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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Illegal Firearms

Mr. Speaker, I associate myself—and, I am sure, all Members of the House—with your comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich was an inspiring and powerful parliamentarian. Parliament, her constituents and her family, with whom our thoughts are at this time, will miss her very much.

In September 2007, I set up the tackling gangs action programme to develop multi-agency action in inner-city areas of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. The £1.5 million programme included a day of action, which resulted in 124 arrests and the seizure of 10 real and more than 1,000 imitation firearms. We will build on the work of that programme and continue to work with partners to reduce further the supply of firearms.

I associate myself, Mr. Speaker, with your observations and those of the Home Secretary about the loss of our friend Gwyneth Dunwoody.

I thank the Home Secretary personally for her strong commitment to the agenda on guns and gangs; there is no doubt that what she is trying to do is making a real difference. However, although it is vital that we consider technical solutions for taking the gun physically out of circulation when that is possible, in the end the only way to resolve and drive against the problem of guns in our inner cities is by changing hearts and minds and the culture that says that the gun is acceptable. That means working with young people and finding them beneficial activities that they want to do and that the rest of society wants them to be involved in.

I met my hon. Friend and representatives of community organisations and the police in his constituency, and that demonstrated to me what a difference can be made on the issue when the community stands by the police. When I visited his constituency, I was particularly pleased to see the work done by local police officers in Plymouth Grove primary school, for example. They were getting in early, alongside teachers, and not only talking to children and young people about the dangers of guns, but giving them the strength to resist some of the pressures, from their peers and others, that might well have led them into trouble later in life. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. What he has mentioned has been an important part of the programme.

I also associate myself with the Home Secretary’s remarks about the late Gwyneth Dunwoody. She was indeed a remarkable parliamentarian who will be much missed and long remembered.

I revert to the question. If the day of action was so splendidly successful, can we not have at least a week of action?

The day of action is part of an ongoing programme of work in which police forces, particularly in areas that face the most gun crime, are involved all the time. It was followed up in some areas by a week of action and in others by a month of action. That work certainly focuses activity, and it will continue.

A number of employees of the House have mentioned to me their sadness at the loss of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, and I should like to pass those messages on.

I am pleased by my right hon. Friend’s response to the first question. Shortly after we were elected in 1997, a lot of people from Dunblane, whose children had been killed, came to sit in the Gallery. We were promised, among other things, that there would be a national register of people who held handguns. How far have we gone down that road?

My hon. Friend is right that we have strengthened our legislation in a whole range of areas; it is now among the strongest gun legislation in the world. I reassure her that the roll-out of the national firearms licensing management system to all forces in England and Wales is now complete. The system is fully operational.

As someone who was brought up in Dunblane and lives near Hungerford, I feel very strongly about the subject of gun crime in inner cities and elsewhere. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is not about £1.5 million-worth of one-day actions collecting 10 guns, or about working with children in schools, both of which are perfectly legitimate things, and that the only thing that the little neds who carry guns illegally will understand is tough sentencing? If these guys know that they are going to go to prison, they will not carry the guns.

That is why I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that in bringing forward the proposals for a minimum sentence for gun possession we have increased the average length of time that criminals serve for gun possession from about an average of 18 months in 2002 to well over 50 months now.

Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Members fully associate ourselves with the remarks made about Gwyneth Dunwoody. She was a truly formidable politician.

The Secretary of State knows that in Scotland we have a particular problem with airguns, which have resulted in three deaths and more than 1,000 injuries in the past few years. It is of such a scale that the Scottish Government have organised a gun summit that will be attended by the police, gun control campaigners and shooting groups—everybody other than herself and Home Office Ministers. Surely she could take a couple of hours out of her diary to come to the summit to explain what the UK Government are going to do about the issue, because if she does not, the impression will be that she could not care less about it and is prepared to do absolutely nothing.

It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman’s party is using the very good initiative of the summit and a whole range of actions to make cheap party political points. I have discussed gun control with his colleagues in the Scottish Executive, and I discussed the issue of airguns. They, like me, will therefore be pleased that the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 ensures that it is now necessary to have a licence to sell an air weapon and has increased to 18 the age limit for acquiring or possessing an air weapon. It is probably better if we work together to implement that legislation and to review what more we need to do, instead of making cheap political points that have more to do with the campaign for independence than with a campaign against gun crime.

National DNA Database

2. What estimate she has made of the number of convictions secured by the use of data from DNA samples retained on the national DNA database in 2007-08. (199722)

Data are available on the number of detections with DNA, but not the number of convictions. The data for 2007-08 will be available this coming June. To give an indication, in 2006-07, 41,148 crimes were detected in which a DNA match was available or played a part.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does she agree that, if further restrictions were placed on the data that are held on the national DNA database, she and other Home Office Ministers would not be in a position to come to the House and give such positive numbers?

I agree completely. Taking the figures for 2006-07 alone, 452 homicides, 644 rapes and 222 other sexual offences were among the offences detected thanks to the help of DNA. The murders in Suffolk by Steve Wright and the murder of Sally Anne Bowman by Mark Dixie were detected and those men imprisoned thanks to the DNA database.

Dr. John Bond of the scientific support unit at Northamptonshire police has been at the forefront of developing DNA, forensics and other scientific techniques to detect crime and criminals. What specific incentives does the Home Office give to police forces to expand their scientific support operations?

The forensic science capability in this country is a very important issue. We are keen to ensure that we have proper forensic support across those bodies that supply that, including the police, and we now have a permanent regulator in the form of Andrew Rennison, who ensures that our forensics work is of top scientific quality.

Of course, I accept but the beneficial aspects of the DNA database, it is now the largest of any country in the world. It is estimated that there are 500,000 mistakes connected with the database. Can the Minister assure the House that that will be dealt with, and that the information contained on the database is protected from any unfortunate loss?

Security is of course an important issue. The National Policing Improvement Agency, which is responsible as the custodian of the DNA database, is also responsible for other key national databases and has a good track record. My right hon. Friend mentions replication, which is currently at 13.3 per cent. but going down. That is partly because in the early days of new DNA testing, police forces took extra samples to meet higher evidential standards. Much work has gone on to educate police forces in taking DNA samples, so that replication is being reduced. However, that does not adversely affect any of the individuals involved.

More than 2,000 Dutch DNA samples, many relating to serious offences, were mislaid in 2007 for over a year due to the incompetence of UK authorities. Will the Minister tell us today exactly how many suspects have now been arrested by the UK police, and which offences were committed in this country?

This is an ongoing police investigation and it would be inappropriate for me to talk about any partial findings while that investigation, which is an operational matter, is going on. It would be wrong to identify or alert any of the individuals suspected, as it might give them the chance to go under cover. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a commitment to this House to report back when we have all the information after a full, thorough investigation by the police.

We have solved an enormous number of crimes because of the data held on people who have had their DNA taken on arrest, whether they were charged or not. Up to 2005 alone, 3,000 offences were identified involving those arrested and not charged, including 37 murders, 16 attempted murders and 90 rapes. I ask my hon. Friend which of those crimes he would like not to have been solved.

Counter-Terrorism Bill

The Government have received representations on part 6 of the Counter-Terrorism Bill from four non-governmental organisations—Inquest, Liberty, Justice and Amnesty International—three trade organisations and a small number of private individuals, including one submission entitled “Fascism—the UK Government wants to change the law on inquest. Will this give the freemasons a licence to kill?”

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but is he aware that the Bill gives the Home Secretary fundamental powers to overhaul the coroners system completely? For example, the Home Secretary will have the power to appoint the coroner, and to issue a certificate requiring an inquest to be held without a jury. Is today’s terrorist threat so different from what we faced under the IRA that it is vital in the minds of the Home Secretary and the Minister to tear up hundreds of years of judicial procedure? Is that really necessary? Surely the Government should wait until a coroners Bill is before the House so that the matter can be properly discussed and debated.

I do not agree with much of that. I certainly do not agree that the legislation fundamentally changes the whole coroners system; it does not. It simply says that in one or two specific cases—terrorist and non-terrorist cases, by the bye—it might be necessary to go into such a context to get full closure for the families involved on the circumstances in which someone dies and how they have died. Some Opposition Members indicated that they had difficulties with that provision in the Bill and I am happy to discuss it further in Committee.

In the summer, I lost nine of my friends in Afghanistan. None of their deaths has so far been the subject of a completed inquest. Their families are grieving. I utterly fail to understand why such a provision should be part of a counter-terrorism Bill. Will the Minister listen to many of his Labour colleagues who have said to me that we need a proper coroners Bill, not a provision that is part of a totally different and overweening Bill?

I agree with the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The whole House agrees that there is a need for substantial reform of the coroners system, which is forthcoming. But to alleviate and obviate at least some of the delays that he talks about—I have huge sympathy with what he says about them—it is important to include the provision in question at this stage. The hon. Gentleman will be on the Committee considering the Bill, and as I indicated on Second Reading, I am open to exploring how we can resolve a problem that everyone is aware of—the use of sensitive and secure material in such cases—to ensure that the system works well and is expeditious, so that people are not left in the sort of limbo he describes. Let us talk about that in Committee.

Right to Remain

4. What the average time taken to determine applications for the right to remain in the UK was in the last 12 months; and if she will make a statement. (199724)

Published targets are to make 70 per cent. of decisions on postal applications within 20 days of receipt and to make 90 per cent. within 70 days. Complex cases and applications by overstayers, or by those in breach of the rules, can take a bit longer.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer and his earlier contact. However, he knows that I—and perhaps other colleagues—have several cases that take considerably longer to determine. One problem appears to be the delay in allocating case workers to each application. Some applications will be refused, and people will have to go back to their countries, but at least that is a decision, and they can get on with their lives. However, it is often difficult for people who are waiting to start education courses or who wish to visit their country and then return here. I had a constituent whose mother was dying in hospital abroad and, because of delays, she could not visit, and her mother died. Will the Minister do what he can to speed up the process? Some results will be negative but that is better than the delays that currently occur.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for not only for his question but for the conversation earlier today. I hope that we can resolve quickly the cases that are on the table. Approximately two thirds of applications for indefinite leave to remain are resolved within 20 days and nearly 90 per cent. are resolved in 70 days. However, many cases are outside that target, and the UK Border Agency needs to work faster to get them resolved quickly. Many of the lessons that we drew from creating fast-track asylum teams around the country are being applied to those cases. I therefore hope that faster progress will be made on that front in 2008.

Will my hon. Friend assure me that the right to remain in the UK is forfeited if somebody commits a serious crime and serves a sentence of imprisonment? Can he confirm that, in those cases, such people leave the country?

Yes, I can. Indeed, the powers that the UK Border Agency takes under the UK Borders Act 2007 will also provide for stiffer sanctions. However, we have said consistently that we should prioritise the removal of those who have abused our welcome and broken our laws. I am therefore pleased that the UK Border Agency deported 80 per cent. more foreign national prisoners last year. The new agency this year will set tougher targets and we expect it to deport more than 5,000 foreign national prisoners. That is a different order of magnitude from a couple of years ago.

The Minister may know that the former Home Secretary’s decision to refuse citizenship to Mr. Mohamed Fayed was dispatched in a matter of weeks. Given the great distress and burden on the public purse caused by Fayed’s absurd allegations, will the Home Secretary take swift action to remove for good as an undesirable alien that thief, crook and liar?

Mr. Speaker, you will know that I have made it my policy not to discuss individual cases on the Floor of the House. Suffice it to say that the comments are on the record.

My hon. Friend will know that some employers in our country and others in the Indian sub-continent have expressed concern that the new system of points-based work permits for those seeking to come to Britain or remain here for the purpose of working may make it more difficult for several people to come here to work. Will he assure me that, under the new system and with the new agency, Britain will continue to benefit from the talents of those who want to work here and can contribute to our economy, without undue delays in processing their applications?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those remarks. Trevor Phillips was right to say yesterday that there is a type of talent around the world from which the UK would benefit in the right circumstances. A little later this week, we have our first debate in Government time on the points system. It is important because it precedes the publication on the way in which we believe that the key stage of the points system will work. We will publish that policy after purdah. There will be a chance for hon. Members of all parties to put their views on the record before we finalise it.

If things are going as well as that, when will the Minister do something about the four months that it has taken to right a wrong—the wrong declared by an appeal judge —done to my constituent, Mrs. Massiah Stockings? When will he ensure that the wife of a serving officer in Helmand province will be given leave to remain in this country, not told that she has to send his passport in? When will he ensure that a man who is British by both parents can get a passport and not be asked impudent questions by officials about why he cannot produce his parents’ divorce document from some 40 years ago?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that about half of the casework in my constituency concerns immigration matters. It sounds as though he has quite a lot of his own, and I should be happy to discuss those issues with him in private, if that would help to expedite the cases that are of concern to him.

Policy Formulation

The Home Office’s policy-making process makes it clear that policies should be based on sound evidence. This is supported by the Department’s 330-plus scientific staff and the outputs from a variety of Home Office-funded research programmes.

May I invite the Home Secretary to comment on one example, which is the Government’s proposal to reclassify cannabis from class C to class B? If it is a policy decision or simply politics—a bad policy and bad politics—that is fine, but why ask the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look into the evidence for doing so, yet then plan to reject that advice and reclassify anyway? What is the point of having those structures for scientific advice if the Government have predetermined their position?

The only thing that I said on the record about the matter was that I would wait to see the advice that the advisory council gave. However, it is of course for advisers to advise and for the Government, as we are elected to, to decide.

The Home Secretary is right to remind the House that advisers are there to advise. One area where I would ask her to challenge the advisory council’s decision is on the use of khat, a drug used particularly by the Yemeni community that is currently legal, but which is causing disproportionate problems in some areas of our cities. I would ask the advisory council to look seriously at khat again and consider proscribing it.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the actions that we have undertaken under the 10-year drugs strategy that we published last month is to look in more detail at the growing impact of khat and what that implies for how we deal with it, in the way that she suggests.

Of course all policy should be based on evidence. My experience in the criminal courts is that a much more effective and cheaper alternative to prison for many drug offenders is a residential drug rehab bed, yet the Home Office has never been able to undertake research into what is more effective in reducing reconviction rates. Could the Home Office take a careful look and see whether appropriate research can be commissioned?

One of the other things that we are clear about in the drugs strategy is the need to maintain our research into the most effective forms of drug treatment. However, there is clear evidence that doubling the availability of drug treatment saw a 20 per cent. reduction in acquisitive crime. In increasing drug treatment, we have seen crime reducing. As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, we now need to be clear that that increased investment in treatment is going to the most effective forms of treatment, and we will ensure that that happens.

A draft research proposal using the inelegantly titled PEACE process—I am told that it stands for “Planning and Preparation; Engage and Explain; Account, Clarification and Challenge; Closure; Evaluation” and uses interpreters for interviews with non-English-speaking suspects—has been put forward by Kerry Marlow, one of my constituents, and his research group. Is that not a prime example of the police taking forward research that they need to improve working practices that the Home Office should be considering?

I cannot claim to have looked at that piece of research, but now that my hon. Friend has brought it to my attention and identified it as something that the local police are keen to research, I am sure that we will take a closer look at it.

While the Home Secretary is pondering the merits of evidence-based policies, perhaps she will take into account the evidence of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee on her immigration policy. The Committee includes former Labour Ministers, a distinguished economist—Professor Richard Layard—and the Government’s own pensions adviser, Adair Turner. That Committee concludes that the Home Secretary’s main defence for her policy—that it increases gross domestic product—is, in the Committee’s words, “irrelevant” and “misleading”. Why should anyone believe the Home Secretary’s evidence rather than that of a cross-party Committee of people who actually know what they are talking about?

Actually, we have always argued that there is a positive impact from immigration, and that is supported by the Committee. However, I think that what the Committee says proves that we were right to set up the independent migration advisory committee to provide us with evidence for our new points-based system on which individuals will most benefit this country in terms of the skills that they bring. The largest reform in the immigration system for 40 years is based on that evidence and on that objective.

Immigration Checks (London Airports)

6. What recent representations she has received on the time taken to complete immigration checks at London airports. (199726)

We have recently received a number of representations from a variety of stakeholders about the time that it takes to complete immigration checks at London airports. Records show that, in the past 12 months, there have been 19 parliamentary questions relating to queuing times.

Whatever the Minister might say about the average time taken to get through immigration being below the target level, the truth is that the situation is getting worse. That is creating a bad impression and undermining the reputation of a world-class city. What is the reason for that? What is going on? What steps is the Minister taking to improve the situation?

The growth in passenger numbers between 2005 and 2007 was about 5 and a bit per cent. Over the same period, the number of immigration officers increased by about 33 per cent. Obviously, that growth is now spread around a lot of different airports, so there are particular pinch points, and I think that Heathrow has become one of them. This is exactly why we have said that we will increase the budget for border control by 10 per cent. this year. That will mean 300 extra staff, and I am pleased to be able to say that 150 of those will be for Heathrow.

What evidence is there that some of these hold-ups are caused by females of a particular religious sect who cover their faces and refuse to reveal them as they go through immigration? Is there any evidence that that is causing problems?

There is no evidence of that. Everyone is required to identify themselves as directed by an immigration officer. If an identity is ever in any doubt, immigration officers will not hesitate to check a person’s fingerprints as well.

Would not the time taken to carry out immigration checks be speeded up if fewer work permits were issued for overseas workers to come to this country, and if the Government heeded the central conclusion of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which states that

“we have found no evidence for the argument, made by the Government, business and many others, that net immigration…generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population”?

That blows out of the water the case that has just been made by the Home Secretary, although I have no doubt that it will not stop her making it. Will the Government actually listen to the evidence that has been produced by that expert Committee?

I am not sure whether that was a call by the Conservatives for a policy of zero immigration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have a chance on Thursday to unpack some of those comments in greater detail.

Identity Fraud

We previously estimated the cost of identity fraud at about £1.7 billion a year, but we are currently engaged in calculating a new estimate which we intend to announce shortly.

Following a straw poll in my office, we discovered that two members of my staff had been victims of identity fraud involving money being taken out of their bank accounts. In any review of the cost of identity fraud, will the Minister ensure that account is taken of the cost to the individual of correcting the errors and getting their money back, as well as the cost of the money taken from the bank account in the first place?

A great deal of work has been done to assess the cost in time, effort and the impact on individuals. It is estimated that it takes an average of 48 hours to sort out the problems of identity fraud. Figures from CIFAS, the UK fraud prevention service, show that about 65,000 individuals were victims of fraud. We take these figures very seriously, and we all need to work together to tackle identity fraud across the piece.

The illegal online trade in stolen identities which fuels ID fraud, and the costs associated with it, operates across borders, yet the Government have not bothered to ratify the international treaty to combat cybercrime that they signed as far back as 2001. Why not?

We continue to look into the issues of international identity fraud and will continue to do so in order to ensure that we protect the British public to the best of our ability. It is worth stressing, however, that preventing identity fraud is not a matter only for the Government, so I would urge any individual not to release personal information, to use only secure websites—[Interruption]—to get credit references and, of course, to notify key players of changes of address—[Interruption.] It is a serious point, Mr. Speaker, and I am sorry that the Opposition seem to think—[Interruption.]

I am sorry that the Opposition seem to think that this is a laughing matter, but the reality is that tackling identity fraud is a matter not only for a number of agencies, including the Government, but also for individuals. It is my responsibility as Minister always to remind individuals to do their bit to prevent identity fraud.

Illegal Immigrants

Order. The Speaker must be informed in advance of a grouping of questions, so the Minister is answering only the question put by Mr. Mackay.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Since the phasing out of exit controls in 1994, no Government have been able to produce an accurate figure for the number of people who are in the country illegally. By Christmas, however, our border information systems will count in and out the majority of foreign nationals. Together with fingerprinting visa applicants and the issuing of ID cards to foreign nationals, that will ensure that a much more effective set of controls will be in place.

Was the Minister surprised that nine illegal immigrants from Cambridge who were given train tickets to London and told to report to the immigration centre in Croydon failed to turn up, and what is he doing to find them?

The policy of the UK Border Agency over the past year has been quite clear: when there are lorry drops, they are all attended by immigration officers and the people are immediately taken to detention centres, where their claims—some will obviously claim asylum—are processed. That policy has been the fruit of new partnerships with the police up and down the country; almost all constabularies have immigration crime partnerships in place and one of the most fundamental objectives is to ensure that everyone detected at a lorry drop who we think is an illegal immigrant is arrested and brought to detention centres.

The Home Secretary said that the new UK Border Agency would have

“tough customs, immigration and police-like powers”,

so why did the Government decide to create an agency with “police-like powers” rather than follow Opposition calls to integrate the police into a UK border force so that a robust force with real powers could tackle illegal immigration?

The steps taken to create one agency with £2 billion of resources, 25,000 staff and 9,000 warranted officers have been widely welcomed in the House. Obviously, that agency has to work closely with the police, who have all kinds of other jobs to do at our ports. As the Home Secretary said a week or two ago, discussions with the police—both with the Association of Chief Police Officers and with constabularies up and down the country—about the best way for the new agency to work in an integrated manner with the police will continue, as, indeed, the Prime Minister promised in his statement of last year.

Fear of Crime

We take seriously the fear of crime wherever it occurs and we are taking steps to reduce crime and the fear of crime. According to the 2006-07 British crime survey, younger people have the highest levels of worry about violence and car crime and are more likely than older people to be victims of crime. Older people are less likely to be victims of crime than other age groups. However, their fear of crime is disproportionately high when compared with their low risk of being a victim.

The British crime survey for 2007 records overall crime falling by 32 per cent. since 1997 and 5.5 million fewer victims than in 1995, yet fear of crime continues to paralyse too many lives, both old and young alike. What discussions has the Minister had with the Youth Justice Board and Department for Communities and Local Government colleagues about Age Concern recommendations to have regular intergenerational meetings in all communities so that young and old alike can discuss their fears and counter the destabilising threat of age-related segregation?

I know that my hon. Friend works closely with Age Concern in his constituency, and as a former magistrate he knows the importance of different generations working together. At a recent conference, we discussed the issue of intergenerational liaison to enable elderly and younger people to discuss fear of crime. It is often said that there is a difference between older and younger people. There might be such a difference in perception, but it is in everybody’s interest—whether they are old, middle-aged or young—to reduce crime and the fear of crime.

The understandable fear of crime felt by my rural constituents of all ages is partly based on their awareness of the fact that national police targets are forced on local chief constables, and in their circumstances that means the concentration on urban crime leaving too many isolated rural communities at the mercy of travelling intimidating thieves. How long will it be before local chief constables get more scope to decide their own priorities, rather than following those of the Home Office?

I think that the hon. Gentleman would accept that all levels of crime in all areas of the country have fallen dramatically over the last 10 years, and he should also accept that with the new police assessment framework we have ensured greater scope for local chief constables to determine their priorities. One of the best ways to ensure that local people get the policing they want is the roll-out of neighbourhood policing, which was completed on 1 April.

Alongside that, people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will be helped by the Home Secretary’s announcement that, from July, local crime information will be published, which will allow his constituents to see how well the police force is doing and help them to establish the priorities that there should be in each area.

Police Community Support Officers

PCSOs are an invaluable addition to policing. They engage with their local community, provide high-visibility reassurance, and deal with low-level crime and antisocial behaviour. They are complementary and supplementary to the police, and communities up and down the country are benefiting from their presence and their work.

In my constituency, PCSOs have helped to decrease theft from cars by patrolling hot spots. They take 75 per cent. of all antisocial behaviour order cases to the local panel and their visible presence on the streets is much welcomed by the public. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the funding for PCSOs will continue beyond 2008 and become part of the general policing grant, so that my constituents can continue to benefit from successful neighbourhood policing in my area?

I know that my hon. Friend does a lot of work with local police in her area and that her police division does exceptional work, including the PCSOs. They are to be commended on that. I can assure her that over the next comprehensive spending review period—and, I suspect, beyond, although I should not say that—we have committed to the funding and that work will continue. There is a debate, which ultimately we need to address, about whether the neighbourhood policing fund should be subsumed into the police grant and un-ring-fenced, but for now she can have the assurance that over the next three years that money is assured.

May I congratulate the Minister on the initiative behind community support officers? It has been one of the better initiatives of this Government, and I welcome all those PCSOs in my constituency. However, as my constituency is in Surrey, he will be more than aware of the Government’s gross underfunding, under the formulae, of Surrey police. This has become a crisis situation. He has proposed capping the police element of the county council’s council tax, yet has made no offer to substitute for the shortfall that would then emerge for Surrey police. The year-on-year underfunding of the Surrey force is causing great concern for the residents of that county.

I am more than aware of the circumstances of Surrey’s police and their resource base, although I do not think that I would characterise that in quite the terms that the hon. Gentleman used. He will know that following my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government announcing the capping criteria, all police authorities involved have some 21 days to put their case together. My hon. Friend and I will be meeting them.

I am sure that Surrey will put its case, and do so quite robustly, and I am happy to offer the hon. Gentleman and other Surrey MPs a separate meeting to look at that matter, as I have authorities on the list of six or seven police authorities that are at least in the frame to be capped, although that will not necessarily happen. Those decisions will be determined at a later date.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Durham police on the roll-out of neighbourhood policing? Police community support officers have played a key part in the rolling out of that initiative. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the Opposition voted against the introduction of PCSOs, they have become a vital part of the delivery of neighbourhood policing in rural communities such as Durham?

I agree wholeheartedly. I happened to be up in Durham looking at neighbourhood policing a couple of Fridays ago, and—this brings me back to the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt)—I saw that both urban and rural communities were benefiting from it.

Like anyone else, I take great joy from the repentance of sinners. If the Opposition now endorse PCSOs and all that they are doing to help our warranted police officers up and down the country, I shall be a very happy man.

Topical Questions

My Department is responsible for the security of our nation’s borders. That is why I launched the new UK Border Agency, which brings together the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Ukvisas and Customs at the border. In its first two weeks alone, the agency barred more than 800 illegal migrants from boarding planes to the UK or crossing into Britain at juxtaposed controls, and seized more than 50 kg of ecstasy, 40 kg of cocaine and 20 kg of heroin. It is vital for the agency to be fully accountable for its work, which is why I am pleased to announce that I am appointing John Vine as the first chief inspector for the UK Border Agency. Mr. Vine has been chief constable of Tayside police since 2000, during which time he was president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland. He will take up his appointment in July 2008.

When will the Home Secretary recognise that there is no evidence in favour of extending detention without charge beyond 28 days? It is not just the usual suspects who are saying that; it is being said by Sir Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and by Sue Hemming, who heads the counter-terrorism section of the Crown Prosecution Service. A whole cacophony of informed opinion opposes the Home Secretary on this matter. Sir Ian Blair has said that there has been no case in which the Met police have required a person to be held for more than 28 days. When will the Home Secretary present the House with evidence to support this substantial erosion of liberty?

I have discussed the issue at length, both during my appearances before the Home Affairs Committee and on Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism Bill. I have provided the House with considerable evidence—as supplied to me, not least by chief police officers—of the growing scale and complexity of terrorist investigations that are now being undertaken, and the nature of those investigations. Because of what may well come to pass if the plots in question are not foiled, it is necessary to step in early.

Those factors have led senior police officers, and me as Home Secretary, to believe that at some point in the future it may well be necessary to investigate for longer than 28 days, which is why we are including in the Bill a reserve power not to extend the period now, but to ensure that the risk is covered in the future. If the hon. Gentleman feels happy to live with the risk, that is up to him. My responsibility as Home Secretary is to do the right thing, on the basis of the evidence, to keep the country safe.

T4. Last week my right hon. Friend made a statement about preventing people from becoming terrorists. As she will know, the Lancashire constabulary already work closely with communities, schools and places of worship. Can she explain how her initiative will take that work further to identify, in particular, young people who might be led astray and prevent them from becoming next year’s or next month’s terrorists? (199747)

My hon. Friend has made an important point. In the short term, it is crucial for us to have the legislation and the ability to investigate and bring to justice people who are now plotting terrorist attacks against our country and our interests, but in the longer term we cannot arrest our way out of the problem. That is why we need to invest in expertise and capacity so that work can be done in our prisons and with the young people cited by my hon. Friend, whether through the provision of extra police officers or through the money that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made available to community organisations. We need to prevent people from becoming terrorists and supporting violent extremism in the first place. We take this issue seriously because, as my hon. Friend says, in the long term that is how we will prevent the continued and growing threat to this country from terrorism.

T2. The Home Office demands a vast array of statistics all the time from police authority areas and yet has recently decided that it no longer wishes to know how many police officers are injured each year in the line of duty. Will the Home Secretary tell us why she feels that this is no longer an important piece of information to collect? (199745)

The Home Office, working with the 43 police forces, is constantly reviewing the information that it keeps. I think the hon. Gentleman is completely in error; I say that with hesitation, not least because he has recently beaten up the “Pink Pounder”, who is 10 years older than he is. Quite why the hon. Gentleman should be getting in a boxing ring with someone 10 years older is his own business. Those data will be collected; information on police injuries is important to us. The form in which the information is collected may, as he suggests, have changed, but we are constantly reviewing our data. I am happy to meet him to discuss the matter further, but not in a boxing ring.

T10. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern about some of the heavy discounting of alcohol that has taken place recently? Will she work with colleagues in other Departments to look at providing a floor below which discounting could not fall in the interests of tackling some of the worst excesses of binge drinking? (199753)

I know that my hon. Friend is very concerned about the effects of binge drinking in her constituency and across the country, and she will know that the Home Office and the Department of Health are looking at the impact of discounting in supermarkets and elsewhere and the effect that that has on alcohol consumption. That report will be with us in July or August of this year. We look forward to receiving it so that we can determine the best way forward in that important area of work.

Before I ask my question, may I thank the Home Secretary for what she had to say about Gwyneth Dunwoody? She was a very close friend of mine and we will all miss her greatly.

After the aggressive behaviour of the blue-tracksuited Chinese officials guarding the Olympic torch relay through London, I wrote to the Home Secretary to ask what authorisation she had given to these characters to exercise force on the streets of London. She wrote back and said none. But she did not answer the question as to what checks she had made on their background and particularly whether they were members of the Chinese People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary riot control organisation. Will she answer that now? What checks did she do? Were they members of the People’s Armed Police? On what legal basis did they manhandle British citizens on the streets of London?

I made clear in my letter to the right hon. Gentleman that the Chinese torch officials had no executive power in London. The basis of their agreement was that they were to protect the torch, with activity limited to putting themselves between the torch and anyone who was trying either to take it or to do it damage. They were of course issued with visit visas by the embassy in Beijing on the same basis as anyone else would have been in accordance with standard procedures, including biometric checks. I reiterate to the right hon. Gentleman that they had no policing role. I spelt that out at some length and clearly in my response to him.

Well, we note that we still have not got the answer as to who they were. But even the Mayor of London concedes that it was a mistake to subcontract crowd control to Chinese military security. If Chinese military security was not authorised, as she says, what representations has she made to the Chinese Government about the assault on British citizens? Has she made it clear that they cannot behave as though Trafalgar square were Tiananmen square?

There was no subcontracting of responsibilities. Security in London is a matter for the police and the security services. The Metropolitan Police Service was responsible for the safety, security and safe passage of the torch bearer and the torch as it travelled through London. They had the executive power where it was necessary. There was no executive power vested in the Chinese torch officials, who are a standard part, I understand, of any Olympic organising committee and have very limited responsibilities. Furthermore, if there are allegations of unlawful actions, it is absolutely right that anybody who believes that they have taken place should report them to the police, who will investigate.

T8. Ministers promised some time ago that from 1 April this year every community would be served by neighbourhood policing teams. Police in Lancashire have pioneered that policy, along with several other police services. Has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State been able to assess the success of the policy in Lancashire, in particular in rural and semi-rural areas which were not seen as natural homes for community policing when it was first developed in urban areas? (199751)

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing made clear, an analysis of the success of neighbourhood policing in some areas ensured that, with the strong leadership of senior police officers and the National Policing Improvement Agency, we were able by the beginning of this month to have neighbourhood policing teams in every neighbourhood in the country. Importantly, those teams can respond and act differently, depending on the priorities and circumstances of local areas. That is why our preliminary evidence is that in both rural and urban areas not only are neighbourhood policing teams helping to bring down levels of crime and antisocial behaviour, but they are helping to increase confidence and the involvement of local people in tackling such issues.

T3. Last year, the Association of Chief Police Officers led a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and made some 20 legislative recommendations to allow front-line policemen, crime squads and counter-terrorism officers to carry out their jobs more efficiently, and to ensure that terrorism is off our streets sooner rather than later. Why, then, is not one of those 20 recommendations included in the Counter-Terrorism Bill due to be examined in Committee this week? Is not that because the Bill is much more about political posturing than about helping our front-line officers? (199746)

Certainly not, in answer to that last question: the Counter-Terrorism Bill is about the protection and security of the public in this country, full stop. [Interruption.] No, absolutely not; the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) is entirely wrong. Unlike him—as he declared in The Sunday Telegraph some time ago—we do not run counter-terrorism and security policy by focus group; he should be ashamed of himself for that. We take national security more seriously. Many of the 20 recommendations mentioned do not require legislation; many of them—certainly those to do with bureaucracy and paperwork—have been dealt with by ACPO. I agree, however, with the import of the comments of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) that there is still an issue to do with police forces taking full cognisance of ACPO’s guidance; we do not need 16 pages in order to authorise many of the aspects of intervention and surveillance under RIPA, as ACPO says that two will suffice. There will also be a need for further legislation in terms not only of ACPO’s recommendations, but of other aspects of intercept and surveillance more generally. Hopefully, they will be dealt with at a subsequent time, when we find the appropriate legislative vehicle.

Britain’s most senior Muslim police officer, Tarique Ghaffur, the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has confirmed that he believes that 42 days’ detention without charge would be counter-productive and that there is a danger that it will make the police’s long-term job harder. Will the Secretary of State now recognise that, tragically, she is repeating the mistakes of Northern Ireland by going over the top on legal powers of detention, which will only alienate Britain’s ethnic minority communities and dry up terrorism intelligence, and make witnesses more inhibited and convictions harder to achieve?

Let me quote the words of Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur on Friday:

“I do not lead on counter-terrorism matters for the Metropolitan Police Service and I respect the professional assessment of colleagues who deal with counter-terrorism on a daily basis, and who envisage circumstances arising when the current upper limit of 28 days is not going to prove sufficient.”

Those colleagues include Peter Clarke, former head of counter-terrorist command, Bob Quick, assistant commissioner for special operations—whose letter to me is available in the House of Commons Library—ACPO and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police.

I choose, in making a judgment about keeping this country safe, to listen to the police officers whom we task with investigating terrorist offences and keeping us safe in a proportionate and precautionary way. Unlike Opposition Members, I am not willing to live with the risk of not taking action now to keep this country safe.

T5. Last Friday, a constituent came to see me at my advice surgery. On 18 April 2000, he claimed asylum, and despite help from the previous Member of Parliament, his case has still not been decided. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated case. I have a number of constituents who have waited many years for their cases to be decided. Is this fair to the asylum seeker, his family and the taxpayer? (199748)

It is very difficult to speculate on the circumstances of an individual case, but if it helps the hon. Gentleman, of course I shall be happy to see him and discuss it in detail.

T6. My constituent, Mr. Fereydum Bahrami, applied for indefinite leave to remain in 2004, and the Home Office is reviewing its initial decision to refuse. Indeed, in November 2005, it stated that“Mr. Bahrami’s case will now be reviewed as a priority”.Two and a half years later, there is no decision. May I ask the Home Secretary to look at the case and make a decision, and to apologise for the delay? (199749)