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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 472: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Student Visas

1. What account she takes of the contribution of foreign students to the UK economy in taking decisions on student visas. (188113)

Foreign students benefit our country to the tune of almost £8.5 billion a year. Students will be included in the new points system, which will make the system easier to police.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Overseas students make a valuable contribution to this country’s economy. Universities recognise both that and their role as sponsors under this new visa scheme, but they are still unclear about how it will be administered. Will he talk to education institutions about how the new certificates will be administered and, above all, how the new registration requirements will be monitored?

My hon. Friend is right that big changes will be introduced in the granting of visas to students under the points system. In particular, a new register will come into place with much tougher obligations on colleges to report events such as non-attendance and extended periods of absence, but, more importantly, students will, for the first time, be tied to a specific institution—they will not be able to come in under the sponsorship of one organisation and switch in-country to another. As these are big changes, I plan to publish blueprints of how the new system will work as early as possible so that there is as much time as possible for us to discuss the details with universities. I will certainly make sure that I talk to universities in my hon. Friend’s area as we try to get these proposals right.

Foreign students undoubtedly make a valuable contribution to this country’s economy, but with one in five students dropping out of full-time education, many of whom are foreign students, how confident is the Minister that universities are communicating foreign student drop-out rates to the Border and Immigration Agency?

We introduced changes in April last year, through a change to the immigration rules, that made it mandatory for education institutions to keep effective records on, for example, enrolment, and to report those records to the BIA when asked to do so. The new proposals under the points system take that tightening of the system a stage on, so that it becomes mandatory for universities and other higher education institutions to report not only students who do not turn up for their course, but extended periods of absence. We are giving universities time to prepare for these changes because we realise the new burdens that will be put on them, but I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that the system needs to be tighter in future.

Is the Minister aware that a large number of language schools are completely bogus and are nothing more than a front to get people illegally into this country? What action is he taking against such bogus language schools?

We are determined to take colleges off the register of licence sponsors whenever we come across evidence of such abuse, and if the hon. Gentleman has information about colleges perpetrating such abuse I would, of course, be grateful to receive it. Well over 100 colleges have been taken off the register over the last year and a half, thanks to the work of the BIA.

Foreign students make a valuable contribution to many of our disciplines, particularly in manufacturing industry. However, there is one discipline through which they make little contribution to the UK economy: journalism. Will my hon. Friend therefore make sure that foreign journalists who apply for visas come here on the basis that they deal with factual evidence and factual evidence only?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation. It is important for it to be much harder for organisations to get on to the appropriate register in years to come. Under the points system, it will be easier to police new regulations on how colleges get on to the register. I will, of course, look at any new ideas for such requirements that my hon. Friend might like to suggest.

Police Numbers

2. What representations she has received on police force strength following the publication of the Flanagan review. (188114)

The Flanagan report makes it clear that we must think seriously about how we can make best use of police resources to meet the demands that the service faces. The changes that Sir Ronnie recommends could release up to 7 million police hours—the equivalent of 3,500 extra officers. I welcome Sir Ronnie’s contribution to the debate, and the strong case he makes for reform to improve the outcomes that we can all achieve for the public.

The Home Secretary did not really answer my question, but she will know that I asked what representations she had received about the Flanagan report. May I commend to her an excellent article by Gloucestershire’s chief constable in The Citizen last week, in which he refers to Sir Ronnie’s recommendation that damping be removed? If that were to happen, Gloucestershire would lose 100 police officers or have 6.5 per cent. added to its council tax. Will she rule out the removal of damping?

It is because we ensured not only a 2.9 per cent. overall increase in revenue support for police forces, but a floor increase of at least 2.5 per cent. for all authorities that the hon. Gentleman’s authority has been protected at that floor. We managed to find the balance between moving partially towards the formula for which many hon. Members on both sides of the House have called and protecting police forces such as his.

May I express my gratitude to Sir Ronnie Flanagan for the expeditious and efficient way in which he conducted this review of policing? I know that the Secretary of State shares my view, which motivated the commissioning of this report, that we need to reduce bureaucracy and red tape. How quickly will she be able to act on his recommendations, particularly the important ones such as the streamlined reporting of crimes, which is being piloted by Staffordshire police?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his prescience in asking Sir Ronnie to undertake the review when he was Home Secretary. He is right to say that it contains many important recommendations, including the one to which he refers. That approach is being piloted in Staffordshire. It reduces the reporting down to one page of recording for the vast majority of crimes and enables more emphasis to be placed on caring for victims. I expect to be able to roll it out much more widely very quickly—in fact, before the end of this year.

The Government have indicated that they want the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. Does the Home Secretary accept that many people across the divide in Northern Ireland would much prefer additional resources to provide more police officers on the ground to combat criminal activity before we go down the line of devolving policing and justice?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, extra resources are being made available and ongoing discussions are taking place about the governance of policing in Northern Ireland. The point that Sir Ronnie makes has wide relevance. He says that the reforms that he has proposed, upon which we are acting and which I am sure will be relevant in Northern Ireland, will enable us to maximise police officer time spent on the front line and to use our resources as effectively as possible.

As the Home Secretary knows, the Select Committee on Home Affairs launched its new inquiry into policing in the 21st century this morning in Newark and tomorrow we will examine Sir Ronnie and his findings. Will she confirm that the police constable is central to the Government’s strategy on policing, that all the other parts, such as police community support officers and new technology, are secondary to that visible commitment to policing and that there is no question of a reduction in police numbers as a result of this report?

Nothing in this report implies a reduction in police numbers. My right hon. Friend is right to say that the office of constable lies at the heart of policing, which is why officer numbers have increased by 14,000 since 1997. That increase has occurred alongside increases in other police staff, who work alongside those officers to do the job that our communities expect of them and that they are delivering so successfully.

The Flanagan report, which the Home Secretary welcomes, states that

“maintaining police numbers at their current level is not sustainable over the course of the next three years.”

Will she unambiguously pledge to the public and the police that those numbers will not be cut?

I believe that between 1993 and 1997 police officer numbers fell by 1,100. We are increasing the resources available to support revenue funding for policing by 2.9 per cent. both next year and the following year. We are providing the resources necessary for chief constables to make the required decisions about their force’s staffing levels of police officers and others. It is difficult for Conservative Members to make a credible case for increased resources when they have not supported the increases in resources and they had such a pitiable record in government.

Alcohol Restriction Zones

3. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of alcohol restriction zones in reducing levels of alcohol-related crime. (188115)

No assessment has been made nationally of the effectiveness of designated public places orders; however, I am aware that some local authorities—Southampton, for example—have made assessments of their DPPOs. The fact that more than 554 DPPOs are in existence suggests that they are effective in combating alcohol-related crime and disorder.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The Stafford town centre zone was so successful in cutting crimes of violence and public disorder that last year the police, the council and the public agreed to extend the zone, so does that not show how effective the measure can be in tackling alcohol-related crime? Does my hon. Friend agree that to tackle alcohol-related crime, we need more measures such as the zones and the more general application of laws that permit the police to seize alcohol in public places?

I agree with my hon. Friend and I am pleased that he has referred to the success of designated public places orders, because there has been a massive increase in their number. Personally, I am surprised that there are not even more of them spread out across the country. My hon. Friend is also right to point out the need for further powers to be given to the police and for further campaigns. He will be aware that a number of such campaigns have been conducted recently, including confiscation of alcohol from schoolchildren during half-term. We hope to see many more such activities in due course.

What are the Minister and the Home Secretary doing about the problem of cheap alcohol? Will they respond to the initiatives taken last week by Tesco and others?

I have already discussed with Tesco the proposal it made and we shall consider how we take the matter forward. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a review of pricing and promotion is being undertaken by the Department of Health. The report is due in July; we look forward to it and will take appropriate action then.

We are all very aware of the growing number of under-age drinkers who drink excessively in our streets and parks. Will the Minister tell us how the new confiscation measures will work to ensure that young people do not simply reoffend and carry on with the same practices?

To stop young people reoffending we must first stop them believing that they can drink in public and act in any way in public without consequences. My hon. Friend is right to point out that our confiscation campaigns are directly focused on young people, to say that it is not acceptable to drink in public and then to use that as an excuse to vandalise and commit other acts. The confiscation powers enable the police, where they believe there is a risk of disorder, to confiscate alcohol from young people and, alongside our campaigns to tackle under-age sales, we believe they will make a real difference to the problems that I know exist in many estates across the country.

This week, a Home Office report is expected to show that in the year after the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003, crimes of serious violence committed in the early hours of the morning jumped by a quarter. In January 2005, the Government claimed that giving local councils the right to charge pubs, clubs and other alcohol retailers for the costs of policing was a priority, through the establishment of new alcohol disorder zones, yet three years on they are still not in place. Why not?

We will bring forward measures to introduce alcohol disorder zones in the near future. The hon. Gentleman referred to the review of the Licensing Act; the interim report into the implications of the Act, which we published last July, showed that serious violent crime over a whole night had actually fallen by 5 per cent.


The Security Industry Authority will undertake a feasibility study of various policy options for the regulation of vehicle immobilisation companies—commonly known as clampers—in the private sector, the results of which will be available in early 2009. Further details will be published in the SIA’s business plan for 2008-09.

First, may I say that it is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mr. Speaker? May you long stay there, as a reminder that in this country the Speaker is chosen not by an attempted coup from the Press Gallery, but by the Members of the House of Commons.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that since 1992 wheel-clamping has been banned in Scotland, yet in the midlands and the rest of England cowboy clampers still inflict outrageous penalties on motorists. Will she give civil servants clear instructions to put a stop to that outrage, not in 2009 but this year?

I thank my right hon. Friend and congratulate him on the tenacity and vigour with which he has pursued the issue for a number of years. Scotland has a different legal jurisdiction, under which theft is defined differently, which is why such activity is illegal there.

Fees are supposed to be reasonable, and it is intended that anyone who is clamped can raise the matter, because the individual clamper will be registered and licensed by the Security Industry Authority. There is recourse while we take the time to ensure that we get a proper, proportionate response.

In high-density, high-rise developments such as Winterthur way in my constituency, where residential parking was limited by design, the threat of wheel-clamping is part of everyday life. Will the Minister ensure that the review places enough emphasis on not just deterring unwanted parking but protecting residents to ensure that they are not penalised unnecessarily as part of the process?

The hon. Lady rightly mentions the balance that must be struck: people who are clamped are not happy about it, but there is a clear need to protect landowners and residents from illegal parking. I would welcome her comments and her input into the suggestion of options for the feasibility study. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), will take up the very points she raises.

But are there not clear rules at the moment that forbid the absolutely outrageous behaviour of private companies that clamp people’s cars and charge exorbitant rates? Is it not the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government to make that very plain to the public, who are getting fed up with such behaviour?

The law requires individual clampers to be licensed as members of the Security Industry Authority. They must charge a reasonable fee and have adequate signage in place. If any individual has any concerns, they have recourse to complain to the SIA. We hope that we will be able to tackle the concerns that hon. Members have raised in the ongoing study.

Surely that is not the case. Under present legislation, there is no control over the fees charged to unclamp a car. Extortionate fees are being charged, and nothing can currently be done about it. When will the Government introduce fresh legislation to put that right?

I am in danger of repeating myself. We recognise the points that hon. Members raise, but fees currently have to be reasonable. However, there is clearly concern, which is why we are undertaking a feasibility study to ensure that we get a balance between fees charged and protection for landowners. That is what we are going to do, and we will unveil plans in 2009.

Is not the way forward simply to restrict wheel-clamping to the police and to directly employed, accountable staff of local authorities?

My hon. Friend is welcome to put his views as part of the ongoing review, but there would be some issues of cost for landowners were they forced to use only a limited, narrow group of suppliers.


The Government are tackling cannabis use through a comprehensive package of measures as part of our national drug strategy, including prevention, education, early intervention, enforcement and treatment.

The Government’s message on cannabis use to young people is consistent and clear: cannabis is harmful and illegal, and should not be taken.

The Minister will be aware that there is alarming evidence of links between cannabis use and mental health problems for young people, particularly schizophrenia and psychosis. The Government’s “Talk to Frank” website states:

“There’s also increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia. If you’ve a history of mental health problems, depression or are experiencing paranoia, then taking this drug is not a good idea.”

Does the Minister accept that that could mislead young people into believing that, if they have no history of mental health problems, it is safe to take cannabis? Will he ensure that the advice is strengthened to make it clear?

I will look at it, but I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. He is right to point out that there is increasing concern throughout the House and the country about the link between stronger strains of cannabis and mental health. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced a review. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, is looking into it and will make its recommendations in late April, which the Home Secretary will consider.

My hon. Friend ought to be aware that reclassification is part of the issue. We ought to reclassify cannabis. Not only has it got stronger, but the results of long-term cannabis use have been shown. Let us not continue to talk; let us take action and reclassify it as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend is right to express his views with such passion. We are all concerned about the increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health issues. That is why we are statutorily required to consult the ACMD, which is what we are doing. We must wait for its advice, which we have asked it to give as quickly as possible. That advice will come at the end of April, and then my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider it.

Does the Minister accept that there is no evidence that increasing the classification to class B would reduce cannabis use, just as there was no evidence that reducing it to class C increased its use? Is it not crazy for him and his colleagues to purport to have evidence-based policy making if they are willing to reject the advice of the ACMD when it reports?

That is a better answer than I could probably make! In all seriousness, the point made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) demonstrates the need for the Government to have a statutory committee to consider the issues. The point that he makes has been made in public for the first time to the ACMD. That is a change that we brought about—different opinions have been put to the ACMD by scientific advisers, health professionals and all sorts of people, including his point about cannabis and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). The advisory council will judge the issues, come to a view and make a recommendation to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and she will consider it. That will be evidence-based policy.

Early this month, Dr. King, an adviser to the Home Office, told the advisory council that the use of home-grown cannabis in the UK has risen from 15 per cent. to 70 per cent. The Government have put most of their attack into preventing cannabis from coming into the UK, but will my hon. Friend tell me what he is going to do about the home-grown stuff, the use of which has so greatly increased?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Last year, the police undertook an enforcement campaign, Operation Keymer, which targeted so-called cannabis factories in residential areas. The drugs strategy that we are due to publish shortly will address that issue, saying that we need more of that type of enforcement activity. As well as issues about drugs and cannabis farms, we are concerned about the increasing evidence of a link between trafficked children and cannabis factories.

Inward Migration

In 2006, the net inflow of migrants to the UK was 191,000. For those who take an interest in the issue, as I know the hon. Gentleman does, that is about 15 per cent. lower than the year before and about 22 per cent. lower than in 2004.

My constituency has borne, and continues to bear, the brunt of the shambles that this Government call an immigration policy. Does the Minister think that my constituents will be reassured by a policy involving a belated points-based system but no upper limit on the number of people allowed to come to the United Kingdom?

I respect the passion with which the hon. Gentleman presents his argument, and I know that he recently held a debate in the House—I think it was last week—on the impact on public services that he sees locally. However, when I look at the proposals for caps on migration, I find it difficult to see how they would capture, touch or affect more than one in five of the newcomers who entered the UK in 2006. I believe that the points system will capture at least three in five, and I therefore think it is the right way forward for carefully controlling migration to the United Kingdom.

With regard to the administration of immigration law, will the Minister take whatever action is open to him to stop solicitors taking up asylum, leave to remain and nationality cases in which there is no need for legal representation—cases for which these greedy shysters grab money, and which they far too often bungle, so that they then have to come back to Members of Parliament? In addition to taking whatever action he can, will he ask the Law Society to investigate?

The position in my right hon. Friend’s constituency sounds a little bit like that in mine, but he has a far more distinguished record than I have in helping constituents with errors made by immigration lawyers who claim to be acting in their clients’ best interests. One of the biggest things that we can do to help resolve the problem this year is to make the law far simpler. That is why later this year we will introduce a Bill to simplify the immigration system and immigration law, some of which dates back pretty much to when I was born.

Is the Minister aware of last week’s OECD study, which showed that there are more British immigrants overseas than overseas immigrants in Britain? The implication of our experience of negative net immigration is that if immigrants returned to their country of origin, we would have more people here, not fewer.

I had not spotted the report to which the hon. Gentleman alludes, but he is absolutely right to say that sometimes when we hold debates about the number of people coming into the UK, we forget that, for example, in 2006, of the 529,000 people who came into the UK, 77,000 were British citizens.

My hon. Friend is aware of the growing concern among some sectors of the work force, particularly in the building trade, about maintaining rates of pay because of the large influx of EU migrants coming to work in the UK. There are no simple solutions to the problem, but does my hon. Friend think that we should implement measures such as those in the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, or allow multidisciplinary enforcement teams to go to workplaces such as building sites and make sure that people are properly qualified and are there legitimately? What can he do to implement such schemes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing those issues with me, both in the Chamber and outside. I said last year that I think that in the next couple of years we need to double the Border and Immigration Agency’s budget for enforcement, and we need to use a portion of those resources jointly with other parts of Government, so that where possible we come together with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and national minimum wage inspectorates to take a concerted approach to tackling abuse of workers from abroad, who are often vulnerable, and to stop the undercutting of British wages.

The Minister’s latest attempt to affect levels of migration was last week’s Green Paper. He will have noted that it united opinion across the spectrum—against it. The Guardian said that Ministers should have

“more…respect for the facts”.

The Independent described it as

“Clumsy steps in the wrong direction”.

The Sun said that it was “a gimmick”, and the Daily Mail said that it was “simply barmy”. I will spare the Minister the verdict of the Daily Express. Ministers were clearly trying to talk tough. To that end, page 34 of the paper says:

“Probationary citizens will not…be entitled to access mainstream benefits”.

Can the Minister name a single benefit that is available now that will not be available under the new regime?

I am grateful to hear the spectrum of opinion that the hon. Gentleman mentioned; it might be a good sign that we have got things right. If he studies the issue in detail, he will soon realise that we propose a five-year cap on temporary leave. That will mean that quite a few benefits based on national insurance contributions, such as incapacity benefit, the state-based pension and those NI-based payments that require more than five years of contributions, will no longer be available to those coming into the country on temporary leave. The message that we want to send is simple: if someone wants access to mainstream benefits, they should have to earn their citizenship in Britain. People should not be allowed to sit on temporary leave for indefinite periods.

Gangs/Gun Crime

I set up the Tackling Gangs action programme in September to undertake law enforcement and community engagement activity in areas of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool where guns and gangs are a particular concern. An action day in November resulted in 124 arrests and the seizure of 10 real and over 1,000 imitation firearms. Early indications from a survey of front-line staff show that they believe youths are less at risk now of involvement in gangs and gun crime than they were six months ago.

In thanking my right hon. Friend for her comprehensive answer, may I tell her that, particularly in my part of north-west London, the gang and gun culture is corrosive and massively dangerous and destructive, not just to the young children dragged into that murderous web but to the rest of us, who are literally caught in the crossfire? What lessons have been learned from the Tackling Guns action programme that can be applied to north-west London?

In the areas on which we focused, we have learned important lessons about how to identify gang members at an early stage, and how to use all the resources in the hands of the police, particularly things such as covert surveillance, to do so. We have learned more about how we can mediate and put in place services that prevent the escalation of violence between gangs. We have learned about how we can prevent young people from being drawn into gangs in the first place, and how to ensure that there are exit strategies to get them out at the end. Alongside that, we have taken action to cut off and reduce the supply of guns into the country. All of those are aspects of success of the Tackling Gangs action programme, and they can all be shared more widely at the end of the programme.

The Home Secretary said that 10 guns were confiscated. She will know that some estimates say that 70 guns a week on average are imported illegally into the United Kingdom, because of our porous borders. Years ago, the Home Affairs Committee recommended the introduction of an X-ray system at all ports of entry. Nothing has happened. When are we going to stop illegal importation of arms into the United Kingdom?

First, we have made sure that the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs increase the priority in resources focused on this issue. Secondly, specific operations have looked at some of the suggested routes in for illegal working and, thirdly, the new UK Border Agency can focus its combined resources on ensuring that we cut even further the import of illegal guns.

Antisocial Behaviour Orders

Three independent reports, including the Home Affairs Committee report of 2005, the Audit Commission report of May 2006 and the National Audit Office report of December 2006, have confirmed that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. We have also appointed Ipsos MORI to undertake a qualitative study investigating the circumstances in which different antisocial behaviour interventions are most effective. Antisocial behaviour orders are just one of these. The outcome is to be published some time in 2008.

Does the Minister not accept that antisocial behaviour orders, sadly, have not been the success that many Members of Parliament would wish them to be?

Oh no they have not. The National Audit Office, which the Minister cited, indicated a breach rate of 55 per cent., and the rate in Durham is as high as 74 per cent. When are we going to try to tackle the situation before young people start to become antisocial? Can we not give greater encouragement to the sea cadets, the Army cadets, the air cadets, the scouts, the guides and other uniformed organisations, to give young people a purpose in life at an early stage?

I am tempted to say that the National Audit Office said, “Oh yes they are”. In my constituency and in constituencies throughout the country, people want more, not fewer, antisocial behaviour orders because they see their effectiveness in dealing with antisocial behaviour. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point when he asks whether we have to rely solely on antisocial behaviour orders. Of course we do not. Those are a consequence for people who act in an antisocial way, but it is an important part of policy to try and prevent that in the first place, including through parents, families and the uniformed organisations of the sort that he mentioned.

I welcome the approach taken by the Minister, and emphasise that the experience in my constituency and in the black country is rather different from that outlined by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). The opinion locally is that if we are to combat crime, there must be a high level of community involvement. Antisocial behaviour orders not only provide a fast-track method of dealing with individuals, but give reassurance and incentives to local communities to get involved in anti-crime initiatives. Will my hon. Friend ensure that that element is reinforced at local level in community policing?

My hon. Friend makes a thoughtful contribution. As he says, antisocial behaviour orders are one part of the answer when dealing with antisocial behaviour, but alongside that there need to be other initiatives not just by the police, but by the local authority, schools and all the other agencies working together to tackle problems. As part of that, it is important to involve young people, as my hon. Friend said. When we talk about antisocial behaviour, it is incumbent on us to remember that the vast majority of young people in this country are decent, hard-working and growing up in difficult times. They want something done about the small minority who are a problem as much as the rest of us do.

The ASBO unit at north Northamptonshire police is overwhelmed with work because it is far from straightforward to persuade magistrates to issue an antisocial behaviour order. It is meant to be a weapon of last resort. What speedy and effective penalties are in place to ensure that parents are held responsible for their children’s behaviour?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the fact that, as I said, antisocial behaviour orders are one part of the solution, but he is right to point out that alongside that we hear the cry, “What are parents, schools and families doing?” Other measures are available, such as acceptable behaviour contracts. Parental contracts are also available to the courts to ensure that the minority of parents who refuse to take responsibility for their children are encouraged to do so. Where parents refuse to do so, surely being encouraged to do the right thing and look after their own children is part of the solution as well.

What steps can my hon. Friend take to encourage local authorities that have consistently failed to use antisocial behaviour orders against antisocial tenants to do so, instead of leaving people at the mercy of awful tenants next door to them? Can we stop local authorities constantly offering mediation, which puts the victim on the same level as the perpetrator, and encourage them to tackle those who make decent people’s lives a misery?

I know that my hon. Friend has been working hard in her local area, and that awful and tragic events have recently taken place there. She is right to point out that we need to ensure that existing laws are enforced and acted on. That is why we recently published a document to send out to local authorities and to the police reminding them of the powers that are available. May I add a point that I made to my hon. Friend—whether it is antisocial behaviour, kids on the street or antisocial tenants as she described, it is important that they do not merely receive warning after warning, and that sooner or later there is a consequence for their action. If that means tough action with respect to antisocial tenants, that is what should be used.

Terrorism Legislation

9. What plans she has to review legislation concerning the offence of possessing articles for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism. (188121)

All counter-terrorism legislation, including the offence of possession for terrorist purposes under section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000, is subject to regular review. In the light of the Court of Appeal judgment on 13 February in the case of Zafar and others, we have considered whether any change to the legislation is needed. We have concluded that no change is required.

In the light of that court case and the ever-growing number of young men from Lancashire being radicalised into extreme forms of Islam, does the Minister recognise that the 2000 Act has not stemmed the flow of such material? Will he consider introducing an offence of possessing propaganda for the purpose of recruitment or radicalisation, to go further than the current Act?

Those points are perfectly reasonable, but as I have said, we have reviewed the 2000 Act, not least in the light of what is available in the Terrorism Act 2006. We think that most of the areas are covered at the moment. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Director of Public Prosecutions has said that the specific judgment on section 57 was

“specific to the facts of the case”

and was therefore unlikely significantly to affect existing convictions or forthcoming prosecutions. He subsequently wrote a letter to The Times, published on Saturday 16 February, in which he stated:

“We do not expect any significant read across, either to existing convictions or to forthcoming trials, which do not share the specific facts of this case. Far from ‘terror law’ being ‘in tatters’,”—

as some would have it—

“the Terrorism Act 2006 appears to deal with any perceived difficulty on these facts.”

Topical Questions

Effective and visible neighbourhood policing for local communities is a key element in the fight against crime. From April, neighbourhood policing teams will be working in every area of England and Wales and I want everyone to have the opportunity to shape their team’s priorities for fighting crime in their area.

Today I am announcing, with the police, the launch of the Name in Every Neighbourhood campaign. Over the next few weeks, every household will hear from, be able to contact and be able to influence their local team. A new national neighbourhood policing website will let the public find the names and numbers of their local team, and the use of contracts between the police and the public will help to deliver this important change. I congratulate police forces across the country on helping to make neighbourhood policing a reality.

There is growing concern in Scotland about the operation of the Counter-Terrorism Bill—in particular, clause 27, which would allow offences committed in Scotland to be tried in England, and, theoretically, vice versa. Does the Secretary of State understand that that is fraught with difficulty? Will she assure me that if the provision goes on to the statute book, it will operate only after the agreement with the Lord Advocate of very clear guidelines for its operation?

If there are linked attacks in, for example, London and Scotland, it is important that it should be possible, through the proposals that we are putting forward in clause 27, for both those linked cases to be prosecuted in one place. That is what the universal jurisdiction that we are proposing would enable us to do. When countering terrorism, it makes sense for us to be able to prosecute in the place where the investigation takes place, wherever that is.

T2. Today, the Addaction report has said that the cost of illegal drug use has been £110 million in the past 10 years and that just 10 per cent. of total spending is going on drug treatment. This week, the Government are set to unveil their strategy on drug treatment. Will my right hon. Friend consider how we can work with the police and the north Staffordshire safer communities partnership? Furthermore, will she meet Professor Crome of the Edward Myers centre, to see how we can make sure that successful police operations, such as the Nemesis operation, get more and more people into drug treatment? (188089)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Operation Nemesis in Stoke was fantastically successful and led, I believe, to a 20 per cent. reduction in crime. If we are to bear down on and reduce crime, getting drug-misusing offenders into treatment is absolutely essential. The drugs intervention programme that we have introduced is one part of that, and my hon. Friend will be aware how that operates. I understand that there are one or two difficulties in her local area with commissioning of services. Perhaps the best way of taking that problem forward is for us to discuss it, and I will be happy to do that if she wishes.

The announcement made today by the Home Secretary, and earlier outside this House by the Prime Minister, of a new emphasis on neighbourhood policing is very welcome. However, what assurances can the Home Secretary give that the phone service will not be hit by 101-style budget restraints, that local residents will have access to ward-level crime and conviction data enabling them to be knowledgeable in holding local teams to account, and that more police, not fewer, will be available for a visible presence on the beat?

First, on local crime information, we have committed to ensuring that by July this year crime information is available for local people on the basis of their areas. Secondly, we have been clear, not only with the additional numbers of police officers but with the police community support officers who are playing such an important role in neighbourhood policing, that those teams need to be visible and accessible. The success that we have already seen in some areas of this country in rolling out neighbourhood policing shows us the potential that there will be when it is everywhere from April.

T3. My right hon. Friend is well aware that the Government are committed to police community support officers. Does she share my concerns that there are seven absent or vacant posts for PCSOs in Chorley, leaving the Clayton area very vulnerable to crime, as that is the worst community support officer reduction that has taken place so far? Will she speak to the chief constable to seek to ensure that those vacancies do not remain open? (188090)

It is of course the responsibility of chief constables to ensure that they are making the best use of the resources that they have in relation to police officers and to police community support officers, but given that eight years ago there were no police community support officers and now there are 16,000, I hope that those vacancies will not remain empty for long.

Later this week, the European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule on whose DNA is to be permitted to remain on the United Kingdom’s database. Does the Home Secretary agree that decisions of this kind should be made not by unelected foreign judges, however distinguished, but by elected Members of this Parliament? Regardless of the merits of the argument on that particular question, what representations is she making to the court to increase what it calls its margin of appreciation so that fewer decisions of this kind are made in Strasbourg and more in this House?

The DNA database has been a fantastic crime-solving tool and is something that we fully support. It would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on the Government’s defence in the case of S and Marper, which is going to court on Wednesday. We will await the outcome of that and take action as necessary, but our position is very firmly that the DNA database is valuable and we want to retain it.

T4. May I tell the Home Secretary that there is great concern in Cleveland about how the funding for Cleveland police is allocated? Only recently, Cleveland’s chief constable, Sean Price, said:“There is a basic flaw in the way we are treated in terms of funding allocation. Cleveland is grouped with metropolitan forces when performance is measured yet we are” also “classed as a shire force”. Will the Home Secretary look at how the funding is allocated so that we get fair funding? (188091)

I met very recently the chief constable, Sean Price, and the chair of the police authority, David McLuckie, to talk about this and a range of other matters. I have to say two things. First, Durham is not unique in having an urban core and a rural surround and the challenge of both those aspects of policing. Secondly, colleagues on both sides of the House are rather impatient that we get to the formula agreed upon three years ago rather than reopening a new one. However, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Cleveland if they want to discuss further, outwith the current budget round, the specifics of the formula and how it relates to Cleveland.

T5. I welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on neighbourhood policing, and in particular, the creation of the new website. Would she confirm that my constituents will be able to access details about their neighbourhood policing teams at the click of a button? Will she join me in congratulating the Wiltshire constabulary on creating 23 neighbourhood policing teams, covering the whole of my constituency, and indeed the whole of Swindon? (188092)

Yes, I can confirm that from next month, the website will ensure that people can know the names and telephone numbers of teams who will be working day in, day out with them in their neighbourhoods. Wiltshire constabulary deserves congratulations for the way in which it has responded to the challenge of ensuring that we have visible, responsive policing in every neighbourhood in this country.

In the last two years, the number of killings with a knife has jumped by 18 per cent. Can the Home Secretary tell the House why, in 2005, she voted against increasing the maximum sentence for knife possession to five years?

We, of course, have implemented an increase in the maximum knife sentence from two years to four years. Alongside that, as I announced last week, we are undertaking a range of actions to ensure that we are able to cut knife crime, particularly among young people where—I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on this—it is a particular concern.

The right hon. Lady says that she has implemented the law, but of the more than 6,000 convicted of carrying a blade in a public place in 2006, just two got the maximum sentence. Does she accept that a one in 3,000 chance of punishment deters no one?

Serious punishment is obviously an important part of countering knife crime, which is why we will change the situation so that there will be a presumption of prosecution for those who are caught carrying knives. Secondly, we will make it more likely that those carrying a knife are caught, by investing in the opportunity for police to use search wands and portable arches. Alongside that, through the extra investment into the roll-out of programmes such as the Be Safe project, which takes place in schools and teaches young people about the implication of carrying knives, we will try to prevent young people from even thinking about carrying knives on the street in the first place.

T6. Security at our airports is important to us all, particularly those of us who fly to be here. Once again, today, a bunch of lunatics managed to get on to a plane and off it, and then climbed up on top of it to drape a sign from its tail. That could have been someone with explosives. The shuttle from Glasgow had just arrived, and I walked by the plane at the time. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be an investigation into today’s debacle at Heathrow airport? (188093)

Yes. This is a country in which we believe in the right to protest, but protesting in a way that could put in danger, and certainly inconveniences, those travelling on our airlines is clearly irresponsible.

T7. Both the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary, in response to recent oral questions from myself, have refused to say how many MPs have been bugged. Will the Home Secretary say how many MPs have had their conversations intercepted over the last 10 years? If she fails to do so, will there not be an assumption that there is a Government cover-up? (188094)

My constituency has again been blighted by the establishment of a so-called cannabis café, to the great annoyance of local residents. It acts as a magnet for all sorts of low life coming into Lancing. Despite the best endeavours of the police, who have raided the place five times, no prosecution has been brought to close it down. It is heavily fortified, well beyond what is required for a legitimate café, and a constantly fired furnace is used to burn the evidence the minute any police come in. I have written to the Home Secretary, but can she offer any help so that places such as this, which are clearly trading illegally and are fortified well beyond their needs, can be closed down, as local residents want?

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to speak to me straight after questions, I shall meet him to discuss that quite deplorable situation. I have not heard of anything quite as bad as that with respect to cannabis cafés. We need to ensure that we nip the situation in the bud, so that people see the serious consequences of such practice, and so that it does not spread anywhere else in the country. I will be pleased to hear the details because I have not heard of anything like that anywhere else in the country.

In our country there are organisations that promote bad behaviour and drug abuse, such as the Bullingdon dining club at Oxford, which is famous for hard drinking, bad behaviour and drug abuse and is also responsible for the decline and fall of many of its members. Will the Home Secretary say whether there is any indication over a 20-year period that the use of cannabis in clubs like the Bullingdon dining club is any higher or lower or about the same as it was when the Leader of the Opposition was an active member of that club in 1988?

What I can say to my hon. Friend is that cannabis use—indeed, all drug use—is lower now than it was in 1997. Cannabis use is lower among young people. I agree with him that we need to find positive role models for young people to encourage them to live their lives as we would hope that they would.

A young boy in my constituency who spat at his sister recently spent the night in the Essex police cells and may end up with a record. This unpleasant but not extraordinary incident consumed a massive amount of police time and resource. When can we get back to dealing with those things through parents, families and common sense, thus saving police time?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is always difficult in this place to comment on the details of individual cases. It is precisely in order to ensure that police forces across the country can concentrate on the things that matter to local people that we will ensure first that there is a neighbourhood policing team in every area from April and secondly, as part of the new public service agreements that we will introduce from April, that there will be more flexibility for local forces to concentrate on local priorities.

The Home Secretary said in response to an earlier question that she wants to roll out neighbourhood watch schemes in every neighbourhood. That will not happen if North Yorkshire gets a similar police funding settlement to the constituency of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar). Will she please review the police funding for the forthcoming financial year and introduce rurality and sparsity factors to the way in which the funding is allocated?

As I suggested in an earlier answer, we are still seeking to implement the formula agreed some two or three years ago. The hon. Lady may want to get together with other MPs and look specifically at the rural dimension and at restoring the rural policing element of the old formula, which will clearly be at the cost of something else—I am sure that her urban colleagues would have something to say about that. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and a cross-party group of MPs to discuss the matter further. If we do not have the formula right as regards the rural dimension and rural policing resources, I am happy to talk about it.