Skip to main content

Home Department

Volume 490: debated on Monday 23 March 2009

The Secretary of State was asked—

Drugs Strategy

1. What progress has been made in the implementation of the Government’s strategy to tackle drugs. (264795)

Drug use is now down to its lowest level in more than a decade, and we continue to see reductions in the harms caused by drugs. Enforcement action is reducing drug-related crime, more effective drug treatment is being delivered, and effective communications and information campaigns are getting across the message that drugs harm.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It is clear that children who live with drug-addicted parents face a specific set of risks, including emotional or physical neglect and abuse, and ingesting the drugs or substitute drugs that their parents take. After Lord Laming’s report, which was published on 12 March and detailed what went wrong after the death of baby P, what further steps will my hon. Friend take to ensure that the best practice that exists in some places becomes standard practice across the country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because it raises an important issue. The first family intervention programmes targeting substance misuse are under way, and they are particularly important for chaotic families whose lives are affected by substance misuse. They help misusing parents to improve their parenting skills, and also offer protection to their children. We hope that up to 20,000 families will be able to access this support.

Given the Government’s treatment of Professor David Nutt, the independent adviser whom the Government appointed, in haranguing him after he had published an academic paper in his own right as an academic, do the Government fear that they will no longer be able to get good quality, independent advice on their drugs policy because scientists will be fearful of getting a morning call from the Home Secretary demanding that they apologise for disagreeing with her?

The simple answer to that is no. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we take the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs very seriously. We agreed with much of its advice on cannabis and on ecstasy, but we have to take a judgment based on a wider picture, including the harm that drugs do. It is up to the advisers to advise, but it is up to the Government to take the decisions.

We welcome what the Government have done and their proposals for the future, but does the Minister not agree that we also have to deal with the dealers? We need a hard-line policy to extend the amount of time that they spend in prison. Previously, people who ended up on drugs and went to prison could voluntarily go and get cleaned up, but that has now been taken away. What can we do to ensure that people who are on drugs get the support that they need, and that, more importantly, we take a hard line against the dealers?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that enforcement is a key part of the Government’s drugs strategy, but it is also important that we do not have a revolving door policy in relation to drug misusers and prison. That is why we must ensure that misusers have appropriate treatments before they get caught up in prison, as well during any time spent in prison, and that there is a seamless transition on coming back out into the community.

This set of Ministers has done more than any other I can recall to fight the problem of drug abuse in this country. Will the Minister tell the House what action he can take to implement as soon as possible the control of gamma butyrolactone, the date rape drug that is becoming a real problem?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support, and I should like to pay tribute to the work that he has been doing on this issue. He will be aware that the chemical to which he refers is widely used in industry, and we are looking at how alternatives can be provided to allow legitimate practices in industry to continue. He should be under no illusion, however; we do intend to take the action that he is calling for.

I understand that my hon. Friend was in Vienna recently, at the United Nations General Assembly special session on the misuse of drugs. Will he tell us what position Britain took at that assembly, and what the general outcome of it was?

We made no secret of the fact that the UK Government were disappointed by the political declaration that came out of the long deliberations, and also the conference itself. We did not support views on difficulties concerning use of the term “harm reduction” in the declaration. It is inconsistent to refer to millennium goals that talk about tackling HIV and AIDS, but to do and say nothing about clean needles. We signed up to the declaration reluctantly, but we will continue the process to ensure that harm reduction gets a fair hearing.

If the Government think that their drugs strategy is working so well, will the Minister explain why heroin and cocaine are trading on British streets at prices that are at an 11-year low?

I am not sure that we would agree with the hon. Gentleman’s figures, but let me tell him something about cocaine. There is no evidence that its use has risen in recent years. Its wholesale price is rising, as are seizures of the drug, and the purity of cocaine on the streets is falling. Taken together, those factors suggest that the action that we are taking on cocaine has been successful.

Violent Crime

The British crime survey is the best guide to trends in violent crime. The latest figures, for the BCS year ending September 2008, showed that 2.2 million incidents were experienced by adults in England and Wales. Since 1997, violent crime is down by 40 per cent., which is equivalent to 1.5 million fewer incidents.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He will know that many of our constituents are concerned about knife crime, given that the number of people being stabbed to death is at a record high. My constituent Mr. Roger Lambert, of Lydney, watched the BBC 1 programme “Stabbed: The Truth about Knife Crime”, and contacted me about the matter. He is so concerned about what happens to those who go out with a knife and take someone’s life that he wants—I said to him that I did not agree—the Government to consider bringing back the death penalty to deal with the problem. What can the Minister say to make Mr. Lambert comfortable about safety on our streets and the risk of being stabbed to death by a knife?

What I cannot say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is that I am in favour of the death penalty or that it will be brought back, but I can tell him and other people throughout the country what we are doing to tackle knife crime issues, which are very particular in some parts of our communities. The hon. Gentleman could mention to his constituent that people found in possession of a knife are now far more likely to be charged, and on being charged they are far more likely to be imprisoned. That applies to possession offences, of course, but if somebody is caught using a knife, they can expect much stricter penalties. The hon. Gentleman could also use some of the latest statistics, which were published on 4 March. The Department of Health figures show that among those aged 13 to 19, there were 31 per cent. fewer admissions to NHS hospitals for stab wounds in the nine English TKAP—tackling knives action programme—regions from June to November 2008, compared with the same period in the previous year. That compares with an 18 per cent. reduction in non-TKAP areas over the same period, and it is extremely encouraging, although there is clearly much more to be done.

The Minister will be aware that almost half the victims of violent crime have stated that their perpetrators were under the influence of alcohol. Why have the Government not accepted in full the very sensible proposals of Sir Liam Donaldson to try to put a floor price on alcohol? Does he not accept that it is the cheapness of alcohol that has caused the binge drinking culture in our Committee—[Laughter]—in our city centres. Will he look carefully at these proposals and reconsider the Government’s approach?

I must admit, Mr. Speaker, that I have never noticed binge drinking in the Home Affairs Select Committee, particularly as I often attend it at half-past 10 in the morning. Seriously, however, my right hon. Friend raises a serious point. The Government’s view is that the matter is of serious concern, but we do not believe that the introduction of a minimum floor price is the right way forward at this time. We do believe that the establishment of a mandatory code for alcohol, which will tackle some of the irresponsible promotions in our streets and city centres—the likes of happy hours and “Drink as much you can” offers—is one of the steps that we need to take if we are to tackle the binge drinking culture. We should also remind everybody that binge drinking is not acceptable and that using the influence of drink as an excuse for doing something is unacceptable to all hon. Members and indeed to the vast majority of people who drink responsibly.

Sadly, my student intern was mugged in Hemel Hempstead on Sunday. She is a very outgoing and gregarious young lady who is now very frightened about going back into the town centre. The town centre is covered by CCTV cameras, but she is worried, quite rightly, that the person who mugged her was not concerned about those cameras or about the punishment—he just wanted to get her money. What are we going to do about that?

I am sorry about the horrific incident that happened to the hon. Gentleman’s intern. Such an incident would trouble us all and I am sure it is of great worry to her. The fact that the CCTV is there, however, will hopefully provide evidence, which can be used. One of the best deterrents for people who conduct such awful crime is the knowledge that they will be caught, put before the courts and—obviously, the evidence is needed—given the sentence that they deserve. For the sort of attack that the hon. Gentleman has described, the sentence should be a severe one.

Will my hon. Friend consider the issues surrounding incitement to violence? As he will be aware, many of my constituents and people across the UK were extremely angry at the attack made on our troops in Luton last week by a small al-Muhajiroun-related group with a history of attempting to incite violence and racial division in our town. Will he review the specific circumstances of what happened so that such an incident never happens to our troops again?

It is fair to say that we were all appalled by the incident in Luton to which my hon. Friend refers. In many instances, incitement to hatred is against the law, and one would expect the incident to be investigated and prosecuted. Whatever else we can say, we all utterly condemn the sort of demonstration that took place on the streets of Luton a few days ago. It should not, and must not, happen, and those who break the law should be prosecuted.

The Minister will be aware that the use of dogs in violent crime and antisocial behaviour is becoming an increasing problem in many areas of the country, particularly the inner cities. Will the Government carry out a detailed assessment of the effectiveness of current legislation and consider how boroughs such as Wandsworth have utilised mandatory micro-chipping as a means of controlling this increasing problem?

Of course we will consider any measure that needs to be taken to tackle the sort of phenomena to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The use of dogs not only as a status symbol for some people in gangs but as an offensive weapon is of increasing concern, as he rightly points out. We are trying to find out the extent of the problem. As for what we are doing, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), who is also sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, will tell the hon. Gentleman that the Policing and Crime Bill contains gang injunctions, which can be used, subject to their being passed by Parliament. It can be part of such an injunction to ban a gang member from having or using a dog in the ways to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Serious Convictions (DNA Evidence)

3. How many convictions for serious crimes were secured on the basis of evidence from DNA samples in the last 12 months. (264797)

6. What estimate she has made of the number of convictions for serious crimes which relied on evidence from DNA samples retained on the national DNA database in the last 12 months. (264800)

The national DNA database plays a key role in catching criminals, including many years after they might think that they have got away with their crime, eliminating the innocent from investigations, and focusing the direction of inquiries. In 2007-08, 17,614 crimes were detected in which a DNA match was available. Those included 83 homicides and 184 rapes. In addition, there were a further 15,420 detections resulting from the original case involving the DNA match. Those occur when, for example, a suspect, on being presented with DNA evidence linking him to one offence, confesses to further offences.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The high figures that she quotes show how valuable DNA can be in both solving crimes and ensuring that the innocent do not suffer. I have been contacted by a number of my constituents who are concerned that cleared suspects’ DNA evidence is still held on police databases, however, despite that having been ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights. What action does she plan on that matter?

The specific ruling was on a blanket policy of retention of the fingerprints and DNA of those who had been arrested but not convicted, or against whom no further action was being taken. The Court also indicated that it agreed with the Government that the retention of fingerprint and DNA data

“pursues the legitimate purpose of the detection, and therefore, prevention of crime”.

We are, however, looking at the key point in the judgment, and drawing up proposals that will remove the blanket retention policy. We will bring forward those proposals for consultation soon.

Although I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that the database is a breakthrough in modern policing in the country, does she also agree that young people, and particularly children, need to be dealt with sensitively?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and that is why I announced in December our intention to remove all those aged under 10 from the database. That has now been carried out. When we bring forward proposals to change the blanket approach to retention, we will give particular consideration to those aged under 18, and to how the protection of the public can be balanced with fairness to the individual.

There will be considerable relief about the fact that the Home Secretary is going to end this blanket policy, but can she assure the House that there will not be so many exceptions to the rule as to make the change worthless?

I can, I hope, assure the House that that is the case, and we will ensure that we discuss the details of our proposals with colleagues in all parts of the House.

The report published today by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust on the proliferation of 46 Government databases, including the DNA database, makes alarming reading. It suggests that a quarter of those databases are illegal under human rights or data protection law. What assessment has the Home Secretary made of the legality of the databases, and will she undertake a full review to ensure that they are proportionate and protect privacy?

I believe that the databases referred to which are my responsibility are fully legal. I have repeated today that, notwithstanding the case of S and Marper, the courts found that the function of the DNA database in those circumstances was legal and important. Of course we need to maintain a proportionate approach to the way in which we use data to safeguard and protect the British public. That is what I spelt out very clearly that I would do in a speech that I made before Christmas, that is what we are doing, and that is what we are in the process of ensuring that we do through our proposals and consultation.

When compiling my recent parliamentary report, I issued a questionnaire asking people in Bridgend whether they supported the development of a national database. Of those who responded, 89 per cent. supported it. However, the questionnaire also asked whether the details of people who had been found innocent should be kept on the database. In this instance, 59 per cent. thought that those details should be removed, while 41 per cent. felt that they should be retained. There seems to be a lack of clarity in regard to the implications of the retaining of databases—

I am, Mr. Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there needs to be a clear dialogue with the public about the use of the national database in solving not just current crimes, but old crimes?

I agree that we need to be open about how we proceed with our proposals. I have been very clear about that. However, I am sure that people in my hon. Friend’s constituency would be interested to hear of cases such as that of Abdul Azad, who was arrested for violent disorder at his Birmingham home in February 2005. A DNA sample was taken, and he was subsequently released without charge. In July that year, a stranger rape occurred in Stafford, 25 miles away. There were no clues until skin from beneath the victim’s fingernails was profiled and found to match the DNA taken from Azad. The senior investigating officer commented that

“we would never have caught him had his DNA not already been on the database—he didn’t even live locally so we had no intelligence leads either”.

Azad was jailed for six years for sexual assault.

What does the Secretary of State say to Mr. Daniel Baker, a constituent of mine who was a victim of mistaken identity? He was never charged with any crime and is entirely innocent, but the police are retaining his DNA against his wishes. When will the Secretary of State start recognising the liberties of the individual, and stop regarding everyone in the country as a suspect?

I think that the case study that I cited a minute ago identified some of the important benefits of DNA retention. There are real-life cases in which people have been made safer by the retention of DNA post-arrest. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent can apply to the police force, in exceptional circumstances. That is why I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will look closely at our proposals for a more proportionate way of dealing with the retention policy.

While I recognise the merit of what has been said by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), was it not DNA evidence that led to the release last week of someone who had been wrongly convicted of murder, and who had served 27 years in prison? So much for the point made at the beginning of Question Time by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper).

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The case of Mr. Hodgson last week demonstrates how the DNA database and the use of DNA can prove people innocent after a period of time, and also how it can ensure both that innocent people are removed from an investigation at an early stage so that they receive justice, and that important police resources are not used up on false investigations or investigations that will not come to a conclusion. Those hon. Members—they are largely on the Opposition Benches—who throw up their hands in outrage at the idea of the DNA database need to have a sensible answer as to how we will make up for the difference made each month when more than 3,000 matches on the database provide the police with the ability to investigate and bring to justice criminals, including some who are convicted of the most serious offences in this country. Opposition Members may for political reasons want to throw that opportunity away, but I do not think the British people want to see that protection done away with.

This is a very straightforward and simple issue. It is, right now, illegal to store the DNA of innocent people over long periods on the DNA database, but as of today, the Government are still doing that. Why?

I have made it very clear to the hon. Gentleman that we have looked in detail at the judgment in the case of S and Marper and we will bring forward proposals very soon—and when we do so, I hope that Opposition Members will engage with them with slightly more sophistication than they have done today.

But this is illegal now, today. Furthermore, it is a principle in our society that people are innocent until proven guilty. This Government have a habit of throwing away many principles in this society, but that is one that should be sacrosanct. In the case of the DNA database, however, they appear happy to abandon the principle. They are also happy to store the data of babies and children. Their actions are clearly morally and legally wrong. Why will they not just stop keeping this data illegally, right now, today? Why will they not stop now?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a period of time during which, quite rightly and reasonably—not least given that the Government’s approach to the retention of data was upheld in the UK courts—there is consideration and proposals are brought forward. That is what the Government are doing, and he obviously was not listening when I said that no DNA of children under the age of 10 is kept on DNA databases now.

Does not the Home Secretary agree that there is a distinction to be drawn between people who have come under reasonable suspicion but for one reason or another are not prosecuted, and instances such as the one we heard about earlier from the Opposition Benches, in which there is a clear case of mistaken identity? Nobody suggests that the other police records of suspects, such as interviews and evidence, should be destroyed just because the suspect is not charged. Does she not agree that a reasonable course of action would be to have an independent body—not the police—that can be appealed to and which can see whether there is a clear case of mistaken identity and whether the person’s DNA ought to be removed?

My hon. Friend is engaging seriously with the difficult issues involved in this debate. It is important to put it on record that the entry of a profile on the DNA database does not cause any detriment to an individual in seeking to do a particular job or looking for clearance for anything, for example. In that way, it is very different from having a police record. I think people are sometimes unclear about that distinction. My hon. Friend makes an important point about the blanket approach taken to retention. That is why in the consultation and proposals we will bring forward, we will look at a system of stepping down individuals over time in terms of the retention of their profile, and a differentiated approach, possibly based on age, risk or the nature of the offence involved.

Illegal Immigrants

4. What recent estimate she has made of the number of illegal immigrants resident in the United Kingdom. (264798)

Since the phasing out of embarkation controls from 1994, no Government have ever been able to produce an accurate figure for the number of people who are in the country illegally. However, with the implementation of our new e-borders system, which the Opposition oppose, by 2010 more than 95 per cent. of non-European economic area foreign nationals will be counted in and out of the country, and that will rise to 100 per cent. by 2014. This is part of the programme of border protection that also includes the global roll-out of fingerprint visas, watch-list checks for all travellers before they arrive or depart from the UK, and identity cards for foreign nationals.

Ministers will recall that many thousands of illegal migrants were found to be working in the security industry, yet last month it was revealed that a mere 35 had been removed. Will the Minister specifically update the House on how many more have been removed since?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on repeating that question. The answer is on the record—if he wants further details, I shall, of course, write to him.

The Minister will be aware that there are a number of people who have been in this country for a long time without papers, but who nevertheless make a huge contribution to our society, have children and families here and, under article 8 of the European convention on human rights, have a right to family life. Will he look sympathetically at these cases, so that those people, who are making a good contribution to our society, can be brought completely into the fold, as opposed to having to live a semi-legal existence?

Of course, if a person remains in the country illegally and has not been removed, but through no fault of their own, they are in a different situation. I note that my hon. Friend supports the ideas of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in calling for an amnesty in such cases. Our objections to that are first that it is unfair to those who are here legally and are contributing, and secondly that we fear it would act as a further pull factor for even more attempts at illegal immigration.

Two years ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs took evidence, as part of its immigration services inquiry, from a number of people concerned about the large number of private adoptions, mainly from west African states, many of which never appear on immigration data. What steps have the Government taken since to follow up the recommendations of that report, which recognised the severe concerns of places such as the London borough of Southwark, where a large number of child welfare issues relating to this issue are starting to manifest themselves? What may appear culturally okay to some communities is certainly not okay when it is causing serious child welfare problems in this country.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue, which all Members of the House would recognise, and, as ever, we are grateful to the Home Affairs Committee. A number of policy measures have been put in place on the treatment of children in such a situation, including the identification of parents and of guardians; the work with the local authorities that stemmed from the policy issue; and country-by-country plans—he referred to cultural differences—on which there has been particular co-operation with the Nigerian Government, as Nigeria is one of the main countries we deal with.

Surely the real problem the Minister needs to address is the gross incompetence of Lunar house in dealing with people who have been here so long that they are now parents—they are married to United Kingdom citizens and have English children—yet still cannot get their status regularised. We all know that they are not going to be put out of the country, so why cannot we just address the problem? I encounter hundreds of such cases every year, and I believe my constituency ranks 60th on this issue. Clearly, there is chaos out there and he ought to go down to Lunar house this afternoon to sort it out.

All Members of the House will have recognised frustration over these processes in the past. Together with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), to whom I am sure we would all want to send our best wishes for her pregnancy, we have seen an improvement in the processing—the backlog is being dealt with better and more quickly, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) is requesting. We will update the Home Affairs Committee with the latest figures very soon.

In answer to the first question the Minister noticeably did not give an estimate of the number of illegal immigrants here. Can he help us with other figures? How many of the people, in one category or another, who are here illegally have been here for more than 10 years, and how many other people’s cases are being dealt with by the Home Office but have not been finally resolved?

The hon. Gentleman pushes and probes me about how many illegal immigrants there are. The answer to that question, as Ministers through the decades have said, is that by definition one does not know. If one did, one would be able to deal with it—

My hon. Friend suggests a job swap, but I am not going down that road.

The Government’s successful attempts to reintroduce counting in and counting out—border controls—mean that, for the first time in decades, we will be able to answer that question. We will therefore be able to deal better with the hon. Gentleman’s second question, the answer to which is not straightforward, because one does not know until one does the cases how many duplicates exist both within our system and with other European Union countries. I note that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) opposes our border control measures, and I just ask him how he would control immigration in that respect.

UK Human Trafficking Centre

5. If she will take steps to ensure that the UK Human Trafficking Centre provides training courses on human trafficking for all police forces. (264799)

The UKHTC, in conjunction with the National Policing Improvement Agency, has developed a training programme on human trafficking for all new police recruits, police community support officers, special constables and community officers as part of their core training. In addition, the UKHTC will provide continuous development for the current single points of contact in each force.

In view of the number of trafficked women who have been found outside city centres following police raids under Pentameter 2 and the fact that only one police officer out of 3,500 in Devon and Cornwall constabulary has been on a training course and understands anything about trafficking, can the Minister explain why that force was told recently that the UKHTC will no longer do any training? What are the police supposed to do?

Representing the constituency that he does, the hon. Gentleman is right to make the general point that the victims of human trafficking are not concentrated only in city centres. The evidence from Pentameter 2 was that they can be found in any area of the country, urban or rural. The hon. Gentleman says that only one police officer in his local force has been trained, but he might be referring to the single point of contact. Every police force in the country has a single point of contact, but numerous police officers receive training in human trafficking. For example, every police officer in the country has been sent a DVD produced by UKHTC to raise awareness of the issue. Training in human trafficking is given in the initial police learning and development programme, the special constable initial programme and the PCSO programme. That will be fully in place by the end of this month, and by the end of the year it will be extended to initial training for detectives, domestic violence training, public protection officer training, road policing training and the National Policing Improvement Agency trafficking and senior investigating officer training. That will all be overseen by the UKHTC, and plenty of work is being done to ensure that police officers are aware of that horrible crime, should they come across it.

Will my hon. Friend have a discussion with the Association of Chief Police Officers to try to ensure that police are trained to implement the new prostitution offences in the current Bill in a way that encourages men to report trafficking? The police will need to be trained to do that properly. Will he discuss with Tim Brain or the relevant chief constable how to ensure that that happens?

I thank my hon. Friend for that extremely important question. I shall speak to Tim Brain, chief constable of Gloucestershire, about this matter should the new strict liability offence in the Policing and Crime Bill go through. As the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said, it is one thing to have laws in place, but it is another to ensure that police officers have the training and the confidence to use them.

Although the new strict liability offence is controversial, by changing the way we look at such things and by putting the onus in most circumstances on the man, for the first time, to consider whether the person whom he is paying for sex is being exploited or has been trafficked, we will get a lot further with tackling this crime than we have before. I shall certainly talk to the relevant police officers.

Will the Minister kindly update the House on his conversations with his counterparts in the countries from which many of these people are trafficked? Will he comment in particular on whether any progress has been made in ensuring that those countries take this crime as seriously as it ought to be taken?

In the EU—as we know, some trafficking occurs within the EU—there has certainly been a lot of discussion. The EU trafficking action plan was published just over a year ago. There have been other discussions. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), attended a conference in Brazil recently where all the countries came together to discuss child exploitation and trafficking. We are supporting numerous charities as they try to highlight the fact that in some countries some offers that seem too good to be true are too good to be true. I expect and hope to go to China and Vietnam in the not-too-distant future to raise the issues there. This is a huge problem that needs global action, not just at EU level but at United Nations level, so that we can ensure that we raise awareness not only in this country but across the globe.

Points-based Immigration System

The points-based system is the most radical reworking of the immigration system in a generation, consolidating approximately 80 work and study routes into five simple tiers. Tiers for highly skilled, skilled and temporary workers have been implemented. The student tier will be introduced later this month. The tier for low-skilled workers is suspended indefinitely.

Many of my constituents enjoy performances by artists who come over under tier 5, yet they have noticed in recent months that there has been a discrepancy in the application of the criterion that states that they should be employed on national minimum wage minimum rates. Sometimes, higher rates are being demanded in order for them to obtain the necessary visas. Will she look into this and ensure that the criteria are applied rigorously and that too much discretion is not being applied?

The relevant codes of practice for performers who come in under the tier 5 criteria indicate that the salary paid should meet the industry minimums, rather than the national minimum wage. They are the standard payment rates set out in the collective agreements of Equity and the Musicians Union, negotiated with other industry bodies. I am sure that notwithstanding the pleasure gained by my hon. Friend’s constituents from performers who come here from overseas, he would not want such performers to be exploited or for high-quality UK performers to be undercut in their opportunities to provide entertainment for his constituents.

The Government have allowed 750,000 work permits over the past five years, four times the previous rate. What steps are being taken to ensure that those from outside the EU who have completed some of those 750,000 visas have returned home before we accept further overseas workers during this recession?

On work permits and the tier 2 situation, I have been very clear that the points-based system would have resulted in 12 per cent. fewer people coming in through that route. I have also been clear that that we will see a fall in the number of people coming in from outside the European economic area over the next year, not least because of the changes that we are making to the points-based system and the way in which we are raising the bar, particularly in terms of the level of skills that we expect from those coming into this country.

One of the core concepts of the points-based system is linking admission to acknowledged and accepted skills shortages in certain categories of job. As the economy tracks downwards, the shortages in some areas will shrink accordingly. How can the Home Secretary reassure the House that the system is sufficiently flexible to respond to rapidly changing economic circumstances?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point about the precise flexibility that we have built into the system. We asked the Migration Advisory Committee, which determines which occupations are shortage occupations, to review the list. It will shortly report to us again on its current assessment of which occupations have shortages. Secondly, we have been clear that if an occupation is in shortage, it does not mean that the only approach should be for us to fill the shortage by bringing in migrant labour. That is why, working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we have already determined that we will use the publication of the shortage occupation list every six months to trigger skills reviews for the jobs listed under those shortage occupations. We will focus on upskilling workers in the UK, making the UK less dependent, even for filling shortages, on migration in the future.

This is a good opportunity for the Home Secretary to be honest about the points-based system. She tends to refer to it as the “Australian-style” points-based system, because we all admire the way in which the Australians deal with immigration. Did she notice that last week, the Australians, who put an annual limit on work permits, reduced that limit? They said that it was prudent to do so in a recession. Will she admit that a Conservative Government could follow that policy, because we will introduce an annual limit, but that she cannot? Will she therefore stop trying to fool people into thinking that we have an Australian-style system? Only under a Conservative Government will we have Australian-style control over immigration numbers.

On the contrary, I have already announced—I reiterated this today—that we have the ability, through the points-based system, to raise the bar. We will do that. The impact of that, alongside the economic circumstances that we face, will be fewer migrants coming to the UK from outside the EEA. We will successfully reduce the number of migrants coming in during these difficult economic times. If we are talking about honesty, as the hon. Gentleman favours a cap, although I do not know what sort of a cap it is—a UK Tory cap—perhaps he would like to give us some background. Perhaps he could say how many people he thinks the cap should cover, what its level should be, and how it could be made more effective, given that it would cover only one in four migrants to this country, whereas the points-based system covers half of them.

Topical Questions

We are on track to introduce identity cards this autumn, and we have already started to issue ID cards for foreign nationals. Next month, we plan to award two contracts for the national identity scheme: one to upgrade our passport application systems, and one for the biometric database to deliver the next generation of passports and ID cards. Later this year, we will award the ID contract itself. As is normal, the contracts have been written to protect the public purse, with standard clauses on what would happen in the event of termination. Cancellation of the ID cards contract, and partial termination of the application and database contracts, would cost about £40 million in the early years. Therefore, as I have made clear on many occasions, scrapping ID cards and the identity database will not free up a large fund of money to spend on other priorities.

I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. She will be aware, because I have written to her Department, that Devon and Cornwall police force has decided not to discipline a police officer who used police cars for his own personal use. Does she share my concern, and the concern of my constituents, that that is an entirely inappropriate use of police property, and does she agree that action should be taken?

I am aware of the case that my hon. Friend refers to, and I have written to her about it as I know it is a matter of concern to her. Perhaps I could meet her so that we may discuss it in more detail.

As the Secretary of State knows, Scotland is experiencing long-term population decline, which might well be made more difficult with the points-based system. Why does she not seriously consider the positive suggestion that skilled migrant workers be given extra points if they opt to go to Scotland, as opposed to one of the pressure points in England? That is what happens under the points-based system in Australia, where some states have had the same difficulties as Scotland.

Some of the skills shortages on the skills shortage list that Professor Metcalf identified apply in Scotland, but without the introduction of internal border controls—perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to see that—

T4. Will my right hon. Friend look into wheel clamping companies, particularly those that have been abusing the system? There are some reputable companies and some that are not. (264823)

Yes, which is why I asked the Security Industry Authority to carry out a feasibility study into the regulation of wheel clamping companies. Although I know that there are legitimate companies operating in this area, there are, as many Members have seen, too many companies that operate to the detriment of our constituents, that are roguish, to say the least, and that should be regulated. We will introduce proposals for regulation in the near future.

T2. Although some aspects of the new e-Borders system, such as reinstating exit checks, are welcome, there is widespread concern about the extent of the data that will be collected, so will the Secretary of State clarify exactly what information will need to be provided by innocent citizens travelling abroad, and for how long it will be held? (264821)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to answer that question. The e-Borders programme has been running for four years, and the data collected and the use to which they are put is and has been available for some time on the Home Office website and in agency information. I can reassure the hon. Lady that the data are not misused, as some have rather mischievously alleged, but I come back to my point in answer to the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), that immigration controls and management are possible only if there is counting in and counting out, which requires a data base.

T6. As a result of the great efforts of the police, the crime and drugs partnership, and the local strategic partnership, One Nottingham, the number of crimes in Nottingham over the past three years has fallen by 26,000, saving the taxpayer £52 million. Will my hon. Friends have a word with their Treasury colleagues and ask whether we can incentivise cities such as Nottingham and enable them to borrow against that saving, and perhaps create a Nottingham investment bond, to push crime down further and give people some tangible reward when they do a good job of reducing crime? (264825)

That is an interesting idea from my hon. Friend, and I will talk to Treasury colleagues. I am not sure—or perhaps I am sure—what the answer will be, but I will speak to my colleagues in the Treasury about it. Obviously, I know Nottingham well, as that is where my constituency is. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done with One Nottingham, and Alan Given and everyone else on their work running it. Crime has dropped significantly in Nottingham as a result of the work that my hon. Friend and others associated with One Nottingham have done. One of the most important things to which my hon. Friend draws attention and to which One Nottingham has drawn attention, is that not only is enforcing the law important, but that if we are to bring about change over time, the early intervention that my hon. Friend has pioneered and passionately argued for time and again is crucial. Breaking the cycle of crime and deprivation is surely one of the great social challenges that we all face.

T3. Will the Home Secretary or the Minister take a careful look at the case of the Rizk family, who face the prospect of being deported to an uncertain future in Egypt? Their son Marin has autistic spectrum disorder, for which there is no specialist provision in that country; the family fear discrimination as a result. The family run a successful supermarket in my constituency, and because of their hard work they have mobilised community support. More than 900 people have signed a petition supporting them. Will the Home Secretary or the Minister meet me to discuss the case, and particularly the family’s fear of discrimination? (264822)

Of course I will meet the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to push the case of his constituents; it is right that he should ask, and right that I should meet him. From his campaign, I have become personally familiar with some of the details of the case. I simply say, although not directly in relation to this case, that when such concerns are raised by hon. Members, they come after the independent judicial tribunal system has looked at the relevant situations. However, I will make arrangements to meet the hon. Gentleman.

T5. Does the Home Secretary think it appropriate for MPs to intervene to stop judicial proceedings before the High Court? In particular, did she think it appropriate for the Chairman of her departmental Select Committee to intervene in the case of— (264824)

Order. I must stop the hon. Gentleman. The purpose of Question Time is to question Ministers on their actions, not to criticise a right hon. Member of the House. That is not what Ministers are here for, and it is wrong of the hon. Gentleman to make such comments.

T8. Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at the statements made by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary about the possibility of genocide and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka when she next considers the status of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the list of proscribed organisations in the UK? (264827)

The proscription of every proscribed organisation is reviewed annually. Those reviews seek to establish whether the organisation remains concerned with terrorism according to the definitions set out in the Terrorism Act 2000, and therefore whether the proscription should be maintained. The status of the LTTE has been reviewed in the past six months as part of that process. It is open to anybody affected by an organisation’s proscription to apply to me for the removal of the organisation from the proscribed list.

There are now nearly 100 special constables in Colchester. The number has been boosted significantly in the past year under a system whereby the local business community releases staff in company time to train quickly to become special constables. May I ask the Home Secretary about what measures the Government are taking to roll out that successful programme across the country?

The hon. Gentleman is right; the specials do a really important job in policing our country. He is also right to point out the existence of employer-supported policing programmes as a further development. The Home Office has funded nine regional co-ordinators across the country, based in each police region. It will be their responsibility to ensure that we recruit not only more specials but more employers to the cause, so that they release people to become specials in their communities. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the commitment is to pay those employees at their normal wage for at least two days a month, so that they can conduct special policing. I should also say that the Home Office has also taken part in the scheme; 12 Home Office staff work as special constables. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.

T10. Dealing with antisocial behaviour in Mitcham town centre is a top priority for the Figges Marsh safer neighbourhood team. Can my right hon. Friend understand why Merton council officials and police officers, none of whom lives in the area, decided not to renew the dispersal zone—and without consulting local residents, local councillors or me, the local MP? (264829)

As my hon. Friend will know, dispersal orders are time-limited and their renewal depends very much on the effect that they have had on the problem concerned. Our view is that such decisions are best resolved locally by police, working with local agencies and residents.

In an interdependent world economy, a regular, though limited, flow of migrant workers is inevitable, necessary and desirable. Given that immigration policy should be driven at least in part by considerations of economic need, and certainly not by the worst prejudices of the tabloids, can the Home Secretary confirm that the advisory report submitted to her by the Migration Advisory Committee, the better to inform public policy, will always be published?

We set up the independent Migration Advisory Committee precisely to provide the evidence to enable the flexibility within the points-based system that allows it to be used as we designed it to be used—for the benefit of the UK. Yes, we do publish the committee’s reports.

I welcome the long overdue reintroduction of embarkation controls. Can the Minister tell me for how long those data will be kept?

The programme has been running for four years; following its pilot project, we are now rolling it out. There are two sources of data within that, and they are kept for 10 years.

Returning to the DNA database, the Secretary of State will know that West Midlands police took a DNA sample from me after the death of my uncle, Leslie Ince, in February 2007. After a two-year-long murder inquiry, the police now maintain that he died accidentally. Why, despite three written requests over the past 18 months, am I still being refused the return of my DNA sample? Does she agree that, like hundreds of thousands of others, my connection to any crime is extremely remote? Indeed, I am now told that there was no crime. Does she not understand why hundreds of thousands of innocent people are led to the inexorable conclusion that she is building a national DNA database by stealth?

No, I am building a national DNA database that enabled us, last year alone, to solve 17,614 crimes, with a further 15,000 detections. On more than 3,000 occasions every month, the police are enabled to help to solve crimes, to clear the innocent, to pursue investigations effectively, and to keep this country safe.