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Topical Questions

Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

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.