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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 458: debated on Monday 19 March 2007

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Criminal Justice System

1. What progress is being made on the review of the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. (127789)

The review was published in July last year and set out a clear timetable for delivery. The majority of the things that we said we would do by December were completed on time, and we are making good progress towards meeting our April commitments. We will publish a further update shortly.

I appreciate the Minister’s response. For the purposes of the review, will he look at the effective work being undertaken against crime and antisocial behaviour in Blaen-y-Maes in my constituency and incorporate that good practice into the review? That represents good progress, not the “hug a hoodie” culture that the Opposition are talking about.

I fully understand what my hon. Friend is saying. I am pleased about the work that goes on in Wales and in her constituency, where she recently made a visit to see it. The work that is going on between the Welsh Assembly, local government and local communities in support of the police is to be commended. We are looking into what can be done in terms of antisocial behaviour orders and community sentencing to ensure that our communities feel a lot safer.

When the Minister reviews the criminal justice system, will he be very chary about coming forward with any more substantive Bills? The Criminal Justice Act 2003 has proved singularly indigestible. Might I suggest that he spends more time in the Home Office in implementation and enforcement instead of on the process of legislation?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is well known for his involvement in these issues, so we take into consideration what he says to us. He will know, however, that the 2003 Act was important in ensuring that protecting the public is our first priority. The Home Secretary has been reviewing all the actions that were taking place in the Home Office. We look at legislation in the context of how appropriate it is not only in defeating crime but in ensuring that the public are protected.

May I urge my hon. Friend not to listen to the views recently expressed by Lord Woolf on sentencing for people convicted of murder? Most people in my constituency tell me that sentences are not long enough, and they do not find credible the idea that people should be let out even earlier. If we want the public to co-operate with the police and to play their part in tackling crime, they must feel that once people are convicted, they are properly punished.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend, who is clear, as I am, that the public must be protected from people who need to serve the sentences for the crimes for which they are responsible and that the public would expect them to serve. This is a robust debate. It is important that we consider these issues in the context of ensuring that the public have confidence in the criminal justice system. They will not understand if they are not protected from people who commit heinous crimes and are not in prison for the period that they should be.

The Minister referred to the importance of the public having confidence in the criminal justice system. The Lord Chancellor said this weekend that for that to happen, clarity in sentencing is required. I entirely agree. Does the Minister believe that there is a problem in trying to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system given that, for instance, life sentences now average about 11 years in custody and that 53 so-called lifers who were sentenced in 2000 have already been released? Does not he think that it is time to review all this, to abandon some of the doublespeak that surrounds sentencing, and to apply life sentences only in cases where the courts believe that they should be applied and that is to the most serious offenders who should remain in prison for the rest of their lives?

It is important that the courts decide on sentences; that is why we have the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which is made up of the judiciary with Home Office representatives as observers. In the 2003 Act, we ensured that dangerous criminals—people who were a danger to society—had indeterminate sentences. We must ensure that that continues. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would share my view that it is important that the public can have confidence in knowing that dangerous criminals will be in prison. That was not the case before the 2003 Act.

Under the Government’s vision of simple, speedy summary justice, the police issued 146,000 penalty notices for disorder last year, including to serial shoplifters. The offenders do not receive a criminal record, the tickets involve no admission of guilt and only about half are paid before court action. How many of those so-called “offences brought to justice” are enforced? How can they possibly count as sanction detections when there is no real sanction?

The hon. Gentleman wants it both ways. He wants the police to have the flexibility to deal with situations on the ground in our communities but then argues about bureaucracy in the police service. He cannot have it both ways. We are pleased with the simple, speedy, fast and fair system that we are putting in place. Fixed penalties play their part in that.

Departmental Co-ordination

2. What steps he plans to take to improve co-ordination between the different sections and services of his Department. (127790)

Since we published three reform plans in July last year, I have taken several steps to ensure that joined-up services throughout the Department are improved. They include end-to-end processes for offender management, against which the Opposition voted, end-to-end improvement of the surveillance of asylum applications and, from next month, the establishment of the national policing improvement agency. The Department’s reform programmes are also making several changes to structures, processes and ways of working that will improve co-ordination further.

Given that the Home Secretary’s predecessor essentially lost his job because of failures in co-ordination between the immigration and nationality directorate and the Prison Service—even now, I have heard of a case of a foreign prisoner who was released rather than deported because of co-ordination failures—does he believe that progress has been satisfactory and that it would be better served by having the two services in two separate Departments?

The non sequitur in the question is that the failings to which the hon. Gentleman referred are a perfect illustration of why being in one Department is no guarantee of good co-ordination. The function of co-ordinating and improving co-ordination is essential, whether it is within a Department or between Departments.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we are improving the National Offender Management Service. We brought proposals for that before the House. We are improving policing by rolling out neighbourhood policing. We are also improving the immigration and nationality directorate—we publish plans and key indicators for that. We are reviewing counter-terrorism, among many other matters, as well as the Home Office plan. We are making progress on all those matters and we will report publicly on them. However, whatever configuration is used for those units, co-ordination in a Department and between Departments is essential.

On 22 June 2004, I raised in an Adjournment debate the case of my constituent James Bishop, who was killed by a Chinese national, Mr. Yin. Due to lack of co-ordination at IND, he was removed before being prosecuted fully for the offence. I appreciate that the Home Secretary will not have the answer today, but will he write to me to confirm that the promises made during that debate have been fulfilled and that the co-ordination of such cases has been improved?

Under the Government, the immigration and nationality directorate has presided over a substantial increase in net migration of up 185,000 in 2005—the last year for which we have figures. Is any other part of the Home Office co-ordinating that figure with the demands of migration on housing infrastructure and the implications for population density, or does it remain the case that the Government see “no obvious upper limit” to migration, to use the words of the Home Secretary’s predecessor?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is precisely the reason for the need to reconfigure and improve our services in the Home Office. Three of the main issues, among many others with which we deal—international migration, international crime and international terrorism—have grown exponentially in the past decade and a half. We therefore need to undertake improvements and consider reconfiguration to concentrate on managing migration, countering international terrorism and coping with international crime. As part of that, we proposed a migration advisory commission, which would examine independently—and offer independent advice on—a range of issues related to the optimum amount of immigration. That would mean consideration of wider issues than purely and narrowly defined economic matters.

Why does the Home Secretary believe that turning one dysfunctional Department into two dysfunctional Departments will improve matters for the public as opposed to separating the Home Secretary from responsibility for the shameful state of our overcrowded prisons and the early release of dangerous offenders?

I do not think that the Home Office has been dysfunctional in all its aspects. For instance, in the hon. and learned Gentleman’s constituency, there are something like 257 more police officers than there were under the previous Conservative Government, as well as 155 police community support officers. If he looks at the crime statistics for Harborough, he will see that there has been a 5 per cent. fall in burglary and a 25 per cent. fall in the theft of motor vehicles. In terms of reducing crime and putting more police on the streets, the Home Office has been a damned sight more functional than ever it was under the Conservatives. Having said that, we are facing mass migration on a scale hitherto unprecedented globally, international terrorism at a level that was not even contemplated a decade ago, and the international crime associated with both, and it is therefore right that we should consider the reconfiguration of our efforts to deal with them. When the facts change, we change our views and our structures. That is what sensible people do.

I can assure the Home Secretary that there are not 247 police officers in the Harborough constituency—far from it. Does he not think that the public have a right to expect from Home Office Ministers some strategic political leadership and managerial competence on prisons, violent crime, drug crime, early release from custody of serious criminals, immigration and asylum, border controls, and getting rather more than one in 58 police officers on to the beat? Instead, over the past 10 years, we have had to put up with a flood of repealed or incompetent legislation, and incompetent, disjointed, headline-grabbing schemes that have had no substance or that have been cancelled or replaced within weeks. Instead of spending time in bars co-ordinating their diaries with lobbyists, should not Ministers be spending their time working for the public and dealing with the mess that they have made—

The hon. and learned Gentleman, who is infamous for stooping low, never surprises us by his capacity to go even lower. Is he complaining that we have a record number of police on our streets, or that we have seen a 35 per cent. reduction in the crime rate? Is he complaining that we have campaigned ceaselessly on a whole range of antisocial behaviours, or that we have put more resources than ever into fighting crime? Or will he admit that, on every single occasion, he and his colleagues have voted against the money, the resources and the energies involved? We do not need to take lectures from a party whose Government doubled crime, when we have cut it by a third.

Drug-related Crime

The most recent published crime figures show that the strategy is working. Recorded acquisitive crime, to which drug-related crime makes a substantial contribution, has fallen by 20 per cent. since the onset of the drug interventions programme, which is now getting on average more than 3,000 drug misusing offenders into drug treatment each month. The Home Office is carrying out an ongoing research programme to look at the effectiveness of individual programme components.

Given that the Minister’s own Department’s report in 2005 on determining the effectiveness of drug treatment interventions concluded that

“there is strong evidence that the most effective interventions to reduce drug-related crime are therapeutic communities”,

why are there so few residential rehabilitation centres, particularly for young people, and why are only 18 prisons offering intensive therapeutic programmes?

We have made considerable resources available to the drugs sector to ensure that services are available, whatever the needs of the individuals concerned. We have introduced the drug interventions programme to ensure that people who commit a trigger offence in the DIP areas can be tested on arrest; those who commit such offences in other areas can be tested on charge. Others might come into the system through the health sector. GPs will then allocate them to services as appropriate. I cannot see the hon. Gentleman objecting to the significant increases in budgets; this year, we have invested £1.5 billion in drug-related services in this country. That is a huge increase, compared with the situation a few years ago.

Does my hon. Friend agree that detection is important in combating drug-related crime? Will he join me in congratulating the Wiltshire constabulary, which has detected and shut down crack houses and cannabis farms in Swindon? Does he also agree that local, neighbourhood policing is extremely important for detecting low-level drug pushers and other young people who get involved in drug-related crime?

Since the introduction of the drugs intervention programme more than 69,000 drug-misusing offenders have entered treatment, and many will be treated in Swindon and elsewhere in Wiltshire. The Government’s drugs strategy has succeeded because it is about bringing people treatment not just through the criminal justice system, but through the health service and through self-referral. All that is now working, not only in Swindon but across the country.

Given the link between drug-related crime and drug-infested prisons, does it worry the Minister that at a prison that I visited, often the only penalty imposed on visitors discovered carrying drugs on their way to meet a prisoner was not to be allowed to make a contact visit to that prisoner? When will the Government get tough on drugs in prisons?

The Government are already getting tough on drugs in prisons. The Offender Management Bill, which the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) has just steered through the House, contains a range of measures to deal with some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

I have already given figures relating to the increase in investment in drug treatment outside prisons. Let me add that in 1996-97, £7.2 million was spent on drug treatment in prisons. In 2006-07, £77.3 million was spent on it—974 per cent. more. Of course, we must ensure that there is good management and that the system is made more effective, and we will do that.

Operation Tarion, conducted throughout south Wales, has—along with a taskforce of police throughout Wales— achieved the highest-ever cocaine haul in the area, resulting in many arrests, and police in Bridgend F division have also made a number of drug arrests recently. Successful policing can actually reduce the anxiety of people who observe the prevalence of drugs in their communities. How can we reassure the public when the police succeed in making such high-level arrests?

At a strategic national and international level the Serious and Organised Crime Agency is responsible for the seizure of cocaine and other drugs, but we also have neighbourhood policing. The interaction of police at local level is extremely important. If we are to overcome local anxiety about drugs, the police must engage with local communities—as they do in the best neighbourhood models—and explain to them what they are doing. People across the country tell me that they do not worry when the police take action over dealers in the street; what worries them is dealers’ being seen to act with impunity. When the police take action, as they have in my hon. Friend’s constituency in south Wales and elsewhere, we should get behind them, because people want to see the dealers where they should be—in prison.

In the courts where I sit, every class A drug addict defendant began his or her life on cannabis. Does the Minister accept that cannabis in its current form is much stronger than it used to be, and is deeply damaging to young and vulnerable people? If he does, will he send a message to the courts and the police to take cannabis much more seriously, and will he raise its classification from C to B to signal our worry about the problem?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in this issue. I think the message we must send is that cannabis remains an illegal drug which causes immense harm to communities. We know that skunk causes a particular problem. Recognising that, the Government recently issued a series of television and other advertisements under the title “Brain Store” in an attempt to show young people, in particular, the link between cannabis and mental illness. There will be a continuing debate about drug classification, but I think the message we should send today is that cannabis remains a dangerous drug and is illegal.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Northamptonshire police on their effective programme of crack house closures, especially in the town centre, where they have dealt with a great many drug-related crime problems? Does he agree, however, that the programme would be much more effective if there were cross-party consensus, particularly involving the Liberal Democrat Opposition?

The power to close crack houses was introduced by this Government. As my hon. Friend says, that was opposed by the Liberal Democrats. It is an important tool that the police have available to them to tackle drug-related crime.

The Government drugs strategy is simple. We want to see tough enforcement of the law. There has to be a real clampdown on people who deal in drugs in our communities. Alongside that we want to see education for our children and for others in society, and an expansion in and more effective use of treatment. As I say, we need to have not an either/or policy, but an all-inclusive policy.

Prisons (Drug Use)

To tackle drug use in custody, the National Offender Management Service has in place a comprehensive drug strategy. The strategy's three key aims are to reduce the amount of illicit drugs getting in by using a co-ordinated range of supply-reduction measures; to reduce the demand for drugs through delivery of effective drug treatment; and to strengthen through-care links with the community, helping to ensure timely continuity of care for drug users on release. While NOMS remains committed to doing more, the drug strategy is already making significant progress, with drug use—as measured by random mandatory drug testing—down from 24.4 per cent. in 1996-97 to 10.3 per cent. in 2004-05, a reduction of 58 per cent.

I thank the Minister for that encyclopaedic answer. I am sure that he will appreciate the seriousness with which Kirkham prison in my constituency takes fighting drug and alcohol addiction by prisoners. He will be aware of the use that it has made of the counselling, advice, referral, assessment and throughcare—or CARAT—programme. The integrated drug treatment service now beckons. Kirkham wishes to adopt that because it wants to do better in countering recidivism. When can Kirkham expect that particular facility to be made available to it?

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his involvement in all aspects of Kirkham’s work. It has a proud record in dealing with drug treatment. He will recognise the improvement that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), talked about: the increase in the drug treatment budget of 974 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman made the point about the integrated drug treatment service, which is additional funding. It is going into up to 45 of our prisons. At the moment it is mainly concerned with the first 28 days of custody, and it is more likely to be rolled out in remand prisons because that is where the biggest problem is seen to be. I take his point that we need to look at prisoners who are on release—most of the prisoners in Kirkham are shortly to be released. We will do that through the National Offender Management Service. I do not charge him personally, but the Opposition voted against the Offender Management Bill. It is important that actions from that Bill are initiated to ensure that we deal with offenders. The release of offenders with drug and other problems is an important matter. We will look at the issue that he raised. Clearly, there is an issue about people coming out of prison with a drug habit.

My constituents would like to know from the Minister why £749,000 was paid in compensation to prisoners in an out-of-court settlement, plus costs, for the messing up, of their detoxification programme. Either the Government should have resisted those claims, or we need to be told what went wrong. It is unacceptable that taxpayers' money should be squandered in that way.

It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friend that I have some sympathy with his argument, but he will have to ask the courts why they took the decision—[Interruption.] The courts were involved in what the outcome was likely to be in terms of the recommendations of the legal people. He will know that that matter relates to treatments in the 1990s. Those cases were reluctantly settled out of court because we had to minimise the cost to the taxpayer.

May I add to the Minister's three points the need to persuade young offenders in prison of the need to find alternative sources of employment that are at least as remunerative as drug dealing? What success has the Department had in ensuring that young people who leave offenders institutions have legally marketable skills?

Again, I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman raises that point and yet voted against the NOMS Bill, which enabled the voluntary sector which has expertise in reducing offending among young people. We are trying to reduce reoffending by using all the agencies available to us, whether from the public, private or voluntary sector. It is important that we get the message across to young people that reoffending leads to a life of crime. We must cut the reoffending rates and the NOMS Bill is a way to do that, so I look forward to it to receiving more support when it returns to this House.

On a recent visit to Wandsworth prison I was very taken with the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners trust—RAPt—programme. In assessing how well drug programmes work in prisons, will my hon. Friend take into account the support given by prison governors, because it seemed to me that the absolute support for that programme from the governor at Wandsworth—there was a dedicated unit and it was ensured that the programme had all that it needed—contributed greatly to its success?

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who was at the open day at HMP Wandsworth—along with, I understand, many other Members of Parliament, who were impressed by the work of RAPt. Its chief executive is Mike Trace, who used to be the deputy drugs tsar. It offers a 20-week programme and uses a 12-step approach. The exciting news is that 850 prisoners a year stopped using drugs as a result of their engagement with RAPt. We want to encourage such programmes, so we will look with great interest at how the RAPt programme can be rolled out nationally.

The Minister will be aware that access to drugs in prison is a major problem. What assessment has he made of the Holloway scheme, whereby dogs with handlers are used to sniff out drugs among prisoners—and perhaps might even sniff out drugs being brought into prison by visitors? Does he intend to roll-out that scheme across the nation’s prisons?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question, because she is right to highlight that there are now many ingenious ways that drugs are brought into prisons. I am grateful for the work of the Prison Officers Association, prison officers in general and prison governors, who are doing their best to stop that inflow. Tennis balls have been used to get drugs into prison; the balls are bounced over walls. We must ensure that we keep the balance right between stopping the drugs coming into prisons and also allowing visits to take place. The use of sniffer dogs is an option, but we must also look at the ways that telephone calls are monitored and visitors are inspected, to make sure that those who act unscrupulously are found out.

May I refer my hon. Friend to an article written by prisoner Peter Wayne in the current edition of “Druglink”? He has been involved for 30 years in committing petty crime to fund his drug habit. In most of the prisons that he has been in, he has been detoxified—obviously without any result. His latest visit is to Wandsworth prison, which my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) mentioned. He has been admitted to a drug-free wing where he is involved in a harm reduction programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that harm reduction programmes are more successful in prisons than detoxification?

It is important to have a mixture of all the potential solutions. We know that up to 80 per cent. of offenders have some relationship with a drug problem at some stage in their time inside or outside prison, so we are dealing with a large problem. We have increased the investment in addressing it, but we would like to widen the opportunities to be successful. We have heard about the RAPt programme in Wandsworth, and we are looking at a range of measures that the voluntary sector can bring about. In an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall last week, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) talked about the need for us all to unite to tackle drugs in prisons. There is an opportunity for us to have a sensible debate about what are the most effective ways to stop drugs being in prisons.

Victim and Witness Support

5. What steps he is taking to improve support for victims and witnesses; and if he will make a statement. (127793)

The Government are firmly committed to rebalancing the criminal justice system in favour of victims and witnesses. We have introduced extensive reforms, including a victims’ surcharge to divert money from offenders to victims, a significant increase in resources for Victim Support from £11.7 million in 1997 to £30 million now, 165 new witness care units to provide tailored support during trial, and a code of practice to give victims statutory rights for the first time.

My hon. Friend will be aware that according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office there are some 250 victims of forced marriage a year. In addition, more than 12 million women and 2 million men suffer from domestic violence of one form or another. I know that the Minister will agree with me that one victim of forced marriage or domestic violence is one too many, but what steps are the Government taking to ensure a better co-ordinated response from social services to maximise support for victims and help eradicate those grotesque practices?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and for the work that he does in his constituency and throughout the country raising those issues. He will know that the Government’s national plan for domestic violence covers forced marriages. We have screening in health and social care settings and training for professionals in those sectors and the criminal justice system, so that people are dealt with in a supportive fashion and their cases understood. Since 2005, we have set up 64 specialist domestic violence courts and on 5 March 2007 we announced £2 million for the multi-agency risk assessment conferences.

The Minister will be aware that the victims of human trafficking need a lot of care after they are found. They often need support in safe houses. With the exception of the POPPY project in London, which deals only with adults, we do not have enough of those houses. What is the Government’s position on expanding programmes such as the POPPY project?

It is important that we try to use the full resources available to resettle victims. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is difficult to find accommodation when resettling prisoners, and the situation is similar for the victims of trafficking. It is important that we provide support in a range of areas, including sometimes medical support, and we are working with various Departments and the Local Government Association to see what further support can be offered.

The Minister will know that there is still a long way to go, for example in cases of child abuse. The sad thing that one discovers, in Cheshire at any rate, is that it is only the commitment of one particular female police officer that provides support for very badly damaged families in nightmare situations. Will he look closely at the issue of co-ordinating support services, because families are still being very badly served?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her work in her constituency and beyond on these issues and for raising those important points. What is important is the education of the public and the agencies about those issues to ensure that people fully understand the implications and the impact on people’s lives of what takes place. We are seeing a better level of training and the involvement of the police and those in criminal justice agencies, who are working with social services and health. We cannot be complacent, because we have to do more, and we are trying to do more.

Have we sent guidance to local departments of public prosecution advising them how to keep up to date and inform the victims of crime and witnesses, so that they can be sure that they do not meet the perpetrators walking down the street? Is the guidance robust and is it being applied consistently throughout the UK?

There is national guidance on witness support. The Government have introduced witness support units, and victim care units are being piloted. We recognise the problems with supporting and keeping victims and witnesses informed. What tends to happen is that the act of crime takes place, the criminal justice system takes over and witnesses and victims are left behind in the process. We are working hard on that and I am especially pleased with the work that has been carried out with the Victim Support voluntary organisation, which is trying to bring together its organisation on a national basis to offer support for victims.

Knife Crime

I wish to begin by offering my personal condolences and, I am sure, those of the whole House to all the loved ones, relations and family of the recent victims of the tragic and awful knife crimes.

The Government fully recognise the seriousness of the issue of knife crime and have put in place a variety of measures, encompassing legislation, enforcement, education and prevention to address it. We will continue to work in partnership with the police and local communities to get those weapons off our streets.

In supporting the Home Secretary’s condolences, may I remind him that a particularly vicious crime was committed 18 months ago in my constituency? Two teenagers were stabbed to death in Finchampstead and the case is now before the Crown court. At the time and afterwards, with the backing of Ministers, I gave the victims’ families assurances that action would be taken, but in light of the latest dreadful murders over the past few days, I think that they all have the right to feel that we have collectively let them down. What more can we do?

The right hon. Gentleman is right: we need to take action before, as well as during and after, the awful headlines that we have seen. Perhaps I can reassure him and some of his constituents—if not about the terrible recurrence and instance of such awful crimes—about the fact that we have been taking action. Just a few weeks ago on 12 February, for instance, we doubled the maximum sentence for possession of a lethal weapon or knife in a public place without good reason. In a few weeks from now, on 6 April, we will implement the new offence of using someone to mind a weapon; if the weapon is a knife, the maximum sentence will be four years. We had already planned a few weeks after that to give school staff powers to search pupils for weapons. Those are among the range of measures we have introduced.

In addition to the measures we have brought in over the past few months, I can announce to the House two more steps that I hope will assist in combating knife crime. First, I have authorised that, as from next month, data on serious violent offences involving the specific use of knives and sharp instruments will be separately collected so that we can provide a more detailed understanding of the prevalence of the problem than is currently available. Secondly, we will improve facilities to allow the public to play an even greater part in providing the authorities with information on knife and gun crime. I have today spoken with the chief executive of Crimestoppers to see what additional work can be undertaken to encourage the public to report offences, and will shortly have a meeting with the organisation on that subject.

Finally, I have spoken today to Assistant Commissioner Tim Godwin of the Metropolitan police about the specific events of the recent tragedies, and I urge anyone with information about the deaths of Kodjo Yenga or Adam Regis to contact the Metropolitan police. More generally of course, people can provide information about gun or knife crime through the Crimestoppers number, which is 0800 55511.

Last Thursday, two of my constituents, Susan Hale and Sarah Merritt, were found murdered—reportedly stabbed to death—in a flat in the Townhill Park area of Southampton. The man initially sought by the police has been arrested and now, like the victims’ family and friends, we must wait for justice to take its course. However, reports of the incident highlight the fact that not all knife crime has young people as its victims or that they are necessarily the assailants. Can my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that in the renewed focus on knife crime and knife violence in our society we will look carefully at all the circumstances in which knives are used in crimes of violence so that we have a full picture and can tackle every aspect of those dreadful crimes?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. I think that I can give him that assurance. We have more police than ever before, as well as more police community support officers. We will bring in more powers to sentence where it is appropriate, and for longer in particular circumstances. At the end of the day, neither the Government nor the authorities, nor more powers nor more police, can on their own tackle the problem. Unless we empower communities and engage the whole community as partners in the fight against knife and gun crime and other violent crime, and emphasise the role of parental and personal responsibility as well as the police and powers, we shall not achieve our aim of combating those crimes effectively. I agree that there is a need for particular information about a range of circumstances, and I hope that my announcement today about data collection on violent crimes where knives are involved is a step in the right direction.

Although I do not doubt for a moment the Home Secretary’s commitment on this matter, may I ask him for an assurance that, by the time schools return from their Easter holidays, all inner-city schools will be adequately monitored to ensure that pupils do not go to school possessing these weapons? It is deeply disturbing that so many of the apparent perpetrators are of school age.

As I have already said, I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern and, as of May, we are giving school staff powers to search pupils for weapons. As I said, those powers and police presence alone will not solve the problem, but they are a necessary part of the solution. May I correct the telephone number that I provided a few moments ago? Crimestoppers is 0800 555 111.

I join the Secretary of State in sending condolences to the families and others affected by these tragic incidents. Will he join me in urging people to redouble their efforts to engage with young people in the community in order to divert them from such crime? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, notwithstanding what the Government have already achieved through youth offending teams, for example, his Department should work with the Department for Communities and Local Government and others to provide further resources to help local communities to come together and tackle this crime? We need to work with young people to stop them getting involved in the first place.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, which is one of the reasons why, before this recent terrible spate of deaths and attacks associated with knife crime, we had a round table meeting that brought together not just the Government and local authorities, but local, voluntary and charitable organisations. We need to go further and involve other Departments—it is a cross-departmental Government issue—particularly the Department for Education and Skills. It is no consolation to any of us to know that the incidence of knife crime, which is in the order of 6 to 7 per cent. of all violent crime, has remained relatively stable. That is a cold statistic, but it conceals within it some of the terrible tragedies that happen when these weapons are used. I am sure that the whole House wants to do everything possible—not just within the Government, but throughout the country in the communities and in local government—to make sure that we combat it.

Kodjo Yenga was tragically murdered on Hammersmith grove in my constituency last week and I would like to put on record my sympathy for the family and my praise for Hammersmith and Fulham police for acting and getting on the scene extremely quickly. Hammersmith and Fulham police and the British Transport police have been very effective in recent months in monitoring and examining the prevalence of knives in Hammersmith centre; there have been a number of metal detector searches at Hammersmith bus station, and so on. The Home Secretary offers a solution of more data collection and more offences, but does he agree that it is time to look again at the regulations behind stop and search, particularly in London? The current practices of stopping and accounting for searches are simply not working. We need far greater prevalence of stop and search in areas such as Hammersmith centre.

May I express, through the hon. Gentleman, our sympathy for the family of Kodjo Yenga, who was so tragically and awfully attacked, and say how sorry we are for what they are undergoing.

We look at everything that can contribute towards a solution. I have not pretended to be offering a solution today, because I do not think that it is within the power of the Government alone to do so. As I said, personal and parental responsibility as well as the local community must be involved. However, there is an obligation on Government to give a lead and provide the powers, the authorities and the assistance to enable the community—in partnership with us—to fight these terrible incidents. We will look at any means necessary to do that.

On the particular issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, we have to be careful to recognise that, in taking some steps, we may with the best of intentions alienate the very communities that we seek to engage in partnership. I do not say that that is an easy question to resolve. The point that he has put to me has been put to me by people from all different backgrounds in the community. In the meantime, however, I think I will concentrate on the measures that I have brought forward today.

My right hon. Friend has had the chance to meet Hackney police and hear from their lips how crime has dropped by 16 per cent. in Hackney. There were nearly 3,000 fewer victims in the past year. However, the number of stabbings rose by a third in the same period and, as other Members have said, 25 per cent. of the victims of stabbing are aged between 15 and 20 years old. That is a big concern for those of us in Hackney with concerns about our young people.

My right hon. Friend has explained all the hard measures that are in place in terms of sentencing, but could he outline what plans the Home Office has to put money into communities to support parents and community groups who are keen to tackle this problem from the inside rather than at the end point when someone has committed a crime and created a victim?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I very much appreciated her assisting me to meet members of the safer neighbourhoods team—police, local councillors and many other local people—who are working in partnership and taking the matter into their own hands as well as their own heads so as to improve the local community. My hon. Friend is right to say that that cannot be done without local partnership and that is why, in answer to the specific question that she raised, I can tell her that, in the last couple of weeks alone, we have announced an additional £500,000 through the Connected fund to be made available to those in local communities who are fighting against the gangs who would use violence of any sort. I can also tell her that, in October, we will raise the age at which someone can purchase a knife from 16 to 18. I therefore hope that we are moving forward both in addressing the problem of young people using these weapons of violence and in assisting those in the community who are trying to combat that.

I join the Home Secretary and other hon. Members in passing the House’s condolences to the families of Adam Regis, Kodjo Yenga, Father Paul Bennett, Keith Platt and other victims of knife violence.

More than 230 knife-related violent crimes are reported every day. Youth Justice Board polling suggests that more than a quarter of all school pupils have carried a knife in the last year and nearly a third of all homicides now involve the use of a sharp instrument, yet Ministers emphasise the view that the terrible tragedies of the past few days are isolated incidents. Although I hear what the Home Secretary has said about the new measures to be brought forward, including those on the use of data and providing more qualitative assessments of the incidents and the information that is available, when will the Government recognise the full impact of the social and family breakdown and drug abuse that underline the causes of these appalling crimes? Is it not time that the Government focused more on the issues that will deliver more order on our streets rather than simply on delivering more laws and legislation?

The hon. Gentleman should be careful of two things. The first is that in an attempt to understand the complex causes he does not fall into excusing it by referring to family backgrounds—

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am cautioning him. It is one thing to understand the complexity of causation and another thing to provide an alibi for it. There is no excuse for using knives or guns to inflict such terrible damage on anyone.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman talks about the incidents not being isolated, but I have not in any way attempted to minimise the situation. I have said that it is no consolation even to know that the level of knife-associated violence is stable. However, we should not brand the large majority of young people as associated with this. They are the potential victims, not the perpetrators. No one is threatened as much as young people. Furthermore, it is not just young people or black people who are threatened; people of all ages are threatened when there is an acceptance of this situation.

I am the first to accept that this is a complex situation, but, if one looks at addressing the underlying causes—if they are deemed to be, in part, poverty, lack of education, family background, unemployment and deprivation—what the Government have done in every one of those fields stands far better comparison than anything the hon. Gentleman’s Government ever did in the almost 20 years that they were in power.

Immigration and Nationality Directorate

7. What progress is being made on the review of the immigration and nationality directorate; and if he will make a statement. (127795)

Not only did we hit our target for 2006, removing a record number of illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers, but we have now published proposals to back our immigration service with extra powers, extra resources, new identity technology, and concerted action not just across the Home Office, but across public services as a whole.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. While we are on the subject of Home Office reorganisation, does he recall the evidence given by Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch UK, to the Committee considering the UK Borders Bill, on which my hon. Friend and I both sit? On Tuesday last week, Sir Andrew Green said that a reorganisation to create a single border force, as proposed by the Opposition, is the “last thing” that should happen at this juncture—

The Minister’s original response was unbelievably complacent. Will he confirm that, according to the director general of the immigration and nationality directorate, there are 1,300 foreign criminals who have served their sentence and whom the Department has failed to deport? They are either still in prison or in immigration removal centres. Two of those removal centres have recently been smashed up—one of them only last week—precisely because of the presence of hardened criminals. When are we going to see some practical results from the review instead of the non-stop stream of meaningless management-speak that has so far been the only outcome?

It is not entirely clear what the hon. Gentleman proposes. I assume—in fact, this is the only conclusion that I can draw—that he thinks that we should let those people out while their cases are reviewed and while they drag their cases through the asylum and immigration tribunal. It is true that the measures that we propose in the UK Borders Bill will allow us to expedite their deportation and I look forward to the support of the Opposition. The real step backwards would be to cancel ID cards, as the hon. Gentleman proposes. They are precisely what Andrew Green spoke in favour of in the evidence given to the UK Borders Bill Committee. He added his voice to the voices of not only Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, but Sir Ian Blair, Lord Stevens and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). The hon. Gentleman is increasingly setting himself up as the Luddite of law enforcement.

In the review of the Department, will the Minister look at how long things take? Does he share my shock at the fact that he can be within his published deadlines and yet more than half of the applications decided take more than 70 working days? That is because of the long deadlines for uncharged applications and because 10 per cent. of charged applications can take more than 70 working days. Will he speed those figures up?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. There are plans, which we set out in the IND review, for exactly the kind of acceleration that she is looking for. However, where detailed checks need to be made as part of someone’s application, it is right for immigration officers to do those checks so that we can be clear that we are giving the right entitlements to the right people.

The hon. Gentleman sent me a helpful letter after I wrote to him about temporary admission. Does he agree that far too many people are not reporting back after they have been granted temporary admission and that, in fact, the rules relating to people who are granted temporary admission need to be tightened up considerably? Does he think that if there is any doubt at all in the minds of immigration officers, these people should be detained?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. As he knows, I tried to write as detailed and thorough a response to him as possible, and I apologise for the slight injection of a delay that resulted. It is important that we keep those who apply for leave in this country under the closest possible review. Part of that involves ensuring that we have the systems to count people in and count people out of the country. We said something else last July: when there are people seeking asylum in this country, we should ensure that they are subject to electronic monitoring, or, when necessary, tagging. I hope that we will be able to hit that target, as we promised, in April.

The review of IND will inevitably concentrate on issues relating to the three important announcements made in the past 12 months on the points-based migration system and the creation of the shortage occupation lists and the migration advisory committee. Will the Minister either give us a brief outline of the situation regarding those three important matters, or tell the House that he will come back soon to make a fuller statement on them?

I am grateful for that question. Last year we did indeed set out proposals for a migration advisory committee that would advise us on where in the economy migration would make sense and where it would not. I am delighted that the response to the consultation that we undertook showed that the proposal was overwhelmingly popular—this is another example of a popular Home Office measure. We will soon be able to bring forward the response to that consultation and the practical measures that will follow.

National Identity Card Scheme

The Identity and Passport Service is opening 69 new local offices, starting later this year, to meet in person and interview first-time passport applicants. Interviews are intended to deter and detect fraudulent passport applications.

We are told that the seductively named enrolment centres are, inter alia, essential to meet International Civil Aviation Organisation biometric passport requirements, but surely they could be met without the need for imposed attendance by digitising existing normal passport photographs. Is there not a risk that far from being the centrepiece of efforts to combat terrorism, illegal immigration, identity theft and benefit fraud, the centres could eventually help to create a hackable electronic leviathan containing 60 million detailed dossiers that could prove irresistible to international gangs of counterfeiters?

The majority of attempted frauds that are detected at present involve first-time adult applicants for passports. It is thus important that we take appropriate measures now to tackle that identity fraud. Although it might be a little inconvenient, asking people to travel something like 20 miles to a 20-minute interview to protect their identity is reasonable—it is certainly seen as reasonable in all our research.

My hon. Friend will know that as we move forward into 2009, we will, further to protect people’s identities, have to introduce the fingerprint biometric on the passport to ensure that our passports do not become second-class documents. Having 69 locations at which people can easily enrol their biometrics and have their biographical interview will thus make a big difference to how straightforward people will find the process and will enable us to protect people’s identities, which is seen as reasonable by the majority of people in this country.