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Home Department

Volume 512: debated on Monday 28 June 2010

The Secretary of State was asked—

Drugs

1. What recent assessment she has made of the level of problem drug use in this country compared to other EU member states. (4219)

The most recent estimate of problem drug users for England is 328,767 for 2006-07. Estimates for 2008-09 will be available in October. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction estimates show the UK with the highest rate, although there is no consistent methodology for calculating estimates across different countries, which prevents direct comparisons. Nevertheless, that level of problem drug use is unacceptable. The Government are committed to tackling it and rebalancing the treatment system so that abstinence is the clear goal.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer, but does she agree that one of the biggest problems at the moment is the availability of so-called legal highs? Does she agree that the previous Government were slow to address the issue, and can she assure the House—and especially the families in my constituency who have young people going off to university for the first time this autumn—that she will take action to protect people from such substances?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She has made an extremely valid point on an issue that will concern a large number of parents and others. She is right to say that the previous Government were slow to deal with the issue of legal highs, particularly mephedrone. It was only pushing from our party while in opposition that led them to do something about it, and we are committed to introducing a temporary ban on legal highs.

The United Kingdom has the harshest drug laws in Europe and the highest number of addicts. Portugal has the least harsh policies in all of Europe and the smallest number of addicts. Why is this?

The hon. Gentleman has been a long-standing campaigner on the issue of drugs. As it happens, he and I take a different view on how we should approach the issue. What we need to be doing in this country is looking at making abstinence much more of a goal for individuals and looking seriously at ensuring that the treatment and rehabilitation provided to drug addicts mean that they do not simply go back on drugs in future.

Defendant Anonymity (Rape Trials)

2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the effects on police investigations of plans to give anonymity to defendants in rape trials; and if she will make a statement. (4220)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has had a number of discussions on this issue with her cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Justice. We have made it clear that we will progress our commitment on this subject with the care that it merits. Our consideration of the options will of course include a full examination of any impact on police investigations.

The Minister will know that this issue has been brought up time and again in the Chamber. We have had a confusing and mixed set of responses from the various Ministers who have answered. Could she now confirm whether it is the Government’s intention to bring forward legislation to give anonymity to rape defendants, and if so, what is the timetable for that, and on what basis have they made that decision?

There have been a number of discussions, as I just said, and the Prime Minister himself has said that the issue will be brought forward for debate in this Chamber at an appropriate point.

I would be interested at some stage to learn the Home Secretary’s views on the issue, because it is a crucial one both for the Home Department and for equalities. The Lord Chancellor told the House the other day that he had voted for anonymity in 2003. I voted against it, and that is still my view, but at some stage I would like to know the Home Secretary’s view.

As for the Minister, she will know that the Prime Minister recently told the House when he replied to a question on the issue that Baroness Stern had

“found that 8 to 10% of reported rape cases could result in false allegations.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 329.]

The Minister should know that the Stern report made no such finding and that what Baroness Stern recommended was independent research to study the frequency of false allegations of rape compared with other offences. Does the Minister agree that the Government ought to be implementing that recommendation, instead of proposing to introduce anonymity?

In the first instance, I am sure that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Justice will indeed look at what sort of research is necessary, prior to bringing any debate to the House.

I was slightly taken aback by the hon. Lady’s “Oh, we’re going to look at the research before we do this”, given that, up until now, it seems there has been a failure to talk to those tasked with implementing the policy. Has she or any of her colleagues spoken to the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on rape about the policy, and what has his response been?

I have not spoken to the ACPO lead on the issue, but I will refer that question to the Secretary of State for Justice, who may well have done so.

Domestic Violence

3. How she plans to take forward the conclusions of the work of the “Together we can end violence against women and girls” strategy consultation on domestic violence. (4221)

Violence against women and girls ruins lives and destroys families, and its impact is felt down the generations. A cross-government strategy is the best way to address domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. In July, the Home Secretary will chair a meeting of Ministers across government that will be dedicated to this issue, and we look forward to discussing how we will take forward our approach in this area.

I am a supporter of the Cassandra learning centre, which is an organisation in my community that works on these issues. It was set up by the family of a victim whose killer was one of the first to be retried and sentenced following the revision of the rules on double jeopardy. What funding do the Government intend to make available to such third sector organisations working in this field and, importantly, will that funding be ring-fenced, given last week’s Budget?

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this area. The coalition Government have committed to look at how we can provide sustainable funding for, and support the development of, new rape crisis centres to provide for victims. At the moment, in the voluntary sector, this provision has been very ad hoc and serendipitous, and it is important to get it on a stable basis.

I can really only refer to the rape crisis centres—both parties in the coalition agreement have committed to up to 15 rape crisis centres—and sustainable funding from the victim surcharge.

According to the British crime survey, the incidence of domestic violence has decreased by 64 % since 1997. Does the Minister agree that the British crime survey is the best measurement of long-term crime trends?

The British crime survey is a good source of information, but I will refer this matter back and the Minister will write.

Detention (Terrorist Suspects)

4. Whether she plans to renew the legislation which permits terrorist suspects to be detained for 28 days without charge. (4222)

6. Whether she plans to renew the legislation which permits terrorist suspects to be detained for 28 days without charge. (4224)

The Government laid an order last Thursday to renew the existing 28-day maximum period for pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects for six months, while we conduct a review of counter-terrorism measures and programmes, including pre-charge detention. Both coalition parties are clear that the 28-day period should be a temporary measure, and one that we shall be looking to reduce over time.

I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. We are, of course, all committed to safeguarding Britain against terrorist activities. How many people have been detained for 28 days under these powers in the past three years?

I am sure that my hon. Friend has followed the old adage about not asking a question to which one does not know the answer. The answer is that, since 2007, no one has been detained for 28 days. Before that date, a number of people were detained for periods of between 14 and 28 days. As I made clear in my opening answer, we see the 28-day period as a temporary measure, and we are committed to reducing it over time.

I, too, thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Will she give the House an undertaking that the deferral of the decision on 28 days does not indicate any weakening of her determination to constrain not only the excessive length of detention without charge but the other excesses introduced by the Labour Government—namely, house arrest, internal exile, secret trials and all the other issues associated with control orders?

Of course, my right hon. Friend has a distinguished record of fighting for these civil liberties issues. I can assure him that one of the key reasons for introducing the 28-days order for six months was that it would enable us to look at the pre-charge detention period alongside a number of other issues relating to counter-terrorism legislation that we wish to consider. These include control orders, and stop-and-search procedures under section 44. We want to review the various measures and look at them in the round.

As one who proposed the period of 28 days, may I remind the Home Secretary that it was the alternative to 90 days or 42 days? If it were possible, despite the acute terrorist danger, for the 28 days to be reduced to 14 days, I would certainly be very happy.

I commend the hon. Gentleman on the campaign in which he, too, participated in the Chamber to ensure that his party’s Government did not introduce the 90 days or the 42 days, which we collectively opposed at the time when they were proposed. We consider 28 days to be a temporary measure. We will look at the issue in the round, in the context of other counter-terrorism measures introduced by the last Labour Government and the requirement to balance civil liberties with the need for national security.

We have had to take a number of measures which have not always involved easy decisions, such as the 28 days’ detention. The right hon. Lady said after she had had assumed her post that she would review control orders. Has she reached a view, and if so, when will she inform us of it? If we could charge people through the courts we would all want to do so, but it is not always possible.

In my answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), I cited control orders as one of the items in counter-terrorism legislation that we were currently reviewing.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the time when it was possible to exclude people from this country on the basis that their presence was not conducive to the public good? Is not our current dilemma about putting people under restraint for a period of days due to the fact that we are no longer able to deport people who have no legal right to be here because of legislation initiated either at home or abroad? What is the state of that legislation, and when will we be able to get rid of people who should not have been here in the first place?

My hon. Friend has raised a number of points, and I shall try to limit my answer for brevity’s sake. Let me simply say that I share his concern about the country’s inability to deport people who, in some cases, have been identified clearly as a terrorist threat to the country and a danger to national security. We are looking at the issue, but obviously we must ensure that, whatever we do, we take our national security and the protection of British citizens into account.

Given that terrorism is not a temporary aberration, what more permanent measures has the Home Secretary in mind for the purpose of countering terrorism across the United Kingdom? In particular, will the Government make good their pre-election commitment to ensure that automatic number plate recognition systems are available in Northern Ireland, especially in the border area, to prevent terrorists from moving across our border?

The hon. Gentleman has asked a very specific question about automatic number plate recognition. As he and other Members may know, the issue has come to the fore in a rather different context in England recently in relation to its use in Birmingham. We will be considering it as one of the various measures that we are considering in connection with CCTV.

Community Protection Officers (Nottingham)

I understand that there are 102 community protection officers in the city of Nottingham. Nottingham also has 30 auxiliary officers, funded through the working neighbourhood fund, who work with the community protection officers. Those officers work in close partnership with neighbourhood policing teams in the city.

Will the Minister congratulate the city of Nottingham division of the police—and, indeed, police community support officers and community protection officers—on the massive reduction in crime in the city? Will he emphasise that that is because people trust the uniformed presence that they have seen on the streets in the last five or six years, and will he ensure that that level of uniformed protection remains in future years under this coalition Government?

I recognise the role that community protection officers play in Nottingham as part of the wider policing family, alongside PCSOs and police officers. The Government have had to reduce national allocations in order to reduce the budget deficit, but we have also relaxed ring-fencing to give the city council and its partners freedom to determine their priorities in order to meet local needs and provide local opportunities.

Milngavie Waterworks

7. What representations she has received from Scottish Water on removal of the security fences at Milngavie waterworks. (4225)

No representations have been received from Scottish Water, but I am aware of the hon. Lady’s interest and of discussions that have taken place between Scottish Water, the Scottish Government and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure about the replacement of security fencing with less intrusive measures.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but these so-called security fences around Milngavie reservoir cover only a tiny part of the three-mile perimeter, and as the rest is completely open to the public they serve no practical purpose other than being an eyesore spoiling a beautiful and popular local attraction. Scottish Water has said that it is waiting on a new directive from the Home Office before it can remove these fences, so can the Minister look at this issue again and ensure that that directive is issued without delay?

I know that the hon. Lady has run the campaign, and I understand her interest in ensuring access to the area around the reservoir. We will discuss with the Scottish Government the application that I understand they have received from Scottish Water in relation to this issue. The continuing need for the security fences will be looked at in the light of CPNI advice and any other alternative measures that may be forthcoming.

Administration (Police Time)

8. What recent representations she has received on the amount of time spent on administrative tasks by police officers each year. (4226)

15. What recent representations she has received on the amount of time spent on administrative tasks by police officers each year. (4233)

When I have spoken to police officers, they have asked us to help to free them up to do the job they are paid to do. I am committed to returning common sense to policing, which means getting officers back out on the streets dealing with crime, not sitting behind desks filling out forms to meet Government targets.

I thank the Minister for his answer. When I was recently on patrol with the Kent police in Folkestone in my constituency, they shared with me their concerns about the large amount of paperwork that goes to support front-line policing. Does the Minister agree that the priorities for the policing budget should be to support front-line police work in the community, not excessive bureaucracy?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Every Labour Home Secretary promised to cut bureaucracy, but the police still spend more time on paperwork than on patrol. We are determined to make a real difference by dealing with the central targets that bedevil policing and doing all we can to protect the front line.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that by freeing up police officers to spend more time on patrol, we will not only aid crime prevention but make the public feel much safer?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. What the public want to see is police officers out on the beat. They do not want them to be tied up with unnecessary paperwork. That is why we are so determined to deal with the performance management framework and the targets that have prevented them from doing the job they want to do.

I welcome the Minister for Police to his first Home Office questions. What he has said is absolutely in agreement with the recommendation of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is that we should get police officers out on the beat. Will he therefore accept the other recommendation, which is that there should be full investment in new technology, giving police officers hand-held computers so they can spend more time on the beat than in police stations? Will he defend that part of the Home Office budget against any Treasury cuts?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind introduction. I recognise the importance of technology in assisting the process of reducing bureaucracy, such as in our commitment to scrap the stop form, which is an unnecessary and bureaucratic impediment to common-sense policing. There is a role for technology such as hand-held computers in recording stops and searches in accordance with the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestions.

Does the Minister agree with me, however, that there are some administrative tasks that are worth performing, such as the judging of the Best Bar None competition in my constituency, which was awarded to The Woodman pub in Carshalton?

If my hon. Friend were to invite me, I would be delighted to attend the pub with him so I may judge the best performance for myself.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position, but I might just advise him that we did actually stop the stop form in the Crime and Security Act 2010—but I will let that pass. Will the right hon. Gentleman today tell the House how much money he expects to save by tackling police bureaucracy over the next three years? Does he understand that, however much he saves, it will be nowhere near enough to compensate for the 25% cut he is planning in the Home Office budget, which will remove 35,000 police officers and 4,000 PCSOs from the beat? How does he expect that to help to fight, and reduce, crime in Britain?

Once again, we see absolutely no understanding from the Opposition about the fiscal position we have inherited from them. The fact is that their Government left us with an unspecified cut of £44 billion to find across Government Departments. They would not say where that money was to be found, so we have to make the savings. I believe that police forces can do it, and we are also determined to protect the front line.

Police (Terms and Conditions)

9. When her Department plans to undertake its review of the terms and conditions of police officer employment. (4227)

The Government have announced a review of the remuneration and conditions of service of police officers and staff. We will provide information about the review, including timing, shortly.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Although I welcome the Government’s decision to honour the third year of the police pay award, does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has now come to review police pay and conditions, and to ensure a more flexible work force who are not so dependent on extensive and expensive overtime?

My hon. Friend is right. The previous Government conceded that more than £70 million a year was being wasted on police overtime. We need to look at that and it is one of the things that the review will do. We have, however, stood by the third year of the police pay award, as my hon. Friend suggested, which indicates our good faith towards the process and the value we place on the police service.

Could the Minister for Police, whom I welcome to his departmental responsibilities, kill two Lib-Con birds with one stone—namely, reduce the £400 million in overtime and bring public sector pay under control by saying that every hour of overtime authorised by a chief constable or a senior police officer will be deducted from their own pay?

The right hon. Gentleman may be offering himself as a candidate to serve on the pay review that we are proposing. Perhaps I should have a discussion with him about that. We have to strike a balance. Many chief constables believe overtime is an important management tool, but we are concerned about the extent of its use. That is exactly the kind of thing the pay review will have to look at.

Asylum Cases (Backlog)

10. What recent progress the UK Border Agency has made on processing the backlog of outstanding asylum cases. (4228)

Under the previous Government, the chief executive of the UK Border Agency wrote to the Home Affairs Select Committee periodically to update it on this issue. However, in the interests of transparency, I am happy to update right hon. and hon. Members in the House today. Until the end of May 2010 the UK Border Agency had concluded 277,000 cases.

I thank the Minister for that answer. As he is aware, Yarl’s Wood family detention centre is located outside Bedford. Does he agree that the Government’s determination to end the detention of children for asylum purposes will be most welcome to people as a measure of fairness? It will be regarded as something that is long overdue and that shamefully eluded the previous Government.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, which I regard as important. In a spirit of non-partisanship, I think it is regarded as important on both sides of the House. When we held a Westminster Hall debate on the subject last week, I was struck by the fact that there was universal approval of the new Government’s desire to end the detention of children—although the point was made that it might have been the last time as Minister for Immigration that I ever got universal approval for anything. However, we should welcome such steps forward while we have them.

I sincerely welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box, and I wish him all the best in a very difficult job.

In the light of the Minister’s answer about the backlog, I was pleased to see recognition of the UK Border Agency’s success but will he confirm the reasons behind the answer to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), at column 143W, on 22 June, about the dropping of the language requirement for dependants of people who successfully apply for asylum? What was his rationale?

The rationale, as with all our proposals on language, is that those who wish to come to this country need to be able to play a full role in its life. If as many people as possible who live and settle in this country are able to speak English, they will lead more fulfilled lives and be able to integrate better in our communities. That would be extremely helpful.

Asylum Applications

11. How many asylum applications were made by individuals who had passed through another safe country to get to the UK in the most recent year for which figures are available. (4229)

In 2009, 2,665 cases were positively identified as having travelled through another EU member state that is considered safe under schedule 3 to the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004.

What do we do with those people? Surely we should not be giving asylum to people who come to this country via another safe country. Yes, let us give asylum to people who are genuinely fleeing persecution, but not to tourists.

I rather agree with my hon. Friend, who will know that, under the previous Government, one of the many shambles in the immigration and asylum system was the problem of being able to remove people to safe countries. We will try to do better. The Dublin regulation, which is the system under which we do this, is working—in 2009, the UK removed 625 more cases than we accepted—but it is not working well enough. [Interruption.] If former Ministers on the Opposition Front Bench can contain themselves, I shall give the reason: we must do better at returning cases to specific EU countries. We are doing better with Italy. The next case that we really need to get to grips with is Greece, but the Government are determined to do this.

Is the Minister aware of the great difficulties many of my constituents face when lodging an asylum claim? They have to travel to the UK Border Agency in Croydon to lodge claims for initial screening, and the full cost of that must be met by the individual concerned. Will the Minister look again at that system and consider any review that can make it fairer, so that constituents in the north-east do not need to travel to London?

It is perhaps a shame that the hon. Lady has launched an attack on a change made by her own Government in their last 12 months in office. I can see some logic in why Ministers in the previous Government made the change that she objects to: by and large, people who claim asylum should claim it as soon as they get to this country. That is one area where there is not much difference between those who sit on the Front Benches. So I am afraid that I will have to ignore her plea to change the system to make it easy for people who may have been here for many months or, in some cases, many years to claim asylum. Asylum is meant for people who come to this country as genuine refugees.

National DNA Database

12. What progress she has made reviewing the retention on the national DNA database of records of those who have been neither charged nor convicted of a crime. (4230)

The Government are committed to adopting the protections of the Scottish model for retaining the DNA profiles of those who have not been convicted of an offence. We will introduce our detailed proposals shortly.

Is the Minister aware that the previous Government failed to ensure that all prisoners were on the DNA database? Can he reassure the House that steps are being taken to fix that problem?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Despite their desire to retain DNA profiles indefinitely, the then Government did not focus on getting those who were convicted, possibly of serious offences, on to the database to ensure that it was effective in fighting crime. That is certainly something that we are looking at very closely in terms of the proposals that we will introduce in the House in due course.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post. Why does he believe that the Scottish police support the current English model, rather than the Scottish model, for DNA retention? Is that because the English model is based on evidence, whereas the Scottish model is not?

The hon. Gentleman makes quite an interesting point. As I understand what he said, he now seems to be arguing for the indefinite retention of DNA, which has been found to be not acceptable and not proportionate. He says in some way that there is no evidence, but I remind him of the comment made in the other place by Lord Bach, who highlighted very clearly the report that Professor Fraser undertook in relation to the Scottish system in which he said that he did not uncover any evidence to suggest that the Scottish approach to retention had caused any detriment to the detection of serious crime in Scotland.

CCTV

17. What proposals she has for regulation of the use of CCTV cameras by police services and local authorities. (4236)

In our coalition programme for government, as part of our work on safeguarding civil liberties we have stated that we will further regulate CCTV. We will introduce detailed proposals in due course.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Although there has been criticism that some CCTV has been used randomly and not always effectively, is he aware of the Safer Leeds project, in which CCTV has played an important role in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders? Can he give an assurance that future regulation will not deter the proper use of CCTV that my constituents in Stourbridge feel is essential in the battle against crime?

As the Prime Minister made clear in the House on 9 June, we support CCTV cameras. When used properly, they can be a significant asset in the prevention and detection of crime, but any such use involves a need to ensure that civil liberties are properly protected. The use of CCTV has increased in the absence of a specific regulatory framework. For reasons of proportionality and retaining public confidence, it is important that there is appropriate regulation, and it is interesting to note that the previous Administration recognised that when they appointed the interim CCTV regulator.

In the past 13 years, some 21,000 individuals have been arrested in Wrexham as a result of the operation of CCTV cameras. Wrexham’s CCTV system is widely appreciated. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether he expects a reduction in the number of CCTV cameras as a result of the regulation that he is describing, and how will that regulation be consulted on?

On the latter point, we will announce further details on how we intend to take CCTV forward and on how engagement will take place. As I have said, we recognise the importance of CCTV in the fight against crime. As for moving forward, the installation and use of CCTV systems is very much a matter for local decisions, so the regulation will certainly provide a framework to assist local decision making about the CCTV systems that should be put in place to protect local communities.

Before my hon. Friend jumps on the liberty bandwagon far too much, may I urge some caution? CCTV cameras do not prevent anyone from going about their lawful daily business freely. Will he acknowledge that the people who were responsible for the tube bombings on 7/7 were identified only through the use of CCTV, as was the person recently arrested in Bradford for the murders of three prostitutes?

I thank my hon. Friend for underlining CCTV’s important role in policing and protecting our communities. Perhaps more focus could be given to its use in prosecutions and as a forensic tool. However, the use of CCTV has developed in the absence of a specific regulatory framework. We believe, for reasons of proportionality, that regulation should be taken forward, so we shall proceed with that in due course.

I am interested to hear the Minister talk about CCTV in such a way, as it seems that there is already a slight shift in the coalition Government’s position. We know that CCTV has given people throughout the country their neighbourhoods back and the freedom to go about their daily lives. His Government talk about reducing red tape and regulation for the police, yet they plan to regulate CCTV and perhaps create more hoops for the police, who see it as a valuable tool, so will he answer a simple question once and for all: will the plans to regulate CCTV lead to fewer CCTV cameras? He is fudging.

It is interesting that the hon. Lady suggests that regulation is not required, because her Government established the interim CCTV regulator, thereby accepting that regulation is required and that the matter needs to be examined carefully. It is all very well for her to talk as if this issue has suddenly arisen, but she and her Government recognised the situation when they were in government. We will ensure that proportionate and relevant regulation is brought forward that will enable CCTV systems to be established by local communities in an appropriate way—

Organised Crime

Tackling serious organised crime requires effective co-operation and co-ordination across law enforcement. We will work with police forces to strengthen arrangements to deal with serious crime and other cross-boundary policing challenges.

I am pleased that Norfolk constabulary is collaborating with other police forces in the region to work against the scourge of serious and organised crime. However, I understand that, on a national level, that collaboration is not yet as strong as it is in counter-terrorism. What plans do we have to put serious and organised crime fighting on a similar footing?

I know of the close interest that my hon. Friend takes in these matters, having been the author of a publication that proposed better arrangements to deal with serious crime. We will not pursue the Labour party’s policy of compulsory mergers of police forces. We believe that it is necessary for police forces to collaborate better to deal with organised crime, just as better collaboration has been achieved in counter-terrorism activity, and that is the policy that we shall pursue.

Does the Minister accept that the internet is increasingly being used by those who get involved in serious and organised crime? Does he agree that a partnership approach, making use of the talents and expertise of people in business, is essential to reduce the extent of internet use for the purposes of crime?

I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), is already in correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman about this matter. E-crime is a serious and growing problem, and it must make sense to tackle it on a partnership basis, with law enforcement agencies and business working together, and that is what we will do.

Crime Statistics (North Yorkshire)

18. What the percentage increase or decrease in the number of crimes reported in North Yorkshire was between (a) 1980 and 1997 and (b) 1997 and 2010. (4237)

The police in North Yorkshire notified the Home Office of nearly 22,000 offences in 1980; just over 50,000 in 1997; and 48,500 in 2008-09. During this period there have been considerable changes to reporting levels and to how the police record crime, and I am advised that these figures are not comparable.

Comparable figures show nationally a 38% decline in crime. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the police on reducing crime in North Yorkshire and York? Does he agree with the statisticians in his own Department and the UK Statistics Authority that the British crime survey is the best way of measuring long-term trends in crime?

I agree that the British crime survey plays a valuable role, but the problem is that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not complete. For instance, it misses out the recording of crimes against young people. Last week, the experimental figures showed that there may be up to 2 million crimes that were previously being missed by the British crime survey. Police recorded figures also have their problems. We need measures of crime in which the public have confidence, and we will be making further announcements about that in due course.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many crimes that were previously dealt with as breaches of the peace are now dealt with as antisocial behaviour? Will the Government now grasp the nettle and tackle such crimes using police forces, rather than councils, which are not open over the weekend and in the evening, when most of those crimes are committed?

It is important to convey the message that antisocial behaviour may be activity that is criminal and should be treated as such. The public still feel that there is too much antisocial behaviour in their neighbourhoods, and they want it to be prioritised by police forces. The best way to do that is not only by policing but through effective partnerships on the ground, using the full range of resources that can be provided by local authorities, other agencies and the police family working together.

Administration (Police Time)

19. What recent representations she has received on the amount of time spent on administrative tasks by police officers each year. (4238)

Order. I have had no indication of that grouping. There is a practice now developing of this happening spontaneously. It really will not do. We shall see how it goes today. I call the Minister.

I apologise, Mr Speaker. I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Recent statistics demonstrate that police spend 14% of their time on patrol and 20% on paperwork. Will he give an example of what administrative function might be cut from their work, so that we can give them the opportunity to spend more time out on the beat?

The most important example is the policy we have had for a long time: scrapping the unnecessary stop form, whose introduction made it harder for police forces to interact sensibly with the public, and resulted in a great deal of unnecessary bureaucracy. However, we will not stop at that, but will look at the whole performance framework and the central targets that have bedevilled policing for too long. We will free up police officers, so that they can do the job.

Given that the Minister wishes to free up police officers to spend more time on the beat, and given the recent survey that predicts 35,000 fewer police officers on the beat, what assessment has he made of how many administrative tasks he will have to scrap to maintain an appropriate and effective police presence?

I should say to the hon. Gentleman that we do not recognise those figures. Our policy is that we want to do everything possible to enable chief constables to prioritise the front line and maintain police officers out in the neighbourhoods, where the public want to see them. To do that, we must ensure that we reduce bureaucracy.

Order. No blame is imputed to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). It is simply that the grouping of his question with Question 19 was not something of which I had notice, and it is not a grouping to which I would ordinarily agree, for reasons of progress down the Order Paper.

Topical Questions

Later this afternoon, I will make a statement to the House on the Government’s plans to consult on the introduction of an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants coming to the UK, and the introduction of an interim limit.

Does the Home Secretary acknowledge the evidence given to the Select Committee on Justice by Victim Support suggesting that what victims want, other than not to have become a victim in the first place, is not to become a victim again in future. Does she accept that consequently a key purpose for the police and all other parts of the criminal justice system must be the reduction of offending and reoffending?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to the need to reduce reoffending. I entirely agree that we need to do more to reduce reoffending, but I would point out to him that, over 13 years, his Government did very little to address that issue, which is why we have in the coalition agreement a clear commitment to look across the whole criminal justice system to examine what can be done to improve rehabilitation of offenders and hence to reduce reoffending.

T2. In recent meetings with Worcester’s Kashmiri and Bangladeshi communities, I have found a strong welcome for the new Government’s focus on improving community cohesion and supporting integration. Does the Home Secretary agree that the English language requirement for people coming to the UK from outside the EU to marry will support those aims and benefit those communities? (4245)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I begin by offering my condolences to him on the recent death of his father, and pay tribute to the many years of distinguished service given to this country, both in the House and in another place, including as a Government Minister, by the late Lord Walker?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The English language is important in respect of people being able to live in the UK and integrate in communities here, which is why we have indeed already announced that we are tightening up the requirements for English language to be spoken. We require people who are coming into the UK to marry to speak English at a level that was not required before. It is perfectly reasonable to do so.

T3. Before the election, Warrington Liberal Democrats said in a leaflet headed “Stop The Police Cuts”: “Just to keep force levels where they are today the police need a grant increase of at least 5%”.Does the Minister agree? (4246)

The issue that affects most people in relation to the police is seeing police not sitting in offices filling in forms, but getting out on the street, preventing crime, dealing with criminals, and giving people the safety, security and confidence that they want in their neighbourhoods. That is why we will slash bureaucracy, and get police on the streets—something that the hon. Lady’s Government failed to do in 13 years.

T4. Given that there are 11,500 foreign nationals in British jails, will the Home Secretary work with the Secretary of State for Justice and the Foreign Office to ensure that those in-sentence prisoners are deported back to their country of origin to serve out their sentences in their own lands? (4247)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue of foreign national prisoners bedevilled the previous Administration for years and led to the resignation of a Home Secretary. In 2008—the last year for which we have full figures—the UK Border Agency removed or deported nearly 5,400 foreign national prisoners. There is always more to be done. There are cases in which the court rules in an individual’s favour on specific human rights grounds and the Home Office disagrees with the court’s decision, but we all have to respect the court’s decision, so we are continuing to look at the administrative improvements needed to avoid administrative obstacles to the removal of foreign national prisoners at the end of their sentence, and to look at the legal problems.

T7. What will the Home Secretary do if one of the new directly elected police commissioners is an extremist? What will happen?

(4250)

I believe that introducing that important element of democratic accountability for police forces and not getting involved in operational matters, which will remain with the operational independence of police chiefs, is important. The hon. Gentleman’s question implies something with which I disagree. It implies that he is not willing to trust the British people and the common sense of the British people to elect people who will do a good job in their area.

T5. The Home Secretary is aware of the current discussions about a potential merger of the police forces of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Does she agree that such discussions are worth while at this time to achieve a fairer allocation of police resourcing and a more efficient allocation of resources where it matters—on the front line with our police? (4248)

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that I am due to have a meeting with the chief constables of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire to discuss the matter. I will also talk to locally elected representatives. It is important that if voluntary mergers of police forces go ahead, they do so with the consent of local people.

The Home Secretary will be aware of the comments made by the Culture Secretary this morning linking the Hillsborough disaster to football hooliganism. That is a disgrace. I have recently spoken to some of the families who lost loved ones at Hillsborough. They are deeply distressed by that and angry about what has happened. How can they have trust in the Government to see through the proper release of the Hillsborough files, given that that is the view held in high parts of Government? As the Home Secretary leads on the matter, will she meet urgently with members of the families and the Culture Secretary to discuss the issue?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has apologised for any suggestion that crowd unrest was responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. The judicial inquiry was absolutely clear on this point. The Taylor report cleared Liverpool supporters of any allegations that they were to blame for the terrible events that took place at that time, and the families of those who, sadly, lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster have conducted a dignified campaign over the years to try to ensure that the information is released and that they can see all the details of what happened at that time. I have already met the Bishop of Liverpool to discuss the work that his panel is doing in examining these issues. I would be happy to meet representatives of the Hillsborough families.

T6. In my constituency, Kingswood, under the previous Government, the local police station on the high street was bulldozed to make way for flats. Many of my constituents are rightly extremely concerned about that. What steps will the Minister take to ensure a more effective local policing presence in the future? (4249)

I will happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss that. Local people want to see an available and visible police presence. That does not necessarily mean old buildings, but it means the police using innovative ways to ensure that they have a presence in the community—for instance, by sharing community facilities.

T8. A cut of 25% in police funding would be devastating for public confidence. What the Minister said before would require large reductions in the number of police officers, community support officers and civilian staff. Those reductions could come about only through large up-front payments in pension, redundancy and other costs. What assessment has the Minister made of the size of those costs, and how on earth will they be paid for? (4251)

The hon. Gentleman refers to front-line policing and to police doing the job that the public want them to do. We have answered a number of questions on that issue today, and the first thing is to ensure that our police officers are able to get out on the streets, doing the job that they want to do and people want them to do. I find it somewhat surprising that Labour Members continue to raise funding issues, when the people who are to blame for the funding situation in which we find ourselves are their Government.

T9. As I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware, there are a large number of failed asylum seekers in my constituency and elsewhere in the country. Can she assure me that the situation will be reversed, and that policies will be implemented to ensure that our porous borders cease to be so? (4253)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making two important points. One key problem with the asylum system, affecting both the taxpayer and genuine refugees, is the appalling delays that were allowed to build up under the previous Government. That was unfair on genuine asylum seekers and unfair on the taxpayer. At the same time, as he said, our borders have been allowed to become much too porous over the past 13 years. That is why we are working on plans for a border police force, which will give much better protection to our borders than was ever provided under the previous Government.

Order. There is very little time left, so we need exceptionally short questions and short answers.

The Home Secretary referred earlier to the problem with some CCTV cameras in Birmingham. I understand that more than £3 million has been spent on cameras that are now covered with plastic bags. Does she intend to unmask the bureaucrat who is responsible for that fiasco?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, a discussion is now taking place between the local police force and local communities about automatic number plate recognition cameras in Birmingham, and that is one reason why we intend, in looking at regulation on CCTV, to include ANPR.

One of my constituents, who also happens to be my parliamentary researcher, was seriously hurt in an unprovoked attack after he had been out for dinner with a friend in Croydon last week. Does the Secretary of State agree that late licensing is partly responsible for the increase in violent assaults at night? Will she update the House on how plans are progressing to sort out late licensing?

My hon. Friend provides a powerful example of the impact of violent crime and alcohol, and certainly 47% of violent assaults are believed to be carried out by individuals under the influence of alcohol. That is why we will bring forward proposals to rebalance the Licensing Act 2003 in favour of local communities, and in particular introduce a proposal for a late-night levy to deal with the costs that are attributed to dealing with licensing problems in certain areas.

My constituency has been targeted by the English Defence League for a series of demonstrations. Recent events have seen violence and disorder on the streets, police diverted to deal with that and property and constituents attacked. On one occasion the entire town centre was boarded up, costing businesses thousands. Could I bring a delegation of people from Dudley to meet the Home Secretary in order to discuss how we might prevent those problems in future?

Certainly I or another Minister will be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and a delegation in order to address those issues. He raises a very important point about the activities of the English Defence League, and we would be happy to discuss that.

Recent visits organised by the Children of Chernobyl charity have been disrupted because of late decisions by the UK Border Agency. Will my right hon. Friend urge the agency to take a risk-based approach to its investigations and recognise the long and trouble-free record of that excellent charity?

I am obviously aware of the problems that have emerged with what are perfectly reasonable investigations. Children are being brought a long way across the world unaccompanied, so it is not unreasonable for there to be some checks, but I am aware that there have been problems this year, and I shall be happy to take up any individual case that my hon. Friend would like to raise with me.

At a time when the Government are looking to police forces to save money, will the Minister tell the House how much it will cost to elect and fund the proposed directly elected police commissioners?

We will be making further announcements in due course about our policy of replacing bureaucratic accountability with direct accountability through directly elected individuals.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that nearly 10 years into the life of the previous Government, it suddenly emerged by chance that foreign prisoners were not being considered for deportation when they should have been, and that there was a backlog of 400,000 asylum cases and other cases owing to incompetence? Will he ensure that there is a culture of openness, transparency and efficiency in the Home Office right from the start of this Government?

My hon. Friend makes a good point with characteristic trenchancy and passion. He is right. The situation with foreign national prisoners was a disaster, as was the asylum delay backlog. We are getting to grips with these problems. It is very important not only that we have the right number of people coming to this country but that the people of this country have confidence in the administration of the immigration system, because without that we will never have people assured that the borders of this country are as secure as they should be. That was one of the great failures of the previous Government.

We are considering the whole issue of the drugs strategy in the context of legal highs and other emerging psychoactive substances, as well as in the context of the prevalence of cocaine use, which remains very significant. That is why the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is examining the issue and will be providing further advice to Government in that regard.