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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 498: debated on Monday 26 October 2009

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act

1. If he will bring forward legislative proposals to repeal section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. (295125)

Mr. Speaker, may I say what a pleasure it is to be back and to serve under your chairmanship for the first time? It is interesting how much has occurred. I have given birth to a baby, and an awful lot has occurred in Parliament in that same period.

My hon. Friend raises an important point, but we have no plans to review section 24 before we know the outcome of directive 86/609 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, which is currently being debated in the European Union.

Campaigners and politicians are rightly concerned by a 14 per cent. increase in the number of animal experiments licensed by the Home Office in 2008, yet section 24 denies them the information on which they can properly debate the direction of policy. Will the Government urgently review the operation of this democratically dubious legislation, despite any understandable concerns that they might have about animal rights extremism?

The situation is slightly more complex. There are two points in my hon. Friend’s question. One is about the total number of experiments. It is important to say that we do not have a percentage cap on the number of experiments that can take place, so more science can equal more experiments. We make an effort to ensure that most of those experiments are done on the least sentient animals, and that wherever there is an alternative, that has to be used.

On section 24, there was a review in 2004 prior to the Freedom of Information Act coming in. Another review was scheduled for 2006, but that was delayed because of a court action. That finished in 2008, at which point the draft European directive was published. It makes sense to align ourselves with that draft European directive, which borrows from the best practice in Britain, before we look at transposition, hopefully in the summer of next year.

Will the Minister acknowledge that despite Labour’s promise to cut the number of scientific procedures involving animals, levels have risen to numbers not seen for up to 20 years? Until we legislate appropriately for greater transparency in this area, how does she envisage implementing the Government’s promise?

I refer to my earlier point. It is a simple maths lesson, in a sense. If more science is proposed, more experiments are likely to come before the animals scientific procedures division to see whether it is acceptable to carry out those experiments. At all times the Home Office inspectorate looks very carefully at the suggestions put forward, ensuring that only experiments that can be done only on animals are agreed. If not, alternatives have to be used. We have also invested an awful lot of money in the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research—NC3Rs—to reduce the use of animals in experiments, but more science in the global context is something that we should welcome, even if it sometimes leads to perverse outcomes, as in this case.

Tasers

2. What his policy is on the use of Taser guns by police forces; and if he will make a statement. (295126)

We are committed to providing the police with the equipment necessary to protect the public and to do their job safely. The police use of Taser in England and Wales has shown that it provides an effective option for police when dealing with violent or threatening situations.

The Minister will be aware that Tasers have been implicated in the deaths of more than 300 people in the United States, and that their use varies enormously in the UK with, for example, Tasers having been used 224 times last year in West Yorkshire, as opposed to 345 uses in South Yorkshire. Does he agree that it is important to introduce more sensible controls, and will he limit the use of Tasers to authorised firearms officers and exclude their use against children, 18 of whom were zapped in the UK last year?

The hon. Gentleman will know that Tasers have been used 4,818 times up to March 2009, and in none of those instances were serious injuries or deaths reported; nor was there evidence of public difficulty with Taser use. I understand that there may well have been reports of difficulties elsewhere, but that is not the experience in the United Kingdom. That is because we have issued proper and effective guidance to police forces, which allows strong regulation of the use of Tasers. I believe that goes far enough. There have been only 21 occasions when Tasers have been used on under-18s, and in all those cases, no incidents of injury have occurred.

Tasers are effective at incapacitating potentially violent individuals at a distance, but the vice-president, training, for Taser, Mr. Rick Gilbault, has recently advised that a Taser should not be aimed at the chest area when incapacitating an individual. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that those views will be reflected in any future guidance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. We have clear guidance on the use of Tasers, including an independent medical panel which moderates on their use and gives guidance accordingly. I will certainly draw colleagues’ attention to those views and to my hon. Friend’s comments.

Is not the increasing use of Tasers another example, along with the decision to put armed police patrols on the streets of east London, of the slippery slide towards US-style armed policing in this country?

Actually, no, because Tasers are used to reduce violence and the risk of injury, and to support officers in preventing violence against themselves or, on some occasions, by the Tasered person, through either self-harm or incidents that might lead to the harm of others. As I have said, there were 4,818 incidents up to March and not one single serious injury or death. We need to have guidance, but it is proportionate and designed to help to reduce serious violence.

Crime Reduction Grants

3. What plans he has to extend the availability of small business crime reduction grants; and if he will make a statement. (295127)

The £5 million small retailers capital grants fund will help secure small independent retail shops in areas that are at most risk of crime. There are no plans to extend the scheme, but other aspects of the retail crime action plan are helping to tackle retail crime in every area.

Is the Minister aware of the Federation of Small Businesses survey that found that crime against businesses costs small firms about £13,500 each? Although I am sure that the businesses within the 50 priority areas have taken up the opportunity with enthusiasm, I think it curious that they bear a remarkable similarity to a list of Labour local authorities. Why do not businesses in areas such as my constituency in Essex have the same opportunity to apply for help?

The criteria for the scheme were deprivation, crime rates and the proportion of the small retailers that we were most interested in helping. The criteria were agreed by the retail crime steering group, and the FSB is not only an active member, but it agreed with the criteria and the principle. I should point out that Chingford, which is part of the seat of the hon. Gentleman’s right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), is not a Labour area.

It is very important that we support small businesses and prevent crime against them, but we have to back that up with a Forensic Science Service that can protect the public and ensure that crimes are solved. Why is the Minister overseeing a criminals charter through the closure of the Forensic Science Service laboratory in Chorley, leaving people to have to go from either Wetherby or Birmingham to parts of Cumbria to protect the public and ensure that crimes are solved? Will he reflect on it—

Order—[Interruption.] I am not being very kind at all. When I say “Order”, the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. We have had an enjoyable Cook’s tour, but it is time for the answer.

I commend my hon. Friend on the inventive way in which he got the Forensic Science Service into his question. However, I point out to him that, if we are to ensure that there is a service to support not only business but the whole community in the fight against crime, we must have an efficient and effective service. That is what the transformation programme is all about.

Following on from the previous question, the Minister still has not explained to us how on earth crime is going to be solved within four hours and crime scenes visited within four hours when laboratories at Chorley, Birmingham, and Chepstow in my constituency, are being closed down. What is the point of giving money to small businesses if crime is out of control because we do not have the forensic science laboratories to catch the perpetrators who are responsible?

It is essential that we have schemes, such as that which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, to ensure that crime does not get out of control. However, he will know that the transformation programme took all those issues into consideration, and the model that the Forensic Science Service is moving to will ensure that it provides throughout the country the efficient and effective service for which he is looking.

Work Visas

4. If he will make it his policy to allow those whose applications for work visas are under consideration to work until final determination of their case is made. (295128)

Those who have leave to work in the United Kingdom at the time that they apply for an extension may carry on working until their new application is decided. Those who do not have leave to work in the UK when they apply for permission to work must wait until their application is decided. We have no plans to change that.

My advice surgeries are filled with people who are going to be granted the right to stay but are not allowed to work. If we take Mrs. Pierre-Louis, who is married to a British citizen and has an eight-year-old British son, we find that her only mistake was to fill in the wrong form at the Home Office. She has now received the sack, even though her employer, the council, acknowledges that she is an excellent care home worker. What do the Government have to say to people, such as Mrs. Pierre-Louis, who lose their jobs; and why is the policy implemented so harshly against such people?

If there is a particular case that my hon. Friend would like me to take up, I shall look into it. However, the application for the permit is due within three months of its ending, and on this matter we have set a target of achieving decisions on 75 per cent. of applications within four weeks. Mr. Speaker, I can report to you that we are achieving decisions on 94 per cent. of applications within four weeks.

How can any of us have any confidence that the UK Border Agency is fit for purpose? I had at my constituency surgery on Friday someone who lives in my constituency and who has been waiting for nine years for the UK Border Agency and its predecessors simply to process his first application for consideration as a refugee. Am I the only person in the House who has completely lost the will to live in respect of the UK Border Agency having any competence to deal with work permits, asylum applications or anything else? This is an organisation—

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has not lost the will to live. I do not know the details of that case, but my experience, having been in this job for more than a year, is that things are often not as they appear at first glance. We are dealing with the backlog very successfully now, and I point out that our decision rate is much quicker than it was 12 years ago. Resources are being put into place, decisions are being taken and cases are coming to light. I ask him to look into that case, and if he wants me to take it up, I will do so.

I agree strongly with the thrust of the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), but does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that we should seek to ensure that all immigrant workers are paid the minimum wage, so that they are not treated as a pool of cheap migrant labour and so that existing trade union agreements are not undermined?

It is very important that this point is taken on board, because this country welcomes legal migrant workers; they contribute to our economy very significantly. In order to protect those people, they have the same rights as domestic workers. Illegal migrants, and legal migrants who are paid below the minimum wage, undermine confidence in the migration and minimum wage systems. The exploitation of any worker is not acceptable to this Government.

Over the weekend, we have heard some pretty controversial reported comments by a former adviser to the Government about their immigration policy. May I invite the Minister to put the record straight? What was the motivation behind the very rapid increase in immigration under this Government?

If one takes a responsible and reasonable look at the statistics, one will see that it was an earlier Act that brought about significant increases in immigration in this country. The most significant milestone in the history of migration policy since the second world war, in my view, was the abolition of border controls in 1994. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I throw the question back at the hon. Gentleman: does he now support the border controls that we have put back into place?

I think a lot of people will notice that the Minister has made no attempt to answer my question. What Mr. Neather, the former adviser, said was that the policy of rapid expansion was done to put pressure on the right. Would it not be utterly disgraceful for any Government to decide immigration policy that was in the interests not of the country, but of a political party? Was that what happened?

I do not know to whom or to which reports the hon. Gentleman refers. If he wants to take the views of someone with a political motivation, that is up to him, but I repeat that the Government have reintroduced border controls—electronic borders—despite opposition from the hon. Gentleman.

It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head and smirking about it. The facts are that his party abolished border controls, that we have reintroduced them and that he opposes them.

Prevent Strategy

5. If he will assess the value for money of his Department's expenditure on the Prevent strand of its counter-terrorism strategy. (295129)

7. If he will assess the value for money of his Department's expenditure on the Prevent strand of its counter-terrorism strategy. (295131)

Prevent is an essential aspect of the Contest counter-terrorism strategy designed to safeguard our country and its citizens. The Prevent strategy aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism through a variety of initiatives focused on local communities. Delivery of the strategy, expenditure and impact, is monitored routinely to ensure value for money, and effectiveness.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply, but is not the great problem that there is no guarantee that that money is not finding its way into the hands of extremist groups? When is he going to have a proper audit of this expenditure to convince the House that it is going to the right place?

The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question about Prevent. I hope that he would accept, as should everyone in this House, that yes, we should have a strategy on pursuing terrorists, and yes, we should have a strategy on ensuring that we are prepared for terrorist attack, but that it would be strange indeed to have a strategy that did not concentrate on preventing young people, in particular, from being radicalised in the first place. Having developed the strategy, of course we have to ensure that the money is used effectively on behalf of the taxpayer and is not finding its way into the hands of extremists. There is absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever. This money is carefully audited, not just by us but by the Department for Communities and Local Government, on a continual basis.

In 2005, Tony Blair announced that Hizb ut-Tahrir would be banned, which we support, but that never came to pass. Further, the Government should put a total ban on Hezbollah. Can the Secretary of State tell us why Ministers have been so slow to take action against these extremist groups?

Going back in history, the hon. Gentleman will find that it was a previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who let these people in in the first place. Secondly, we are a functioning democracy that is very careful about the organisations we proscribe, which should be those that particularly and specifically refer to the use of violence to meet their aims. That level has not been reached. Organisations across the country—and Members of Parliament, actually—would look askance if we used the legislation to proscribe organisations that should not be proscribed under its terms. It is absolutely right that we do not give a gift to these radical organisations by using the proscribing legislation unwisely.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the defining characteristics of today’s terrorism is the constant search for new methods of inflicting terror, and that in response, therefore, we have to try to harness together the innovative tendencies inside Government and across the private and academic sectors? May I commend, through him, the work of Charles Farr and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in identifying publicly, through the national security strategy and the science and technology strategy, the areas of research that they would like academia and the business community to pursue? Will my right hon. Friend continue to issue such guidance so that we can harness the whole community against terrorism?

My right hon. Friend played a very distinctive role in formulating the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. It was absolutely essential that we brought together the various strands from across the Government to concentrate on these issues, and Charles Farr is leading the operation magnificently. My right hon. Friend is right to point to an aspect that is not often referred to—the race against time to find new methods of technology to thwart the increasing ingenuity of those who seek to destroy our society.

When my right hon. Friend is monitoring the effectiveness of the Prevent programme, will he give his urgent attention to the need to push more resources into prisons, which are clearly a place where many young men are converted to violent ideologies? Will he also consider the criticism currently made of Prevent that it is spread far too widely in being aimed at an entire community with a particular religious belief instead of being focused on the people who are really the problem?

We are looking at prisons all the time; I work closely on that with my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I do not accept my hon. Friend’s second point. I am not saying that the Prevent strategy operates perfectly, but we can point to areas of the country where it has been extremely influential. It is not aimed at one particular group of people: it is aimed at helping Muslims within communities to argue effectively against those who seek to radicalise the whole community and at working with them to do that. Without that partnership, it would not work at all.

Does the Home Secretary agree that spying on innocent Muslims could destroy relationships within the community and between the community and the police? What steps has he taken to ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected and that surveillance under Prevent is proportional to the threat?

Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Prevent has absolutely nothing to do with spying on communities; spying on communities has absolutely nothing to do with Prevent, full stop. The article carried in one national newspaper, not picked up elsewhere, refers to two areas—Waltham Forest and Islington—which we are looking at very closely. We can find no evidence that there is any substance in those allegations.

I agree that if Prevent were used to spy on communities, it would be worthless. However, many people from those communities would come to this Dispatch Box and speak up for the policy if they could. Guidance, which is very strictly adhered to, ensures that there is the necessary proportionate response and that any use of Prevent is in accordance with the guidelines that we publish.

In 2007, the Government announced an increase of more than £100 million on Prevent and another £240 million on counter-terrorism policing, among an overall counter-terrorist, security and intelligence expenditure of £3.5 billion, which has rapidly increased. What are the Government doing to review the effectiveness of all that expenditure, as well as the Prevent programmes, some of which critics believe have been counter-productive?

We review the programme all the time, and various committees, including the Intelligence and Security Committee, call us to account. It is right that Opposition Front Benchers should also call us to account, but although many people attack Prevent as counter-productive, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, who would be entitled on Privy Council terms to know exactly what is one under Prevent and the whole Contest counter-terrorism strategy, do not believe that.

Certainly Prevent would be counter-productive if the newspaper story that was carried in one national paper a couple of weeks ago were true. It is not—we can find no evidence of that. Misrepresenting Prevent and exaggerating issues under it is one thing, but we as calm and rational politicians should ensure that we keep to this important part of the strategy. Preventing young people from becoming radicalised is probably the most crucial part of our whole strategy.

Will the Home Secretary agree to meet me to discuss the Islington experience, since he has just referred to it in answer to a previous question? May I invite him to read the report produced by the Institute of Race Relations called “Spooked!—How not to prevent violent extremism”, by Arun Kundnani? It is an interesting report and will show him that other aspects of the Prevent agenda are effectively stigmatising an entire community.

The answer to the first question is yes—of course either I or a member of my ministerial team will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. Secondly, he points to one particular contribution to this debate, of which there are many. It is a valuable one, but it is not in isolation and many other reports have made points contrary to the ones in that report.

Policing

6. If he will take steps to increase the proportion of their time which police officers spend on the beat. (295130)

The policing Green Paper published last July introduced measures to reduce bureaucracy and free up police time, including scrapping a police time sheet, releasing 260,000 police hours, and axing the stop and account form, releasing an estimated 690,000 hours. Those measures and more help put more police on the beat. We will review the matter still further in the policing White Paper later this year.

Will the right hon. Gentleman thank Essex police for putting more beat bobbies in Castle Point? We need them to counter disgraceful behaviour by youths around a new school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties that has been placed on Canvey Island, which is causing residents and businesses absolute mayhem. Does he agree that EBD schools should be located very carefully within communities? This one should certainly have been moved to central Essex—

If there are concerns about any issue at any location, the first port of call should be to talk to the local beat officers, as part of our neighbourhood policing pledge, about what should happen at local level. I do not know the circumstances, but I would be happy to refer this exchange to the local chief constable for examination. However, the hon. Gentleman should raise the matter with the local forces, who are best placed to deal with it under the policing pledge.

At the weekend we changed the clocks, making it light at 6 o’clock in the morning and dark at 6 o’clock in the evening. Does my right hon. Friend believe that that is helpful or unhelpful to the criminal classes, and to police on the beat?

I think that ultimately the criminal classes will try to find ways to undertake crime, and the police will always find ways to stop them, whether it is dark or light. However, I shall refer my hon. Friend’s comments to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is the appropriate Department to regulate these matters.

The public rightly want to see more visible policing. Four years ago, the Home Office told us that police officers spent only 19 per cent. of their time on the beat. Will the Minister tell us what the latest figure is?

I do not have those figures to hand, but I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman. However, I will say this: no matter how many police are on the beat, they must be doing something right, because crime is down by 36 per cent. over the past 12 years. Indeed, the figures that came out last Thursday show that overall crime was down by 4 per cent. I hope he will recognise that the police are doing a good job, servicing the public very well, reducing crime and ensuring that the safety of the community is paramount.

Smart use of some technologies that are available to police is helping them to reduce time wasted in bureaucracy. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to evaluate the pilots that have been undertaken to improve services to the public, such as the use of palm devices in Thames Valley?

We are undertaking ongoing evaluation. My hon. Friend will know that some 18,000 hand-held devices have been put into the system over the past 12 months and we continually look at how we can reduce bureaucracy and get police focused on the front line. Indeed, very shortly we expect a further report from Jan Berry, the police adviser on these matters, which we will publish for the House and which I believe will set a further trend for the next 12 months and beyond of reducing bureaucracy still further.

Antisocial Behaviour

8. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of measures to combat antisocial behaviour. (295132)

Three independent reports have confirmed 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, rising to nine out of 10 ceasing after three interventions. The Home Office has recently commissioned a consortium of Aberystwyth university, Swansea university and an independent research organisation, Applied Research in Community Safety, to undertake an evaluation of the comparative effectiveness of ASB interventions. It is expected to report in the spring.

The Children’s Secretary has condemned the Government’s failure on antisocial behaviour orders. Does the Home Secretary agree with him?

I have not heard of the Children’s Secretary doing any such thing. I agree absolutely with the Secretary of State for the Department for Children, Schools and Families that our action, reducing as it has the public perception of antisocial behaviour as a major problem by 19 per cent. in just four years, is working, and the whole Government support that view.

My right hon. Friend recently said that North East Lincolnshire council had to get its act together on tackling antisocial behaviour. What is he expecting the local authority, social landlords and the police in that area to do to get a grip on this subject?

A number of things, but what I said on 19 October is that just as the policing pledge gives a certain confidence to the public that they will get a standard of service wherever they live, given that there are 42 different police authorities—43 if we count the transport police—so we should also have a certain consistency of treatment right across the country on antisocial behaviour. My colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Communities and Local Government and I have asked the crime and reduction partnerships to ensure that that is the case over the coming months. With that and other measures, we can ensure that the public, no matter where they live, have an expectation of a certain level of service.

Asylum Applications

In December we met our targets to conclude 60 per cent. of new cases within six months. That means not only that decisions were taken early but that in a significant proportion of refusals, removal from the UK was effected within six months of application.

In 1997 it took on average 22 months merely to reach an initial decision. We can only speculate how much longer than that it was taking to remove those who were refused at that time.

Why are Members of Parliament routinely sent letters by the Border and Immigration Agency advising them that cases of individuals applying for asylum and indefinite leave to remain will not be resolved until July 2011? Is not that a sign of a failing and dysfunctional Department, or as we heard earlier, is that the policy of this Government—

Order. [Interruption.] Order. Let me just say very clearly to the hon. Gentleman that when I interrupt, he resumes his seat, and that is the end of the matter.

It is important not to confuse asylum with immigration. The contrary is the case: the reason why the former Home Secretary, who is in his place, set that target was to ensure that Members of Parliament could be confident that their constituents’ cases were being dealt with. To be fair, as we have reported to the Home Affairs Committee, we are getting through the legacy backlog at a significant rate. The date is that by which we must have completed those cases; it does not mean that all the cases with which the hon. Gentleman is dealing will take that long.

The Minister has announced that, as a result of reorganisation in Liverpool, Croydon will be the only centre in the UK that will deal with walk-in asylum applications. That will have a profound effect on the borough of Croydon. Why has he made that decision? What assessment has he made of the impact on the borough of Croydon, and will he campaign for extra funding to address the inevitable pressure on services that will result?

Order. In defiance of the convention, there were three questions, but I know that the Minister will understand that one answer will suffice.

I do not accept the premise of the question. We have been able to make the change because of the significant drop overall in the numbers of asylum applications, from 57,570 in 2002 to 23,210 in 2008. As we bring forward renewed applications with further information, we are requiring those people to have face-to-face interviews in Liverpool. I would imagine that the hon. Gentleman supports that policy. The impact on Croydon, which is provided with £30 million a year for children, will be minimal as a result of those background facts.

My hon. Friend will know from his own casework that many of the people in the legacy stream have been waiting for a considerable number of years, and their lives are on hold because there is nothing they can do to progress their current status. Is the July 2011 date a firm one, and can he bring forward some of the cases?

The Home Secretary has allocated extra resources to ensure that we can get through the legacy backlog even more quickly. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), that is very much an end date. Members will see cases coming to their advice surgeries as a result of the success that we are having in getting through those cases. I point hon. Members to the new tracker service, as introduced by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier).

It is now more than three years since the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), famously promised to make the asylum and immigration system fit for purpose. Since then, fewer than half the legacy cases have been concluded. The backlog of applications under the new asylum model increased by more than a third last year, and last week the existence of another, previously unknown, 40,000 non-asylum legacy cases was revealed. In a spirit of generosity, we do not expect the Minister to solve all those problems at once, but can he say which of the various disasters he is presiding over is his top priority this week?

The hon. Gentleman calls for the Government to manage the migration system, but he then opposes the very measures that we have introduced— such as the comprehensive electronic borders—to do so. The cases that he has mentioned—cases, not people—are being got through apace. As I have said, the record of this Government in deciding those cases shows that 60 per cent. are decided in six months, as opposed to 22 months in 1997. Who has got their priorities right?

Antisocial Behaviour Orders

The numbers of antisocial behaviour orders issued at all courts in England and Wales during 2006 and 2007 were 2,705 and 2,299 respectively. ASBO data for 2008-09 are not yet available.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, but does he agree it is important that people are aware that ASBOs are available? People are finding that one of the big problems is getting the relevant information to apply for them.

It is absolutely right that ASBOs should be one of the many tools available to forces and courts to ensure that they tackle antisocial behaviour. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that ASBOs will continue to be, and should be, a major tool in helping to drive down antisocial behaviour still further. We want to make it simple for ASBOs to be exercised accordingly.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in 53 per cent. of cases where they were breached, those involved faced immediate custody. There is certainly a breach element, but, as the Home Secretary mentioned, we have accepted the fact that there are difficulties with breach. We intend to continue working to ensure that those ASBOs are completed: if the court exercises an ASBO it is important that it should be completed and that anyone breaching an ASBO should face immediate custody.

My right hon. Friend will realise that enforcement is vital to antisocial behaviour orders, so will he ask our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether he would consider writing to every chief constable and asking that every uniformed officer in their forces spend at least two hours performing high-profile policing duties in the community?

I think that many officers, including chief constables, already spend more than that amount of time doing community policing on the street. Neighbourhood and community policing are the focus of what the Government are trying to do, and I will give my hon. Friend the statistics to show that that is the case.

Will the Minister emphasise that community policing can reduce the need for and the incidence of ASBOs, not least in the Upton estate in Macclesfield? Is that not because the police are thereby establishing meaningful relationships with people, rather than being in a car and having no contact with them?

That is absolutely right, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will share my aspiration to strengthen and deepen community policing still further. It is absolutely right that the police are in contact with local people, that they identify their problems and draw up action plans with local councils to deal with them, and that ASBOs are used if necessary when solutions have failed, not as the first port of call.

Youth Offending (Wirral)

15. What steps his Department has taken to reduce rates of youth offending in Wirral in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement. (295140)

A recent inspection of youth offending services in Wirral found that there was much more work to be done to reduce reoffending rates. Could my right hon. Friend tell me what work his Department is doing with the Ministry of Justice to see that that takes place?

There are a range of things. I refer my hon. Friend to the youth crime action plan in particular, whereby we are putting in place measures that include Friday and Saturday night activity on the streets, help and support for young people, and interventions for particularly difficult and challenging families. That is part of the resource that we have allocated to Wirral in the past 18 months. The programme is designed to prevent individuals from getting involved in crime in the first place, but we also need strong enforcement and action in the courts to help prevent them from going further once they come into contact with the system.

Police Patrols

18. What his most recent estimate is of the proportion of the working week spent on patrol by police officers in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England. (295143)

In my county, the number of police officers on patrol has fallen by 30 per cent. When the Minister tried to solve the problem, did he go to the permanent secretary and say, “How do we solve the problem?” and did the permanent secretary reply, “Well, let’s just abolish the statistics”? Because that is what they have done: they have abolished the statistics, so nobody knows how many police are on patrol. [Interruption.] Yes is the answer.

Self-evidently, the hon. Gentleman and I will disagree on this matter. Whatever is happening overall, crime is down 36 per cent., including 4 per cent. last Thursday. Overall, the police are doing a good job driving down crime, in stark contrast to when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in office.

Policing (Bassetlaw)

19. How many (a) police officers and (b) police community support officers there are in the Bassetlaw constituency; and how many there were in 2004. (295144)

Data are unfortunately not collected centrally at a constituency level, but I can give my hon. Friend figures for Nottinghamshire as a whole in due course.

Luckily for the Minister, I got the figures last Friday from the chief superintendent. We have only 16 police officers covering the whole of the Bassetlaw and Newark division, and that is because all the rest are down in the city of Nottingham, which has had loads of murders. As it now has nothing like that number of murders, is it not time that the Government intervened to get the police authority to shift police back from the cities and into the rural areas and the mining communities where they are needed?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If he looks at the overall figures, he will see that there are 2,380 police officers in Nottingham, which is 57 more than in 1997, and that there are 243 police community support officers in post who were not there when the previous Government were in power. I accept what he says about the operational decisions by the chief constable, but I happen to think that Nottinghamshire police authority should hold the chief constable to account in regard to putting those priorities in place, and that is where my hon. Friend should raise those concerns.

Prisoner Release (Terrorism Offences)

20. What steps (a) police forces and (b) his Department’s agencies take to monitor the activities of individuals convicted of terrorism offences following their release from prison. (295145)

The Government take their responsibilities to protect the public seriously. The police and relevant agencies take all necessary steps to manage the risk posed by those individuals.

I note the Government’s attempts to keep us all secure, but will the Minister comment on the fact that 40 people convicted of terrorism offences have been released into the community, and that a further 25 are set to be released? This is going to put huge burdens not only on our police and security services but on our hard-pressed probation service. How can we be convinced, given the tightness of resources, that the Government are doing their job?

As will happen, there are occasions when people complete their sentences and are released back into the community. It is our job to ensure that we manage those individuals safely in the community. The hon. Gentleman will know that the probation services across the country, along with our colleagues in the Home Office, are determined to manage that risk effectively. We are doing so, and we have put in extra resources to manage it—in the prisons and the probation service—through the National Offender Management Service and the Home Office. Unfortunately, however, people do sometimes complete their sentences.

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.

Will the Home Secretary assure my constituent, Gary McKinnon, who has attracted considerable public interest, that he is carefully considering the compelling new medical evidence on the impact of the extradition proceedings on my constituent’s Asperger’s syndrome? Will he in any event defer the execution of the extradition order until after the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry on 10 November?

I have invited the hon. Gentleman to come and see me about this, because Gary McKinnon is his constituent. As he knows, we have stopped the clock ticking in regard to the representation to the European Court because new medical evidence has been provided. It is important that I stress that there are two issues on which Gary McKinnon’s legal advisers have argued. The first is that the Director of Public Prosecutions should have tried him in this country rather than in America. The High Court dismissed that in July and would not allow the matter to go to a judicial review. In the words of the most senior judge in the country, it would be

“manifestly unsatisfactory in the extreme”

for him to be tried anywhere other than in the United Kingdom. That is finished.

On the second issue, in respect of Mr. McKinnon’s human rights, of course I have to ensure that his article 3 human rights are being respected, and it is the new medical evidence that I will be looking at very carefully. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and his constituent that I will look at it very carefully before making my decision.

T2. As we are coming up to fireworks night, will my right hon. Friend tell us what he is doing to protect the public from firework abuses, particularly in relation to the issuing of antisocial behaviour orders? (295151)

I believe that the legislation introduced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport some years ago on the back of a Labour private Member’s Bill has had an extraordinary effect. In fact, the personal experience of my constituents—and, indeed, my own personal experience—suggests that the problems that used to be associated with fireworks weeks and sometimes months before firework day have gone down to a very small number. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that antisocial behaviour legislation can be used in this respect, however. The powers are there to be used, and all my experience tells me that they are being used very effectively.

T3. The incidence of retail crime has reached record levels during this recession and attacks on cash and valuables in transit crews have doubled since 1997. What is the Home Secretary doing to reduce this threat? (295152)

The reality is that the numbers fluctuate, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is that this is a very serious issue. That is why we are working with the industry, the trade unions and the police to do everything we can to tackle the problem of cash-in and vehicle crime. We are working to design out crime to make it more difficult for people to break into the vans and to ensure that banks are better equipped to deal with any incidents. We are working hard to resolve traffic problems, particularly around parking—leaving the vans parked away from the places they are delivering to. We are also working with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to make sure that the sentencing fits the crime.

T4. Although I support the Government’s legacy programme, cases are being taken out of sequence, dealing with families first. This will result in an onerous burden on local authorities and the Benefits Agency. How will the Government mitigate this problem? Will they move back to taking cases in sequence, and will they allow people to work ahead of their decision? (295153)

It is a very difficult balance. We have consulted the House and are grateful for the help of the Home Affairs Select Committee. We have criteria for the order in which we should deal with cases. I would ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind the fact that until 2007 just under a fifth of claims were duplicate claims from across the EU, and there is significant duplication, as the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) said, in the 40,000 cases across migration and asylum. I have an open mind on the criteria, however.

T7. In Gravesham, antisocial behaviour orders really are taken as a badge of honour by some kids. The Minister has already spoken about the problem of the breaching of ASBOs, so should there not be some really meaningful sanction against those kids who do breach them? (295157)

First, I do not accept the premise that an ASBO is a badge of honour. This phrase came from a Youth Justice Board study into a tiny number—124—of cases and has never been supported by any other evidence. If the hon. Gentleman spoke to the police, who are the people who know about this, they would point out that if young people wanted ASBOs as a badge of honour, why would they go to such extraordinary lengths to avoid them?

T5. During a visit to an excellent open day at Wirral magistrates court last week, I discovered that the level of unpaid fines, despite considerable improvement, remained high. Obviously, if fines are not paid, their deterrent effect is reduced, so what measures are being taken by the Home Office, in conjunction with the department of legal affairs, to ensure that these unpaid fine levels are reduced? (295155)

My hon. Friend mentions a “Ministry of Legal Affairs”, which sounds like something from “The Thick of It”. If he is talking about the Ministry of Justice, I can tell him that we work very closely with it. Unpaid fines are, of course, a matter for that Department and I know it is working very hard to ensure that they are paid. Indeed, it can point to statistics showing an incredible improvement over the last 10 years.

T8. In recent months, Crewe and Nantwich residents have been working in close partnership with the police in the fight against drugs on the streets. Although I am sure the Home Secretary would commend them for their actions, what can he tell them that the Government have planned to help to alleviate the administrative burden placed on the police in dealing with drugs crime? (295158)

The administrative burden is not confined to drug crimes; it should be reduced to the absolute minimum for the police in all respects. We have had some incredible success on that in removing bureaucracy from the police’s shoulders. I recently made a speech saying that there is much further to go, which is why we asked Jan Berry, the former head of the Police Federation, to look at this for us and present a completely independent report to tell us where she thinks, from her vast personal knowledge and experience, we could do more to help. Her report is due very shortly.

T6. The phrase “domestic extremism” is now widely employed by police forces seeking to control and classify many public demonstrations, even though they are legitimate and non-violent political protests. What guidance has the Home Secretary issued to chief constables on the definition and use of that phrase in this context? (295156)

I have not issued any guidance on the definition of that phrase. The police know what they are doing and how to tackle such demonstrations, and they do so very effectively. A combination of the right legislation introduced by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), the police treating the matter as an absolute priority and other measures have led to far fewer problems as a result of animal rights extremism. That is one form of domestic extremism, and if the police want to use such a term, I would not fall to the floor clutching my box of Kleenex. It sounds like a sensible way to describe such forms of extremism.

T9. Given that the Home Secretary has stated that it is in the interests of justice that the killers of Yvonne Fletcher are charged, why is the Met sitting on a Crown Prosecution Service-commissioned report that concluded that there is sufficient evidence to charge Matouk Matouk and Mohammed Baghdadi with conspiracy to murder? (295159)

If the hon. Gentleman cares to contact me, I will consider that matter. I have not heard of the report he mentions, but we want to ensure that justice is done by Yvonne Fletcher. That has been our priority from the start, and that is why it was a major part of our discussions with Libya a few years ago.

When will my right hon. Friend bring forward the final code on alcohol sales, as promised in the Policing and Crime Bill? Will it deal with the problem of cut-price promotions in shops, pubs and clubs?

On the latter question, I hope that the code will deal with that matter. On the former question, we have finished the consultation and are preparing a response that will be out soon.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) about the alphabet soup of agencies that appears to have decided to put everyone in the country who protests about anything on a list of suspects, does the Home Secretary agree that that is an example of mission creep? It has gone beyond the original intention of dealing with violent animal rights extremists, and everyone else in the country who protests is now being treated in that way.

I do not accept that, and I do not know why Liberal Democrat Members jump to that conclusion. The police are doing their job effectively. There was an issue around the G7 protest or the G20 protest—one of the protests—earlier this year that led the police to look again at some of their procedures. The result of those deliberations will be in the White Paper on policing, which will be published shortly.

My right hon. Friend has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to introduce a scheme to assist British citizens who are victims of terror abroad. May I ask him when the Government are likely to introduce a scheme and make some announcement? The victims of Bali, Mumbai and Sharm el-Sheikh and their families have waited far too long to get compensation for the brutal attacks, deaths and injuries that they have had to put up with over the past decade or so.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his work in this connection. As he will know, the Prime Minister and the Government are keen to introduce a scheme whereby those British people injured in terrorist attacks abroad have the same rights to compensation as they would have if they were injured in this country. Having said that, a number of problems need to be got round, and I hope that the committee that I chair will come to a conclusion on that soon.

The Office for National Statistics has said that the population of this country will increase by 10 million in the next 25 years. Are the Government happy that immigration will be on that level, or do they agree that they should do everything they can to ensure that it does not reach such a level?

The Office for National Statistics did not say that; it made it clear that it was not a forecast but a projection based on previous years. In the same release, it accepted that the projection could be, and is being, affected by Government policies on other matters.

Are the Government aware that many young Asian ladies in my constituency would like a change in immigration regulations to prevent those entering as a spouse from bringing in a further spouse following an Islamic divorce?

Yes, the Government are very aware of that point, and pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work, which has received tremendous support, especially from young Asian women. We will do all that we can to ensure proper fairness in that policy area.

Given that retail crime such as shoplifting is increasing, and that the level of unpaid fines is rising, will the Government insist that all penalty notices be issued at a police station?

We have changed the guidelines on penalty notices. We are saying that they must be used more proportionately, and only for first offences. However, I shall look into the hon. Lady’s specific point just in case we need to make further changes.

What early feedback has my right hon. Friend received from the head of the UK Human Trafficking Centre about freshly commissioned research by regional intelligence units on the actual scale of sex trafficking in this country?

We continue to take this important issue seriously. It is extremely difficult to establish the true number of people involved because of the nature of the crime, but we work with our colleagues internationally as well as with agencies in the United Kingdom, and we are trying hard to obtain an accurate figure.

Given his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), is the Minister for Borders and Immigration making the case that the United Kingdom population will not reach 70 million?

The Government have no policy on what the birth or death rate in our population should be in 15 years’ time, but I can tell the House that our migration policy is already paying dividends in reducing net migration. The ONS reported that it had fallen to 45 per cent. of the projected increase, and that was partly a result of the measures that we have taken.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend read the eccentric report in The Guardian last week suggesting that there were no sex trafficking crimes, which will come as news to the gentlemen who have been banged up for that odious crime. Will he convene a public and transparent conference to discuss the issue? It cannot be right for academics and journalists to say that sex trafficking is non-existent in the United Kingdom.

As I have said, we are working hard to obtain the correct figure, but, as my right hon. Friend will know, that is extremely difficult. I find it regrettable when speculative articles are published in the media giving the erroneous impression that exercises such as Operation Pentameter did not lead to arrests and are not important in making the United Kingdom hostile to traffickers; once we have some figures, I shall return to my right hon. Friend to discuss his suggestion.