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Topical Questions

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

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.