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Topical Questions

Volume 498: debated on Monday 26 October 2009

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.