on Campbell, the Youth Justice Board and the NAO report.

Neighbourhood Policing

6. How many additional (a) police officers and (b) community support officers are being provided under the new neighbourhood policing arrangements. (121295)

The composition of neighbourhood policing teams is an operational matter for the chief constable. Forces are making good progress towards recruiting 16,000 police and community support officers for neighbourhood policing by April 2007. The Home Office is spending more than £220 million in specific grants this year in support of PCSOs. That will increase by 41 per cent., to £315 million, in 2007-08.

The capacity of the police service remains at an all-time high. The latest available figures show that there are more than 14,000 more police officers than in March 1997.

The whole House will be aware of the huge challenge faced by Suffolk police as a result of the horrible events around Ipswich towards the end of last year. I hope that you will permit me, Mr. Speaker, to pay tribute to the tremendous work of Suffolk police in the course of their investigations.

Notwithstanding those horrible murders, is my hon. Friend aware that between April and December last year, overall crime in Suffolk reduced by a further 3 per cent? Will he confirm that, under the new neighbourhood policing arrangements, Suffolk can expect substantial increases in the number of community police officers and police community support officers from April to help us reduce crime even further?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and join him in congratulating Suffolk police and all the police forces that joined the investigation into the horrific murders in Suffolk recently. As he says, crime in Suffolk has fallen by 3 per cent., according to the latest figures. By April 2007, 142 police community support officers will be available to Suffolk police to tackle antisocial behaviour and other criminal activity in the area; those PCSOs are in addition to the 140 more police officers that there have been since 1997. There are more police staff and record numbers of police officers there.

In Northamptonshire, PCSO numbers are increasing while the number of police constables is being reduced. Is it Government policy to replace police constables with PCSOs?

That is certainly not Government policy, but it is Government policy to allow police authorities, with chief constables, to make the best operational decisions for their areas. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that following the recent funding announcements, the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers welcomed the additional local decision making and flexibility that we are making available to them. I thought that the Conservative party was in favour of local decision making; we certainly are.

I am sure that the Minister is a regular reader of The Birmingham Post, a very fine paper. Just in case he has not got round to reading today’s edition, I should tell him that the local police community support officers have asked for more powers. The West Midlands police force grants support officers only 19 of the 56 available powers. Will the Minister have a word with chief constables to say that if community support officers want more powers, they should be given them?

It is obvious that I shall have to read The Birmingham Post before questions, as well as the other things. Police community support officers make a fantastic contribution to tackling antisocial behaviour in their areas. I say to my hon. Friend that consultation is taking place on what those officers’ standard list of powers should be. We expect to publish on that in due course. Alongside that, there will be flexible powers that chief constables can use, and, should they wish to, give to police community support officers as well.

Police Funding

Since the debate on the police grant report for 2007-08 on 31 January, I have held meetings with a number of chief constables, police authorities and hon. Members specifically on the funding of police forces. I think that, during the course of the same debate, I made a number of commitments to continue to do so.

I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that over the last two years my local police force has seen a reduction in real terms of £681,000 in the specific security grant. With Fairford air base, GCHQ and a number of significant royal household protection duties, the specific security grant is a bigger share of Gloucestershire’s spending than that of any force outside the Metropolitan police. What will the Minister do to ensure that my constituents do not bear an increasing share of what should be national responsibilities?

I am not sure that I entirely agree with the latter point, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and the chief constable of Gloucestershire to discuss the matter further. I take the hon. Gentleman’s broad point about Gloucestershire having specific security responsibilities that are probably larger than those of many other police forces outside the Met, so I would be happy to meet him to discuss the issue further.

Slough basic command unit is in a crime family along with other units, all in the Metropolitan police area, that have many more police officers per head of population than Slough. Will the Minister comment on the fact that I have been informed by our local commander that, according to the total resource allocations formula, we are overmanned? Does that not suggest that the TRAF is actually wrong when it comes to high crime areas such as Slough?

My hon. Friend was one of the individual Members whom I promised to meet, following on from the debate on the police grant, and I am happy to discuss at such a meeting the TRAF and Slough BCU overstaffing—or otherwise—along with other matters relating to Thames Valley policing. [Interruption.] Yes, I am aware that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is to be included in the meeting—sadly.

During the debate on the police grant, the Minister mentioned quite candidly that he believed that there was a case for a review of the whole police funding formula. I know that it is a huge issue, but when does the Minister believe that that work can commence? Does he believe that as a part of that work, it might be useful to set up a Special Standing Committee to take as much evidence as possible, which could help to produce a lasting, fair and equable funding formula?

I deliberately wanted to open up a wide-ranging debate on the issue, as I said in the debate on the police grant report, but I also want to get something done and to make sure that any changes that need to be made are for the better. I am not sure that Special Standing Committees have ever done that.

When the Minister reviews the process, will he ensure that civil servants are entirely aware of the fact that he has no intention of devolving the funding of police forces in Wales to the Welsh Assembly, not least because crimes do not always happen just in Wales or in England, but quite often across England and Wales, as the recent letter bombing campaign has shown?

I am strongly of the opinion that what my hon. Friend says is absolutely right, so I entirely endorse it. By the by, I had a very enjoyable time in Swansea and Bridgend last week, when this point was raised. On balance, people felt that there was a strong inter-relationship between what the Welsh Assembly Government do on policing and what the UK Government do on policing. Of course that is right, but it is certainly not our intention to devolve all or part of our policing powers to the Welsh Assembly.

The Minister will no doubt be aware that the first anti-terrorist unit to be established outside the Metropolitan police was in Greater Manchester police, but he is probably not aware that it was funded entirely by Manchester ratepayers’ money. Will the Minister tell me why that was and can he assure me that other local anti-terrorist units will not have to depend on local money in the battle against national and international terrorism?

What the hon. Gentleman says is certainly true, in part, in respect of the very early days of the establishment of the counter-terrorism unit in Manchester. I am sure that he will agree that Greater Manchester, West Midlands and West Yorkshire police are making varying degrees of progress in establishing their counter-terrorism units—if he has not had the chance to go around them, he should—but that they are doing work that is second to none and vital, given the pressures and threat that we face. Much of the funding will be carried out in the long term by the Association of Chief Police Officers terrorism and allied matters committee, which is doing much of the work now. It is a matter for local police authorities if they want to augment and supplement that with local money, specific to local counter-terrorism demands. But in the main, we are very strongly of the opinion that, through ACPO TAM, the frameworks at least should be funded from the centre. That is the right and proper way to go forward.

Asylum Seekers

8. How many failed asylum seekers in England and Wales have exhausted all avenues of appeal; and if he will make a statement. (121297)

Throughout the first three quarters of 2006, more failed asylum seekers were removed than the number of unmeritorious claims made. Figures for the entire year will be published shortly.

I thank the Minister for that very illuminating answer. Hon. Members will be aware that local authorities have to pick up the bill for failed asylum seekers, so imagine my surprise when the London borough of Hillingdon asked the Home Office what it was doing to remove them and the Home Office replied, “We don’t know where they are. Could you let us know?” Is that acceptable?

I met representatives of Hillingdon quite recently, and that certainly was not the answer that was given to me. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is paraphrasing. But the way in which we have reduced the support costs, which are incumbent on a civilised society, for those who have failed in their asylum claim and are still here, because there are barriers against their going back home, is to remove them as quickly as possible. That is exactly why we have driven through the reform of the asylum system over the past few years. On numerous occasions, Opposition parties have had a chance to support those reforms and, by and large, they have refused to do so.

I have been trying to find out for quite some time just how many failed asylum seekers there are in my constituency and the wider Bristol area. So far, the only statistic that I have been able to uncover is that 260 people are claiming section 4 support in the whole of the south-west region, which is some way from giving a true picture of the situation. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is another reason to welcome the introduction of identity cards, particularly ID cards for foreign nationals from next year, so that we have a much clearer idea—

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: identity card technology has the potential to allow us to police illegal immigration—

All hon. Members appreciate that these are very difficult issues, and we should not suggest that all that the Home Office is doing in this respect should necessarily be criticised. However, the Minister will be aware that, to ensure that we have proper social cohesion, particularly in our cities, it is essential that we have a fair immigration and asylum system that works swiftly in this regard. Will he give a categorical assurance to the House today that, under no circumstances, will there be any amnesty for failed asylum seekers?

I am happy to give that assurance. As the House knows, I approached this issue with an open mind when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to take over this brief. I see no evidence to support an amnesty; it would act as a pull factor in drawing illegal immigrants to this country. We need to put in place a number of protections over the next few years. We need to increase the number of enforcement staff that we have available. We need to increase the amount of resources. We need to ensure that those staff have the right powers, which is why the UK Borders Bill is so important, and where technology, such as identity technology, can help, we should exploit it, not shut it down.

Although I welcome the Minister’s commitment to try to sort out these matters, does he not think it a little odd that failed asylum seekers are allowed to remain, whereas those on the highly skilled migrant programme, whom we invited into this country, have been asked to leave immediately? Will that work be affected by the 8 per cent. cut in his budget?

My right hon. Friend knows that I agree with him on many matters, but I am afraid that I must dispute many of the grounds that he puts forward in this instance. When people have failed in their asylum claim, it is incumbent on us to seek to remove them from this country as quickly as possible. Equally, where there are other individuals who have come to this country to benefit from opportunities to work, but there are questions about the continued contribution that they can make, we are right to toughen the rules where we need to. If that means that sometimes people have to go home, so be it, I am afraid.

It may have escaped the Minister’s attention, but the Government have been operating an amnesty on asylum seekers since 2003 in the shape of the indefinite leave to remain programme. Will he explain why, last June, without telling the House, the Government implemented a change to that amnesty policy and allowed asylum seekers whose cases had yet to be determined, or whose cases had failed, to make a second application for an amnesty? Will he tell us how many people have been granted such an amnesty since last June?

I am happy to look into the hon. Gentleman’s question and write to him with the detail that he requests. The point that I would make to him is this: because of the reforms that we have put through over the last few years, the number of asylum applicants is now at its lowest level, not since 1997, but since 1993, and the number of failed asylum seekers who are being removed from the country is at a record high. The Opposition had a chance to support those reforms in 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2005 and they declined to do so at every opportunity.

In his response to the original question from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), the Minister confirmed the startling reply that he gave me on 29 January, when he said:

“Information on the number of asylum seekers who have exhausted all appeals and registered with local authorities…is not collected by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 124W.]

Is he aware that if he really does not know the basic figure for how many failed asylum seekers are being supported by taxpayers, we cannot trust any of his figures? Will he confirm that the reason he is taking no steps to find out how many failed asylum seekers are being supported is that he does not want the British people to know that figure?

That is a quite extraordinary question. I come back to this point: this Government have delivered reform to the asylum system, and have produced the lowest number of asylum seekers since 1993 and the highest number of deportations on record. It is true that it is difficult to know about those who remain in the country, because exit controls were dismantled by the last Conservative Administration. Every time that we have brought forward asylum reform, the Opposition have decided to oppose it. Will they change their tune and confirm that they are dropping the James review target of axing £900 million from the immigration and nationality directorate budget, and will they give their unequivocal support to the UK Borders Bill and the powers therein to strengthen deportation still further?

Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

9. What change there was in the maximum award available under the criminal injuries compensation scheme in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. (121298)

The maximum award payable under the criminal injuries compensation scheme has been £500,000 since the current, tariff-based scheme was introduced by the previous Administration in April 1996.

Given that there is agreement across all parties that we need to look after victims and that clearly, whereas we have seen increases in damages for severely injured people in the civil courts, that is not the case with the criminal injuries compensation scheme—we are talking about people with the worst brain injuries and the worst physical injuries—will the Minister be kind and consider at least uprating, to keep pace with inflation and the real cost of living, the damages that we give to sufferers from crime? Will he also look at the speed withwhich those payments are made, which is often far too slow?

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman accepts that we do a lot for victims. In addition to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, there is work with victim support and we have introduced victim care unit pilots. A great deal of work is going on. He will also know that money is given to victims from sources other than the criminal injuries compensation scheme—in relation to benefits and support from the national health service. We are going to respond shortly to “Rebuilding Lives”, the Green Paper that we published earlier, and that matter will be a consideration. He will know that, over the years, the tariffs have been looked at. There are 25 tariffs. If we were to increase the highest tariff, we would have to do something at the other end. We have to keep that balance in mind. I can assure him that we will always keep the matter under review.

Corporate Manslaughter Bill

11. What plans he has to bring forward amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter Bill following the decision in the House of Lords on 5 February; and if he will make a statement. (121300)

The Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and I are consulting on how we should take the Bill forward. The House will have a further opportunity to consider the Bill when it has completed all its stages in the House of Lords.

On immunity for the police and the Prison Service regarding deaths in custody, may I gently put it to my hon. Friend that he is in a bit of a pit and ought to stop digging?

I do not feel that we are in a pit at all. There is complete disagreement about how we should take the Bill forward. The Bill came about due to a health and safety issue and the corporate manslaughter aspect of it was to apply to incidents such as train crashes. I understand that people are concerned about deaths in custody. However, there are opportunities for the Independent Police Complaints Commission and a variety of bodies and agencies to examine such matters and thus separate the question of deaths in custody. We, as the first Government ever to examine the issue of Crown immunity, will clearly have to examine the impact of the situation on other services, whether regarding the Ministry of Defence or others. I will consult and listen to what is said, but we are very worried that major advances on corporate manslaughter might be lost.

The Minister will know, following the meetings that I have had with him about my constituent, Paul Day, that I am especially interested in segregation units. Will he consider examining liability in the Prison Service in the context of different types of prisons? For example, there is a material difference between introducing liability for an open prison and doing so for a segregation unit.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point and the way in which he has handled the case of Mr. Day on behalf of his family. He highlights the point of concern: how do we deal with deaths in custody in different types of prisons and police custody? That matter should be seen differently from the way in which we approach corporate manslaughter in the context of health and safety. I am happy to examine what we are doing in open and closed prisons and to consider the impact of deaths in custody and the way in which we can work more closely on safer custody. However, we need to examine corporate manslaughter in terms of health and safety, which is why there is a difference regarding the Bill.

May I urge my hon. Friend to examine closely the case of young Gareth Myatt, who died in Rainsbrook? Will he consider the lessons coming out of the inquest and reflect on the need to achieve proper legislation to deal with deaths in custody through the kind of amendment about which my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has talked?

We are not arguing that there does not need to be a look at deaths in custody. As I explained, existing inspectorates are involved. Independent reports are also written and we know of coroners’ views on deaths in custody. However, we argue that a consideration of the matter is not appropriate for the Corporate Manslaughter Bill and that other vehicles might be needed to deal with it. We are clearly concerned that we are in a position in which it is said that Crown immunity should be removed so that the situation is as it would be for the private sector when dealing with such issues as employers or owners of property, with deaths in custody thus being seen differently. I am sure that we will return to the matter and discuss it further when we receive the Bill from the other place.

Immigration Centres

As a result of the effective use of detention, we have been able to deliver record removals of failed asylum seekers and deportations. Detention will always be for as short a time as possible and no longer than necessary.

Because of overcrowding in prisons, the Minister has adopted a policy of moving foreign national criminals from prisons into detention centres, which has caused tensions such as those that we saw at the time of the riots at Harmondsworth. Will she now openly admit that that failed policy has been a complete disaster?

May I tell the hon. Gentleman that delivering additional detention capacity will help us to manage better the overall speed with which we can deal with all types of immigration detainees? It is important to remember that the vast majority of detainees pass through detention in a matter of weeks, if not days. However, detention is often prolonged by individuals with no right to be here refusing to leave voluntarily and frustrating our attempts to remove them. They can leave voluntarily at any point.

Gambling Addiction

There are no plans to develop specific programmes to address gambling addiction. However, we constantly review provision across the range of offender needs with a view to identifying gaps. Factors likely to be relevant to gambling problems are addressed within general offending behaviour programmes such as enhanced thinking skills. Use is also made of specialist organisations such as Gamblers Anonymous.

One of my constituents has now been in prison for six months without receiving any treatment. Given the increase in online gambling, the proposed new casinos and the fact that a proportion of compulsive gamblers are likely to commit crimes to feed their habit, should there not be a coherent plan in place before the problems become any greater?

It is a question of proportionality. Less than 1 per cent. of the prison population have gambling problems, but that is not to say that we should not tackle those problems, and Gamblers Anonymous is present in 50 per cent. of our prisons. I hope that the hon. Lady and other Opposition Members support the Offender Management Bill, which will deal with those issues by looking at the requirements of individual offenders. Rather than talk about the problem, I hope that the Opposition parties will support us in our efforts to deliver offender management programmes that rehabilitate offenders.