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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 522: debated on Monday 24 January 2011

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Alcohol (Licensing)

The Government are taking forward proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to reform the alcohol licensing regime. These include charging a fee for late-night licences, making it easier for communities to have their say on local licensing matters, doubling the fine to £20,000 for those found persistently selling alcohol to children and overhauling the temporary event notices so that existing loopholes can no longer be exploited.

The Cheshire ArcAngel team does excellent work to combat under-age drinking and sales to under-age drinkers, including working with responsible retailers. Licensing officers inform me, however, that current procedures make enforcement action unwieldy and protracted, even when a sale to an under-age individual has clearly occurred. Will the Minister look into enforcement difficulties, such as problems identifying which salesperson to prosecute, the tactic of a swift change of a named licence holder making closure notices hard to apply and the omission of a power to require mandatory staff retraining?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and join her in commending the work of ArcAngel in Cheshire. The work that it does is similar to that of other groups throughout the country. Certainly it is important for us not only to change the legislation to ensure that the things I set out in my original answer occur, but to ensure that enforcement takes place properly. I am sure we will be happy to look at the particular issues that she raises in relation to the difficulty of enforcement.

A few weeks back, I spent a Friday night out on the streets of Sheerness with my local police licensing officer, backed up by a team of community policemen, checking out licensed premises in an effort to combat alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. I was deeply impressed by the licensing officer’s professionalism and the dedicated way he went about his business. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as police forces look to reduce the number of back-office staff, one area that should not be cut is licence enforcement?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and commend him for going out with the licensing officer to see what is done in practice. Of course, licence enforcement is an important part of policing. It is not for us to tell chief constables how to allocate their resources, but they will look to ensure that they have the right mix of police officers and police staff to ensure that the licensing law is abided by and enforced.

As the Home Secretary knows, 50% of crimes are alcohol-related, according to the British crime survey. May I welcome the Government’s proposals for a minimum price for alcohol? They are of course in keeping with the recommendations that the Home Affairs Committee made last year, but will she look at the level of pricing? She is putting it at 21p per unit, whereas health campaigners say that it should be 50p per unit. Let us make this a genuine exercise, not just a box-ticking exercise.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I also commend the Home Affairs Committee for its work in this and a number of other areas. He refers to a minimum price for alcohol, but we are banning below-cost sales of alcohol, and we have set that cost at VAT plus duty. That is slightly different from a minimum per unit price for alcohol, but it is important to recognise that, in relation to cracking down on problem drinking, we have taken not only that step but a number of other measures of the sort that I set out in my earlier response.

In reviewing the Licensing Act 2003, is the Secretary of State satisfied that police forces and local authorities throughout the country are using their existing powers as much as they should? Does the late night levy proposal, aimed at reflecting the cost of policing the late-night economy, risk being an additional tax burden on local businesses while the policing that they receive in return still falls as a result of the 20% cuts in police budgets?

I refer the hon. Lady to the actions of the Labour Government in introducing alcohol disorder zones. Yes, we are reviewing the Licensing Act 2003 that they brought in, because far from introducing the café-style culture that Tony Blair said it would bring, it did the exact opposite. Sadly, we have yet again seen increases in incidents relating to alcohol, and in admissions to hospital owing to alcohol-related injuries. That is why the coalition Government are taking the steps that are necessary to deal with problem drinking and giving local areas the ability to deal with their licensing problems.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to tackling the debilitating impact of alcohol abuse. By how many do the Government expect the recently announced measures to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths? If they are unsuccessful in that, will the Government consider banning alcohol sales below a cost that includes production and transport costs?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We expect that there will be 7,000 fewer alcohol-related incidents and 1,000 fewer hospital admissions as a result of the ban on below-cost alcohol sales.

Immigration (Scotland)

A full impact assessment covering the whole of the UK will be published when we lay new immigration rules in March to implement the changes that will introduce the new limits from April. As the hon. Gentleman knows, immigration is not a devolved matter.

I thank the Minister for his response. In my constituency, there are two universities and a number of successful science and technology companies. I have been presented with cases at my constituency surgery in which promising employees and students have been rejected simply because the immigration limits have been reached. Those people are highly qualified and would be of significant benefit to the Dundee and UK economies. How can we simply turn them away?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the purpose of the limit is to meet the need to control Britain’s immigration system in a way that enables businesses to bring in the skilled workers that they need. I remind him and employers in Scotland that the unemployment rate in Scotland is above the UK average, at 8.4% compared with 7.8% for the UK. We should have regard to the needs of Scottish workers when companies look to recruit.

When one of my great-grandfathers left the Gordon Highlanders as a pipe major, he could not find work in Scotland. Like many Scots, he came south to England. If there are job vacancies in Scotland, should people not be thinking of moving the other way? Is it not a bit strange for the Opposition to be on the one hand bemoaning unemployment levels, and on the other hand campaigning for higher immigration levels?

My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point. It was the previous Prime Minister who made the unfortunate point about British jobs for British workers at a time when British workers were not taking the majority of the jobs available in this country. This Government are determined to balance the economy better in many ways, in particular by ensuring that as many of the available jobs as possible are available to workers in Britain and, indeed, Scotland.

I think that everybody in Scotland is getting tired of the complacent response on these issues. The Minister has managed to unite all businesses, all universities, the health sector and all employers in Scotland in opposition to the immigration cap, because of the damage it will do to the Scottish economy. When will he acknowledge that Scotland’s population issues are entirely different from England’s? Will he accept that one cap does not fit all when it comes to immigration?

There are indeed differences in Scotland, and one is that unemployment in Scotland is higher than in England, and higher than the average for the rest of the UK. I dare say that those who are complaining about this matter do not include workers in Scotland, and do not include the unemployed in Scotland.

Youth Services (CSR)

4. What funding her Department plans to provide for youth services during the comprehensive spending review period. (35092)

As the Home Secretary told the House during oral questions in December, the Home Office does not provide youth services. However, it does contribute towards local youth crime prevention work, including youth offending teams and family intervention work. We will continue to fund activities that divert young people from crime and will set out our plans for future funding in due course.

Northumbria police are proposing massive cuts in support staff, which will take front-line officers off the streets, including those who work on youth crime prevention, to do back-room jobs that are currently being done by support staff. Will the Minister explain how that will not result in the level of crime going up in Sunderland and Northumbria?

Our challenge is to use the resources that we have in the most effective way possible by freeing up officer time to deal with crime. Front-line services will always matter most to the public. It is up to the local force in Northumberland how to deploy its forces, but other forces are increasing their front-line staff, so perhaps Northumberland should follow suit.

I accept what my hon. Friend the Minister says about her Department not having direct responsibility for the matter, but can she assure me that it and the police will contribute to the review of youth provision led by the Department for Education? There is a lot of learning and expertise in community engagement to be gained by the Home Office and the police.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. There is a lot that we can learn, and we will listen to all that comes out of the review and work with the Department for Education. As he will know, youth services are provided by that Department and not the Home Office, but we work closely together.

But does the Minister understand the basic principles of the matter? Youth services are essential to directing young people into positive engagement, and they are better and more cost-effective for the Home Office than dealing with the consequences after young people have got involved in crime. Will she and other Home Office Ministers understand and pursue that, in the way that was suggested in the Justice Committee’s report on justice reinvestment?

That is exactly why the Department for Education’s early intervention grant, worth £2.2 billion in 2011-12, is in place. Early indications of how local areas might make best use of that grant were given in December 2010. It will give them the flexibility to target funding on early interventions, which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, are absolutely vital.

Police (Rural Areas)

5. What assessment she has made of the challenges faced by police forces required to police large rural areas. (35094)

Rural areas can present challenges for policing because of their geographical size and the remoteness of their communities. The Government’s reform programme to reduce bureaucracy will help policing in rural and urban areas alike.

I thank my right hon. Friend. Will he urge police forces to work much more closely with fire services and others to share back offices and facilities in rural areas and save taxpayers’ money?

The short answer is yes. Police forces could make huge savings by collaborating with each other and with other authorities. An example is the proposed national police air service, which will save £15 million a year once it is fully in place. I hope that police authorities will agree to it.

Would it not be a mistake to prop up rural police funding by plundering the police resources of urban areas? For example, many people in my constituency are worried about the future of Sherwood police station. Why are the Government cutting the most from the least well-off communities?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that would be a mistake, and we certainly do not make funding allocations on that basis. Of course police forces have had to make savings, but we have decided that the fairest approach is to ensure that all forces make an equal share of the savings. The majority of grant is, of course, allocated according to the formula.

Although co-operation among forces, and indeed between the police, ambulance and fire services, is essential, as the Minister correctly suggests, does he not agree that there is a real risk that if a rural police force such as mine in Wiltshire were to co-operate too closely with, say, Bristol on one side or Swindon or Reading on the other, resources would be pulled out of the rural areas and into the urban ones? Keeping a rural police service is extremely important.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of keeping rural policing services. In the end, these are matters for the determination of chief constables, who must remain operationally independent and allocate resources properly, and their police authorities. We do not seek to interfere with that, but we do seek to drive savings where they can be made by greater collaboration between forces.

The chief constable of North Wales says that it will be impossible to protect front-line services with cuts of £22.6 million over the next four years. Will the Prime Minister please tell us—[Interruption.] I apologise for what may appear to be a promotion. Will the Minister explain what assessment he has made of those figures?

That is easily the nicest thing that has been said to me since I have been in this job—indeed, it may be the only nice thing.

I want to discuss these issues with the chief constable of North Wales. We believe that by making significant savings in their back and middle offices, by sharing services and by improving procurement, it is possible for police forces to deal with funding reductions while protecting front-line services. It is up to the police authority and the chief constable to do everything they can to ensure that that is the case.


6. What recent progress has been made towards the Government’s commitment to reduce net migration. (35095)

We have already announced that we will introduce a new permanent limit on non-EU economic migrants, with a reduction in visas from tiers 1 and 2 in the next financial year from 28,000 to 21,700. Those changes to the economic routes will be introduced in April. We are currently consulting on changes to tighten the student route and will consult on family and settlement later this year.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her answer. I am sure she agrees that reducing net immigration is essential to the United Kingdom. How successful was the points-based system in controlling immigration to this country?

My hon. Friend is right, and that is why the Government have the aim of reducing net migration to tens of thousands from the hundreds of thousands. Of course, it reached the hundreds of thousands under the points-based system that the previous Government operated. However, the problem was not the points-based system, but the fact that the previous Government had no proper policy for ensuring that immigration was brought under control. This Government will ensure that immigration is controlled and that net migration is reduced.

What is the exact reduction that the Secretary of State will achieve in the net migration figures this year and in each year up to 2015 to fulfil the firm pledge, which she appears to have again relegated to the status of an aim, to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015? [Interruption.]

As one of my hon. Friends just said, “Nice try.” Of course, I am unable to give the hon. Lady an exact figure for net migration this year. There will be people across the world who have not decided whether they want to apply to come to the UK, and people in the UK who have not yet decided whether they want to leave. Nobody knows exactly what that figure will be.

Non-EU Student Immigration

The Government launched a public consultation on proposed changes to the student visa arrangements on 7 December 2010. The proposals will result in a more selective system and reduce the numbers to support our aim of reducing net migration to sustainable levels.

What importance does the Minister attach to student visas in his overall objective of reducing net migration to a sustainable level?

It is an extremely important part of the overall reduction that we need. Taking action on students is particularly important as they make up roughly two thirds of non-European economic area immigrants, and the number of student visas issued has been rising in recent years. Getting a proper grip on the out-of-control system that we inherited requires action on all the main routes of immigration, and that is precisely what the Government will do.

Will my hon. Friend reassure me that in future there will be robust checks on the departure of all foreign students whose visas have expired?

Yes, we are proceeding with the e-Borders system, which already manages to track the journeys of roughly 55% of those who come in and out of the country. By the end of the Parliament, that figure will be up to mid-90%. My hon. Friend identifies a key problem: it is not just a question of who comes but of how long they stay and whether they go at the end of their stay.

In taking the action on students about which the Minister has spoken, will he acknowledge the importance of non-EU students to British institutions of higher education and learning? Will he ensure that he clamps down on the bogus colleges that have violated those students’ expectations?

I am happy to agree with both points in the hon. Gentleman’s question. Of course we want our universities to flourish and the brightest and best students to come to this country and study at good, genuine institutions. However, we are already cracking down on the bogus colleges and on those that do not provide a proper education. The significance of the distinction between those two things, which the hon. Gentleman rightly makes, is that more than 40% of those who come here on student visas study at below degree level. Often, the public perception of a student as somebody who studies at a university is simply wrong in the case of those who come here from abroad on student visas.

But if, as the Minister says, 40% of students are on below-degree courses, his policy could have a major impact on the funding of colleges and universities. Has he had discussions with Government colleagues about the impact of achieving the 40% reduction that he is apparently looking for?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his first Home Office questions as the Labour party’s immigration spokesman. Yes, of course we have extensive discussions within the Government on the effects of the controls that we will introduce. He will have seen that very surprising numbers of people come here to do sub-degree courses not at public further education colleges but at privately funded colleges. He will be aware that there are many hundreds of those colleges, and that they are—frankly—of variable quality.

Crime Levels

The two main measures of crime—the British crime survey and police recorded crime—provide either a partial or confusing picture of trends in crime since 1997. It is crucial that we have a measure of crime in which the public have confidence. That is why we have asked the national statistician to lead an independent review of how it is produced.

The picture of crime in Greater Manchester is neither partial nor confusing—between 1998 and 2009, the number of police officers rose by 1,200 and crime fell by a third. However, with the cuts imposed by this Government, Greater Manchester police will lose 1,400 police officers. Our chief constable told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that that will mean changes to policing, fewer police on the streets and a lesser service. What does the Minister—in his current role or any future exalted one—plan to do if the Government’s cuts lead to a rise in crime, as my constituents fear they will?

I should first of all point out to the hon. Lady what the chief constable of Greater Manchester police actually said. He said that

“the end result will be more resources put into frontline policing and a more efficient and effective service for the people of Greater Manchester.”

If she is going to mount her attack on the basis of police numbers falling, perhaps she will reflect on the fact that police numbers in Greater Manchester fell in the last year of the Labour Government.

Under the previous Government, more than 4,000 new offences were created—an average of 28 new offences for every month of that Government. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not have a deluge of new offences under this Government?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the previous Government’s record was repeatedly to introduce criminal justice Bills and to create more and more offences. This Government want to ensure that the police can focus on crime fighting rather than on form writing and the bureaucracy that they were landed with by the previous Government.

As the British crime survey was established by the previous Conservative Administration to produce greater accuracy in assessing levels of crime, why does the right hon. Gentleman not show the same courage as the former Home Secretary, now Lord Howard, and simply admit that crime went up inexorably until 1995, and that since then, on the Conservative’s own measure, crime has consistently fallen to one of the lowest levels that we have seen in three decades?

I note that on the right hon. Gentleman’s measure, crime started to fall two years before the advent of a Labour Government. He knows as well as I do that the British crime survey excludes important crimes—those against young people and property—and we therefore believe it is important that we have measures in which the public can have confidence. That is why we have asked the national statistician to conduct an independent review of those matters. I urge him and Opposition Members to join us in giving evidence to the national statistician. Let us reach a measure in which we can all trust and have confidence.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a DNA database, CCTV cameras and having as many criminals in prison as possible all contribute to a reduced level of crime? Would he like to comment on what impact the Government’s plans will have on levels of crime in future?

As so often, I do not agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Of course, the national DNA database and CCTV are important, but it is equally important that there is proper governance of them and that we achieve a proper balance between civil liberties and crime-fighting measures.

It is a pleasure to be working once again opposite the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I am only sorry not to be asking my first Home Affairs question of her.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said that there is no link between the number of police officers and the level of crime. However, the Birmingham Mail has reported that some parts of Birmingham have already seen a recruitment freeze, a cut in the number of officers in the neighbourhood team and a significant increase in the number of burglaries in the past nine months. The local police, who are being put in a very difficult position by the Government, have said that they are struggling to fight crime in the area as a result. Does he still stand by his claim or will he admit, to the police and the public, that he has got it wrong?

May I first welcome the right hon. Lady to her post? I look forward to debating these issues with her, although I hope she will not follow the poor example of her successor—[Laughter.] I mean her predecessor. I hope that she will not follow his poor example by partially quoting Government Members. I did not say that there was no link, and she should know that. Instead, I should point out something said by somebody with whom I believe she has regular conversations: that this was a tighter environment for police spending, and would be under any Government. That was what the new shadow Chancellor said to the Home Affairs Committee on 22 November 2010, when he was shadow Home Secretary.

Child Protection

9. What factors she took into account in reaching her decision to merge the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the national crime agency. (35098)

Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the Government, and we believe that the work of CEOP is central to ensuring that children are protected at a national level. Whatever final decision we make on the future status of CEOP, we will carefully take full account of the particular characteristics needed to ensure that CEOP continues to thrive in the future.

CEOP is well respected for the excellent work it does, including in improving protection on social media—for example, the panic button on Facebook. The resignation of Jim Gamble will cause great concern to many parents, so what reassurance can the Government give that child safety online will be prioritised and enhanced under the new structure, and certainly in no way compromised?

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments because they allow me to underline the Government’s gratitude for the continuing work of CEOP and the importance that we place on it. That has certainly been highlighted by the thematic assessment that it is undertaking of the appalling incidents uncovered as a consequence of Operation Retriever. We are looking closely at the specific characteristics that need to be retained to ensure that CEOP continues to thrive, including a clearly delegated authority for its budget, operational independence and the ability for external partners to continue to work alongside it. We regard CEOP as very significant, and will continue to support it.

On that last point, I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that one of CEOP’s great strengths is the partnerships it has created with the private sector and children’s organisations. What evidence can he give to the House, therefore, that under his proposals CEOP will continue to be able to raise about one third of its running costs from sources outside Government?

An important point to make is that some people have suggested that were we to decide that CEOP should form part of the new national crime agency, it would in some way change its characteristics. The right hon. Gentleman will know probably better than most that CEOP is already part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, where it has been able to attract partners from the voluntary and community sector as well as the private sector. We are clear that that relationship needs to be maintained into the future, whatever the format or wherever CEOP sits when we finally reach our conclusions in the current review.

Cuts in police officer numbers will mean reductions in the numbers of specialist officers and specialist units. CEOP has been a great success, working with others to protect children. Children’s charities such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and people such as Sara Payne oppose its merger with the new national crime agency. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee has also expressed concern, and CEOP’S chief executive has resigned. Why are they all wrong and the Minister right?

We are still considering this issue, but the Home Secretary has said that her preferred option would be for CEOP to be part of the national crime agency, because of the strong links and the need for enforcement capability. However, we recognise the other functions that CEOP performs, which is why we are considering the matter carefully. It is also why I set out clearly the relevant factors and characteristics that we recognise in CEOP, and why we will ensure that it is protected.

Police (Regulatory Burden)

We have removed central targets by scrapping the policing pledge and the public confidence target, and we will be abolishing the assessment of policing and community safety. We are also working with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to develop new, light-touch monitoring arrangements for police forces that will allow us to focus on performance, at the same time as reducing the inspection burden.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Police community support officers and police officers are a valuable resource in the communities that they serve in Loughborough and surrounding villages. Does my right hon. Friend agree that where savings need to be made, Leicestershire police force and others should be looking at the back office for those savings, not the front line?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is possible for police forces to make significant savings in the back office, and that is where they should look first. We are helping them by scrapping the stop form and reducing what needs to be recorded on the stop-and-search form. We will save 800,000 hours of police time a year.

My local police force, West Mercia, finds itself involved in increasing amounts of social work. Although that is to be commended—such compassion is good—it draws resources away from fighting crime. Will my right hon. Friend commit to reviewing regulations and working with her Cabinet colleagues to look at the issue carefully and ensure that social work is carried out by dedicated social services, so that the police can focus on fighting crime?

I have made it absolutely clear to the police that their aim is to cut crime, but of course they work with other agencies, in a variety of ways, on the issues that they deal with. The important thing is that when such work takes place, it leads to effective action, whatever that action should be, and not, sadly, what used to happen, as we saw from HMIC’s report on the response to antisocial behaviour. All too often, meetings and partnership meetings took place just for the sake of it, rather than something being done on the ground to benefit people.

The Home Secretary appears to be continuing with the trend of what she has been saying, which is that the cuts in the police budget can be met by back-office cuts and reductions in regulation. In the west midlands there have been huge reductions in back-office staff and a freeze on police recruitment. Does she believe that the chief constable is just a fool, or is she in denial?

I was interested that the right hon. Gentleman’s initial comment was that he was grateful for some consistency from a Minister. Perhaps that was more a comment about the Labour Government, of whom he was a senior member, and the policies that they introduced. What I would say to him is indeed what I have been saying since I came into this role. It is possible for police forces to make significant savings in their budgets by making savings in the back office. HMIC reported that simply ensuring that all police forces met average efficiency levels could save 12% in their budgets, which does not take into account issues such as procurement, IT procurement and the potential for a two-year pay freeze, were that to be agreed by the police negotiating board.

One way to reduce the burdens on front-line police is to have a team of support staff in place to do many of the tasks necessary to bring about successful convictions. Does the Home Secretary not understand the anger and dismay of people across Greater Manchester, who are set to lose not only almost 1,400 front-line police officers, but 1,500 support staff? Will she think again?

One way to release the police to do the job that the public want them to be doing, on the front line, is to get rid of the bureaucracy that was introduced by the last, Labour Government, which ties too many police officers up behind a desk, so that they are not out there on the streets.

South Wales Police (CSR)

13. What recent estimate she has made of the effects of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review on police numbers in south Wales. (35102)

It is for the police authority and chief constable to determine the number of officers in south Wales within the available resource. The Government are determined to help forces protect the front line by reducing costs and bureaucracy.

It is quite clear that there are going to be huge reductions in the number of police officers in south Wales and elsewhere. Will the Minister tell the House exactly when the Conservative party decided that it was no longer interested in being known as the party of law and order?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. We have to deal with a budget deficit bequeathed to us by the previous Government. The police service spends some £13 billion a year, and it can contribute to the savings that have to be made. Those on the Labour Benches have conceded that police forces can save more than £1 billion a year without affecting the front line.

Family Intervention Projects

14. What funding her Department will make available during the spending review period for the implementation of family intervention projects. (35103)

From April 2011, funding decisions on specific early intervention priorities, including family intervention projects, will be devolved to local areas. The Department for Education’s new early intervention grant, worth £2.2 billion in 2011-12, will give local authorities the flexibility that they need to plan how best to use central Government funding for local services according to local priorities.

Earlier today, the former shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), said that, without Andy Coulson, the Government would lack any idea about what the priorities of the general public were. I can inform the Minister that one of the major priorities for most of the general public is antisocial behaviour, and that family intervention projects are a proven way of nipping that problem in the bud. Can she guarantee that, even without the man-of-the-people guidance of Mr Coulson, important but low-profile projects such as family intervention projects will continue to be a funding priority?

I am not sure that the hon. Lady was listening to my earlier response, in which I said that the Department for Education had already allocated £2.2 billion for 2011-12. There will be almost £2.3 billion in 2012-13. I do not think that that suggests that we do not think this is important.

Does the Minister agree that, in the past, there has been far too much duplication in the public services, and that a more holistic approach would not only benefit families but save money?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. A great deal of money is spent on chaotic families, who, up to now, have had a series of agencies trying to help them. The move to a single key worker will save an enormous amount. The original estimate was between £250,000 and £300,000, but with a specially allocated key worker and early intervention, the cost could be as low as £14,000.

UK Border Agency (CSR)

15. What estimate she has made of the likely change in the number of UK Border Agency staff as a result of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. (35105)

The UK Border Agency has estimated that the number of UK Border Agency staff will reduce by about 5,200 during the spending review period.

We deal with hundreds of immigration cases in my constituency every year. While the situation undoubtedly improved under the previous Government, there are still substantial delays in the UK Border Agency’s dealing with cases. May I suggest to the Minister that we need an increase in staff, not a reduction?

I am interested to hear that those on the Labour Back Benches are still calling for public spending increases. It will be interesting to see what those on the hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench say about that. He is wrong in several respects. The UK Border Agency is getting better, and it will get better still. It will do that in two ways. First, we will replace the costly and outmoded paperwork that it depended on in the past with the appropriate use of new technology. Secondly, the very use of that technology will mean that we can better target our resources of people and money on those who are most likely to cause harm to the UK. So we will be able to provide a better service, even with fewer staff.

What estimates has the Minister made of the number of staff that would be required if the UK Border Agency got its decisions right the first time?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The higher the quality of the initial decision making, the fewer resources of money and people will be needed later. Part of the reason for having the new technology—new ways of applying for visas, for example —is that we will be able to use senior and more experienced staff to take the initial decisions, so that more of them can be got right first time.

Police (Bolton)

16. What estimate she has made of the number of police officers in Bolton (a) on the latest date for which figures are available and (b) at the end of 2014-15. (35106)

Bolton Metropolitan borough division had 527 police officers on 31 March 2010. It is not possible to forecast the position in 2014-15. It is a matter for the chief constable and the police authority to determine the number of police officers and other staff that are deployed to Bolton.

Well, the Minister might be in denial about the numbers in 2014, but the rest of us know that under this Government there will be fewer police officers in Bolton in that year than there are now. After all those years in opposition making a case for having more bobbies on the beat, how can this Government retain any credibility without admitting that fewer police officers will mean more crime?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will pay more attention to what the chief constable of the Greater Midlands—[Hon. Members: “Greater Manchester”]—police is saying. I am sorry, I mean the chief constable of the Greater Manchester police. He told The Bolton News that cuts would not affect the front line and went on to say that there was “no reason” why crime should go up. He pointed out to the Home Affairs Committee that some of the force’s headquarters operations had got too big and that some police officer numbers had been kept artificially high. He said that they had lots of police officers doing administrative posts just to hit that number.

English Defence League

17. What recent assessment she has made of the extent of the activities of the English Defence League. (35107)

The Government work with a range of partners to assess the activities of the English Defence League and its impact on communities, in order to inform Government policy on tackling extremism, promoting integration and managing public order challenges.

On Saturday 5 February, the English Defence League will rally in Luton, leading to the biggest police operations in Bedfordshire’s history. Although there are undoubted concerns about short-term public order offences, does the Home Secretary share my concern and that of many of my constituents about the long-term effects on community cohesion resulting from this extremist group?

I do indeed share concerns about the EDL, its actions and its impact on communities when it marches. As I understand it, Bedfordshire police are looking very carefully at the policing arrangements for the march in Luton. We should all be aware of the damage that the EDL’s divisive message can do to communities.

Can the Home Secretary do anything to address the issue of the internet, which is having the effect of radicalising young people on both sides of the political spectrum?

My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important issue, to which we need to pay close attention. It is much harder these days—precisely because of the internet—to ensure that young people do not find themselves exposed to these radicalising messages, and we have sadly seen some individuals radicalised by access to it. This is a matter that the Government take very seriously; we are talking with partners about it.

Topical Questions

At the end of last year, Parliament passed the Identity Documents Act 2010, which the Home Office introduced to scrap the previous Government’s regime of intrusive, ineffective and expensive ID cards. In 2011, we will take further steps towards restoring the rights of individuals, eliminating wasteful bureaucracy and making the police service more accountable to local people.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the steps she is taking to sort out the chaotic immigration system that she inherited. Issues of concern include students who come to this country on a temporary basis, but fail to leave; and people who come as visitors, who overstay their welcome and then attempt to transfer to permanent status. What moves is she making to break that link?

We are making a number of moves. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration said in response to an earlier question, we are looking at the student visa route and ensuring that we can stop abuses pertaining to it. We are also looking at stopping people here on a temporary basis moving on to a permanent settlement basis. Last year, 62,000 people who came here to fill temporary skills gaps then moved into permanent settlement. That is not right.

I shall ask the Home Secretary about the counter-terrorism review. On Thursday, the Minister for Immigration had to be dragged to the House to tell us Government policy on pre-trial detention. He told us that emergency legislation would be kept on hand in the Library of the House. The old powers lapse at midnight, yet as of half an hour ago, there was still no draft emergency legislation in the Library. On Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister told the media that control orders were being abolished and at lunch time today, the BBC—not this House—was briefed that the new measures would include tagging and overnight residence requirements and would look a lot like control orders. This is a chaotic, shambolic and cavalier process. Where is the draft legislation? Will the Home Secretary now tell us what is happening with the legislation and with control orders, and will she take the opportunity to apologise for this shambolic process on such an important issue?

First, may I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new post as shadow Home Secretary? I am sure that she will enjoy the post. She is the third shadow Home Secretary I have faced in my nine months as Home Secretary. For her sake, I hope that she stays longer in the role than her predecessors have.

The right hon. Lady makes a point about process and refers to the 28-day pre-charge detention issue. May I say to her that the previous shadow Home Secretary clearly supported the Government on taking pre-charge detention down from 28 days to 14 days? Earlier today, the shadow Home Secretary was unfortunately unable to answer the question whether she supported 14 days’ pre-charge detention. If she is interested in chaos, she should look at sorting out her own policy.

T3. Will my hon. Friend the Minister meet me and Detective Inspector Snell to learn how Devon and Cornwall constabulary have been able to tackle the growing incidence of child sexual exploitation, so that the Government can develop a holistic plan of action to tackle a most serious situation involving thousands of children in every part of the country? (35116)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the point and for highlighting the work of Devon and Cornwall police on Operation Lakeland, which led to the conviction of six men jailed for sexually abusing girls in Cornwall. I would be happy to meet her and the detective inspector to learn from their experiences. She will be aware of the thematic review that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is undertaking in relation to this area of policy. I am also discussing with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), some of the significant matters highlighted by the recent report by Barnardo’s.

T2. Contrary to the assertion of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Peter Fahy, has said that £134 million of cuts will have a significant effect on front-line policing. He has gone on to say that police stations across Greater Manchester will now have to close. Does the Minister think that police stations are front-line? Will he tell us which police stations in Greater Manchester will close and when? (35115)

The closure of police stations is an operational matter for the police, but the right hon. Lady should know perfectly well that under the previous Labour Government some 400 police stations closed. What responsibility does she accept for that?

T4. In my constituency, there is a healthy appetite for more policemen actually on the beat. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that the chief constable of Gloucestershire has reorganised his force and has increased the number of policemen on the beat, from 563 to 661? (35117)

I welcome the action taken in Gloucestershire. The chair of its police authority has said that

“we are making sure that what we do is increase our capacity to police and not increase our costs.”

That shows that it can be done. Other forces are either protecting neighbourhood policing or even increasing it. I note that the chair of Gloucestershire police authority is also the chairman of the Association of Police Authorities.

T6. Year after year, my constituents tell me that their greatest concern is fear of crime. That is why they have fought hard to get 10 safer neighbourhood teams. Because of the cuts, the local police force is now consulting not on merging back offices or services, but on cutting those 10 safer neighbourhood teams down to two or three. Does the Minister believe that those cuts will help my constituents fear crime less, or make them less likely to be victims of crime? (35119)

I have had several discussions with the Mayor, the deputy Mayor for policing and the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner, all of whom are absolutely committed to protecting neighbourhood policing. We are all convinced that it is possible to drive considerable savings in policing, including the Met, in the back and middle office, so that the visible and available policing that the public value can be protected.

T5. I congratulate the UK Border Agency on its work. At the weekend, it caught five illegal immigrants on the French border who had been making their way to my constituency in a lorry. I welcome the increased border policing on the other side of the channel, but what further steps will the Department take to ensure that stronger measures are introduced to deter those who try to smuggle people into the United Kingdom? (35118)

I am delighted to hear that the effective controls that we are reinforcing at the border are having a beneficial effect in my hon. Friend’s constituency. She asked about further measures. I am happy to tell her that only a couple of months ago, at the Anglo-French summit, I signed a new treaty with my French counterpart which commits both countries to increasing the strength of our existing controls in Calais and extending them to other parts of the French coast. That means that we will be equally tough on any activity that is displaced from Calais to other parts of France. We are ensuring that our borders are much better controlled than they were in the past.

T8. Is the Government’s position that the number of police officers and community support officers in this country has no impact on crime levels? (35121)

Both the Policing Minister and I have responded to that point on a number of occasions. We have made it absolutely clear that there is no simple link between the number of officers and the level of crime. There are instances throughout the world in which police forces have increased their numbers and crime has risen, and other instances in which police numbers have fallen and crime has fallen.

T7. Last year, nearly half of all violent crime in Devon was alcohol-related. That represents 4,568 instances of completely avoidable violence. I welcome the introduction of a ban on below-cost sales of alcohol as a first step, but does the Minister share my fear that, because it involves only VAT plus duty, it will not go far enough in tackling this serious problem? What other measures will be introduced to tackle alcohol-related crime? (35120)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the link between alcohol and levels of crime. In fact, 50% of violent incidents are associated with alcohol. Our proposal to ban below-cost sales on the basis of duty plus VAT constitutes an initial package. We will introduce further measures to deal with licensing and other issues involving problem pubs and other alcohol outlets, and also with problem practices. That is precisely what the duty plus VAT element is about.

We will continue to monitor this complex area of policy. In particular, we will consider the rate of duty in the context of super-strength lagers, which have been associated with problematic behaviour.

T10. Why are the Government—unlike the Governments of other European countries which are increasing the support for the victims of trafficking—proposing to reduce the period during which a victim of trafficking will not face deportation from 45 days to 30 days? (35123)

The hon. Lady knows that the United Kingdom is committed to working with others, including our European partners, to tackle human trafficking. She was present for the debate in which I said that later in the year we would announce a new strategy on trafficking as a whole. That strategy will enable us not only to build on the work of the last Government in relation to caring for the victims of trafficking—which I commend—but to become much more efficient at prevention, in particular by acting overseas, so that fewer and fewer people are trafficked in the first place. That is the most effective action that we can take to reduce the incidence of this dreadful crime.

T9. How concerned is the Minister about the increase in family violence towards young women who adopt values that are contrary to the beliefs of their families? (35122)

Obviously the Government are very concerned. Any form of violence is unacceptable, and tackling violence against women and girls is a key priority for us. Work to tackle all forms of honour-based violence is included in the strategic narrative that we launched on 25 November, and further information about our approach to the issue will be provided in the supporting action plan that we will publish in the spring.

Further to the Minister’s answer on safer neighbourhood team policing, will he give a commitment that by this time next year there will continue to be a dedicated ward sergeant for every safer neighbourhood ward team, as now?

The hon. Lady should know that we cannot give commitments like that. The previous Government would not give commitments on police officer numbers. These are operational matters for the police. I point out to her that we have protected the neighbourhood policing fund, including by ring-fencing it for the next two years, because we value neighbourhood policing.

Alcohol disorder zones did not work and they also penalised well-run community pubs that did nothing to contribute to alcohol-fuelled disorder. I am pleased that the Government are listening on this, but can the Minister reassure the House that the new late-night levy will make allowances for late-night community pubs, be that for one-off or once-a-year events, such as new year, or for staying open a little later at the weekends, as my excellent local, the Manor House in Otley, does? Will he assure us that they will not be penalised by a blanket charge?

The hon. Gentleman has rightly highlighted those responsible premises that act appropriately and reflect their communities. Our proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill on the late-night levy are intended to be an additional tool for local communities to decide what is appropriate for their area. We are learning from the cataclysmic failure of the previous Government’s alcohol disorder zones. They were simply incapable of being implemented, and it was therefore not surprising that nobody took them up.

Is the Home Secretary aware that in last Thursday’s exchanges on counter-terrorism there was criticism from those on her side, as well as those on our side, about the leaks to the media? Is it not important that the House of Commons should learn first of these things? That certainly has not happened in this case. Why on earth can we not have a statement today, instead of waiting until Wednesday or some other time?

We made absolutely clear to the House the procedure that we were going to follow on announcing the results of the counter-terrorism legislation review. On 13 January, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House explained that a statement would be made this week, and last Thursday, in my absence abroad, the Minister for Immigration said that a statement will be made on Wednesday. Not only will that statement set out clearly the results of the review, but it will be accompanied by the publication of the review and the report of the independent reviewer, Lord Macdonald.

At my Friday surgery, I had the real privilege of meeting a constituent who volunteers at the local rape crisis centre. I say that not least because she, herself, has been a victim of the horrific crime of rape and has, none the less, given up her time to train and support others. Would my right hon. Friend like to thank volunteers who really do conduct themselves in this impressive way and give back to our communities on this difficult subject?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I think that Members on both sides of the House would acknowledge that volunteers do an incredible amount of work. That is particularly noticeable in the violence against women sector, where so many organisations work closely in small groups, particularly with minority communities. I thank her constituent for the work that she does.

Nottinghamshire is set to lose more than 300 police officers over the coming four years. What guarantee can the Minister give my constituents that crime in our city will continue to fall?

We have answered a similar question on a number of occasions, both today and previously. First, there is no simple link between the number of officers and the level of crime. Secondly, the decisions that the hon. Lady’s local force is taking about the deployment of particular police officers and about the number of officers and staff it has are operational matters for the police to address, within the resources available to them. We know that it is possible for significant savings to be made from the back and middle office without affecting front-line policing.

Order. I could happily listen to my colleagues’ questions and answers all afternoon, but I am afraid that we must move on.