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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 468: debated on Monday 26 November 2007

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police Community Support Officers

1. How many police community support officers there are in Chorley; and if she will make a statement. (167480)

There is now a neighbourhood policing team in every area in Lancashire. It is for the chief constable to decide where to deploy his police community support officers, but at the end of March 2007 the southern basic command unit, which includes Chorley, had 72 PCSOs—an invaluable addition to policing, with the primary focus of engaging with their local community.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Can she confirm that the Government are actually providing 75 per cent. of the funding for PCSOs in Chorley? The leader of the council believes they are funded by the council, but it is the Government who provide 75 per cent. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that PCSOs will not replicate the police but will assist the police force, ensuring that police numbers remain the same?

My hon. Friend is right: the introduction of PCSOs was an initiative brought about by the Labour Government. It was an initiative funded by the Labour Government to the tune of £7.6 million in the Lancashire police area this year. My hon. Friend is also right to note that we have increased the number of PCSOs at the same time as increasing the number of police officers. PCSOs play a complementary but different role.

3. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of police community support officers; and if she will make a statement. (167482)

Police community support officers make a very valuable contribution to the delivery of neighbourhood policing. That is why I am delighted to welcome the two-month intensive project being conducted by the National Policing Improvement Agency, which will build on good practice and establish greater standardisation where appropriate across forces on such issues as role and function, uniforms and equipment. It will also consider a new volunteer scheme for PCSOs, as Sir Ronnie Flanagan recommended. Ahead of that, I am pleased that the Association of Chief Police Officers shares my view that PCSOs should be at least 18 years old, and the Home Office will take forward work to introduce a code of practice to address that issue.

I welcome the announcement about the possibility of standard powers for PCSOs, who do an excellent job in my constituency and deserve the tools they need to do the job, but Unison and many PCSOs want all the powers currently on the statute book to be available to PCSOs—not just at the discretion of chief constables. Will my right hon. Friend keep the matter under review so that the public know what to expect from PCSOs, and that they have the full range of powers available to them?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As of 1 December, an agreed set of 20 powers will be standard across the whole country, thereby giving the public more certainty about the powers of PCSOs. It is to keep the matter under review and take that work forward that the National Policing Improvement Agency will carry out the two-month project I outlined, covering important points such as the standardisation of uniform and the issue of personal protection equipment.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Does she agree that those who demean and denigrate PCSOs not only insult a professional, hard-working, much valued body of men and women but demean many of our constituents who have come to see neighbourhood policing as one of the best, most reassuring and effective advances in policing since Dixon retired to Dock Green?

As always, my hon. Friend’s point is important and well made. Across the country, police community support officers play a hugely valuable role, making communities feel safer and promoting neighbourhood policing. That is why they are so widely welcomed by many of our constituents and the communities we represent. It is why, I suspect, they were welcomed even by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) when he said in July last year:

“I welcome the increase in police numbers…the deployment of community support officers…and the development of neighbourhood policing.”

Given that support in July 2006, I am hard pressed to understand why the Conservatives have now turned their back on the idea of further developing PCSOs.

Mr. Speaker, like me, you will know that Dixon was killed in the last episode, so I hope that is not a factual interpretation.

Northamptonshire police have reduced crime, partly due to the work of community support officers. Sadly, however, the Office for National Statistics massively understated population estimates for the county, creating yet another year of underfunding and forcing further cuts. Is the Secretary of State willing to do something about that unacceptable state of affairs, or do I have to tell the people of Northamptonshire that they will have to put up with another year of neglect under Labour?

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for recognising the very important work of PCSOs in his community? I hope that everyone throughout the House supports that. He makes an important point about the funding made available to police services and the nature of the formula in recognising changes in population. We will in the near future of course be making announcements about next year’s funding for police authorities and will bear in mind the issues that many forces have raised about the nature of population growth and how that is included in the formula. However, the increases that will follow the considerable increases to police forces will be possible only because of the investment that this Government have been willing to make in our police service. When the hon. Gentleman praises PCSOs in his constituency, I hope that he will also make clear his support for the extra investment made available by a Labour Government.

Is the Home Secretary aware that, in the Metropolitan police area, there is an increasing problem with finding premises for PCSOs to operate from, because of the cuts in their budget by the Mayor? This has an impact on their effectiveness so will she look into it?

It is obviously important that neighbourhood police teams have suitable premises from which to operate. I suspect that the challenge has been brought about by the considerable progress made by the Metropolitan police under the leadership of Commissioner Sir Ian Blair in delivering, two years ahead of target, neighbourhood policing teams in every single community in London.

May I tell my right hon. Friend that PCSOs are doing a fantastic job in my area and especially in my constituency in working as part of neighbourhood policing teams? That has led to Crime falling by 2.5 per cent. between 2002 and 2007, so will she tell us what sort of financial support Cleveland police can expect so that we can keep on employing more PCSOs in the future?

I cannot give my hon. Friend a figure today. As I said to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), we are looking very carefully at the way in which we distribute the increased support for policing next year and hope to make an announcement very soon. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the important role of PCSOs at the heart of neighbourhood policing teams across the country is helping to ensure a continued reduction in crime and is helping to build community support, community engagement and confidence in the progress that we are making in crime fighting.

I am delighted that the Home Secretary has been forced to admit that allowing the employment of PCSOs under the age of 18 was a mistake, but what assurance can she give that, by potentially allowing PCSO responsibilities to be extended to detaining suspects and searching people who could be carrying dangerous items, she is not putting PCSOs and the public at greater risk? At least one PCSO has already been seriously injured when he was run down by a car earlier this month. With PCSOs receiving less training than fully qualified officers and police budgets coming under pressure, will this move not simply increase the number of such tragic incidents?

We have introduced PCSOs and massively increased their numbers at the same time as increasing investment in our police forces and increasing the number of police officers. It is right that the Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Policing Improvement Agency, alongside the Home Office, now review the powers, the roles and the protection and training available to PCSOs in order to ensure that they can build on the very considerable contribution that they have made over the past four years. We are committed to doing that and to providing PCSOs with the training and protection that they need to carry out their job effectively.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to know that I spent a day with three PCSOs in different parts of my constituency in the summer. Not only was it excellent to see the work that they are doing, but it was tremendous to see the reception that they received on the streets from shopkeepers and others. The biggest problem that we face with PCSO recruitment is that the officers are being used as a recruiting ground for the police themselves and we have to recruit PCSOs doubly quick to keep the numbers up. What my right hon. Friend said about funding was very welcome, and if she was saying that we will move towards full implementation of formula funding for the east midlands, that will be very welcome indeed.

I know my hon. Friend and others in the east midlands have been making the case for funding in their area very strongly, including to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing. As I have said previously, we will obviously look carefully at how we can distribute the police grant over the next three years, maintaining stability where necessary but ensuring that resources are focused on where they need to go. I agree with my hon. Friend that the really heartening thing about spending time with PCSOs—as I did in my constituency on Friday—is the number of people who know their names and who are willing to talk to them and to report to them things that are happening in the community, and the way in which they work not just with local people, but with other agencies to problem-solve, build confidence and help drive down crime and antisocial behaviour.

Custody (Police Stations)

4. What assessment she has made of the efficiency of procedures for dealing with people being taken into custody in police stations. (167483)

The efficiency and effectiveness of police custody and custodial care remain under constant review within the police service. Others are equally involved, including the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

During my time on the parliamentary police scheme, I spent two and a half hours waiting at the custody desk to book in a prisoner. A police officer said that waits of four hours were not uncommon. When supermarkets have queues at the checkouts, they open more tills until the queues have disappeared. What are the Government doing to ensure that extra capacity is being built into custody areas so that we can get police officers back on to the streets as soon as possible?

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point and it is interesting to see that he has brought his supermarket skills and experience to the House. However, the issue is not simply about capacity; it is about a whole range of other factors, as I am sure his police force in West Yorkshire will have told him. Those other factors include what we do with the review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, in terms of the whole process, and the level of civilianisation, or otherwise, inside custody suites. Many of the elements that are in place are there for a declared purpose. As Ronnie Flanagan said in his interim report:

“There is undoubtedly a great deal of good and necessary bureaucracy within custody suites, much of it put in place to protect the vulnerable, to ensure due process of the law and to provide accountability for police actions.”

However, the hon. Gentleman’s point about capacity at particular times is well made and I will take it back to all police forces.

Does the Minister agree that it is about time we had a root-and-branch review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act? In some cases, it offers a perverse incentive and discourages officers from making arrests due to the amount of bureaucracy that is necessitated when they arrive at the custody suite.

I have to disagree with my hon. Friend when he says it is about time that we had a root-and-branch review. We are nine months or so into the review that started last March. I agree that we need to get on with it and get to a stage where we know exactly what the parameters of PACE are. PACE has been around for a long time and there is popular consensus that it does what it is supposed to do—protect and look after the interests of those who encounter the police in the custody process. However, we need that review to report as soon as possible.

I accept that the PACE forms are there for a purpose and are important evidentially. However, does the Minister agree that, in many other regards, police officers spend far too much time filling in forms pointlessly?

They do and have done in some cases, which is why we are looking at that in some detail. I have had a range of round-table and other meetings with a whole host of forces. However, the House should not run away with the notion that every single piece of paper a police officer is required to fill out comes from the centre. Often it is to do with local devices. Neither PACE nor bureaucracy goes to the import of the original question, which was that we need to look at, operationally and in other terms, getting people through the custody process, while their rights are protected, on an optimal basis.

I wonder whether the Minister would have a word with the Lord Chancellor to see whether he can get a grip on the number of people who are being decanted from the prison service into custody suites in police stations. According to senior figures in Leicestershire, that is becoming quite a substantial problem. Does the Minister anticipate that things will improve in the years to come? Even though Leicestershire is being reimbursed, it must be seriously inconvenient for the police to have to use their cells in that way.

I certainly can agree with my hon. Friend that things will improve, as he says, in the years to come. Operation Safeguard has been well executed by police forces throughout the country and it has not, to date and to my knowledge, impinged on the operational ability of the police forces involved.

Last year, according to the Home Office’s own figures, the amount of time that patrol officers spent on paperwork increased from 16.5 to 16.6 per cent., and the amount of time that patrol officers spent on patrol fell from 19.1 to 17.3 per cent. Is it not high time that the Home Secretary got a grip and cut red tape so that our police can get out there and spend more time catching more criminals?

Beyond the rather overblown hyperbole, the hon. Gentleman does, as ever, have half a point. There is broad consensus across the policing family and certainly in Government, and we are all actively working together to ensure that police are spending more time out on patrol. Rather as Ronnie Flanagan says about bureaucracy in his interim review, likening it to good and bad cholesterol, I would not want the House to run away with the notion that all paperwork is bad. Very often it is more than appropriate that there is a paper trail when the citizen encounters the police for whatever reason, good or ill. Is there too much? Does bureaucracy always have to be driven down so that our police can spend more time on the beat? Absolutely. Rather than being so shrill, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will work with us to ensure that that happens.

People Trafficking

A comprehensive UK action plan on tackling human trafficking was published in March this year and sets out a range of measures designed to prevent human trafficking, protect and assist victims and investigate and prosecute the traffickers. The nationwide police operation Pentameter 2 was launched in October and focuses on the rescue of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation while bringing to justice those involved in this serious criminal activity.

This is an issue which, as the Minister implied, affects every constituency. Just this week my local newspapers, MK News and the Milton Keynes Citizen, described

“Thai ladies and new Japanese and Chinese girls weekly”.

It is difficult to see how any of those could be legally working in this country. Can the Minister reassure me that the Pentameter 2 operation will be following up adverts like that and checking whether there is evidence that vulnerable women are being trafficked and forced into prostitution?

Pentameter 2 will indeed listen to any intelligence that comes forward about women or others who may be trafficked, including using such adverts to assist its work. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that those adverts are a concern. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I and others met the Newspaper Society, the Advertising Association and others to discuss the very issue that she raised—adverts in newspapers and magazines—to see what more can be done about it.

Will the Minister confirm that if the women who were discovered during a police raid, in which I was involved, on a sauna parlour in Hackney 10 days ago had been trafficked, they will be issued with a temporary residence permit, as he is obliged to do under the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings, which will come into force on 1 February next? Is he aware that if he issues them with that permit, they are much more likely to come forward to give evidence against their traffickers?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. That is why, as he knows, we are looking to ratify the Council of Europe convention as soon as we can. To do that, we need to have in place all the various measures to ensure that we can legally meet the requirements of the convention. One of those requirements is that we have in place the various measures that he points out. He knows that when we ratify the convention, we will have to introduce temporary residence permits, periods of reflection and so on. We will do that as soon as we can. In the meantime, may I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, as he knows from the work that we do together on the issue, we will ensure that support is available for any victims of trafficking who are found through Pentameter 2-type operations or others?

The Minister kindly gave me a parliamentary reply showing that 16 men were convicted for trafficking last year and just 11 had been so far this year. Given that, according to Home Office estimates, 25,000 sex slaves currently work in the massage parlours and brothels of Britain, those conviction figures are derisory.

Does the Minister agree that it may be time to look at the demand side? Frankly, too many dirty old, middle-aged and young men think that by putting down a few pounds they can abuse women, often under the age of 18, who are trafficked into our country and appear in adverts such as the ones in the local papers of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey). This is not a sniggering or laughing matter, but a desperately evil aspect of modern slavery. The demand side needs to be tackled; the men should be named and shamed. If necessary, the law should be changed so that they are put in front of the courts.

I do not think that anybody who listened to the remarks that my right hon. Friend has just made so powerfully and passionately would disagree with any of them. The whole House finds how such women are trafficked and used repugnant. The issue for us is what we do about it. My right hon. Friend points out that we need to consider the demand side, and the Government will consider what more we can do on that side of the equation. There have been 67 prosecutions since we passed the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which allows us to prosecute people who traffic women for sexual exploitation. We want that figure to rise and we are working with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that that happens.

I say not only to my right hon. Friend but to the whole House that the issue is a real priority for the Government. We are considering what more can be done about it and will act as quickly as possible to take the matter forward.

The Minister will be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights identified the very real need to treat the victims of sex trafficking as victims. He will be aware that on page 57 of the UK action plan, he accepted that although previously there had been prosecutions of victims for immigration offences, the Government no longer considered that it was in the public interest to do so. If that is the case, will he explain why proceedings are still hanging over two women—victims of trafficking—who are being assisted by the Poppy project? Will he have a word with the Attorney-General’s office so that it is absolutely clear that the Government’s policy is to treat victims as victims and not as criminals?

It is absolutely the Government’s position that victims of trafficking should be treated as victims, and we are trying to establish processes to make sure that that happens. As the hon. Gentleman will know, to ratify the Council of Europe convention one of the things that we have to do is to put in place measures and processes that allow us to identify victims and refer them to the appropriate support. We are in the process of doing that. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we do not wish to treat such people as immigration offenders. If he has concerns about any particular cases, perhaps he will write to me about them.

In my constituency, there is a so-called massage parlour that my constituents tell me is simply a brothel; I am sure that there are similar establishments in many hon. Members’ constituencies. There is no doubt that in that brothel young women are being exploited, possibly after having been trafficked from abroad. However, after months of being told, the police are still finding it difficult to close the place down. Is my hon. Friend absolutely sure that nothing more could be done to provide more powers and resources to the police to ensure that such places are closed down and that the women are rescued from their appalling circumstances?

We know that there is more to be done on this issue. We do not want brothels continuing to operate in the way that my hon. Friend has mentioned. All I can say is that the Government are considering a whole range of measures, including on demand and on what more can be done about the establishments that my hon. Friend has just mentioned.

The Minister will know that his answer is disappointing on the specific point of ratifying the European convention against human trafficking. On 17 October, the Minister for Borders and Immigration said in a written answer to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane):

“some amendments to primary/secondary legislation will be required”—[Official Report, 17 October 2007; Vol. 464, c. 1108W.]

The Minister has just agreed with that, so why has the legislation not been produced? Why are police officers like Chief Superintendent Paul Phillipson, the district commander in Peterborough, complaining that if they devote resources to clearing up the sex trade involving women trafficked from overseas, they get no credit from the Government because the Minister’s Department does not make clearing up this type of crime one of the targets that it has to meet? Will he admit that this looks like another case of tough talk followed by a complete lack of effective action?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. He should not underestimate the commitment of this Government—and of this Parliament, it seems to me—to ratify the Council of Europe convention. As many of his hon. Friends recognise, in order to make progress in this area in implementing the various processes that are necessary to ensure that we can ratify the treaty, we do not have to wait for ratification. We are taking this forward in terms of prevention, enforcement and all those matters, not waiting for the ratification process. At a time when people question the integrity and honesty of politicians, I do not want to recommend to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, or to the Prime Minister or to Parliament, that we should ratify the Council of Europe convention before I can honestly say that every single part of the necessary process is in place. As for whether we should get on with it, we are getting on with it.

Police Community Support Officers

7. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on the effect of police community support officers on the regeneration of communities. (167486)

As we have heard, police community support officers have already had a positive impact in helping communities to work together, and we have plans to integrate neighbourhood policing and neighbourhood management. Only last week, I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other colleagues about how to liaise with other Departments to improve the situation.

PCSOs have been very welcome in Wirral, South, where they have contributed a great deal to resolving problems, particularly those involving youths behaving badly. In my experience, they in no way merit the pejorative tags that have been attached to them by some parts of the press. However, they, like other parts of the network, find it difficult to solve the problem of displacement. What is the solution when effective police and partnership action results in badly behaving young people merely being moved from one area to another—for example, from Teehay lane in Bebington to Mayer park in Bebington?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Clearly, moving a problem from one area to another does not solve it. The situation will be helped from April next year, when there will be a team in every area so that any displaced antisocial behaviour is picked up by the co-ordination of those teams. I already see that working to good effect in my own constituency, where we have a neighbourhood policing team in every ward. Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s interim report recommends the integration of neighbourhood policing and neighbourhood management, and we are making progress on that. We also hope to work with local area agreements, crime reduction partnerships and disorder reduction partnerships to ensure that co-ordination on displacement takes place.

If anybody is attacking community support officers, they are not attacking the individuals who fill the jobs, who are doing a very good job under very difficult circumstances. However, it has to be recognised that they do not have the same training and powers as police officers. What can the Minister do to ensure that more people who are volunteering in this way can be taken into the full constabulary?

I am rather puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I will happily explain to him afterwards the exact role of police community support officers. They are not volunteers—they are paid officers trained to provide a different role to that of police constables. There are 16,000 PCSOs—had it not been for this Government, there would be none—in addition to the already expanded numbers of police.

Identity Cards (Foreign Nationals)

Recent Royal Assent for the UK Borders Act 2007 will allow the Government to introduce compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals from 2008. We shall publish our strategy for this rollout very shortly.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. What progress has been made in developing a biometric ID system, and what assessment has he made of its potential in combating illegal immigration?

The House will know that the Government are already deploying biometric systems in order to strengthen our border security. A system of biometric visas has been rolled out in about 117 countries around the world. Some time this week we will take our millionth biometric visa, and nearly 10,000 individuals have already been matched against existing watch lists that we hold, including lists with the fingerprints we have taken of those who have been deported. It is clear to me that biometric visas are already providing an extremely effective defence against illegal immigration and that they will be increasingly important in the future.

I am interested in what the Minister said, but he knows that those who are resident in this country for three months or less will not be required to carry an identity card. A cursory understanding of the core al-Qaeda group makes it quite clear that its visits to countries such as ours will last a lot less than three months. Does that not drive a coach and horses through the whole concept of ID cards?

I disagree with that analysis. It was the former director general of the Security Service who said

“widespread use of false documents is an essential aspect of terrorist activities. Al-Qaeda’s own training manual requires its operatives to acquire false identities to hide their terrorist activities.”

The only countries in Europe other than the UK that do not have identity cards in place, or which are not introducing them, are Ireland and Denmark, and even Denmark has a national civil register. Our concern is to multiply the tools to fight terrorism that we have at our disposal, but the important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) is the need for ID cards to allow us to come downharder on illegal immigration. That is why last week we introduced tougher penalties for businesses that employ people illegally, and as we increase the penalties for breaking the rules, we need to make businesses’ job easier. Biometric ID cards for foreign nationals will help with that.

These illegal immigrants are here only because our border control failed in the first instance. Why does the Minister not strengthen the surveillance of passports and visas when people first apply for entry into the country, and ensure that people we do not wish to see here, or those who are a threat to this country, are not admitted in the first place?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that that is a slightly 20th-century way of looking at border control. If we are to have adequate defences against illegal immigration in the future, we need to strengthen our checks abroad. That is why biometric visas are preventing would-be illegal immigrants from coming to this country before they get on a train, plane or boat for the UK. We have to secure our borders in the UK even further, which is why we are introducing a single border force.

I do not think that we will make real headway against illegal immigration until we stop the cause of it, which is illegal working. That is why we have to increase the penalties for businesses that break the rules. It is also why we have to make it easier for businesses to know whether a foreign national is who they say they are, and whether they have the right to work. That is where ID cards will help.

Metropolitan Police Service Targets

Ministers regularly meet the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service and other MPS officers and officials to discuss a range of matters, including police targets.

Is the Minister aware that in London the police are working to two contradictory crime reduction targets: one set by the Home Office, and the other set by the Metropolitan Police Service? Why is that, and when will the police start working to just one crime reduction target?

If the hon. Gentleman seeks to illuminate me about the contradictory targets, I shall look into the matter. As far as I am aware, there is no such contradiction in targets. The Metropolitan police’s overall contribution to the public service agreement target to reduce crime by 15 per cent. stands. How they achieve that contribution is a matter for that service, just as it is for all other 42 police services.

On 19 October, my constituent, Mr. Alan Angel, was held up in his own home in Northwick Circle, Kenton by three youths armed with a firearm. I want to stress that Mr. Angel has thanked the police for their subsequent actions and response, and for the support that they have given. However, Mr. Angel found out that they were unable to access the CCTV footage from the station to which the three had fled until the Monday morning. Would my right hon. Friend check what protocols and targets are in place for the downloading of footage between London Transport police and the Metropolitan police?

My hon. Friend raises a serious point, which I will look into. I can assure him that no national protocol or target restricts or limits in any way the operational efficiency of the police in disc-dumping CCTV footage. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and the Brent borough commander, if we need to, to discuss the matter further.

May I ask the Minister about the overall budgeted target work force for London? My local borough commander tells me that we are 700 officers below that target work force across London. Does the Minister really expect the Metropolitan police to hit their targets when they have not the targeted people to do so?

As I have said in written responses, many of those comparisons relate to pre-1997 figures. They cannot be compared—they are like apples and oranges. It is a matter of fact that the resources currently afforded to the Metropolitan police, whether for neighbourhood policing or any other aspects, are at absolute record high levels, as can be seen though their achievement of targets and the reduction of crime throughout London.

Crime Statistics

The Government have committed to making consistent monthly local information on crime available throughout the country. My starting point is that the information should be available at ward level and more locally where possible, subject to constraints around data availability. The Home Office is working with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and other stakeholders to identify how that can be achieved.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Does he agree that if crime statistics were more widely used and available at neighbourhood level it would help us to address the fear of crime in constituencies such as mine? In Durham, overall crime rates are low and falling, but the public are not necessary fully aware of that.

I agree totally with my hon. Friend. That is one of the reasons why the Home Secretary announced that by July 2008 we want local crime statistics to be available to local areas—at ward level, if possible—so that local people can make sense of what is happening in their areas with respect to acquisitive and violent crime. When people see those matters locally, the figures obviously become much more real to them than the national statistics. As my hon. Friend says, if people see the local figures, public confidence will rise and people will know more properly what is going on with policing in their area.


11. If she will make it her policy to include in citizenship ceremonies a statement including a list of acts of treason and high crimes against the state. (167491)

Citizenship ceremonies for new British citizens are intended to be celebratory events where new citizens are welcomed into their local communities and to Britain. Those applying for citizenship are informed at the point of application and in their declaration that it can be withdrawn if they engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the public good.

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Does she agree that in those ceremonies there should be an underlining of the responsibilities to this nation of those who become British citizens as well as of their rights under this nation? If she does agree, would she consider amending legislation so that those naturalised British citizens who commit high crimes against this country and the state, or, indeed, treason, should have their citizenship revoked on conviction?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary already has powers to do just that. The Government can withdraw citizenship from the people in the category outlined by the hon. Gentleman for a range of issues. I am happy to write to him about that, but those issues include war crimes, other serious offences, public order offences and conduct prejudicial to vital national interests, including treason. We are also conducting several bits of work across Government, including the citizenship review. I would be happy to share with the hon. Gentleman the information that citizens receive. His comments on that information would be much welcomed.

I welcome the citizenship ceremonies, which are moving events, and I wish that they had existed when I became a British citizen. Has my hon. Friend considered writing to local authorities to suggest that they invite their Members of Parliament to some of the ceremonies? Hon. Members should be aware of their significance.

I recently met local authority officers who are responsible for organising citizenship ceremonies. Several local authorities conduct interesting ceremonies—for example, Brent has held some at Wembley stadium. Oxfordshire has an interesting programme involving schools, linking GCSE classes on citizenship. Several authorities invite their Members of Parliament. If my hon. Friend contacts her local authority, I am sure that it would be willing to extend an invitation to her.

Topical Questions

One of the key responsibilities of my Department is ensuring that we secure the benefits of migration, which supports economic growth, to the UK, while protecting our borders and managing the impact of migration on local communities. For that reason, we published on Thursday key parts of our strategy on illegal working. We have listened to employers and others in shaping our approach. Having done that, we will implement a new system of civil penalties and a tough new criminal offence for those who knowingly employ illegal workers. I have proposed that the maximum civil penalty should be £10,000 per illegal worker. To complement that, we will take steps to raise employers’ awareness of the changes through national press advertising and an improved service to support employers in verifying the immigration status of prospective employees. Those measures will complement our other initiatives to control immigration effectively, especially the new unified UK border agency, which the Prime Minister announced on 14 November, and the points-based system, which will be launched early next year.

Now that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the former Attorney-General have expressed serious doubts about the need to extend the pre-charge detention period beyond 28 days, and given that countries such as Russia, France, Turkey and even the United States have detention periods of less than eight days, will the Home Secretary either renounce her ambitions for 56 days or give the Chamber one concrete example of the police taking 56 days between arresting a terrorist suspect and finding the evidence to bring charges?

As I made clear to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the Government do not argue that there is a current case in which detention beyond 28 days has been necessary to charge. Thank goodness for that, otherwise I would rightly be explaining to the Chamber why the Government had not legislated to prevent the release of potential terrorists. However, it is clear from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, from Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke in The Daily Telegraph today and from the Home Affairs Committee in a report last June, that a wide range of people believe that it is possible, if not likely, in the near future that more than 28 days might be needed to undertake the necessary investigations to charge somebody. It is responsible, proportionate and precautionary to legislate now for that eventuality rather than risking this country’s security by allowing people out who could have been brought to justice.

Given last week’s events involving the Treasury and the Inland Revenue and the use of data, is the Home Secretary satisfied that the necessary protection is in place for any data that would be gathered under the identity card scheme? Is she planning to review that arrangement in view of what happened last week?

The House will know that, where there are lessons to be learned from last week’s events at HMRC, it is right that we learn them. That is why the Prime Minister has asked PricewaterhouseCoopers for an independent review of the matter, the Cabinet Secretary is examining data security in all Departments and the Information Commissioner will be given power to spot-check Departments’ compliance with the regulations.

However, it is also right to ask whether parliamentary oversight of the scheme can be strengthened. The House is the guarantor of our liberties, which include the right to privacy. Hon. Members know that, under the Identity Cards Act 2006, a national identity commissioner will be appointed to oversee the national identity register, reporting annually to Parliament. There is an important question to be asked about who will watch the watchman—or watchwoman—and now is the time to start reviewing the way in which Parliament can play a stronger role in providing such oversight in future.

T3. What assessment has the Department made of the relative effectiveness in reducing gun and knife crime of compulsory ID cards versus fully trained police officers? (167448)

We have of course taken a range of actions to reduce gun and knife crime, including ensuring that there are more police officers on our streets, increasing enforcement activity and introducing stronger sentences for both types of crime, with a minimum sentence for the possession of guns of five years and an increase in the maximum sentence for the possession of knives. However, it is also an important contribution to public protection to ensure that we can be clear about the identity of those who, for example, are arrested and that we can be clear, with the aim of public protection, that the identity that somebody expresses to the authorities is actually theirs. It is through the use of biometric ID management that we can be more confident that that will be the case, but that does not come at the expense of the wide range of other actions that the Government have taken to help to counter gun and knife crime.

T5. My right hon. and hon. Friends will be aware that yesterday was the UN international day for the eradication of violence against women. Can the Minister give the House an indication of what genuinely positive role men can play in tackling that behaviour, which destroys so many families? (167450)

I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out that yesterday was the UN international day for the eradication of violence against women, with which the white ribbon campaign is associated, as he will know. Today I had the privilege of being at City Hall for the launch of the Men’s Coalition, an organisation that tries to bring together men on a variety of issues, but particularly on domestic violence. Domestic violence is not, fairly obviously, just an issue for women. The vast of majority of men are not violent, but the vast majority of the perpetrators of domestic violence are men. The Men’s Coalition calls on men to speak out about the issue, so that we can all join together to do as much as we can to end this heinous crime, which so often takes place behind closed doors, without anyone knowing about it.

May I ask the Home Secretary about the subject of identity cards? If the Government give away someone’s bank account details, that is a disaster, but at least they can change their bank account. What, precisely, does someone do if the Government give away their biometric details?

There is of course an important protection in an identity card system, through the use of biometrics. Biometrics will link a person securely and reliably to his or her unique identity. It will therefore become much more difficult for people to misuse other people’s identity, even if full details of their biographical information are already known. The current plan for the national identity register is for biometric information to be held separately from biographical information, thereby safeguarding against the sort of eventuality that the right hon. Gentleman described.

I do not look forward to the day when the National Audit Office or anybody else asks for that information and is sent it. Let us look at the other aspect of identity cards: the question of protection. The Home Office is currently prototyping a European-wide identity card project called Project Stork. How will it prevent a repetition of the disaster of the past few weeks when sensitive personal data are held not by one Government but by 27?

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to give me more information about the particular allegation that he is making, I will of course be willing to follow it up, but the point that I made remains. The advantage of a national identity register is that it enables the linking of biometric information, maintained on one database, with biographic data, maintained on another, thereby strengthening the protection for individuals in circumstances where, for example, biographic data were stolen or went missing. That is a strengthening of the current position, which is why any Government or Opposition who are serious about public protection and identity fraud should be thinking seriously about how we address those issues, instead of making hay.

T6. I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement that we are to crack down further on illegal working in the United Kingdom. I accept that there is no excuse for illegal working or undercutting wages in any circumstances. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when employers knowingly—I stress, knowingly—hire illegal workers, there should be even tougher penalties, including unlimited fines and imprisonment? (167451)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. An important part of the announcement that we made last Thursday was that we should take a more fast-track approach to employers who have employed illegal workers, perhaps through negligence or through not carrying out proper checks. Such activity is serious, and should involve a civil penalty, but we would also support the ability of those employers to check the status of their workers. There should, however, be a different scale of offence for those employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants, often for their own personal profit and to the detriment of the welfare of the people they are employing. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there should be the potential for a prison sentence in those cases, and there will be the potential for a prison sentence of up to two years and an unlimited fine in those circumstances.

Last Tuesday, we learned from Home Office figures that the number of failed asylum seekers who have been deported now stands at its lowest level in five years. That comes on top of figures showing that successful appeals against an initial refusal are as high as 40 per cent. for asylum applicants from some countries. Does the Minister not agree that the system is inefficient and inhumane, and that it is now time to take the radical option, as in Canada, of establishing a fully independent asylum applications system? The system in Canada has a rate of successful appeals following refusal as low as 1 per cent.

On behalf of Labour Members, I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the Chamber following his absence. He has been much missed. As he will know, my objection to his proposals relates to the fact that I am extremely concerned about the pattern of behaviour demonstrated by his party on tackling illegal immigration. First, there was his party’s decision in Committee to vote against an extra £100 million for immigration policing. Then, there was its proposal to extend an amnesty to certain people, some of whom would have claimed asylum. That is a policy that—

Order. We are not going to use up this time talking about Liberal party policy. I call David Winnick.

As the Government are clearly in favour of good community and race relations, will my hon. Friend the Minister and the Home Secretary deplore the fact that notorious Nazi sympathisers and racists are being given a platform tonight by the Oxford Union? Should not all the political parties in the House condemn that, as anti-fascist organisations and Jewish and Muslim groups have done? The Oxford Union should know better than to provide a platform for these hooligans.

I thoroughly deplore the sentiments, the expressed views and the actions of both the gentlemen who are due to speak at the Oxford Union this evening. There is already legislation in place, which I hope will be used wherever they speak if they overstep the mark. The Oxford Union is a debating society, and I know that some hon. Members have now, correctly and with dignity, resigned their membership of it. I am pleased to say that, during the three years that I was at Oxford university, I never even attended the Oxford Union, partly because it was simply a debating society. It is up to the society to make its own decisions, but I completely deplore the views and attitudes of those who will be speaking in that debate.

T7. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) asked the Home Secretary about a scheme, it seemed that she was not aware of it. Can she confirm whether she is aware of the scheme that he was talking about? (167453)

I outlined all the details and safeguards already proposed for the national immigration register, including the fact that biographical information will be kept separately from biometric information, and the Minister for Borders and Immigration has already outlined our suggestion that we should look even further into the relevant safeguards. However, Conservative Members should think very carefully if they are challenging us on the need for public protection—particularly for increased protection in respect of illegal immigration and counter-terror—while at the same time proposing the withdrawal of an important method through which we will be able to safeguard people’s identities as well as tackle terrorism and illegal immigration. That is the serious issue here.

T9. The Minister for Borders and Immigration said that migration is bringing new wealth, but also new worries, to Britain. How will the points-based system with no upper limit address those worries? (167455)

The points system will cover a much greater proportion of the inflow of newcomers to this country than the hon. Gentleman’s party’s proposal, which would limit a cap on economic migrants from outside the EU. The important point is that when setting the balance in the points system we must not only listen to the needs of the business community—we know that migration is worth £6 billion to our economy—but look at the wider impact of migration on British public life. It is only by weighing the two that we will achieve the right net balance in migration policy for this country. On that, I believe that there is a degree of consensus between us.

Is my hon. Friend aware of increasing evidence of groups of men in most of our towns and cities—certainly in Yorkshire and probably beyond—who are actively targeting girls as young as 12, 13 and 14 in order to exploit them sexually and get them into prostitution? Is he further aware that when these cases come to the fore, very little leadership comes from the police?

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply—[Interruption.] We are aware of those sorts of crimes and there have already been one or two police operations with respect to them. Indeed, Operation Pentameter II, the new police operation tackling the trafficking and sexual exploitation of young girls—either internally or from abroad—is highly aware of my hon. Friend’s point. It is working hard with local police forces to ensure that when the operation is finished police forces across the country will have that aspect of policing as part of their core business.