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Home Department

Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

The Secretary of State was asked—

Drugs

1. What steps her Department is taking to ensure young people are aware of the dangers associated with drug use. (254636)

The Government provide information about drugs to young people through universal drug education in schools, and through the Frank campaign. That campaign aims to prevent drug use among young people by changing their attitudes and perceptions towards drugs and drug users.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. I am aware that a review is taking place to consider the status of khat. It affects many families in my constituency, particularly in the Somali community. Their young people have come to me and asked to meet the Home Secretary, so that they can explain to the Government the problems that they, as young people, face when drugs such as khat become predominant in their community. Will she agree to such a meeting?

Yes. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell)—the Drugs Minister—has already met representatives of the Somali community, but my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) makes an important point about the strong views of young people. I am certainly willing to meet him and young representatives from his constituency and from that community.

The dangers associated with drug use are supposed to be reflected in the drug classification system. Is it the policy of the Home Secretary and the Government that that system should be based on evidence, or should it be based on something else?

Yes, it is our view that the system should be based on evidence, but it should also be based on the considered view of those responsible for policy making, and should take into consideration the impact that changes in classification are likely to have on the use of, and harms caused by, drugs, and the impact that that has on the criminal justice system. That is why it will remain the case that our advisers will advise us, and we will decide.

I wonder whether the Home Secretary has seen the comments in the weekend press by Professor David Nutt, the chairman of the Home Office Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs? He says that in his view, ecstasy is less dangerous than horse riding. I will not ask the Home Secretary whether she has tried the drug, or whether she has ridden a horse, but I want to know when she plans to meet Professor Nutt to tell him whether she agrees with his comments.

I spoke to Professor Nutt about his comments this morning. I told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed by the article. I am sure that most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug-taking. That makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy, and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs. I made it clear to Professor Nutt that I felt that his comments went beyond the scientific advice that I expect from him as chair of the ACMD. He apologised to me for his comments, and I have asked him to apologise to the families of the victims of ecstasy, too.

Last month, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse published figures that reveal that nearly 25,000 young people aged under 18 are in treatment for drug and alcohol problems. Is that not an indictment of the fact that the Government did not do more earlier on drug prevention, and the fact that just 12 per cent. of the drugs budget was spent on prevention? There is no evaluation at all of many of the activities.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the progress made by those working in the drugs field over the past 10 or 11 years. Overall drug use and class A drug use among young people are now at their lowest levels ever, as measured by the British crime survey. Among school pupils, overall drug use has fallen. The rate of frequent drug use among pupils has also fallen. The people involved in that work should be congratulated, unlike the hon. Gentleman’s party, which proposes cuts to the Home Office budget; that would certainly impact on our ability to counter the harms caused by drugs. I hope that he will back up his words with words advising his Front-Bench team to put back that money.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have to be a little cautious when legislating on drugs misuse, because if we legislate in the wrong way, we may merely displace the problem to another area of drug misuse—for example, the problem may move from one substance to another? That is one of the difficulties.

My hon. Friend has a strong record of working on such issues. That is why I am sure that he agrees that the fact that there is falling drug use, throughout drug use, particularly among young people, is important. All of us will be concerned to make sure that we continue with that important progress.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s remarks on the comments made by Professor Nutt, but will she go a little further and suggest to him that the sport of horse riding provides discipline, whereas drug-taking not only wrecks—and indeed ends—lives, but fuels crime? The two are completely incomparable. Will she go a little further than she did in her statement just now and perhaps suggest to Professor Nutt that although he might be appropriately named, he is in the wrong job?

I made completely clear my view that there is absolutely no equivalence between the legal activity of horse riding and the illegal activity of drug taking, and that will always be the basis on which I make decisions about drugs policy.

I am sure the Home Secretary will agree that part of the messages sent out to young people about the dangers of drugs relates to enforcement. As she knows, as part of the changes to cannabis reclassification, a new enforcement regime was brought into effect, which includes cannabis warnings, yet her colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), has conceded that one of the issues with cannabis warnings is that they are not recorded. There is a certain amount of intelligence locally about who has what, but it is rather hit and miss. Does the right hon. Lady agree with that view?

I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that, with the advice of the Association of Chief Police Officers, we will now ensure that there is a clear process of escalation as a consequence of being caught in possession of cannabis. That is a result of the change to the classification that we have made and the work that we have done with the Association of Chief Police Officers. The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the issues arising from that is how we record any instances—the one and only instance—of cannabis warning, and we are working with the National Policing Improvement Agency in order to make sure that it is possible to do that in future.

Sexual Violence

2. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of services for victims of sexual violence; and if she will make a statement. (254637)

The Government are extending the network of sexual assault referral centres and independent sexual violence advisers so that all victims will be able to access those services over the next three years. We have also invested £11 million in specialist support services.

I welcome the substantial progress that has been made through SARCs and independent sexual violence advisers, but has the Minister read the “Map of Gaps” report produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the End Violence Against Women campaign, which shows that in one in four local authorities there is no specialist service for a survivor of sexual violence, and that that is particularly a problem in the east and south-east of England? Does he have a plan to deal with that?

We welcome the publication of “Map of Gaps,” although we believe that it does not give a complete picture of statutory provision or of the work of some voluntary organisations. We agree with the publication that more needs to be done, and more will be done. We are working to see SARCs in each of the 43 police districts by 2011, but my hon. Friend will also be aware that much good and important work is done locally, and we are working with local agencies, producing guidance to ensure that commissioning of services is where it needs to be.

The Basingstoke rape and sexual abuse centre, along with many other rape crisis centres, does an excellent job to support victims. Why do the Government not do one thing that would really help those centres and adopt a three-year funding cycle, as suggested by colleagues on the Opposition Benches, to try to put an end to the financial uncertainty that so many of those crisis centres still face?

The Government provided £1 million extra this year to rape crisis centres, and I am informed that no rape crisis centre has closed since that period. We value the work of rape crisis centres and are working with local partners to see how best they can be funded, but coming from a party that will cut investment, suggesting a commitment to a three-year period is asking a lot.

Will the Minister commend the work of ChildLine, the Devon office of which recently reported a 20 per cent. increase in calls from children over the past three years? Although we know that not every call is genuine, and there can be concern about creating an atmosphere of fear, is it not right that ChildLine provides a fantastic service for children, many of whom are abused by people on whom they should be able to rely? Is it not important that they have a lifeline?

Crime (Illegal Immigrants)

Last year, the UK Border Agency met the target that we set it to remove more than 5,000 foreign criminals. We now consider for deportation all non-European economic area foreign nationals sentenced to 12 months or more.

Mr. Dun Lun Hu, a Chinese national who evaded deportation for five years after his asylum application was rejected, was convicted of selling counterfeit goods in a Yorkshire court in August but was then released on bail by magistrates. I am pleased to say that he has now been deported, but I would like to see the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice working more closely together on such cases. When a court knows or learns in the course of proceedings that a person is an illegal immigrant evading deportation, should it not hold the person until the Border Agency has had the opportunity to seek detention under the immigration rules?

I have looked into that case, about which my hon. Friend has rightly written extensively. I am pleased to confirm that the gentleman concerned was detained and subsequently removed from our country. Sometimes, of course, there are difficulties with court rulings, but my hon. Friend is right on the general principle.

After several questions over a number of months, why is it still impossible to get a straight answer from the hon. Gentleman’s Department about the number of residents in the Peterborough constituency who are applying for indefinite leave to remain and the number of those who have had their applications refused? Why is the Minister not in a position to tell me how many residents are in that situation? Is that any way to run an immigration system?

The hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer. He has asked lots of parliamentary questions that I have answered forthrightly, although not always to his satisfaction. The particular point that he has made is about constituency boundaries; we have, of course, been able to provide data by administrative boundaries, but it is not always possible to provide them by constituency boundaries. The figures that I have given him are robust.

Is the Minister aware that a container lorry full of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan recently arrived in my constituency? It is hard not to admire the human courage of people who have risked their lives in travelling across two continents, but surely that is not a reason for granting asylum. Does he agree that at a time when a lot of British lives are being lost in Afghanistan, and when much of that country is under coalition control, one could argue that we should not be taking any asylum seekers from that country?

I am very aware of the incident to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I congratulate the diligence and bravery of the UKBA staff; he also did so in the local papers, and I thank him for that.

On the general point about policy towards Afghanistan, I agree that our forces there are doing a heroic job. Under the Geneva convention, of course, asylum is looked at case by case. We do, of course, now deport people to Afghanistan.

In November 2007, the Government admitted that thousands of people cleared by officials to work in the security industry were working in Britain illegally; one of them was even guarding the Prime Minister’s car. How many of those thousands of people have now been deported?

I am more than happy to engage in correspondence with the hon. Gentleman on the specific figures. However, I note from The Sunday Times that the hon. Gentleman, whom I welcome to his post, is now against our border controls that involve counting people in and counting them out. He has described that as evidence of a “Big Brother” state. I ask him whether he is still in favour—[Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, he cannot have border controls and make statements such as those that he made on Sunday.

It is hardly surprising that the hon. Gentleman does not want to answer the question. Last week, Ministers were forced to come clean and admit that only 35 of those more than 3,000 people working illegally in the UK had been deported. That is despite the fact that, at the time, the Home Secretary said:

“There was no fiasco or blunder; there was strengthened and improved action.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 538.]

Why should anyone have confidence in the Government when they cannot even evict illegal migrant workers when they know who they are and where they are working?

The Government are removing illegal migrant workers—one every eight minutes. The hon. Gentleman can play politics with this issue, but does he mean that he will rewrite the Geneva convention? Does he mean that he will ignore the independent decisions of judges? Does he mean that, as he said in The Sunday Times yesterday, he opposes the e-border controls that allow this country to protect its borders? Which is it?

Policing Policies

4. What steps she is taking to ensure that policing policies take into account local community priorities. (254640)

Addressing community priorities is key to effective local policing. That is why we are cutting red tape to free up the police to focus on local issues. We have removed all top-down targets except one—namely, to improve the confidence of the public that their priorities are being addressed and to set out minimum policing standards in the pledge, including monthly community meetings.

When people in my constituency go through the ordeal of reporting crime, they are anxious to see the culprits punished. Will my hon. Friend tell me what guidance and advice his Department issues to police forces about the use of cautions, particularly relating to serious crime such as sexual offences or violence?

The Home Office guidance to police forces and to law enforcement agencies in general is very clear on this subject. Cautions should be used only for low-level offending and should be used for more serious offences only in exceptional circumstances. That sends out a clear statement that in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as in constituencies up and down the country, we should prosecute those who are brought before the courts for serious offences and use cautions only for low-level offences.

Crime reduction partnerships are making significant progress across the country in reducing the impact of retail crime—assaults on staff and against businesses themselves. What priority is the Minister’s Department giving to this issue since it has withdrawn all funding for action against business crime?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the funding for action against business crime was reduced a number of years ago. It was only ever initiated as a way of trying to encourage local crime and disorder reduction partnerships, where appropriate, to set up partnerships with businesses, and they have been extremely successful. We want to ensure that retail crime and business crime is taken seriously. I do not know what it is like in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but in my constituency business is part of the CDRP, works well with local policing and is a priority for the neighbourhood policing team. We want to ensure that that level of priority is available to all areas and all businesses across the country.

Greater Manchester police have made a commitment in their policing pledge to respond within 24 hours to non-urgent calls. That will be very good news for local people. However, can my hon. Friend ensure that CDRPs widely advertise their policing pledges so that local people can hold local police accountable for those pledges?

My hon. Friend will know that in the national pledge there is not only the commitment that she mentioned, but the commitment to monthly meetings. We are now ensuring that every one of the 3,600 neighbourhood policing teams across the country will have a local pledge that is clearly communicated to local people so that they know what to expect. Alongside that, we have published crime maps that will allow local people to find out quickly, at the click of a button, what the crime levels and trends are in their areas. We hope that in Stockport and elsewhere in Manchester, as well as across the country, that will give people the information they need to hold the police to account and to take action where necessary.

Now that the Home Office has ditched its proposals for directly elected police authorities, does the Minister accept that police governance is merely back to what it was before the Police Reform Act 2002, when his predecessors introduced national targets? If so, what will be different when the current Bill goes through? What mechanism will encourage police forces to adopt best practice and strive to improve if it is not a firmly elected and democratically accountable police authority?

The hon. Gentleman will know the reasons why we have, for the time being, put on the back burner the issue of directly elected representatives on police authorities. If he had looked at the debate that we have had in Committee on the Policing and Crime Bill, he would have seen a well-informed debate on both sides of the Committee that wrestled with this problem. He will know that clause 1 puts a duty on police authorities to have regard to opinions within—

It is not. Police authorities will have a duty to have regard to the views of the public within their area rather than just trying to find out what they are. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary will inspect those police authorities to see what they have done to try to find out the opinions of local people. That is an important step forward that will make a real difference.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Lancashire constabulary, which has in recent months increased the detection rate of drug offences directly as a result of intelligence-led operations and targeted police activity working locally with PACT—Police and Communities Together—and using community information about drug-related criminality? That is to be welcomed.

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the police in Lancashire; indeed, I take the opportunity to congratulate police throughout the country. There is no doubt that we get the most effective policing in areas with effective neighbourhood policing teams where people bring community intelligence to the police to tell them what is going on and to inform them of those who are bringing misery to those areas through drugs or other illegal activity. Effective policing takes place when the police work hard with the local authority, with other partners and with the local community itself. I was happy to hear of the example of Lancashire that my hon. Friend gave. I am sure that that experience is replicated in many places across the country.

The Department for Communities and Local Government funds the preventing violent extremism programme in local communities. The Minister said, in a debate on the Prevent strategy on 25 June:

“We try to ensure that the police are involved in determining where money goes”.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 25 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 92WH.]

Is he satisfied that that is happening in practice, and that his Department is properly in the lead on the programme?

We work hard with the DCLG on the Prevent strategy. We also work hard with the police to ensure that the groups we fund in local areas are the ones which can help us to tackle radical extremism. The Prevent strategy is an important part of our anti-terrorist strategy.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that this is an extremely important area. It involves taking difficult decisions about who to fund in a particular local area, but if we want to make a difference, rather than just make ourselves feel better, we do have to take such difficult decisions. We sometimes have to get involved with groups that we might not wish to, but the Prevent strategy, as part of the broader Contest strategy, is successful and it is making a real difference in many communities throughout the country by preventing the radicalisation of vulnerable young people.

Drug-related Crime

8. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to combat drug-related crime. (254644)

A key indicator of the effectiveness of measures to combat drug-related crime is the drug harm index. Since 2002, this has fallen by 28 per cent., representing a substantial fall in drug-related crime. Recorded acquisitive crime, often linked to drug-related crime, has fallen by a similar amount.

With a 9 per cent. increase in drug offences between July and September 2008, compared with the previous year, is it not clear that the Government have completely failed to get a grip on this problem? Does the Minister accept that the drug treatment and testing orders, which result in huge reoffending rates, have been a complete shambles? Will he say what is going to be done to offer more drug addicts abstinence-based treatment orders, which are the only way forward?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I point him to the drug intervention programme, which has had considerable success—we are more than meeting our target of involving 1,000 people a week. The evidence is that drug intervention programmes work to cut reoffending, and they have put in place the long-term improvements needed, instead of the revolving-door syndrome that existed when tackling drugs in the past.

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), the drug treatment and testing order, which the Minister seems to think is going well, has been such a failure that the Government abolished it some time ago.

Oh yes they did. It has all gone because of breaches.

The link between drug-taking and crime is as strong as ever, and it is getting worse and worse. When will the Government recognise that and put more money into residential rehab, which is the best way to cure many of these youngsters, who are victims as well as criminals?

Again, I note a request for more money from those on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman may have heard me talk about drug intervention programmes, and I argued that they were one way of putting in place a successful method of cutting reoffending rates. He is right to say that the link between crime and drugs is complex, as is the link between drugs and the economy, but through the drug intervention programme and work with persistent, prolific offenders, we are confident that we have put in place the long-term measures that will make a difference.

Does the Minister believe that it is now time for the Government to consider restricting the terrible date rape drug gamma-butyrolactone? It leads to terrible sexual violence against women, and we need to control its use.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work on raising the profile of this matter. I can tell him that we are examining it within the Home Office and hope to bring forward proposals shortly.

Identity Cards (Manchester)

9. Whether Manchester is planned to be one of the pilot areas to take part in the next phase of the national identity card scheme. (254645)

As many people will know, identity cards are to be issued to airside workers at Manchester airport in the autumn. No decision has been taken on the next stage, which will be issuing cards to ordinary people or to young people in 2010, but as they will be issued at Manchester airport, Manchester is certainly a strong contender for the phase after airports.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she accept that there is no evidence to suggest that identity cards will have any positive impact on dealing with crime on our streets, and that a much better way of using the money would be to put extra police officers on our streets to combat burglary, for instance, which is on a massive increase in south Manchester?

There are already more police on the streets than there have been for some time, but perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman a little lesson in how the cost of identity cards will work. There is not a big pot of money sitting and waiting to be spent on identity cards; there will be money to spend on them only if the general population choose to take them up. It is clear from my conversations with the public and other stakeholders that there is demand for identity cards.

Given the hyperdiversity and hypermobility within the UK’s biggest cities, does the Minister believe that it is sensible to consider either Manchester or the city that both of us represent, London, as testing grounds for this policy? If we are to have an identity cards system, would it not be the worst possible start to try to introduce it in one of the very big cities of the UK?

I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s comments. We are looking to start with the airports scheme at Manchester airport and London City airport. We are still evaluating areas in which to start the general roll-out to the early adopters in the population and to young people from next year. We need to get going on identity cards. We have passed the Act, the scheme is under way and we are issuing cards to foreign nationals. I will be surprised if the hon. Gentleman and his party do not wish to see an upgrade in passports, which is really what identity cards will build on, or greater controls and greater security in passports and identity documents in general.

The Minister has just said that airport workers in Manchester will be one of the first groups to have compulsory ID cards. Labour Members may wish to know that those airport workers themselves proposed a motion that was passed overwhelmingly at the TUC conference last year, to oppose ID cards

“with all the means at their disposal”.

Does that not tell the Minister that when real people are told that they must have an ID card, they recognise the scheme as expensive, intrusive, pointless and a dangerous threat to our freedom? Why does she not save time and scrap it right now?

Both my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have met trade unions a number of times. Most recently, my right hon. Friend met the trade unions from the airport on 29 January, on her visit to Manchester, and they were very supportive of the scheme. We are working closely with all the partners in the airports to ensure that the scheme delivers real benefits to airport workers, including on such matters as the portability of passes, to prevent very high costs and challenging circumstances for staff who often have to wait a long time for their security clearance before they are paid. Identity cards will speed that up, and we look forward very much to working with airports to ensure that the scheme works and that we learn lessons for the further roll-outs.

Policing

10. What steps she is taking to maximise the amount of time that police officers spend on front-line policing. (254646)

Since April 2008 there has been a neighbourhood policing team in every area. The Green Paper confirmed our commitment to reducing bureaucracy and developing technology to free up officer time. It is vital that the police are able to do their jobs efficiently, without being constrained by unnecessary bureaucracy. The policing pledge includes a commitment for neighbourhood policing teams to spend at least 80 per cent. of their time visibly working on their patch.

What reassurance can the Minister give that the Policing and Crime Bill will effectively tackle the bureaucracy and targets placed on the shoulders of police officers, which have been described by Sir Ronnie Flanagan as straitjacketing them and prevent them from doing the job that local people expect them to do?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, but we do not need the Policing and Crime Bill to achieve several of the things that she would like to happen. We have already announced a large number of measures, about which I think she and officers in her constituency in Cheshire and others will be pleased. They include the removal of all top-down targets except one. For example, the “offences brought to justice” target has gone. The only target in which the Government are interested is the confidence target, whereby we ask local people whether they have confidence in the policing in their areas.

The hon. Lady knows that Jan Berry is working on the other points that she made about bureaucracy. She also knows that Sir David Normington is compiling a report. There will be an announcement in the next couple of weeks, which will help to tackle some of her concerns and those of the officers in her area, about the way in which we intend to reduce the bureaucratic burden on our police officers.

The police have had shedloads of money in the past 12 years, and most police officers work very hard. However, throughout the country, reports make it clear that police forces do not work especially efficiently and need to learn to work much more smartly. Will the Minister say a little more about the steps that central Government are taking so that the 43 police forces get their hard-working officers working more smartly?

We have a number of programmes on work force modernisation—for example, to consider the best mix between warranted police officers and those who perform back-room, but none the less important, functions. Does some of the forensic work that goes on require a warranted police officer or an expert computer analyst? I think the answer is the latter. Similarly, it is clear that everyone would welcome it if we could modernise the work force so that we released fully warranted police officers from back-room functions to the front line. Indeed, to give my hon. Friend a concrete example, one of our measures is examining the balance between back room and front line to ascertain whether we can get a better mix that puts more uniformed officers out on the street, where people want them.

Is the Minister aware that front-line policemen are despairing about what they can do with the 1,107 Roma children who have been trafficked into Great Britain by serious organised crime in eastern Europe for criminal activities? They despair because, if the children are under 10, they have no criminal responsibility and there are no Romanian or Bulgarian foster parents. If they are over 10, local authority social services have no room for them in care. If they are taken into care, they abscond, and if they are sent back to the country from which they come, they have nowhere to go because many have been sent to Britain by their families—their own parents have sold them into slavery. What is the Minister going to do about it? What can we do?

The hon. Gentleman, who has raised issues about trafficking in general on several occasions, makes a good and valid point. He makes an important point about children. The Government are considering what to do about trafficked children. We are wrestling with the important question that he asked—not only what police officers should do, but what the state should do if it takes a young child into protective custody. What are we supposed to do—lock up a child? Yet, if the child is not locked up—in Holland, there is protective custody—the criminal gangs come and get the young people, or the children abscond because the people who trafficked them contact them and tell them that the state is their enemy. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are trying to find a way in which to deal with the matter. I have been to Holland to see examples there. However, although many people point to Holland as a utopia for dealing with trafficked children, the Dutch are wondering whether the policy is appropriate because children are absconding from the protective custody that they have established. Clearly, even the Dutch have not got it right, but we are trying to learn from them.

Can my hon. Friend say what the cost of the fight against terrorism is and what impact it has on police budgets up and down the country?

We spend considerable sums of money on counter-terrorism. We have expanded the budget for counter-terrorism activity across the country. Indeed, the counter-terrorism unit in the west midlands, my hon. Friend’s area, is one of the most effective in the country at co-ordinating activity, both in its own area and nationally. Let me also say that counter-terrorism policing is not done instead of neighbourhood policing; it is done with neighbourhood policing because, as I said earlier, if we want to tackle terrorism, we need effective neighbourhood policing, as well as counter-terrorism policing.

Knife Crime (Lancashire)

11. How many incidents of knife crime there were in Lancashire in the last 12 months for which figures are available; and if she will make a statement. (254647)

The Home Office publication “Crime in England and Wales 2007-08” shows that there were 361 knife and sharp instrument offences in Lancashire in 2007-08. Lancashire police are taking part in the tackling knives action programme, implementing an intensive programme of enforcement and prevention action focused on teenage knife crime.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he would agree that far too many knife crimes are taking place in Lancashire. My constituent Jessica Knight is one of those statistics. She almost died. Thankfully, she is making a recovery, although it is very slow. This House wishes her well. We are doing something about knife crime, but we want to do more. Will my hon. Friend look to ensure that peer pressure is put on young people not to carry knives and that we find the extra money and resources to educate people in schools? The Music Café in Chorley is an alternative to being on the streets, carrying a knife. We have to do more. Will he do more and what can he tell us today?

I am sure that the whole House will join my hon. Friend in sending our best wishes and thoughts to Jessica Knight, his constituent. The House will also be aware that her assailant was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum tariff of 12 years. That shows the importance of enforcement, which is a key part of the tackling knives action programme. As my hon. Friend said, a key part of that programme is working with young people to educate them through whatever media we have at our disposal, finding out what message works best for that group and sending out the strongest message, which is: “If you carry a knife, not only do you put others in danger, but you put yourself in danger.”

Alcohol-related Crime and Disorder

12. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to reduce levels of alcohol-related crime and disorder. (254648)

The most recently published report, “The impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on levels of crime and disorder”, found that crimes involving serious violent crime may have reduced. Local residents were less likely to say that drunken and rowdy behaviour was a problem. The Government announced a new mandatory code of practice to target the most irresponsible retail practices, a £3 million cash injection for crime and disorder reduction partnerships and for partnership activities in 190 areas, and a further £1.5 million for police enforcement in priority areas.

In a survey carried out in the north-west, almost 72 per cent. of Macclesfield residents expressed deep concern about the amount of drunkenness and antisocial behaviour fuelled by alcohol. Andy Smith, the chairman of Pubwatch in Macclesfield, blames the superstores, which hugely discount strong lagers and beers. People who go into a supermarket can buy any amount of alcohol and drink it on the street, but those who go into a pub are disciplined and subject to the survey of the staff of that pub. Would the Minister encourage drinking in pubs and would he give them more help and less regulation, rather than no regulation, which is what exists for superstores?

The reality is that the problems to which the hon. Gentleman refers can be caused by either on or off-licence sales. We are working with both sectors to try to reduce the problem. We are working with retailers through the challenge 25 scheme, for instance, to stop under-age drinking. We are also working to ensure that those who misbehave are the ones who are penalised. We are looking at a range of measures, targeting not only supermarkets, but public houses and clubs, through a mandatory code of practice, so that by working with the industry, whether on or off-licence, we bear down on something that, as he said, is still causing a problem in a number of areas.

We are seeing pubs close at the unprecedented rate of four or five a day around the nation. In parallel with that, we are seeing the phenomenon of breweries being unable to find permanent licensees for some of their premises and having to deploy temporary staff. Will the Minister tell us whether, as appears to be the case, there is evidence that such staff are not as rigorous at complying with licensing regulations, and whether the police and others are paying special attention when disorder is linked to premises that go through a temporary landlord perhaps every three or four months?

We are aware of the rate of pub closures, but I want to point out to my hon. Friend that it is more than the restrictions and regulatory burdens that we might place on premises that is behind those closures. We take very seriously the issue of staff in pubs, which is why we need to ensure that they have not only proper training but the confidence to challenge people about their behaviour, particularly in regard to buying drink for under-age youngsters. We will go on with that work.

While I strongly applaud the hon. Members who have spoken out in defence of conventional pubs, may I ask the Minister whether he is happy with the arrangements for planning permission for all-night clubs? In particular, does he think it right that the council considering such an application is not allowed to take account of representations from affected residents unless they live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed premises? Even those who live on the access routes to and from the premises cannot be consulted.

One of the important measures to which the hon. Gentleman is referring is the Licensing Act 2003, which gives an unprecedented amount of influence over such decisions to residents—and, indeed, to the police and others. They have the powers that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. It is up to the licensing and planning committees rigorously to enforce the powers that they have.

Topical Questions

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are announcing today the outcome of our review of visa regimes. We are introducing new visa requirements for Bolivia, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Venezuela. Visitors from those countries will need a six-month visa and they will need to provide their fingerprints before travelling here. Those travelling via the UK will need a transit visa. Those new requirements are in addition to the existing requirements for a visa to live, work, study or marry in the UK. They form part of the biggest ever changes to strengthen Britain’s border security through stronger overseas checks, tougher border checks and robust enforcement action within the UK.

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Will she tell the House what discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues and the police about whether the police currently have adequate powers to investigate Members of either House of Parliament who are suspected of the common law offence of bribery?

T6. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating North Yorkshire police on using online crime mapping to give people in North Yorkshire and York a monthly update on whether the police are winning the battle against crime? Will she also join me in welcoming the fact that crime in York has fallen by a further 3 per cent. this year compared with last year? (254667)

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the police and their partners on that reduction in crime. He makes the important point that people need to see what is happening in their local area with respect to crime, and that is what crime mapping now allows across the country. As we develop that, people will also expect to be able to see what action is being taken by the police and others to bring to justice those who cannot abide by the rules in our communities. Building on the progress that we have made with crime mapping everywhere will enable us to provide that information for the constituents of everyone in the House.

T2. This weekend, we heard reports of a database to track and store the international travel records of millions of people. We have also heard about the increasing loss of supposedly secure data being reported to the Information Commissioner. Will the Home Secretary tell the House what aspects of British behaviour she does not want to be recorded on a database, and whether she would be happy for her own holiday records—her seat bookings and holiday reservations—to be put on a database, given her Department’s record on data protection? (254662)

The hon. Gentleman says that we heard about the matter this weekend, but the programme referred to in the weekend press has been known about and debated in this House for four years. It is part of the shake-up of border controls. The introduction of e-Borders allows the Border and Immigration Agency to track movement in and out of the country, which is necessary to control our borders. It is, of course, done proportionately—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman dismisses my answer; I take it that he agrees with the hon. Gentleman for the front page, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who is clearly more interested in scoring political points than he is in controlling our borders.

Before the Department for Transport’s consultation on road safety ends, will the police and the Home Office contribute the view that if we lower the alcohol limit for drink-driving, we could save more than 50 lives a year?

Of course we will want the police and, indeed, ourselves as the Home Office, to make a contribution to that debate and that consultation. It is an issue that I know my hon. Friend takes very seriously; it is certainly very important for the confidence of the public in our ability to clamp down on those who still choose to drink and drive.

T3. The Home Secretary told us earlier about her conversation with Professor Nutt. Will she explain whether his apology related to the views that he holds, or the fact that he expressed them? Is it not clear that the Home Secretary and almost everybody in the country has lost confidence in Professor Nutt, so why does she not sack him and his motley crew and save taxpayers some money? (254663)

I made it very clear to Professor Nutt that I felt that the views he expressed in his article over the weekend were inappropriate, as I have already described. I sought assurances, which he gave me, that in his role as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, he would limit himself to providing scientific advice to the Government, which is the statutory role of the council.

About a year or two ago, a unit was set up by the Metropolitan police to look at killings—honour killings—of young women. It was thought that many deaths of young women that may have resulted from such killings were recorded as suicides or accidental deaths. The Met decided to look further into them to find out whether there were any honour killings among them. When will we receive the report from that unit?

My hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard on the issue of so-called honour-based violence. I am not sure exactly when we can expect the report so I will look further into the matter, but she will be pleased to know that the Association of Chief Police Officers recently issued guidance on honour-based violence so that police forces across the country can take it into account. Forced marriage and honour-based violence are horrendous crimes. It is thanks to people such as my hon. Friend and many others across the House that we have finally started to look into, expose and deal with this issue as the serious crime it is.

T4. There have been calls across the House this afternoon for police officers to spend more time on the beat, to police more visibly and to work more efficiently. In that regard, is the Home Secretary aware of the successful trials in Bedfordshire giving police officers hand-held personal digital assistant devices, which has led to officers spending a lot of time on the beat and policing much more visibly than before? Does she think that that scheme could be spread across the country? (254664)

Not only am I aware of that, but I know that it was funded through Government investment. We have made £50 million or possibly even £75 million available so that police officers across the country can be provided with hand-held devices and can spend more time, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, on the front line.

I am a little disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not take the advice of his Whips Office and ask, “What recent estimate she has made of current police force strength?”—one of the questions suggested by the Opposition Whips. If he had done so, I could have said—

What weight does my friend give to the views of the Information Commissioner who recently said that DNA samples taken from people not convicted of any crime should not be held indefinitely?

I give very considerable weight to the views of the Information Commissioner. As I made clear before Christmas, that is the reason why—although there are strong arguments and real results relating to people who have been caught and convicted from the use of DNA, and even in relation to those who have not subsequently gone on to be convicted—I think it is nevertheless important that we have a system that is proportionate and in which people have confidence. That is why, for example, I made it clear before Christmas that the DNA profiles of those children below 10 should be removed and why I will make further proposals this year for looking at the retention periods, dependent on the particular circumstances of individuals.

T5. Although far too many people are allowed to come and settle in this country, the vast majority of those who do are decent, law-abiding people, so does it not sully their reputation and undermine community relations when the Government allow to stay in this country people who have been convicted of crimes in absentia in their home countries—crimes as serious as murder—just because that conviction was in absentia? I understand that legal action would be required to override a very dubious court ruling to prevent that practice. What does the Home Secretary propose to do to change the law? (254666)

I take the right hon. Gentleman’s question very seriously indeed. It is right that we deport people who have committed crimes; earlier, I gave the House some figures on successes. In cases such as those he raises, sometimes there are difficulties in data sharing with foreign countries. We are improving that situation significantly, particularly through the EURODAC proposals. On the specific point, if he has a case in mind—he has raised similar issues before—I will be more than happy to look into it. I reassure him and the House that we will do what we can to protect our country.

My constituent, Enid Ruhango, was tortured and raped by Ugandan forces and fled to the UK in search of asylum. Instead, she was incarcerated in the Yarl’s Wood detention centre. The chief inspector of prisons described her treatment as disgraceful, yet this woman is still unable to carry on with her life and has still not been granted indefinite leave to remain. May I implore the Home Secretary finally to look at that case personally and allow this woman to carry on her life with the people of Leeds, where she now belongs?

I have received representations on that case. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that people are detained in Yarl’s Wood only where independent tribunals and the independent system have looked at their cases. That is not to say that in all cases the decision to maintain detention is kept, but we need that power. I reassure him that we are looking at that case.

I am rather concerned by an answer that I received from a Home Office Minister last Wednesday in relation to the Forensic Science Service—a world-class organisation that is leaking staff at an alarming rate, with a net loss of more than 300 posts in the last six years. As the FSS was threatened with privatisation some time ago, will the Minister reassure me that the Government intend for the FSS to stay in the public sector, staffed and resourced at a level appropriate to its public importance to the police and the criminal justice system? It is not going to be covertly privatised, is it?

May I put on record our support for the FSS and the important work that it does? We are looking at a programme of investment over the next few years to allow it to meet the challenges that it faces—not only in this country, but abroad. I can tell my hon. Friend that no decision has been taken about what he describes as the privatisation of the FSS and we leave the options open.

T7. May I invite the Home Secretary for a night out —either a Friday or a Saturday night, I am flexible—in Bournemouth? She would see not only what a good job Bournemouth police are doing, but how overstretched they are in dealing with the 20,000 or so visitors who come to the seaside resort and the vibrant town centre. If she came to Bournemouth, she would see that the police are not able to look after the policing in Bournemouth because of overstretch—the police manning formula does not take into consideration tourism or, indeed, the number of visitors. I urge her to come to Bournemouth, to see the problem and to help to remedy it. (254669)

I had a couple of good nights out in Bournemouth over the Christmas break, although unfortunately the hon. Gentleman was not with me at the time. I agree with him that the Dorset constabulary is doing an extremely good job, which has resulted in a reduction in crime. It is working hard to ensure that Bournemouth is—as I discovered for myself—a good place to visit as a tourist, but I feel sure that the cut of 38 police officers that would be a consequence of his party’s proposed Home Office spending cuts would only make that job more difficult.

Can the Home Secretary give the House an unequivocal answer to the question “Has any arm or agency of the British Government been complicit in any way in torture?” Yes or no?

I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made the Government’s position in respect of torture absolutely clear in his statement last Thursday. When there was a suggestion of any form of complicity, I did what I thought was the right thing to do, and referred it to the Attorney-General for investigation.

An increasing number of cars contain so-called black boxes—vehicle data recording devices. For more than three years the Government have been considering what guidance might be issued to police forces, for instance, on the use of the data from such devices in possible prosecutions. Can the Minister tell me when a decision will be made and guidance issued?

All I can tell my hon. Friend is that these matters remain under discussion and that, as far as I am aware, no decision is imminent.