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Home Department

Volume 502: debated on Monday 14 December 2009

The Secretary of State was asked—

Police Community Support Officers

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of police community support officers in tackling antisocial behaviour; and if he will make a statement. (306215)

The White Paper on policing, published on 3 December, places police community support officers at the centre of the Government’s efforts to reduce antisocial behaviour, including proposals shortly to give extra powers to PCSOs to tackle firework abuse and graffiti.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. PCSO Ryan Carroll, with whom I was out last Saturday in the Weaste area of Salford, will be absolutely delighted that this Labour Government are committed to funding our police community support officers. This is in marked contrast to the policies of the Opposition, who wish to make deep and savage cuts to our public services. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this Labour Government’s support for the fantastic work of our PCSOs remains firm and unwavering?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her support. She will know that it is Labour Government money that has introduced 16,000 PCSOs across the country. Indeed, we have not done just that: for next year, we have committed some £332 million—a 2.7 per cent. increase—to help to support them still further. She will also know, I hope, that in her borough of Salford we have committed a range of support for next year, including part of a £2.5 million package to help to support work against antisocial behaviour. That is all Labour Government money, and it will all be under threat under the Tories.

I am not going to try to score political points. I pay tribute to the role of community support officers, but is the Minister aware that quite a lot of their salary is paid by local town councils, parish councils and borough councils? These councils are finding it increasingly difficult to continue to pay this part of the PCSOs’ salary. As a result—certainly in Cheshire—a number of community support officers are going to be put out of work. Is that not a shame? What will the Government do about it?

I agree that partnership with local authorities is extremely important. I know that the hon. Gentleman would wish that support to continue, and we have committed a considerable amount of money— £332 million next year. That partnership work is important and some authorities are considering it.

I hasten to say, without being party political, that it is not Labour authorities that are doing that.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that in my part of Sheffield, the incidence of criminal damage has gone down, with 200 fewer victims last year. Police community support officers are playing a key role in that. Is he committed to continuing with the neighbourhood policing model? Police community support officers function really well when they are supported by other agencies and organisations that focus on neighbourhoods.

Indeed, the neighbourhood policing model was reconfirmed in the White Paper only 10 days ago. The funding of £332 million for next year includes PCSOs and neighbourhood support for policing. It works, because antisocial behaviour perceptions and concerns among individuals across the country have fallen from 21 per cent. in 2003 to only 16 per cent. in 2009, largely because of the 16,000 PCSOs on the doorstep.

Detention of Children (UK Border Agency)

I have recently assumed responsibility for this area of policy and I most recently met officials on 8 December. However, clearly I meet regularly with officials on this issue.

The report published last week by the coalition of the royal medical colleges made it clear that children who are detained in immigration removal centres suffer from mental health problems and consider self-harm and occasionally even suicide. There can be no other area of law or public policy where the interests of the child lag so far behind considerations of administrative convenience or political expediency. When will the Government act to end this disgraceful practice?

Clearly, we do not wish to detain families with children where that is avoidable. However, detention is considered when a family has reached the end of the line—when appeals have been made and refused—and they are only detained for a matter of usually a few days immediately prior to a flight being taken. Let me point out that the report in question considered only 24 cases out of those of the 382 children who were in detention during the period of the report—fewer than 10 per cent. It did not take into account the views of the clinicians who worked with those children and who know them. There are many pressures on children, and it is not clear that those pressures and problems arise merely from detention.

The Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families recognises that this is a very difficult area, but the whole issue of people in prison and children in prison has not been wonderful under any Government of any party. Could we be more sensitive in the way we treat these children and ensure that they have the full package of support, even for a short time?

I can reassure my hon. Friend on two counts. First, children who are detained have a full package of support, including education and access to health care. Crucially, they are with their parents, from whom I would not want to see them separated. Secondly, my hon. Friend raises a wider point about how we deal with such children. We have a pilot running in Glasgow, with Glasgow city council and the Scottish Government, to try to find alternatives. That pilot follows on from one in Kent, and we believe that it is much better and might achieve better results.

This is not as small a problem as the Minister seems to be suggesting. It was revealed in parliamentary answers in June that 470 children, most of whom were under five, were in such detention. Contrary to the impression that the Minister has given, a third of them had been incarcerated for longer than a month. Does she accept that being locked up is traumatic for many young children and is likely to leave psychological scars? Does she accept that the practice of incarcerating children so young is in contravention of the UN convention on the rights of the child? Will she now agree with me—

I am not sure where to begin! Seriously, though, I must first correct the hon. Gentleman’s figures. Up to 30 September this year, 25 children were detained for seven days or less—in time for a flight—five were detained for eight to 14 days, and five were detained for 15 to 28 days. A further 10 were detained for 29 days but for less than two months, and none were detained for longer than that. That is an average of just under 16 days. This is always a difficult issue, but we are a Government who are not afraid to duck the tough challenges. [Interruption.] Indeed, we are not. It is important that children are not separated from their parents, and I am not sure what the alternative is. If a parent repeatedly refuses to go when their case reaches the end of the line, they have some responsibility. They are offered many packages, but some choose not to take them and are then detained. I would not want to see young children separated from their parents.

I am glad that the figures have been updated, but the figures that I quoted were from the Home Office. Why has the Home Office not learned lessons from Canada and Sweden, which have abolished the practice of holding children in custody while their parents await clarification of their status? Surely, any means other than custody of ensuring that those people do not abscond would be preferable—the tagging of adults, for example.

We go to great lengths to make sure that we do not detain children. It is only in extreme cases in which parents repeatedly refuse to leave of their own accord that we do so. It is important that the family are a united group at the point at which they are destined for removal. I repeat the simple but important point that I, as the Minister responsible, would not want to see young children separated from their parents.

DNA Database

I thank the Minister for that answer. Across the Thames Valley police area, DNA data for 10,500 under-18s, a good number of whom are children from my constituency, are held. I accept that it is useful to have a DNA database, but we need to be careful that we do not stigmatise children. What steps is he taking to remove the records of innocent children from the DNA database?

We are bringing forward proposals in the Crime and Security Bill to address the concerns of the European Court of Human Rights. We are introducing measures regarding children that we believe are more proportionate and that will meet the Court’s requirements, but it is important to recognise that the presence of the DNA of people who have been arrested but not convicted forms an important part of the DNA database, which helps to detect up to 40,000 crimes a year.

Last month, a black rock band from Brixton who were playing at The Oak public house in Burntwood, Staffordshire, were wrongfully arrested after their gig—vehicles, dogs and a helicopter were used—because of a false alarm with good intent. The chief constable of Staffordshire rightly withdrew their DNA samples because no offence had been committed. Is the Minister happy with the Association of Chief Police Officers’ guidelines, and is he confident that other police officers in other circumstances would be able to respond as rapidly and rightly as the chief constable did in that case?

We are looking at the guidance that is currently available, but as part of the Crime and Security Bill we are also bringing forward measures to make sure that the deletion of people from the database is put on a statutory footing for the first time, which will be an important step forward.

The proposals the Minister talks about are clearly designed to be the minimum change possible to avoid being declared in breach of the European Court of Human Rights again. Instead, the Minister could adopt the Scottish system, which allows records for the innocent to be kept normally for only three years. Will he admit not only that his proposals will continue to alienate respectable people from the police, but that crucially the Scottish system has a 16 per cent. higher success rate than his system in matching profiles from crime scenes to names on the database? It is not only fairer, but actually more effective in combating crime.

The Scottish model was not based on any research because none was available at the time. The hon. Gentleman talked about deletion after three years and used the word “normally”. In fact, it can be three years plus two years, plus two years ad infinitum. Thus, by comparison, that system could for some people be more draconian than our proposals. It is also based on keeping samples rather than profiles, which is one of the most significant criticisms that the European Court made.

Although undoubtedly there are arguments for what the Minister says, and the Home Affairs Committee recognises that, people have been arrested when there was no evidence against them and they feel there is a stain on their character. That should very much be borne in mind in this controversy.

That is why we are bringing forward statutory provisions in the Crime and Security Bill to make sure that when deletions are appropriate, they are made easier.

Police Services (Administrative Burden)

This issue is frequently discussed in meetings between Ministers and police organisations. It has also been recently addressed in the report by Jan Berry entitled “Reducing Bureaucracy in Policing”, published on 2 December 2009.

The Minister mentioned Jan Berry, the Government’s adviser on reducing police bureaucracy. She was recently asked whether the police were spending more time away from their desks. Her answer was:

“If you talk to police officers they would say it has remained the same or got slightly worse.”

Does the Minister agree?

We are trying to ensure that we reduce the amount of unnecessary paperwork that police officers do, and in fact it has fallen over the past five years. Jan Berry’s report, published just over 10 days ago, gave us 43 recommendations. We have accepted 13, we shall be looking at 22 with her over the next year and we are still examining a further eight. There is a lot of work to be done, but we are committed to reducing unnecessary bureaucracy.

The Minister talks about unnecessary bureaucracy. Surely part of the unnecessary bureaucracy has been processing reoffending criminals let out under the early release scheme. Has the Minister made an assessment of how much that has contributed to police bureaucracy?

The hon. Lady will know that there have been and continue to be pressures on the prison system. I was Prisons Minister at the time, and the early release scheme is a temporary measure, which is determined to ensure that we release individuals 18 days early. The reoffending rate on that is extremely low, but it obviously remains a matter of concern and is under review by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, and will be ended as soon as practicable.

Jan Berry also said that

“what gets counted gets done”,

referring to the Government’s fixation on targets. They have been promising to sort these things out since 2001. Why do they think it will be different now?

The hon. Gentleman should keep up. There is only one target on policing from the Government —the confidence target of 60 per cent. by 2012. We have improved from 45 to 50 per cent. over the past year and we are on target to reach it by 2012. I suggest the hon. Gentleman goes back to his constituency and looks up the facts in future.

If it appears that the administrative burdens of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 contributed in any way—however small—to the tragic death of four-year-old John Paul Massey in my constituency last month, will my right hon. Friend agree to review it? Will he also call for a detailed report from Merseyside police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are investigating the matter, so that we can fully understand how complaints made to the police were not followed through and the Government can respond where possible?

My right hon. Friend raises an extremely important issue. That was a tragic death. She will appreciate that there is an ongoing police investigation by Merseyside police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about what steps, if any, we need to take to ensure that we prevent such an incident from occurring again. We will certainly look at the lessons and make sure we do all we can to stop the use of dangerous dogs in this way.

Of the 33 recommendations made in the final Flanagan review to cut bureaucracy published in February 2008, only one has been implemented, according to Jan Berry. Can the Minister tell us why?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are working through a range of recommendations. If he looks at the stop and account forms, for example, he will find that we have saved 690,000 hours of police time on such stoppages. We have reduced or removed 27 of the 36 data streams from the Home Office. We are making real efforts to reduce police bureaucracy. Jan Berry accepted that in her recent report, and we will continue to do so. Every step we take reduces police time—for example, there are 6,000 more officers on the front line, whom we have been able to release just by tackling bureaucracy since 2003-04.

Student Visas

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the system for processing student visa applications. (306220)

Order. It might help if I point out that the grouping was of questions 5 and 6, but as I have just indicated, question 5 no longer applies.

The implementation of tier 4 of the points-based system took place on 31 March 2009, replacing the previous arrangements for overseas students to come to study in the UK. This ensures that only those colleges and schools which provide quality education and take responsibility for their students are licensed to bring in international students. We continuously monitor the systems, and where improvements can be made we will make them. The Prime Minister recently announced a review of certain elements of tier 4.

I thank the Minister for that response. Last month the Prime Minister gave his first speech on immigration for some 18 months. Having ignored the warnings about loopholes in the immigration and the visa systems for so long, why is he now rushing to implement a policy that will hurt legitimate language schools?

That is slightly unfair. The introduction of tier 4 was in part to clamp down on the area about which I know the hon. Gentleman had been concerned—the so-called bogus colleges. We estimate that about 2,000 of those shut down or ceased that part of their operations. In a cat and mouse game, in which we are dealing with attempts at illegal immigration, continuous review is sensible. On the language point, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider my letter to hon. Members which emphasises that we have issued a consultation to look at what can be done, not a set of definitive proposals, as he seems to fear.

I hope the Minister will not take any lessons from the Opposition, given their general approach to foreigners and immigrants to this country. It must be a good thing if foreigners come to Britain and then speak English with an English accent, not an American accent or some other sub-English accent. Our universities need foreign students, both for economic reasons and for Britain to have a spread in the world as those students go back to their own countries as graduates. I ask my right hon. Friend to err on the side of British universities in this sensitive case, rather than respond to the xenophobic fetishes of the Opposition.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The value to the United Kingdom of overseas students is very great indeed in cultural and economic terms. It is a question of getting the balance right. We have evidence of abuse under the old system and under the new system, but we are confident because the number of students coming to this country from overseas has increased and we have better controls over those visas.

The Minister will recall my championing last summer of the cause of two Patagonian women who wanted to come to Wales to brush up on their Welsh language skills. Both were turned down, but one came in on appeal. It emerged that these matters involve a 40-hour round trip from Patagonia to Buenos Aires and five weeks’ wait—and the whole thing then being processed from New York. Is it not possible to introduce a simpler and more sensitive means of dealing with such cases?

Only if the hon. Gentleman can guarantee me that in the case of somebody who gets a student visa but turns out not to be a student and abuses the system and overstays, he will not raise complaints. The two cases in question, which I personally looked at, were not compliant with the immigration rules, and no Government can ignore that fact.

The Minister will have seen the press reports at the weekend indicating that the student suspects in the Manchester terror investigation earlier this year had been cleared to work in the security industry. Does the Security Industry Authority carry out the same detailed background checks on all overseas applicants for work in the security industry as it does on all British applicants?

The hon. Gentleman returns to his theme of the security industry and immigration. I hope he will support the Government in our new procedures both for security industry regulation, which we introduced, and for tougher visa controls. The answer to his question is yes.

So the answer is yes. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the application form guidance notes for foreigners expressly state that they do not need to submit an application that has been countersigned by a reputable British referee—in contrast with the requirements for a British applicant?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to present a case that is simply not borne out by the facts. The fact is that there are immigration rules, and I again ask him to support our new border controls, because on that he continues to try to have his cake and eat it. Those are the ways in which we check the validity of people’s working rights in this country.

US-UK Extradition Treaty

8. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the operation of the provisions of the US-UK extradition treaty. (306222)

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer, but Gary McKinnon’s legal team has been forced to launch a fresh legal challenge in the High Court. The Home Secretary claims that his hands are tied, but many lawyers—including Lord Carlile, the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation—tell him differently. Why is he putting this grossly unbalanced immigration agreement with the US over and above the interests of a very vulnerable British citizen?

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the US-UK treaty. The only argument that I have heard about the treaty being imbalanced is that of probable cause versus reasonable suspicion. I have not heard expressed anywhere another argument about why it may be imbalanced. That was, indeed, the gist of the debate that took place in the House in 2003-04, when the issue was put before Members.

In the case of Gary McKinnon, the issue is completely and absolutely academic. There is no reasonable suspicion involved; there is no probable cause involved; and Gary McKinnon has admitted to many of the offences. The hon. Gentleman may have a question about Gary McKinnon, but it does not relate to the issue in his original question about an imbalance in the UK-US treaty.

In the latest edition of Vogue, Hilary Clinton describes our Foreign Secretary as

“vibrant, vital, attractive and smart.”

She has obviously not met the Home Secretary! Given that very close relationship between Britain and the United States, however, and given that the Home Secretary says he has no more legal powers to intervene, surely the best course of action is a diplomatic resolution to the problem. Will he talk to the Foreign Secretary so that he can talk to Hilary Clinton to see whether this matter can be resolved?

This matter can be resolved by ensuring that the treaty we have with the US is enforced. This matter can be resolved by upholding the law. The courts have decided and the prosecuting authorities have decided that Gary McKinnon is accused of very serious charges and should answer for them in the US. That is not the role of any politician or any judge; it is the role of the prosecuting authority. On 5 November in a debate in the other place, the ex-Law Lord Lord Justice Lloyd made it plain that that was absolutely right. The US authorities have given us a whole list of assurances that Gary McKinnon will get full treatment for his illness from the American authorities; indeed, a long list of the treatment that will be offered was quoted by Lord Justice Burnton in the High Court as being extremely impressive.

With the increase in cybercrime and the consequential complexities in international jurisdiction, what consideration has the Home Secretary given to cybercrimes committed and originated in the United Kingdom being appropriate for extradition?

I do not believe there is a case for looking at this in the context of a completely separate review of the treaty. We have a situation where a number of crimes are committed in the UK and we have another crime—a terrorist offence—committed against the US by someone in the UK, a British citizen, who did not leave this country at all. It is a question of what the prosecuting authorities decide in this case. Let me quote to the hon. Gentleman, because it is relevant to this issue, what Lord Justice Burnton said in the High Court in July about this particular offence. I think that it would apply to other offences where a crime is committed in another country over the internet. He said of Gary McKinnon:

“It is true that the Claimant’s offending conduct took place in this country. However, it was directed at the USA, and at computers in the USA; the information he accessed or could have accessed was US information; its confidentiality and sensitivity were American; and any damage that was inflicted was in the USA. The witnesses who can address the damage done by his offences are in America. Moreover, because the information was sensitive, it would be far more difficult for it to be put before a judge in this country than before a US judge”.

I believe that the legal profession is quite capable of deciding—to use the terminology—the forum in which any of these allegations should be prosecuted.

Early Intervention (Nottingham)

11. If he will visit Nottingham to discuss the effect on crime statistics of the city's early intervention programme. (306225)

The Government recognise the importance of early intervention, and I was therefore interested to hear about the good work being done in Nottingham when the Cabinet met there recently. I would be pleased to make a further visit and have also arranged to meet my hon. Friend on 16 December.

Does the Home Secretary agree that we are doing very well—I refer particularly to the crime and drugs partnership in Nottingham—on conventional crime, volume crime, and acquisitive crime which are amenable to better policing, CCTV, better locks and so on, but we still have to work very hard on violent crime, which is often produced by social inadequacy, poor parenting and traumatic experiences in childhood? Does he agree that that is exactly the sort of offending that is amenable to early intervention so that we can grow a generation of young people who are socially and emotionally capable and far less likely to commit violent crime?

I do agree with my hon. Friend; indeed, I pay tribute to the work that he has done with Members in all parts of the House on early intervention. In Nottingham, I saw for myself the family intervention programme working extremely well, and doing so because it takes an holistic approach to the underlying problems that are causing offending in the first place. It is not an easy option: there is a non-negotiable element that the parents of the children involved have to undergo. That is a very important element, and I have never seen it operating any better than in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

UK Border Agency

13. What mechanisms are in place at the UK Border Agency to ensure compliance with agreed internal processes and procedures for handling cases and contracts. (306227)

Processes for handling commercial contracts are ensured by contract approvals. The mechanisms are: up to £1 million, financial and procurement delegations; £1 million to £40 million, joint approval committee, which is a UKBA internal mechanism; and above £40 million, the group investment board of the Home Office. The level of governance is commensurate with the level of investment required.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. The reputation of the UKBA is very important to Croydon, where it is a major employer. How well do these procedures also apply to those who will investigate performance, and therefore might abrogate a contract, and to outside consultants who are assisting the UKBA?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I recognise the work that he does on behalf of the UKBA, which is an important part of his constituency. Contract compliance is ensured by the monitoring of the contract at a local level by the operational unit and the commercial team within the area, and of course all those contracts are subject to Treasury guidelines. On his point about the awarding of contracts, that is subject to the normal rules, and I am satisfied that we are compliant within the Croydon operation.

Police Counter-Terrorism Units

14. What assessment he has made of the performance of police regional counter-terrorism units against their objectives. (306228)

I receive regular assessments from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which has concluded that the network of regional police counter-terrorism units and counter-terrorism intelligence units means that a well-located, operational platform now exists for targeting the top national priorities in terrorist investigations.

I am most grateful to the Minister, but there are only four counter-terrorism units up and running, and another four counter-terrorism intelligence units, which are minor organisations. What plans do the Government have to expand those minor units into fully fledged ones?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have increased the number of police officers involved in counter-terrorism by 70 per cent. over the past four or five years. Only two weeks ago, I indicated that we would invest about £579 million in 2010-11 in developing the counter-terrorism network still further. We want to do that because of the serious threat, and we are committed to that £579 million for next year but must look beyond that in the comprehensive spending review. The key point is that this is a priority for Government.

North Yorkshire Police

15. What plans he has for the future funding of North Yorkshire police; and if he will make a statement. (306229)

The recent pre-Budget report confirmed that sufficient funding will be available in the years to 2012-13 to enable police authorities to maintain current numbers of warranted police officers and police community support officers.

There has been a general drift towards increasing the number of community support officers as opposed to regular police officers. Although they perform a welcome role, they do not have the same powers as regular police officers, including the power to arrest. In the streets and rural areas of the Vale of York, we have seen an increase in antisocial behaviour. Will the Government now confirm that rather than pump-priming, they will ensure a regular supply of funding for community support and regular police officers in the Vale of York?

The priority, as set out in the pre-Budget report, is to ensure that police authorities have the resources for front-line officers, whether they are warranted officers or PCSOs. It is up to chief constables and police authorities to make best use of that funding, because they decide on operational matters.

Domestic Violence Advisers

16. How much funding his Department has allocated for independent domestic violence advisers in the next 12 months. (306230)

This year’s funding has already been allocated, and a further £4 million will be available in 2010-11 for IDVAs and multi-agency risk assessment conferences.

I thank the Minister for that rather woolly reply. May I draw his attention to the fact that in Greater Manchester, the number of recorded incidents of domestic violence has risen from 56,000 to 64,000 in three years, but only one in eight results in an arrest? Bearing in mind that the perpetrators are always known, does he believe that that record is satisfactory? Will he now give more support to the vulnerable victims of domestic violence in Greater Manchester and elsewhere?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the recently announced strategy for ending violence against women and girls is anything but woolly. So is the £13 million that will support services. At a time of financial constraint, it indicates the Government’s priority on these matters. He will know that local agencies also need to address the matter as their priority, because it is they that bring the most resources to the table.

Police Numbers

18. How many front-line police officers there were in England (a) in 1997 and (b) at the latest date for which figures are available. (306232)

In March 2009, 125,891 police officers, 87 per cent. of total strength, were deployed to operational roles in England and Wales. Improvements in how forces match work force resources to demand from the public across the range of force functions will further improve responsiveness, public confidence and value for money.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and credit where credit is due, the Government have kept their promise and put more police on the streets, which was very necessary. Will they consider special constables specifically? They do a wonderful job in Essex, as I am sure they do in other constabularies. Will the Government have a drive to get more special constables?

Indeed, the hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point. We will have a special constables promotion weekend to celebrate that very shortly, and one thing I have done is write to all hon. Members to ask them to participate. I am also—this comes from the White Paper—looking at how we can deploy special constables to help with deployment issues, so that we get full-time officers working on other areas, where their skills are more needed. The hon. Gentleman’s point is very important and one that I support.

Policing and Crime Act (Section 14)

20. What plans he has to publicise the change in the law contained in section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009. (306234)

The Home Office’s “Tackling the Demand for Prostitution: A Review” document recommends a campaign aimed specifically at sex buyers to raise awareness about trafficking for sexual exploitation. We are currently considering how a campaign can be used to highlight the change in the law and its effects.

We are also updating the Home Office circular on policing prostitution and work with other criminal justice agencies. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), who has responsibility for crime reduction, wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on 11 December to outline this matter in detail.

I thank the Department for that letter, but one thing that shocked me when I launched some research was how few men had ever been arrested for soliciting. One hundred and three men who had paid for sex were interviewed, but only 5 per cent. had been arrested, meaning only five or six men. The risk with the new offence is that men do not think they are going to be successfully prosecuted. Can the Minister promise me that the prosecution and publicity strategies will go hand in hand, so that men who pay for sex from exploited women know that they risk getting a criminal record?

Absolutely—my hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point and was instrumental in bringing that legislation forward. It is absolutely vital that we ensure both that prosecutions take place and that the legislation has a deterrent effect. We are now looking, with colleagues such as those in the POPPY project, representatives of which met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, to look at how we can promote the issue early in the new year, to ensure that we do what we are trying to do, which is reduce prostitution and soliciting on the streets of the United Kingdom.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on her relentless campaign to ensure that section 14 got on to the statute book. May I make a suggestion to the Home Secretary? One of the best ways of discovering trafficked women would be to have another Pentameter operation. Pentameter 1 and 2 were very successful—the latter involved 830 actual arrests. Is he considering a Pentameter 3, which would involve all police forces in a campaign to outlaw the trafficking of women?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of the participation of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough in bringing that law to fruition and the importance that we give to how it is implemented and examined. We are certainly considering the hon. Gentleman’s suggestions, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is looking into these matters.

Police Numbers (Northamptonshire)

21. How many police officers there are per 100,000 population in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England. (306235)

The Minister has already made it clear that Northamptonshire is under-served by police officers compared with the national average. What makes that worse is that only 10 per cent. of police officers’ time in Northamptonshire is served on the beat. Have not this Government completely failed in getting police officers on the beat in Northamptonshire?

Those officers who are on the beat seem to have reduced overall crime by 19 per cent. over the past five years, so whatever they are doing, they are doing something right. I do not recognise the figures the hon. Gentleman used. On the earlier bureaucracy question, we said that only 20 per cent. of time is spent on paperwork. Sometimes paperwork is important, because it leads to convictions and reduces crime still further.

Police Services (Administrative Burden)

I am grateful to the Minister for referring to his earlier answer. He will recall—after he has checked his notes—that in his earlier reply, he referred to a report published by the Home Office on 2 December. That report mentions that the 27,000 portable hand-held computers given to officers are ineffective because they lack the proper programs. Does he agree that it is bad enough that officers have excessive bureaucracy, but worse still that the equipment they have to deal with it does not work?

As I said, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier. We are very concerned about bureaucracy, and he will know that £80 million of taxpayers’ money has been invested in hand-held devices, reducing bureaucracy by some 30 minutes per officer per shift, by taking them away from paperwork and putting them back on the front line. That is an investment to which this Government have been committed, and—if I can be political—it is one of those investments that the Opposition may find it necessary to cut.

Given that complaints against the police often lead to a considerable amount of administration and given that what complainants often want is simply a better service from their local police, will my right hon. Friend consider giving the Independent Police Complaints Commission a remit to improve services in addition to its current responsibilities for complaints?

In the White Paper published two weeks ago, we proposed additional responsibilities for the IPCC. We have also ensured that we strengthen the role of police authorities. One of the key issues is to remove direct elections, which the Opposition favour, and strengthen local democracy through police authorities, which the Government favour. Those are key issues in improving the redress that citizens have when police systems, sadly and occasionally, fail.

Student Visas

25. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the system for processing student visa applications. (306239)

I am not sure that the Minister fully answered the earlier question, watching as I was on the screen in my office, about referees being confirmed as British and suitable for purpose. Will he now answer that question?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for asking the same question as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). When the right hon. Gentleman gets to his office tomorrow, he can read the reply in Hansard. The serious point, of course, is that there are different strategies for checking on the eligibility and suitability of those people. This question has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that is why we have re-examined the system to ensure that it is robust.

Topical Questions

The Home Office puts public protection at the heart of its work. The pre-Budget report provided good news for the police, recognising their importance to the public and to the Government in delivering safe and secure communities.

Two new groups of street pastors have recently started operating in Caldicot near Newport in my constituency. They are doing a fantastic job helping young people who get into difficulties on nights out, especially in the run-up to Christmas. Does the Home Secretary agree that that is an excellent volunteering initiative and that street pastors offer reassurance and help the police to tackle antisocial behaviour in the night-time economy?

I do agree: street pastors are a crucial part of the community effort in many parts of the country, including Newport, to make our streets safer, especially on busy evenings such as Friday and Saturday. I have met street pastors myself in various locations and my hon. Friend does a service to her area by raising their profile and raising this issue in Parliament. They deserve widespread praise.

T3. The Home Affairs Committee was told that there were no plain-clothes officers deployed at the G20 protests, but we now know that there were at least 25. Does the Home Secretary agree that we need guidelines setting out the roles and responsibilities of plain-clothes officers when they are policing public protests? (306242)

The House will be aware that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary did a very important report on this issue, which was widely welcomed. In fact, I cannot think of a single area in which it was not given a warm welcome. We have carried over those recommendations quickly into the White Paper, and we will implement that in relation to how we police protests, including how plain-clothes police officers react.

I recently wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) about the case of one of my constituents who was unfortunately burgled and was surprised that the burglars focused almost completely on taking jewellery and other gold. He believes, as do I, that this may have been prompted by the burgeoning of cash-for-gold adverts on our television screens and in our newspapers, often with no identification required to obtain money in exchange for gold. My hon. Friend helpfully replied that he was carrying out a review in this area. May I encourage him to involve trading standards officers in that work and to consider legislation as quickly as possible, perhaps even in the Crime and Security Bill?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this important matter. We are concerned about burglary, particularly in these difficult economic times. We are considering the issue and we would envisage involving trading standards, even though staff are already working hard. If legislation is necessary, we will legislate.

T4. A recent audit report on the UK Border Agency refers to £9.6 million that was incorrectly paid out for asylum applicants following a data management failure, and £1.4 million paid to landlords for properties that subsequently turned out to be empty. Will one of the Ministers tell us whether anyone was prosecuted for that, and may we have a fuller explanation than the two sentences in the report? (306243)

I am of course familiar with the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The asylum support system involves more than £100 million of public expenditure—a figure drastically reduced from previous years, as we get in control of the system. The housing element of that is subject to the difficulties, which he will recognise as a constituency Member of Parliament, in the private housing market. That is why we have taken the report so seriously and made improvements.

T2. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the lessons of the Cardiff violence reduction project, led by Professor Jonathan Shepherd, were rolled out across the country, that would not only help the police and reduce the number of victims, but make a considerable financial contribution to the national health service? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that the key lesson is not only that of partnership, but that of taking a clinical and scientific approach to understanding why bad things happen? (306241)

My right hon. Friend has made a huge contribution to tackling crime in this country, both in opposition and in his early days as a Home Office Minister of State. He could make no bigger contribution than through the work he has done with Professor Jonathan Shepherd in Cardiff—the results are truly remarkable, and it is now in the operating framework of the NHS to comply with this. I see no argument for a local hospital not submitting data to the police service, given that this is not only important in tackling crime, but crucial, as my right hon. Friend says, in reducing costs to the NHS. This is a win-win situation, which is why the Cardiff model, including the use of polycarbonate glasses, is now being used right around the country.

T6. Estimates are that we have 2,000 irregular migrants in Croydon—a number that might increase as a result of the closure of the Liverpool walk-in asylum centre, given that Croydon is now the only inland asylum centre. How many more irregular migrants will there be in Croydon as a result of that change, and specifically, how many unaccompanied asylum seeker minors? That will lead to extra pressures on public finances. (306245)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the continuing dialogue we are having on that important issue, which comes about, as he knows, as a result of the improvements and changes we made in Liverpool to ensure that further representations need a face-to-face interview. The overall picture is good, because the numbers are coming down. I cannot answer him specifically—of course, time will tell—but we have been in constant contact with his local authority since the announcement was made.

T5. Following on from the strategy that was recently announced to tackle violence against women and girls, which will include some reforms to the criminal justice system, what plans does the Secretary of State have to make comparable reforms to the asylum system in relation to women and girls who have suffered similar forms of violence in their countries of origin? (306244)

That issue was raised during our very wide consultation on violence against women and girls. The publication of our strategy is not the end of the issue; in fact, it is the beginning. We have looked at taking out certain strands, including the issue my hon. Friend mentions, getting much more information on it and tackling it as part of the ongoing strategy.

T7. Following the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s helpful interview recently, will the Home Secretary confirm that the identity card scheme is going to be scrapped? (306246)

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making it absolutely clear that the ID card will be voluntary. The ID card will be of benefit to people in Manchester and the north-west, and more and more people are seeking to have one. I have one myself—in case nobody in here knows who I am—which I can show the right hon. Gentleman afterwards. Tomorrow we will be making a further launch in Blackburn, to great public enthusiasm.

T10. What is the problem with extraditing to the United States Nosratollah Tajik, the Iranian whom the Americans want under our wonderful extradition treaty? Is it not a fact that there are many people in London, including those in our security and intelligence services, and the banking and financial sector, who do not want him to go to the United States? How is it right to extradite Gary McKinnon and not this fella? (306249)

The issue regarding extradition begins with the courts. It is the courts that decide: the district court, the High Court, the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights, all of which have been open—and are still open—to Gary McKinnon. When the courts make a decision on the forum—the place in which that gentleman should be tried—the process kicks into action.

Will the Home Secretary look at the number and depth of inspections of county constabularies, not least because they impose a huge burden on resources and manpower, and divert time, energy and police officers away from front-line policing?

I will consider what the hon. Lady has said, but the role that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary plays in inspecting police forces around the country is important, as we found out recently with one particular police force where the public had huge concerns. HMIC’s role is to ensure that it can assist police forces in reaching the level of the best. There is always a case for keeping such burdens to an absolute minimum and ensuring the right balance, which we will look at as part of our constant war against bureaucracy in the police force.

Will the Home Secretary guarantee that the new chairperson of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will be someone of genuine scientific independence who will challenge the evidence-free policies pursued by all Governments since 1971, which have resulted in Britain having the worst drug problems in Europe?

I will of course ensure that the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has those attributes. Indeed, we have agreed to a member of the advisory council being part of the interviewing panel for the new chairman.

T8. Does the Minister not agree that the number of speed cameras in Norfolk should be increased to a level that would allow more of my constituents to benefit from the Norfolk safety camera partnership? (306247)

It is good to hear someone speaking up for speed cameras; indeed, I am delighted. The issue is of course an operational matter for Norfolk police, which I am absolutely sure will be aware of the hon. Lady’s intervention. I, for one, am a big fan of speed cameras.

The number of procedures under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 continues to rise, with 4 million sentient beings the target that we see each year. Is the Home Secretary happy with the effectiveness of the legislation? The policy of reduction, refinement and replacement is clearly not working. What alternatives might there be?

We have a policy of reduction and ensuring that we do not license unnecessary animal procedures. We do not have an upper cap on such procedures, however, and it is important that each application is considered in the proper way on the science available.

When the Home Secretary dismissed David Nutt, the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, two other independent scientific advisers resigned. When the Home Secretary said that he had no regrets, three others resigned. Is he still of the view that he would do the same thing now, given the outcry from independent scientists, if the circumstances were the same?

I would absolutely do the same thing. The Select Committee on Science and Technology, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who is the hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friend, has done us all a service by not concentrating on the past, as he continually does, but by looking to the future, particularly in relation to the contribution made by Lord Rees from the other place.

I had a very useful meeting with the Immigration Minister earlier this summer to discuss my concerns about the administration of the visa system in Pakistan. I wonder whether he can now reassure the House that the administration of visas in that post is up to speed, satisfactory and being carried out with integrity.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising those issues as she did; they were important to the process. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited Islamabad and gave assurances, which we have now met. There is some work remaining to be done on appeals, where the appeals have been won and the visas have to be issued and we have to contact the individuals concerned, but we are now on top of that situation.

The Home Secretary referred earlier to the HMIC report “Adapting to Protest”, and its relationship to the White Paper. What are the Government intending to do about an HMIC recommendation that has not been carried forward into the White Paper—namely, that the position and status of

“the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) must have transparent governance and accountability structures, particularly when it is engaged in quasi-operational roles, such as the collation and retention of personal data”?

Of course, that is a matter not just for us but for ACPO itself. The new chairman of ACPO is keen to look at how the association can be changed. He has a number of ideas, and it is right that we take that recommendation from HMIC forward in discussions with ACPO. That it not to say that it has been shelved; it is being progressed, but in a different way from the other recommendations that were placed in the White Paper.

The Office for National Statistics projects that, unless immigration is brought into balance with emigration, it will be impossible to keep the UK’s population below 70 million. Is the Home Secretary concerned about that? If so, what is he going to do about it?

I have made it absolutely plain that I do not believe that we will get to 70 million. The projections from the ONS do not take into account the changes over the past few years, and it would be a big mistake to think that the next 10 years are going to be like the previous 10 years in relation to movements around the world, in relation to the conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Indeed, I think that those projections will change over time, as previous projections have done.