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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 515: debated on Monday 6 September 2010

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—


The Government are determined to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder. We launched the consultation “Rebalancing the Licensing Act” on 28 July. We have held seven national and seven regional stakeholder events to consult with the police, licensing authorities and representatives from the trade on the coalition Government’s proposals. The Government will be analysing the responses, and we intend to take forward the proposals in the forthcoming police reform and social responsibility Bill.

The misuse of alcohol has a considerable negative impact on the health of our citizens, and it increases crime. What will the Government do to stop the inappropriate and excessive advertising of alcohol, often geared towards young people, in cinemas, on commercial TV stations and in TV storylines?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations. He is absolutely correct to raise the health impact of alcohol as well as its impact on crime. The most recent figures show that over the five years to 2008-09, there were 825 more alcohol-related admissions to hospital per day than during the previous five years. This is a very real issue. We are considering a number of actions in relation to the sale of alcohol, the unit cost of alcohol and the powers of licensing authorities. If the hon. Gentleman has a specific proposal, I suggest that he puts it to the Home Office as part of the consultation.

The media often focus attention on celebrities and footballers as poor role models for children, but does the Home Secretary recognise the sad fact that almost 1 million children have an alcohol-dependent parent as a role model? What more can the Government do to prevent so many families from being broken by alcohol abuse?

My hon. Friend also raises an important point about the impact that alcohol can have. He has taken an interest in such issues, particularly the impact on family life, for some time. The first thing for the Government is to give a clear message about alcohol through the action that we take on licensing. Sadly, a message was given by the last Government, with their 24-hour licensing laws that were due to create a café culture in the United Kingdom, but failed to do so. We have seen that leading to more problems with alcohol.

What plans does the Home Secretary have to ensure that licensed premises apply effective age verification procedures?

The hon. Gentleman also raises an important point about trying to ensure that alcohol is used responsibly and that those with responsibility to ensure that alcohol is being consumed or purchased only by those of an age to do so should act appropriately. One of the issues that we are looking at specifically in our proposals is the action that can be taken against shops or bars found to be persistently selling alcohol to children. We are considering giving greater powers to councils and police to shut such premises down permanently.

Non-departmental Public Bodies

3. What steps she is taking to reduce the number of non-departmental public bodies sponsored by her Department. (13084)

The Government are committed to making substantial reforms to their public bodies and intend to bring forward a public bodies Bill later this year, giving Ministers the power to abolish or merge public bodies, or transfer their functions back into Departments. The Home Office is pursuing radical reforms as part of a Government-wide review of public bodies and I have already signalled my intentions by announcing the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency.

The Association of Chief Police Officers, or ACPO, is not a conventional non-departmental public body. As a private company, it receives millions of pounds in Home Office grants, has a massive say over how we are policed, is exempt from freedom of information requests and is almost totally unaccountable. Is that status compatible with the Home Secretary’s admirable desire to democratise control over policing? Will she either change ACPO’s status or stop giving it so many grants and so much say over public policy?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He has referred to our intention to change the accountability of police forces, set out in our consultation document “Policing in the 21st Century”. We also said in that document that we are looking to change the role of ACPO and talking to ACPO about the necessary changes. Moving ACPO on to a basis of leading in setting standards and showing professional leadership in the police force is the appropriate way forward, and that is what we will be talking to the organisation about.

While the right hon. Lady is looking at her review, will she consider what happens with the funding of sexual assault referral centres, or SARCs, in Wales? Wales SARCs are still awaiting their funding. It is important that the services they provide should be carried forward for women, children and men who have been subject to rape and other sexual offences. Will she please have a look at that issue?

I am certainly happy to do so. At the moment we are considering, and will soon be making an announcement on, some funding in relation to SARCs. As we look at the issues of people who have been subjected to sexual abuse, we need to consider not only the SARCs but rape crisis centres. It was a great shame that under the hon. Lady’s Government, the last Labour Government, so many rape crisis centres had to shut because of funding problems. That is why as a coalition we are committed to making money available from the victim surcharge to open new rape crisis centres.


4. When she plans to bring into force existing powers to curb the activities of private sector wheel-clampers. (13085)

I announced on 17 August the Government’s intention to ban wheel-clamping and towing on private land.  The ban will be included in the freedom Bill, which is due to be introduced this autumn. Sections 42 and 44 of the Crime and Security Act 2010, which provide for the regulation of the vehicle immobilisation industry by way of business licensing, will be repealed.

In Hull, we know that the previous Government’s legislation would have stopped overcharging by wheel-clamping companies, and it was widely consulted on. Why cannot the hon. Lady introduce that provision while she waits for the legislation to go through Parliament to introduce the changes that she wishes to see?

Because all the previous Government’s legislation, despite their very good intentions, would have been complex and expensive to introduce. When we looked again at the results of the consultation, we decided that precisely because of the abuses that take place, banning was the best option. That will be brought forward this autumn, which is not that long to wait.

When the Minister made her announcement, had she consulted the industry? Bearing in mind that there are some genuine, law-abiding firms that provide an enforcement service where parking abuse takes place, would it not have been better to deal with the cowboy wheel-clampers rather than legitimate businesses? What compensation will legitimate businesses get?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Yes, the industry was consulted, and of course there are probably a number of people in the industry who are not cowboys, but unfortunately, given the vast number that were cowboys, the industry brought the change upon itself. That is why we have had to take this action rather than bring in more and more regulations that would not be enforced. Such regulations would put burdens on the police to enforce something that was never truly enforceable, and abuses would continue.

We will not pay any compensation, but the vast majority of clamping companies are already using ticketing. When the ban comes in, the others will be able to transfer to ticketing if they are any good, and private landowners will be able to protect their property anyway.

This very week, private wheel-clampers are in operation in my constituency, extorting vast sums of money from my constituents. May I urge the Minister to go further and abolish private wheel-clamping altogether, and hand it over only to local authorities and police forces so that it can be publicly accountable?

I am pleased to be able to inform the hon. Gentleman that wheel-clamping is being abolished altogether on private land. Local authorities will still carry out wheel-clamping on public land.

Police Accountability

The introduction of elected police and crime commissioners to hold their chief constable and force to account through a strong public mandate will restore the connection between the police and the people, ensuring that the police are held to account democratically, not bureaucratically by Whitehall.

Government attempts to make police forces more accountable to local people are welcome. Thames Valley police has decided to scrap the basic command unit. In the light of that, how does the Minister intend to ensure that central resources previously held by the basic command unit will still be allocated fairly across Thames Valley police?

Decisions on whether to continue with the basic command unit structure within forces are a matter for chief constables to decide, and not one on which the Government have taken a view. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concerns about resources and am happy to discuss them with him and to find out from the chief constable when I next see her, which will be this week, what she plans to do to allay them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a partnership between the police force and the local community is the best way to tackle crime?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and I know that Opposition Members will also strongly agree. The police, important though they are, cannot fight alone. It is essential that they work in partnership with the public and local authorities to prevent and drive down crime.

I thank the Home Secretary for banning the English Defence League march in Bradford. She listened to the calls of local residents and the police and was right to support the banning order. However, that was for a march, and a static demonstration happened. Can we look at the legislation again to see whether we can stop even the static demonstrations, which cost taxpayers a huge amount of money?

As the hon. Gentleman may know, we are considering peaceful protest and ensuring that rights of peaceful protest in this country are protected. However, extremist activity, or activity that can inflame and damage communities, is not acceptable. We will ensure that we achieve the right balance in relation to peaceful protest.

If the Conservative party believes so fervently in direct accountability, why is the unelected deputy Mayor chairing the London Metropolitan Police Authority?

It is entirely a matter for the Mayor whether he wishes to delegate those functions. That is permissible in London, but ultimately the buck stops with the Mayor and Londoners know that.

Yes, well, it is not very reassuring that the most prominent, high-profile Conservative Mayor—the Minister and I agree that the Mayor should take responsibility for the police—steps down and allows his unelected deputy to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority. That person, Kit Malthouse, says that chief constables are “mini-governors” who “control a standing army”. Does the Minister agree with that? Does he think it right that the deputy Mayor of London should chair the Metropolitan Police Authority when he says that elected commissioners would be able to “wield the rod” over chief constables? Is that the purpose of the reforms?

First, I should say that the Labour Government’s legislation introduced the arrangements that allow for the transfer of functions to the deputy Mayor. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have changed his mind about that. On our proposals, he knows that we want to enhance the accountability of local policing. Police will remain operationally independent.

“Strong, transparent accountability is vital for community confidence”—

they are not my words but those of the previous Government’s Green Paper when they proposed direct accountability and then reneged on that pledge.

Police Time (Administration)

6. What recent representations she has received on the proportion of police officers’ time spent on administrative tasks. (13087)

16. What recent representations she has received on the proportion of police officers’ time spent on administrative tasks. (13098)

I have spoken to many officers about the time that they have to spend filling out forms.  The Government are committed to reducing bureaucracy so that the police can get back on to the streets and deal with crime.

In Warwickshire, our police force has to deal with 1.5 million phone calls over and above the emergency calls every year, and rightly so. Does my right hon. Friend know that, under the previous Government, the police spent more time on paperwork than on patrolling the streets? That is wrong.

I appreciate the burden that non-emergency calls place on police forces. The Government are investigating how we can take forward a plan for a national non-emergency number, which I think will improve the service to the public. We are committed to reducing bureaucracy. We have already scrapped the policing pledge and the previous Government’s targets. We want to ensure that police officers can be out on the streets where the public want to see them.

I understand that in my constituency of Redditch, much progress has been made on reducing the time that police spend on administrative tasks, and I appreciate that paperwork is necessary. However, the number of robberies and other theft offences has risen in Redditch since 2007. Does the Minister agree that such crime could be significantly reduced if the police were given more time on the beat and spent less time filling in forms?

I agree with my hon. Friend and understand her concern about those crimes. A recent report of the inspectorate of constabulary found that the police were visible and available to the community for an average of only about 10% of the time because they are too tied up in bureaucracy. We must tackle that.

Will the Minister start to collect statistics on how long the police have to wait in court to give evidence? If his Government start slashing the Crown Prosecution Service budget, closing courts and reducing civilian officers, will that waiting time not grow longer?

The fact is that we have one of the most expensive criminal justice systems in the world. The test of its effectiveness is not the amount of money that we spend on it, but how efficient it is. Tomorrow I shall discuss with the inspectorate of constabulary the administrative and bureaucratic obstacles that impact on the police in inefficient court processes, which we must tackle.

Immigration Cap

The limit on work-based routes is being implemented in three stages: first, consultation on the annual limit; secondly, the introduction of an interim limit, which took effect on 19 July in order to prevent a surge in numbers in advance of the final limit; and thirdly, the full annual limit which will be implemented in April 2011.

I am grateful for that answer. It is very important that we are mindful that there are a lot of unemployed British people, and that they need jobs. It is important that jobs go to British workers and EU citizens. However, will the Minister reassure me that if we reach the cap at the other end of the spectrum, where there are highly skilled jobs in specific areas, we have the ability to exercise flexibility?

My hon. Friend makes two very good points. That is precisely the balance that we seek to strike. An over-reliance on migrant labour has done nothing to help millions of unemployed British citizens, who are often low-skilled, who deserve the Government’s help to get back to work and to improve their skills. At the same time, I am happy to reassure her that the limit will not stop the brightest and the best coming to the UK. Immigration has enriched our culture and strengthened our economy, but it must be controlled so that people have confidence in the system. That was the failure of the previous Government, and this Government will redress it.

On control of immigration, will the Minister put an immediate stop to the UK Border Agency’s plan to ship the Ghaemi family—mother, daughter and young son—from my constituency to Iran a week tomorrow? The two women will undoubtedly be exposed to the possibility of being flogged, tortured, imprisoned or stoned. Is it not intolerable that UKBA should plan to do that, and does the Minister want that on his conscience?

The right hon. Gentleman is always energetic in pursuing individual cases for his constituents, and I will of course look closely at that one, as he knows I always do.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Department’s work on this difficult matter? Does he agree that one of the most important steps he could take is to break the link between people coming to work here and people’s ability to settle here? That would very substantially reduce numbers.

My hon. Friend has done distinguished and sterling work on immigration with the all-party group on balanced migration in the past few years. I hope to reassure him by saying that in the speech I will make at the Royal Commonwealth Society this evening, I will make the point that we need to look at all routes to migration—not only the work route, but the study route and other routes that lead to settlement—so that we can achieve not an immigration policy that is discussed in the usual way, when we ask whether it is tougher or more liberal, but a smarter immigration policy. That is what this country needs.

I welcome the Minister’s remarks on the relationship between temporary and permanent migration. Will he confirm that it is the Government’s intention to go ahead with the previous Government’s plans for a points-based system for citizenship, which would help to reach exactly the objectives that the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) set out, on behalf—if I may say—of Migrationwatch UK?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, not least because he and I debated the details of the system when the Bill in question was considered, when he was standing at this Dispatch Box. Although I accept the idea that we need a better system for allowing people to proceed to settlement or full citizenship, I was not convinced that the system that the previous Government proposed was anything other than a bureaucratic nightmare. I can assure him that I am still looking carefully at the details so that we can have an effective system that does not place too great a burden on the voluntary sector, which, as I said at the time, I thought his system did.

How will the numbers of uncapped immigration from the European Union affect the level of the cap for numbers from outside the EU? Given that the Government support Turkey’s entry into the EU, can he tell us what estimate they have made of the number of immigrants we will get from that country?

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that this Government, unlike the previous one, would introduce transitional arrangements for any new country entering the EU, so we would have much greater control over the numbers than the previous Government did when the EU expanded with the accession of the A8 countries four or five years ago. In fact, over time migration within the EU evens out, and even now the vast majority of immigration to this country comes from outside the EU. That is the area on which the Government will concentrate to ensure that we have sustainable numbers coming to this country.

Police Funding

Future funding for the police service will be announced in the spending review, which reports on 20 October. I cannot speculate on the outcome of this review, but the Government’s priority is to cut the deficit, and the police must play their part in achieving this.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. He has already cut the police budget in year by £125 million, the equivalent of approximately 4,000 police jobs. If he is to make a 25% cut as the comprehensive spending review requires, it will be a cut of some £1.1 billion, the equivalent of some 40,000 police jobs. Can he confirm that that is the order of magnitude of the cuts that he is looking at? A simple yes or no will do.

The hon. Lady is just speculating. In relation to the in-year cut to which she objects, it is important to understand that it represents less than 1% of what the police will spend this year, and our view is that the police can find those efficiencies and make the savings. In relation to further cuts, there will have to be savings, but the independent inspectorate of constabulary said a few weeks ago that police forces could save more than £1 billion a year—equivalent to 12% of spending—without having an impact on the front line.

This morning, at the invitation of the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), I visited Medway and was shown two innovative, award-winning schemes pioneered by the police there to combat prostitution and to ensure effective offender management. The chief constable of Kent told me that if the envisaged cuts of 20% are put in place, 1,500 jobs will be lost in Kent and £35 million will come off his budget. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the schemes that I saw today, and others all over the country, will be protected? Could he at the very least give police authorities an early idea of the budget constraints they will have to deal with, as 25 October is quite a long way away?

The right hon. Gentleman invites me to speculate ahead of the spending review outcome, and he knows that I cannot do that. We will know fairly shortly what sums of money will be available to police forces, but it will be necessary for them to make savings, and it will be up to chief constables to achieve greater efficiencies and more collaboration between forces. The inspectorate is clear that those efficiencies can be made.

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what bid he has made to the Treasury for police funding for future years? How many fewer police officers does he expect to see on the streets in two years’ time if the proposed settlement is achieved? Ultimately, is he battling for the police or implementing the axe for the Treasury?

What is clear is that the Opposition still have not faced up to their responsibility for bequeathing us the fiscal deficit. They left us with £44 billion of unspecified spending cuts. The shadow Home Secretary told “The Daily Politics” show on 20 July, in debate with me, that they would have cut by £1 billion, by 12%. But Labour voted against a spending cut of 0.5%. It demonstrates that it—

Order. I am grateful to the Minister. “The Daily Politics” is a fascinating programme, but I do not want to hear about the dilations of Opposition spokesmen on it, because the purpose of Question Time is to hear about the policies of the Government.

Health Professionals (Language Requirement)

10. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on steps to ensure that the standard of English required of migrant health professionals is adequate for the purpose of safe clinical practice. (13092)

I have regular exchanges with my colleagues on matters relating to migration policy. The Government are committed to seeking to stop foreign health care professionals working in the NHS unless they have passed robust language and competence tests. Migrants coming in under the points-based system are already required to meet language tests. The specific criteria for eligibility to practise medicine in the UK are a matter for the Secretary of State for Health.

Is the Minister aware of British Medical Association research showing that 60 to 70% of medical personnel employed by medical locum agencies are recruited from overseas and that many do not have English as a first language? We have already seen the tragic consequences of that in the east of England, with the case of Dr Daniel Ubani. Can the Minister assure me that he will work with the Department of Health to ensure that medical locum agencies take a much more robust approach to recruitment in future?

I am indeed aware of the problem to which my hon. Friend refers, a problem that has an immigration aspect and, obviously, an aspect for the Department of Health. Non-EU workers who work as agency workers would not normally qualify under tier 2 —the work-based route of the points-based system—as they would not be filling a substantive vacancy. Such workers may have arrived here by other routes, such as tier 1 of the points-based system, in which case their language skills would be checked, or as a spouse, in which case they would not. The problem illustrates why efforts to check the language skills of health professionals need to be focused on those who employ them, which is precisely what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is doing.

US-UK Extradition Treaty

11. What progress has been made on her Department’s review of the operation of the Extradition Act 2003 and the US-UK extradition treaty. (13093)

The coalition agreement committed the Government to reviewing the UK’s extradition arrangements worldwide, to ensure that they operate effectively and in the interests of justice. The review will examine both our extradition arrangements with the United States and our operation of the European arrest warrant. I will make an announcement to Parliament on the chairmanship and terms of reference of the review shortly.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is general concern that the provisions of the Extradition Act 2003 are lop-sided so far as they apply to the United States. Our relationship with the United States has always been based on mutual trust, and concerns about the workings of the Extradition Act are not helping to reinforce that mutual trust. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance and an undertaking that once her review has been completed, if it demonstrates that the provisions and workings of the Extradition Act are lop-sided she will bring forward amending legislation to this House?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. I reflect, as he does, on the importance of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America, but I am also aware, obviously, of comments that have been made outside the House and inside this Chamber about the extradition treaty between the UK and the USA. That is why I think it entirely right for the coalition Government to have agreed that we will not only review that treaty but address the issue more widely and review the operation of European arrest warrants, about which hon. Members—particularly my right hon. and hon. Friends—have also expressed some concerns in this Chamber. I do not wish to prejudge the outcome of the review, but, as I said, I will be making more details of the review available to the House shortly.

Does the Home Secretary understand that, in addition to the lop-sided nature of the legislation, there is a further issue that prejudices British citizens, namely the willingness of American courts to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction and entertain prosecutions in circumstances where doing so would simply not be permitted in this country? Will that second issue also form part of her review?

Let me say to my right hon. and learned Friend that, as I have indicated, I am well aware of the range of concerns that exist in relation to the extradition treaty between the UK and the USA. That is why the coalition Government have agreed that we should have this review of the extradition treaty and take it more widely, looking at all our extradition arrangements to ensure that they operate effectively and in the interests of justice.

I have a constituent who has already been extradited under the treaty. In following his case, I certainly agree with recent remarks by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who concluded that perhaps the previous Government gave away too much. Whatever the outcome of the review, I hope that, on that point at least, the Home Secretary will be able to agree with both me and her predecessor.

My hon. Friend is tempting me down a route that I do not think is appropriate—to agree the outcome of the review in respect of its assessment of the current extradition treaty. That is not appropriate as it would undermine the whole point of having a review—details of which will be announced shortly—which is to ensure a proper process for considering the issues—

Order. I understand the natural temptation to do otherwise, but if the Home Secretary would face the House when she replies, it would help all of us. I think that she has concluded her response.

Recorded Crime

In 1997, the police in England and Wales recorded a rate of 88 crimes per 1,000 head of the population. For the year ending March 2010, the rate was 79 crimes per 1,000 head of the population.

Does the Minister share the concerns of Tim Hollis, the chief constable of my area, when he warns that cuts of 25% to his budget would lead to cuts in officer numbers, which would mean that crime figures would be likely to increase as a result of measures taken by the coalition Government?

No, I do not agree. We believe that the police must accept their share of the savings necessary to deal with the deficit that was bequeathed to this Government by the previous Government’s reckless mismanagement of the economy.

Will the Minister confirm that during the last year of the previous Government, police numbers in the Humberside force—the one that serves my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner)—fell by 150? There are nevertheless still concerns about how to move forward on this issue. Can we have an assurance that when we eventually restructure police organisation, rural policing will be treated with as much importance as city centre policing has been in the past?

First, my hon. Friend is right that police numbers were falling in a number of forces under the previous Government, so their feigned outrage about it now cuts little ice. I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about rural policing, as do many of us who represent rural areas, and we appreciate the need to ensure effective policing in both rural and urban areas.

The Minister will have taken advice in preparing his submissions to the Treasury on the potential impact on crime of cutting police funding. What was that advice and will he share it with the House?

We do not accept that the police cannot make savings. That seems to me to be the point of difference between the Government and the Opposition on this issue. Like other public services, the police will have to spend money more efficiently. We are committed to ensuring that resources reach the front line and to doing everything we can to reduce bureaucracy, but police forces must find new ways of working—by collaborating and so forth—to ensure that they deliver good value for the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman should understand the importance of wise spending rather than big spending.


Limiting economic migration is part of the Government’s plan to reduce net migration. Action will be required beyond these routes and we will review other immigration routes in due course. We are also committed to introducing transitional controls as a matter of course for all new EU member states.

During the general election, the issue of greatest concern to my Kingswood constituents was the uncontrolled rise in immigration under the previous Labour Government. My constituents have welcomed the decision to place a cap on immigration numbers. Will the Minister ensure that this is done as soon and as fast as possible to ensure that this Government, unlike the previous one, are seriously committed to cracking down on uncontrolled immigration?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, which reflects the concerns of many millions of people of all political views all over the country. Britain can and has benefited from immigration, but not from uncontrolled immigration. The levels of net migration seen under the previous Government were unprecedented. That is why this Government are committed to bringing immigration down to sustainable levels by steady downward pressure on all routes to migration.

The Minister spoke about “uncontrolled” immigration, but is not the whole point of the Australian-style points system to provide sensible controls on immigration while also allowing the country to attract the skills it needs? Is it not the case that the immigration policies pursued by this Government are all about the soundbite and how the measures will be reported rather than about having effective measures to ensure that we continue to attract the skills we need while maintaining the controls put in place towards the end of the previous Government’s tenure?

If the hon. Gentleman accuses me of engaging in soundbite politics, may I be allowed to use the Dispatch Box to advertise my Royal Commonwealth Society lecture this evening, in which I will make quite a long and detailed speech on immigration policy, to which I invite him—[Interruption.] I will have a word with the doorman and get him in. The points-based system was indeed a step forward, but he fails to recognise that it was nothing like enough, as we saw in the immigration figures that came out during the summer recess. Despite the assurances of Labour Ministers during the election campaign, net migration is up, at 196,000. That is too high a level and is unsustainable for this country.

Identity Cards

Between April 2006 and March 2010, a total of £251 million was spent on projects to establish identity cards, second biometric passports and other related programmes. Prior to that, the Home Office spent an additional £41 million developing the policy, legislation and business case for the introduction of identity cards.

Given the state of the public finances, many people will think that is a staggering amount of money to waste. Will the Minister say what the future saving is from scrapping the ID card scheme—not only to the public purse but to individuals—on top of the enormous cost to our civil liberties that would have been incurred?

There will be net savings of approximately £86 million over the next four years—[Interruption.]. From a sedentary position, the shadow Home Secretary describes that as “diddly squat”. [Interruption.] He keeps doing this: £21 million a year of public money is of no consequence to the Opposition Front Bench. On top of that, £835 million would have come out of citizens’ pockets directly, as that is what people would have been forced to pay for these wretched ID cards if the previous Government’s policy had been allowed to continue. Labour Members do not recognise the difference between spending public money and spending taxpayer’s money that they have taken directly out of their pockets. We do recognise that distinction.

The Minister pulls many different numbers out of his hat—the numbers seem to change often—on the savings from scrapping ID cards. As he rightly points out, more than 70 per cent. of the cost in future would have come out of the pockets of people who had chosen a voluntary card. One figure that has not come out of the Minister’s hat, however, is the amount of compensation that his Department will need to pay to companies and businesses involved in developing the ID card scheme. Will he tell the House that figure now? If not, when will the House be told that figure?

The hon. Lady asks that question at regular intervals, and as she knows, we are in commercial negotiations with those companies. As soon as we have reached a conclusion, we will let her and the House know.

Asylum Backlog

15. What progress her Department is making in processing the backlog of asylum applications made prior to 2010. (13097)

In 2006 a backlog of approximately 450,000 older paper and electronic asylum cases were identified—widely known as the legacy caseload. I informed the House during oral questions in June 2010 that the case resolution directorate had concluded 277,000 legacy cases up to the end of May 2010. The chief executive of the UK Border Agency, Lin Homer, updates the Home Affairs Committee on a regular basis regarding the progress made in resolving these cases. She is, I believe, due to report again to the Committee this autumn.

During a busy summer of casework in my constituency, I was astounded to meet asylum seekers who have been waiting since 2002 and 2003 to have their cases decided. Does the Minister agree that the whole system that we have inherited is a complete shambles? What will we do to get a grip of it?

It is indeed a shambles, and my hon. Friend need not take my word for it. Famously, it was this particular disaster that caused the former Home Secretary, John Reid, to describe the whole Department as “not fit for purpose”—a judgment with which it was impossible to disagree at the time. The answer to my hon. Friend is that we are getting through the backlog as fast as possible, and I am confident that we will conclude it by summer 2011.

Female Genital Mutilation

17. What resources her Department has allocated to enforcement of the law of female genital mutilation. (13099)

I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for her tireless campaigning on this extremely serious issue.

The Government are committed to developing a strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation. Legislation alone cannot eliminate the practice, so our resources will be aimed at raising awareness of the law on female genital mutilation, and of the health implications, among communities and front-line practitioners.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but it was not satisfactory. Since 2003, when my private Member’s Bill tightening legislation on the issue was passed, there have been no prosecutions, although according to health professionals and the police, the practice is increasing in this country. Events such as FGM cutting parties are taking place here. This is a crime against women. When will the Government catch the criminals?

I agree with the right hon. Lady—although I should point out that we came to office only recently, and that 2003 was seven years ago—and I have pursued the question of why no prosecutions have taken place since the passing of the Act in 2003.

There has been a fair amount of progress. A good many investigations are taking place, and each year there is an increase in the number of investigations. There are various reasons for the fact that no cases have proceeded to the courts. I have no doubt that if a case were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, the CPS would proceed with it; however, some victims and their families state that the female genital mutilation was carried out before the victims came to the United Kingdom, and some victims are too young to give evidence. Problems may also be caused by diplomatic immunity and community barriers. Although female genital mutilation was banned in Egypt two years ago, nine out of 10 women and children are still being subjected to it. It is on awareness that our resources must be concentrated, but I agree that we should pursue the question of why there have been no prosecutions.

Topical Questions

During the recess, the Home Office presented proposals to fulfil a number of key coalition commitments, including a clampdown on rogue private sector wheel-clampers and the introduction of a system of temporary bans on “legal highs”.

Further to an answer that was given earlier, may I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend for banning the recent planned English Defence League march in Bradford? Will she join me in praising the officers of West Yorkshire police for the professional way in which they dealt with a very difficult and potentially volatile situation? What further steps will she take to tackle extremism in this country?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, which does indeed relate to one that was asked earlier. I am happy to commend the actions of West Yorkshire police, and, indeed, to commend the people of Bradford on ensuring that their community cohesion was not undermined by those who wish to create division and difference in our society. As was made clear earlier by the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, the Government are committed to ensuring that peaceful protest can take place, but also committed to ensuring that proper action is taken when people wish protest to be a means of causing violence and division in our community.

T2. During the recess I spent a day with police on the Grangewood estate in Chesterfield, meeting people there. Grangewood has suffered tremendously from antisocial behaviour in the past. The police were certain that, when properly employed, antisocial behaviour orders were an incredibly successful and effective way of reducing the incidence of antisocial behaviour. Why do we not continue to give the police a vital tool that will help them to reduce the incidence of such behaviour in their community? (13108)

We do indeed intend to ensure that the police have the tools that enable them to tackle antisocial behaviour, which, sadly, occurs too often in too many places, despite the last Labour Government’s introduction of a wide range of sometimes complex initiatives. The figures show that too much antisocial behaviour takes place, and people know that too much of it takes place in their neighbourhoods. We are committed to reviewing the powers that are available to the police to ensure that they can deal with it effectively.

T3. In Wimbledon, we have a thriving language school sector and there will be widespread support for today’s announcement that there will be action on overstayers on student visas, but can my hon. Friend assure me that the review that he undertakes will ensure that there is no discrimination against genuine applicants? (13109)

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I know he and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House have reputable English language colleges in their constituencies. As he said, we are committed to introducing new measures to minimise abuse of the student visa system, and I am also able to tell him that we are looking at the English language sector as a particular priority. I have met representatives from the colleges in that sector and the Members representing them here. I have listened to their concerns about the current arrangements, which were introduced by the previous Government, and I will make an announcement about this shortly.

If the Home Secretary and the Government are serious about reducing and eradicating violence against women, why is it that they have only recently decided to opt out of a new European directive to combat human trafficking?

We are, indeed, committed to ensuring that we take action against violence against women, and I remind the hon. Lady that the last Labour Government took 12 years to develop a strategy on that. We will produce our strategy on ending violence against women within one year of coming into office, and it will cover a wide range of subjects. In looking at European Union directives, I take a very simple approach: is signing up to a particular directive to the benefit of the United Kingdom? Happily, most of the provisions in the European directive on human trafficking are already being acted on by the United Kingdom, because we take that issue extremely seriously.

T4. Last week, Brooke Kinsella visited the Corner House youth project in Stockton, which has been very successful in highlighting, through talks and special activities, the dangers associated with knives. Will the Minister consider implementing similar programmes in constituencies such as mine which, tragically, have only recently once again had a serious knife crime incident? (13110)

The Government are grateful for the work of Brooke Kinsella in considering how we can deter young people from carrying knives, and she will be reporting to us later this year. We are interested in successful schemes such as that which my hon. Friend describes, and if he will send me further information on it, I will gladly study it.

Does localism extend as far as consulting local communities about any proposals to cut safer neighbourhood teams?

In relation to the police and localism, we are ensuring that there is a more direct link between local people and policing in their community through the introduction of the ability for them to elect a directly accountable police and crime commissioner whose responsibility it will be to ensure that local policing delivers what local people want. We will also ensure that, through neighbourhood meetings and crime maps, people are aware of what is going on in their community and are able to hold the police directly accountable for what is happening in it.

T5. Last week on ITV a programme about community payback showed offenders on community payback smoking cannabis and not being properly supervised. How can we be sure that community payback means exactly that? (13111)

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House who saw that programme will have been angered, as I was, by the scenes depicted where offenders were, frankly, sticking two fingers up at the criminal justice system and smoking cannabis. They were not being properly supervised. That is being investigated, and we must have confidence that these community sentences are administered rigorously.

When the Home Secretary cut the police budget for this year she included cuts to vital counter-terrorism work. Will she take the opportunity to create some common ground across the Chamber by sending out a strong message to terrorists that she will protect counter-terrorism funding in the budget for next year?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this Government will ensure that we maintain our fight against terrorism. As he says, this is something on which views are shared across this Chamber; all Members of this House want to see us combat the threat of terrorism effectively. We will certainly do all that we can to do that.

T7. Will the Secretary of State tell us what representations have been received from police and members of the youth offending teams regarding their concerns about youth offenders who do not comply with the licence conditions, in particular the community element, of detention and training orders? (13114)

I am not aware that we have received any representations about these orders, but the same argument as before applies: it is essential that they are administered properly, that they are completed and that the public can have confidence in sentences containing a community element. We will be publishing a sentencing review later this year, and I will also discuss these issues with the Youth Justice Board.

Has the Home Secretary read Saturday’s Yorkshire Post and the appeal made by the Archbishop of York, on his knees, as it were, to the Government asking them to opt in to the EU directive on sex slave trafficking. The Home Secretary is right to say that there are many measures in law in this country that deal with that, as there are in other EU member states. However, the point is that we need to send a signal to the pimps and traffickers that we are co-operating at a European level. It took three or four years to get the Council of Europe convention adopted—that was against the opposition of the Home Office in the previous Government. Do not stand on the side of the pimps and traffickers; stand with the Archbishop of York and the victims of this terrible trade.

Sadly, I did not read the Yorkshire Post on Saturday—I was far too busy reading the Maidenhead Advertiser—but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am aware of the comments made by the Archbishop of York on this matter. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has, over a number of years, taken this issue extremely seriously and has spoken up on behalf of women who have been trafficked into the sex trade in this country. It is right to say that we need to take all the action that we can to combat that terrible, terrible trade. However, I repeat what I have said in answer to an earlier question: most of the elements of the EU human trafficking directive are being adopted already in the United Kingdom, because we all take this issue very seriously.

T8. Has the Home Secretary had an opportunity to take forward the suggestion of the anti-terrorism expert, Dr Marc Sageman, that the transcripts of trials where terrorists are convicted should be published in full, in order to educate communities of the stupidity, moral poverty and criminal hatred of the people convicted in such cases? (13115)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, which concerns an issue that he raised with me on the Floor of the House on 13 July. I am grateful for the letter that he sent me to follow up on that exchange, and I have passed that correspondence on to the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for considering the publication of trial transcripts and is examining the possibility of making available more information—more transcripts—about remarks made by judges when sentencing. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), will be in touch with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) on this matter shortly.

Police community support officers have become an essential part of local communities in Nottingham and elsewhere, so what reassurance can the Minister offer on this matter to my constituents, who are worried that the cuts in policing proposed by the Government will lead to a reduction in their number?

We share the hon. Lady’s support for PCSOs, which we believe are an important part of the policing family. We are determined that police forces should make efficiencies and savings, and that the front line of policing will be protected.

T9. May I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look into the case of one of my constituents, who is apparently being deported for working for too many hours in a part-time job and losing her working visa in this country?


I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He will understand that I cannot comment on the case on the Floor of the House, but if he wishes to write to me, I will of course look into it and get back to him as soon as possible.

The Minister will be aware of the awful case, widely reported at the weekend, of Sergeant Mark Andrews of the Wiltshire constabulary who was convicted of a serious assault on my constituent, Miss Pamela Somerville, when she was incorrectly in police custody. Will Ministers take a look at the rules, regulations and protocols covering police cells to make sure that that kind of outrageous event cannot occur again?

It is essential that offenders taken into custody are treated and supervised properly. I will happily look at the matter and ensure that we have adequate systems in place to ensure that is the case.

In light of the Deputy Prime Minister’s very welcome announcement that the child and female wing of Yarl’s Wood will be closed, may I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends what plans there are to look at the long-term role and future of Yarl’s Wood as a whole?

My hon. Friend is correct. At the moment, we are looking at alternatives to detention for children. Yarl’s Wood is, as he knows, used for the detention both of single women and of women with families. It is our intention to minimise the detention of children in the future as a whole and, therefore, that aspect of Yarl’s Wood’s use will disappear, but clearly not its use for adult women.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in offering the warmest congratulations to the Prime Minister and his wife on the safe delivery of their daughter, Florence Rose Endellion, at the Royal Cornwall hospital in my constituency? Will she join me in thanking the staff at the hospital for their kindness and care, given not only to the Camerons but to all those visiting Cornwall for their holidays who find themselves in need of the NHS?

Order. I am sure that somewhere in that eloquently and elegantly phrased question the hon. Lady wanted some sort of response on police matters—perhaps police attendance, police security or something of that sort.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am indeed very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Prime Minister and his wife Samantha on the safe delivery of their daughter, Florence, who as my hon. Friend said has a Cornish name as well. I am sure that the Prime Minister and his wife were very pleased to have been protected and kept safe while they were in Cornwall by the appropriate local constabulary.