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Topical Questions

Volume 490: debated on Monday 23 March 2009

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.