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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Human Trafficking

1. What assessment she has made of the steps necessary to be taken prior to ratification and implementation of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings; and what estimate she has made of the cost of such steps. (229769)

Although we are largely compliant with the convention, some changes to legislation and procedures were required before ratification and, following a cross-government effort, the necessary legislation is now in place. The total additional economic costs to the UK of implementing the convention are estimated at approximately £16 million over three years. How that is calculated is outlined in our recently published impact assessment.

Given that only 10 of the 27 European Union countries have ratified the convention, when the Home Secretary ratifies it for us later this year, will she ensure that her approach is compassionate, thoughtful and caring towards the victims of trafficking? They have endured terrible problems and suffered tremendous trauma, and they need help in the form of psychological assistance, accommodation and a thoughtful country that understands the plight that they have been through. Many of them feel that this country wants to throw them out as quickly as it possibly can.

The hon. Gentleman has done some fine work in raising this issue, and he rightly says that victims must be at the centre of our response, as is the case in our action plan. That is why we have announced the 45-day reflection period and the one-year temporary residence permit for victims—both measures exceed the minimum standard outlined in the convention. It is precisely why an important role of Pentameter 2—the enforcement programme—is to identify the best process for dealing with victims, and it is also why we have made additional support available to those who work with victims.

When my right hon. Friend considers the steps necessary to implement the convention, will she consider action against child trafficking? Will she reflect on the fact that, in many instances, children who are trafficked into this country disappear from social services’ care within 48 hours? It appears that problems associated with internal data sharing in health and education bodies and social services are leading to a lack of protection for our children. Will she urgently look at this nationally and internationally?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are very concerned that some children whom we suspect have been trafficked go missing from local authority care. That is why we welcomed the additional support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which, with our support and that of Comic Relief, is running a 24-hour advice line for practitioners. It is also why, last year, we published multi-agency guidance to all front-line staff on how trafficked children can be identified and safeguarded, and why we need to build on the work of the “Young Runaways Action Plan” published on 16 June. I assure her that we will continue to raise these issues across Europe and internationally when we have the opportunity to do so.

Newsquest took the lead in removing sex industry adverts from its local newspapers, recognising that such adverts support a lot of this human trafficking. What can be done to encourage other news organisations to encourage their local newspapers to follow such a good example, particularly when advertising revenue is falling? Newsquest really took the lead on this issue.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. My hon. Friend the police Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality met the Newspaper Society precisely to try to encourage newspapers not to carry the sorts of adverts that promote and expect a demand for women who have been trafficked into this country. Such a demand is abhorrent, and should not be advertised.

Will the Secretary of State have a publicity campaign to encourage people who came to the United Kingdom as children and were used in this country as slaves—modern-day Cinderellas—in their adolescence and childhood to be aware that when, or if, they are able to escape bondage, there is a special place to which they can report that will help to detect those who perpetrated these things against them and who continue to do such things today?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. One of the reasons for setting up and funding the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which has already run some important publicity campaigns and provided fundamental support to police and others for whom this should be mainstream business, was to examine how we can help victims to be confident about coming forward and to recognise that when they do so, they will receive support from the police and others, not only for themselves, but in order to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators.

It is estimated that 43 per cent. of those people who are trafficked end up being sexually exploited. What guidance has the Secretary of State given the police to ensure that such people are properly protected? What more can be done to bring to justice those heinous thugs who are responsible for this modern, 21st century enslavement of people in this country?

The Pentameter 2 enforcement campaign was important because it enabled the police and those supporting victims not only to rescue them, as is very important—167 people were rescued as part of that campaign—but to identify how we could provide support for them. I agree that we need to bring people to justice, and that is why I am pleased that we have so far achieved 90 convictions for trafficking under the legislation that we introduced. I hope that we will see more convictions in the future.

Antisocial Behaviour

There have been three independent reports in the last three years—by the Home Affairs Committee, the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office. The NAO report found that antisocial behaviour orders work, and that two thirds of people behaving antisocially stop after the first intervention, rising to more than nine out of 10 by the third intervention.

I am delighted to be the first to put a question to my hon. Friend the Minister. I wish him the best of luck in the future.

For the first time, the residents of Black Dog walk in my constituency will have a peaceful time because a person who has been harassing them is now, after three antisocial behaviour orders, in prison. Through the ASBO process, how can we further protect those residents when that person is released?

I know that my hon. Friend takes such matters very seriously, and so do we. Any breach of an ASBO says more about the individual than it says about the law itself. If someone breaches an ASBO, it should be clear that they could face a custodial sentence, as happened in this case. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents welcome the measures that have been taken and will welcome such measures in the future.

I am sure that the Minister would agree that antisocial behaviour is a serious matter to many law-abiding citizens. Could we not treat it more harshly—and transparently harshly—by making offenders, especially young ones, undertake community projects such as removing graffiti and chewing gum, and picking up litter from the streets? In that way, they could help to put right the wrong done to, and improve, the community in which they live. Let us treat such behaviour more seriously, and more transparently seriously.

We do treat it seriously, which is why we have a range of measures in place, not only ASBOs, but a range of powers available to the police and local authorities. The hon. Gentleman raises several important issues, not least of which is community payback. We are seeking to extend its use, so that the community can actually see the punishment and the tough action taken against offenders.

I too welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box for the first time. I know that he will do a first class job as a Minister.

Up to 400 car cruisers occupy the Asda car park in Blackwood in my constituency on a Thursday evening. The police have used dispersal orders to try to break up the gathering, but it still takes place. If I had my way, I would seize the cars and put them in a crusher. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss my modest suggestion and ways in which we can bring to an end this antisocial menace that causes grief to my constituents?

Even the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas) hopes that my right hon. Friend would want to take the drivers out before crushing the cars. [Laughter.] A range of measures is available, and we would encourage the police and the local authority to ensure that all those powers are not only available, but used. Of course I would be willing to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this important matter.

What does the Minister believe might be the consequences for antisocial behaviour of the recent fashion among some local authorities, my own included, to turn off street lights in the middle of the night?

I would have thought that if a local authority were taking such steps, it would have reason to do so. Local authorities would need to demonstrate that such action would not have a detrimental effect on the level of crime or antisocial behaviour in that area. I hope that they would take such issues into account.

The drinking of alcohol in the street leads to antisocial behaviour. What research has been undertaken into the effectiveness of street drinking bans in local communities, and will he support my campaign for such bans in towns such as Dawley, Oakengates and Madeley in Telford?

I know that my hon. Friend takes this matter very seriously. Of course, we want local authorities, including his, to take account of every power that is available. I do not think that anyone could complain that we had not made a range of powers available to local authorities. It is, of course, up to the local police and local authorities not only to take those powers into account but to show which one is most useful.

When drinking banning orders were launched to curb drink-related antisocial behaviour, the then police Minister, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), said that they could have

“more impact on young people than many of the other things that we pass in the House.”—[Official Report, 14 November 2005; Vol. 439, c. 723.]

However, three years later the current Minister has admitted that they still have not been brought into effect and that he will be taking stock of whether there is any need for them at all. Will the Minister confirm that drinking banning orders will be scrapped, and indicate what other measures he now considers to be unworkable, unnecessary or otherwise surplus to requirements?

We are disappointed that local authorities and some police forces have not taken those powers into account and done something about them. We will be conducting a campaign in the near future, and I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he is looking for that we intend to scrap the powers.

Kingsnorth Climate Camp

3. If she will investigate the policing of the Kingsnorth climate camp; and if she will make a statement. (229771)

Tactics and strategy on policing major events such as the Kingsnorth climate camp are operational matters for the local chief officer.

I regard myself as a supporter of the police, but I cannot condone what I witnessed when I arrived at Kingsnorth. I think that I was the first MP to do so. I witnessed unnecessarily aggressive policing, unprovoked violence against peaceful protestors, an extraordinary number of police on site and tactics such as confiscating toilet rolls, board games and clown costumes from what I saw to be peaceful demonstrators. In the light of what I saw, and of what other MPs witnessed, will the Minister arrange for an independent inquiry into the matter, conducted by either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or by a different police force?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the IPCC is available, as an independent body, to look into any complaints that are made about the police and the way in which they have conducted themselves. I hope that he has made the comments that he has made here to Kent police so that they can be investigated. If he feels that that process is unsatisfactory, he knows that it can then be taken to the IPCC. I would have thought that that would be the appropriate way forward. Notwithstanding the points that he has just made, 70 police officers were also hurt—although none seriously—at that protest.

I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says, but I had a constituent and friend who was arrested at Kingsnorth for so-called “aggressively picking up litter”, which puts an interesting connotation on what he was trying to do. That case, clearly, is ongoing, but will my hon. Friend at least consider the way in which these major demonstrations are handled and the way in which people who want to demonstrate peacefully about an issue about which they feel strongly have their rights secured? Will he also consider how to ensure that the police who have to control these demonstrations are protected? That did not necessarily work at Kingsnorth.

It is absolutely right that people should have the right to go out and protest peacefully, whether they do so through climate change camps or any of the other demonstrations that we can think of. People in this country have a right to do that. However, it is also right that that should be done in a peaceful and proportionate way, according to the law. If my hon. Friend’s constituent wishes to make a complaint, he should, as I said to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), go to the police force concerned in the first instance. If that is not satisfactory, he should go to the IPCC. It is a difficult balance to strike, but I believe that, in this case, the police struck the correct balance.

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that despite what he said about injuries, no protestor has been convicted of any crime of violence at any of the climate camps. It is not just the IPCC that has jurisdiction over the matter, because the Government are offering to pay half the £5.9 million cost of policing. Given what the Minister has just said about peaceful protest, will he assure the House that every Government Department that has been in contact with the police over the policing of the climate camps has given absolute priority to the right of peaceful protest?

I can only repeat that the right of peaceful protest in this country is absolute. The hon. Gentleman mentioned people being charged and so on; 100 people were arrested and, of those, 46 were charged with offences ranging from obstruction and public order offences to possession of a bladed weapon. Of course, the Government will consider representations made to them, but as I say, I think that police have acted appropriately and proportionately in this case.

National DNA Database

4. What her latest estimate is of the number of people without criminal convictions whose records are stored on the national DNA database. (229772)

There are about 857,000 people on the national DNA database who do not have a current criminal record on the police national computer, but that figure includes those who have been convicted and had their records deleted and those for whom proceedings are still ongoing, as well as those who have never been convicted.

The Minister will be aware that two people in the latter category—S, a juvenile, and Michael Marper—have a case that is being considered by the European Court of Human Rights. Will the Minister confirm that, if their case is successful, he will take steps to delete immediately the records of everybody who falls into that category and will not leave it to people to apply for such deletions to be made?

Obviously, we will consider what actions would have to be taken in that situation, but we believe that we have a strong case and that no breach of article 8 of the European convention on human rights is taking place. We believe that there is the right balance between rights and public safety in the system that we operate. We are also clear that the DNA database is an important tool to help police detect crime, and we have no intention of doing anything to undermine their work.

Scandalously, 100,000 children who have never been convicted of any offence are on the DNA database. What about people who work with children, and who have never been convicted of a crime, but who are on the DNA database and find their future employment prospects blighted?

Yes, it is the case that some young people can be on the database if they have been arrested and their DNA and fingerprints have been taken. Those under 10 in England and Wales could be on the database because consent was given by their parent or guardian. On employment, what my hon. Friend says would not be the case. The information to which he refers is not held on the DNA database, and a future employer could not use it to discriminate against a future employee.

Does the Minister agree that if there is a good argument for the retention of DNA samples in the circumstances that we are describing, it would be far better for the Government to make the argument for a comprehensive DNA database straightforwardly to the House and the wider public, so that we could debate the merits of the proposal? If he is looking for an opportunity for such a debate, I notice in the Order Paper that there is a chance for a general debate on a home affairs related topic next Thursday.

The Government have no plans to bring forward such a database, not least because of the cost that that would involve. The hon. Gentleman talks about making a strong case; let me make a strong case to him. In the past year, the DNA database has helped to detect the criminals involved in more than 83 homicide cases, 184 rapes and 7,000 burglaries—that is a strong case.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the difficulty of securing convictions in rape cases, to which he alluded. Will he reassure me, my constituents and the victims of rape crimes—there were 540 such victims last year—that the DNA database will continue, and will continue to be successful in solving rape crimes and other crimes?

UK Border Agency

We are delivering the biggest shake-up of border security for a generation, and we are already seeing the results. The agency—a new single border force that combines the Border and Immigration Agency, UKvisas and Customs at the border—sees 25,000 staff working across 135 countries. Already, thousands of illegal migrants have been barred from entering Britain, while millions of pounds-worth of dangerous drugs have been removed from our streets.

May I begin by welcoming the Minister to his new position? One of his first acts in his new job was to write to me about the immigration status of Hammersmith resident Hany Youssef, who has been given discretionary leave to remain, despite the fact that the Home Office itself says that he appears on the United Nations list of those belonging to or associated with the al-Qaeda organisation. Can the Minister tell us why he has been given discretionary leave to remain? What reassurance can he give my other Hammersmith constituents who are, understandably, very concerned?

The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue on a number of occasions and, of course, he is right to do so. My letter goes into some detail about the law and the rationale behind that decision, but let me give him the reassurance that he seeks. The measures that are being put in place to control our borders, to count people in and count people out using the e-borders system, and the introduction later this year of identity cards with fingerprint data on them will mean that we have the strongest and most secure borders for many, many a year.

Can my hon. Friend assure me that the agency and posts abroad are prepared to implement the new immigration regulations that come into force later this year? I am thinking specifically of the increase in age from 18 to 21 for spouse visas.

This gives me an opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for bravely campaigning on the matter, along with others, over a number of years. I can give her that assurance. It is in the best interests of this country, of our community and of the individuals.

I welcome the shake-up to our border security that the Minister spoke about earlier. Can he tell me how many illegal immigrants we have got rid of in the first 12 months and how many he thinks remain and need to be got rid of?

The hon. Gentleman is right to imply that it is illegal immigration that most concerns the public. That is why I am pleased to be able to report to the House that the successes that have been achieved mean that we are now stopping one illegal immigrant every eight minutes. On the issue of foreign national prisoners, the figures have improved as well. Since April, when the agency came into being—[Interruption.] Those on the Opposition Front Bench are chuntering away because they do not like the facts. Facts are very stubborn things, and the facts are that we are getting illegal immigrants out of the country more quickly than we did before.

Does the Minister accept that as the country goes into recession, the defence of our borders becomes more, not less, important? As skilled workers are laid off in our constituencies, what changes to the points system will the Government make to ensure that those workers get first chance for any vacancies, rather than those vacancies being filled by workers coming in from abroad?

The Government are doing everything they can to mitigate the effects of the global economic downturn, but my right hon. Friend is right to point out that the British public will want to see that all is being done so that vacancies and shortages can be filled by people from our country. The points-based system allows us to look at the skills shortages. I am pleased to say that Professor Metcalf and his advisory committee have submitted their report. We are considering that report and, as my right hon. Friend implies, we have the possibility to change criteria to help those jobs go to where we want them to go.

The biggest task for the Border Agency is indeed the implementation of the points-based system, so can the Minister confirm, first, that the only group covered by the points-based system and not covered by our proposed annual limit are foreign students; secondly, that he told the House last week that he would take no steps to cut the number of foreign students; and thirdly and consequently, that the claims that he repeatedly makes that the points-based system will be more wide ranging than our proposed limit are entirely bogus?

So now we have it. We have the admission that the Opposition do not have a population cap. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, first, for clarifying that. Secondly, it is the case, as he confirms, that our points-based system covers more people under the migration system than their system does. On the point about students, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the policy. Under the points-based system, the Government will have the ability to look at the criteria within the different tiers, as he knows, to ensure that the right criteria and policies are being met.

Is the Minister aware that many families in this country have sought asylum from war-torn countries and have very strong cases for gaining permanent residence here? Their cases have been delayed by the UK Border Agency and they are forced to live without any benefits or support. In many cases, they are forced to beg. They are willing and able to work, but are denied that right and forced to live off the largesse of friends and family. Does the Minister not think it time to look seriously at the misery and hardship that many asylum-seeking families and their children face in our society while we parade to the world our regard for human rights?

My hon. Friend raises the difficult issue of delayed asylum cases. The whole House would agree that it is right and proper that asylum seekers should be processed not only firmly, but quickly. That is why the focus of the Government’s effort, with success, is to clear the backlog and ensure that we are processing cases better. We are now processing 60 per cent. of claims to conclusion within six months; 10 years ago, the figure was 22 months just to get to an initial decision.

Police Officers (Morale)

6. What recent assessment she has made of trends in the level of morale among police officers in Wales and England. (229774)

The police service has a good record at retaining staff; it is one of the strongest such records in the public sector. The resignation rate has remained stable in the past five years, at around 1.5 per cent. I am also delighted that we have reached agreement on a three-year pay deal for police officers from 2008-09 to 2010-11.

A recent survey of members of the North Wales Police Federation found that more than 50 per cent. of the officers questioned reported levels of morale at the lower end of the scale. When they were asked what measures could be put in place to enable them significantly to improve their performance, the top three answers were that there should be more police officers, that bureaucracy should be reduced and that there should be fewer targets. Does the Minister consider that the low morale found in north Wales is representative of the police in general? What is the Home Office doing to address the bureaucratic, target-driven culture that is clearly contributing to it?

The hon. Gentleman will know that police officer numbers are at historically high levels. He will also know of the measures that we are taking to reduce bureaucracy, not least the appointment of Jan Berry as the reducing bureaucracy champion. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will know of the confidence measures that we are taking to reduce the number of targets and to have a single force area target. No doubt all those measures will be welcomed in north Wales, as they have been across the rest of the country.

I know about the survey that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but should point out that resignations in north Wales fell between 2006-07 and 2007-08. As well as talking about the problems, we can point out the successes of the police in order to raise police morale. Not least of those successes has been the huge reduction in crime in north Wales and across the rest of the country.

On the subject of morale, the Minister will be aware that the National Black Police Association recently called for a boycott of the Metropolitan police. Will my hon. Friend continue to work with the association on issues of recruitment and retention and does he agree with me that a boycott is not ultimately in the interests of the police force or of the communities that the association seeks to serve?

My hon. Friend has been a champion of the police and of policing in his constituency. He speaks from a position of strength when he talks about the importance of diversity in the police force. Recently, I met representatives of the National Black Police Association and I have been at the launch of a branch of the National Association of Muslim Police in the City of London. I will continue to have such meetings and make such visits.

As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to look into the whole issue of diversity and ethnicity in the police service. I have just given my right hon. Friend that report. The point is extremely important, and we will look to do something about it in the not-too-distant future.

Does the Minister agree that one way to improve police morale is to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service does not lose evidence and that its staff turn up on the correct date at the correct time so that the police’s hard work in bringing people before the courts can produce a hearing in the court and, I would hope, secure some sort of conviction?

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, nobody would disagree with those comments. The relationship between the police and the CPS is crucial, which is why Crown prosecutors are now resident in police stations in order to work with the police so that those prosecutors do not make mistakes in respect of the process and there is a better chance of getting measures to court. He is right to point out the need for that close co-operation. We discuss that with our ministerial colleagues and, in the light of his question, I will do so again, because it is an important matter.

I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities. He was very effective in his previous role, and I look forward to working with him in his new one.

One aspect of police pay that is causing a problem for morale in the police forces around the border of the Metropolitan police area is that fact that the Metropolitan police get £4,393 a year more, as well as free travel into the Met police area, than the police in my constituency, who work side by side facing similar levels of crime? Will my hon. Friend reassure me that he is considering that issue?

First, I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks.

We are aware of the issues to do with the so-called south-east allowance in terms of officers leaving forces around London and going to work for the Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary considers that a serious issue and is discussing it at the Police Negotiating Board. Far from cutting that allowance, as is being discussed by the Conservatives, we continue to see it as important and we will try to reach a proper and fair conclusion to those discussions.

I welcome the Minister to his new role.

The police were demoralised by the Home Secretary’s shocking breach of trust over pay last year. In the light of her decision on 15 October to end consultation on the new police pay review body during this Parliament, will the Minister confirm to the police service that it is now the Home Secretary’s principled view that the Police Negotiating Board and arbitration represent the best machinery for deciding police pay and conditions?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the police pay deal recently announced by my right hon. Friend has been welcomed by all sides. He will also know that as part of that deal, we said that the new pay review body would not be part of the forthcoming policing and crime reduction Bill, and the Government do not intend to introduce that body during this Parliament.

I welcome my hon. Friend and east midlands neighbour, the son of a policeman, to his present role.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a good proxy measurement of morale in a police force can be higher than average levels of absence in that force? Is he aware of the yardsticks that are used by HM inspectorate of constabulary to establish what is wrong when there are higher levels of absence than average? Does he think that local management can be improved, as it probably can in one northern force that has reviewed the shift system in an ill-considered way without properly consulting the police officers in that area, with the result that morale has sunk and absence has soared?

I thank my east midlands neighbour for his kind remarks.

As regards local consultation and negotiation, all the things that one would expect to happen should happen, and they usually do. Notwithstanding recent media reports, the sickness and absence rates for each police officer have reduced by three and a half days since 2001. In many respects, using the sickness and absence rates, which show the number of days for which each officer is absent from their police service, is a good proxy to show a decline in those absence levels. I hope that has been achieved because of some of the things that my hon. Friend pointed out as good practice.

Drug-Related Crime

Recorded acquisitive crime—to which drug-related crime makes a significant contribution—has fallen by 28 per cent. since 2002-03.

We have invested heavily in the drug treatment system and we know that treatment works. For every £1 spent on treatment, at least £9.50 is saved in crime and health costs.

Will the Minister confirm that between 2005 and 2007, the number of successful police raids on cannabis factories doubled from 2,500 to 5,000? Does he believe that there is any correlation between the increase in cannabis factories and the reclassification of cannabis as a class C drug?

The number of successful raids on cannabis farms has increased, and one of the ways we wish to deal with supply is through the reclassification of cannabis from C to B. In particular, it is important that we take account of the sort of cannabis that is now available on our streets, which is skunk, a super-strength cannabis. That is why we intend to put before Parliament the necessary measures to reclassify cannabis from C to B. I notice that the Leader of the Opposition has also changed his position on what class cannabis ought to be.

There are very few people in this House who have done as much as this Minister to tackle the drugs issue over the years, so I congratulate him. Is he aware of the terrible problems caused by the date-rape drug, gamma-butyrolactone, and will he take action to control that drug?

I will have a look at the date-rape drug that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—I will not attempt to pronounce it. We will, of course, consider any drug that is brought to our attention, whether old or new, and take the appropriate and necessary action.

Would the Minister confirm that, according to a number of measures, Britain has the worst drug problem in Europe? Would he further confirm that four fifths of all drug treatment and testing orders have come to an unsuccessful conclusion, and that only 5 per cent. of drug treatment in this country is abstinence based?

I can confirm the following to the hon. Gentleman: if he looks at the new 10-year drug strategy that we published, he will see the use of the word abstinence, and will see that abstinence is part of the menu of options that should be made available to people who have a drug problem. Indeed, he will also know that we have received clinical advice that we should ensure that it is part of a menu of options, rather than the only option available to someone abusing drugs. I also point out that by any standard—for example, the British crime survey measurement—overall drug use is falling in the adult population, and it is falling among young people in particular. We ought to celebrate those facts, as well as deal with the issues that the hon. Gentleman highlights.

Local Crime Mapping

8. What assessment she has made of the effect of local crime mapping on levels of public confidence in policing. (229776)

The Association of Chief Police Officers tells me that from December this year, all forces will be able to publish neighbourhood crime maps as part of the policing pledge that I announced in July. The minimum standard required will be thematic maps of the same-crime categories, such as burglary, robbery, theft, vehicle crime, violent crime and antisocial behaviour incidents. That will be at least at ward level, and the information will be presented through easily accessible local crime information websites, which will make it possible for the public to make simple comparisons between neighbourhoods.

I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. In Swansea, East, the police have been successfully using crime mapping to identify areas where they can target their resources. An excellent project is being undertaken in my constituency with Pentrehafod school, where young people are working with the police to tackle the causes of crime. Will she ensure that money continues to be invested in crime mapping, particularly when it is so successful in raising public confidence in tackling crime and the causes of crime?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was pleased to be able to visit south Wales recently and hear from the chief constable about the work that is being undertaken to develop local crime information and make it available to the public. As my hon. Friend rightly says, we need local people, who are the best weapon in helping fight crime, to have the information to work shoulder to shoulder with their local police forces and to continue to see crime come down.

Although I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments about the publication of local crime maps so that the local community knows what is going on, does she share my concern that Essex police have recently regularly refused to provide information about individual crimes to the local media? The public do not know what is going on in their neighbourhoods, which contrasts with the Home Secretary’s comments about the publication of crime mapping.

It is obviously important that local police forces, such as the Essex police force, make the appropriate decisions, but I am clear—as is ACPO—that we must reach a position whereby, alongside crime mapping, we provide much better information to local people and at least monthly opportunities for them to engage with their neighbourhood policing teams, which are now in every neighbourhood throughout the country, to know what is going on and what, together, they can do about it.

Migration Policy

9. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the co-ordination of migration policy. (229777)

Home Office Ministers discuss migration policy with ministerial colleagues on a regular basis through the Cabinet Committee structure, in particular the Ministerial Committee for Domestic Affairs Sub-Committee on Migration.

Several Departments are represented on the Migration Advisory Committee and the Migration Impact Forum. We also work closely with individual Departments on a range of more specific issues about migration policy.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Is it not the case that, when he said that it has been too easy to get into this country in the past, he was right, and that is the reason for the failure of the Government’s attempts at welfare reform? In the past three years, 365,000 fewer UK-born citizens were in work, while 865,000 more foreign migrants were in work. I listened to his answer to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). Even if he takes the steps that he announced, are they not too little, far too late?

No, I do not accept that. If the hon. Gentleman is fair—I know that he is—he will examine the policies of a range of Departments, including the changes that have been introduced today to incapacity benefit to help the welfare-to-work programme. Of course, the needs of the economy are being put first, as he says, by the points-based system. I therefore disagree with him—I believe that the steps will be sufficient.

Last week, the immigration Minister unrepentantly and repeatedly made it clear that he supports an upper limit on immigration to the United Kingdom to prevent excessive population growth. The Home Secretary has made it clear that she does not support an upper limit. Which is Government policy?

I thank the hon. and learned Gentlemen for the question. There has been much debate in the House, including last Tuesday, although he did not take part, about the population trend that the Office for National Statistics published and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead so articulately highlighted. It identifies the total population, including the impact of migration. The Government’s point, with which my right hon. Friend agrees, is that the points-based system allows for controlling migration for workers by a method that ensures that the trends do not come to fruition. That is the policy.

I detect that, when the immigration Minister is in the sight of the Home Secretary, he suddenly starts to lose his independence of thought. It is clear that two Government positions are coming from the Home Office—the immigration Minister’s and the Home Secretary’s—and they cannot be reconciled. If the immigration Minister wants to achieve what he says, and prevent a population of 70 million, there must be curbs on immigration. The Home Secretary does not accept that. Given that the Prime Minister appears to endorse the immigration Minister’s view, are we to assume that we should defer entirely to the immigration Minister on those matters and forget what the Home Secretary tells us?

I think that we have confirmation that those on the Conservative Front Bench have no credible policies. The Government have repeatedly stated that had the points-based system that we have introduced been in place 12 months ago, 12 per cent. fewer migrants would have come to this country to work than otherwise. In that way—it seems to be almost a primary-school mathematical point that the hon. and learned Gentleman is seeking to make political mischief out of—the policy is reconciled. I wish that he could say the same of his.

Topical Questions

My Department is responsible for protecting the public from terrorism. I am now strengthening the rules to exclude from the UK individuals who foster or spread extremism. There is no place in our society for people who encourage violence or preach hatred, and we will create a presumption in favour of exclusion of all those who have engaged in this behaviour. Where it is in our interests, we will name those whom we stop from entering the UK. Those who have courted extremism will have to have retracted such views publicly before they can be allowed in. I am also taking action to exclude European economic area nationals and their families before they travel here if they pose a threat to public security. Coming to Britain is a privilege. We will refuse to extend that privilege to anyone who wants to use hatred to undermine our way of life.

I welcome that statement. On a different subject, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the high level of concern about alcohol-related crime. Is she considering introducing proposals to tackle binge drinking and especially the heavy price cutting by retailers?

I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work on the issue, not only in Northampton, but through the legislation that she sought to bring forward. As we made clear when we published the consultation before the summer, we are looking carefully into how we can strengthen the current voluntary code on promotions to tackle irresponsible promotions. As the consultation comes to a close, we will have more to say about that in the near future. I agree with her that we need to take further action to help to prevent binge drinking and irresponsible promotions.

T3. I was delighted in the summer when the Home Secretary appeared to indicate that the Government would support my campaign to make it mandatory for licensed premises to offer 125 ml measures of wine alongside other measures. Doing so would improve consumer choice at the same time as improving awareness of how much individuals were drinking. Are the Government proposing to bring forward such a proposal and will she meet me and the various organisations that have supported the campaign, including Alcohol Concern and “The Good Pub Guide”, to discuss how we can take it forward? (229795)

The hon. Gentleman has raised a point precisely about promotion and how alcohol is marketed, which is the subject of the current consultation. I am sure that he will have made representations to that consultation, and I or one of my ministerial colleagues would be happy to meet him to discuss the issue.

T2. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Mayor of London about the damage to police morale caused by his action in sacking the most senior police officer in the country for what appear to be purely political reasons? (229794)

The Mayor of London did not choose to consult me before he made the points that he did to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who incidentally I believe to have played an important role in helping to reduce crime and develop neighbourhood policing across the Metropolitan police area. The Mayor, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Home Secretary have a responsibility to work together for the benefit of policing in London and nationally. I hope that from now on that is what we shall be able to do.

T4. My constituents and the people of Britain are deeply concerned about the level of both legitimate and illegal immigration to this country, which has apparently led to a forecast of 70 million Britons in the not-too-distant future. To his credit, the immigration Minister also shares that concern. Could the Home Secretary specifically please say whether she believes there should be an upper limit on immigration and whether she views the prospect of 70 million Britons in the next 20 years with equanimity? (229798)

My hon. Friend the immigration Minister has completely reinforced the view that I expressed last week in the debate on immigration, which was called in Opposition time but to which the shadow Home Secretary did not feel it appropriate to contribute. I have made it completely clear that assumptions about population levels increasing to 70 million fail to take account of the points-based system that we are introducing. As my hon. Friend has identified again today, had that system been in place last year, it would have resulted in lower numbers of people coming through those routes into this country. So it is completely consistent that our points-based system places a strong control over three fifths of those who come into this country, as opposed to the policy of the Opposition, which proposes to place an arbitrary cap—whose number the Opposition will not give us—on only one out of five people coming into this country.

The Home Secretary will know that, last week, the Home Office was forced to admit that many police forces had incorrectly recorded serious violent crime, with the result that the figures gave the impression that levels of violent crime were lower than they actually were. What steps is she taking to ensure that that kind of situation can never arise again? Did it arise as a result of her Department’s guidance, or was it a mistake made by the police forces themselves?

I am sorry: I do not often have to correct my right hon. Friend, but I have to correct something that he has just said, which was that the change in the counting rules, which had been agreed alongside police officers and independent statisticians, meant that the levels of violent crime had been misreported. That is wrong. The levels of violent crime have not been misreported. In fact, the reduction in violent crime of 7 per cent. that we saw reported last Thursday is reliable and can be depended on. We were clear that we needed to ensure that, within the category of violent crime, everything that should be counted as most serious violence was so counted. That is why we, alongside the police, reviewed the counting rules and why some of the changes announced last week were made. It is right that, within the category of violent crime, the subsections that crimes are recorded in should be complete and consistent across the country.

The consultation on the transposition of the EU directive in the communications data Bill will end of Friday. However, this is currently a menu without any prices. What estimate can the Home Secretary give of the likely cost of the proposed database containing every e-mail, voice-mail and mobile phone call made in this country?

The hon. Gentleman is—knowingly, I suspect—conflating two issues. The consultation on the EU data retention directive is designed precisely to help us to identify the cost of implementing that directive, as will happen in every other country across Europe. I have also made it clear, however, that as we look to the future and to changes in technology and the requirement to maintain the capacity of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to use current capabilities in communications data, we will publish a consultation document that will make clear the challenges and the proposed options for dealing with them. I look forward to widespread consultation as we take that work forward.

T5. In the past two weeks, more than 2,000 residents of the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have registered their objection to a lap-dancing club seeking a licence in a residential area close to local schools. However, the task of opposing those establishments is made difficult because of a lacuna in the Licensing Act 2003. Will my right hon. Friend use the forthcoming policing and crime reduction Bill to ensure that local communities are given greater control over the licensing of lap-dancing clubs—[Hon. Members: “Reading!”]—by allowing councils to license such venues as sex encounter establishments— (229799)

Order. I do not expect hon. Members to be reading out a supplementary question, especially during topical questions. Briefly, Minister.

We recognise that there is public concern about this matter, and agree that current licensing arrangements are inadequate. Local people have legitimate concerns for objecting to the planned location of a lap-dancing club, and we want to empower local authorities to take account of those legitimate concerns. The Home Secretary has committed the Government to bringing forward changes as soon as is practically possible.

T6. I would imagine that Members on both sides of the House would deplore the use of animal experimentation for the testing of cosmetic and other similar products. However, the situation is different for the testing of medical products when there is no alternative. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that, when a licence for such experimentation is given, there is no persecution of the people undertaking those tests, be they in universities or other places of experimentation? In my own constituency, a couple of years ago, several people were persecuted for undertaking work to save the lives of others. (229800)

We take this matter very seriously, and the Home Office is keen to stamp out extreme crime—indeed, any crime. In the case raised by the hon. Gentleman, after a lengthy police operation involving more than 50 police officers, the individuals concerned received 12 years each in the case of the three men who pleaded guilty and four years in the other case. I think that those sentences speak for themselves, as the maximum possible would have been 14 years, so I think that that is a good result. We have strengthened the law to enable us to prosecute people who take this unacceptable action. The Home Office tries hard to ensure that we get the right balance—the hon. Gentleman properly alluded to it—between allowing experimentation where no other alternative is possible and making sure that extremists are caught.

May I tell the Home Secretary that the people in Blackpool and its police force are delighted at the extra funding made available for tackling knife crime, particularly in schools? May I ask my right hon. Friend also to press the trading standards authorities throughout the country to follow the example of Blackpool council in cracking down vigorously on those who sell knives to under-18s, which remains a big issue despite changes in the law?

The issue is not just about knives sold in shops, but those sold on the internet. My hon. Friend should be commended for his efforts in promoting awareness of knife crime for many years. It is interesting to note that Lancashire—including Blackpool, of course—is one of the areas involved in the tackling knives action plan. When the police used their search equipment, they found no weapons, but their test purchase operations during the weekend of 18-19 October, which concentrated on markets and discount shops, recorded a 40 per cent. failure by those shopkeepers to follow procedures when they sold weapons to under-age people. Prosecutions are now pending; I look forward to the results coming through.

T7. Is the Secretary of State aware of the real concern across my constituency about antisocial behaviour? Does she agree with the Police Federation that 24-hour drinking has stretched the police to breaking point and contributed to rising levels of antisocial behaviour? (229801)

The Police Federation and I have discussed the issue and it has recognised that changes in the licensing legislation have not, in most cases, led to much longer opening hours and that there has been an overall reduction in violent crime against individuals during the evenings. The Police Federation will continue to work with us on the work that I mentioned earlier, which is intended to make sure that we clamp down particularly on irresponsible promotions in areas where the link to crime and disorder is most obvious.

I met several hundred members of the Bristol Somali community on Saturday at a conference that was set up to discuss gangs and knife crime, including some of the issues raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). Will the immigration Minister agree to meet me and some of my hon. Friends to discuss some of the issues that are particularly affecting the Somali community in the UK?

T8. The very easy availability of very cheap alcohol obviously causes a problem in this country, but the deeper problem is a cultural one, especially when we compare behaviour here with that in some foreign countries. What do the Government think causes that bad cultural behaviour and what can be done about it? (229802)

I think that it is right to say that the vast majority of young people—over 18, of course—drink alcohol responsibly, but there is a minority for whom the way in which alcohol is promoted and their lack of understanding of its impact have had a detrimental effect. That is why we, as a Government, have worked hard through the “Know your Limits” advertising campaign and through the work of my colleagues in the Department of Health to bring home to people the potential danger that irresponsible drinking can cause. People need to behave responsibly both for their own health and on account of the impact of their behaviour on the wider community, and we will continue to make that case.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement about undesirable people who visit the UK? Is she aware that many have wondered over the years why we have allowed into this country people whose sole purpose while visiting Britain has been to encourage violence and, in some cases, terrorism, albeit in other countries? What my right hon. Friend said today is very welcome and I hope that it will be implemented.