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Home Department

Volume 462: debated on Monday 9 July 2007

The Secretary of State was asked—

Antisocial Behaviour

There will be a review of the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour interventions and we think that the contract will be let some time in September or October this year. The hon. Gentleman will know that there have been extensive studies from a range of sources on the efficacy of antisocial behaviour interventions, and we have always sought to adjust the practice of implementing them accordingly.

According to Milton Keynes community safety partnership’s latest survey, a massive 72 per cent. of respondents listed antisocial behaviour as their principal concern, and only two weeks ago, a former Labour councillor was convicted of punching a young mother in the face outside a school in Milton Keynes. As actions speak louder than words, what will the Minister do to reassure my constituents that he is serious about tackling antisocial behaviour in Milton Keynes?

First, I would ask them to find another MP, rather than one who treats a serious matter in such a cheap and partisan fashion. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) is more than aware of the antisocial behaviour difficulties with which the partnership in Milton Keynes is dealing and I would venture to say that she has done a tad more than the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) to try to resolve those matters—good luck to her.

My hon. Friend is no doubt aware of the success of antisocial behaviour orders in assisting communities to tackle the problem of antisocial behaviour. May I draw one aspect of the issue to his attention so that he is aware of it when he carries out the review? Police officers in my area are concerned that when somebody breaches an ASBO and they are taken back to the magistrates court, the matter is not treated severely enough, given that it is a severe breach of a court agreement. Will my hon. Friend take that into consideration when he carries out the review?

Many people up and down the country have expressed that concern relating to communities. I will seek to ensure that the subject of the efficacy and effectiveness of the local magistracy when dealing with repeat breaches of antisocial behaviour interventions is part of the broader review that we will take forward towards the end of the year; I agree with my hon. Friend on that.

May I tell my hon. Friend that we have had considerable success with antisocial behaviour interventions in Salford? In fact, there have been almost 900 different types of interventions and 40 antisocial behaviour orders. That has resulted in crime falling by 13 per cent. overall; in particular, criminal damage has been reduced. However, we do have some way to go. On the review, does my hon. Friend agree that councillors working with the safer neighbourhood teams will ensure success? That is what has happened in Salford to make our antisocial behaviour interventions so successful.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Anyone who is fair and consensual, as I am, would acknowledge that Liberal Democrat and Conservative councils across the country, and the odd recalcitrant Labour council, are finally getting on board in dealing with antisocial behaviour—the police have certainly been on board for a long time. My hon. Friend is right: the system is at its most powerful when all those local partnerships come together and draw up a broader antisocial behaviour strategy for the entire region, rather than just focusing on recalcitrant individuals.

Immigration Review

2. What assessment she has made of progress on the implementation of her new Department’s immigration review; and if she will make a statement. (147902)

I have had several discussions with the chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency since my appointment. Progress has already been made in meeting our key priorities, which are to strengthen our borders, to fast track asylum decisions, to encourage and enforce compliance with our immigration laws and to boost Britain’s economy through managed migration. Agency status for the BIA, including a new regional structure, is encouraging greater focus on delivery, flexibility and speed of decision making.

I welcome the Home Secretary to her new position and wish her good luck in it, and I thank her for her response. We have been impotent or unwilling to deport immigrants who are undesirable or who may pose a security threat to us. In light of the recent terrorist attacks and the increased threat level, will she adopt a tougher, more proactive policy on deporting “doctors of death”, or Muslim clerics who seek to radicalise young men in Britain?

Public protection and security has to be at the heart of our approach to immigration policy. The hon. Gentleman slightly underestimates the action that has already been taken. We have signed memorandums of understanding, which include assurances, with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon, and we have agreements with Algeria; they will enable us to deport suspects to those states. Nine people have been deported on national security grounds in the past two years, and 124 people from the UK have been excluded on national security grounds in the same period. We take the threat very seriously. We will do what is necessary and, by taking action and by making changes to the law when necessary, we will ensure that we can continue to do it.

My right hon. Friend will recall that the review identified what have become known as legacy cases—the 400,000 to 500,000 cases that were supposed to be cleared within up to five years. However, will she look at how the issue is being handled, because people applying for extensions of leave and humanitarian protection, rather than making fresh claims, are simply getting a standard letter saying, “It will be decided within five years, ” which is very unhelpful both to the constituent and to those of us who deal with their cases.

My hon. Friend is right. We have made a commitment to deal with all those cases—roughly 450,000—in the next five years. My predecessor set out the priority order on which that would be done, starting with harm first. Obviously, I will want to look carefully at the progress that is being made on that programme and I will take into consideration points made by my hon. Friend. We expect to be able to report on progress on that work later this year.

Given that the Health Department claims that we have a uniquely ethical policy of not recruiting doctors and nurses from Africa, will the Home Secretary, in her review, examine why the Home Office has issued more than 60,000 work permits to nurses and doctors from Africa since 2000, quite apart from the many issued to doctors and nurses from Asia? Although the issue was recently highlighted by the appalling fact that a handful of these people were apparently involved in terrorism, is it not also appalling that we are asset-stripping Africa of the resources that it so desperately needs to cure its own people?

Thanks to the considerable investment that the Government have put into training medical staff and ensuring recruitment into our NHS, it is no longer necessary—certainly with respect to consultants—to recruit from abroad. However, where people would like to come and contribute to the NHS—and, incidentally, in many cases, to take back skills that they have learned here to their own countries—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not want us to prevent that from happening. The related issue of the concern about security checks on those who come to work in the NHS is, of course, the subject of the review that the Prime Minister has asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Admiral Sir Alan West, to undertake, and we will look carefully at whether there is more we need to do to tighten the security arrangements in those very specific circumstances.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, as part of the immigration review, she could reflect on the impact that migrant workers are having on indigenous workers in all our communities? There is clear evidence that unscrupulous employers are bringing these vulnerable workers into this country and exploiting the current employment laws. Will my right hon. Friend speak to her colleagues in the relevant Department to close those loopholes?

It is in order to make sure that the economy and the British people benefit from migration, but also to manage the risks and allow people to come to this country on the basis of their skills and the contributions that they can make, that we have set up the migration advisory committee, which will meet for the first time in October to look precisely at those issues. It is also—this relates particularly to some of the areas that my hon. Friend was concerned about—why we are increasing our enforcement capacity to tackle illegal working where it is happening and, more broadly across Government, looking at how we can ensure that the minimum employment standards that we expect in this country are taken into consideration and enforced, regardless of where workers come from.

The Home Secretary will be aware of previous announcements of the shortage occupation lists by the migration advisory committee and of ongoing consultation on the prevention of illegal working. There is, of course, also the immigration review that she is discussing in this question. Is she confident, given that a plethora of different bodies are doing similar and related work, that the output from each will be consistent and avoid any conflict between the necessary job of preventing illegal working and the equally necessary job of ensuring that labour shortages in certain sectors continue to be dealt with?

I am confident that we are putting in place the necessary bodies in working order to ensure that. That is why the migration advisory committee, which I mentioned in my previous answer, has a clear remit to assess the economic benefits of migration and the way in which we should manage that for the benefit of the British economy. The migration impact forum, which met just this month, has a clear responsibility to examine the impact of immigration across, for example, public services and other aspects of our communities. Taken with the wide range of other activities that I outlined in my first answer, those give us a clear view of our priority objectives, and we are increasingly putting in place the machinery to make sure that they are delivered.

I am glad to welcome the Home Secretary to her new role. I am sure she will fulfil it with the calm good sense that she has already displayed. On the migration review, people like me who were elected on a platform of a firmer, faster and fairer immigration process have been concerned that we deliver on the speed of the process. One of the welcome aspects of the migration review was accelerating the pace of change, speeding up decision making and making decisions more effective. One of the difficulties that I have had in looking at the speed of decision making is the fact that the asylum statistics do not report on the end-to-end model—

Order. Please have a seat while I am standing. The hon. Lady should ask a precise question and not give us a preamble.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question was whether my right hon. Friend would look at the figures that are published in the asylum statistics, so that the whole length of time that an asylum decision takes—

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), is right. It has been a clear focus of the work of the Border and Immigration Agency to reach those decisions more quickly and to get them right. That is why the decision for the majority of asylum seekers will be made within one month. Before the end of the year we will achieve the milestone that we set ourselves, for 40 per cent. of asylum cases to be completed in six months from the decision through to the disposal of that decision. My hon. Friend raises an important point about how we report the asylum statistics. That will be the subject of a review of asylum statistics being led by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) over the summer. I hope to be able to report back to her when we have carried out that review.

I welcome the Home Secretary to her first Home Affairs questions. The Government have made much of the role that identity cards will play in the management of our immigration system. Her Minister for Immigration and Asylum said to me on the Floor of the House in February that up to 70 per cent. of the cost of ID cards would be absorbed by the introduction of biometric passports. Given that in the High Court the Government are blocking a request from the Information Commissioner demanding publication of the Government’s own early cost estimates for the project, will she agree today to allay growing public concerns about the ballooning costs of that vast project? Will she agree to place before the House as soon as possible a full, detailed analysis of the costs of the project from beginning to end?

The hon. Gentleman and his party, as well as the official Opposition, have taken a consistently oppositional approach to the use of identity cards to support our objectives in relation to immigration, how we counter terror, and how we make sure that people in this country get the things to which they are entitled—[Interruption.] Sometimes that opposition is hidden behind concerns about costs, and sometimes it is hidden behind more supposedly principled arguments. Nevertheless, it is opposition, and Opposition Members have to face up to the consequences when difficult decisions are being made. On the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, it is about the release of information being prepared for and provided to Ministers to allow the most rigorous analysis to be made of the ongoing costs of delivering a very important policy—ID cards. I am, of course, completely in favour of freedom of information, but it is also my view that there will be—[Interruption.] There will be important areas such as advice to Ministers and ongoing analysis of policies that the original legislation never proposed should be subject to freedom of information. If we are to ensure that those reviews are as rigorous as the hon. Gentleman and I both hope they are, that is an entirely reasonable position to take.

Only a few days ago, I signed off a letter to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) describing a set of circumstances that I am sure is common in the constituencies of most hon. Members, which is that a good number of people who are working in local residential care homes as carers are foreign nationals who have been here for several years. When will the Border and Immigration Agency’s new system for processing work permit applications be up and running? In the interim, an awful lot of applications are being rejected, with all that that entails for the stability and fair treatment of the foreign nationals who are here, and indeed for the quality of care that will be available in residential care homes without the services of those people.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the potential contribution that migration can make to our economy. Improvements have already been made to the work permit process, but of course one of the challenges is how we can, as we go forward, bring some consistency and coherence to what has developed over the years into 80 different routes for immigration into this country. In order to do that, the very good progress that has been made so far on the points-based system of dealing with immigration is absolutely crucial. That is why I have been encouraged by that progress.

The Home Secretary says that progress has been made, yet the head of Interpol stated that the Government are failing to check visitors against its database of stolen documents and suspected terrorists. The Government’s own counter-terrorism adviser, Lord Stevens, has criticised our porous borders. Only this weekend, we discovered that a convicted French terrorist has been allowed into Britain. Just hours ago, Muktar Said Ibrahim was found guilty of conspiracy to murder for his role in the 21/7 attacks—a man who, despite the fact that he was facing criminal charges for extremism at the time, was allowed to leave the country, go to Pakistan to train, and come back and plan the attempted murders of 21/7. The Government’s own e-borders policy will not be in place for seven years. What immediate action is the Home Secretary planning to protect the public?

On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point in respect of Interpol, I hope that I can provide reassurance to the House that it is already the case that all known and suspected terrorists declared by Interpol are placed on the warnings index by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. That warnings index has 17 million entries and is routinely used for the scanning of passports of all those who enter this country. However, work is also under way with SOCA to provide access and searching functions against the Interpol stolen travel document database at the border. We have already carried out a study, and I am expecting a report on that next week.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s general points about the security of our borders, I have to say that he fails to recognise the considerable progress that has been made. That progress already enables us to check and verify the fingerprints of those applying for visas on entry to this country. Through measures that we are taking in the UK Borders Bill, foreign nationals in this country will be subject to biometric ID cards. In the past two years, airline liaison officers have already turned back more than 150,000 people—the equivalent of two jumbo jets a week—because of a failure to have the correct papers or because of concerns about them. The first stage of the e-borders scheme has already enabled us to track 22 million passenger movements, has issued over 12,000 alerts to border agencies, and has—

The Home Secretary says that action is being taken. However, the weaknesses in our control and security do not just apply to doctors: bogus student applications are an even bigger loophole. Her predecessors—all of them—have made tough promises. Let me quote just one—the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said, three or four years ago:

“We are going to tighten up dramatically on students coming in, the colleges which take those students…Secondly, making sure that those students who do come actually turn up on their courses, and don’t disappear”.

Since that promise, one university alone—Portsmouth—has notified the Home Office of 2,500 students who were given places, and presumably got visas on the back of that, but did not turn up. What did the Home Office do about it?

Well, I had only just got started.

Let us get on to the subject of foreign students. They bring considerable economic benefits to the UK, contributing more than £5 billion a year to our economy. We are determined to ensure that the student route is not abused, which is why it is already the case that students found ineligible for a visa are refused entry to the UK. Visa applicants, including students, are checked on application against the warnings index of 17 million entries. From April 2007, a package of rules changes have taken effect, which tackle the abuse of the student route.

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman’s specific question, there is already mandatory reporting of enrolment and attendance of students, when requested by the Border and Immigration Agency. Failure to do so would result in a college being removed from the current Department for Education and Skills register. The introduction of the points-based system with a much stronger focus on sponsorship will mean that all sponsors will have to be accredited, and any college or university that does not do so will run the risk of being taken off the list, and will thus be unable to sponsor students and get the benefits that come from that process. We have taken strong action to tackle the abuse already, and further is planned.

Illegal Raves

I understand that illegal raves have been a problem in East Anglia. Operational decisions on the use of the powers available to deal with them are for the police to take. The Association of Chief Police Officers met on Thursday 5 July and my officials tell me that they are taking forward work nationally to look at intelligence gathering, partnership working and current legislation regarding the issue of illegal raves.

The Minister will be aware that there was a time when raves were generally low-key, good-humoured events. During the past few weeks, there have been a number of illegal raves in my constituency where there has been substantial criminal damage and violence, a great deal of damage to property and the peddling of illegal drugs. The local police are fully stretched and are doing their best, but does he agree that the time has come for records of raves to be centrally recorded? The Government should look again at the powers the police have. Will he consider the matter urgently?

I am not aware of being present at any illegal raves, and I am not sure if the hon. Gentleman has been to any either.

The issue of illegal raves is important; they cause considerable disquiet, distress and law-breaking in many areas of the country, including the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. ACPO has set up a sub-group to look at the issue, and one thing it might consider is whether to take on board the central recording of illegal raves—a point made by the hon. Gentleman. I also point out to him that there are considerable powers available to the police under section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which was amended by the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, to prevent raves from taking place, and to deal with them if they come to pass. I hope that that gives some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman.

Internet Service Providers

4. What work she is undertaking with internet service providers to ensure that they take a responsible approach to the contents they host. (147905)

The Government continue to work with the internet industry to ensure that inappropriate material is not hosted in the UK and that there is a greater understanding of and clarity about when criminal offences have been committed on the internet.

As part of that approach, there is ongoing co-operation between internet service providers and law enforcement agencies. Most service providers have acceptable use policies in place that enable the removal of material from any site if it is illegal, distasteful or otherwise unacceptable.

I thank the Home Secretary for her answer and congratulate her on her new role.

Given the huge increase in videos that depict scenes of violence, antisocial behaviour and criminal behaviour, which are being uploaded on to such internet services, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for the police to have more powers when dealing with internet service providers who persist in the glorification of such acts?

It is clearly unacceptable for such criminal acts to have been committed in the first place and then uploaded on to the sorts of sites that my hon. Friend mentioned. We need to look at the matter in two stages. First, criminal law already covers the first offence of the attack—whether it is assault, wounding, actual or grievous bodily harm or antisocial behaviour, which my hon. Friend mentioned.

Secondly, someone who records a violent offence could be criminally liable for uploading it either because they have committed the offence being filmed or because they were involved in planning it and would therefore be open to charges of conspiracy, incitement, aiding and abetting or being involved in a joint enterprise to commit the offence.

Uploading the video as well as taking part in the offence could be an aggravating factor when sentencing is considered. It is important to keep the matter under review and my hon. Friend has put her finger on something that concerns many people. However, the law is in place and we need to continue working with the police and internet service providers to ensure that we limit that unacceptable activity.

The Home Secretary will know that paedophiles regularly download some appalling child abuse videos and films on to their computers. Increasingly, they are encrypting the material so that the police cannot get access to it. The police have been waiting about five years for the statutory instrument relating to encryption and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. When will they get it?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a strong interest in the matter. Since coming into the Home Office, I have been impressed by the work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the work that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) is leading. I understand that we are looking at that specific matter to bring it forward. I hope that we can get back to the hon. Gentleman with news on that soon.

May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to a substantial piece of work that Zentek Forensics in my constituency carried out? It showed that it is ever so easy to google one’s way around the firewalls that prevent children from accessing some very undesirable material. That is happening in schools, libraries and children’s bedrooms in the evenings at home. Will my right hon. Friend look at the providers of commercial filters and try to get them to strengthen their firewalls?

I am happy to look at anything we can do to protect children from some of the dangers of the internet. I recognise, of course, that the internet plays an important role in the lives of children and young people—at their schools, in their social lives and in their ability to research. However, it is clearly unacceptable if we cannot put the technical safeguards in place. We have been considering how we can, for example, kitemark some of the products that are involved in filtering and monitoring software. Perhaps, as part of that activity, the company to which my hon. Friend referred could make some progress. However, we take the issue extremely seriously.

Although I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments, does she agree that it is a tragedy that what used to be the place where childhood innocence was protected and preserved—the home—is now often the place where it is corrupted and destroyed?

If that were the sole impact of the internet and some of the new methods of communication, I would agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, as the parent of a teenager, I have had my eyes opened and been amazed by the scope for friends to communicate with each another and talk to each other through sites like Bebo. Sometimes I wish that they would talk face to face; nevertheless, important elements of social networking take place through such sites. We need to put in place the technical safeguards necessary to educate parents and children about how to use them safely. That is an important part of CEOP’s work. I know that work is going on to consider especially those social networking sites. We will soon produce guidance on the technical matters and the way in which we can better advise parents, who need to take responsibility for what their children do in the home.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on her new role. Will she join me in paying tribute to Liz Longhurst, who has campaigned tirelessly since the horrific murder of her daughter, Jane, for the outlawing of extreme images of violent internet pornography, which will be made illegal in the recently published Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill? Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when that welcome measure is likely to receive its Second Reading?

I think that the legislation to which my hon. Friend refers is due to receive its Second Reading in the autumn. He is right that the campaigning of Liz Longhurst, ably supported and championed by him, has brought the issue to the fore and applied the necessary pressure to bring about those legislative changes, which will be important in offering protection in this area.

Special Constabulary Employer Supported Learning Scheme

In February 2004, the Home Office, the Metropolitan police, Dixons and Woolworths launched the ShopWatch initiative, which recruits employees as special constables from retail establishments to patrol their own retail areas. The ShopWatch programme succeeded in reducing retail crime by a half in 2004 in the participating stores and is a prime example of proactive partnership working across the community and forces. The freedom to decide whether to go ahead with the scheme lies with individual police forces and their partners. They need to decide whether it would suit their area and be useful. The National Policing Improvement Agency offers support to any areas that wish to take the scheme up.

May I welcome the Under-Secretary to her position, congratulate her on her promotion and, somewhat rarely for me, congratulate the Government on a project that is very worth while? While thanking employers for allowing staff to join the ShopWatch scheme, I should like to place on the record our appreciation to them and urge the Under-Secretary to encourage every police force to introduce it. It is the best news that we have had for special constables, with the first six in Essex joining last week, in Colchester.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a great supporter of the scheme and has been a driving force behind its introduction in Colchester. I am certainly happy to congratulate Colchester’s “business specials”, as they have been dubbed, and congratulate the participating stores, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, Colchester borough council, Bluestone and Essex police for getting the scheme off the ground. The best advert for the project is a successful scheme, as well as the hard work that the hon. Gentleman has put into highlighting it. I shall be watching with interest and I hope that other hon. Members will highlight the project in their areas, too.

Does my hon. Friend agree that volunteering in the police force, the ambulance service or the fire brigade is an excellent way of creating sustainable communities and getting collective responsibility within them for their safety and well-being? If so, is there any way that we can expand the ShopWatch scheme to other private and public sector bodies?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we all take collective responsibility for our safety. It is fair to say that my hon. Friend Sir Alan West highlighted that at the weekend, which is an important aspect—[Interruption.] As someone asked from a sedentary position, “Is he a friend?” He is indeed. A man who has held such a high position in the Navy, patrolling our waters, certainly has my friendship and, I am sure, that of other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) asked whether we could extend the scheme to other areas. It is worth highlighting the fact that although we are discussing ShopWatch, we also have hospital watch, campus watch and borough beat, which run in conjunction with hospitals, universities and local authorities.

May I ask the Minister whether there are any arguments of principle against a paid special constabulary, as with retained firemen or the Territorial Army? If there are no such arguments, why have not the Government put a paid special constabulary in place during the past 10 years?

One of the special aspects of the special police is that they are volunteers; they are paid only out-of-pocket expenses. The Government introduced police community support officers, who play a vital role in our neighbourhood policing teams in constituencies up and down the country. It is worth noting that while the Government supported the introduction of police community support officers, the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s party voted to delete some of their powers of arrest in April 2002, when the Police Reform Bill was in the Lords.

We in the House agree that these schemes are excellent and provide a good way forward for community cohesion. How should we expand them? What work is being done with employers to persuade them that the skills that volunteers learn as special constables are transferable to their place of work, and to encourage more of them to take up those schemes?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of employers being on board in terms of such schemes—special constables might require their employers to allow them some time off work. ShopWatch special constables have highlighted that the transferable skills that they have gained have given them confidence in spotting potential shoplifters, for example. The scheme has contributed to a reduction in shoplifting when those specials are off duty as well as to the safety of the area when they are on duty.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of special constables has fallen from 19,900 in 1997 to about 13,000 today. When does the Minister expect the number of specials to rise and to get back to the 1997 level that new Labour inherited?

The Conservatives can hardly criticise the Government, given the enormous increase in numbers in the Metropolitan police service, whose numbers are now at their highest level ever, and the introduction of police community support officers. As for special constables, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be great to see more volunteers, and we need to encourage employers to support the various schemes that I have outlined. We have seen a small increase in numbers. Up to 2006, we had 13,405, and we are awaiting the figures for this year, which will be published on 26 July.

Border and Immigration Agency

When the Home Secretary visits the agency, perhaps with the Minister of State, would they care to look into the in-trays, the filing cabinets and the post room controlled by the director general to get an explanation as to why it takes so long for Members of Parliament to get replies to simple questions and to obtain information requested from Ministers? I know that the Minister will try to deal with this question with his usual boyish charm, but these are serious issues that affect our constituents, and we need to get basic replies to our letters.

In much of his analysis.

My right hon. Friend will know that we have systematically dealt with our priorities over the past year. We started off by tackling the problem of foreign national prisoners, and moved on to ensure that we had the right amount of resources in immigration policing. He is right to say that resolving the legacy that has built up over the past few years must be tackled. We make something like 1.4 million immigration decisions a year, and about 85 per cent. of right hon. and hon. Members’ letters are now dealt with inside 20 days, compared with 32 per cent. in 2003. We need to go further, however, and that is why further investment is required and will be delivered.

But is the Minister aware that on 5 August 2005, in response to the July bombings, the present Government made their top security priority the need to establish new grounds for deportation there and then? Is he also aware that in a written reply of 6 June this year, the Government said that since then there had been only one deportation? That means that in the intervening two years we have had three times as many Home Secretaries as we have had deportations—even if a small number of deportations have taken place since 6 June. Why is it that, as with Hizb ut-Tahrir, so many dangerous individuals are still with us?

The hon. Gentleman has pursued this line of inquiry for some time and with some interest both in this Chamber and on the Home Affairs Committee. He is wrong to say or pretend that the full picture is about deportation, when so much of the important work is not just about undertaking deportations, often with assurances, but excluding those people who should not be here. Looking into the role of exclusion and removal as well as deportation is therefore important. Over the past couple of years, there have been about 176 occasions on which the previous two Home Secretaries used their powers to exclude or remove people. That demonstrates a very clear readiness to use the available powers to protect the United Kingdom.

On the very question of deportations, does the Minister agree with the previous Home Secretary’s statement of 24 May, in which he said that the deporting of criminal and terrorist suspects was being prevented by the European convention on human rights—a situation that he described as “outrageous”? He further claimed that it was leading to a situation in which

“we have an inadequate apparatus with which to fight terrorists.”—[Official Report, 24 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 1433.]

Does the Minister agree with the previous Home Secretary on the ECHR, and, if so, what is he going to do about it?

The then Home Secretary provided a full answer to that question at the time. The judgment under ECHR is one that dates back, if my memory serves me correctly, to 1996, and is known as the Chahal judgment. We believe that it prevents us from weighing the right considerations in the balance when we are making those decisions, but that is precisely why the UK Government are seeking to intervene in the Dutch Ramsey case, as we want the correct balance of considerations to be applied when taking such decisions.

Before I ask my question, may I tell the Home Secretary what a good job the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), has done on the trafficking of human beings and that the all-party group, as well as many other non-governmental agencies, are grateful to him for that.

When the Home Secretary goes to Croydon, will she have a word with the Paladin team, which deals with missing children, and ask how it is that 183 children have gone missing from local authorities in the last 18 months? No one seems to know where they are and nobody cares about them. Should not the Home Secretary now take a serious interest in the number of children missing from local authority care who are never found? Should she not be doing something about that?

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is grateful for the praise. The point about how we look after children who arrive here and claim asylum—the so-called unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—is an important one. We think that it is vital that the Border and Immigration Agency, along with other agencies, have a closer relationship with children while they are in care. That is why we suggested introducing tighter reporting arrangements for children. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that when it came to debates in Committee, it was his party that opposed those measures.

Computer Crime

7. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to tackle computer crime and online fraud; and if she will make a statement. (147908)

May I thank the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) for his remarks? I think that my wife, and perhaps my children, would be surprised at his pronunciation of my constituency!

The Government have recently legislated to reform the criminal law to ensure that the Computer Misuse Act 1990 is fully up to date and able to cope with developments in e-crime. We continue to work with industry and law enforcement partners on crime prevention initiatives, including Get Safe Online, and we maintain regular contact with stakeholders to monitor the effectiveness of our efforts.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will know that anyone with a credit card, which I guess is most people in this country, can receive e-mails saying, “Please can you send information about your card, because it needs to be updated”. That is what they call phishing, which is wrong and can lead to computer fraud.

There have been more and more instances of such e-fraud. Yet it seems at times that the police do not turn up any more when they are contacted, because the tide of such crime is rising higher and higher. The Minister said in his answer that there were numerous agencies to tackle that crime, but what steps are he and the Home Office taking to try to ensure greater co-ordination between those agencies to stem that ever-rising tide?

Part of the solution is for people to recognise the real risks that may be involved in so-called advertisements on the internet, and our education programme Get Safe Online seeks to achieve that. As for co-ordination, the hon. Gentleman will know that as part of its remit the Serious Organised Crime Agency has an e-crime unit, which I have visited and which is dealing very effectively with some of the most serious aspects of internet crime. Meanwhile, we await a business case from Commander Sue Wilkinson of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who will give us ACPO’s views on what we should do about a co-ordination unit.

Co-ordination on a cross-force and indeed a cross-border basis is mission-critical. Legislative changes may be necessary to enable money to be chased, because if we do not chase the money we will never get to the root of the crimes. My hon. Friend is right to praise the work of Get Safe Online, but will the Home Office use some of its advertising budget to promote that work to the parents and businesses who could benefit from it?

I think that the easiest way in which to answer my hon. Friend’s question is to say that of course we will consider his suggestion. As I have said, education abut the internet is crucial. We will think about the budget: at present the Cabinet Office funds Get Safe Online, but we will consider whatever we believe may be necessary to make use of the internet safer.

Since April, it has no longer been possible to report incidents of online banking fraud directly to the police. Instead, victims must notify their banks, which have discretion to decide whether to refer the matter to the authorities. Does the Minister accept that that sends a confused message about the seriousness with which this type of crime is treated—although it has risen by 45 per cent. in the past year—and suggests that his Department either cannot cope or cannot be bothered with e-crime?

It certainly does not indicate that the Department is confused. Nor does it indicate that the Department is not bothered about the whole issue. What we have done, with the agreement of ACPO and the Association for Payment Clearing Services, is change the system so that instead of going to the police station and not being sure what response they have received, people will tell the banks when they believe that fraud has occurred. The banks will then determine whether it has occurred, collate the reports, and give them to the police. That means not only that people will be recompensed for losses they have incurred but that the law enforcement agencies will be able to detect patterns of criminal activity, as a result of which far more perpetrators of fraud will be caught and dealt with by the courts.

I do not expect my hon. Friend to safeguard foolish people from giving details of their bank accounts or passing their money to conmen, but is he as anxious as I am to ensure that necessary safeguards do exist? I want to be certain that if I make a purchase online from a small company using my credit card details—or if one of my constituents does so—that company has a firewall to prevent others from hacking into the system, taking my details, and using my card to purchase other goods. Will small, and indeed large companies have a duty to safeguard my details, and how will that be achieved?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right that it is not only members of the public who have a responsibility to protect themselves—one of the purposes of Get Safe Online is to encourage people to be aware of the difficulties they might face—but that small and big companies also have a responsibility to protect their customers. We are constantly in discussions and negotiations with them to discover what more they can do in that regard so that we ensure that we minimise fraud.

Illegal Immigrants

8. What steps she is taking to enhance the effectiveness of the measures in place to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the UK. (147909)

There are two key steps to countering illegal immigration: biometrics to lock visitors down to a single identity, and intercepting and stopping illegal immigrants as far from our shores as possible.

I endorse what the Minister has said, but Migrationwatch UK states that there are 875,000 illegal immigrants in the country, and that 50,000 of them are detected every year but only one in four are returned home. We should thank goodness that we are an island. May I suggest three steps? First, we should link fingerprints to passport details in the worst offending countries so that no one can say, “I’ve lost my papers”, in between boarding an aeroplane and getting off it. Secondly, we should have a national border police so that we can secure our borders better. Finally, when illegal immigrants are detected and they fail asylum procedures, 100 per cent. of them should be returned to their country of origin.

I saw some of the news associated with that Migrationwatch report. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, since exit controls were phased out from 1994 it has been difficult to know how many illegal immigrants are in the country; that is why we are introducing a system to count people in and out. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a good idea to keep the problem as far away as possible from our shores. We are now introducing biometric visas, which have already led to us finding 4,000 people with an immigration history we had reason to be suspicious about who were trying to get back into the country. E-borders, which screens people at check-in, is already up and running and has already resulted in 1,000 arrests. Increasing our offshore border control will be an important part of what we do. However, more money is needed in order to remove more people who are here, but when we brought forward proposals this year to raise visa charges to provide an additional £100 million for immigration policing, Front-Bench Members of the hon. Gentleman’s party sat on their hands in Committee.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. Does he agree that human trafficking is extremely damaging to the home economy, potentially devastating to the lives of the individuals who are trafficked and very profitable? Will he undertake to talk to the Serious Organised Crime Agency with a view to increasing the scope of offshore controls of such illegal immigration?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sure that he is aware of and welcomes the measures in the UK Borders Bill that ensure that where human trafficking or human smuggling offences are organised or perpetrated anywhere on earth we now have the chance to prosecute them. I will raise the matters he mentions with SOCA, which I am meeting in a few days’ time.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to a written answer he gave me on 14 June, Official Report, column 1234, where he told me that there was no evidence to support speculation that illegal migrants were entering Scotland via the Faroe islands? When he gave that answer, was he aware of the report in The Scotsman newspaper on 4 June which stated that two groups of Asian men arrested for entering the country illegally had told the authorities that they had done so by travelling to Denmark and on to the Faroe islands and then to Shetland? How much evidence does the Home Office need before it can see a risk that is so blindingly obvious to the rest of us?

The hon. Gentleman did not, I think, give me the dates of the evidence in The Scotsman, which is a well-researched newspaper, and the answer that I gave him. If he has specific allegations to give to me, I will have them looked into.

The Minister knows that one of the reasons why illegal immigration is an attractive option for too many people is that there is the possibility of an amnesty for those who are here illegally. He has spoken out against such an amnesty, but other more senior Ministers have spoken in favour of one. During the notorious “Newsnight” debate between the Labour deputy leadership candidates, the successful candidate—now Leader of the House—was asked about such an amnesty and said:

“People who have worked hard here and paid their taxes should be allowed to stay.”

I think that she is wrong and the Minister is right. Can he reassure the House that the deputy leader of the Labour party has no influence whatsoever on the Government’s immigration policy?

Biometric Identity Cards

9. What assessment she has made of the potential effectiveness of biometric identity cards in helping law enforcement agencies to tackle terrorism. (147910)

Constant assessment by the police, Security Service and the Home Office continues to confirm the value of ID cards in disrupting terrorism by linking individuals to a single identity.

In respect of combating terrorism, can my hon. Friend confirm that the security services advise that a biometric identity card would be of value, and can he particularly say what their reasoning is for that advice?

The House will remember words said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) who quoted some of the material that has been found in al-Qaeda training manuals encouraging would-be terrorists to proliferate the number of identities that they have. It was the former director general of the Security Service who put it well when she said:

“Widespread use of false documents is an essential aspect of terrorist activities… ID cards will make it more difficult for terrorists to operate.”