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Home Department

Volume 495: debated on Monday 6 July 2009

The Secretary of State was asked—

Kingsnorth Climate Camp (Policing)

1. What recent representations he has received on the policing of the Kingsnorth climate camp in August 2008. (283784)

The Home Office has received a number of items of parliamentary and public correspondence relating to the policing tactics employed at Kingsnorth climate camp in August 2008.

My constituents, James Chan, Stephen Halpin and Sunil Bhopal, attended the Kingsnorth camp and report that the police played music between 5 and 6 am, and prevented water and food from getting into the camp. Does the Minister think that that is acceptable policing, and will he tell the House what lessons have been learned from that as we look forward to the climate change camps this summer?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those points. He will know that the National Policing Improvement Agency, Kent police and the inspectorate of constabulary have looked at these issues. I am shortly expecting some reports on how policing was undertaken at the camps. It is important to recognise that the Government and the police are committed to allowing peaceful protest, and that we take the concerns that have been raised about some issues at the climate camp extremely seriously. I will receive shortly, and will publish for the House, reports on those issues, and I will look at what lessons can be learned.

Has the Minister had the opportunity to read the Home Affairs Committee’s report on the Kingsnorth camp and the G20 protests, in which we made specific recommendations about the tactic of kettling? Do the Government have a position on the use of kettling as a tactic by the police in policing protests? If not, when will the Government be in a position to give us their views?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his report, which will be a good contribution to the debate on policing tactics. He will know that as early as tomorrow we are expecting a general report from the inspectorate of constabulary and Denis O’Connor on the protests at the G20 and some general issues. I want to reflect on that report and to respond in due course about the tactics that were used. I will consider those issues and respond to my right hon. Friend and the Committee’s report in short order.

There appears to be a repeating pattern at protests, including the Kingsnorth climate camp, of some police officers failing to wear their identifying numerals. We saw that at the Countryside Alliance protests in 2004, again at the G20 protests—despite the assurances of senior officers beforehand—and, astonishingly, again at the Tamil protest in Parliament square just a day after the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had made it clear that that practice was unacceptable. What are Ministers doing to ensure that some police officers do not tar the reputation of the vast majority who are disciplined, public-spirited and unashamed to be identified as citizens in uniform?

I regard it as a matter of course that police officers should be able to be identified in whatever activity they undertake, and that will be one of the issues that we consider in relation to the policing of this protest and others. We are expecting a report shortly, as I have said, and I raised in a letter to Kent police of 24 June the need for me to see their report of the incidents at Kingsnorth. I have had an assurance from the chief constable, Michael Fuller, in a letter dated 3 July that he intends to publish the report on the incidents. I want to obtain the facts, look at the issues and ensure that the lessons are learned.

National Identity Scheme

2. What recent representations he has received on the introduction of the national identity scheme. (283785)

3. What recent representations he has received on the introduction of the national identity scheme. (283786)

Our research shows a consistent level of public support for the national identity service and, in the past six months, we have received more than 1,000 letters from the public about identity cards. More than 60 per cent. of these were in support, including many asking how to apply for an identity card.

The Secretary of State will note that his colleague made it clear in a Delegated Legislation Committee last week that this scheme, now revised, is not for the prevention of terrorism, the reduction of crime or the stopping of legal immigration, but it is claimed that it will derive £6 billion net benefit for our country. What is the purpose of the scheme, and how can that figure be justified?

When we stood at the last election on a manifesto that promised to introduce identity cards, there was no mention of tackling terrorism. Identity cards will have some benefit in that area, but that is not why they are being introduced. The reason, supported by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the Opposition before the last election, was that it would be madness to introduce biometric passports, with all the information, and not use that opportunity to provide people with a convenient, safe and secure way to prove their identity in a world where the need to prove identity is a constant daily occurrence.

The Prime Minister claimed that he had scrapped the plans for the last general election, when he was going to call it, because he was going to win. It seems that the Home Secretary said that he is going to scrap compulsory identity cards because they are popular with the public. Does he not accept that all the arguments in the past by his predecessors that identity cards are essential to combat terrorism and to tackle crime have all been totally spurious?

No. The reasons that we set out to the British people—in an election that we won—on why we would introduce ID cards are exactly the reasons for introducing them now. We have not scrapped cards; we are accelerating their introduction—[Laughter.] It is absolutely true. We planned to sign a medium-term contract next year; we are now going to sign it in the autumn. We planned to trial the scheme just in Manchester this year; we are now going to trial it across the whole of the north-west. We planned to trial it airside at London City airport; we are now going to trial it throughout London. It will be welcomed by the population. We already have applications for cards and we have not even begun the process of distributing them.

I would like to press the Secretary of State on the issue of compulsion. The Government have always stated that ID cards can work properly only if they are compulsory. Does he still believe that?

I do not know when the Government stated that. The Government certainly did not state it in our election manifesto of 2005, when the British people supported us and elected us to government. There was no mention of compulsion in that manifesto. The Identity Cards Act 2006, which went through both Houses of this Parliament, had no mention of compulsion. This is a voluntary scheme. I happen to think that, in terms of airside workers, we will make much more progress and have many more people carrying cards if we remove the element of compulsion, explain the benefits and ensure that people sign up to them voluntarily.

The Prime Minister is having some difficulty in being clear, to put it charitably, about the level of public expenditure over the next few years. Will the Home Secretary do his bit by pledging to scrap the huge cost of ID cards in order to get the public debt and finances into a more stable condition?

We will have more time to debate this issue at 7 o’clock this evening, but I have to tell hon. Members, including Opposition Members—at my press conference I used the term diddly-squat, which is probably not recognised by Hansard writers, let alone by British journalists—that the idea that the national debt could be halved by the abolition of ID cards is simply ludicrous. The amount of money that has to be spent on a scheme where the recipients and beneficiaries of identity cards will pay for them is very small. Scrapping the scheme now will gain very little and waste an awful lot.

I opposed identity cards when some Tories wanted them before 1997, and I am pleased that they will not be compulsory. Will there not be a certain amount of suspicion on the part of various officials and authorities with a voluntary scheme if UK citizens do not have an identity card? Is not the whole idea of British citizens’ having such a card simply distasteful?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s long-held and consistent view on this issue. As he says, he held that view when the whole Conservative party was in a different place. I respect his position, although I do not agree with him on this point. There has been a voluntary ID card in France for many years. My French friends would look askance at any suggestion that that somehow breached their civil rights—

I know that that might not convince a lot of people on this side of the House.

I believe that a voluntary scheme can work. We had an identity card in this country at a time when we were fighting for our civil liberties—

A lot of people will sympathise with the Home Secretary, because he is having to cope with the denouement of a failed policy. This business goes to the credibility of Parliament. Why does he not face up to it, get up to the Dispatch Box and say, “Look, we really thought this. It was a silly idea, and we are going to start again to examine how we can promote security and individual identity?” That would be the sensible way forward. I realise that he cannot do that today, but I urge him to take the subject back to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister and to say, “Look, let’s get real, grand old Duke of York.”

My hon. Friend is already reverting to the French way in his questions. I fundamentally disagree with him. We are committed to a biometric passport. The Prime Minister said when he came to office in 2007 that that passport could be used as an identity card. People will have the choice of whether to get an identity card as well. I believe that my hon. Friend agrees that we need to have compulsory ID cards for foreign national workers. In today’s world, it is absolutely rational and sane to offer people a single system of proving their identity, which locks in their identity, using all the technology that we need to put in place for the biometric passport anyway.

I, too, welcome the confirmation from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the scheme will be a voluntary one, but what does he say to those people who suggest that, in some respects, the scheme will not really be voluntary? It is said, for example, that people will need an ID card to get a passport if they want to leave the country. Can he clarify the position as regards passports and ID cards?

The scheme is of greater use: if people want to use ID cards, instead of their passports, to travel around Europe, for instance, they can. Many people will find that attractive, particularly people who would rather pay the lower amount and only ever want to travel around Europe. Many other people will find it extremely convenient to take out an ID card, perhaps as proof of age, rather than taking their passports, which are more valuable documents, thousands of which get lost on Friday and Saturday nights in cities all over the country. This is a matter of pragmatic convenience, and I really do believe that, in terms of Labour party policy, my right hon. and hon. Friends are on the right side of the public argument.

Let us explore the voluntary nature of the card. Later today, we will debate a statutory instrument that sets penalties for failing to inform the authorities about changes in personal information on ID cards. If it is a voluntary card, why are penalties attached to failing to provide that information? What does voluntary mean in this context? Specifically, if someone volunteers for an ID card and has one for a period, can they then say, “I don’t want one anymore.”? If they can, those penalties are pointless; if they cannot, the Home Secretary should come clean and tell people that, if they volunteer once, the scheme is then compulsory for the rest of their lives.

That is a nonsensical position by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. The simple fact is that the Opposition support the introduction of a biometric passport. The introduction of such a passport means that there will be a national identity register, which will contain people’s addresses. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head—so he would have a biometric passport, but no means of linking it back to the individual who took it out. That argument is absolute nonsense. Exactly as now, if someone changes address, they should inform the passport office, and if they do not, there will be a fine, because we want to ensure that the people who receive passports are the people who say that they want them. The nonsense of the Opposition suddenly turning into civil libertarians, which was news to many of us, and the nonsense that identity cards are somehow an Orwellian concept from “Nineteen Eighty-Four” would be a complete mystery to 24 of the 27 European Union member states that have them.

Can I have one, please? I should like the same rights as the majority of other European citizens. I should like to travel around Europe on an ID card. I am ready to be photographed now, before I get much older. I am ready to give my details; I have to give them to everyone in the House of Commons and in the newspapers. So can we have a privilege for MPs: an accelerated path for those who would like ID cards before the rest of the population gets them? I think that we would have a very good take-up.

I will consult the authorities to see whether a platinum identity card can be posted to my right hon. Friend straight away.

Counter-terrorism Strategy

5. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s counter-terrorism strategy. (283788)

The Government’s strategy for countering international terrorism is assessed formally on a regular basis. Our revised strategy, which was presented to Parliament earlier this year, is one of most comprehensive and wide-ranging approaches to tackling terrorism in the world. It sets out how we are, first, tackling the immediate threat through the relentless pursuit of terrorists and disruption of terrorist plots; secondly, building up our defences against attacks and our resilience to deal with them; and, thirdly, addressing the longer-term causes, so that we can stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism or violent extremism in the first place.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer. However, in the past, Britain has allowed extremists to come to this country. In the case of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, there was an enormous amount of dithering on the part of the Government. What does the new Home Secretary propose to do to ensure both toughness and consistency when it comes to dealing with extremists who wish to come here?

I do not think that our record on that is as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I think that we have been very firm. Certainly, a points-based immigration system and the new visa system—incidentally, we have already found 4,000 people trying to come into the country using false identities—will help us. All of that, together with one of the best, if not the best, counter-terrorism resource in the world, which has many thousands of dedicated people working day in and day out, will protect us and ensure that our intelligence and security systems work properly for the people of this country.

One very important component of counter-terrorism strategy is protecting critical energy infrastructure. How does the Secretary of State propose to assist police forces such as Dyfed-Powys, which covers my constituency, where there is now a major concentration of oil, gas and power station facilities? A significant additional burden has been created for the local force. What is the Secretary of State’s view on how the costs should fall?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman: that issue is one of the most important parts of our anti-terrorism strategy. It is, of course, the subject of a separate and dedicated police presence, both in the regions and nationally. On how the costs fall, we are putting £2.5 billion into counter-terrorism in 2008-09. That will go up to £3.5 billion by 2010-11. I am sure that the issue of the right proportion to spend nationally and locally can be decided in a rational discussion with the regional security forces.

I was very sorry to hear, in response to the previous question, that the Home Secretary believes that the identity card system will be a significant plank in counter-terrorism. How can that be when a good proportion of terrorists in this country are home grown? Those people will not be subject to the constraints of a voluntary ID card system in any case.

I hope that my hon. Friend heard correctly. I am saying that the identity card can be a tool; it is not the whole toolbox. Anybody who is dealing with counter-terrorism—I have talked to some of them already—will say, “Well, it certainly won’t do any harm, and it can be of some help,” but if anyone believed that it was the fundamental approach to tackling terrorism, that would be wrong.

My hon. Friend asks how the system could work. We know that the al-Qaeda training manual suggests that every agent should have a number of different identities. The fact is that locking in a person’s identity through their fingerprints and their biometrics ensures that no one else can pick up that identity. That will be an extremely useful tool in the fight against terrorism.

Why has the Home Office made no attempt to co-ordinate the security response across the country when a tanker containing inflammable fuels is stolen?

I am not exactly au fait with what the hon. Gentleman is talking about; I do not know whether anyone else in the House is, but it certainly sounds a very important issue, and I will look into whatever point he wants to raise. I imagine that the security forces would ensure that there was a co-operative approach on that, but if he knows different, perhaps he could let me know.

Indeed, I do know different. Of course, last week, 12 people died when a rail tanker containing liquefied petroleum gas exploded in Italy. Last year in the UK, nearly 2,000 lorries were stolen. That includes examples of theft of similarly flammable materials. The US Department of Homeland Security has warned about the use of such trucks in terror attacks, so will the Home Secretary please go back to his office, put in place an urgent review of the situation, and make a written statement to the House later this week about what he can do to address the situation.

I can do all of that, but let us not play games at the Dispatch Box. If the hon. Gentleman, who is in an important position, had a concern about security in this country, he should have been on the phone to me last week, not saving it up for a clever, smart question at Home Office questions.

Overseas Students (Visas)

6. What recent representations he has received on the system for issuing visas to students from overseas countries. (283789)

Since the implementation of tier 4 of the points-based system on 31 March 2009, Ministers have received a number of representations on the system for issuing visas to students from overseas countries.

One of your own Ministers has described student visas as a major loophole in Britain’s border control. What winds people up in towns such as Gravesend and Northfleet and across the country is the perception and the reality that you have mismanaged and not controlled—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows the correct parliamentary language, and I am sure he will now use it.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government introduced the points-based system for the very reasons that he mentioned—to ensure that it is simple, transparent and robust, and that it does the job. Through student visa applications, it monitors who is coming in and it is making a difference by tightening up the loophole to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That is why we are doing it.

One of the key concerns surrounding student visas is ensuring that appropriate checks against fraud are made. The Minister for Borders and Immigration has suggested that for visa applications from Pakistan and Afghanistan, officers based in Islamabad have more than 11 minutes to carry out initial fraud and forgery checks. Can the Minister tell the House precisely how much more?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary informs me that the hon. Gentleman’s figures are wrong, and that that is not the situation. We have more than 200 individuals dealing with visa applications in Islamabad, and that is important. My hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration would be present today, were he not in Calais announcing £15 million worth of new technology to stop people coming into the country via Calais. We will look at those issues, but I advise the hon. Gentleman that his perception is not our perception on the matter.

The Minister will be aware that because of the system, a significant number of foreign students, particularly from countries such as the United States, have thrown in the towel in their attempts to come and join courses at UK universities. A number of public universities in the UK will be in financial difficulty because their students will not be turning up from overseas in September, and the future looks exceedingly bleak. Will he please look into the matter and, for once, co-ordinate with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills?

Again, from our perspective the points system is meant to be simple, transparent, objective and robust. There is an online calculator where people can examine this. A phased introduction of the scheme is taking place. We have had a number of applications to date and the number of failures has been very small. I will certainly consider the points that the hon. Lady raises and pass them on to my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, but the purpose of the system is to make sure that we know who is coming in, that it is secure and that it provides robust and transparent operations.

Policing Priorities (Public Participation)

The single confidence target puts the public at the heart of local policing. The policing pledge guarantees regular public meetings that will help determine local priorities. We are strengthening police authorities’ responsibility to consider the views of the public. All this is backed up by a strengthened inspectorate acting in the public’s interest.

Would it not be a much better idea simply to elect people capable of making those decisions? If the Minister thinks that is a good idea—it seems to work elsewhere in the English-speaking world—it is our policy, so the best way of implementing it would be to have a general election very soon.

I could happily fight an election in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency on the basis of crime. He knows that over the past five years, domestic burglary in Hampshire has fallen by 22 per cent. and vehicle crime in Hampshire by 26 per cent. Police numbers in Hampshire are up and Hampshire funding is up by £109 million over the 11 years of this Government to date. If he wants to fight on those figures showing crime down, investment up and more police officers, I will happily take him on.

A moment ago we discovered that the Home Secretary pays no attention to the information that he gives in written answers to me, so let us try another written answer. Why has the amount of time that police officers spend on incident-related paperwork risen so sharply in the past year? How is that consistent with the stated aim of the policing pledge for officers to spend 80 per cent. of their time on patrol?

The hon. Gentleman will know that that is old information. It dates back to a period before the policing pledge was implemented, and since the pledge has been implemented, the situation has improved dramatically. If he looks, as he will do later this year, at the figures on front-line services and reductions in bureaucracy, and at the action that we have taken since the pledge was implemented 12 months ago, he will see a great improvement. He will know also that my colleague Jan Berry, who has produced an independent report, will produce shortly further recommendations for Ministers to improve still further on reducing front-line bureaucracy. That is what the issue is about. Again, I say to the hon. Gentleman: crime down, police numbers up. That is a record on which I am very happy to argue the toss with him.

Control Orders

The Government keep all counter-terrorism legislation under regular review. That includes control orders, where we are currently considering the impact of the recent House of Lords judgment.

While many people will be grateful on a one-off basis that the Home Office has given the relevant papers for Abu Rideh to leave the country and join his family abroad safely, will not Ministers now accept that the case made from the Liberal Democrat Benches consistently and by former Law Lords regularly, and now upheld by the senior court of the land, is that control orders should go and go now and be replaced by alternatives that uphold civil liberties rather than take them away?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I am not able to comment on individual cases, but the House of Lords judgment obviously raises a number of key issues. We are reflecting on those issues, and I assure him that, as before, the various House of Lords judgments will ensure that we remain fully compliant with human rights legislation. We need to look at and reflect on the question of disclosure in some control order cases, and I shall report on behalf of myself and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the House on the outcomes very shortly. We have written to the High Court to outline the Government’s approach; it is content with that; and we will respond very shortly.

Illegal Drugs

Illegal drug use is a hidden activity and the actual number of people addicted to any drug is unknown. However, it is estimated that 329,000 people in England were problematic drug users in 2006-07—that is, people using either opiates, crack cocaine or both.

The estimate is 329,000, so, ever since I gave detailed recommendations to the previous Home Secretary, and the one before that, and the one before that, the numbers have gone up. Yet, the numbers in my constituency have gone down, as they have for overdoses, deaths, hospital admissions from overdoses, and burglaries. When will the Minister’s Department look at those recommendations and see why the system that is used in my constituency, and in Australia, Sweden and many other countries, is working and dealing with drug addiction, unlike the Government’s own policy?

I am delighted to talk at any time with my hon. Friend about what works in his constituency, but he knows that we can report success in a number of areas. For example, this summer the millionth person is likely to go through the drug intervention programme, and overall drug use is down. We are not complacent in any way, but I do believe that we are making progress.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) raises a very important point. Does the Minister agree that how successful his Department and the Prison Service are at dealing with drugs in prison matters very much, first, because of the difficulties in prison and, secondly, because of the difficulties when people leave prison? Is he satisfied that the Prison Service is appropriating enough funds for the treatment of drug addicts and to deal with the problem?

Funding has gone up significantly to achieve the results that the hon. Gentleman looks for in prisons. Of course, we want action to rid people of their drug habits and to end the link with acquisitive crime before they enter prison, but he is absolutely right: we need a seamless system. This means that when someone is in prison they receive the treatment that they need, that it continues when they leave and that, hopefully, they can break the habit and return to a normal life.

Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to assess Portugal’s great success over the past eight years in reducing drug misuse? Will he transfer some of that best practice to the UK?

I saw the report from Portugal and I was left with the impression that it is too early to say what the effect of its change in policy has been, and we have to be careful in the message we send out about the harm that drugs do. We look at what happens in a number of countries around the world to make sure that we can learn lessons.

Is it not the case that many who resort to illegal drug use end up in prison because they commit crime to feed their addictions? The best and most cost-effective way to deal with the problem is to ensure that the treatment that such people need is given before they have to resort to crime. The fact is that not enough places are available. Would not ensuring that more places were made available now be a cost-effective and smart move by the Government?

It is expensive, but for every £1 invested we save £9.50 across the life of a drug user. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need early intervention, and we also need to make sure that there are resources for treatment. We are seeking to achieve, and are providing, those things.

Incidence of Crime (Nottingham)

13. What estimate he has made of the effects on police force expenditure of changes in the incidence of crime in Nottingham in the last three years; and if he will make a statement. (283796)

Nottinghamshire received general grants of £132.5 million in 2007-08, £136.9 million in 2008-09 and £141.4 million in 2009-10—an overall increase of £9 million, or 7 per cent. As a result, chief constables have flexibility in using the resources and Nottingham’s police-recorded crime fell by 14 per cent. between 2005 and 2008.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that crime has fallen not only because of the excellent work of the police and the crime and drugs partnership, but because of the pre-emptive and early-intervention work of children’s, health and employment services? Will he consider the possibility of redistributing discretely some of the money saved within the police service, so that more effort can go into intervening on children effectively and early, and so that those children do not become offenders?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. All that investment in early prevention, children and support to families has a good downstream consequence in reducing reoffending and stopping people entering the criminal justice system in the first place. The results will undoubtedly mean that policing resources are saved downstream. He makes an interesting suggestion; justice system reinvestment into other areas is key. I want Nottingham police to use up front the resources saved from the 14 per cent. reduction in crime, to help crime prevention methods such as those that he has mentioned.

National Identity Scheme

15. What recent representations from members of the public he has received on the introduction of the national identity scheme. (283798)

I thank the Secretary of State for that helpful answer. Is he aware that disquiet about ID cards extends well beyond Home Office matters to data held about health and many other aspects that involve many other Departments? The Government are clearly having great difficulty in keeping such electronic data secure. Will the Secretary of State ask his colleagues throughout Whitehall whether they, too, will contemplate a climbdown and decide to leave such data in private hands?

There has not been any climbdown. However, we need to be absolutely clear. When the House enacted the Identity Cards Bill, it put in place safeguards, checks and balances to ensure that the use of the information was restricted to the public interest, according to the terms of the Bill. The information on the identity card will not include people’s health records, criminal records or other information that various people raise from time to time. It will include basic information such as gender, age, address and the necessary status of the individual. It will not include any other information.

Antisocial Behaviour

16. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s measures to combat antisocial behaviour. (283800)

Three independent reports confirm that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. The National Audit Office reported that two thirds of people stop committing antisocial behaviour after one intervention; the proportion rises to nine out of 10 after three interventions.

I thank the Minister for his reply. As he will know, in serious cases of antisocial behaviour, the victim, the police and the local authority have to work together to compile sufficient evidence to get the case to court. The period taken is far too long. What else can the Minister do to shorten that period and lessen the suffering of the victims of antisocial behaviour?

It is important that swift progress is made. It is also important that victims feel as if they are at the centre of the process. That is why we are looking not only at the time taken to bring cases to court, but at appointing people such as the victims’ champion to ensure that victims are at the heart of everything we do.

A form of antisocial behaviour that can affect a whole community is kerb crawling and prostitution. The residents of Chalvey in my constituency have taken to standing on the streets themselves to collect the car registration numbers of kerb crawlers. What comfort can the Minister give them that we will be more effective in tackling this kind of antisocial behaviour?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are bringing forward proposals in the Policing and Crime Bill to tackle the issues that she refers to in response to the concerns of local communities.

Could the Minister respond to a scenario whereby the local council is asked under the safety partnership scheme to provide funds to root out antisocial behaviour but has no money to do so? Who should then step in to make amends to the households that are being disturbed by such behaviour?

Local partnerships, of which local authorities are a key part, have a key role to play in tackling the problems in their local areas. Local councils have had increased budgets over the past few years in order to bring that to the table, and that is precisely what they should be doing. Residents have every right to look to the local authority, as well as to the police and other agencies, to step up to the mark with regard to antisocial behaviour.

What representations has my hon. Friend had from social landlords, local authorities and others about the effectiveness of means by which they can act as witnesses on behalf of those who are victims of antisocial behaviour? In so many instances, victims of such behaviour are too frightened to give evidence in their own right and instead look to others to act on their behalf, but in my experience there is a long way to go before we find that that is working effectively.

This is about building people’s confidence so that they feel confident in bringing forward their concerns about tackling antisocial behaviour. It is also about building confidence across the criminal justice system to ensure that in these circumstances people are seen as the victims, not as perpetrators. We talk to local authorities, the police and social landlords about a range of issues, and I am happy to talk further to my hon. Friend about this matter.

In relation to young people and antisocial behaviour, can the Minister say what discussions take place across Government Departments and with local authorities to provide facilities for young people? We want joined-up government that is tough on the causes of problems as well on those who create them.

That is an important part of what we do. Of course, we have to send out a strong enforcement message saying that if people get involved in antisocial behaviour and break the law, they should fear the consequences. Across Departments, we look to produce what are referred to as diversionary activities, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights when the problems are worst in local communities. We also work through organisations such as Positive Futures.

National Identity Scheme

When I was a member of the Select Committee on Transport, we visited Atocha station in Spain, the scene of the terrorist atrocity that took place there. Is he aware that every single member of the terrorist group involved carried Spanish identity cards?

I was aware of that, actually. I do not know what point the hon. Gentleman would make about it, but I would say this: as I made absolutely clear earlier, we are not saying that identity cards are being introduced because they will free us of a terrorist threat; they are being introduced for several reasons. I note from that specific case in Madrid that one of the perpetrators was traced through his identity card.

Chorley Forensic Science Service Laboratory

22. What his plans are for the future of Chorley Forensic Science Service laboratory; and if he will make a statement. (283806)

The future of the Forensic Science Service laboratory in Chorley will be considered as part of the consultation process being undertaken by the FSS. No decision has yet been taken about the future of Chorley or any other laboratory site.

I take it from that that the Minister is going to work overtime to ensure that the Chorley laboratory remains. As he knows, this Government were elected on being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Will he ensure that they continue to put criminals behind bars? The north-west region has the second biggest rate of crime being committed, and it would be absolute nonsense if this Government were to consider closure. I look to my hon. Friend to state now that he will do all he can to ensure that Chorley remains open.

I work overtime most of the time, but I am quite focused on this issue. We need to ensure that we have a Forensic Science Service that is capable of continuing to perform a critical role in bringing people to justice, but it needs a viable and sustainable future. That is what the transformation programme is all about, and I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will continue to make his strong case.

Topical Questions

The Home Office puts public protection at the heart of its work to counter terrorism, cut crime, provide effective policing, secure our borders and protect personal identity.

For the time that he occupies the important and high office of Home Secretary, will the right hon. Gentleman rule out an amnesty for illegal immigrants?

We have no plans for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. That is not part of the work that I have taken over as Home Secretary, and I do not believe that it will be part of the work that I do, however long I am in this position.

T8. Through the excellent work of the police in Halton and the local partnership, we have seen a significant reduction in crime rates. However, one thing that continues to frustrate local people is that when action is recommended and taken to the courts, it is not always supported by the courts. A good example recently was that a shopping centre wanted to ban a shoplifter who had been convicted on a number of occasions, but the court did not support that. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with the Ministry of Justice about that issue? (283817)

This has been a constant theme of my discussions with the police, and I expect it to be a theme of the Association of Chief Police Officers conference this week. We need to get the balance right, and of course no one is suggesting that there should be any interference with the ability of the courts to judge each case on its merits. However, many police believe that there should be a debate about sentencing law so that those brought to justice are carried through the courts process. That is a matter for discussion between myself and the Secretary of State for Justice. We talk about these issues all the time, and that is a very important part of our ongoing dialogue.

T2. In Crewe and Nantwich, the breach rate of antisocial behaviour orders among those aged between 10 and 17 stands at a staggering 69 per cent. Last week the Home Secretary admitted that the Government had become complacent in tackling louts, but what is he doing for my constituents in Cheshire to ensure that the orders are strictly enforced? Simply handing out more orders faster is not enough. (283810)

There are two points to be made in response to the hon. Gentleman’s very important point. First, his experience in Crewe is not reflected in statistics nationally. Generally, 65 per cent. will comply on the first occasion, with something like 78 per cent. doing so on the second occasion and 95 per cent. on the third. That is in the context of antisocial behaviour that is sometimes going on 365 days a year.

I do not think that there is a need for rafts of new legislation. All the powers are there; they just need to be used. So my second point is that if there is one aspect that we need to look at again—we will do so in legislation in the fifth Session—it is the fact that parenting orders are discretionary, not mandatory, when youngsters come before the courts again for a breach of an antisocial behaviour order. That is one element on which we can usefully fill the gap in legislation.

T9. Animal welfare is a key priority for a civilised society, yet in the United Kingdom, 2007 saw the sixth consecutive increase in the number of animals used in scientific experiments. For the first time in a generation, the figure exceeded 3 million. The 2008 figure will be out soon. Will the Minister ensure that the Government respond formally to the Uncaged campaign’s historic petition, which cross-party colleagues and I presented at No. 10 last Thursday and which was signed by 1.5 million people, calling for the use of animals in the laboratory to be prohibited? (283818)

To some extent, the problem is demand-led, but my hon. Friend is right to suggest that we need a robust framework to ensure that when those practices need to take place, they are carefully monitored. The Government are also keen to find alternatives to animal testing. We are committing to that not only our political will, but increased resources.

T3. Will the Home Secretary act now to deal with growing anger in my constituency and around the country about the plans to extradite Mr. Gary McKinnon to the United States? Mr. McKinnon has no previous convictions and suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Given that there is power to try him in this country, where the offence was committed, will the Government intervene to ensure that that happens and that he is not sent to languish in an American supermax jail indefinitely? (283811)

First, the case is the subject of a judicial review and I do not think that I can say anything helpful about that. However, there were reports this morning that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague in another place had written to me to ask me, as Secretary of State, to use my “undoubted discretion” about the case. I have no discretion over prosecutions. The High Court confirmed that in January, when it said:

“The decision to prosecute is exclusively one for the Director”—

of Public Prosecutions—

“and not in any way for the Secretary of State.”

It is now some months since the points-based system came into effect. I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member who has experienced an increase in immigration casework, not because of the principle of the points-based system, but because the guidance is sometimes not as clear as it might be, simply because the system is new. The Department has probably received a lot of correspondence on the matter. When will the Government review the points-based system to examine the sort of cases that hon. Members are bringing to light?

Even as we speak, the Migration Advisory Committee is considering the matter. The system has worked well; no system is perfect and this one is comparatively new, so I have no doubt that we must ensure that the guidance is clear. We must consider whether people are applying through the wrong tier. There are sometimes problems when people try to come in under tier 1, and they would be much more successful if they applied under tier 5. We can undertake and then publish the results of that useful exercise very soon.

T4. Earlier this afternoon, the Home Secretary said that if one has a biometric passport and changes one’s address, one has a duty to inform the passport office of that change. During the course of questions, inquiries have been made of the passport office, which says that that is not the case. What is the situation? Is it not somewhat daft to be under an obligation to report a change of address when one has a supposedly voluntary ID card, but not if one has a passport? Is not it time the Home Secretary talked to the passport office and sorted out exactly what is—or is not—happening? (283812)

I do not think that we are breaching Magna Carta. One has to have one’s address on a driving licence and inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of any change. The point that I was making about passports is that we are introducing a new biometric system to ensure that people cannot forge the identity of the passport holder. We have a huge problem with that, and it is sensible, sane and rational to ensure that people keep the details of their addresses up to date. Relax: it does not mean the end of thousands of years of British democracy.

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing told the House this afternoon that the Department is putting another £15 million into further clamping down on illegal immigration between Calais and Dover. On what is the money being spent? What is being done to encourage the French to deal appropriately with the encampments in Calais?

The news is hot off the press: my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration has just reached that understanding. We have agreed to invest a further £15 million in strengthening our controls in Calais and other juxtaposed locations in France. Investment will be made on the understanding that the French will effect significant returns of illegal migrants from northern French regions. It is therefore aimed at, first, making the route from France to England secure, and secondly ensuring that France sends back more immigrants from northern France. That looks like a balanced agreement.

T6. The Home Secretary will be well aware of the huge concerns over proposals to close down a number of laboratories belonging to the Forensic Science Service. As Home Secretary, he presumably has the power to step in and prevent that from happening. Will he do so? (283814)

This is about the Forensic Science Service bringing forward a consultation on the future of its business. We will of course work closely with the Forensic Science Service, but it is for the service itself to engage with the work force, stakeholders, MPs and anyone else with a view on such matters, to ensure a viable and sustainable service for the future.

As my right hon. Friend knows, many teenagers feel unfairly punished and humiliated by devices such as the Mosquito and, now, acne lights. Will he look into banning them?

But there is an area where the Secretary of State has discretion, and that is in relation to the Government’s policy towards extradition. Why are we still sending people to the United States under a one-sided extradition treaty? Is it not now time to renegotiate that treaty so as to provide for extradition between our two countries that is firmly based on the principle of reciprocity?

I disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have a one-sided extradition treaty. I have looked at it carefully over the past few weeks. An awful lot of hyperbole is spoken about this issue—it is almost as if the US were an enemy of this country. The current extradition treaty with the US ensures equal co-operation between the UK and the Department for Trade and Industry US. This issue comes up periodically; I remember that it came up in relation to the Natwest three when I was at the Department for Trade and Industry. Perhaps hon. Members will remember the marching through the streets in relation to that case, but it all went very quiet—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) says from beyond the Bar that he was one of the people marching, but we did not hear much after the Natwest three pleaded guilty and were prosecuted. I do not believe that we have an unbalanced treaty; I think that it is a fair treaty between the US and the UK, and one that serves both countries well.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is now a big backlog of applications for residency cards from spouses of European Union citizens. What will he be able to do to tackle that backlog?

We are seeking to address the legacy of cases involving families and dependents, and involving asylum seekers, as well as those inherited cases involving nationality. We are making progress—I believe that we have a date, around 2012, by which we would have that backlog completed—at the same time as dealing with current cases effectively. Some 60 per cent. of asylum seekers are now dealt with within six months, and that figure will be up to 90 per cent. very soon.

On the question of unnecessary police paperwork, is the Secretary of State aware that years and years ago, when the Select Committee on Home Affairs was looking into the issue and the Chairman was the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), who is now the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Ministers came before the Committee and gave exactly the same answer that the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism has given this afternoon, namely that there might have been problems in the past, but the Government have just taken measures to put everything right? When the Home Secretary comes before the Home Affairs Committee, will he be prepared to quantify the figures that his right hon. Friend has given this afternoon and also explain what the Government—

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that 2007-08 saw the fourth successive annual improvement on the percentage of time spent on front-line policing. If he looks at some of the measures that we have taken, such as scrapping the police time sheet, which has freed up an estimated 260,000 police hours, axing the stop-and-account form and introducing 18,500 extra handheld devices, he will see that the measures that we have taken have resulted in the improvements seen over that period.

What discussions has the Home Secretary had with the Foreign Office in respect of the arbitrary decision by the Premier of Bermuda to allow people from Guantanamo Bay to settle in Bermuda, when that is a matter for the competence of the United Kingdom Government in London and, I believe, the responsibility of the Home Secretary? We need to be told what is happening.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the discussions have been robust, and we are absolutely at one on the basis of what happened. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is raising the matter with the American authorities.

Does the Home Secretary understand the concern of the people of Berkshire about the large number of out-of-court disposals that are taking place, even for serious crimes such as grievous bodily harm? Is not this a worrying diversion from established local justice?

It is sometimes important to use out-of-court disposals to ensure that there is swift and effective justice, and that we reduce police bureaucracy, exactly as the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has requested. That is why those out-of-court disposals are taking place. They have a positive benefit for the victims. They also have the positive benefit of not criminalising very young people who would otherwise go on to become involved in much more serious crime downstream.

Despite what the Government might say, police officers are spending more time on paperwork. Do the Government disagree with the chairman of the Police Federation, who has said:

“Government red tape is the…obstacle standing in the way”

of increased front-line policing?

I have just given the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) the figures that show that front-line policing has seen its fourth successive annual improvement since 2003-04. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Christopher Fraser) will know that Jan Berry and the Police Federation have both been very supportive of the measures that we have taken to date. I am expecting a report from Jan Berry on bureaucracy shortly. The hon. Gentleman will see from the improvement measures that we have taken that there is a real difference on the ground, and that we are putting the police where they should be: on the beat in front of local people.